SLO economic agency does not support local business

September 5, 2014
John Ewan

John Ewan


Last fall, in three months’ time, the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo (EVC), raised over $100,000.00 in fees from SLO county residents installing photovoltaic systems. The EVC gave ¾ of this money, $78,000.00, to an out of county non-profit – the Community Environmental Council (CEC) of Santa Barbara.

This summer the EVC is again collecting fees from SLO County residents installing photovoltaic systems, and again, the EVC is giving ¾ of this money to the Santa Barbara based CEC. The program through which they collect this money is called “Solarize SLO.”

Why? The EVC says the money is needed to “promote the solar industry.” Yet the solar industry has been a bright spot in this dismal economy, growing each year in San Luis Obispo County and throughout California and the nation. This growth is attributed to many factors, not the least of which is the staggering drop in cost of PV, by almost 50 percent since 2009. This along with ever increasing electricity costs makes solar electric system sales self-generating.

How? The EVC along with the CEC solicit local installers to apply to become their approved solar contracting companies. These companies agree to pay the EVC 5 percent of the total cost of each system in order to be one of two companies promoted as the CEC “vetted” company.

Last fall, out of the 14 solar companies in SLO County listed by the state as Solar Electric Installers, only two applied. Both were accepted, both agreed to the EVC/CEC terms and both passed the surcharge fees through to the EVC. It is happening again this summer, again with only two companies agreeing to collect and pass surcharge fees through to the EVC.

Where? All of San Luis Obispo County is included in this program to transfer funds to the Santa Barbara based CEC. Why the EVC has decided to fund a Santa Barbara nonprofit instead of SLO County nonprofits (such as EcoSlo or GreenBuild or the Land Conservancy) is a reasonable question. Perhaps the economic vitality of San Luis Obispo County is just not as important as that of Santa Barbara County.

When? After receiving the tacit approval of its Board of Directors (the incorporated cities and the county of SLO make up 25 percent of the EVC Board) the EVC staff is re-running this program for four months this summer, siphoning off even more of SLO resident’s money to support the vitality of the Santa Barbara based CEC.

Why are our County’s elected representatives agreeing to and supporting the transfer of jobs to only two companies and the transfer of our money to an out of county non-profit?

What to do? There are at least twelve solid solar electric contracting companies in San Luis Obispo County which are not levying the EVC/Solarize surcharge on their customers. Contact any one of them for a competitive quote and give your savings to the local non-profit of your choice. Then contact your elected representative and ask, “Why did you support sending our money to Santa Barbara?”

John Ewan is the owner of Pacific Energy Company, and began selling solar electric systems in 1980. In 2013, John was honored by SOLARWORLD America as their longest continuous photovoltaic dealer. He has served as a member of the SLO City Council, chaired the; SLO Chamber of Commerce Board, EcoSLo Board, SLO GreenBuild Board, SLO APCD Board and served on the EVC Board of Directors.

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No Smoke, No Fire.

John is purposefully muck raking to promote his own Solar business, as he does every year.

As he states himself: Last fall, out of the 14 solar companies in SLO County listed by the state as Solar Electric Installers, only two applied. Both were accepted, both agreed to the EVC/CEC terms and both passed the surcharge fees through to the EVC. It is happening again this summer, again with only two companies agreeing to collect and pass surcharge fees through to the EVC.

Perhaps, if there were more than 2 companies that had applied, and John’s company was one of them, and someone had been denied, then maybe there would be some smoke here.

Last time I checked, it’ a free country and if local businesses want to opt-in to non-profit educational marketing tactics, and they’re willing to pay the extra freight, and it works for them (last year 100 new installations were made locally through Solarize SLO via local family businesses) then so be it.

Then John shoots himself in the foot by bitching about how successful the program is: $100,000 in voluntary fees raised for the non-profit agency that actually sponsors the Solarize program: (check it out, they look very scary indeed (sarcasm).

The EVC is a fine organization supported by a blue ribbon list of SLO Businesses, and they do an endless amount of work to try to economically enrich the climate for small business in our area. To write a rant saying that EVC doesn’t support local business is just mean, petty, and small, like your business John.

Do yourself a favor John, apply for the Solarize SLO program next year and put some money in your pocket. If you think this kind of muck raking is marketing, I’m certain they can really help you. Any you really need some fucking help!

Wrong.. if government has a role in the board of directors, then it IS an issue. This creates conflict of interest issues where the government is now helping to promote services, again picking the winners and the losers. People do not realize the extent or the impact of this.

Could it be that only 2 out of 14 companies have such low morals? This “program” sounds like a skimming or kick-back system to me. It’s like trying to get anything done in NYC – if you aren’t bribing the unions and local bureaucrats, you won’t get squat. Granted, that is an extreme, but the moral argument is quite similar.

“Hey, kick back 5% to us and we’ll use our quasi-government influence and position over ignorant people to fool them into thinking you’re the only ones ‘approved’!” (something like that?)

Kudos to John (especially for using a real fraction symbol, ¾ as opposed to 3/4).

Now, I think there should be NO “programs” for ANY industry EVER. If solar is so great, it can survive and thrive on its own; no need for some corrupt government / quasi-government tax-payer / rate-payer scam is needed. Scamming money and sending it away is nothing new, but the whole program seems ½(assed).

Just my 2¢ worth

Well, considering the subsidies that the fossil fuel and nuclear industries have received over the years (many in the form of tax breaks and regulatory exemptions), maybe it is only fair to subsidize the solar industry until it gets equal footing before adopting your solutions.

Except those “subsidies” in the “form of tax breaks” are available for all companies and individuals. Dragging in the overly-complicated, abused progressive tax system does not validate any point to any argument. It is so corrupted and cumbersome, that one can find “subsidies” all over the place for a great multitude of things.

Besides, a tax break is not a subsidy. Now, if you find where the government is paying fossil fuel companies to produce oil or payments to offset consumer cost of fossil fuels then I’m all ears.

I do not know of any subsidies for nuclear power, either. I’m not for or against, but seeing how there hasn’t been any new plant built in the last several decades, it does not seem to be very subsidized.

John is a good man and makes his point without regard to his own business interests.

The entire solar energy program is a rip off for most Californians. The homeowners who have money receive the benefits of lowered electricity costs. But everyone pays more for electricity because electrical utility companies must buy the power at much higher prices. They pass the costs on to everyone. It makes everything we buy more expensive. People who rent apartments and the poor are ripped off most of all. The entire program needs to be reformed and reorganized.

“because electrical utility companies must buy the power at much higher prices”

This is incorrect, with grid tie solar you trade your excess power KWH to Pg&e during high demand daytime hours and get them back at night, rainy day etc. If you have excess KWH that you can’t use you get a little (6c per?) for them, but this means you were sold an oversized system.

Paying for Diablo is the real rip off. grid tie solar reduces peak prices saving $ for everyone.

SLO_Johnny, you are woefully uniformed. Solar system owners actually make it CHEAPER for non Solar owners! When I produce power in excess of what I use, I sell it back to PG&E at a very low price, lower than their production and distribution costs and WAY lower than what PG&E pays for outside power when needed. Furthermore, we who produce our own power, we reduce the amount of power that has to be imported at high rates.

SloWeb….put down the crack pipe.

The Mandate placed on PG&E to buy an evern increasing amount of “green energy” is increasing our energy costs regardless of how much solar you have on your house. It forces PG&E to have more spinning reserves at a higher costs. I’ve been living off the grid on solar now for 7yrs, but truth is truth even if I’m a solar supporter. When we start going down the road of lies, we become like the MMGW Cultists that lose all credibility.

“put down the crack pipe” “going down the road of lies, we become Cultists that lose all credibility”

When you sprinkle pointless insults, you lose all credibility.

Rich, try to follow the conversation. I was responding to Johnny’s notion that we who have solar, increase the cost of power to those that do not. It was not about PG&E and any political mandates.

I stand by my statements, as even a small notion of economic understanding supports them.

It’s the very definition of Crony Crapitalism!

When the Government gets involved in promoting one Company over the other we all lose.

As someone who has lived completely off the electrical grid now for 7 years with solar and wind power, I appreciate John raising this important issue. Why would I want to pay a 5% surcharge and have that money leave my local community and go to folks in Santa Barbara? It’s nuts…but then again, check the campaing contributions of the local hacks that voted for it…and it may make a lot more sense….follow the money!

Yes follow the money and influence from the SLOEVC board.

This explains a lot.

Good opinion piece John and thanks for articulating the facts. I hope you not only put pressure on your county representatives but your city leaders as well.

This City Council should be as voracious in advocating for it’s local businesses against this egregious EVC action as much as they’re voracious about spending the sales tax revenues these businesses generate. If this Council will not take action and speak out vehemently in your support, then quit endorsing them for reelection and stop supporting their new sales tax measure on the November ballot. You deserve better so vote with your wallet!!!!


I notice from Kettle’s link (above) that you are on the BoD of the EVC. Could you explain why they chose to do things this way and let us know how much (if any) dissent was given when it was proposed? Was this just a case of passing a proposal that was poorly or deceptively explained or are there some bigger political maneuvers involved?

We are new owners in Los Osos and I appreciate this knowledge very much! Thank you- as we are planning on going solar!

So John, has your business applied to be an installer or are you upset because you want to sell, install and control the local market. There are homeowners who want the PV system but simply cannot afford it. I believe anyone someone can install the systems is a benefit to our community. I don’t understand your message. 1) Do you not want to work with EVC, 2) Do you think their program is ill conceived, 3) Have you applied to be an installer, 4) What is the problem???

Yes- answers to all the above comments would be great too.

This has nothing to do with “solar affordability”, if you can’t afford it, you can’t.

This is about people being charged an extra fee (or whatever hidden costs are called these days) increasing the cost to the homeowner and then sending most of that money out of county.

How does that fit with the SLOEVC statement : Economic Vitality Corporation (EVC) is a regional non-profit, economic development organization committed to developing a vibrant and sustainable economy throughout San Luis Obispo County.

I ask the questions because EVC just had two workshops in this County (SLO and Atascadero) inviting people to come and explore the PV program and apply for assistance. I am very confused about this article and the money going to Santa Barbara.

Are the vendors/installers out of Santa Barbara or is John saying no one in this County is getting assistance from the EVC Program?

I know John, he is a really nice guy, but this is not the first time he has stepped up stating unfair business practices in this County.

The 5% fee actually makes the panels MORE expensive.

I certainly recognize that John has a vested interest here. But that does not invalidate his VERY legitimate point. In fact, I did what John is suggesting, earlier this year.