Ethics of Small Wind and Solar, a Road Less Traveled?

Next to my coffee maker this morning, my wife had placed a copy of the Sacramento news paper which had an article about a fraud probe that had been launched against a California based small wind manufacturer and a coupon for a cheap solar panel kit that was being advertised. The article about the small wind rebate program was titled “Fraud Probe Causes Pain for Small Wind Sites”. ¬†As a result of the small wind turbine companies fraud probe, the California Energy Commission suspended the entire rebate program while it’s probe is conducted.

The minute I read the article chills went up my spine. Why? A couple of months ago we came about an inch away from picking up the company’s small wind generator product line but backed off at the last moment. I don’t recall if it was luck or instinct but something did not feel right or it just was not in the cards.

The coupon also next to my coffee maker was for a cheap 45 watt solar panel kit had a picture of 3 solar panels, an inverter with wires but in the small print said the inverter and battery was not included. Though it showed a picture of 3 solar panels on a rack, it did not say how many panels come with with the cheap solar kit. This type of outright deception is something we fight against everyday in the world of internet search advertising.

Some time ago we agreed to a dealership of a Michigan solar company small solar generators. We checked on the solar companies reputation and put up one of their products to sell on our solar web site only to get stiffed with our first order.

Sorting through the good and the bad solar and small wind products and the wholesale suppliers can be challenging… and a little scary. The fact is when we put our stamp of approval on a solar product or small wind turbine we are vouching for it’s durability and performance. What that really means is we are putting our reputation on the line and a companies reputation, like personal character, is who you are in the dark.

What I see when I am in the dark is everyday, I talk to homeowners who are counting on me to do the right thing. Tell them everything there is to know and let the chips fall where they may even if it looses a sale. I had a customer just last week who had researched our product line intensely and told me when we talked that he bet I hated it when I talked to a customer who was so informed. I told him without hesitation that quite the opposite, we think the more our customers know about our solar and wind energy product line the better chance they will choose us.

You see, with behind each call and every product question is a family, like you see in the picture above, that is excited about solar and wind energy and cannot wait to get their kit or system installed. We think there is something patriotic about selling solar and wind energy and want every family in America to experience it.

Even though renewable energy has been commercially available for about 40 years, it is still in it’s infancy. There is nothing big oil and corporations who cannot control the independence of home solar and small wind and would like more than to see renewable energy fail in America. As a country America needs solar and wind for many reasons the least of which foreign oil is not worth American blood.

The small wind turbine article goes on to talk about the company under investigation exaggerated claims of 7.5 times greater energy-generation capacity. This caused many of the sites where installations were made were in low wind areas that would not have supported power production.

We get calls almost every day from homeowners who are interested in wind generators in their homes from California to Iowa. In many parts of the Northern end of the central valley we get an afternoon breeze called the delta wind that comes in from the Pacific when the valley floor heats up. The thing is many small wind turbines do not start generating electricity until the wind blows about 9 mph and don’t produce their maximum peak power until about 18 mph. In most areas of the central valley of California, the average wind is only about 3.5 mph.

Bergey Windpower is one of the most respected small wind generators for homes in the business. Mike Bergey is quoted in the article as saying this investigation and suspension of the tax credit rebate is giving the whole wind industry a black eye. He is right about that but you also cannot fault the California Energy Commission for doing it’s due diligence… which is something they might have done before approving the small wind turbine company in question. Before solar panels are approved for rebates in California they are required to be independently tested by the CEC. They are give a separate test rating which we use because it is more stringent than the standard test conditions that all solar companies test to.

There are small businesses across America from T-shirt silk screen companies to American solar companies that are trying hard each day to do it right. We know a lot of them. Let’s hope they don’t get lost in the noise while we shout at the bad solar and small wind companies.