Category Archives: solar energy

Signs of the Times

I don’t know what to say about the fact that Kentucky’s Coal Museum is powered by solar panels but …. here it is, folks:

Tre’ Sexton said he was surprised when his company, Bluegrass Solar, was approached about the project. If there was one building in eastern Kentucky that wouldn’t have a solar-power system, you’d think it would be the coal museum, he said.

“Really the first time that I sat down and was talking about it with everybody, I was like…are you for real? They’re really going to go for this?” Sexton said. “I mean, that would be like showing up at a bank and they ask you if you’d mind taking some of this money out of the vault.”

But putting solar panels on top of the coal museum makes sense economically, Sexton said. Public attractions like this one can’t be profitable if they’re dealing with expensive electric bills every month. And people in eastern Kentucky are becoming more interested in alternative energy options.

There’s been a lot of discussion about coal and coal jobs lately, mostly because everyone always panders to coal states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania during election season. Both sides do it, and both sides are wrong. I mean, Republicans are the worst — Trump is famously making promises he can’t deliver, while Republicans are hanging sick retired miners out to dry. Democrats can be just as bad, though. Remember Alison Grimes, running for Kentucky Senate, criticizing President Obama on the loss of coal jobs? Her “concern” was such obvious bullshit, everyone knew it, and of course she got called on it.

Democrats and Republicans need to just stop this nonsense. These are not stupid people. They know their industry is dying. Stop promising to pull a Lazarus on a dying industry. It’s like it’s 1910 and politicians are promising to bring back wagons and farriers. I wonder how a politician of either party would fare if they came into coal country and said, “look, market forces have changed, coal has been replaced, let’s transition your economies to other industries with aggressive economic development and education programs.”

Would that get respect or a barrage of lying SuperPac ads? Probably the latter. That was basically Hillary Clinton’s message, and we all know how well that went over. Thing is, people just want to dream the impossible dream. Lie to me, please. Tell me that you can save my local coal mine, even if that one in Pennsylvania is shutting down. No, these people aren’t stupid, they’re desperate. Desperation is a hard emotion to address during a campaign.

But here we are. That the fucking Kentucky Coal Museum is being powered by solar panels because it’s more economical just says it all, doesn’t it? Coal has been dying for decades, and it’s not because of Obama or the EPA, it’s because of “market forces” and the damn numbers, folks. They don’t add up:

Coal mining jobs, meanwhile, have also fallen 70% since 1985, a loss of 120,000 jobs.

The coal industry has lost much of its customer base not because of regulations but because natural gas production has soared, pushing down the price of that cleaner source of electrical power.

In addition, falling costs for green energy, such as solar and wind power, have cut the demand for coal. So has a move by overseas markets, like China, to shift away from coal in an attempt to clean up badly polluted air.

Lots of people wonder why every election we pander to an industry that accounts for around the same number of employees as Whole Foods Markets:

It’s a good question. I have to say, this is an issue where both sides get it way wrong. I love the anti-fracking people on the left, you know, the ones who just couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s “pro-fracking” and that’s a dealbreaker. Well then, are you in favor of climate change? Are you pro-mountaintop removal mining? Because those are the choices right now. Coal is dying — has been dying, for decades — because natural gas is ascending, and we get natural gas from fracking. So pick your poison.

And yes, solar and wind are good options but we do not have the infrastructure to transition our entire economy to these sources overnight. Our grid can’t accommodate it right now. We need that “Apollo program for energy” that we’ve been promised, but it’s not happening yet. So it has to happen in bits and pieces. Like the Kentucky Coal Museum putting solar panels on its roof, or this coal operation in eastern Kentucky planning a solar farm on a reclaimed strip mine.

We pander to an industry that supplies fewer than 100,000 jobs because there’s a lot of history attached to it and it’s a cultural touchstone. Much of “coal country” is in a culturally rich part of the nation which has supplied America with its most beloved artists, music and literature.

I’m shocked that as much as we pander to this region, we haven’t offered any realistic plan to bail it out this time around. You know, like we did in the 1930s with the creation of TVA, or Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Maybe it’s a sign of our dysfunctional government that we just can’t do big things anymore.

Donald Trump can’t save the coal industry. Neither can Republicans. Nor can Democrats. Coal communities are going to have to find the answer within:

The old mind-set that the region needs a big jobs provider – like coal – is hard to break. Younger generations watch their parents endure unsteady employment and worry about their own prospects. Older generations can’t visualize a different way forward.

One mistake outsiders make, many here say, is thinking all this is actually about coal. It’s not. It’s more about the life coal provided. Where else could you earn $80,000 a year with a high school education or less?

“Embrace the change or be left behind,” says Jeff Combs of Hazard, Ky., standing outside a bed-and-breakfast on a hill overlooking the community’s nearly vacant downtown. “Be open-minded. Be open-minded to more.” Mr. Combs’s father, a former coal miner, implored him to avoid the mines. It was tough work, dangerous and unhealthy in the long term. Combs’s father was on disability in his 50s.

Is there a politician out there with the guts and fortitude to offer a little tough love? Who can say, point blank, times have changed and you have to change with them? Today’s jobs require education and skills, that’s just the reality. Gone are the days when you could drop out of high school and earn a good living in the mines. That’s over. Blaming treehuggers or liberals isn’t going to change that. But blaming others for things we feel powerless to change just feels so much better, doesn’t it?


Filed under energy conservation, energy future, environment, solar energy

Should We Nationalize The Grid?

This happened in Nashville yesterday:


A flotilla of kayakers paddled through downtown Nashville on the Cumberland River on Saturday, holding a banner reading: “Let’s move TVA beyond coal.”

It was a message from the Sierra Club, highlighting what it sees as a need for stronger federal standards to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Ultimately, the group is calling for the shuttering of Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants.

TVA’s coal plants have brought us tragedies like the Kingston coal ash spill, which as I observed at the time was merely an extreme example of a widespread problem. Tennessee is uniquely suited to solar and TVA could easily expand its popular Generation Partners program. Through this program, people like us who have solar panels on our residential rooftops sell our extra production to TVA at a slight premium. It’s small compared to other states — 12-cents a kWh, plus the retail rate (which fluctuates but right now is 9 cents a kWh) — but it helps to offset the enormous cost of installing these systems.

Instead of expanding its renewables, TVA has engaged in a bit of foot-dragging. This is not surprising to anyone with a brain; unless there’s some kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax program put into play, utilities — even quasi-public ones like TVA — really don’t have an incentive to play nice with people like us, other than for the obvious PR value.

Sure, groups like the Sierra Club can remind everyone of the enormous costs of coal, and how alternatives like nuclear are not really economically viable, either. Last I checked, the Kingston mess cost TVA (and us ratepayers) $1 billion.

But while rooftop solar makes a lot of sense economically, it’s also the power industry’s biggest threat. There’s simply no reason why a power company would want to hand over power production to the people. We’re technically putting them out of business, one rooftop at a time. Instead of us buying power from them, we’re selling it to them. That kinda turns the power provider/customer relationship on its head.

And increasingly, the utilities are not happy about it.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

This is the age-old conundrum that goes back to the ’70s when President Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. If individual households can generate their own power, then what do we need big utilities for? It’s the “hard path”/”soft path” debate we’ve always had. Big solar farms or individual rooftops? Right now it’s a mixture of both but off on the sidelines, behemoth utilities are trying to push out the little guys: yes, we can have a few mom and pop rooftop operations, for the photo op, but not too many. Too many and suddenly nobody needs Duke Energy anymore.

And of course the issue has become even more pressing as our transportation gets electrified, and as technological advances make storage less of an issue. If TVA wants to dick around with us solar folks, screw ’em. We’ll go off the grid.

Ah, the grid. So, the utilities say, we maintain this grid, and you use it when you leave your solar-powered home, so suck it up. They may have a point, but the solution is simple: nationalize the grid.

Seriously, why the hell not? The power grid is a mess, a hodgepodge cobbled together with spit and a prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the power grid in recent weeks and I’m definitely not an expert but it sure seems like we desperately need to make a big change, soon. And it seems like the country’s electrical grid, like things like highways and the armed forces, is something you want to be uniform and reliable and stable, without the fluctuations that come when you let “market forces” do the picking.

So far the only thing I’ve seen about nationalizing the power grid are on far-right tinfoil hat conspiracy websites. They seem to find the idea verrry scaaaary. But no one has told me why nationalizing the power grid is a bad idea, aside from a reflexive allergic reaction to the word “nationalize.” (For people who profess to love the nation so much, I don’t get that … but whatever!)

The energy sector is changing faster than anyone anticipated. I can foresee a day in, say, 15 years when individual homes and businesses are powered by rooftop solar, we all drive around on electric cars, and vehicle-to-building technology is as ordinary as apple pie. I know it’s hard for some folks to imagine that the authoritarian Big Daddy utility may be going the way of the dinosaur, but if their best argument against technological advancement is, “it will put us out of business,” well, my answer is: so what. Adapt or die.

It’s kinda like our health insurance industry. What purpose do they serve any more? They aren’t pooling risk to lower cost, which was their reason for existence in the first place. All they do is skim profit off the top to buy an insurance company CEO a gigantic house. Sorry, but that’s kind of a sign that your business model is now rrelevant. If that’s the best case you can make, well, sorry, Charlie.

We aren’t there yet for power companies, not even close … but it appears the mere threat of such a thing has utilities shitting their pants. To which I say: adapt or die. Why should we keep you around just for nostaligia’s sake? Good lord, if the Tea Party and Americans For Prosperity had been around 100 years ago, they’d have been fearmongering about automobiles and telling us how great the horse and wagon is.

I dunno. We need to start getting shit done in this country. Has everyone forgotten about the time the Northeastern power grid failed? That 10th anniversary is right around the corner. That might be a good time for us to start talking about this stuff.


Filed under energy future, energy production, solar energy, TVA

In Republicanland, Some Taxes CAN Be Too Low!

Did you know there’s such a thing in Tennessee as an “unconstitutionally low” tax break? I didn’t either! But according to Tennessee Republicans, there is … if it has anything to do with Tennessee’s growing solar industry, that is.

Today the House and Senate are voting on a “fix” for what the state comptroller’s office is calling an “unconstitutionally low” tax break that was passed to help lure solar manufacturing companies Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie AG to the state. Both companies are now opening major manufacturing facilities here, bringing hundreds of jobs to a state still struggling with 8% unemployment. But the tax break that helped bring them here has Democratic cooties on it, so it must go.

Former Republican House Majority Leader and current Executive Assistant to the Comptroller Jason Mumpower explains:

He says the bill is an attempt to fix a tax break that the Attorney General has said is unconstitutionally low, and he says the proposed increase would still give green businesses a tax break.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Two years ago the legislature passed something that was unconstitutional?

Mumpower answered, “Yes, looking back that is exactly what happened.”

The law passed in the hectic final days of the legislature in 2010.

It was part of the annual Technical Corrections Bill, which deals with changes to the tax laws.

That year, the bill had 66 provisions.

Mumpower was in the legislature at the time and says he and other lawmakers had no idea the bill cut the tax rate so low.

Wow. Mumpower wasn’t just in the legislature, he was House Majority Leader at the time. And he passed an unconstitutional tax break? What an astonishing admission! Apparently because some Bredesen Administration officials started a solar company a few months after the legislature passed this tax break — and even though that company has not benefited from the tax break — that’s still “unconstitutional” to Mumpower.

If you’re starting to smell the waft of bullshit over his story, well, read on:

But while the comptroller wants to eliminate that low tax rate for green businesses, it’s leaving the same low rate in place for other businesses.

Companies that install pollution control equipment have received the rate for years.

Many of them would not be classified as green or environmentally friendly.

They include gas producers, smelting companies and rock quarry owners.

Three guesses what might have happened if those ex-Bredesen officials had started a rock quarry instead of a solar company. And please, the whole constitutionality argument is unbelievably tortured. It pales in comparison to more obvious conflicts of interest coming out of Gov. Pilot Oil’s office (here’s one example just off the top of my head).

But putting aside the pretense given, let’s just cut to the chase: I’m sorry, but you’re Republicans and WTF? You’re going after a tax break? I thought Republicans hated taxes! Hated ’em! Taxes keep jobs away, isn’t that what you guys always say? And here we have a tax break that already brought two major manufacturing businesses to Tennessee and you want to gut it? Seriously? With unemployment the way it is?

Are you fucking kidding me, Tennessee Republicans?

If ever there were a more obvious example of Tennessee Republicans blinded by their partisanship, I’d love to see it. Even when their ideology smacks up against their partisanship, partisanship wins.

Honestly, you people have no principles at all. None.


Filed under solar energy, taxes, Tennessee, Tennessee politics

Sometimes The Answers Are So Simple

I don’t know if this was a subtle ad for Pepsi but I’m thinking not. If it were, they’d be shrieking about what good corporate citizens they are by donating gazillions of empty bottles to the cause.

I really loved this, though. What a great reminder that sometimes you can transform someone’s life with the simplest solutions. And yes, ingenuity can be found even in a Philippine slum:

Isang Litrong Liwanag means “a liter of light.” Find out how to help here.


Filed under recycling, solar energy

>Good News, Bad News

>First, the good:

KNOXVILLE — TVA is reversing course and resuming new enrollments in its Generation Partners pilot project to encourage renewable energy use throughout its service territory after being criticized by area alternative energy contractors.

The federal utility made the announcement this afternoon after meeting with contractors who have complained that TVA’s recent decision to suspend the Generation Partners program will harm their business.

This is great news. Momentum continues to build for alternative energy in the Tennessee Valley, and TVA has decided to stick with its successful, though modest, incentive program. It only makes sense; as was pointed out here, TVA is spending $3 billion cleaning up the Kingston Fossil Plant’s coal sludge spill, yet devotes just $50 million to its solar program. Sorta like BP spending $20 billion to clean up the Deepwater Horizon mess, when it could have spent $500,000 on a blowout preventer. Very, very stupid.

Now, the bad news:

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

Well that’s special. BP doesn’t exactly have a proven track record, yet they were allowed to dump a 31-acre pile of gravel in the water to classify their risky, untested drilling operation as “onshore”? That just screams Bush Administration-style shuck and jive, doesn’t it?

It gets worse:

Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.

The scientists and other critics say they are worried about a replay of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because the Liberty project involves a method of drilling called extended reach that experts say is more prone to the types of gas kicks that triggered the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

I’m sorry, but why are we allowing this to move forward? Now that we know BP ain’t exactly honest brokers here, that their accident “response” plan for the Gulf of Mexico included such impossible scenarios as walruses in the Gulf of Mexico, that they cut corners and were blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes. That pretty much proves they aren’t paying close attention to stuff like safety and environmental protection. And we’re going to let yet another “never been done before” drilling operation move forward?

I’ve said it before a thousand million gazillion times but I’ll say it again: the easy oil is gone. All that’s left are oil reserves that are more difficult, more expensive, and riskier to tap. This means for a company like BP to make money, they will cut corners and they will take unnecessary risks. Their business model depends on it.

Look, now that we know what we know, it is unconscionable to allow this project to move forward without, at the very least, a more thorough review of safety and risks. C’mon, people. Don’t be stupid.


Filed under alternative energy, Big Oil, solar energy, TVA

>The Future Is Now

>I read stories like this and I just have to shake my head at how short-sighted we all are:

TVA program that spurs solar installations put on hold

Generation Partners not taking new participants

TVA’s popular program that pays homeowners and businesses to generate electricity from solar energy has hit a wall.

Much of the $50 million set aside for the Generation Partners program has been committed as applications from even more would-be participants stack up.

Costly, mega projects by opportunistic investors may be eating up the money — versus smaller solar installations by homeowners or businesses that need the power themselves and for whom the program has been largely pitched.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials told a group of distributors that administer the program through formal agreements on Wednesday that a moratorium was being imposed.

Got that? Those “opportunistic investors” (I’m sorry, is there another kind? Altruistic ones, perhaps?) are sucking TVA dry of solar funds. So they will have to put a moratorium on the solar program because it’s just too darned successful.

Which just makes me wonder: when, yea Gods, will renewable energy finallly be able to prove it’s competitive in the marketplace? [/Snark]

Yes, I am being sarcastic. Yes, I know solar is subsidized. Guess what, so are fossil fuels. So is coal. It’s all subsidies. What the hell was the Interstate Highway System but one big subsidy to oil companies, refineries and the automobile industry? What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve but a giant taxpayer-funded subsidy to Big Oil?

When you privatize the gains of offshore oil drilling and mountaintop removal mining but socialize the losses in the form of a destroyed Gulf Coast, ruined mountains, acid rain, poisoned streams, lung disease, lost fishing and tourism industry etcetera etcetera, that is a freaking subsidy. Just sayin’.

And that’s not including actual, you know, subsidies that Senators throw hissy fits over when you take them away. Why are taxpayers putting $2.3 billion in coal subsidies?

But back to our story:

Steve Johnson, with LightWave Solar Electric, is worried about the program ending.

It has helped his company grow over the last few years from one person to 18, with a new hire coming in next week.

Without the various solar incentives — Tennessee state government doesn’t offer any for residences — jobs will likely be lost and the fledgling industry could start to slide, he said.

“They’re spending $3 billion cleaning up from coal,” Johnson said, referring to money spent on TVA’s Kingston coal ash spill and re-tooling its other ash sites.

“This $50 million is a drop in the bucket. It would be nice if we had a $3 billion budget because we would actually be producing electricity with it — cleanly.”

In the interest of full disclosure, as many of you know I am a Generation Partner and Lightwave installed my array. They are good people, and this is a good program. I hope TVA is true to its word and the moratorium is, indeed, temporary.

I just don’t understand why we are spending so much money propping up a dead, polluting, environmentally destructive energy system. Especially when it’s obvious that people want solar power. They want to get in on the new thing that is the wave of the future. Why are utilities putting up obstacles?

With every passing day it is more obvious that fossil fuels are an outmoded, old fashioned, inefficient, dying energy source. The future is in renewables and it’s happening whether TVA or politicians or anyone else likes it or not.

Here’s yet another example of how I know I’m right. Read this article about BP’s former refining chief Cynthia Warner–a Vanderbilt grad, I may add–who left BP in 2009 and is now president of Sapphire Energy, a company which makes liquid hydrocarbons from algae. Why?

“I had a slow but growing realization that the industry was maturing, the current fields were falling off in volume more quickly than anticipated, and the feats required to find new oil were becoming more and more heroic.”


“I had an epiphany that if I was going to put so much personal energy into making something happen, it was a lot better to create the key to the future than to nurse along the dying past.” What motivated her above all was her two kids, a feeling she describes in a typically homey metaphor: “What I want to do is leave a legacy for my kids where energy is secure. I don’t want them to have to go out and fight for it — I don’t want to leave them a world where we’re fighting for the last slice of the pie, but one where we’re baking new pies.”

I’m not advocating renewable liquid hydrocarbons–frankly I don’t know enough about it, though I am intrigued at the idea of finding a renewable source of hydrocarbons for all of those plastics we use–I’m just saying: when people who work for the oil companies are leaving because they see it’s a dead-end industry, folks it’s a dead end industry.

Change is happening people, because it just makes economic sense. Climb aboard or be left behind.


Filed under energy future, solar energy, TVA

>No Free Ride On The Karmic Carousel

>[UPDATE] 4:

Those regulatory whatchamacallits sure do come in handy:

Nevertheless, regulators in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil, in effect require them. Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.

The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

The post goes on to point out that “an acoustic trigger costs about $500,000.”

Of course, as previously mentioned, BP is spending $6 million a day on this spill … so far. And from the memory hole, it seems the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Division had a few other things on its mind besides saftey.


Fingers are pointing at Halliburton:

An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday.


The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week. The disaster, which killed 11, has left a gusher of oil streaming into the Gulf from a mile under the surface.

Which gets us back to where I started with this post.


Free hand of the market FAIL:

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the doomed rig lacked a remote-control shutoff device commonly used in other major offshore oil-producing nations.

Would be nice if we had some sort of protective whatchamacallit, some kind of thingie mandating oil companies drilling in public waters take every available precaution to protect the environment so multi-billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries aren’t destroyed.

Another “flaw.” Imagine that.


A temporary halt to new drilling has been instituted:

In a ‘GMA’ exclusive this morning White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod told me that in the wake of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, no expansion of off-shore oil drilling will take place until any investigation into how this spill occurred is complete.

Wonder how long that will last?


There’s always a Halliburton connection, isn’t there? A lawsuit filed by shrimpers names the company:

It also names Halliburton Energy Services and Cameron International Corp., which manufactured the blowout preventer that failed to cap the spill.

Thank you very fucking much. God I love the karma of this: Halliburton rakes in billions in Iraq War profiteering and now has to spend some of that fixing the mess it made in the Gulf of Mexico.

No one gets a free ride on the Karmic Carousel, people. This was absolutely, 100% predictable.

And I love how whenever a private company suffers a disaster we all pay to fix the mess.

Send in the U.S. Coast Guard! Send in the U.S. Navy! The EPA! Homeland Security! (Actually, it turns out there are 16 federal agencies involved in the effort.) Turns out Gov. Bobby Jindal “pleaded for federal help”; I wonder if he regrets scoffing at federal spending a few years back, or how he bragged about cutting Louisiana’s taxes six times–”including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state”?

Maybe he shouldn’t have ridiculed $8 billion for light rail projects around the nation, since such projects lessen our dependence on the very oil now washing up on his shoreline.

Yes, BP is spending $6 million a day on this disaster. Yes, President Obama says BP is responsible for the cleanup costs.

But I’m sorry, we’re all going to pay for this. We just are.

It goes well beyond the costs of the federal response. It’s bigger than the loss of wildlife. It’s the loss of an entire industry:

Louisiana has a $3 billion fishing industry—the source of a third of the seafood consumed in the U.S., according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, a state-run agency. Seafood caught here also helps underpin the economy of nearby states that process it, such as Alabama and Mississippi. The impact could be long-lasting and could be made worse by the fact that it’s spawning season for some fish and migration time for the young of some species of shrimp.

Hey guess what, solar power spilled all over my roof this afternoon and I didn’t need to call the fucking U.S. Coast Guard to help me clean it up. No local industries were harmed, either. What do you think of that?

Look, I’m tired of hearing people say solar and wind power aren’t developed enough to meet our energy needs. That’s bullshit. Seventy years ago this nation entered World War II and transitioned our economy to a war footing in a matter of months. Factories that once made consumer goods were suddenly making bombs and airplanes and materials for war, virtually over night. People rationed sugar and gasoline and turned their lights out at night. It was a massive national effort and it brought the entire country together in a display of patriotism wingnuts can only dream about today.

We can do this if we want to. Problem is, there’s no want-to. There’s too much money at stake. Too much greed. Too many Halliburtons profiting off of taxpayer-funded wars in the Middle East. Oil and coal get all sorts of federal concessions while solar and wind development get peanuts, so “free market” conservatives can then claim that alternative energy isn’t developed enough to stand on its own. Yeah, well that’s how it looks when you stack the deck and rig the books, isn’t it?

The dirty little secret is that this country has been in an energy crisis for 50 years now. No one talks about it, but it’s still there. We’ve had little shocks here and there, but we’ve always shaken them off. That was stupid, and short-sighted. It’s not foreign oil we need to wean ourselves from — most of that comes from Canada, anyway. We need to get off the oil tit in general. God isn’t making any more dinosaurs, the oil that’s left in the ground is more difficult and more expensive to access.

If we’d learned the lessons of the very first Arab oil embargo we wouldn’t be in Iraq today, and we wouldn’t be worrying about Gulf Coast fisheries being wiped out for the next few years. If, after 9/11, George Bush had told us to get off the oil tit instead of telling us to go shopping, we’d be well ahead of the game.

Stupid Americans, we never learn, do we? It feels so much better to tell ourselves we can “drill here, drill now, pay less.” When the truth is, oil refineries are cutting production or shutting down completely to keep prices high. It’s the end of the oil road, a dying industry’s last gasp.

Yes, our economy is dependent on oil, but it doesn’t have to be. Indeed, it won’t be for much longer. There’s no reason in the world why every rooftop doesn’t have a solar panel, and why electric cars powered at solar charging stations aren’t widely available by now. If we could transition the country’s economy for war in a matter of weeks, then we can transition away from oil, too.

If we see this for the crisis it is, of course.

If we learn the lesson from this latest emergency, so close on the heels of the West Virginia coal mine disaster, itself right on the heels of Tennessee’s coal sludge disaster.

Is anybody listening?


Filed under energy conservation, energy future, oil, solar energy

>I Love A Good Idea

>I think this idea is fabulous and deserves some attention. Instead of trying to get folks to buy solar panels for their homes, this company is leasing them:

California company Sungevity has seen a surge in demand for residential solar power systems, after launching a new 10-year solar lease program.

The scheme means customers face no up-front capital cost for their solar power systems, paying a lease payment each month and an amount for their power that Sungevity says will reduce their overall electricity bills.

Sungevity, which has its head office in Oakland, California, said it will give customers a free assessment – called an “iQuote” – for a solar lease at the touch of a button via its website.

The company uses satellite and aerial photography to assess customer roofs to make a determination on what kind of solar system would be appropriate.

Customers will save money “immediately”, pledges the company, increasing their savings over the 10-year lease period.

Danny Kennedy, President and co-founder of Sungevity, said: “This is the killer app for driving the mass adoption of solar. We’ve made it more than affordable to access electricity free from the sun, and we’ve made it easy by selling it over the internet.”

”It’s a killer app.” I love it.

I’m a little leery of the “quote at the touch of a button” thing — Google Earth satellite images are out of date, someone really needs to check things like trees and the pitch and condition of your roof, etc. But the basic premise, leasing solar panels instead of selling them, is brilliant.

And I have loads of questions. How much does a 10-year Sungevity lease cost? Can state and federal tax breaks be applied to a lease versus traditional installation? What kind of arrangements are worked out with the local utility? What percent does Sungevity get of the money from the energy generated?

Let’s face it: right now solar panels are prohibitively expensive. They just are. And while it’s nice to get $1,000 from NES and 30% tax credit from the IRS at the end of the day neither of those is sufficient to make a solar array of any useful size affordable for the average American family.

And here’s something else of interest:

The new solar lease scheme is being funded by US Bank, the nation’s fifth largest bank, which has set up a $24 million tax equity fund to support the service.

“We’re excited to partner with Sungevity on their solar lease program,” said Darren Van’t Hof, Vice President of Renewable Energy Investments for US Bank. “We like the residential solar space and are convinced its growth will outpace commercial solar development in the coming years.”

Well good for them! Financing something that helps people here at home, not a new hotel-on-steroids in Dubai. And for the first time I’ve found someone who agrees with me that residential solar is a growth industry. See, I knew it. I’m so excited by this I could just pee myself.

Installing solar panels creates jobs — good, blue collar construction jobs, the kind that we saw evaporate with the pop of a housing bubble. It creates clean energy, helps lower our dependence on mountain-crunching coal, lowers carbon emissions, you name it. It’s simply a win-win all the way around. And with Tennessee getting into the solar game, more of these panels (we hope) will be made here at home.

There are miles of rooftops that could benefit from solar panels. Churches, schools and hospitals are another one — those are all huge buildings which are just perfect for housing a solar array, yet the non-profit world lacks the upfront capital required.

Here’s another idea: will we ever see a day when utilities like TVA pay us to put solar panels our our rooftops? Sorta like how outdoor advertising companies pay property owners to erect billboards?

So thumbs up on a good idea. Maybe some local entrepreneur can get to work on launching a solar leasing scheme right here in Nashville.

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Filed under cool stuff, environment, solar energy, US Bank

>New Energy vs Old Energy

>This is hilarious. And now I have a wonderful new excuse for the bump on my head that is now a black eye.

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Filed under energy future, solar energy

>More Like This, Please

>Driving down 8th Avenue in Berry Hill today what to my wondering green eyes should appear? The beautiful view of a 25 KW solar array going up atop the Sonic Drive-In bays.

This is absolutely awesome! Clean, green energy, produced right here at home, creating jobs all across the work sector: from the guys doing the installation to the Lightwave Solar office staff to the factory workers making the panels in Memphis and Clarksville, to the R&D folks at our labs and universities figuring out how to make these systems more efficient. This is what the green economy is all about, folks.

I have no idea how the owner of this restaurant paid for a 25 KW array, but I would guess they availed themselves of one of the many low or no-interest loans, grants and other incentives available to businesses in the state (which are not available to residential homeowners, I might add).

Kudos to Sonic Drive-In for their support of the green economy. You know, if you look down 8th Avenue in Berry Hill, there’s lots of open roof space, unencumbered by tree tops or tall buildings. There’s really no reason why every single building on 8th Avenue/Franklin Pike doesn’t have a solar array on it. For that matter, there’s no reason why every residential rooftop with the proper exposure doesn’t have a solar array, either. None whatsoever, save the will and the financing.

It’s just a no-brainer. Sonic’s solar panels will begin generating clean, green energy immediately. It will take 25+ years before the first kilowatt is produced in one of Lamar Alexander’s suggested 100 nuclear power plants. And I haven’t seen too many oil wells in Tennessee lately. In fact, while we burn a lot of coal, and pay the price for it with sludge disasters like the one in Kingston, we aren’t the coal production powerhouse we once were. According to the EIA, Tennessee coal mines employed fewer than 700 people in 2006.

Solar’s the way to go for Tennessee.

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Filed under environment, Nashville, solar energy