Friday, May 27, 2016

Will Solar City 'rise All boats, or just theirs?

My first meeting with Solar City.

I recently attended a Solar Summit in Harrisburg PA to discuss the current state of solar and where we want to go as an industry in PA.  There were about 50 attendees, 10 or so were from Solar City, up from two last year and zero the year before.  Their growth in attendance mirrors their expansion into PA.

As a local installer, I view Solar City much the same way a corner store viewed Walmart’s entry into their neighborhood.  A large corporation, well-funded and aggressive in their entry to the market, opens across the street.  As any good business would do, they are using leveraged purchasing of their nearly nationwide operation to drive down their product acquisition costs.  Since they operate in highly profitable markets like California, MD, NJ, etc. they can redirect these profits to subsidize the anemic PA market allowing them to enter our market with an insurmountable advantage.   As a local company where we are focused on quality and customizing each array to our client’s needs, seeing this massive company open up shop and drop millions in advertising overnight for a one size fits all solar array, is indeed intimidating.  

During introductions, Solar City said how excited they were to enter the Pittsburgh market.  When it was my turn for an introduction, I explained that I was not excited to see them come to town.  A little later in the day one of their young exec’s came up to me to ask why.  He explained how ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’ and how I should be happy to see them come to town since it is good for the whole industry.  

I have to admit, having a company like Walmart or in this case Solar City in your corner legislatively is a great asset.  Politicians typically listen to money long before reason and one thing they have an abundance of is money.   We truly are on the same side in a macro sense so perhaps there is some good to come of this if their intent is in fact to ‘rise ALL boats’.

One thing I had found unsettling, however, is that a few weeks prior to the meeting I got a call from a very connected solar advocate who warned me that Solar City was coming to Pittsburgh and that they had been spending a ton of money and time lobbying in Harrisburg.  His information was that they were attempting to redirect several funds of solar designated moneys that my company and all the other local PA companies have spent years of time and lots of capital lobbying to make available for the entire industry.  Most notably, the CFA has roughly $30 million and there are additional funds for Solarize in Allegheny County.  EIS has invested significant amounts of time in securing and assisting both of these programs development so ALL solar companies in PA can utilize them and the entire industry can benefit.  Many strange and suspect things have happened locally since just before Solar City announced it was coming to Pittsburgh but I will not expand upon this because it would hurt the position of some involved that I respect that are fighting for solar.  

What I will expand upon is the CFA.  During our summit a lobbyist came in to give us an update on what was happening with the fund.   He was flanked by several executives from Solar City.  Out of sheer coincidence, this lobbyist was wearing a Solar City pin and was on a first name basis with nearly every Solar City person in the room.   Seeing this, I asked him some pointed questions, which I received very vague responses to, regarding whether this fund was being lobbied to change rules to favor any particular company or business model held by a particular company.  When I asked the questions, the gentlemen wearing Solar City pins across the table from me shifted in their seats repeatedly, another coincidence I am certain.  The responses to my questions were non-committal but the comradery and timely entrance of Solar City execs with the lobbyist tells a story.  

So I said to this the young exec, if you truly are trying to raise the tide so we all can prosper, then welcome to the neighborhood.  We welcome your big name, your fancy lobbyists, your millions of dollars in mass marketing.  If your intentions are to grow solar, then we are happy to have you.  However, if you are trying to redirect funds or programs, sway politicians to legislate in your favor, or any way manipulating the market to unfairly control it, we have a problem.  From the evidence I have seen it looks like this could be the direction you are headed.  I sincerely hope it is not.  The young exec assured me it is not, and gave me his card so I could reach out to him in the event something shady happens.

So for now, I welcome Solar City.  I hope that they are sincere and that they will use their big corporation to do good things for Pittsburgh solar.  I hope that they plan to do this in an attempt to ‘rise all boats’ and not to manipulate the field to intentionally sink those of us who built this market.  I hope that they generate the 100 promised jobs, Pittsburgh can use them.  

I hope that they have good intentions and one thing is certain, I will be watching very closely to ensure that they do.  

Joe Morinville
EIS Solar

Friday, December 6, 2013

Response to article on Fire Safety and Solar

Article can be found here:

Edgeworth and Sewickley don’t need new code restricting their home owners’ rights to own solar and become Energy Independent…they need education so they clearly understand solar safety which we are happy to provide.

The danger solar poses to firefighters is greatly exaggerated.  Solar is less dangerous than a service supply from a utility carrying only a small fraction of the amps when operating at full capacity and the racking the solar is mounted to is actually an asset to firefighters in adverse weather conditions.

A typical residential solar array consists of 1 to 3 strings of 8 Amps each.  A typical service entry wire that is on every home is carrying 100-200Amps.  Though under the right circumstances 8 amps could be fatal, it pales in comparison to the 100Amps currently present on every home.

The code already dictates that a clearly labeled utility accessible and lockable solar disconnect must be installed within 10 feet and visual site of the service meter to disconnect any solar array.  Once this is triggered there are no longer any Amps present in the solar array.  See UL 1741.  There is no such code for service entry wire carrying far more power.

Even after the AC disconnect is triggered, there is still voltage present when the sun is out which when grounded can make an arc which can be dangerous.  However, without the inverter allowing the current to flow the arc is a DC spark.  Not to say that in very rare circumstances this could cause injury or be fatal, it would be a very rare occurrence.  Our crews wire these panels on sunny days all the time.  We have yet to have an injury on any install in our history of over 140 local systems.  This is not to say we have never had anyone touch both sides of the circuit and cause themselves to be energized on a sunny day.  It has happened but it is such a small amount of current it is little more than an uncomfortable sensation.

Even this voltage potential can be heavily mitigated to eliminated using today’s current technology.  The Falk’s mentioned in this article for example are using an inverter system made by SolarEdge that has a built in safety feature which limits all DC voltage in roof circuits to 1V when the inverter is not engaged.  At the same time it conforms with UL 1741 and stops all Amperage.  This means it is less dangerous than touching a 9V battery to your tongue once the exterior disconnect is triggered.  There are three such technologies readily available, we have installed all of these technologies in or around Sewickley.

As far as roof access safety, the solar also helps in this area.  Western PA has abundant steep roofs.  A steep roof is treacherous under dry conditions and deadly under wet or icy conditions.  We are installing solar in Sewickley this week on a very steep roof.  The work is very difficult until the racking is set and attached to the home.  After this step it is easy to navigate the roof since the racking allows a safe tie off, something to stand on, hold on to and catch if you are slipping.  Firefighters who understand the method of racking can utilize the racks as a safe place to hang on to when cutting into roofs.  Removing panels to allow for shingle access takes only a few seconds and since the panels are wired together, they will not drop on others working on the ground below.  Removing two clips that will pop off with a tap of a fireman’s ax opens an area 6ft by 8ft with two rails crossing the opening, each capable of sustaining the entire weight of a fully clad fireman.  Imagine how beneficial this would be for a fireman on a steep icy roof in the middle of winter.

Solar is not the problem, education is the problem.  Solar is safe and beneficial and we will happily speak to any municipality or firehouse about this, provide educational information, bring panels, clips raking and provide site access to a variety of actual installs to help prepare our firefighters to deal with this safety asset on the roof called solar.  Two of our installers are active volunteer firemen and their safety is our greatest concern.

Joe Morinville:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shell Cracker Jobs?

I was reading the paper the other day…well online …  It was a story about the Shell Cracker plant.  

I am a little jaded when it comes to this plant due to the heavy subsidization and the exaggerated claims of job creation it will bring.  I understand the technology, the market and the potential for spin off businesses using the product, but in the end this plant will receive $1.65 Billion in subsidy and have roughly 170 full time employees.  Those are the facts.

Corbett and the Republicans are quick to say they don’t believe in subsidies, or ‘picking winners’ but this is apparently only when they are talking about things that are not close and dear to their party line or when it does not involve a major donor to their reelection campaigns.  I can’t see any other way to spin it that Corbett is helping to create 170 jobs in the gas industry at a cost of $1.65 Billion or $9,700,000 per job.  

I realize the gas industry is cash strapped and on life support  and Shell only made $25.1 Billion in profits in 2012 so subsidy is completely necessary to get them to invest in a plant in Western PA…which happens to have more fuel under it than Saudi Arabia and the most cost effective place to build a cracker plant…  So it is good Corbett is giving them $1.65 Billion to create these 170 full time jobs.

What I found funny is the article talked about the site location they chose.  Shell is building on the site of an existing Zinc plant that employs 600 people.  These 600 people are losing their jobs to make room for the 170 jobs created by the Shell subsidy.  I find this very funny.  Corbett will create a net -430 jobs with the $1.65 Billion in tax payer money. 

In doing some research, the Zinc plant had an explosion in 2010 killing two and damaging the plant.  They then did an assessment to determine whether to build a new environmentally friendly plant here at the same location in Beaver or to move the plant out of state.  They decided to move it out of state, a decision made easy with the proposed sale to Shell.  I guess I don’t understand why Corbett didn’t subsidize this plant that was already here and employing 600 people?  He would have saved the 600 jobs instead of costing a net 430 jobs at a bargain price.  I imagine Zinc is not as good a donor as gas.

In another article Corbett claimed he was ‘bringing back the PA Sunshine solar program…that he has cancelled.  

"Last January, Gov. Corbett brought back the Sunshine Solar Program, and
since then, the state has invested more than $6 million into local economies
in the form of solar rebates," DEP Acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. "We
encourage Pennsylvania's residents and small business owners to not delay in
taking advantage of this funding before the program expires."

He is correct that you need to act fast before the program ends but it doesn’t expire.  It is being closed by Corbett even though its funds are not depleted.  And he didn't 'bring it back' he released the funds originally allocated to the program that his administration held up and was trying to redirect for gas and other projects.  The PA Sunshine program is the smoothest running program in PA history.  It has only one full time employee, Walt Dinda and has processed thousands of incentives totaling nearly $100 million in the past five years.  Due to the assistance of this program, PA now has over 4000 solar jobs.  4000 jobs for $100 million compared to Corbett’s 170 jobs for a single project at a cost of $1.65 billion.  The PA Sunshine program has created 4000 jobs at a cost of $25,000 per job verses the Shell plant that will cost taxpayers $9.7 million per job.  If you think the $25,000 per job is high for solar, please see an earlier blog showing the true economics of solar jobs and economic impact.  For Shell to do the same thing they will have to pay a ton of money to those 170 lucky folks.  

Protecting solar jobs in PA by closing the SREC borders like all of our neighboring states already do is ‘picking winners’, extending the AEPS to match that of neighboring states is picking winners, subsidizing solar through the PA Sunshine or any other program is picking winners, Community Energy through solar is picking winners…but all of this which created 2300% as many jobs as the Cracker plant has cost the taxpayer less than 1% of the subsidy given to one single company, Shell, for one single gas project. 

I guess I am confused on a few things.  I need to look up the definition of ‘Picking Winners’ and ‘Hypocrisy’.  I am confused on the meaning of both…either that or Corbett is.   

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Four Questions for Governor Corbett

Four questions I would like answers from Governor Corbett:

Question 1:

 Why, according to Rep Turzai and Rep Godshall, have you threatened to Veto any legislation that addresses the current holes in the PAAEPS legislation which allows 13 other states in PJM to dump their solar renewable energy credits into PA while simultaneously forbidding PA from doing the same, essentially crushing the market, crippling solar growth in PA, destroying 2000 PA solar jobs so far with more to follow and going against over half of the House and Senate who support this change to the legislation? 
Rep Turzai and Godshall have stated that they will not bring this to a vote even though it has overwhelming support because you have threatened to veto this legislation on the grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, however by this definition every other state in PJM is currently violating the rights of your PA constituents and you do nothing to remedy this, rather you hinder the efforts at balancing the playing field for PA costing PA thousands of jobs. 

Question 2: 

How is $1.65 Billion dollars in subsidy to Shell Oil to build a cracker plant that will eventually employ 500 people not picking winners?  How is ending the PA Sunshine program ahead of time with or without exhausting its funding pool not picking winners?  How is redirecting the final $3,000,000 in the Solar Energy Program, SEP, to natural gas related projects not picking winners?  How is crippling the DEP’s ability to hold gas drilling accountable by cutting funding, reorganizing many departments by spreading them throughout different state agencies and installing a witless puppet, Krancer, as secretary not picking winners?  $1.65 Billion is 16.5 times the investment in PA subsidy for Solar that created 6000 jobs in the solar industry in PA and there is still $3,000,000 unspent. 

I have to assume by your actions that ‘picking winners’ only counts when we discuss non Gas, Coal and Oil investments?  I was under the impression you were the governor of the entire state of PA, not just the fossil fuel companies?

Question 3:

How can we call fracking ‘safe’ because we seal the well shaft down 1500 feet, 1300 feet below the typical water table, but then do not test the water spilling out of that hole running into streams?  The same water that is being held in 3 acre storage ponds for indefinite periods of time without oversight or sunset dates for its remediation, being trucked across the state, across state lines, and dumped god knows where?  This same water that has been deemed to ‘radioactive’ to be accepted by landfills?  All the while we are cutting the DEP budget and crippling it logistically so it cannot hold the drillers accountable. 

Question 4:

How can you call yourself a Conservative when you have attempted to wrench municipal governance rights from our municipalities when they have been forced to take their safety and well-being into their own hands because the PA State Government has abandoned them, rather ‘traded them’ for campaign contributions from Gas and Oil?  This is the biggest ‘Big Government’ power grab I can remember in my 18 years in the State of PA.   You should be ashamed of yourself.  See HB 1950.

Governor Corbett, here in Western PA, us small, common folk who actually live here on top of the shale, drink the water, watch our kids play in our green spaces, are deeply concerned by your methods of governance.  When we had the oil boom 100 years ago, they took the oil and left the rigs and waste, I drive past three of these unsafe rusting derelicts on my way of my kids school.  When we had the coal boom where they came, mined and stripped the land and left 50 years ago, it wasn’t the mines that were the problems, it is the subsidence 50 years later, the runoff that still poisons our streams today, the thousands of acres of land still laid to waste like some post-apocalyptic warzone by the mining.  Now we enter round three of rape and pillage Western PA natural resources but this time it is the Frackers.  In 100 years we have learned nothing!  We allow them to come with promises of cheap fuel and great jobs so we open the doors to them and loosen regulations to facilitate their growth in the short term hoping for a boom.  The boom comes…then it goes a few decades later.  Unfortunately, when it goes the waste and pollutions remain forever.  They remain because we did not start with an end in mind.  You make every effort to cater to drillers at the expense of your constituents.

Are we so na├»ve that we feel the drillers will not drill if we don’t give them an open door with no regulation or accountability?  Do we stop drilling in Saudi Arabia when it is infinitely more dangerous and hostile for us to operate?  Then why would they not drill in PA?  This is a farce, they will drill in PA because that is where the gas is.  You cannot move the gas so they must come here to get it.  One way or another the gas will be drilled and consumed so hold them accountable and do it right this time around. 

This is not about being anti-fracking, or radical environmentalism, this is about where my kids play, the safety of the water they drink, the risks of my wife getting cancer and leaving me all too soon.  This is about our lives Governor not your donors.  Do your job and protect my family.  All I have is my vote, and right now my vote goes to whoever will protect the safety of my family and at this point Governor this is anyone but you.




Joe Morinville

Energy Independent Solutions

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hold Shale Accountable

Read this article about Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protections willful manipulation of water test results from shale related well testing.  Is the water safe?  If so then why are the tests consistently, willfully, institutionally manipulated?

If Shale has no danger to my kids, who live in PA in the heart of the shale, why does the government need to manipulate water testing to make me 'feel' safe?

I find it curious that we reach so far to protect drilling but slam on any of us 'crazy' people who are concerned for the safety of their water supply.  My kids drink this water, nobody kids in DC drink this water.

In western PA where I live, I pass three abandoned derelict oil wells and two coal strip mines on my way to work a few miles away.  My tax money has paid for attempted cleanup of one of these strip mines three times with limited success.  Where is the Coal company now that the site is an environmental nightmare?  They closed down over 50 years ago.  PA taxpayers now pay for this mess with their tax money and their inability to fish in streams in Western PA due to high toxin levels in fish that are directly attributed to mine runoff.

There is a mad rush in Western PA to get gas wells pumping and pipelines in, and the jobs and money pouring into western PA is awesome.  I am very optimistic about the economic impact of shale...however it does come with a price, an environmental price.

This environmental price is fully OPTIONAL.  We can avoid all of the mistakes we made with Oil and Coal if we do this 'right' this time.  If we put oversight in to ensure they are not dumping the waste water in our streams which happens in PA nearly every day, if we have a real DEP that will actually test the water to ensure the frack water doesn't leak from the thousands of exposed staging ponds or spill over into streams or pastures as it spews out from the well, or infects my well that my kids drink from, if we ensure the fracking companies put money aside for environmental cleanup when things go awry then we can rest easy and enjoy the jobs and the low cost energy coming from the wells.

Before you read propaganda and watch documentaries from the left and right attempting to convince you of one side of the argument or the other, do some research.  Us little insignificant people who own the land that shale is being fracked under and drink the affected water are deeply concerned about our children's health and safety.  What do we do if we no longer have safe water?  Why would our government risk our losing this life sustaining resource when it preservation is 100% attainable if we just holding the fracking companies accountable.

In Western PA, money from these companies has purchased our politicians and the fracking companies have free reign to do what they please.  Governor Corbett is aiding and abetting this activity by placing incompetent people in charge of key oversight areas like Krancer in the DEP. 

I don't have the $Billions that Chesapeake Energy does to manipulate public opinion, I am just a dad.  But I implore you to look deeper than the surface at what is going on under the surface in PA before you make blanket assumptions that the anti-fracking movement is some environmental wacko fringe effort.  We are just a whole bunch of dads and moms that are worried about what long term cost we will have for this short term gain.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Response to

This post is a response to an article about new solar ordinances affecting Western PA which can be found here

Roger,  Act 13 was the states attempt to overstep Municipal Rights by forcing the states will on the people.  It is your township and should be your townships residents decision how drilling is handled.  Not the state.  The state does not have to weigh the risks of poisoned water, directly deal with the impact of dramatic increases in truck traffic clogging thoroughfares and damaging township maintained roads, the state does not have to look upon the wells dotting the landscape, it doesn't have to wonder if the 3 acre waste water storage ponds that will sit beside the well heads for the next 50+ years are leaking into their local streams and contaminating the water their kids play in and drink, the state doesn’t have to wonder if they will ever cleanup and remediate the ground next to their homes when they abandon the wells 50 years from now like the abandoned strip mines and oil rigs that dot our landscape today.  I know I have three derelict oil wells between my house and my kid’s school 1 mile away, rusting abandoned eyesores that are a dangerous for my kids to be anywhere near.

The big difference is that beyond aesthetics, solar affects no one other than the immediate property owner.  Drilling affects the entire community.  Whether you believe the hype from the environmentalists or the propaganda from the drilling company this fact remains the same.  It affects us all as a community and therefore its regulations should be determined by those in the community and not some guy in Harrisburg or Washington.  

Groundwater affects my kids.  Leaking abandoned oil wells causes ground water poisoning, leaking abandoned coalmines cause ground water poisoning, leaking fracking operations cause ground water poisoning…

…leaking solar arrays cause suntans.  I will take the suntan any day.

The solar ordinance is in no way perfect and as a solar installer I am not happy with some of the things in it but without it we have no certainty whether we can build on someone’s home, whether the permit fee will be $50 or $1500 until we apply for it and currently have to sort through different interpretations to a myriad of different codes intended for other types of property improvements to see what will or will not be enforced in each solar job.  It is kind of like Russian Roulette when we sign a contract, we may have a $65 municipal cost and a 2 day job or we may have a $1500 municipal cost and an 8 month ordeal with hundreds of hours wasted at zoning hearings for installing something that should be looked at like an HVAC compressor or a swingset.  

We have built over 100 local solar arrays and we never know what to expect until we go to pull the permit.  This is what the ordinance is attempting to ‘improve.’  However, an easier way would be to simply look at solar as what it is, an accessory use item and just blanket allow it like any other accessory use structure you want to put on your property.  Every municipality already has accessory use ordinances on their books.  I see no reason why a solar array should be treated any differently than a swingset or an HVAC compressor.

Joe Morinville
Energy Independent Solutions