Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Future Is Now

I read stories like this and I just have to shake my head at how short-sighted we all are:
TVA program that spurs solar installations put on hold

Generation Partners not taking new participants

TVA’s popular program that pays homeowners and businesses to generate electricity from solar energy has hit a wall.

Much of the $50 million set aside for the Generation Partners program has been committed as applications from even more would-be participants stack up.

Costly, mega projects by opportunistic investors may be eating up the money — versus smaller solar installations by homeowners or businesses that need the power themselves and for whom the program has been largely pitched.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials told a group of distributors that administer the program through formal agreements on Wednesday that a moratorium was being imposed.

Got that? Those “opportunistic investors” (I’m sorry, is there another kind? Altruistic ones, perhaps?) are sucking TVA dry of solar funds. So they will have to put a moratorium on the solar program because it’s just too darned successful.

Which just makes me wonder: when, yea Gods, will renewable energy finallly be able to prove it’s competitive in the marketplace? [/Snark]

Yes, I am being sarcastic. Yes, I know solar is subsidized. Guess what, so are fossil fuels. So is coal. It's all subsidies. What the hell was the Interstate Highway System but one big subsidy to oil companies, refineries and the automobile industry? What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve but a giant taxpayer-funded subsidy to Big Oil?

When you privatize the gains of offshore oil drilling and mountaintop removal mining but socialize the losses in the form of a destroyed Gulf Coast, ruined mountains, acid rain, poisoned streams, lung disease, lost fishing and tourism industry etcetera etcetera, that is a freaking subsidy. Just sayin’.

And that’s not including actual, you know, subsidies that Senators throw hissy fits over when you take them away. Why are taxpayers putting $2.3 billion in coal subsidies?

But back to our story:

Steve Johnson, with LightWave Solar Electric, is worried about the program ending.

It has helped his company grow over the last few years from one person to 18, with a new hire coming in next week.

Without the various solar incentives — Tennessee state government doesn’t offer any for residences — jobs will likely be lost and the fledgling industry could start to slide, he said.

“They’re spending $3 billion cleaning up from coal,” Johnson said, referring to money spent on TVA’s Kingston coal ash spill and re-tooling its other ash sites.

“This $50 million is a drop in the bucket. It would be nice if we had a $3 billion budget because we would actually be producing electricity with it — cleanly.”

In the interest of full disclosure, as many of you know I am a Generation Partner and Lightwave installed my array. They are good people, and this is a good program. I hope TVA is true to its word and the moratorium is, indeed, temporary.

I just don’t understand why we are spending so much money propping up a dead, polluting, environmentally destructive energy system. Especially when it’s obvious that people want solar power. They want to get in on the new thing that is the wave of the future. Why are utilities putting up obstacles?

With every passing day it is more obvious that fossil fuels are an outmoded, old fashioned, inefficient, dying energy source. The future is in renewables and it’s happening whether TVA or politicians or anyone else likes it or not.

Here’s yet another example of how I know I’m right. Read this article about BP’s former refining chief Cynthia Warner--a Vanderbilt grad, I may add--who left BP in 2009 and is now president of Sapphire Energy, a company which makes liquid hydrocarbons from algae. Why?

"I had a slow but growing realization that the industry was maturing, the current fields were falling off in volume more quickly than anticipated, and the feats required to find new oil were becoming more and more heroic."


"I had an epiphany that if I was going to put so much personal energy into making something happen, it was a lot better to create the key to the future than to nurse along the dying past." What motivated her above all was her two kids, a feeling she describes in a typically homey metaphor: "What I want to do is leave a legacy for my kids where energy is secure. I don't want them to have to go out and fight for it -- I don't want to leave them a world where we're fighting for the last slice of the pie, but one where we're baking new pies."

I’m not advocating renewable liquid hydrocarbons--frankly I don’t know enough about it, though I am intrigued at the idea of finding a renewable source of hydrocarbons for all of those plastics we use--I’m just saying: when people who work for the oil companies are leaving because they see it's a dead-end industry, folks it’s a dead end industry.

Change is happening people, because it just makes economic sense. Climb aboard or be left behind.