Here Comes the Sun – Cash – America’s Solar Powered Con

My least fondest memory of Marine Corps Boot Camp was an exercise a dozen men would do when they picked up a telephone pole weighing hundreds of pounds, pulled it up over their heads and did repetitive “up and on shoulders.”
Life isn’t fair, those of us taller than 5’ 10” found out each time we strained to lift the poles up from our shoulders while Drill Instructors screamed that we were a bunch of wussies, the worst they had ever seen.
The problem is that of a dozen 18 year old Marines, only three or four were taller than 5’10” the rest shorter. The tall ones had to do all the lifting, the shorter Marines laughed their heads off while they faked lifting the poles.
That lesson is all around us in one form or another.
For example, in an effort to cut down expensive fossil fuel use in California and the country, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger pushed a California solar energy program that would help home owners pay for roof-top electricity with substantial cash subsidies; the federal government chimed in with 30% tax credits.
The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) allocated $3.3 BILLION over a decade to reward homeowners for installing electricity producing solar panels. It collects the money from individual electric and gas company bills.
The goal was to equip up to a million homes with roof-top solar panels that would cut power use substantially. In its first five years, according to PUC records, 924 megawatts of power were produced at 94,900 locations around California.
A $372,000 cash subsidy was granted to one residence that installed a $2.2 million solar unit; over 22 solar unit installations were granted subsidies of over $100,000 and another 71 with subsidies of $50,000 or more.
In world famous Malibu with 13,000 people the rich and famous corralled $1.5 million in state subsidies while the predominately Hispanic and Black city of Compton with 140,000 people managed ONE cash subsidy for a solar unit installation granted a subsidy of $2269.
And who is paying for that power to come to your home? The masses, that’s who. Millions of people (the tall ones) pay extra money in their utility bills and taxes from which millions of dollars are skimmed off the top to subsidize solar panel units on homes of a tiny few wealthy people (the short people) who are granted thousands of dollars in order to save a few dollars on their monthly utility bills.
What makes matters worse is how companies have found and exploited this loophole in order to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal loans and grants under solar energy auspices and have been stripped of those hundreds of millions of dollars by skilled rip-off artists while taxpayers continue to send money to Washington.
Back to solar rooftop units. A large Democratic fundraiser named Elon Musk organized a solar company – Solar City Corp. — that has received over $400 million in subsidies. Here’s how:
Homeowners in low and moderate income neighborhoods are bombarded by radio and television ads aimed at them, then approached by sales people who smoothly convince homeowners that if they sign up to lease the equipment for their roof tops, the company will waive all up-front fees and charges, organize outside financing for the lease and guarantee a lower monthly utility bill. That’s what they sell. They sign up the owner for a twenty year lease and the company collects the state and federal cash subsidies and tax credits because they own the units, not the homeowner. Concurrently, no one knows how much the unit lowers the value of the house until it comes time to sell because the unit is a monthly expense – for up to twenty years — and is not an integral part of the residence.
Musk’s Solar City company, for example, have profited by receiving over $400 million in cash from the state and federal governments plus commissions from the financing his company arranges for homeowners. It pounds sun drenched cities like Las Vegas with a barrage of radio and TV ads, for example.
Lowering energy consumption by developing non-fossil fuel sources is a worthy goal. Enriching a handful of well-connected rich people is not.
When one looks at places like Compton, East Los Angeles, the Bronx, the South Side of Chicago and all the other urban areas full of low and moderate income homeowners one sees hardworking people trying to survive and succeed. When those same people are seen by some among us, they are seen as people ready for fleecing with help from the government.

Contreras formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times