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Opinion: All Solar Wants is a Level Playing Field

DENVER, Oct. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- This is a statement made by Justin Pentelute, Chief Executive Officer, Syndicated Solar, Inc.

Yes, it's a political year.  The candidates are quite capable of telling their stories, making their partisan points, so what I'd like to do here is start a campaign of my own--on behalf of solar energy.  Discussion of that and other critical energy topics has been scarce in campaign dialogue, not to mention that it has been negatively and unfairly skewed when it did break through the political fog.

What more is there to say about solar energy that we haven't heard?  We know it's good, we like it, and it's acceptance by consumers and business is growing.  End-user cost benefits have been demonstrated repeatedly, along with the tremendous job growth generated by the solar industry.  What we haven't heard in sufficient quantity and volume is the need for ongoing support for solar energy from many sources and in many ways.

Solar's growth has been marked by innovation, technical prowess and strong environmental support.  Linking all of these factors is government engagement through R&D, financial support, tax incentives and regulatory pressure on electric utilities.  Combined, these initiatives created a hospitable environment for solar.  Companies like mine have added momentum to the movement with creative applications of solar technology and compelling financing options.  Savings on the monthly electric bill is the basic attraction in all cases.

Fine for now, but we have to focus on a major point:  continuing national and state institutional support of solar is essential.  It needs to be a broad, long-term priority.  In a political climate that is partisan and contentious, support for energy innovation sometimes gets lost in the ether.  That's a mistake. 

In this same category, I am disappointed in the actions of some state legislatures and utility regulatory commissions.  Some have acted with disturbing inconsistency, setting helpful programs in place that foster solar installations and then pulling the plug on them before the benefits have really taken hold.  What's equally disturbing is what I call "the race to unviability," where programs are put in place to imminently fail and be canceled.  It seems unfair for homeowners' access to affordable solar electricity to depend on the state in which the home happens to be built and the all-powerful utility company that provides their electricity. This is a countrywide priority and we should deal with it that way.

Think of the societal good that comes from continued development and implementation of solar electricity.  There would be less carbon in the atmosphere if our electric utilities can build fewer new fossil-fuel power plants.  That could happen because solar electric can supplement power-grid electricity generated by these plants.  Moreover, solar electricity often feeds into the grid when its output exceeds its need in residential and other applications.  That's a plus because not many electric utilities today are anxious to build expensive new generating plants.

Let's not forget that coal, oil and natural gas mining involve significant environmental, personal health and safety issues.  Fracking is the current hot issue, but not the only one.  It's hard to ignore the fact that the big-money traditional electricity sources are dangerous, finite, and unsustainable. The sun, by contrast, comes without any of that baggage.  And there is pretty broad consensus that sunshine will be around long after the planet's fossil fuels are either gone or become prohibitively expensive to recover.

Then there are jobs.  By reliable estimates, more than 100,000 new jobs have been created by the solar industry as of a year ago, far outpacing the percentage of job growth in the general economy.  That trend will continue and even grow as solar adoption spreads through the country.  Solar is, and will continue to be, an economic bright spot for employment and general economy.

The list of solar benefits goes on.  But let's go back to the issue of "continuing institutional support" mentioned above.  By that I mean favorable treatment of solar electricity to boost its further adoption.  If that involves government support of technology development, fine.  If it involves tax policies and rebates that give solar consumers breaks, fine.  If it involves regulatory policies by state utility commissions that either encourage or mandate utility support of solar, fine.  If it involves cap-and-trade regulations that put a price on utility fossil-powered-plant emissions, fine.

We can't let isolated policy glitches like the Solyndra misstep distract us from the benefits of institutional support of solar, especially when the facts suggest that Solyndra was a fraction of a small percent of overall energy subsidy expenditures.  Nor can we let critics who say we can't afford that support or claim it gives the technology an unfair advantage have their day.  The fact is that energy has always benefited from subsidies. Had we not made a national commitment to support oil and coal development, we consumers would not have the cheapest electricity and other energy rates in the world today. 

Energy development in the United States has traditionally relied on government partnerships—and still does.  Consider tax breaks available to petroleum companies for exploratory drilling, and on the inaction side, the political hesitance to implement policies such as cap-and-trade, which would impact the fossil fuel industry, by "leveling the playing field," as many argue.  Then, too, the federal government has a long history of leasing federal lands to fossil fuel developers.  And anyone familiar with nuclear energy is well aware that it would have never become a viable commercial technology without massive government effort in research along with financial backing in the form of plant-investment guarantees, tax breaks, and other incentives.

Overall, federal subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels dwarf those for renewable energy.  This is not to say that these government activities have been unnecessary or improper.  I can side with many who maintain that they have served the national interest.  I simply cite these cases because they are positive precedents for favorable treatment of our vital solar electricity industry. 

All we want is fair and positive policies—financial and regulatory. Let's keep our eye on the prize, the prize being clean, affordable energy to power our homes, schools and businesses, while protecting our irreplaceable resources.

Justin Pentelute is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Syndicated Solar, Inc., a national, full-service solar developer for residential and commercial clients. (For more information, visit  In this and previous positions, Pentelute has been involved with the development of over 20 megawatts of renewable energy projects.

SOURCE Justin Pentelute, Chief Executive Officer, Syndicated Solar, Inc.