Napa Valley is a hot spot for solar panel thieves, but the Sheriff’s office is on the case.

The economy may be in the tank but business is booming for solar security companies. A rash of solar panel thefts in the Napa Valley, and elsewhere, have spawned an entire new industry,solar security systems.

It seems that as prices for scrap metal have fallen, thieves have turned their attention to something else popping up in rural areas, solar panels. With more than 34,000 solar installations in California, the state is also reporting the most thefts. Napa Valley is a hot spot because of all the solar systems that have been installed in the past few years. “It is a rural area and these solar arrays are often ground mounted and tucked away in the back of vineyards, it makes them an easy target”, says Napa Sheriff Deputy Jon Thompson. The Sheriff’s office has been giving wineries safety tips for securing their panels. After being hit twice, Michael Honig ofHonig Winery in Rutherford got wise and installed an alarm system. The third time, the thieves got caught in the act. Three local suspects were apprehended.

It is an environmental CSI case of the first order because no one knows where he panels are actually going. In some southern California solar heists, the stolen panels have turned up for sale on Craigslist. But in northern California, the stolen panels have yet to be found. Deepening the mystery, the panels are not likely valuable for their component parts raising the possibility of a black market for panels. There is a lot of speculation where they are going. Some say marijuana growers in Mendocino County are stealing panels to hide their electricity use. Others believe the panels are going off shore. In addition to security, federal legislation may come to the rescue. Congressman Mike Thompson, who represents the Napa Valley, has included a provision against solar thefts in theSolar Technology Roadmap Act. The bill would create a national registry for solar panel serial numbers to try to ‘short circuit’ the crooks.

Listen to Solar Thieves radio report online.

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Andrea Kissack

Andrea Kissack (@andreakissack) is KQED's Senior Science Editor. Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.

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