Do rooftop solar panels make sense in western Washington?

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(The Center Square) – The west side of Washington experiences ample cloud cover and rain, mostly in the winter months, meaning the Evergreen State isn’t the ideal location for the use of solar panels for generating energy.

That much is acknowledged in a recent article in The Seattle Times that starts off by noting that “Western Washington is one of the worst places in the contiguous United States for solar energy. Perhaps even the worst place.”

Nevertheless, the article suggests that homeowners in western Washington could take advantage of lower costs to install rooftop solar panels due to upcoming subsidies.

Those subsidies amount to $156 million from the federal government for rooftop and other solar projects that, combined with other tax credits for solar installation, reduce homeowners’ initial investment costs.

Gov. Jay Inslee referred to the federal subsidies as a “godsend,” but Todd Myers, vice president for research at the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center think tank, told The Center Square, it’s “lemonade stand economics.”

“Gov. Inslee says all the federal money coming into the state for solar is a godsend,” said Myers, who penned a blog critical of the piece in The Seattle Times. “Well, of course, that’s the only way you’re going to make this work – is if you get what you perceive as federal money from the government.”

He went on to explain why, in his view, the economics of solar panels in western Washington don’t pan out.

“That’s where the parents pay all the cost, and the kids get all the benefit, and they think that’s great, but the reality is the economics simply don’t work,” he said.

The Seattle Times article concedes that “rooftop panels won’t generate as much electricity but little projects do add up and pave the way for more to follow. This gives people and businesses something they can do today; it’s a chance to be part of the solution.”

There are many things those concerned about the impact of climate change can do right now that make more sense not only economically, but environmentally, according to Myers.

“There are a million things you can do that are less expensive and more impactful,” he said.

One example Myers suggests is renewable energy credits.

Households and companies can purchase renewable energy credits as a way to supply their home or building with clean energy. A renewable energy credit generates one megawatt-hour of electricity from a renewable energy source and then shares it with a power line system that transports energy around the region. Renewable energy credits are tradable, non-tangible commodities.

“It’s basically purchasing renewable energy elsewhere in an area where it is more efficient,” Myers noted.

He pointed out that even in the sunniest parts of the country, rooftop solar panels typically result in little payoff, even with massive government subsidies.

“It absolutely does not pay off in a place like Seattle,” Myers said.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, western Washington has the lowest amount of solar energy per square meter in the U.S., outside of Alaska.

“We are spending massive amounts of money for virtually no environmental benefit,” Myers concluded. “The same people who say we face a climate crisis, and we must act now, are the same people spending all this taxpayer money to basically do nothing to help the planet.

“If Inslee and the federal government believed we have to act now to reduce CO2 impacts, they would not spend money on rooftop solar panels in Seattle.”

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