Palm Springs, California -- The normally civil and polite proceedings at Greentech Media's premiersolarevent turned testy today in a series of debates on some contentious solar policy issues.

The undercard featured light-heavyweight Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute in a steel cage match with flyweight Barry Cinnamon of Westinghouse Solar on the pros and cons of Feed-In-Tariffs.

Barry Cinnamon of Westinghouse Solar Defends Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs).

In Cinnamon's words, "The goal is to install as much solar as possible -- we want to install equipment and panels, create jobs, lower customer energy cost and help ramp the industry."

"The other goal is to make it palateable to taxpayers and rate payers."

Cinnamon continued, "I take umbrage to comments that 'Solar is expensive.' It absolutely, positively is not. I can put it on my roof for $5.00 per watt. That's $0.15 per kilowatt-hour. Don't stand for that big lie."

One argument for FiTs is "they work," according to Cinnamon. With FiTs, the European market grew 80 percent, without FiTs the U.S. market only grew 30 percent. Market share in Europe doubled while U.S. and North American market share without FiTs went down.

"How do we put in a FiT that will work in the U.S. with 3,000 different utilities?"  "What we want to do is copy what's being done in Europe with an appropriate IRR and an incentive that declines as the cost goes down -- then you have a program that works," said Mr. Cinnamon, concluding, "We need a national set of incentives."

Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute Wants an Alternative to FiTs

Travis Bradford acknowledges that "We're all pro-solar."

"But there is a real difference between what happens next month and the speed of the solar revolution. FiTs are an easy pick-up but they have problems in the long run."

"It's a fund design problem -- policy makers are bad at setting price. And condtions change. When a government sets a price -- it's probably wrong. If it's too low, nothing happens.  If it's too high you get jammed -- with more solar than you want."

As an example, "Germany began to get jammed -- experiencing 200 percent growth in 2005 and 2006" and Germany was growing at the expense of other nations. It "lowered growth rates for everyplace without a FiT."

"Spain forgot that there's 60 percent more sun [in Spain] than in Germany and had to put on the brakes pretty dramatically."

And then Bradford listed the FiT fiascos:

  • Spain slamming its market shut in 2008.
  • The Czech Republic going back and taxing excess profits.
  • In France -- at least two reviisions and a freeze.
  • Ontario has used every procedural trick in the book to slow down the system.
  • Italy -- When will Italy put on a cap?  
  • Germany has tried to ratchet their price down.

Bradford said,"The market should set prices. The CSI, the RAM, and The RPS have changed behavior in a dramatic way. Let's get PACE financing back. Let's get long term bonds to bring down the cost of capital."

"The biggest challenges will be demand charges and interconnect issues. We have to have a conversation on how were going to deploy this. Not helicoptering money in wherever we can."

"The distinction is whether you target prices or volumes. FiTs target prices."

Bradford urged Cinnamon to get off his FiT addiction and to check into the Betty Ford clinic on the way to the Palm Springs airport. The fight referee called Travis for a low blow on that one and deducted a point.

Cinnamon cited Bradford's book, The Solar Revolution as backing FiTs while Bradford asked for end to the FiT, saying, "Markets are the most effectiveway to set prices correctly. That's what markets do," adding, "Unpredicatable FiTS create uncertainty. Now there's a huge political backlash against PV."

The audience, comprised of solar professionals was in favor of the Feed in Tariff. As Cinnamon said, "The solar industry loves the Feed in Tariff."