Monday, December 05, 2005

Lots of Good Things

At a time when most cities are desperately trying to reduce energy consumption and pollution for the common good, Los Gatos, California demands a counterintuitive permit fee of $1,287 from homeowners who want to install solar panels.

"We're not trying to make money here. We are trying to recover our costs," said Bud Lortz, Los Gatos director of community development...."Certainly solar is a very good thing," he said. "But there are lots of good things. There are heating and air conditioning systems that are very energy-efficient. Should we give those people a break? The average citizen then is subsidizing that work."
Should you give consumers a break for installing energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems? Jeez, that's a tough question, but...yes, of course you should. The idea that average people are "subsidizing" citizens who install such systems doesn't fly; an increase in energy efficiency benefits the whole society, by increasing the supply of energy, reducing pollution, and freeing up money that can then be invested in other ways. The more people take these steps, the better off everyone is.

Using Mr. Lortz's logic, no one should conserve energy either, since by doing so, one would "subsidize" the heedless, energy-wasting lifestyles of others. But in fact, the value of conservation - particularly in California - is not simply that it saves money, but also that it keeps the lights on and the air relatively breathable.

In any event, those "costs" Mr. Lortz is so eager to recover are considerably lower in nearby San Jose, where solar permits cost consumers a mere $220.
San Jose is winning accolades from solar enthusiasts as one of the least bureaucratic places to get a solar permit. After a resident pays the $220 fee, the permit is issued in minutes. Inspectors are specially trained in solar-panel systems.
That sounds pretty forward-thinking and reasonable to me. Mr. Lortz claims that the pound of flesh the city demands from its solar-minded residents reflects the costs of processing permits. There are better ways to cover these costs, though...such as giving the boot to stolid bureaucratic dimwits who are unable to comprehend that energy efficiency is a social as well as an individual good. Free Los Gatos taxpayers from the burden of paying Bud Lortz's salary, and I'll bet the city could afford to waive permit-processing fees for at least fifty homeowners who want to install solar panels.

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