By Peter Jenkins
Solar energy in Louisiana is caught in the crosshairs of the current budget crisis. In this session alone there have been over 20 proposed bills regarding solar energy subsidies, all of them focused on either eliminating or reducing the amount allocated for the subsidies.
However, all but one of these bills has failed to move forward. The only bill left at this point, HB 779, sponsored by Representative Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, is being touted as a compromise bill between legislators and the solar energy industry to both assist in the budgetary problem facing the state and to continue providing subsidies for those who would like to incorporate solar energy into their homes.
Under state law, individuals who install a solar energy system into their home can receive a government subsidy to help them pay for the cost of that system. The state will provide a fifty percent credit for the first $25,000 in system costs for a system, after which the subsidy caps off at $12.5K in credit. HB 779 will cap the credit to the first $20K, meaning that a customer could only get up to $10K in credit for an installed system. The federal counterpart program covers 30 percent of a system cost.
As of November of last year more than 15,000 homes throughout Louisiana have installed solar panels which cost the state $61.1M. This program is different from many other programs because it directly benefits consumers rather than corporations. The program allows some people like Venessa and Brent Lewis to cut their monthly electricity bill in half.
The Lewis family wanted to be “good stewards of the environment” and this led them to consider incorporating solar energy into their home system. They use their system to put energy back into the grid, which helps lower their bill from DEMCO. They went from paying a $300 to $400 electric bill a month to paying around $150 to $200 a month now with the system.
Brent said that he believes the biggest misconception about solar energy is that it is unaffordable and that they ended up paying nothing out of pocket for their system due to tax credits and other programs they were able to take advantage of. That’s why the state has the industry in its crosshairs.
“The state hasn’t been good stewards of their own money,” he said. “It’s no less than keeping it the same is fair and if it went up that’d be good. The cuts are just a way to get out of their own financial mess the state has gotten itself into.”
Venessa believes that the state should be pushing people to invest in renewable and alternative forms of energy to not only keep down costs but to keep nature healthy.
“A cleaner environment is important to us because we have two young children, obviously we want to leave the state and the planet in as good or better shape as we found it for our children,” she said.
Jeff Shaw, owner of Gulf South Solar in Baton Rouge, says that solar power creats just as many jobs as it does watts.
“Jobs is the first thing you look at,” he said. “If you’ve created an industry and you’ve given people opportunity to work, that’s just a first benefit.”
According to industry calculations more money has gone back into the economy than went into the credits.
Shaw knows that not everyone has, or even will get solar but he says that they still benefit from the tax credit because “the folks that did not elect to put solar on their home, the benefits they’re getting is that the community, the area, the state is actually cleaner because we’re burning less coal, less nuclear power, [and] less natural gas.” Even if you didn’t buy solar yourself you benefit by your community being greener according to Shaw. For those that do purchase solar he says “it’s giving them an option to lower their bills for many decades to come.”
Ponti did respond to our interview request on May 22, but would only say that HB 779 will only be considered by the legislature after the approval of the executive budget bill, HB 1.