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 has nearly three decades of experience working as a reporter, anchor, producer and editor for public radio, large market television news and CBS radio. In her current role as KQED’s Sr. Science Editor, Andrea helps lead a talented team covering science, technology, health and the environment for broadcast and digital platforms. Most recently she helped KQED launch a new, multimedia initiative covering the intersection of technology, health and medical science. She has earned a number of accolades for her work including awards from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Associated Press. Her work can be seen, and heard, on a number of networks, Including NPR, PBS, CBS and the BBC.

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