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Why I’m Not a Member of the Solar Energy Industries Association

“On-grid solar is a perfect storm for taxpayers: concentrated benefits for the industry, diffuse cost for ratepayers and taxpayers, and a strong positive public sentiment for solar created by energy Malthusians.”

I have been a passionate solar energy enthusiast since I was 13 years old. My 8th grade science project was a solar powered car. I read everything I could about fuels cells, solar cells, microwave beaming solar-powered satellites, battery chemistry, ocean thermal energy, wind power, and compressed gas storage.

In college, I studied engineering focusing on solar energy. I now run a solar company which I started 13 years ago in Tucson, Arizona. SunDanzer Development designs, manufactures, and sells solar-powered refrigerators for off-grid use and vaccine storage. My solar refrigerator design was recently selected as NASA’s Commercial Invention of the Year for 2011.

I am a free-market entrepreneur. I serve a market niche, the off-grid home or business. This is where you cannot plug it in but must rely on the sun directly to power your necessities or conveniences. As such, we are the next best thing energy-wise to dense energy that you better know as oil, gas, and coal.

This said, I am not a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Nor will I join until SEIA gets out of the crony capitalism business and represents the sustainable solar industry, the off-grid market populated by willing buyers and sellers with taxpayers and on-grid consumers left alone.

Some Background

As recently as a decade ago, a good part of the solar industry was following a healthy free-market path. Solarex in Maryland turned a profit under the direction of Harvey Forest. But around 2006, the federal government began heavily subsidizing solar installations.

From that grew net metering laws and other state and utility subsidies for what otherwise was uneconomic energy. Since 2010 or so, I could have almost 90% of my solar home system paid for with free subsidy money.

But of course the money is not free. It is taken from the pockets of ratepayers and taxpayers to subsidize on-grid solar home systems, which are really feel-good installations of the more affluent.

The more I learned about this new artificial solar industry, the more disturbing I found it to be. On-grid solar is nowhere near a break-even economic proposition. It is a very expensive and futile means of reducing CO2. Its job-creation argument is hollow in terms of opportunity cost given that there is no free lunch in the real world of economic scarcity.

SEIA Layoffs

Artificial, uneconomic solar jobs are a drain on national productivity, not a benefit. But groups like Solar Energy Industries Association do not seem to have the engineering and economic understanding to recognize this. They shamelessly promote a crony capitalism-driven industry bent on plundering taxpayers for their selfish benefit.

SEIA, founded in 1974 for Washington D.C. advocacy,  is now getting cut down to size. According to Greenwire, Obama-era growth of 8 to 45 employees is now being reversed.

First came a merger with Solar Alliance (founded: 2007) in January of this year. And beginning the next month, the contraction began with the end of the Treasury Department’s Section 1603 renewable energy grant program in 2011–and with the looming expiration of the Production Tax Credit at the end of this year.

So far in 2012, 14 employees have been laid off at SEIA, with natural attrition reducing the headcount further. No doubt the thousand or so members of SEIA cannot pay their past level of dues, and many companies (like Solyndra) have shuttered or are about to do so. This will, ultimately, leave the off-grid industry of which I am a proud member.

Government creates unsustainable booms with resource decisions that otherwise would not be made by private entrepreneurs and willing consumers. Both the boom and the bust are preventable and, in retrospect, regrettable.

Good Solar–Give Us Liberty

Solar is a great field. Many hardworking entrepreneurs have and will continue to strive in free markets to make products that meet real needs.

But rather than taking that honest path of hard work, SEIA takes the easy way and runs to legislatures and agencies to lobby for laws which immorally take money from hardworking citizens and give it to industry under the guise of helping the planet.

On-grid solar is a perfect storm for taxpayers: concentrated benefits for the industry, diffuse cost for ratepayers and taxpayers, and, yet, a strong positive public sentiment for solar created by energy Malthusians.

SEIA can count me out. I’d rather work on something that really benefits my neighbors and the planet. But I’d be happy to join this organization if it right-sizes to serve the off-grid solar entrepreneurs.

3 comments

1 ttanton { 10.10.12 at 8:01 am }

most excellent post, David. I trust you’re prepared for the inevitable “clueless starlet” reaction from the cronyists. I prefer to avoid the term “crony capitalist” for the simple reason is there is no capitalism involved.

2 Jon Boone { 10.10.12 at 8:44 am }

Over the last decade of my involvement with the wind mess, I’ve encountered an armada of engineers, economists, professional environmentalists, policy wonks, energy journalists, and politicians joined together at their limbic systems to plunder the tax code and debauch their civic sense on behalf of grid based variable energy sources that produce no firm capacity. Theirs is a cynical collusion to fleece the body politic not only of its financial treasure but of its intellectual integrity as well. They’ve engaged in wholesale deception of the kind inimical to free market ideals and fair market functions.

It is therefore a distinct honor–a privilege–to encounter someone like David Bergeron through this forum. Acknowledging the limitations of his technology while literally capitalizing upon its strengths, he provides a vital niche service, in the process illuminating genuine entrepreneurship for a more civil society. As he points out, net metering, for example, is incredibly uncivil, encouraging individuals to do harm to their neighbors by dumping chunks of variable energy onto the grid, which forces integration costs up and increases utility bills for everyone.

Thanks, David, for what you do–and how you do it. I’m grateful both for your professional work and for the way you expose the merchants of cant within your profession. Cheers!

3 Robert Nitsch { 02.24.14 at 8:05 pm }

It seems impossibly difficult to get started in this industry and I am trying to find work and eventually start a business in PV installation. Is there a group or resource or method that you can recommend for getting started as a PV installer other than SEIA. I didn’t realize there were dues involved for looking for work. That seems pretty antithetic to me. Also there are so many trade schools trying to sell Nabcep now that I don’t know if I should do that first or just try to find work. Central Texas is clueless/obstructionist when it comes to doing this work for consumers.

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