Are The Numbers Behind California’s Solar Mandate Real?

Earlier this year, California regulators voted unanimously to require all newly-built single-family homes come equipped with solar panels, but Wall Street Journal contributor Steven Sexton believes the regulators “cooked the books” to justify the change. He says the California Energy Commission is too optimistic about the cost associated with the panels, both for builders and future home buyers. His reasoning behind his opinion is stated below.
It assumes the cost was $2.93 a watt in 2016 and will decline 17% by 2020. Yet comprehensive analysis of panel costs by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated the average cost of installed panels to be $4.50 a watt for the 2- to 4-kilowatt systems the policy mandates. That is $4,000 more than regulators claim for a 2.6-kilowatt model system in the central part of the state, where 20% of new homes are expected to be built. Berkeley Lab further estimates that costs fell a mere 1% between 2015 and 2016, far short of the 4% average annual decline the regulators predict.
Now consider the alleged savings on energy bills. The commission’s analysis assumes California will maintain its net energy-metering policy, which effectively subsidizes electricity produced by a rooftop solar panel. Residential solar generators are paid as much as eight times what wholesale generators receive, according to a grid operator’s analysis of publicly available data. Dozens of states are rethinking these generous subsidies, paid by ratepayers, because they shift the costs of maintaining the electric grid to relatively poor nonsolar households. The California Public Utilities Commission is set to revisit this regressive policy in 2019—before the solar mandate takes effect.

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