Owners of rooftop solar panels are a victim of their own success

T’is the season for BC Hydro to be jolly, while the days are short and the sun is low on the horizon.

The weak sun means that owners of rooftop solar panels won’t be generating enough electricity to sell back to BC Hydro.

Despite original enthusiasm, BC Hydro now claims they are paying customers too much for power generated by the installations.

Nancy Bepple. image: armchairmayor.ca

On their website, they like to post good-news stories of happy, energy-conscious customers with their solar panels; customers like former Kamloops city councillor (and former colleague of mine at Thompson Rivers University), Nancy Bepple. In no time after the installation, she was selling surplus electricity. After connecting to the grid in July, she had generated more electricity than she used.

Then BC Hydro got cold feet and wanted to walk away from the deal.

Bepple complained about BC Hydro’s reneging on the original deal.  In her article on the armchairmayor.ca in 2018, she says:

“Three years ago, I installed a 2000 W panel system on my house.  It was a sizeable investment of about $8,000, which will take 15 years or more to pay off. BC Hydro wants to walk away from their agreement with homeowners who generate solar power.” But she told me recently: “there is a $5000 rebate that speeds things up [payback] considerably.”

Peter Nix saw an opportunity and spent $145,000 from his pension savings on a 192-panel solar farm in B.C.’s Cowichan Valley in 2016. Then, BC Hydro told him BC they never meant to encourage people like him to sell power back to the grid:

“The purpose of the net-metering program has always been to provide our customers with the opportunity to use a small generating unit, fuelled by a renewable source, to offset some of their own usage, not to be a power supply source for BC Hydro,”

But why would electrical utilities not want as many sources of power as possible?

Maybe small power producers are just a nuisance with the huge Site C dam to come on line in a few years. Or maybe the addition of power to the grid at unpredictable times makes management of distribution difficult.

Or maybe energy is only one part of an electricity utility and the amount that customers are paid should reflect the total operation. That’s the case in California.

California’s 26-year-old program to put solar panels on customers’ homes has been wildly successful with more than 1.3 million residential solar installations, more than any other state.

The amount Californians are paid for the electricity they generate allows them to pay quickly for the cost of the solar panels. It only takes about three to four years for homeowners to recoup installation costs of US$20,000 by selling extra energy to the utilities.

Utilities say more needs to be done to make sure solar customers are paying for all the parts of the energy grid they use beyond energy generation, including transmission, distribution and even wildfire-prevention work.

Customers with solar panels should be paid for extra power they generate but at the true market rate. Otherwise, everyone else is subsidizing the cost of the installations.

Our PM has more power than a rational US president

Let’s compare the powers of our PM and the US president under the assumption that rational persons occupy the position.

image: CTV News

Our PM has more powers than the US president. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins pointed them out:

“In your form of government, particularly in a majority government, your prime minister has much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having,” Wilkins said in 2008.

Unlike the U.S., our prime minister controls both the executive (cabinet) and legislative (House of Commons and Senate) branches of government.  

“Can you imagine,” Wilkins wondered, “what it would be like for the U.S. president to be able to appoint cabinet members, senators and judges without lengthy confirmation hearings?”

If President-elect Biden had the powers of our prime minister, he would not face the challenge of passing bills through a divided Congress. As a result of the last U.S. election, the Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Republicans control the Senate.

While our PM doesn’t control the Canadian Senate, he exerts influence by virtue of representing an elected House of Commons.

This control isn’t written into our constitution; it’s an understanding that has evolved over time from when Sir John A. Macdonald described the Senate as a body of “sober second thought” that would curb the “democratic excesses” of the elected House of Commons.

The unwritten nature of governance and common sense is something that escapes the U.S. Outgoing President (OGP –I’m tired of speaking his name).  

The American Declaration of Independence states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Leaders are assumed to be versed in common sense and the unspoken customs of government, and in decent conduct without it being spelled out.

The OGP didn’t hold anything to be self evident. He declared that the importation of Canadian aluminum was a threat to U.S. security and under powers given the president in such matters, imposed tariffs on Canadian metals.

A rational president would have to demonstrate the alleged threat that Canada poses to U.S. security but in the case of the OGP, just saying it made it fact. And since there was no written law that said he had to, he didn’t demonstrate any threat.

The OGP has a habit of claiming things were true because he says they are true. At 2:30 in morning, the day after the presidential election began in the U.S., he declared himself to be winner even as ballots were still being counted. Now he declares that he actually got the most votes without a shred of evidence to back the claim.

Claiming things are true when they demonstrably are not is what most people would call lying. But for this unstable president, his delusional thinking that he can affect the outcome of events with the power of his utterances puts his sanity in doubt.

President-elect Biden brings to office, not just sanity, not just an appreciation of the letter of the law, but the understanding of governmental mores: the social norms that are widely observed within a society.

His presidency promises to be a breath of fresh air.

How I learned to like the monarchy

As a ten-year-old, I was eager to see Princess Elizabeth when she visited Edmonton in 1951; a year before she became Queen. My parents and I lined the street along with hundreds of other Edmontonians to catch a glimpse of her, only a few blocks from where I lived.

  photo: Yousuf Karsh (1951)

I didn’t know anything about the monarchy. I probably would have been as enthused if she was a Disney princess. My parents probably understood the celebratory mood better. The pretty young princess and heir-apparent to the throne embodied both celebrity and power.

Older, I admired countries that had shed monarchies like the Republic of France with their evocative motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” I wanted Canada to be more like The Republic of the United States, our exuberant neighbour to the south.

Despite reservations about the monarchy, I liked the fact that Canada is part of a club: the Commonwealth of Nations of which Elizabeth is head. The motto of “free and equal” suited my sensibilities. In my twenties, I fancied myself as a citizen of the world. Since the Commonwealth spans the globe with 52 member states and one-third of the world’s population, it was a club worth exploring.

So in 1964, I quit work and spent a year traveling around the globe by ship visiting some countries in my Commonwealth: New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, India, and the United Kingdom. Looking back, I marvel at how easy it was to visit and find work in those countries.

I’m less thrilled with the Commonwealth now but more comfortable with the monarchy. The queen represents stability at a time when countries are rocked by politics.

When a crisis arises, such as in B.C. when former Premier Clark clung to power, the Queen’s representative in B.C. plays a critical role. After the BC Liberals were defeated in a confidence vote, Clark wanted to call another election -something no one else wanted. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon sensibly refused the request and invited John Horgan to form an NDP minority government. Guichon’s decision was not arbitrary: it was the result of deliberation and consultation with others of the Queen’s representatives in Canada and in the Commonwealth club.

Now I’m less envious of the United States where government is mired in politics, a maniacal president runs amuck, and constitutional crisis looms. I’d be happy to lend them our Governor General to settle things.

The Queen is remotely located but locally represented by Lieutenant and Governors Generals. They represent a kind of glue that holds the Canada and the Commonwealth together in turbulent times. When their duties are not required, they sit on a stately ceremonial shelf; descending only to lend gravitas to public events, awards, and ceremonies.

The selection of the Queen’s representatives generates pride in Canadians. Julie Payette is just such a person. As an astronaut, she saw the entire Commonwealth in 90 minutes –something that took me a year to do and I only saw a faction of it. As a scientist she is an ideal role model for kids who look for inspiration from a remarkable Canadian.

Now I think that a constitutional monarchy makes eminent sense.