Monday, April 28, 2008

Solar Power

As long as the industry is supported by taxpayers through subsidies, it will remain a footnote, but if it can, through new technologies, ever reach the point where it is actually profitable, then we all benefit.

Area businesses rush to cash in on solar power
By Jim Downing -
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jay Cooper considers himself a conservative businessman, yet he has blackened the roof of his Auburn Honda dealership with one of the priciest green energy technologies: solar panels.

Hundreds of them.

"Obviously, it came down to dollars and cents," Cooper said.

After decades as a small-is-beautiful technology aimed largely at virtuous homeowners and off-the-grid types, solar is suddenly going large and at a price that makes business owners salivate.

Cooper's Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill used to average about $8,000 a month. With the solar panels, which began generating electricity last fall, his power costs dropped instantly to $5,000.

That bargain is made possible by federal and utility subsidies, the sale of green energy "credits" and, critically, the recent development of financing schemes backed by big institutional investors. Together, those can drive down the effective price of solar-generated electricity more than 70 percent, developers say.

But the sort of deal that Cooper got could be short-lived. The federal tax credit that made it possible, which went into effect in 2006, is set to expire Dec. 31, though it may be renewed by Congress. Without the credit, those in the industry say, solar power will again be uncompetitive with grid electricity and sales are almost certain to plummet.