Matthew Lickona 11:49 p.m., Dec. 10
One of the nice things about being one of the last subscribers to our dapper daily newspaper is that the senior analyst here get coupons. The free flashlight coupon from Harbor Freight has my attention.
When I get there, I want to talk to the manager about how sales are going on Harbor Freight's $159 special for their 45-watt free-standing solar panel setup. Add a power inverter, and the entire setup with a couple of 120-volt outlets ought to go for about $200 with sales tax, even in El Cajon.
Now, the senior analyst here is in charge of purchasing, and I see in inventory that we have a package that recently had three 15-watt CFL bulbs in it, the kind of light bulbs that would screw into an ordinary table lamp. One of those bulbs lights up a room; three of them ought to light up the interior of a small house, or make it very easy for a number of people to come together as a small academic study group, being well-lit for easy reading from three triangulated sides.
My question for the manager at Harbor Freight would be this: How come you guys aren't pushing your 45-watt free-standing solar panel setup more aggressively, especially when SDG&E seems to be getting rate increases approved without much trouble on a seemingly regular basis?
I'm not an expert economist, but I understand that there tends to be a relationship between price and demand. When something is in virtually endless supply, the price of that thing ought to go low and approach zero. By Occam's Razor, this probably explains why there is no public utility that sells us sunshine since we, by state statute and natural law, all have access to sunlight.
SDG&E and other investor owned utilities in the energy industry make money because there is a traditional aspect of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in oversight of those investor owned utilities (IOUs) that says they should make some amount of money in providing the services of a utility to the public, or any portion of the public thereof. Now, SDG&E and the other IOUs would like CPUC to guarantee that IUOs make money, which is to say that the investors and speculators who buy IOU stock are looking for an investment in the stock market that has no risk.
It helps that Sempra Energy, the holding company of many IOUs that one must buy stock in if one wishes to own a piece of SDG&E, pays out a dividend that ranges up to 40% of its quarterly retained earnings. Relative to Sempra Energy's stock price on the market, this is a retrn on investment of only 3% or so, but compared to 3% returns on certificates of deposits plus the liquidity of being about instantly dump-able on the market, Sempra Energy's nearly guaranteed quarterly dividend payments on virtually guaranteed income from SDG&E is handsomely competitive. This dividend rate would not be consistently possible without CPUC tendency to guarantee the income and profitability of the regulated investor owned utilities.
Back here on the farm in Encantostan, we don't own any Sempra Energy stock.
Instead, we are darn interested in lowering our dependence on a public utility that has serious problems when it comes to being vulnerable to the CPUC-regulated risks of hazards, where the risk to wildfires is getting to be well known as part of the business model of SDG&E. This brings me back to those 45-watt free-standing solar panel setups from Harbor Freight that are on special at less that $160 a pop, not counting the required $30 power inverter that has a couple of appliance outlets.
Somewhere on television recently, I saw a local firm that was advertising grid-connected solar sustems starting at a low $1000 for an initial investment. This is a good idea if $1000 is the total price, but as it costs somewhere in excess of $500 just to get a permit for a grid-connected home solar system from the City of San Diego, I strongly suspect that $1000 is just the start of a bigger home-improvement headache than most of us are willing to get involved with. I think this personal opinion of mine is supported by the recent announcement that SDG&E expects that not more than 5% of us customers, consumers, and subscribers to energy industry utility service in the SDG&E service area to actually install grid-connected residential solar systems (where those grid-connected solar systems are eligible for net metering) any time soon.
Without getting all wrapped up in the net metering thing (covered in a previous blog), let's compare that $1000 starter setup that is grid-connected to the same amount of free-standing solar panels available right now at Harbor Freight. It should be remembered that if one wants to link together multiple sets of those free-standing panels, then one should make multiple trips as the coupon limit is one setup per customer.
At $1000, one could get at least three Harbor Freight solar panel setups at the regular price of about $270 each, plus inverters, some cables, and 12-volt car batteries for power storage. On sale at $159 each (and somehow coming in possession of multiple coupons), make that five Harbor Freight solar panel setups. Unless my associates degree with honors in mathematics has suddenly expired, I reckon that with five Harbor Freight free-standing solar panel setups, one could keep a dozen or more CFL bulbs burning without spending one thin dime on power supplied by SDG&E.
With that kind of multi-setup off-grid power system for personal use, both my new laptop and our surviving salvage-value desktops never have to be threatened by another grid-inspired power spike ever again.
I'm not encouraging anyone to boycott SDG&E or not buy Sempra Energy stock.
At the same time, it makes sense to reduce one's own dependence on a power grid that is a known terrorist target by having some personal power generation potential on one's own terms.
It also helps that by becoming less dependent on SDG&E through personal off-grid power generation, especially when SDG&E really, really wants to disconnect some of us as its own plan for reducing its own risk to inverse condemnation lawsuits from any wildfires caused by SDG&E-admitted employee negligence, we are actually doing exactly what the National Response Framework and proposed National Disaster Recovery Framework ask us all to do: be prepared to live without disaster assistance for at least three days after a major catastrophe of national significance.