Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
Per Watt Savings from Off-Grid Solar Panels Balance SDG&E Proposed Rate Hikes
According to Onell Soto in Saturday's distinguished daily paper, the average cost of a grid-connected solar home installation is about $7.15 per watt. The number came up in a story about a contractor who was attracting interest because that contractor's charges over $13 per watt for its customers.
The cost per watt for home or small business distributed generation via solar panels is increasingly significant as San Diego Gas and Electric Company pushes several rate hike proposals before California's Public Utilities Commission. SDG&E is making a long-term general rate case that was mentioned earlier in the paper to raise rates by 7%, mostly to recover costs associated with the 2007 wildfires that resulted in the largest mass evacuation of residents in San Diego County history. Current estimates of the damage from that wildfire complex are around $1.6 billion.
SDG&E rate hike proposals that didn't get mentioned in the daily paper were the other SDG&E proposals to pay for utility wildfire legal expenses and social engineering, such as (1) SDG&E's 'Z-Factor Surprise' application to CPUC over higher wildfire insurance rates and reduced coverage after SDG&E maintenance practices failed to prevent the 2007 wildfires in the first place, (2) SDG&E together with other investor owned utilities seeking unlimited Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) billing authority from CPUC to have customers pay for all uninsured SDG&E wildfire legal and other costs, and (3). SDG&E's PeakShift at Work/PeakShift (PSW/PSH) at Home rate hike proposal to CPUC that SDG&E designed to shift small business and residential customers out of daytime electricity usage, forcing smaller SDG&E customers to get their electricity off the grid during the evening or on weekends, when the off-peak demand from larger, industrial-strength business power customers is less than during normal business peak hours.
A positive note in all of this is CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates moving to strike a $118 million PSW/PSH request by SDG&E to bill us that amount, where SDG&E wants us to pay for advertising until 2015 to convince us that PSW/PSH rates for residents and small businesses are just the thing we need to remind us how much we need SDG&E, every day, especially if we are looking for those quarterly Sempra Energy dividend payments in the mail. No word if CPUC will agree to strike the $118 million SDG&E request yet. SDG&E can still get the money from Sempra Energy to cover that under the CPUC decision as to the holding company's first priority condition to infuse capital into SDG&E, but then the holding company's shareholders might have something to say about executive pay after any transfer of capital away from that sweet dividend pool.
In any case, small business and consumers can expect SDG&E electricity rates to go up, both as SDG&E's solution to not getting enough wildfire insurance looking forward and as part of a social engineering experiment to get a whole lot of us out of business hour competition for scarce electricity even after the Sunrise Powerlink project is completed. Just the single general rate case hike of 7% is several times greater than today's rate of inflation or San Diego's projected inflation rate over the next few years.
It turns out that frustrated SDG&E customers can start generating their own off-grid electricity without the bureaucratic fees, mandated contractor involvement, and regulatory hurdles to actually get paid for excess electricity, the same excess electricity that SDG&E will gladly confiscate for free and sell to the neighbors at a handsome profit for SDG&E holding company Sempra Energy.
Electricity from Off-Grid Solar at $3 per Watt?
Right now, the sale price on a 45-watt off-grid solar panel set from Harbor Freight is running just under $3 per watt, limit one $149.99 set per customer. Add in a small power inverter and some car batteries for storage, and it's still under $4 per watt. If a small business or home power customer adds another set of panels every month or so, then one cold be in good shape to significantly cut the pain of PSW/PSH rates in a year or more of incremental off-grid generation as an always-on backup to possible grid blackout failures, depending on how much energy independence from SDG&E the individual power customer is seeking. Once the solar panels are up and generating power, the raw solar fusion source of that power is available for free, for the life of the system. Based on that information, conduct your own price comparison. Here's hoping that you can save money, too.
For people who feel squeamish about not paying SDG&E for free fusion power directly from the Sun, just remember that SDG&E has a stated corporate goal of not building more local gas-fired peaker power plants than it needs, and then thank yourself for doing your part to help reduce that need. The local environment says “You're welcome!”
DISCLOSURE: I have no financial interest in Harbor Freight. It's just that it is the only company in San Diego that sends me sales coupons on solar panels at home on a fairly regular basis. I guess it pays to advertise.