Ross Clark, Earth Matters | Solar in a time of coronavirus

[Originally published April 4th, 2020 at Santa Cruz Sentinel]

My daughter has hosted a set of family discussions about what our family can do to slow climate change. Her dilemma is that we already have rooftop solar and an electric vehicle so options seemed limited. Our family’s next step was to avoid beef and switch to plant based proteins. But for a well informed 15 year old, that alone does not seem like enough.

One month later, we are sheltering in place. Again, my daughter noted that this global shut down is definitely reducing the planet’s carbon footprint, but is also impacting those who own or work in local businesses. This conversation exemplifies the dilemma we all face. How do we make significant and meaningful global change as individuals and how do we as a society reduce emissions significantly without negatively impacting our economy?

She and I agreed that one answer is solar. Almost 20% of California electricity comes from solar. Many homes have found solar to be a cost effective way to generate electricity and the federal government is still providing tax rebates (26% of the cost of the system this year) that make solar a great investment. But the percent of solar homes remains small. Why are more homeowners not taking advantage of tax incentives to make high return investments? Three reasons: 1) People need information to make an informed decision, 2) people don’t have the assets to make the upfront investment, and 3) people don’t have the time to get quotes from local solar companies.

So, let’s address these hurdles. The State of California and many cities and counties have solar webpages to help you investigate if solar will work for your house. The Go Solar Santa Cruz website provides helpful residential brochures, case studies and a list of local solar installers. David Stearns, my local go to solar guy, confirmed that there are a number of local solar finance options to minimize the up front investment. Santa Cruz Community Credit Union offers a Green Loan with competitive rates. Santa Cruz and Monterey counties offers the PACE financing program that allows you to finance energy efficiency and solar upgrades (including replacing your roof) and have the loan payments added to your property taxes. In many cases the monthly loan payment will be less than your electric bill and once paid off, the real savings begin.

Right now, would be a good time to help the planet by adding investigating solar to your shelter in place to-do list. Stearns confirmed that solar inquiries are down as people reassess their financial situation. While this may not seem like a good time to make a large purchase, it may be the best time to check out the many helpful online solar resources, diversify our investments, leverage federal tax rebates, take advantage of low interest loans, and reduce one of our monthly bills.

By taking the time now, we can make an investment in our local economy and tell our children we are taking action on climate change. For those who can, lets take advantage of this shelter in place to spend 20 minutes online and then make a few calls to local solar companies for a quote. Most will be happy to give you an assessment of your home’s solar potential quickly by phone. Stearns also reminded me of yet another reason to take action now while we “have some time.” Federal tax rebates drop to 22% at the end of the year and go away entirely at the end of 2021. Let’s make this global pandemic the time to take global climate action. Now go wash your hands.

Ross Clark is the director of the Central Coast Wetlands Group at Moss Landing Marine Labs. He’s also a member of the county Commission on the Environment and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Research Activity Panel. Contact him at