Why should Congress eliminate subsidies for solar energy? The most powerful reason is that solar energy has come of age and is ready to compete on its own terms without help from the government. No energy industry in the past century has benefited so much from technological innovation, with the costs of solar panels plunging 80 percent within the past decade.
In the United States, solar power is riding high. There are a range of pro-solar policies, including requirements in most states that utilities generate a given share of their electricity from solar power, a guaranteed price per kilowatt of solar power, and subsidies to manufacturers of solar panels and the households that buy them. A federal tax credit dating back to 2008 allows taxpayers to write off 30 percent of the cost of installing rooftop solar power systems. All of this has been the government’s gift to the solar industry.
The solar tax credit is no longer needed, and it’s due to expire at the end of 2016. Congress should do away with it now.
Reliable gas plants
Here’s why: Even with subsidies and state mandates, solar power supplies only 1 percent of the nation’s electricity and even less globally. Despite the Obama Administration’s preference for solar, it hasn’t been of much help in meeting the nation’s energy needs. Solar power has a capacity factor — the total amount of energy a solar array generates as a percentage of its full capacity — of about 25 percent. Wind power is about 35 percent. In contrast, natural gas plants and nuclear reactors produce electricity about 90 percent of the time.
Hence, natural gas and nuclear power, along with hydro, far outshine solar and wind in providing energy reliability and security. Without the continued benefit of clean-burning natural gas and nuclear power, it will be impossible to meet environmental standards for clean air.
5 new nuclear plants
The good news is that the use of gas and nuclear power is increasing. Gas consumption is rising steadily, with about 20,000 new gas wells a year being built in North America since 2000. At the moment, five new nuclear plants are under construction. In the United States and many other countries, natural gas and nuclear power are a necessity, but too often discounted and placed at a disadvantage in competition with subsidized renewables. The United States can’t afford the status quo. The solar tax credit should be dropped.