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Why solar? Why now?

Paul Kando

Last week I briefly explored nature as a model of energy management. Solar is a good next step in that exploration. Solar panels cost less and less. Most solar power is generated at peak demand times, when utilities pay premium prices on the spot market. The more solar power on the grid, the less need for purchased peak power, the lower our power bills. In many US cities solar power is already less expensive than grid power. By its distributed nature solar increases grid security. With appropriate storage, a house served by rooftop solar can disconnect from a disabled power grid, becoming self-reliant. Solar electricity is free of carbon emissions and pollution and creates good, non-exportable jobs.

Solar Potential
Solar Potential for Downtown Damariscotta/Newcastle
photo credit: Google Earth & Topher Belknap

Burning fossil fuels (energy stored up over millennia) overheats the planet. There is scientific evidence of ice melt, 5–9 meters of sea level rise and extreme storms in a prior interglacial period less than 1ºC warmer than today. Yet at our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions planetary warming will exceed 2ºC by mid-century, reaching 4°C to 6°C above pre-industrial averages by 2100.

Worldwide 2014 was the hottest year on record. The oceans absorbed most of the excess heat, impacting worldwide weather. There were 91 cyclones worldwide, above the 30-year average of 82. Many places had longer periods of extreme heat. The contiguous US drought footprint expanded by 25.9%. Permafrost continued to thaw, releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Sea levels rose. Glaciers continued to shrink, Arctic sea ice diminished but Antarctic sea ice hit record highs for the third year, as land-ice-shelves continued to disintegrate.

Fossil fuel industry leaders knew for decades their products were harmful, yet they deceive the public and deny this harm. They tout natural gas (NG) as a “transitional” energy source, yet enough methane leaks into the atmosphere during its production to cancel any climate benefits. At many wells NG is as carbon-intensive as coal. Fracking consumes up to 9 million gallons of water per well, often in areas suffering from drought. Yet most fracking water, contaminated by toxic chemicals, is injected into deep underground wells, precluding its reuse. A state initiative to lower energy costs by boosting NG supplies would cost more than it would save, according to Maine PUC documents.

More solar energy reaches Earth annually than all fossil fuel reserves combined. We only need a fraction of this bounty and know how to capture and use it. We are free to live off our current solar energy income, like the rest of nature does. But the longer we delay, the worse the climate damage. Net metering – banking with our utility solar energy collected during summer for use during winter – is under attack by industry-funded front groups. Model legislation to abolish it is being peddled to state legislatures, including Maine’s. And a 30% federal tax credit expires at the end of 2016. “Solarize Central Lincoln County” is thus a timely window of opportunity to install solar systems at a discounted price. FMI: 'www.solarizeclc.com, , or 207-589-4171