How My Landlord Went Solar

The New York Times ran an article last Wednesday lamenting the lack of progress in getting Californians to install solar panels on their roofs. The goal, set out by Arnold in 2007, was “a million rooftops” by 2018. Three years later we’re at about 50,000 statewide, and less than 2,000 here in Los Angeles, the eighth sunniest city in America.

I would, however, like to provide at least one counter point to that story: my landlord, R&E Investments.

For months, really ever since I started seriously covering renewable energy for 3P, I have day dreamed about convincing R&E to put solar panels on the roof of my building. I figured they would clearly benefit financially from the technology, feel-good environmentalism aside–let’s face it, they’re landlords, not treehuggers.

The reason is simple: in my building, utilities are included. Since tenants don’t pay their own electricity bills, they have no incentive to conserve energy. There are people in my building who have already turned on their air conditioners and literally won’t turn them off again until November.

Since R&E has no control over how much energy tenants use, they are highly incentivized to get cheap electricity, and since the company is in it for the long-haul, PV’s long pay-off period shouldn’t be a problem.

In the end, I decided not to bring up the solar panels, however. I really didn’t want to be that wacky tenant bugging them about solar powered nonsense, when I might need to bug them about something more important, like my completely insane neighbor (the police were called, he’s being evicted).

Anyway..I had put the whole idea aside when, just the other day sitting at my desk working super-hard on a post for 3P, I heard someone below my window say “power inverter.”

Hmm, I thought. Inverters are a key part of a solar PV installation, they turn the DC power coming from PV panels into the AC you use in your house. Could it be?

Curious, I unlatched myself from my computer and went outside, where I found my building manager Eli Ebrams standing alongside the building looking at the electric meter with Herb Mendelsohn, VP of sales and marketing for Permacity Solar. Herb and Eli were indeed scoping out my building–my building!–for a possible solar power upgrade.

Life = Art.

I caught up with Eli later by phone, and he said a number of factors had nudged R&E to seriously consider solar panels on their buildings:

“One,” he said, “tax credits from the government to make it affordable. Two, the obvious combination of financial and environmental benefits in the long run, and three, the fact that it’s become a more well-known product– t’s not as sci-fi as it used to be.”

Actually, at first Eli didn’t mention environmental benefits at all, before carefully restating his reasons to include them. He didn’t realize that his being able to justify buying a solar power system without mentioning the environmental benefits is pure catnip for anyone who knows renewable energy is never going to get anywhere if it can’t compete solely on the one thing that matters most: price.

I’m in contact with Eli’s boss at R&E, and I hope to be able to report on the progress of this “very special solar power story” in future posts. I also hope to delve more deeply into the company’s decision-making process, and whether other management companies are considering the same thing.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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