Solar Company CEO: 10 Cents/kWh, Limits Holding U.S. Back

Tom Rooney, SPG Solar 

Tom Rooney, SPG Solar.

Plans to expand solar power in the United States look a lot different from my seat in a cafe near Tiananmen Square than from my office in Northern California—where I am the CEO of one of America's larger solar power companies.

Many of the measures—and half measures—that we read about every day in American papers are things the Germans, Chinese, Spanish, and French decided to do 10 years ago.

So now we are playing catch-up—but still not taking the steps our foreign competitors have long since regarded as routine.

Germany, for example, is hardly a sunny hot spot—but it has more solar installations than any country in the world; 200 times more than England.

That is because German citizens get 75 cents per kilowatt hour for the solar power they sell back to the grid. Spain is similar.

Great Britain, France, and Ontario recently raised their so-called 'feed in tariffs' to comparable levels.

In California, we get less than 10 cents, and that is more than most places.

In the United States, we limit not just the price but also the amount of solar energy an owner can sell back to the grid.

So we limit our results as well.

If we allowed the price to rise, and removed the limits on how much solar energy a farmer, business owner, school, or police station could generate, we would see an explosion in demand for solar and other renewables.

That would reduce our dependence on foreign energy and stimulate domestic manufacturing as well.

It's a two-fer.

That is our best chance of creating solar panel manufacturing jobs in the United States, but it is already very late in the game. Half measures won't work anymore.

About the commentator: Tom Rooney was named president and chief executive officer of SPG Solar of Novato, Calif., in May 2009. The company has demonstrated continued growth since being founded in Northern California in 2001. Rooney holds an engineering degree from Cornell University and a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining SPG Solar, Rooney was a speaker and consultant in the clean-tech sector while also serving on a number of boards throughout Asia, Europe and North America. From 2003 to 2007, he was president and chief executive officer of Insituform Technologies.

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