Columnists Opinion Starlett Quarles

THE X FACTOR: The truth about the benefits of solar panels

Have you seen an increase in your neighbors putting solar panels on top of their roofs? If you haven’t, you soon will be with the renewable energy industry growing at such a rapid pace.

According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network of the 21st Century, 2017 was a record-breaking year “characterized by the largest ever increase in renewable power capacity, falling costs, increases in investment and advances in enabling technologies.”

And, as always, the state of California is leading the way by becoming the first state to require that — starting in 2020 — all new homes must be powered by solar energy. This new requirement, as reported by the New York Times, “brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now …; [adding] thousands of dollars to the cost of homes when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.”

But with more than one million solar projects now operating across the country, where do communities of color lie on the spectrum? And what type of information are we being told about the true benefits of solar power for our homes or businesses?

So I wanted to talk to Jay Cutting, president of Revamp Energy and one of Southern California’s emerging young leaders in the renewable energy arena. In just six short years, this enterprising and ambitious millennial has completed more than 300 solar projects for homeowners and business owners, and has sat in more than 1,700 living rooms explaining the benefits and dispelling the myths about solar panels and renewable energy.

SQ: What are the top three benefits of solar electricity?

JC: The three top reasons why someone would consider solar electricity are: One, the financial savings. Purchasing or leasing a solar system and paying for the electricity generated from the solar system is a lot less expensive than using utility electricity.

Two is obviously the environmental impact of continuing to use electricity and generating electricity like we are right now with fossil fuels; [which] we know is detrimental to the environment. Solar panels are a [viable] alternative to that.

And three is [the ability] to have freedom and control. Before the deregulation of energy, we had no other option. You only had one option, and that was the utility company in your area. With the deregulation of energy, as a consumer you have options; which is always a good thing.

SQ: You often talk about the tax benefits of solar electricity.

JC: Yes, the ITC Credit [is a] federal tax credit that [enables] any person, home, entity, or company that purchases a solar system [to be] eligible for 30 percent federal tax credit. So that means with the total cost of the system, you’ll get 30 percent of that in a tax credit.

So let’s say you know spent $30,000 on a solar system, you’re going to get a $9,000 tax credit. And that’s huge. It’s supposed to step down in 2020 from 30 percent to, I believe, 20 percent. And then in 2021, it’s going to be stepping to 5 percent or 10 percent; and then eventually going away.

So the tax credits have been a huge provider of the growth in the solar industry, because people with a tax liability are able to use it towards a solar system instead of having to pay the federal government.

And it’s also sparked a whole new industry for investors, because now you have investor-owned solar systems. It makes sense for investors to invest in solar because they’re getting the tax credits. So the ITC tax credit has been a huge driver in the deployment of solar energy.

SQ: What are the top three myths about solar electricity?

JC: It’s too expensive and it doesn’t make sense. Solar can make sense for every single person. It’s just about coming across the right developer who’s willing to put the correct system on [your roof]; as well as components and pricing. And how you structure the financing [also] plays a huge role in making sense as well.

Another one is that technology keeps getting better, so why buy a system today when the technology is going to be better in five years? You know, technology is always getting better, but it’s not going to get better to the point where buying a system today is not going to be as beneficial as buying a system later.

Then the third biggest myth is that pricing is going down, and will continue to go down. I was in the solar industry at the height, when we were selling it for three times as much as we are now. And I’ve seen the pricing come down, drastically. And right now, as you know, we’re at the bottom of where it’s going to cost for equipment.

Honestly, the equipment is probably going up with the tariffs that are going on. But right now, the equipment and raw material is down to the lowest cost we can get.

Then you have the labor; and the cost of labor never goes down, it goes up. So right now, solar is the most competitive it has ever been, and the most competitive it’s ever going to be.

SQ: How are communities of color being misinformed about the benefits of solar electricity?

JC: That’s a good question. They are misinformed and often taken advantage of a lot. [And even though] they are misinformed, you’ll see a lot of solar systems going up in our neighborhoods. Mainly because they don’t know they’re being fed the wrong information from the sales reps and consultants who are just looking to cash in on a paycheck.

SQ: What type of information are we being fed?

JC: What you see in a lot of communities of color, and lower income communities, is that they get pushed more into these leases or power purchase agreements; as compared to other communities that are predominately purchasing [their solar panels]. They really have energy independence in a purchase. In a lease, or a [power purchase agreements], you don’t — you’re fixed for 20 years just like the utility company. And oftentimes they have escalators that go up each year.

So a lot of people in our community are presented with this payment that’s, you know, typically $50, $75, $85 less than what they’re paying now; and they think that’s a great deal, and say “Hey let’s sign up for it.” But in reality that payment goes up for the next 20 years at 2 percent; which as you know will eventually [become] a lot more expensive than the utility company.

So that’s what I personally see [minorities] being [most] misinformed about.

SQ: Moving forward, what do we need to know?

JC: Renewable energy is obviously on the forefront, and is something we’re going to have to address now or later. I believe that people should start being conscious of it now; because if they’re not, then they’re definitely going to be forced to be conscious of it at some point.

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.