Solar users could trade power for cash

Solar panels cover the roof of a Sam's Club store in Glendora, Calif.


Steve Chiotakis: It can be a small fortune to install solar panels on your house.
It takes years to pay that money back. So now imagine if the utilities had to buy any extra power you generated. Congress is tackling that option later today. And from the Sustainability Desk, here's Marketplace's Jennifer Collins.

Jennifer Collins: Billi-Jo Swanson's solar panels generate more than enough power for her house and her stable of horses. The extra energy goes back to San Diego Gas and Electric for free.

Billi-Jo Swanson: SDG is making out, like, big.

Swanson would rather she made out big.

Jon Wellinghoff is the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

Jon Wellinghoff: I absolutely think she should be paid at the full retail rate.

A Senate committee is considering the idea today. Wellinghoff says enough people like Swanson and utilities wouldn't have to build more big conventional plants. States like Washington, California and Maine might require utilities to pay for excess power.

Major utilities are against that. For now, the federal government backs the same incentives it always has.

Wellinghoff: Congress's best vehicle is tax credits.

Or, Wellinghoff says, low-interest loans to encourage more people to buy alternative energy systems.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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How in the world does it seem reasonable for any company in the US to sell for a profit a product it procured for free from an individual with no legal recourse?

I think it would be interesting if congress would just modify the existing mineral rights laws to include energy rights.

Progress Energy in central/eastern North Carolina already buys power back from residential solar panels. The way it typically works is you sell *all* the power you generate with your solar panels and then pay for your electricity just like anyone else would. Currently, since Progress Energy is trying to increase the percentage of energy from renewable resources, they pay a premium for solar. If your system can generate 50% of the power you'd normally need and Progress Energy pays you twice the going rate for electricity (they currently pay more than twice), then you essentially break even. See http://www.progress-energy.com/environment/renewable_energy.asp

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