Run, Don’t Walk, From Solar Energy Co-Ops

A harebrained scheme coming out of municipal governments nationwide is the idea of “partnering” (you have to love the language creativity they employ) with solar energy co-operatives. I live in the beautiful (formerly red, then purple, now unfortunately blue) state of Colorado. The co-op being offered here is with Solar United Neighbors (SUN). Partnerships like these are being launched with much fanfare.

What is the purpose? Municipal officials say that it is to “demystify” solar energy and to “educate” residents about the virtues of going solar. Huh? Where is the mystery? A few minutes on the ‘net will answer just about all questions about solar energy. And always beware when leftist politicians say they only want to “educate” you.

Let me say that I am not against solar power. Two years ago, I installed a photovoltaic (PV) system on my house. Honestly, my biggest reason was that I thought it prudent to take money out of my equities and invest it into my house when Biden became president. Turns out I was on target in that respect. But, beyond that, my electric energy costs since installation are about $30 per month, no matter how hot or cold (I pay the grid connection fee and, of course, the governor still wants his tax).

After two years, I’m glad I did it; it has added good value to my property. My system is sized to produce about 120 % of my electrical needs, a hedge against the slight decrease in panel efficiency over time and the gradual installation of more electrically powered equipment. I figure I will have to live another nine years to break even. I can probably manage that, barring any belated midlife crises.

I know some readers will take me to task for being a sucker; solar panels are only for hippies and leftists. They are made by Chinese child slaves, and they incorporate heavy metals that are, today, difficult to reprocess. But I honestly like my panels. I like looking up at them when the sun is shining and, for a month after they went online, I liked looking at my meter running backward (actually, a digital readout with a negative number, not the spinning disk of days gone by). I even bought a Snow-Joe® roof rake to clear the drifts. This is, after all, Colorado, and while we do get 93% sunny days, the snow can be pretty incredible.

But this idea of a co-op with SUN is nutty. The Colorado representative for SUN is Tanner Simeon-Cox, who writes that he is “driven to build power with communities toward justice, liberation, and a democratic energy system” (italics are mine). Now, I understand English as well as the next guy, but what does that even mean?

Installing a PV system on any building is an engineering and logistics function, period. The panels, inverters, production meter, and control software require the attention of a trained engineer and skilled tradespersons. Equipment procurement, permitting, and inspection require logistical coordination. It takes time and patience. Where does justice figure into the mix, and what is a democratic energy system? I presume the liberation is from evil fossil fuels, but even this is unclear from the mission statement.

Elsewhere on the SUN website, one finds another goal: “defend solar rights.” Whoa! Now things are really getting weird. I can’t find those rights in any constitution I ever read.

We also find: “our current energy system reinforces centuries of structural racism.” Well, you knew that was coming. All that’s missing is a claim that solar panels cure misogyny and male pattern baldness. Doubling down further: “Low-income and communities of color have the highest energy burdens.” Funnily enough, I thought businesses and industries had the highest energy burdens.

Mr. Tanner Simeon-Cox may be a perfectly nice fellow. Please understand that I mean not to disparage him in any way. But Tanner has a degree in English and Spanish, not engineering and not business logistics. His prior position was as an organizer with the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project. In other words, Mr. Cox is an activist in every sense; not an engineer, not a technologist, not a business person.

Image: Solar panels by wirestock.

The SUN website lists 67 employees and board members. Most have degrees in political science, social work, “sustainability,” and a few have law degrees. I was able to find only one with a degree in mechanical engineering. Just as well to leave the hard stuff to the engineers in the industry. SUN will handle the politics.

The co-op will essentially be a buyers’ club of members who join. A select panel chosen from these members (by a process not yet clear to the members but undoubtedly clear to the co-op organizers) will then request contractor proposals for PV system installations, and a single contractor will be chosen. Co-op members will be under no obligation to sign a contract but, if they do, they will not be able to choose for themselves.

This is problematic; I like the idea of individual choice. I interviewed five companies before I contracted with my installer. I played one against the other and chose the contractor I decided was the best value. This turned out not to be the lowest bid. Having the contractor chosen for me goes against my libertarian grain; it’s like trying to out-HOA an HOA!

Co-op proponents argue that by presenting only one contractor, all the leg work is done for you. But that leg work has a name: it is called due diligence. You can’t delegate or outsource due diligence; ya gotta do it yourself. What happens, for example, if the chosen contractor goes belly-up in five years? Lotsa luck getting service.

More alarm bells sound the further you get into the SUN website. An advocacy effort is underway to change the current PV tax credit to a federal rebate. You see, if your federal tax liability is less than the tax credit you might get, well then, you must be a victim of discrimination. Paying zero taxes is simply not good enough.

The rebate idea is just another transfer payment. That money is our money, we who actually pay taxes. And a more nuanced (if I may use John Kerry language) unintended consequence: A rebate is ordinary income, and you must report it the year after you get it. Many of the lower-income beneficiaries will get a nasty surprise the next year.

Also ballyhooed is the claim that SUN is fighting California and Florida efforts to eliminate “net metering,” the market principle that gives PV system owners full value of their overproduction. The idea behind elimination was to prevent “cost shifting” of electric costs that are discriminating against residents lacking PV systems. I did not bother to understand California logic (an oxymoron, I know), but I can report that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed this on April 22, 2022. SUN does not mention the veto.

We are just starting to learn of these co-ops and what they plan to do. If your city tries to foist this on you, my advice is to run, not walk, away.

Dr. Bruno, a scientist retired after more than 40 years in research, amuses himself writing books and editing scientific journals, along with wood and metal working.

If you experience technical problems, please write to