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Coalition Urges Elimination of Taxpayer-Funded SunShot Initiative

Michi Iljazi on May 1, 2017

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The year is nearly halfway through, yet Congress still has plenty of work to get done in order to make 2017 a productive one. This week there is expected to be a vote on a spending bill that will miss the mark on any meaningful reductions in spending, but there also may be a vote on repeal and replace of Obamacare. The mixed bag from Congress and the White House so far is a bit disappointing but there are opportunities to cut wasteful programs and save taxpayers money. One such example is the SunShot Initiative.  Right now taxpayers, through the Department of Energy (DOE), are paying for the program that spends $270 million per year to “induce companies to lower production and installation costs associated with photovoltaic solar panel systems and reducing the price of solar power.” This is a terrible program and that’s why TPA organized this coalition letter urging House Appropriators to eliminate funding for SunShot. » Read More

The Truth Behind the Solar Jobs Report

David Williams on February 9, 2017

(This article originally appeared in The Daily Signal on January 31, 2017) As the Obama administration recedes into history, policymakers would be well advised to rethink the feasibility of taxpayer-funded renewable energy schemes.  In just a few weeks, the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group, will release its latest annual report touting growth figures for solar jobs while it also warns against policies that could result in layoffs.  But the hard reality is that even as solar energy became politically fashionable, it remained economically unsound.  Just ask Elon Musk, the South African-born, Los Angeles-based renewable energy business mogul who had his electric car company bail out his solar energy company last year.  With the change in administration, it is possible there might be an end to the solar investment tax credit, which has been propping up failing solar enterprises on the taxpayer dime. So, expect the Solar Foundation to double down on its talking points in its upcoming report.  In America, anyone is free to lobby and push for their own personal policy preferences. Federal and state officials who have the power to give preferential treatment to this industry should know there are all kinds of conflicts of interest that should be taken into account.  For starters, the Solar Foundation is closely aligned with the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group that advocates on behalf of those that manufacture and install solar energy equipment.

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It’s Time to Stop Spending Taxpayer Dollars on Elon Musk and Cronyism

David Williams on November 14, 2016

(This artcile originally appeared in The Daily Signal on November 13, 2016)  From Enron to Bernie Madoff, at the end of every great American financial scandal, the totality of the perpetrators’ greed seems to be matched only by the public’s incredulity at how such a thing could be allowed to happen.  And thanks to Elon Musk, there’s a good chance we may all be asking this question again soon.  The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have launched a probe into tax incentives paid to solar companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The committee probes, led by their respective Republican chairmen, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, have found an appropriate and disturbing target to begin this work.  SolarCity, a solar installation company set to be purchased by Tesla Motors Inc., is one of the seven companies named in the initial investigation.  Already grossly subsidized, Musk’s SolarCity has become an albatross of waste, fraud, and abuse of tax payer dollars. As legitimate earnings and cash become even scarcer for SolarCity, its entanglement in the Tesla empire suggests that a drastic reckoning not only is imminent, but in fact emboldening Musk to become more outlandish and reckless.  Notably, SolarCity is run by Musk’s cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive. During his chairmanship at SolarCity, Musk’s family enterprise has taken in billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies from both the federal and local governments. But the subsidies and sweetheart deals were not enough, as losses and missed projections continued to mount.  Ultimately, rather than endure the embarrassment of collapse and further damage to the public image of Musk and Tesla, the cousins conspired to have Tesla simply purchase SolarCity this year. The conditions of the deal screamed foul play.

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Florida's Solar Electric Choice Ballot Question Will Benefit All Consumers

Barbara Alexander on November 3, 2016

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This article originally appeared on EnergyCentral.com on November 2, 2016

Florida’s Question 1 on Solar will benefit consumers because it authorizes the adoption of important consumer protection policies and regulations for the solar industry.  Consumers may be interested in solar power to help the environment, or simply to save money on their electric bills. Whether purchased or leased, the consumer is making a financial commitment with the expectation that savings on utility bills will offset all or a large portion of the monthly cost of the system.  It is too easy for a consumer to be misled into a purchase based on exaggerated assumptions about future savings. Consumer complaints have prompted states to take action in the courts, and propose consumer protections to address abuses. The most typical arrangement for customers who cannot afford the full cost of installation is a lease agreement.  The homeowner enters into a lease agreement and makes pre-established monthly payments to the solar company, who retains ownership of the system for the contract term.  A consumer’s actual monthly savings in energy bills will depend on the increase in electricity rates over the contract term, any net metering or value of state solar tariff programs, as well as new or increased fees that solar customers are required to pay.  It is vital to have uniform disclosures on the assumptions that the solar company used for the contract, as well as providing information on the limitations of the savings estimates.

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Amendment 1 is the right choice for solar in Florida

Dick Batchelor on October 31, 2016

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Dick Batchelor, co-chairman of Consumers for Smart Solar, is a former chairman of the Florida House Energy Committee and former chairman of the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission. This Op-Ed appeared in the Tampa Bay Times on October 27, 2016. 

The Tampa Bay Times formalized its longstanding opposition to Amendment 1 in a recent editorial. Unfortunately, like our opponents, the Times would like voters to decide this issue based on everything except what the amendment actually says and does. Those who are not sure about how to vote on this issue should ask three simple questions: Should the right of every Floridian to generate his or her own solar electricity be protected? Should solar energy companies have to abide by the same consumer protection rules that all other energy providers must follow? Should those who don't choose solar be protected from having to pay higher electric bills to subsidize someone else's decision to go solar? If you answered yes, then you should vote yes on Amendment 1. Because that's all it does.

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Amendment 1 will grow solar the right way in Florida

Dick Batchelor on October 26, 2016

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This op-ed originally appeared in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel on October 24, 2016

Should the right of every Floridian to generate his or her own solar electricity be protected? Should solar energy companies have to abide by the same consumer protection rules that all other energy providers must follow? Should those who don't choose solar be protected from having to pay higher electric bills to subsidize someone else's decision to go solar? If you answered "yes" to these questions, then you should vote Yes on Amendment 1, because that is precisely what Amendment 1 does.

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New Report Details Massive Taxpayer Subsidies to the Struggling Solar Industry

on September 23, 2016

Solyndra.  SunEdison.  Abengoa.  Abound Solar.  What do all these failed solar companies have in common?  They were all propped up by taxpayers and experienced tremendous growth, only to crash and burn upon being thrown against a wall of reality, realizing that their success was all a ruse.  A new report from the Consumer Energy Alliance details the numerous ways by which federal and state governments incentivize the solar industry as an alternative source of energy.  Numerous financial incentives exist for residential solar panel users – residential tax credits, net energy metering, third party owner incentives, Renewable Energy Certificates, and several others.  The combined effect of direct and net metering incentives alone, for example, exceed the cost of installing solar panels.  That is to say, consumers can pay for solar panels and make a profit, all thanks to taxpayers.

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‘Quintessential Insider Deal’: Taxpayers Finance Family Ties of 2 Failing Green Companies

Kevin Mooney on July 26, 2016

(This article first appeared in The Daily Signal on July 21, 2016.  Click here to read the oriiginal article)  Grassroots conservative activists who run a reboot of Ronald Reagan’s political action committee want to know why the government allows one failing company to buy another failing company while both get taxpayer subsidies.  They also want to know why corporate executives with friends in high places have not been subjected to more scrutiny after receiving a multimillion-dollar compensation package at a time when their company remains heavily subsidized at taxpayer expense.  “This is the quintessential insider deal,” one taxpayer advocate said in an interview with The Daily Signal.  Citizens for the Republic, a nonprofit, grassroots lobbying group, posed the two questions in a July 15 letter to members of the House and Senate as the lawmakers left Washington for summer recess. The group calls on Congress to investigate the CEO and the chief technology officer of SolarCity, a renewable energy company based in San Mateo, California. The two SolarCity executives happen to be brothers; Lyndon and Peter Rive also happen to be first cousins to Elon Musk, chairman and co-founder of SolarCity.

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Sen. Hatch pressures feds for answers on stimulus program for green energy

David Williams on June 21, 2016

  (This article was first published in The Hill on June 17, 2016)  Remember Solyndra?  That was the Silicon Valley-based, taxpayer-funded, green energy boondoggle that even President Obama won’t defend in public. The solar panel manufacturer received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department under Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus package. But less than two years later in the summer of 2011, Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy leaving U.S. taxpayers on the hook. In a press conference, Obama sought to explain away  Solyndra as the result of bipartisan policy efforts that predated his presidency.  Let’s all agree that neither party is pristine on the question of taxpayer protection and sound energy policy, but let’s look at the facts. There are two loan guarantee programs that benefit renewable energy companies. The first was folded withinSection 1703 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 under President Bush. The second was created as part of Obama’s stimulus bill officially titled: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Obama’s bill amended the 2005 energy bill to create section 1705 for “commercially viable technologies.” While Solyndra initially applied for loans under Section 1703, taxpayer funding for the now defunct solar panel manufacturer came from the stimulus package, which liberalized and loosened lending standards.  But let’s assume Obama is correct to say both parties are culpable. The question then becomes who is standing up now in the aftermath of Solyndra to scrutinize ongoing green energy schemes that still receive taxpayer funding while holding government agencies accountable.  The answer is Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah).  Earlier this month, Sen. Hatch did his due diligence as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee by applying all the right pressure points against federal officials who are charged with safeguarding the public interest.  Hatch sent letters to Department of Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) that asked several probing questions. The Utah Republican also set a firm deadline of June 30 to receive substantive answers from those agencies. That’s how you have to play it with recalcitrant federal bureaucrats.

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SunEdison Bankruptcy Three Times Bigger than Solyndra

David Williams on May 16, 2016

(This op-ed was first published on Moring Consult's website on May 10, 2016)  Does this sound familiar? A shiny new solar company comes onto the scene, satisfying the cries of the solar panel-obsessed clean energy fanatics. Somewhere along the way, Barack Obama and Congress indiscriminately award the solar company millions in taxpayer funds.  A few years pass, and a slow but largely ignored descent into financial ruin ends in scandal.  You may be thinking of the famed Solyndra debacle.  Unfortunately for taxpayers, SunEdison, the self-proclaimed “largest green energy company,” filed for bankruptcy protection in late April. Even after becoming the 13th-most subsidized company in the United States, SunEdison misused taxpayer funds and lied, resulting in a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.  SunEdison failed to deliver on its promises, neglecting to complete a series of energy projects it had previously agreed to undertake.  As SunEdison’s business plan unraveled, and even despite the trepidation with which clean energy companies come under close scrutiny, the U.S. Justice Department has recently begun investigating the company’s accounting practices.  Lucky for them, however, SunEdison found a willing cohort in the solar game long ago – the Obama Administration.  Nevertheless, even with the federal government supporting them with taxpayer funds, SunEdison could not manage even short-term success.  In other words, the company utterly wasted all your money, and to no avail.

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The Left Is Already Pushing The New Solar Jobs ‘Report’ As Good News. Don’t Buy It.

David Williams on March 21, 2016

(This article first appeared on the Indpendent Journal Review website) When you’re on a mission to secure government favors needed to prop up costly, inefficient, taxpayer-funded boondoggles, you may be inclined to manipulate economic figures. You also might be inclined to convince the public and the news media that these figures flow from a detached, objective analysis when in fact they are produced by advocates with a vested interest in public policy choices.  This is clearly what happened in the latest annual Solar Jobs Census from the Solar Foundation, which concluded that the solar industry is contributing to “robust” U.S. job growth, and left-leaning outlets are already starting to champion the report as evidence that we the solar industry is booming and merits further investment.  Don’t buy it.  The Solar Energy Industries Association is the trade association tasked with promoting the development and expansion of solar power, predominately staffed by former solar company and trade association lobbyists with ties to government solar advocacy programs. So let’s all agree here that they are not exactly objective.  After reviewing the report’s key findings, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance found that it is laced with references to the large percentage growth in solar jobs that belie the actually figures, which are in reality quite anemic.

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Congress Should Have Let the Sun Go Down on Solar Subsidies

David Williams on January 4, 2016

(This artcile first appeared on Ricochet.com)  And in one fell swoop through the 2,000-page omnibus spending bill, Congress again saddled American taxpayers with billions in handouts to the perpetually foolish and failing solar industry. In what is sure to foster the very same practices that led to the infamous Solyndra debacle, renewable energy handouts through the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) are now guaranteed until at least 2022. In other words, don’t expect ITC or its cohorts to vanish any time soon.  While solar stocks soared after the news broke of Congress’s ill-advised extension of the ITC, taxpayers should remain skeptical of the industry’s so-called success. Despite gargantuan subsidies over the past five decades, the solar industry has yet to make a convincing case for itself. In fact, there is little evidence of success. The fact is that a coddled solar industry simply can’t make it on its own.  There are many egregious recent failures of the American solar policy. As part of the Obama Administration’s solar loan program through the Department of Energy (DOE), a Spain-based solar company has received $2.7 billion in taxpayer funds since 2010. Counted among President Obama’s favorite solar companies, Abengoa solar plants across the US have massively underperformed.  As an added insult to injury, Abengoa is now on the verge of bankruptcy. If the failing solar company does declare bankruptcy, it will be the biggest DOE loan program failure to date. The DOE has already seen at least three bankruptcies associated with these solar subsidies. Taxpayers have lost millions on account of this nonsensical loan program, with billions more to go. » Read More

SolarCity needs a lesson in customer service

on April 20, 2015

Anyone who has ever been frustrated by a customer service department can sympathize with clients of SolarCity. The company is the solar energy brain-child of billionaire Elon Musk, and recipient of roughly $500 million in taxpayers’ money. Long phone calls, hidden fees and a general lack of efficiency have been the story with a large number of customers who entered into SolarCity’s popular solar panel ease option. According to Watchdog.org, SolarCity has generated a large number of cases involving poor installation, says Gerald Chapman, building inspector manager of San Mateo County, California. Among the disgruntled customers is Jeffery Leeds. The Northern California resident signed a 20-year lease on solar panels and shelled out an up-front fee of $600 after SolarCity claimed his utility bills would drop by an average of $168 a month. After installation of the SolarCity panels, Leeds’ electric bills increased by nearly $150 a month, according to Watchdog.org. Worse, he was still forced to pay the second largest solar energy provider in the country almost $44,000 in lease payments over the next 20 years, “with no way out.”

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Taxpayers Protection Alliance releases new report on rooftop solar's 'House of Cards'

on March 31, 2015

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has released a new report about the heavily-subsidized solar industry, "A House of Cards:  Solar Energy’s Subsidy-Based Business Model."  In the report, TPA concludes that Big Solar’s heavy reliance on government handouts threatens taxpayers with another Solyndra.  This report is another in a series that measures the impact of government solar subsidies and preferential treatment on taxpayers and consumers. 

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A solar free market in Florida? Not under this ballot proposal

on March 27, 2015

The debate is intensifying in Florida as to whether a pending statewide ballot issue to expand the use of solar power would create more competition and a freer market for electricity consumers—or, instead, open the floodgates to more tax-funded subsidies that ultimately come out of the pockets of the very consumers who are supposed to benefit.  The inconvenient truth that those supporting the ballot initiative don’t want you to know is that solar companies receive massive amounts of federal, state, and local subsidies.

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Rooftop solar’s jobs potential: superheated claims, half-baked stats

on March 18, 2015

An enlightening commentary by the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy takes on some of the urban myths often perpetuated by the rooftop-solar industry and its enthusiasts. Such challenges to conventional wisdom are a refreshing antidote to the hype surrounding solar power. They also have the potential to reorient public policy toward reality, assuming our policy makers pay heed.

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Net metering defined: Going solar on the backs of fellow ratepayers

on March 16, 2015

Rooftop-solar customers typically don’t produce enough of their own electricity to handle all of their household or business needs.  For example, at night and on overcast days they produce nothing. So, they have to buy power from the utility. And even when their rooftop photovoltaic panels are pumping out more power than they use during peak, sunny periods, they need some place to bank that extra electricity. So, they send and sell the power back up the line to the rest of the community. This is called net metering, which was authorized by Congress under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and imposed on public utilities by state regulators to entice home- and business owners to install solar panels on their roofs. 

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Rooftop solar customers get hoodwinked in more ways than one

on March 5, 2015

A crackdown by Arizona authorities on rooftop-solar flim-flam in that state is, at the least, a potent reminder to consumers nationwide to beware the come-ons and rosy promises offered by some of the vendors in that industry. Yet, the kind of blatant fraud that was uncovered by the state's attorney general only hints at a subtler yet much bigger problem with the way rooftop solar systems are being pitched to the American public in general. 

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Who picks up the tab for subsidized solar?

on March 3, 2015

The lawsuit filed this week by billionaire Elon Musk's SolarCity against an Arizona public utility—alleging anti-competitive practices for assessing a new fee on solar customers—was as inevitable as it was staged. Which is to say, it's all about messaging. Ventures such as SolarCity, the nation's biggest installer of rooftop solar panels, have made a crusade of claiming large public utilities are trying to crush small-scale solar. It's a fetching if largely ginned-up image. 

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Using Gloom and Doom to Sell Solar

SolarSecrets.org on February 19, 2015

Most of us go on High Alert when some fast-talking salesman begins barraging us with brash promises or slippery statistics, in the rush to get us to sign on the dotted line. But our guards may be down when the person making the pitch is selling (or leasing) something as seemingly benign, and purportedly good for the planet, as a rooftop solar system.

It’s that suspension of skepticism that the companies aggressively pushing these often-dubious “deals” seem to be counting on.

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