Recently, my wife and I celebrated the anniversary of the installation of our rooftop solar panels. That’s right, the libertarian guy is all excited about a “clean energy” solution more commonly associated with those whose politics he does not share. What gives?
Well, the essential fact is, with the possible exception of geothermal, that all our power comes from the sun. When we burn coal or oil, we are releasing solar energy that was captured by ancient jungles, the plant life of which metamorphosed into those two commodities.
Why not just cut out the middleman and convert the solar radiation right into electric power?
Now, I know that solar power can’t do it all. It’s hard to imagine a steel mill melting ore with electric blast furnaces, or is it?
According to an article that appeared in PV Magazine last year, “A deal between Xcel Energy and steelmaker EVRAZ includes the building of a 240 MW solar project near the company’s Rocky Mountain Steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado.”
It was an easy sell for my wife.
She has concerns for the environment, drives a 40 mpg car and always prefers to ride her bicycle. I pointed out that the rooftop plant will pay for itself in around seven years, and she would never have to feel guilty about leaving the kitchen light on again.
Both my wife and I liked the potential for long-term savings, but we were primarily motivated by disparate ideas. When we stand outside, smiling, arm in arm, looking up to catch a glimpse of our panels, she thinks, “sustainability, no pollution,” while I think, “independence, off-grid.” The beauty is that neither of us are wrong in our thinking.
I recently spoke with Nicole Koch of Technicians for Sustainability (TFS Solar), a local Tucson solar energy company that installs residential and commercial solar power plants. I told her about how solar energy generation appealed to both my wife and me, but not for all the same reasons.
She then told me, “When we first started doing solar we had customers that were fairly extreme on the right and fairly extreme on the left and we sort of joked in-house that the only difference is that that section has sort of infilled so now we have everybody in between as well ... We have found it to be incredibly attractive across the political spectrum.”
While we were speaking of politics, Nicole added, “One thing I might point out: I don’t know if you know this; I think it was in 2005 when an all-Republican Arizona Corporation Commission were the ones to come up with the Renewable Energy Standard, which they call the “REST” in the industry.
“They came up with that first renewable-energy standard that required utilities to get to 15% of their energy from renewables by 2025,” she said.
“At that point, we were really ahead of the country. Our renewable-energy portfolio, 15% by 2025, was way ahead of what other states were looking at.”
So, what I find more exciting than solar energy itself is that it is widely accepted and supported across the political spectrum, and that it’s all right to support it for the wrong reasons because the reasons are not important. The result we share in common is important.
I really enjoyed talking with Nicole about the solar industry. It is an interest we share. I have no idea where she falls on the political spectrum, and I don’t care. I have no idea how many intersectionality points she has, and I don’t care.
Perhaps we Tucsonans could find additional ways to celebrate what we have in common, what we share, instead of obsessing over our differences.