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Our Solar Bonanza!

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We’ve had solar power energizing our house in Sag Harbor on Long Island in New York for six years now—and it’s a bonanza!

Once the photovoltaic panels are up on your roof, nothing more needs to be done. They harvest electricity from the sun even on cloudy days. Never in the half-dozen years have the 38 panels on our roof needed any care. And frequently, looking at the Long Island Power Authority meter attached to the house, I see the numbers going backwards—we’re producing electricity for LIPA for which LIPA reimburses us.

Then there are the two thermal solar panels heating up water and sending it—very well-heated—into the house. The other day, it was 64-degrees outside but the thermometer on the hot water tank in the basement showed water from the thermal panels coming down at 130-degrees. Amazing! And these panels are also care-free.

Meanwhile, the price of solar panels have plummeted since the panels were installed at our house—and efficiencies have gone up, Dean Hapshe of Harvest Power was saying the other day on a visit to check our installation.

Mr. Hapshe of Patchogue, New York is a master teacher of solar installers on Long Island. He entered the solar energy field in 1980 and with his decades of experience has served as an instructor of others in the industry.

When he and his crew put our system in, the cost of the photovoltaic panels, which produce 7,500 watts—an average-size system—was $6 a watt. “Now it’s down to $3.65,” Mr. Hapshe was saying. The efficiency rate has risen to 21%—getting close to the 25% efficiency of solar panels on space systems such as satellites and the International Space Station. That means more electricity is generated for every ray of sunlight.

The thing about solar power is that the sun sends no bills.

And that has been vexing for electric utilities around the nation.

Indeed, the motto of Harvest Power, which is based in Bay Shore, New York is: “Let The Sun Pay Your Electric Bill.”

“Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar,” was the headline of an article in March in The Washington Post. The story, by Joby Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who often writes on energy issues, begins: “Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.”

“If demand for residential solar continued to rise, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems from ‘declining retail sales’ and a ‘loss of customers’ to ‘potential obsolescence,’ according to a presentation prepared for the group. “’Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,’ it said. “The warning, delivered to a private meeting of the utility industry’s main trade association, became a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation.” The article continued, “Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency…”

The New York Times, in an editorial last year titled, “The Koch Attack on Solar Energy,” noted how “the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.”

The Times told of how the Koch brothers, their Koch Industries based on oil refining, “have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panel to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities.”

On Long Island, support for solar power by LIPA—created with a mission to advance the development of solar and other forms of renewable energy on the island—has gone down and down. The once hefty rebate LIPA provided for solar installations has now descended to a paltry 20 cents a watt.
New York State, however, still provides up to $5,000 in support for an installation, and the federal government offers a tax credit of 30% of the cost of a solar system. But this program needs to be extended at the end of next year.

The capacity and economics of renewable energy are simply wonderful. The New York Times recently ran a front-page story headlined: “In Texas. Night Winds Blow in Free Electricity.” It told of how in Texas “wind farms are generating so much electricity” that it is now being “given away.”

There are those who seek to profit from expensive electricity generated by oil, gas, coal and nuclear power—and they would try to suppress the renewable energy revolution now underway. They must be stopped, and the windfall of safe, green, inexpensive electricity be allowed to flow.

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Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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