Energy

Feds Take Down A $1.4 Million Solar Subsidy Scheme

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The owner of a rooftop solar company pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy charges and making false claims to further a solar scheme to fraudulently get $1.4 million from taxpayers.

In the plea agreement to the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, U.S. Solar owner Trevor Dryden admitted he was involved in three fraud schemes, including one to collect state and federal tax credits for solar panels they never actually installed. Dryden’s company was also pocketing rebate checks which were supposed to go to its customers.

Prosecutors claim the government’s losses from the schemes totaled $1,396,956. Dryden, however, only admits to causing $993,506 in losses. A judge is set to determine how much restitution Dryden must pay at a sentencing hearing in June. Federal prosecutors will recommend a five-year prison sentence as part of the plea agreement.

Last September, another one of the U.S. Solar’s owners pleaded guilty to similar charges. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been investigating U.S. Solar since August of 2013. The Missouri Public Services Commission attempted to audit U.S. Solar’s payment as early as July of 2013.

Even the progressive magazine Mother Jones recognizes that taxpayer support for rooftop solar has become a problem. Mother Jones argues tax credits and subsidies ensure rooftop solar companies aren’t actually helping fight global warming and are just enriching themselves.

The magazine claims taxpayer support for rooftop solar is “just helping the utility meet a goal it was already mandated to meet—thus helping excuse it from building more solar capacity itself. In other words, your direct net contribution to reducing greenhouse gas pollution is nil.”

The rooftop solar company Sunnova agrees, saying subsidies and tax credits are “hobbling the industry” by distorting the market and should be allowed to expire at the end of 2016.

Rooftop solar is heavily subsidized by a 30 percent federal and state tax credits for home solar panels as well as rebates. Rooftop solar companies regularly install $10,000 or even more expensive systems at no upfront cost to the consumer, in exchange for simply collecting the profitable tax credits, rebates, and other subsidies. Solar power receives 326 times more subsidies than conventional energy sources, according to Department of Energy data.

Presently, utility companies are forced by law to purchase rooftop solar power at two to three times the rate it would cost to buy electricity from an industrial solar farm.

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