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Free Minds & Free Markets

California's Boneheaded Solar Remedy for Climate Change

Good intentions can make for awful policies.

In the world of government policy, two chief dangers always loom. The first is people with bad intentions using every available means to achieve their malignant goals. The second, more common but no less destructive, is people with the purest of hearts and the most boneheaded of methods.

For an example of the latter, look west, where the California Energy Commission just decreed that starting in 2020, new homes must be equipped with solar panels. Commissioner Andrew McAllister boasted that the rule "will propel the state even further down the road to a low emissions future."

He has the right idea. With environmental vandals in charge of the federal government, the state's leaders are justifiably motivated to do what they can to combat climate change.

"We don't want to do nothing and just sit there and let the climate get worse," Gov. Jerry Brown said last year. California is at particular risk from global warming, which will inundate low-lying areas of its 840-mile coastline with rising salt water while fostering more droughts and wildfires inland.

Its utilities are already on track to get half their energy from solar and other renewable sources as soon as 2020. The state is also fighting the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to gut controls on vehicle tailpipe emissions. The energy commission says the solar panels and other requirements will cut a typical new home's energy consumption by 53 percent—"equivalent to taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road."

But there are three major flaws in this approach. The first is that it's a highly inefficient way to expand solar energy. University of California, Berkeley economist Severin Borenstein told the commission that he and the vast majority of energy economists "believe that residential rooftop solar is a much more expensive way to move towards renewable energy than larger solar and wind installations."

No kidding. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory figures that on a kilowatt-hour basis, electricity from home solar panels costs 2 1/2 times more than electricity from large solar facilities operated by utilities.

The California approach brings to mind Mao Zedong's call in the 1950s for Chinese peasants to build steel furnaces in their backyards. Many vital tasks are done best on a huge scale, and generating electricity is one of them.

Another drawback is that it will aggravate the state's most notorious problem—astronomical housing costs. The median home price is now $524,000, in large part because of regulations that make every attempt to put up new housing only slightly less challenging than the Normandy invasion. California has fewer residential units per person than 48 other states. It's a major reason more people are leaving the state than coming.

The new mandate will be another burden on new home construction and purchase because it is expected to add $10,000 or more to the cost. Not a big bump, percentage wise, but enough to make a difference—particularly at the lower end of the market, where the people least able to cope are found. And the claim that the solar gear will more than pay for itself over the life of a mortgage will be cold comfort to those who can't qualify for the mortgage.

It's another bundle of straw on a camel that is already staggering under its load. The state government might as well ask developers and contractors, "What part of 'get lost' do you not understand?"

Niskanen Center analyst David Bookbinder says, "The big problem in California is transportation emissions." Last year, the California Air Resources Board noted that in 2015, emissions from producing electricity fell by more than 5 percent. But those from vehicles rose by 3 percent. Focusing on home solar power is akin to attacking obesity by putting marathon runners on a diet.

A steep gasoline tax would be the simplest way to get motorists to drive less and buy cars that burn less gasoline—or electric vehicles. The current excise taxes on gas amount to just 58 cents a gallon, which is not enough to take many gas guzzlers off the road. If anything, the solar mandate will stimulate more driving as higher home prices induce Californians to move farther from their jobs and endure longer commutes.

Environmentalists in California and beyond have good cause to fear and resist the powerful enemies now in charge of federal policy. But they should also guard against the folly of their friends.

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  • Mr. Gus||

    So, why exactly does Reason post reprints of Steve Chapman?

  • Nardz||

    Because Reason is super woke and Progressive.
    Having bigots like chapman represent them is how they get on the right side of history.
    Individual liberty, peace with Russia, and strong stance internationally are so 19th century

  • Jordan||

    It's hilarious how so many alt-righters have adopted the same tactics of shouting "bigot" at anybody who disagrees with them. I'll bet you unironically call other people snowflakes too.

  • Nardz||

    Alt-right, eh?
    So labeling anybody that has a different opinion than you with what you consider is a derogatory label is not an example of bigotry?
    Rhetorical question, of course.
    Personally, I do not use the term snowflake even when the term is appropriate, nor do I identify as or use the term alt-right.
    Maybe look up the definition of the word bigot before embarrassing yourself next time.
    But that is enough time wasted on you, a bigot and a fool.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "So labeling anybody that has a different opinion than you with what you consider is a derogatory label is not an example of bigotry?"

    Of course not, Nardz. Unless you get called out on it. Then you have to double-down, or claim agression, or some other rhetorical bitch whining (see Alinsky).

  • jjc||

    This thread brings up an interesting tactical discussion. The key attribute of the alt-right, as borrowed from "gamer-gate", is the use the same type of rhetoric that the progressives use, but to use it against them.

    Libertarians traditionally have tried to have conversations with left wingers, to reason with them in an attempt to persuade them, hence the name "Reason". Part of this involves vilifying obvious right wing villains to try to gain credibility with the left.

    Hard core left wingers, on the other hand, never try to convince anyone of anything. They ask pointed questions in an attempt to quickly identify you as either "with us" or "against us". If they deem you the latter, they shout you down with cries of "racist, sexist etc.".

    The alt-right is all about flame-throwing rhetoric back at the left. If the left says "you are xenophobic" the mainline "Reasonoid" will try to convince the left that they are not in fact xenophobic. The alt-right, on the other hand, will say "yeah, sure, we're xenophobic, and we're right - they all have to go back". I think it's an interesting tactical try.

  • Whorton||

    What a wonderfully magnanimous and bigoted response Jordan.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Inability to read a thermometer qualifies Chapman for the role of warmunist Climate Cassandra. Just as when Petr Beckmann of Boulder advised Reason staff abt science in the publication's infancy the looter media made him an unperson, just so do Nixon's bought media praise illiterate vermin assigned by the Democrat, Green, Republican and Prohibition parties to brainwash Reason staff without mention of Tony Heller of Boulder. Heller publishes unaltered and unvarnished graphs of historic temperature records showing a slight decrease over the past ten decades. That's RealClimateScience.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It should be noted that because of California's CEQA process and the time it takes to complete an EIR, the effects of this on new construction should be immediate.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.....uality_Act

    If it doesn't take effect until 2020, but getting plans approved takes 18 to 24 months, then it's impact on future development is right freakin' now.

  • Shirley Knott||

    "Purest of motives" my ass.
    Or, more politely, "citation needed."

  • Jerryskids||

    Ignorance in a small child is understandable, these are grown-ass adults displaying this sort of ignorance and there's no excuse for that. If you haven't yet figured out that "good intentions" is the paving material on the road to Hell, you have no business attempting to control how other people live their lives. If they wander into an operating room and decide they're going to help out the surgeon by involving themselves in the surgery, are you going to applaud their "good intentions" or are you going to beat the shit out of them and see to it that they're either imprisoned or institutionalized for their criminal insanity?

    For many, if not most, politicians at any level there has to be this basic belief that they're better at identifying and solving problems, that they're smarter and wiser and more capable than anybody else, and if they lack the basic humility to realize that's a statistically improbable belief they're the last people you'd want to trust to be making decisions for you. Those aren't pure motives, it's deranged megalomania.

  • NoVaNick||

    Nah-there is one thing driving this: greed. No doubt, the enlightened progressive politicians of California get huge donations from solar panel manufacturers and the union workers who made sure they will be required to install them. Bet the longshoremen were in on it too, since the only place with the capacity to make all these solar panels is China, and they aren't going to unload themselves from the cargo ships.

  • Nardz||

    You've got to separate the clergy from the believers - though neither are worth the air they breathe (in general)

  • Al Bendova||

    It's more than just donations. Take a look at the progressive politicians of California that own various stakes in companies related to this solar panel legislation. There's no way they aren't getting a huge piece of that pie.

  • BILKER||

    and the reason they are made in china is that the environazis stopped all the mining for rare earth metals because mining did not meet their "clean environment".

  • Sevo||

    And notice this:
    "With environmental vandals in charge of the federal government,"

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Yeah, I almost threw up in my mouth at that line. Whether one agrees with Pruitt's decision to roll back Obama's Quixotic CAFE requirements or not, "environmental vandals?" Really? What a load of over the top bullshit.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Altruism is good. See Mein Kampf and the 25 Points of the NSDAP Program, especially its bottom line.

  • ||

    Dear California, look at Ontario, Canada as a measuring stick for how this disaster will play out.

  • Cyto||

    I'm a bit confused about the tax burden on gas. California is way more expensive than other parts of the country. I my area we have about $0.26 listed in gas taxes - only about 30 cents less than your quote for Cali. Yet gas prices are a good dollar cheaper. Where's the other 70 cents going?

  • Sevo||

    "Where's the other 70 cents going?"

    Well, the CA governments pretty much mandated it:
    "Why is California gasoline so expensive?"
    [...]
    "Special fuel formulas
    [...]
    Disappearing refineries
    [...]
    Few independent retailers
    [...]
    No interstate pipelines"
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-gasoline-
    manipulation-infobox-20150706-story.html

  • turco||

    The tenor of this article is suspect . "Vandals" at the federal level . AGW causing wild fires and inundations stated as indisputable fact. Ability of California to make an iota of difference in AGW not addressed ( hint G=global. CA

  • Cynical Asshole||

    AGW causing wild fires and inundations stated as indisputable fact.

    TEH SCYENSE IZ SETELLED!!1!!111!!!!!

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Said some hippy bitch while arranging her crystals for better tantric flow.

  • Rhywun||

    With environmental vandals in charge of the federal government, the state's leaders are justifiably motivated to do what they can to combat climate change.

    I can't tell if this is sarc or not.

    Its utilities are already on track to get half their energy from solar and other renewable sources as soon as 2020.

    LOLOL find some actual numbers, not whatever BS the state is pulling out of its ass, and then ask Germany how their plans to bankrupt their economy in the name of Gaia are working out. Hint: it's a complete failure, emissions are rising, not falling, and they've tripled the cost of electricity for consumers.

  • Ron||

    In state energy production is probably what they mean which is still bogus since the state has to get most of its energy form out of state. putting the pollution of production onto its neighboring states, they should sue California. I do believe though that California has a law to force all sources of energy used in California to eventually come from magic unicorn dust

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Check out my minty-fresh link downthread.

  • renewableguy||

    Somehow real energy alludes the skeptics. If it comes to 49%, therefore its a failure? If its 55% by 2020 therefore 100% is impossible? When 100% is reached, will you say its all fake and not real. When does reality sink in?


    https://goo.gl/ZNpi7e

    CPUC: California utilities could hit 50% renewables by 2020

    Dive Brief:
    California utilities are well-ahead of the state's renewables portfolio standard — already the most aggressive in the nation — and by some accounts may be supplying 50% carbon-free energy a decade ahead of schedule, according to a new report from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
    As of this year, 43.2% of San Diego Gas & Electric's energy supply comes from renewable resources; 32.9% for Pacific Gas & Electric; and 28.2% for Southern California Edison.
    CPUC's report also concludes the state's aggressive RPS program has helped drive down the costs of renewable energy. Between 2008 and 2016, the price of utility solar contracts declined 77%. Between 2007 and 2015, prices of wind contracts reported to the CPUC have declined 47%.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The Republican party basically copied its energy plank from the LP platform, then inflated it like a pufferfish. Then again, the Prohibition Party--the ones that want to again ban beer, plant leaves, birth control, Sunday baseball and nekkid pitchers--agreed wholeheartedly with Chapman in their 2016 platform.

  • Will Nonya||

    Just ao I'm clear a libertarian media outlet is promoting a steep tax hike as good policy?

  • Chipper Jones||

    I guess I could kind of understand it as a lesser of two evils critique, but here in CA we just massively increased the gasoline tax and increased it even more for diesel. To say nothing of all the extra taxes people pay along the way (2 cents a gallon charged to stations for fuel storage, etc.)

  • Cynical Asshole||

    No, Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Sun is. Why this libertarian media outlet re-publishes his tripe I don't know. Commenters have complained loudly about him for years. I don't know if they have some kind of multi-year contract that forces them to do this, or if he has pictures of The Jacket in bed with a dead hooker, a donkey, and a young boy or what, but it's annoying as hell.

    I suppose the best way to deal with it is to just not give them any clicks on his articles, but where's the fun in that? Besides, they lure you in by not putting the name of the author on the main H&R page, and then giving it a libertarian click-baity headline like "California's Boneheaded Solar Remedy for Climate Change." I never would have guessed with a headline like that it was going to be a Chapman article, or that it would have lines like "With environmental vandals in charge of the federal government..." They suckered me in, and now I've given them additional clicks by commenting. DAMN THEM! GOD DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL!

  • shawn_dude||

    Libertarianism and taxes aren't always at odds. (Think: use taxes)

    In this case, we have externalities (carbon pollution) that aren't being captured into the cost of buying gasoline. You could implement a carbon market of some sort to properly allocate the externality or you can raise gas taxes and use the extra cash to fund projects designed to balance the gasoline consumption.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Dead thread-fucking AGAIN, dood?

  • Greg F||

    In this case, we have externalities (carbon pollution) ...


    If there is any doubt our education system has totally failed to teach science I offer the above as unequivocal proof.

  • BillBrennan||

    While these moves may provide us with a cleaner environment here in California their effect on the climate is zero.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    It probably won't even succeed at making the environment much, if any cleaner. But it will make CA progressives FEEL good, and that's really the most important thing. That rich, smug, self satisfied CA Limousine Liberals can pat themselves on the back while sniffing their own farts.

  • shawn_dude||

    The effect may be greater than zero if for no other reason than California is the 6th (or so) largest economy on the planet with about 40 million residents.

    This project will have implications for several industries in the state which will have an impact in other parts of the US and the world. (Manufacturing, etc.)

  • Sevo||

    Related:
    The Chron applauded the solar-panel mandate last week, noting that $10K kicker (wanna bet it's nowhere near that?), and yet today we get:
    "Amid soaring Bay Area housing prices, a struggle to keep home aides"
    [...]
    "Across the Bay Area, where rising housing costs are driving out families, teachers and countless other professionals, the astronomical cost of living is taking its toll on a critical segment of the workforce: home care attendants for seniors and people with disabilities."
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/
    Amid-soaring-Bay-Area-housing-prices-a-
    struggle-12911410.php

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    By "environmental vandals", is he referring to ALF and ELF?

  • Ron||

    "No kidding. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory figures that on a kilowatt-hour basis, electricity from home solar panels costs 2 1/2 times more than electricity from large solar facilities operated by utilities."

    So what if it cost more. that is the response you'll get from the state. When the state mandated all new homes have Fire sprinklers and the contractors and designers complained about the cost to the then state fire marshall at a seminar on the requirements her exact words were "So What". Of course her department gets more money for the inspections for systems that might save one more life out of 200 fires , maybe. the State buracrats don't give a shit they just want rules to enforce and make money on.

    BTW those home firesprinkler systems will not protect a home for forest fires so they are just money down the toilet

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Cuz the first rule for Progressive pols (and to be fair, for any pols) is to ignore ALL economics. Cost vs. benefit, or just cost, is not a primary, or secondary, concern.

    Remember, as a politician all money is other peoples' money.

  • renewableguy||

    Social cost of carbon is included and all fossil fuels fail to make sense economically.

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    One very effective way to reduce energy consumption is to plant more trees. Then again, trees do their thing for free with no kickbacks to solar panel companies.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Cool. Then we can go back to a wood-fired technology and economy.

  • Ben of Houston||

    Read up on how Britain is converting several coal power plants to wood-fired. Once you do the math on the transportation costs and emissions, it's arguably more polluting than the coal mine was.

  • BYODB||

    If Chapman thinks AGW is provably real, I have some beachfront property in Arizona he can purchase. He'll just need to wait around for perhaps a million years or so is all.


    Obviously, humans must be changing the environment! Why, you can find sea shells in the desert in Nevada so clearly America was an ocean before mankind came along. What more proof do you need!?


    /sarc

  • renewableguy||

    AGW is real. GHG's are the main reason we have ice ages and interglacials the last million years.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    He has the right idea. With environmental vandals in charge of the federal government, the state's leaders are justifiably motivated to do what they can to combat climate change.

    Huh?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Its utilities are already on track to get half their energy from solar and other renewable sources as soon as 2020.

    *sigh*

    I'm smelling about 100 gigatons of greenwashing here...

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Oh right, environmentalism is political, not scientific. You're right, 748% of California's energy is totes renewable.

    What this means is that California values a kilowatt-hour during peak demand hours at many times what they value a kilowatt-hour in the middle of the night. As a result of calculating energy use in this way, a California code built "Zero Net Energy Home" can have an estimated average energy use reduction of 60%, even after solar panels are added to the home. In comparison, Earth Advantage's Net Zero certification requires that a minimum of 90% of the annual energy load be met through onsite solar PV production. Heslam adds, "Defining Net Zero using TDV does not produce buildings that are actually net zero energy consumers over the course of the entire year. California has spent a great deal of time to create a very complicated methodology and definition of what is a rather simple concept."

    Essentially, California is putting a higher value on a kWh of energy during peak loads, than on a kWh of energy during other times. We think that when it comes to determining if a house is Zero Net Energy that energy consumed is just that—energy consumed, and energy produced is energy produced.
  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    While the California Zero Net Energy goal might look good on paper, the reality is that the standards by which they are trying to reach the goal might seem like a form of green-washing. However, the state of California could choose to take a different path with this program. If it is not going to require zero net energy buildings, it could rename what it is trying to do. This would avoid confusion in the marketplace by not diluting the Zero Net Energy Home "brand."

    Notice how the author(s) play nicey-nicey here? That's because they're actually supporters of California's largely corrupt Zero Energy project. But even they can't look past the bullshit.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Translator's note. Putting a higher value on X = robbing purchasers of X at gunpoint.

  • renewableguy||

    Dive Brief:
    California utilities are well-ahead of the state's renewables portfolio standard — already the most aggressive in the nation — and by some accounts may be supplying 50% carbon-free energy a decade ahead of schedule, according to a new report from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

    As of this year, 43.2% of San Diego Gas & Electric's energy supply comes from renewable resources; 32.9% for Pacific Gas & Electric; and 28.2% for Southern California Edison.

    CPUC's report also concludes the state's aggressive RPS program has helped drive down the costs of renewable energy. Between 2008 and 2016, the price of utility solar contracts declined 77%. Between 2007 and 2015, prices of wind contracts reported to the CPUC have declined 47%.

  • DamnDirtyApe||

    Pure motives? Environmental vandals? WTF is this?

  • Ben of Houston||

    I love how he considers removing Obama's changes to the tailpipe emissions, which is loaded with so many fudge factors, allowances, and calculation changes, that it bears no resemblance to actual environmental efficiency, a "travesty".

    For a simple example, if a vehicle can take flex fuel, it gets a 25 mpg bonus. This means that on their calculation, a flex-fuel Toyota Tundra gets the same mileage as a Camry.

    That's not insane. It's fraudulent.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Makes sense. "Travesti" is used in other languages to describe cross-dressers.

  • BreakthroughEnergyGuy||

    New science has opened a supplement or alternative to pv.

    Ambient heat, a huge untapped reservoir of solar energy, larger than earth's fossil fuel reserves can now generate electricity 24/7. See aesopinstitute.org

    Visualize a small shed next to a home containing 25 thin panels. It will produce 35 kW during peak daily heat and continue generating some power all night. Imagine the implications!

  • shawn_dude||

    Visualize a bunch of venture capital funds for a heat exchange "engine" that only uses a single heat source... then imagine how that breaks the laws of thermodynamics. It's fraud. A quick Google search shows that this guy is work in the perpetual motion machine realm.

    Pass it by.

  • zerofoo||

    Every day we see another Reason article advocating for a Government solution to yet another problem.

    Are there any Libertarians left at Reason?

  • Spookk||

    So how much of that conclusory figure "$524,000" is the cost of construction? How big is this house? Etc? Did you complaint about the stupid mandatory fire sprinklers too?

  • shawn_dude||

    Probably less than half. The scarcity of land in desirable locations and lack of existing housing is driving the cost more than anything else.

    Roughly 20% of the cost of solar are the panels. The biggest chunk of the cost is the labor. Given that the labor is already up on that roof when they're installing the first one, getting solar up there at that point reduces the cost significantly...both due to efficiencies of scale and also timing.

    The estimates are that it will cost the average home buyer $40/mo extra in mortgage but reduce the electric bill by about $80. In a state where much of it is hot, sunny, and air-conditioned, having panels on the roof makes sense.

    This isn't California's biggest problem. Not building sufficient new housing to house all of the citizens in the state within reasonable commuting distance of the jobs is the problem.

  • Gene Ralno||

    Silly conservatives. They thought all those radical lefties demanded mass transit for everyone. I guess that's only for eastern leftists with different ideology for the left coast leftists. Double pane windows caught on like wildfire within about ten years after they were invented. They've been the norm for several decades now and the reason is clear -- they're cost effective. Break even period for solar panels seems to be so long as to be considered cost INeffective. Radical leftists like moonbeam never escaped the '60s mindset and never understood free enterprise. California is going down fast.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Hey, solar panels and windmills worked for Puerto Rico. Once California is also converted into a Starnesville as miserable as any Herbert Hooverville the residents just might wake up and vote Libertarian!

  • Galane||

    A steep gasoline tax would be the simplest way to...

    keep the peons from being able to move around so much and force them into the cities and high density housing.

    Much of this article is a sop to the electric utilities, pushing to let them keep their monopolistic control and income instead of having people able to generate their own electricity and thumb their nose at the power companies.

  • BILKER||

    steve chapman is a f**king idiot.

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