Can we overcome solar resistance?

On 140 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., 70,000 solar panels are part of a solar photovoltaic array that will generate 15 megawatts of solar power for the base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay)

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The need to address the adverse impacts of our modern economic system on the environment and human well-being became a national and global issue with the first Earth Day in the spring of 1970. While some reductions in pollution occurred, the scientific community has documented that the reforms fall far short of what is essential.

Though multiple problems exist the most dramatic cause for concern is that of climate change. Scientific studies based on the laws of physics and observed, measured changes in nature have proven to the scientific community and much of the public the problems are real and increasing in scale.

Our economic system was built on cheap fossil fuels and economic thinking that neglected to take into account the adverse impacts which come from consuming them. We know from experiences that economic systems and energy systems have changed; recognition that we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to cut carbon emissions is growing.

While recognizing that the challenges of climate change are global and that we are dependent on the actions of our corporations and governmental leaders to address them we do have the capacity to implement appropriate actions on personal and local levels.

Numerous models in the area of appropriate actions exist, particularly in local foods, energy efficient buildings, renewable energy installations and energy efficient vehicles. While the models are effective far more of them are needed to have a dramatic impact on our ecological problems.

Now that renewable energy sources and battery storage systems are increasingly cost effective some of our nation’s electric utilities are increasing barriers to renewable energy installations that cut into their profit margins. The most dramatic case to date has occurred in Nevada where a substantial increase in rooftop solar installations has resulted in state policy changes which will reduce the benefits of homeowners utilizing the enormous solar resource of southern Nevada.

NV Energy recently installed a utility scale solar installation so the battle is really over which interests get to use the solar resource – homeowners or the utility or both – and at what price. A paradox in the situation is that Nevada provided a subsidy to secure the Tesla gigawatt battery manufacturing plant which developed a unit called the Powerwall that both homeowners and businesses interests can use to reduce dependence on the grid.

Another aspect of the situation is that a group of Nevada companies want to start generating and purchasing their own energy and leave the grid. Since NV Energy would be left with what is known as stranded assets, it seeks reimbursement for the investments made to service those companies. Nevada’s Public Utility Commission recently ruled that Switch would have to pay NV Energy $27 million to leave the grid while Switch estimated they should only have to pay $18 million. Switch has indicated its energy costs in Nevada are 30 percent higher than that of their competition in other states and are damaging their economic prospects.

As the adverse impacts of climate change intensify we can expect more frequent and longer disruptions in grid service. If those expectations are met and the cost of renewable energy and battery storage continue to fall, customers’ interest in secure sources of clean electricity will intensify.

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