Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Bright Idea 
for Solar Energy

The world is warming, and the days of cheap oil are gone. Those are facts, laid out by scientists, economists and others who make it their business to study these things, not just dabble in them.

Politicians who would let us go the way of the dinosaurs can ignore them. Most of us would prefer to see our government leaders, including those in New York, use the higher brain functions that ought to separate us from more helpless species and plan for tomorrow.

That means ramping up the use of renewable energy sources that don’t add to global warming. New York should seriously consider a proposal to do just that with solar energy.

New York should follow the lead of most surrounding states and set a goal of increasing the amount of energy it produces from the sun in coming years.

Not an impossible goal, but not a meek one, either. New Jersey — much smaller and with less than half the population of New York, has a goal of 5,000 megawatts by 2026. New York should strive for no less.

Where would the money come from?

There’s the rub. Just about all of us. And that is how it should be.

We all ought to play a part in preparing our state, our nation, and really, this planet, for a time when the resources we’ve been happily burning up won’t be so abundant. For a typical New York home, helping meet this goal would cost all of 39 cents a month through 2025.

That’s a pretty cheap down payment on the future.

The plan envisioned by ACENY, a coalition of renewable energy, environmental and labor groups, would create a solar credit trading system. The credits would represent megawatts of power produced by things like solar array farms and rooftop systems. Utilities would purchase the solar energy, which, to be sure, is costlier now than the most power on the grid today. But that’s expected to change as fossil fuel energy costs rise and solar technology improves.

This is not just a feel-good idea, but one that could help New York in several ways.

Adding 5,000 megawatts would relieve some of the stress on the grid during peak demand, when the state’s consumption can approach 34,000 megawatts. Solar power sources, scattered around the state rather than limited to a few large plants, could relieve local demand and reduce bottlenecks and brownouts that occur when power can’t move across long distances on the grid quickly enough.

It would also mean jobs. Solar systems require local labor. Increased demand for solar systems could also further the state’s effort to expand its technology research and manufacturing sectors.

Five years ago, the Arbor Day Foundation noticed that the weather was getting warmer and that climate data confirmed it. The changes were so great that the foundation published new maps with revised tree hardiness zones.

Yet it took the federal government another half a decade to do the same thing with planting maps.

We can’t keep moving like a brontosaurus in a tar pit.


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