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Tesla, Please Don’t Give Solar a Black Eye

Tesla, Please Don’t Give Solar a Black Eye

I was very excited to see Tesla provide more details on their Solar Roof. A bunch of smart people have already started to dig into the details to try and figure out the true cost, including GTM and PickMySolar.

I have been skeptical of this product – so many have tried and failed. But, the same could be said of EVs, so I’m certainly rooting for Tesla, and will always give them the benefit of the doubt. There seems to be tons of technical risk here, but if they can deliver, even at the prices they are showing on their website which seem to be substantially higher than “regular” solar, then that is going to be a win for everyone. It’s great to see product differentiation in solar – not every consumer wants the same thing, and some people are willing to pay a lot for aesthetics and other less quantitative values. As is true in most every product category.

I’m not worried about the product being a failure. Even if it is, the industry will survive and move on. What I am worried about is a political failure. Specifically, a black eye for solar with the Treasury Department regarding the ITC, which many of us worked so hard to get extended. Is Tesla going to try to claim the Investment Tax Credit on the full cost of the roof? Which, by the analysis linked above, looks like it comes in at about $10 per watt? If they try to do that, then Tesla Solar Roof purchasers will get a $3/W rebate, versus a $1/W rebate for everyone else. For a 6kW system, that’s an extra $12,000. And for producing the same (at least, we hope) amount of solar energy as the sucker who bought the standard solar panels for their asphalt shingle roof. Even if they split out the cost of the non-solar tiles and the solar tiles, and only apply for a tax credit on the solar, it would still be substantially more credit than the rest of us get.

As a taxpayer, I don’t think Tesla or their customers should get a larger tax credit for buying a really cool roof. As someone working in the solar industry, I don’t think they should get more. This is the kind of action that got SolarCity and many other developers in trouble awhile back – marking up their cost basis and capturing a larger tax credit.¬†And I guarantee that the enemies of solar will take this opportunity to paint solar incentives as a give-away to the rich, who don’t need it, at the expense of coal workers.

Let’s hope Tesla steps up and proactively does the right thing here.