Coal utilities look to the sun

Bloomberg News Utilities that have traditionally burned coal are exploring the rooftop-solar business. Pictured, AEP barges loaded with coal.By Ryan Tracy | The Wall Street Journal

Some of the largest U.S. users of coal are thinking about getting into the solar-power business.

Executives at utilities American Electric Power Co. AEP -2.41% and Southern Co., SO -0.69% seeing a potential threat to their business model on the horizon, are pondering how and when they might enter the market for installing solar panels at businesses and homes. Until now, that kind of “distributed” solar—as opposed to large-scale solar arrays—has mostly been the domain of newer companies like rooftop-solar-panel installer SolarCity Corp. SCTY -4.28%

“On its face you would look at it and say distributed generation is a threat,” said Nick Akins, chief executive of American Electric Power, in an interview. “But on the other hand we see it as an opportunity because our business is changing. There’s no getting around it.”

A growing number of businesses and other building owners are interested in adding solar power to their roofs but often don’t have the funds. Some startups are financing installation and recouping the costs through long-term, solar-power-payment agreements with building or home owners. Utilities can make money that way, or they can simply rent the rooftop from the owner and take all the power for the grid, hoping the solar energy generated will save costs elsewhere.


Also: Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels 

Many people believe that we can realistically build a 100% renewable energy society by 2050 

If you’d like to discuss energy issues, contact Court Rich, Co-Chair of Rose Law Group’s Renewable Energy Department at

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