An opinion by Bill Saltonstall (“Your View: Taking a look into solar energy can be illuminating,” Feb. 16) requires a response. For those readers who found comfort in the wonder of this solar panel installation in Dartmouth, I would like to offer some observations that do not usually make the news.
First, the issue of who is paying for the tax credits awarded to this project are not addressed. It may be part of the borrowed money from China that our children will be required to pay for through their taxes. The government is providing tax credits and subsidies because the solar installation is too costly for the public and will remain so for several years to come.
Mr. Saltonstall states his solar panel installation cost was $25,000. But, with state and federal tax credits, Solar Renewable Energy Credits, and the Commonwealth Solar II Rebates (which equates a maximum of $1.85 per watt on solar system installations up to 5,000 watts), the entire project cost to Saltonstall was $9,000, less the energy credits, or SREC, which yield another $2,400.
To qualify for Massachusetts tax credits, the system must be new, in compliance with stipulated performance standards, and operating for at least five years. In addition, there is no sales tax on the cost of the project. Admittedly, Mr. Saltonstall could only do this project because of the generous government incentives. Of course, anyone attempting such a project, I assume, must put up the cash or finance it through a loan.
So, if he receives $16,000 (tax credits, etc.) and $2,400 (SREC), that comes to $18,400. If all 79 million single-family homes in America received $18,400 in credits, we would have to borrow another $1.45 trillion from China. This extreme scenario won’t happen because the government has to fund billions more in other projects (wind farms, etc.) and not all homeowners can afford the up-front cost of a solar energy project of this magnitude. The senior citizen living on $10,000 from SSI cannot afford this project, nor can the thousands of renters in condos and apartments reduce their electricity bills in this fashion.
The crux of the matter is that Mr. Saltonstall (after all the tax credits, rebates, and selling electricity back to NStar) will save $500 a year. Has Saltonstall done anything wrong? No, of course not. He simply took advantage of a government program that is available to all who qualify. Perhaps then, it is the merit of the program that is questionable. How do seniors on fixed incomes or others without state and federal taxes to pay earn tax credits? What if the roof on which a solar system is to be placed has 10 years of guaranteed life and the solar system has 25, must the roof be replaced first?
Mr. Saltonstall also claimed in his article that we pay 20 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from NStar, but in reality, in February, NStar charged .07928/kwh and the total with other charges came to .177528 (kwh), not 20 cents. Thus, I assume that if Mr. Saltonstall does sell electricity back to NStar it will be closer to the .07928 figure than the 20-cent figure he believes.
Another claim in the article suggested that the people of Massachusetts are concerned about our country’s dependence on foreign oil causing high electric rates, and thus Green Energy Programs like the $25,000 solar panels are the answer to our problems. However, as of 2009 in the U.S., the sources used to generate electricity are coal (44.9 percent), natural gas (23.4 percent), nuclear (20.3 percent), hydroelectric (6.9 percent), solar and wind or renewable (3.6 percent), and lastly oil (1 percent). Foreign oil is not an issue in the production of electricity. Coal, the cheapest source of generation is dirty; clean coal is better and so on down the line. But each method has its price. (Remember when President Obama said the “cost of energy will skyrocket” because of switching to green energy) I doubt Mr. Saltonstall was made aware of the fact that many toxic chemicals go into the manufacturing of PV solar panels such as lead, polybrominated biphenyls, hexaualont, chromium, crystalline silicon, polysilicon and cadmium (a heavy metal and extremely toxic even in small quantities). That said, solar panels pose no threat during use. However, in case of fire, they are hazardous to firemen because of the high voltage contained and because their of their toxic content. Also, when these units reach the end of their life span, they will be difficult to recycle and expensive to dispose of. Finally, many solar panels are being produced in China where the environmental standards are very lax compared to American and European requirements. These are some of the issues about this Green Energy Program that aren’t explained to the public.
Robert Michaud lives in Dartmouth.