Warren Buffett Just Got A Great Solar Subsidies Deal In Oregon

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Warren Buffett won another victory in his battle for solar subsidies in Oregon Wednesday.

PacifiCorp, one of Oregon’s electrical utilities, won a modest lobbying victory and managed to change the state’s net metering policies. Under the new rules, PacifiCorp will be required to purchase far less green electricity from rooftop solar companies, such Elon Musk’s SolarCity, and wind power companies.

PacifiCorp testified last November before the Senate and House of Representives energy committees to get rid of the law entirely, but it only managed to achieve a compromise purchasing level of 3 megawatts.

Oregon and many other states used net-metering policies to encourage homeowners to buy rooftop solar panels, over the vehement opposition by electrical utilities that are forced to buy the power at artificially inflated prices.

Buffett, the third richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of 60.8 billion, owns PacifiCorp through his company Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has a market capitalization of more than $335 billion and has been dumping enormous amounts of money into green energy since 1999. It invested $15 billion into solar and wind projects in 2014 and Buffett himself claims “there’s another $15 billion ready to go, as far as I’m concerned.” Buffett’s energy empire includes major utilities, power transmission companies, and some of the world’s largest solar panel projects.

The billionaire is making serious money off lucrative solar subsidies and tax credits. The Motley Fool, a finance blog, estimated if Berkshire Hathaway Energy were to invest another $15 billion into solar projects today, the company would receive $4.5 billion in tax write-offs over five years, or $900 million annually.

“I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska in 2014. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Buffett’s utility business has been waging a lobbying war against regulations that benefit his SolarCity competition. SolarCity has a presence in Oregon, but hasn’t yet responded to PacifiCorp’s victory.

Buffett and Musk have been locked in a lobbying battle across 44 states and the District of Columbia. Buffett scored his biggest lobbying win in December, when a utility he owned convinced the state of Nevada to impose rules on solar power, which lost Musk roughly $165 million in a single day. Musk counter-attacked and won a big victory for his company in California and is trying to change the constitution of Nevada to benefit SolarCity.

“Musk wants the million people to subsidize the 17,000 just like the rest of Nevada is subsidizing his battery plant,” Buffett told CNBC in early March, referring to a solar energy policy called net metering.

Since the demand of and price for electrical power fluctuates widely on any given day, net-metering is effectively a wealth transfer from Buffett’s utilities to Musk’s rooftop solar companies. Without high net metering payments, rooftop solar “makes no financial sense for a consumer,” Lyndon Rive, CEO of Musk’s SolarCity, admitted to The New York Times in February.

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