Something New Under The Sun
Mon, 02/12/2007 - 7:51am
This week, hundreds of Texans from all across the state descended on the Texas capitol to protest Governor Perry's decision to fast-track the construction of nineteen new coal-fired power plants. Their concerns are well-founded; coal is a non-renewable resource that pollutes our air and contributes dramatically to global climate change. As ill-founded as plans are to build new coal plants, Texas will need new sources of energy over the coming years, which is why I believe our state needs to become a leader in renewable energy by making an investment in solar power.
Texas ranks first in the nation in solar resource potential, according to the Comptroller's State Energy Conservation Office (SECO). Unlike wind, solar power is available across the state in quantities that only vary modestly. Quite literally, any place the sun is shining is a good place for solar power. Texas' cities hold huge potential for electricity production through photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar panels which convert sunlight into electricity. If Texas had photovoltaic panels installed throughout just five percent of its urban areas, (on building rooftops, above parking garages, along roadways and so forth) they would produce half of Texas' current electrical consumption . To put it another way: Texans know how the sun beats down on them - why not put that to use?
Texas Natural Resources: With Potential and In Peril
The promise of Texas' first-in-the-nation solar resource potential is only matched by the danger of another Texas first - first in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, a lead contributor to global climate change. Make no mistake: climate change is real, and the first few months of 2007 have shown a lot more evidence to affirm the scientific consensus on global climate change. Just two weeks ago, a landmark study from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared it is "very unlikely" that the planet's warming over the past fifty years could have been caused by anything but human activity. Two weeks prior to that, energy giants like BP, General Electric and Alcoa joined with eleven other energy companies and environmental groups to acknowledge the potential "dangerous impacts of climate change", going so far as to claim "the way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change." Even TXU, which is now looking to build new coal plants and for years has questioned the science about climate change, has begrudgingly "acknowledged that there is a consensus in the scientific community" on this issue.
Not utilizing Texas' solar resource could spell serious trouble for the natural resources that the Texas sun shines on. Rising sea levels could eventually put South Padre Island underwater and make most of Galveston uninhabitable. That would wreak havoc on the lives of Texans living on the Gulf Coast and the twelve billion dollar economy supported by it. One EPA study predicted that global climate change could reduce Texas' wheat yields by 43-68%. And our children's health could suffer as well; a hotter Texas would mean more ozone days, with more asthma attacks and more public health costs for Texas to shoulder.
(Solar) Powering Texas' Economy
Some have suggested that Texas' economic growth is inextricably connected to building new coal-fired power plants, while others have claimed that there exists a class of "environmental extremists" who want to return Texas to the horse-and-buggy era. If anything, Texas' economy can benefit substantially from the jobs created by a solar industry. A 2001 review of thirteen different studies found that, on average, photovoltaics produce seven to ten more jobs per megawatt of capacity than coal does. Making Texas a solar center in the US could put our state on the leading edge of an industry that grew thirty four percent in 2005 and is expected to continue to grow. The size of Texas' market could drive down prices nationwide for photovoltaic panels as well.
And as for those "environmental extremists"? Well, according to a January 2007 Baselice poll, 85% of Texas voters want the Texas Legislature to encourage investment in solar power. The only extreme thing to do would be standing in the way of Texas voters who have figured out their energy needs a lot faster than their politicians have.
Time to act is now
Photovoltaic panels can be a significant part of Texas' energy solution, and with the right public policies, potential can become reality. Photovoltaics that are interconnected to the electric grid could take advantage of something called "net metering," which basically means that when your home or business is producing more energy that it uses, your electric meter spins backwards rather than forwards. If you produce more energy than you use in a month, that excess energy gets "banked" with your electric company and rolled over into your next month's bill. An energy-efficient home with photovoltaics is like a mini-power plant. A statewide rebate program for photovoltaics would bring solar power into the price range of a lot of Texas families. (Oh, and while PV panels add value to the resale price of your home, an already-existing property tax exemption for solar energy devices means that PV panels don't add a single cent to your property taxes).
Investing in solar energy is a smart move for Texas. Our state is blessed with resources that can help provide clean, renewable energy to save the resources that might be harmed by non-renewable energies like coal. Investing in solar power can move Texas' economy forward. A loud and clear scientific consensus on global climate change and public consensus on investing in solar only clarifies the need for the Texas Legislature to act. It's time for Texas to make an investment in solar power. The health of our children, our economy, and our planet depend on it.