Solar Ascendancy: Minnesota Court Ruling for Solar over Natural Gas a Harbinger of Things to Come

Solar Ascendancy: Minnesota Court Ruling for Solar over Gas a Harbinger of Things to Come by Juan Cole, January 2, 2014
Minnesota Judge Eric Lipman found that solar is a better deal than natural gas for Xcel Energy, permitting Geronimo Energy to construct 20 huge solar facilities worth $250 million in Xcel’s service area in that state. The amount of solar power in the state would increase by a factor of 7. The ruling still has to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission. This ruling marks the first time that unsubsidized solar has gone toe to toe with natural gas and won (natural gas also receives Federal subsidies). … Here’s the kicker: Geronimo’s Aurora solar project will get no state subsidy (it is eligible for a Federal tax break, as are most solar projects including individual rooftop solar panel installations– these have not been affected by the budget uncertainties on Federal wind farm subsidies). The ruling itself is the harbinger, whether the plan goes through or not.

But we can expect Big Oil and unscrupulous billionaire hydrocarbon moguls like the Koch brothers to attempt to block renewables by having pliant right wing legislators slap penalties on them…. Remember that Big Oil and the other hydrocarbon industries get billions in government subsidies.

The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past 18 months. So much research and development money is now being thrown at photovoltaic cells and other solar technology that the cost per kilowatt hour of solar seems likely to continue to plummet over the coming years, though there will be market fluctuations and silicon’s price will be important until some other material (graphene?) starts being used. But in some markets, such as Colorado, the installed price of photovoltaic panels for utility-scale projects is $3.20 a watt mid-year. By the end of 2013, the average price was $3.06 per watt. Even before the recent price drops, it was estimated that in much of the US a consumer who put solar panels on her house could save $1000 a year in electricity charges. It is certainly more now, especially given the Federal tax break for rooftop solar installation (many states also give incentives, though my backward Michigan doesn’t).

Through 2020, all new Australian electricity production will be from renewables, mainly wind but 13% will come from large-scale solar. Rooftop solar is also expanding rapidly– a million Australian homes have solar panels– in a country of 22 million with 7.7 million households, that is over 1/8 of them.

Japan is putting in 7 gigawatts of solar this year because of its new feed-in tariff and the energy crisis caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. And China wants to add a mind-boggling 35 gigawatts of solar generation by 2015; it is building a huge array in Xianjang, the traditionally Muslim area of the northwest, part of the Middle Eastern Arid Zone that extends to the Gobi Desert. Even a conservative state like Georgia is putting in 500 megawatts (i.e. half a gigawatt) of solar, and its energy commission fought off a Koch-Brothers-inspired plan to place a punitive tax on solar panel owners. [Emphasis added]

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