Southern California environment news and trends

America set to tax Chinese solar panels

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

With U.S. solar usage at an all-time high, heavily discounted solar hardware from China has become a contentious issue. As we recently reported, a trade complaint made by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing hoped to offset any financial advantages those Chinese companies might enjoy.

It was announced this week that after a review, the U.S. Commerce Department will indeed tax Chinese solar panels coming into America, at a rate ranging from 2.9 to 4.73 percent.

"Today's announcement affirms what U.S. manufacturers have long known: Chinese manufacturers have received unfair ... subsidies," said Steve Ostrenga, the CEO of Helios Solar Works (which is a part of the aforementioned coalition) on MSNBC.com.

As reported by the L.A. Times, the rate is not nearly as high as many had hoped, but there is a chance for much stiffer penalties in May if it’s found that Chinese suppliers had been glutting the American market with solar panels at below-cost prices.

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Grant program brings free solar panels to East LA homes

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Photo: Mike Spasoff/Flickr

During a time when the use of solar energy in America is at an all-time high, a new community development program has retrofitted nearly 90 homes in East L.A. with solar panels, attic insulation and a tankless water heater.

As reported by CBS Los Angeles, the Community Development Block Grant program provided the upgrades for free to single-family homes with an income of less than $67,000 in the L.A. County’s 1st District. The grant operator, Enterprise Community Partners, estimate the panels will eliminate 1200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over their 30-year lifespan.

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U.S. solar panel usage through the roof

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Lauren Sommer for NPR

Despite signs pointing to what could have been a grim year, 2011 was booming for American solar industries. According to a new GTM Research, solar panel installations more than doubled last year, with 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity going up as opposed to a mere 887 megawatts in 2010. That’s 109 percent growth, for those keeping score at home.

"In 2011, the market demonstrated why the U.S. is becoming a center of attention for global solar," said Shayle Kann, the managing director of the GTM Research’s solar practice in a press release. “It was the first year with meaningful volumes of large-scale PV installations.”

“We went from an industry that was installing megawatts a year to an industry that’s installing gigawatts,” adds Rhone Resch, president and chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association to the New York Times. “If we can attract the investment, the opportunity to grow is really limitless simply because demand for energy, and clean energy, is just so great.”

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Intel Corp is America’s biggest green power consumer, but Walmart is coming up fast

K.Costin Photography/flickr (cc by-nc-sa)

The Environmental Protection Agency has released the latest updates on America’s biggest consumers of green power, and computer chip producer Intel Corp comes in at Number 1.

A full 88% of the electricity consumed by Intel is green, purchased from wind and solar farms. All told, they ate up more than 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of both over last year.

Kohl’s, Walmart, Whole Foods Markets and Johnson & Johnson round out the top 5, with Walmart moving from 15th to 3rd place on the strength of their green power purchases in California and Texas alone (and pushing Whole Foods down to fourth place).

Walmart has plans to add solar panels to another 130 California stores by the end of 2013, so expect their ranking to move in higher in the following years.

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Bakersfield middle school unveils new solar power system

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LA Wad/Flickr

Thanks to a $200,000 grant from Pacific Gas & Electric, Sierra Middle School in Bakersfield, CA, now boasts an impressive solar power system with the capacity to power 20 classrooms and lower utility costs. The system features 44 solar panels that generate 20 kilowatts as well as a one-kilowatt array.

The system upgrade certifies Sierra as the first “solar school model,” a new program for teaching eco-responsibility that will be implemented in 125 schools across the state.

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