That dark side of solar is pretty sunny
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That dark side of solar is pretty sunny

September was the biggest month ever for Tucson Electric Power’s Renewable Energy Department. Over 500 applications for new solar connections came in and October seems to be keeping apace.

What’s driving this surge? Better financing options for consumers and better information, which results in an even broader range of customers.

Now Tucsonans are financing solar through leases, new 20-year solar loans, home refinancing and other means. Recent neighborhood solar home tours showed off all these choices. The trend is also creating jobs (over 8,500 solar jobs in Arizona) while cleaning our air and saving water. What’s not to like?

Some complainers seem set on putting out false information to try and make solar look bad, so let’s set the record straight.

Do you have to be wealthy to get solar? No. TEP’s solar map shows solar installations in every Tucson ZIP code from the foothills to the far southside. And solar is happening in Sierra Vista, Nogales and all over Southern Arizona.

Can businesses save by going solar? Yes. Businesses from hospitals to veterinarians to churches to bookstores have saved money and helped improve our air and water situation by going solar.

Can solar be installed on apartments? Yes. Many Tucson apartment owners have done just that. Take a look at La Mirada apartments on East Grant for example and there are many others. (Check out

Can solar be installed on subsidized housing? Yes. Check out the New Armory Park apartments on West Congress with their 125 kW solar array on the roof.

Are the tax credits helping people who own their solar panels? Yes. Many studies now show that homes with solar sell faster and for more than similar homes without solar. Owning the panels has some benefits over loans, too.

And what about net metering? This allows folks with solar to sell their excess power to the utility company and get a credit on their bill to offset the power they use when solar doesn’t meet all their needs. Some people call this “running the meter backward.”

Is this a scam that somehow forces non-solar ratepayers to subsidize those with solar? No. Studies in Nevada, Mississippi and elsewhere now have shown that net metering actually helps all of us by delaying or preventing new power plants, reducing transmission costs, and helping meet peak power needs. Net metering encourages more solar and more solar helps everyone. Under current rules, net metering is limited so it’s not a way to get rich, just break even.

Could Arizona solar policy help more low-income people? Sure. Arizona could make it easier for low-income homeowners and businesses to go solar by adopting a PACE program where loans (for energy efficiency, water conservation or solar) could be paid back with taxes. Community solar programs for neighborhoods could be made legal. And lots of other ideas could make solar even more available.

But let’s not complain about success now. Rather let’s help people get good solid information about Arizona’s best source of energy — our daily dose of sunshine! And if you do want more real information, go to

Bruce Plenk, the former solar coordinator for the city of Tucson, is a local solar consultant. Contact him at

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