Energy Ideas

Remember when the energy crisis was page one material and every politician had to take a position regarding this national urgency. Not any more. You hardly hear anyone in public life mention the issue. Certainly Clinton and Dole are not campaigning on any proposals.

Well, except for gasoline lines, the reasons for the nation’s concerns in the Seventies are still prevalent and in most cases even worse today. So too are the solutions — energy efficiency and solar power.

Read the words of a new report “Energy Ideas” from one of our groups: “Our dependence on polluting and dangerous fossil and nuclear fuels continues to damage health and environment while wasting taxpayer dollars. . . According to the National Resource Defense Council’s May 1996 study, “Breath-taking,” particulate emissions cause more than 64,000 premature deaths a year nationwide, more than three times the number of annual homicides. It also costs about $30 billion annually.

Oil imports as a percentage of our total oil consumption is at a record high — about 50%. Much of the nation’s trade deficit comes from huge oil imports.

On the other hand, solar power has shown exciting promise in the past 25 years. Solar water heating is proven economically and photovoltaic solar cells are becoming more cost-effective as production increases. Windpower systems are at work in California producing over 1700 megawatts of electricity to people’s homes and workplaces. That number of megawatts is equivalent to nearly two large atomic power plants.

Then there is passive solar energy — using architecture to take advantage of this benign energy source. More than 17,000 commercial buildings and one million residences in the U.S. use passive solar designs to lower heating and lighting costs.

Other benefits of solar energy are its decentralization, Job-intensiveness, safety and its respect for future generations. No geopolitical wars or struggles are likely to be fought over the Sun and even Exxon cannot embargo the Sun.

Back in 1952, President Harry Truman’s Materials Policy Commission, composed of business,’ labor and other representatives, recommended that the country consciously pursue a solar conversion policy. The Commission’s report said that a national solar policy could solarize 75% of all homes by 1975. Instead, two years later, President Eisenhower announced the “atoms for peace” program, meaning that nation would go nuclear.

Soon, there arose with government support a powerful atomic power lobby, composed of companies like General Electric, Westinghouse and other nuclear power vendors. Together with the long-time coal, oil and gas lobbies, solar didn’t have a chance at a level playing field. In the last sixty years, fossil fuel and nuclear companies have received hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies. Solar’s share was a lagging pittance.

Part of the conventional fuel lobbies’ assault on Solar energy came down to four myths — that solar energy only works in warm, sunny climates, that it is too costly, that it is not very reliable and that it is not practical in urban areas.

Exposing these myths in practical, detailed and geographically located sites is the challenge that Energy Ideas met in its 31 page report (available free from P. O. Box 19367, Washington, D.C. 20036)

Tour the country with this report and see everyday solar applications for all kinds of uses from coast to coast, from office buildings to residences to defense installation to highways and bike paths to parking lots to phone call boxes to school zone flashers.

Since local, state and federal governments use lots of energy, their procurement (e.g. for photovoltaics) can widen the civilian markets for such products and lower production costs. The Department of Defense, as pointed out by Professor Barry Commoner years ago, could have saved money by ordering solar units for remote installations and helped make solar more affordable for civilian buyers.

The Energy Ideas report takes you to sources that demystify the technical and design issues of potential solar projects. You may wish to encourage local and state officials to obtain a free copy. It is way overdue to build a solar powered society, despite the opposition of the conventional, polluting fuels lobby.

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