Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Solar Power and the Desert

For those of us who love the deserts of California, the announcement by the federal government that 676,000 acres, 351,000 of those in California, will be set aside for the next two years for study and environmental review for the possible location of solar power generating stations, comes as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, even with the miles of high tension wires fanning out across the landscape, it's a whole lot better than coal fired plants. On the other, it signals a commitment to the continued, large scale, industrial style model for power generation.

Here in Los Angeles, we have thousands of large, flat roofed buildings. From movie studio sound stages, to big box stores, to industrial properties, we have hundreds of thousands of roof top acres that could be used for roof top solar arrays. Too, while as a city, L.A. may be turning to vertical housing, most people still live in traditional, single family, stand alone homes, most of which could easily be retro-fitted with solar panels, as well as small, wind turbines. The only thing stopping such usage is money. While the cost of solar panels, and small wind turbines is coming down, they're still pretty pricey.

The obvious solution is for utilities and government to pay for the installation of solar cells and small wind turbines. If California would make the commitment to pay for any retrofits to homes owned by people whose income is below a certain, to be determined amount, we could rapidly move towards generating a high percentage of day time electricity without the use of coal, nuclear, or natural gas. Of course, the people of California have used the initiative process to block tax increases, so it would be almost impossible to pay for, unless....It's time to view power as part of infrastructure, and get rid of private utilities. Pay for solar panel retrofits out of utility bills rather than paying dividends to investors. We've already got a start towards the public ownership of utilities. In the L.A. area we have the DWP, the Department of Water and Power, as well as other publicly owned utilities through out the state. Use the state's power to take over ownership of private property to take over Cal Edison, and the other private companies, and run them all as a break even operation, and we can move more rapidly to clean, renewable power generation for all. This whole, only the market can solve problems, private property is sacred notion,will be the rope that hangs us all.

Too, while we're examining power generation in California. Why not the oceans? We've got tidal energy, as well as reliable ocean currents in abundance just off our coast line. Could it be that we're reluctant to tap the oceans for power generation because people with money like ocean views, while people without money live in places like Barstow and Baker?

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