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Is the Energy Star model worth it?

Changes in energy billing effect all of us.

Why in world would anyone discourage people from saving energy when we know what we know about how the world works?

I admit to knowing only a little about these things, but the way I understand it, because the general trend is for appliances and homes is toward energy efficiency, the companies that sell us energy are feeling a profit loss.

Instead of transitioning the entire system to create and use energy better, they are simply adjusting the billing system. What that means is that if you use less energy, you will actually pay more. If you are an MG&E customer, at least. An article in Isthmus last month explains it well, in case you missed it.

Full Spectrum Solar is a neighbor and a local business. I wondered how the planned rate change is affecting the overwhelming task of making solar affordable and doable for average people.

Mark, at Full Spectrum Solar, told me in an email, "We are concerned about the proposed changes as the proposed structure has already had a negative impact on business.  At the time of the original announcement, several customers that were intending to install a system decided not to proceed."

As I said, I don't know much about these things. I just wonder things like Why do we still flush our toilets with potable water? and Why the heck is it so hard, and expensive, to outfit a home with a solar-energy system? The water question is mind-boggling, of course, but that is another story entirely....

While in DC last summer, I stayed with friends who had solar panels. It was August and they encouraged us to crank up the air-conditioning because their input to the grid meant they were actually making money. I noticed a lot of people in DC had solar panels.

Another friend explained that the reason was pretty simple. In addition to some local tax credits, there was a group, that calls itself a co-op, that essentially holds people's hands through the process. That is, realizing that it's somewhat complicated to install a new residential energy system, it helps to have someone do the math with you so you know the real costs, hand you the forms to fill out for the credits, and connect you with the experienced electrical and building contractors. 

The result is that all these really old homes in downtown DC are outfitted with solar panels and making their own energy, plus some.

I talked to Mike at Full Spectrum Solar and he reminded me that Madison used to have something a little like this. It was called MadiSUN.  The City's webpage still proudly says, "In 2007, the City of Madison was named one of 25 Solar America Cities. Since receiving this designation, the City of Madison's Solar program, MadiSUN, has helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents learn more about solar energy, understand their solar production potential and assist with the solar purchasing process. In support of improving the local solar climate, the City has also improved the permitting process and zoning codes to encourage solar projects."

Unfortunately, before that paragraph is this note: "As of 4/30/2012, the MadiSUN Program's solar agent advising and assessment services are no longer available."

Over the phone, Mike gave me the short-list of what an initial assessment of my home would entail (building permits, electrical permits, etc.). I could hear my husband's voice in my head while Mike talked, reminding me that it would be a huge, expensive project, and asking why, exactly, would we do it? 

At this point in local history, how could I argue the sanity of it?

Unfortunately, the argument isn't just against solar. As Mike pointed out to me, solar panels are really a distraction from the main story here: MG&E's proposed rate changes punish all low-energy users. Anyone who is conserving energy, with a high-efficiency furnace or good light bulbs, is going to see their bills go up instead of down. And that is just backward, not forward.

There is an open comment period now, through October 1. Let MG&E know what you think!

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