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Environmental Law

Lawyer with Famous Name Backs Solar Panels in Every Home—and Less ‘Regulatory Red Tape’

Posted Dec 13, 2012 7:46 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is calling for the installation of solar panels in homes being rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy—and less “regulatory red tape” to make it happen.

In a New York Times op-ed titled "Solar Panels for Every Home," Kennedy sees a solution for homeowners who lose power during storms—photovoltaic panels that can be wired to deliver power when the grid fails.

Kennedy says solar panels have dropped in price by 80 percent in the last five years and can provide electricity that costs the same or less than the current retail cost of grid power in 20 states. But demand is stymied for two reasons, he says.

The first: Utilities have little interest in helping customers generate their own power. “Second, state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs,” he writes. “Today, navigating the regulatory red tape constitutes 25 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of solar installation in the United States, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and, as such, represents a higher percentage of the overall cost than the solar equipment itself.”

In Germany, he says, the permit process is streamlined and costs are much lower. It takes only eight days to license and install a solar system there, compared to 120 to 180 days in the United States. “Rational, market-based rules could turn every American into an energy entrepreneur,” he writes.

Kennedy, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-wrote the op-ed with David Crane, the president of an energy company.

A prior New York Times story reported that many homes with solar panels still had no power after Hurricane Sandy because they were wired to deliver electricity to the grid, and safety systems designed to protect utility workers cut the power during the outage. Battery storage can be added to provide power during an outage at a cost of $500 to $3,000; the amount varies based on the backup desired and the size of the photo array.

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