NPR had an interesting segment about a rash of solar panel thefts at vineyards. Most of them are occurring in Napa Valley. Vineyards often use ground-based solar panel arrays in their vineyards. Those arrays are easy targets for thieves who pull a truck into a far field in the vineyard where the arrays are usually kept, break through what is often minimal security, and grab a few dozen panels.

In the past year, Napa County vineyards have had more than 400 solar panels stolen. Each panel weighs only about 30 pounds — an easy grab for a couple of thieves. How are they finding where the panels are? It’s speculated that the thieves are going high-tech with their detection and perhaps using an online tool like Google Earth. The free online site allows anyone to use satellite imagery to view close-ups of places on earth. An array with hundreds of panels would be easy to find.

Where do these solar panels, worth about $1000.00 each, end up? Most of the panels never are recovered, but there is speculation.

  • It’s suspected that marijuana growers in Mendocino County, California, are stealing them to cover up their electricity usage.
  • They could be going off-shore where they are hard to track down.
  • Some of the panels have shown up on Craigslist.
  • Less-than-ethical solar panel contractors may be using them on residences.

Vineyard owners are beginning to tighten security around their solar arrays to help stop the thefts. Also, state Rep. Mike Thompson is combating the solar thefts with a provision added to the Solar Technology Roadmap Act that would require the creation of a national registry for solar panel serial numbers to try to short circuit the solar crooks.” 

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