Appalachian Basin

Mark Ruffalo Practices “Energy Independence” with Other People’s Money

Mark Ruffalo is practicing “energy independence” by installing solar panels at one of his houses in New York using taxpayer money.  According to Ruffalo, the $9,003.08 needed from him for the project was no big deal.  Well, probably not given the $15,000 plus contribution from taxpayers to subsidize an uneconomical project.

A recent interview highlighted how Mark Ruffalo recently installed $20,000 to $25,000 worth of solar panels in his backyard to harvest the sun’s energy and soothe his environmental conscience. Its worth noting that according the report, taxpayers contributed more than half the money (everything above the $9,003.08 he paid) for the project.  So Ruffalo, whose net worth is reported to exceed $10 million, took at least $10,000 from New York taxpayers to put in a system he certainly could have paid for himself. Instead, he used other people’s money to finance  the project while he actively seeks to block natural gas development that will provide others with the resources he already has.

Ruffalo believes his solar panels are a step in right direction for “energy independence” and this is a step in the right direction to “catch-up” to the rest of the world.  According to Ruffalo:

Well, I realized a while ago it wasn’t enough to just be against something. I had to find another way that was equally good or better than what I was fighting against. It’s no secret that I am against the natural gas gold rush going on in America. So I have been on the hunt for viable, job-producing alternatives…

I want to walk the walk and talk the talk. I have to be part of the solution. This is one step closer to me being the world citizen I believe I can be.

And, here are the details of the deal he made (emphasis added):

I am leasing my 14-kilowatt solar array from a company called Sungevity.  I did a prepay lease for $9,003.08 (ground mount).

Sungevity’s pricing included the incorporation of a state incentive from NYSERDA [NYS Energy Research and Development Authority] over $10,000 (state rebate) and a federal tax credit, both of which are applied to Sungevity so they can bring us affordable solar.

This system did not involve huge upfront costs.  The great thing about the system is that it can be leased with no upfront money.  Most middle class families can get this system without shelling out a huge amount of cash.

In the past, solar was prohibitive because it cost a large sum of money to put it up.  With leasing, they take your monthly fee out of the energy you are saving every month by producing your own energy. I will be saving more than $1,200 a year with this system. (emphasis added)

So let’s review. Ruffalo is going to save $1,200 per year after taking more than $10,000 (and perhaps as much as $15,000+) from the rest of us. That means the real cost of the system is likely at least minimum of $25,000, when all lease payments, incentives, rebates and tax credits are considered.  A review of the incentives in New York suggest he was eligible for as much as a $5,000 tax incentive from the state and a $4,500 tax credit from the feds on top of his $10,000 rebate.  Ruffalo then gets $1,200 per year back on his $9,000 investment.  That’s a 13.3% return.  Meanwhile, local residents desperate for natural gas development to save their farms have to endure Ruffalo’s attempts to cut the legs from beneath them so he can say he “walks the walk and talks the talk.”

Worse, the state and federal government are putting in more of the money and they have to borrow that money from us, our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren.  Moreover, because New York State utilities are mandated to utilize minimum percentages of solar power in their energy portfolios, there are additional subsidies from rate payers.

The levelized cost (absent subsidies and including interest and depreciation) of solar energy in New York State is 28.7 cents per kWh compared to a statewide average cost of 17.5 cents per kWh and natural gas produced electricity can be as cheap as 6.5 cents per kWh nationwide.  This means rate payers may be subsidizing the cost of Ruffalo’s electricity to the tune of 11.2 cents per kWh and if all electricity was produced with natural gas it would be far greater.  Natural gas is still the best bargain around as the following chart, developed from Energy Information Administration data demonstrates:

EIA Projected Electricity Generation Costs

EIA projected electricity generation costs

Netting all this out isn’t easy, but just depreciating the cost of the system over 25 years ($1,000+ per year) and assigning 3.5% opportunity cost or interest rate on the total investment ($875 per year) suggests the real cost is on the order of $1,875 per year to save $1,200 for Ruffalo.  He has put up the equivalent of $675 per year and the cost to taxpayers and ratepayers is a minimum of $1,200 per year.  Taxpayers and ratepayers are paying out $1,200 per year to save Ruffalo $1,200 per year.  They are paying every bit of his savings, in other words, so he can feel good and crow about it.

Let’s also take a look at those jobs Ruffalo claims.  Below is a picture of a solar farm on Long Island, New York, which involved clear cutting 200 acres of forest to produce two permanent jobs.  I’m not saying I’m not for alternative energies (who isn’t, after all) but there is a happy medium between renewables and fossil fuels.  Many who oppose natural gas development use land disturbance as a reason to move to alternatives, yet here is what happens to produce two permanent jobs with solar energy.

Long Island Solar Farm

Long Island solar farm & land disturbance

Workforce: 200 + FTE during construction, two during operation”- Long Island Solar Farm Project

Here’s more from Ruffalo:

This is real energy independence – energy independence that does not make us even more dependent on the fossil fuel industry, an industry that drags us into wars and gouges us at the pump and at the meter.

None of us likes the idea of fighting overseas in an area of the world where we have to be cautious about hostile nations cutting off our energy supply.  That’s why we are working to develop natural gas here on our own soil.  American oil and gas produced and consumed on American soil – that’s real energy independence because we can’t afford to replace fossil fuels all at once with uneconomical sources that haven’t reached the point where they can be competitive.

American Soil, American Oil

American soil, American oil (and Gas)

We are the innovators, we are the leaders, and I am watching the world leaving us behind. I don’t like it. I feel like we are being had by the fossil fuel industry, which has no real commitment to our community or country.

When Ruffalo says he is watching the world leave us behind, he means by his standards of conversion to alternative energy sources.  It’s easy to see why he’d think that way but the outcome he seeks just isn’t feasible on a national level.  Just take a look at Germany and its solar initiative.  The Germans are currently cutting solar power subsidies because they are too expensive and inefficient. This is noticed in a recent report:

Germany’s enthusiasm for solar power is understandable. We could satisfy all of the world’s energy needs for an entire year if we could capture just one hour of the sun’s energy. Even with the inefficiency of current PV technology, we could meet the entire globe’s energy demand with solar panels by covering 250,000 square kilometers (155,342 square miles), about 2.6 percent of the Sahara Desert.

Unfortunately, Germany—like most of the world—is not as sunny as the Sahara. And, while sunlight is free, panels and installation are not. Solar power is at least four times more costly than energy produced by fossil fuels. It also has the distinct disadvantage of not working at night, when much electricity is consumed.

Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3 percent of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.

Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly 8 million metric tons—or about 1 percent – for the next 20 years. To put it another way: By the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.  – Goodnight Sunshine Report

It’s far more accurate to say we are leaving the rest of the world behind by continuing to develop natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel we have.  As the U.S. leads the world in carbon reductions, thanks to natural gas, other nation’s like Germany are working to dig themselves out of an economic nightmare.  At the same time, a recent Forbes Magazine article highlighted how 180 solar panel manufacturers will disappear by 2015.  It’s clear, for solar to be successful, subsidies are required and those subsidies are becoming increasingly unmanageable for countries that have provided them in the past.


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