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Despite Progress, Solar Still Faces Obstacles




The climate deal passed in Paris this weekend, though not legally binding, commits the US to massive reductions in greenhouse gases by 2030. The deal should help continue the momentum the renewable energy industry has established over the last several years. Part of the goal of the Paris deal is to move away fossil fuels, which naturally, means a move toward solar and wind, among other non-dirty sources of energy.

As the cost of solar continues to come down — it’s dropped 73 percent since 2006, according to data from the Solar Energy Industry Association — it’s becoming more and more viable for facility managers to consider solar as part of their high-performance building strategies. As the industry continues to move toward ultra-efficient and zero net energy buildings, solar will continue to grow.

That’s not to say solar doesn’t face a few obstacles, though — ranging from the supposedly financial to just downright ludicrous. In a New Yorker story from June, Bill McKibben explains about a utility in Arizona — Salt River Project, the second largest utility in the state — that charges its customer $50 a month if they install solar. The utility’s reasoning is that solar users use less energy from the grid, meaning the remaining non-solar customers have to pay more to maintain the same amount of revenue for the utility. Hence, the “solar fine” levels the playing field. The charge is being disputed in court, but it’s a massive disincentive for new solar installations, which McKibben says have all but dried up for Salt River Project customers.

On the other hand, there’s this so-sad-it’s-funny story about a town in North Carolina that rejected a solar farm. One resident, supposedly a retired science teacher, is quoted in the article voicing her disapproval because the solar farm would suck up the sunlight and prevent the town’s beautiful plants from growing. You can’t make this stuff up. The same person also wondered if solar panels weren’t directly responsible for cancer, even though there’s no evidence of such a link. Her point is there is no evidence there’s not a link, either. Classic.

So solar still has some hurdles to overcome. But beyond these particular objections, there’s no doubt it’s a technology whose time has arrived.

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