China Gains New Ground as Conservatives Try to Stop U.S. Solar Production

Last year was a banner year for solar power. From China to the United States, more solar power was connected to the grid than ever before. China installed more solar capacity than it has in all previous years combined. In just one year it installed an estimated 12 gigawatts of power to its grid, more than any country ever has in the history of solar energy. To put it in perspective, this is more than the entire current solar capacity of the UK.

Most of the new installations are for large scale projects that generate power for tens of thousands of people. Coal still remains the main source of energy for the country, but high levels of pollution have pushed the country into increasing the amount of renewable clean energy as power sources. The ultimate goal is to no longer use coal as a primary power source.

China credits the lower cost of the solar cells (photovaltaiks) used to convert sunlight to electricity, referred to as PVs. The cost of PVs has been the biggest obstacle for many solar power companies to be profitable. For this reason China subsidizes much of the cost of PV production. Large government subsidies are credited for making Germany the current leader in solar power.

The U.S. also reached a major milestone last year by surpassing Germany in the amount of solar power added to the grid. Unlike China, however, most of the U.S.’s increase has come from more Americans installing solar panels on their homes. Federal and state governments have offered many tax incentives to companies and individuals to encourage the use of rooftop-energy.

It is estimated that a new solar project is installed once every four minutes.

Thus far the focus has been on large scale solar plants, many of which are just starting to come online, due to state mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). These standards require utility companies to have a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. California has been the leader, successfully meeting the 20 percent standard by 2010. They have set a new target of 33 percent, which is to be met by 2020. Thirty states currently have these requirements.

The push toward clean energy has been met with resistance from utility companies and conservatives. Both groups are following a game plan laid out by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers led advocacy group. The group has spent the past couple of years trying to stop RPS by introducing legislation to block or roll back the standards. Thus far their efforts have been stymied due to popular support for renewable energy and the economic boost provided by the investment.

After unsuccessful attempts to repeal RPS, they have set their sights on a new target: homeowners.

As more utility companies reach their renewable energy targets, it is believed that large scale solar projects will decline as solar production will reach capacity. Companies are now focusing on smaller scale projects to put more solar power into the grid. This is why residential installation is considered the future of solar power.

This is making some powerful factions very uncomfortable.

Now that solar power is becoming more affordable for individuals via rooftop installation, traditional energy industries are feeling the threat. Investor heavy utility companies are also worried about their profits taking a dive. These factions are represented by ALEC, which is setting the tone for the new fight expected to ramp up this year. The message is that these homeowners are “freeloaders” and are not paying for an energy grid they are using. This, of course, ignores the fact that the energy consumed for their use never touches the grid.

The first tactic is to stop rooftop installation.

In the U.S., state governments use net-metering policies to subsidize the installation of solar power. Customers receive credit for all solar power used in excess of what they use, which is put back into the grid for use by the electric company. They essentially are selling back the power produced to the utility company at the same rate they are paying for electricity. Currently 43 states have net-metering policies.

The net-metering policies in many states are under attack by utility companies. They claim that even though they aren’t producing the energy used by residential installation, the credits given to them takes money away that would go into maintaining the grid that delivers the power. Furthermore, they claim, non-solar power customers must make up the cost of this, making their utility bills higher. This has led for a push for new legislation as proposed by ALEC.

It is true that the less money people pay the utility companies, the less money there is for them to use, though how much they are losing is under dispute. The battle now is where the cost shifting is to occur. Arizona recently approved a $5 dollar surcharge for customers with new solar power installations, far less than the $100 surcharge the Arizona Public Service originally sought. Other states are currently reviewing legislation. California has kept net-metering in place, but have set the stage for an upcoming battle in three years to set policy on how solar power customers to be charged.

However, that isn’t enough for ALEC.

In the end, the goal is to make solar power so cost prohibitive for individuals that most will not be able to afford to use it, shifting all solar power sourcing back into the control of the utility companies.

That way they can control the price and their profits.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Ros G.
Ros G.2 years ago

Another couple of interesting news items from SBS Australia last night and one does concern China and the TPP which is being negotiated as we speak..China does not see why they shouldn't have the same trading terms as South Korea ..if these agreements are for "free trade" and a level playing field there should be no restrictive a true capitalistic society everybody should have the chance to make as much money as they why restrict??

Our High Court has just announced that WA must have new elections for the Senate..back in September 13 the original Senate election...1400 votes went missing during a we go again..Party Politics ..the people vote...and politics ruins democracy..

Ros G.
Ros G.2 years ago

Thank you David..."You and a collection of Marxist here could never understand self reliance, responsible independent people that do not want to live in servitude under one central control government.
Thank you Michael "I am not a Markscyst, nor am I a So-shall-list." Neither am I..most call me an "anarchist". David I'd actually go one step further than that...with all the outsourcing Governments (Politicians) do these days, they no longer Govern on behalf of the people but choose to play "Politics" instead..I actually feel they have made themselves in point..our ex PM Julia Gillard..kept a MP in place so she could hang onto power..even though he was being investigated for corruption...misuse of funds..for which he has now been found guilty..when our Politicians start stooping this low for power at all is truly time to rethink how we are governed...and I'm sure things aren't different in the US..most people are fooled into thinking they live in a democracy.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

Additionally I have read the work of David Stockman

(David A. Stockman - Former Director of the US Office of Management and Budget (USOMB), Economic Policy Maker, Politician, appointed by effing Ronald Raygunz),

who wrote the Great Deformation.

He provides a list of those who have corrupted our system. FDR who fathered crony Kapitalism; Dick Nixon who destroyed national fiancé discipline and the Bretton Woods gold-backed dollar;

Fed Chairman Greenspan that Randian idiot and asshole,

and Bernanke, who fostered our present scourge of bubble finance and addiction to debt and specuation (Kasino gambling);

George Stoopid Dubya Boosh, who repudiated fiscal rectitude and ballooned the warfare state via senseless wars; to Barack Obama, who revived failed utterly dumb Keynesian “borrow and spend” policies that had added perilously to the national debt.

So rail about SO-shall-ists all you like. It's just noise.

I'm talking about the economic systems that one made this nation great. They aren't So-shall-listic at all. They are more American than you could ever be shouting and claiming the nonsense you do.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

And, these conservative guys have been adding the following.

The Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime. They identify two overriding problems that have led Congress — and the United States — to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act.

Second, while both parties participate in a form of tribal warfare, both sides are not equally to blame. The political system faces “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the democrats politically, no matter the cost to society.

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

Political scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann tell us of Congress’ failure to make progress is symptomatic of a legislative branch reduced to dysfunction, partisan ravings and obstruction.

Mann and Ornstein argue that democracy and the economy are in a crash dive, and that congressional gridlock was largely the fault of the Republican Party and its takeover by right wing radicals within the Republican Party who engage in “policy hostage-taking” to extend their political war against the president.. What’s more, they said, the mainstream media was adding to the problem by resorting to “false equivalency,” pretending that both parties were equally at fault.

“Sadly, divided party government, which we have because of the Republican House, in a time of extreme partisan polarization, is a formula for inaction and absolutist opposition politics, not for problem solving,”

Ornstein says, “Some of this is coming from the kinds of people who we’re electing to office, through a nominating process that has gotten so skewed to the radical right. But some of it is an electoral magnet that pulls them away from voting for anything that might have a patina of bipartisan support because they’ll face extinction.”

Michael T.
Michael T.2 years ago

No David, delusional thinker. I am not a Markscyst, nor am I a So-shall-list. You are also the guy who comes off as angry. Not Robert.

You know who I’ve been reading David? Not Marx.

I’ve been reading the material of guys like the following.

Thomas Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks).

In their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, they predicted, “If President Obama gets reelected but faces either a continuing divided Congress or a Congress with Republicans in charge of both houses, there is little reason to expect a new modus vivendi in which the president and GOP leaders are able to find reasonable compromises in areas like budget policy, health reform and financial regulation.”

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

TRUTH???? You wouldnt recognise the truth it it bit your nose. You get your truth from Talk Radio and Fox news. There is very little truth in either of those places.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

And who is it exactly that I am envious of David?? More propaganda from Fox. You dodnt know shit about my financial situation. You have no idea about my work ethic. You have no diea about anything that I dodnt write here. What you are doing again is spewing rhetoric from Fox’s lableing of anyone who doesnt swallow their line of shit. I don’t envy anyone anything thay have monetary or otherwise. I hate very few people……its wasted energy. What I do hate is strupidity……..and you demonstrate that here on a daily basis.