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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Solar Goes to Mainstreet USA

Anyone who thinks practical solar energy is too expensive or is “Buck Rogers stuff” is not keeping to date. All over America the do-it-yourself people discovering the sun and applying it to their homes. This approach brings the cost down dramatically when compared with oil, coal or nuclear energy.

Around the country, community action groups are sponsoring “how-to” construction sessions.

In South Dakota, two members of the state’s public utility commission — Norma Klinkel and Kenneth Stofferahn — have conducted these workshops in 65 towns and cities. Workshop co-sponsors, such as Junior Chamber of Commerce chapters, purchase construction materials and coordinate the event, often with extensive media coverage.

Participants can build 4-by-8-foot solar window collectors in two to three hours. Even with all new materials the cost is about $125. Once installed, the collectors can heat one or two rooms in art average-size house during the day and, with a modest heat storage system (such as pebbles), they can heat at night. One homeowner saved enough in fuel costs over four months to pay for his collector.

The collectors are designed by the Sioux-Land Solar Energy Association in Sioux City, Iowa, and have been tested by the forest products division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state utility commission declares that “there is no need to wait for space technology to use solar power. All we need to do now is to use the knowledge and experience we already have to tap the enormous potential of the sun’s rays.”

Write the commission in Pierre, S.D. for more information.

In California, where Gov. Jerry Brown continues to spread the solar energy message, there are more self-help projects starting all the time — and not in upper-income areas. Within a low-income, mostly black and Mexican-American neighborhood in San Bernardino. a block of 10 homes is heated by a centralized, sun-powered energy unit. There, gas bills were cut by more than two-thirds. And solar energy creates jobs for unskilled as well as skilled labor.

The city of San Diego enacted an ordinance requiring new homes with solar access to have solar water-heating capability. Other municipalities are considering similar legislation.

A description of various community solar efforts from Maine to California is contained in the free book called “People Power,” obtainable from the Con­sumer Information Center, Department 68,2H, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.

When the do-it-yourself solar movement moves into full swing, the statisticians at the Department of Energy had better start revising upwards their projections about the role solar energy will play in supplying the nation’s energy. The sun is coming to Elm Street and Main Street, U.S.A., because the people can get at it directly. For even Exxon cannot order an automatic eclipse.