CBS looks at savings from solar power, ignoring all the expenses

November 11th, 2005 6:06 PM
     CBS’s Bob Schieffer offered viewers “a solution to high energy prices” that “may be as plain as daylight.” Yet the truth of the matter was far different and the November 10 report showed the network was in the dark about its own story on solar energy.

     The story didn’t just wildly underestimate the cost of one family’s “tiny electric bill.”. It also forgot to mention that the tax breaks for solar power all come out the pockets of other taxpayers – in this case, more than $10 billion worth.

     The “Evening News” went to Barry and Anita Mathis’ house to look at solar panels as a way to cope with higher energy costs. Mrs. Mathis showed reporter Thalia Assuras her bill, which was just $43.01. “It was kind of mind-blowing when I first moved into this house because I'd open power bills and I'd just start laughing,” Mrs. Mathis said. “It just didn't make any sense that you could save this much money on electricity.”

     Assuras then consulted with a solar panel installer who confirmed that her bills would be “70 percent less.” Bills could even reach zero, or “less than zero” as developer John Ralston explained. That means more energy is produced and sold back to the power company. She ended the segment saying The Mathis family “just enjoy the house, bask in the easy money, and let the sun do the work.”

     It turns out the money isn’t quite that easy. A couple weeks prior, on October 30, ABC’s “World News Tonight” interviewed the Reyes, a retired couple in Arizona. They “spent $28,000 more than they would have on a normal home,” to have solar panels on their house.

The New York Times did a story on October 9 on a house that installed solar panels – for $81,000, but only “$27,250 came out of their pockets” after rebates and tax credits from the state. This house was more expensive than is typical, but still the average cost is $20,000 to $25,000 to buy and install a typical home solar system which generally is “too much to be recouped in the time it takes to pay off a 30-year mortgage,” according to a September 11 Times article

     Government subsidies do cover much of the cost. “The state of California covers about half the cost,” Assuras noted about the Mathis family. The federal government has spent more than
$10 billion on research and development alone on solar energy, not counting state dollars and tax credits.