Whose sun is it anyway?
“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” —Galileo Galilei
“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.” —Abraham Lincoln
Throughout our history, there have been many government programs which resulted in great benefit to private individuals and businesses. A few examples are the Erie Canal, transcontinental railroad, land grant colleges (free education), homesteading (free land), the Tennessee Valley Authority, interstate highway system, and the Internet (originally a Department of Defense project). These programs, sometimes partnered with private enterprise, wouldn’t have succeeded without government money and expertise. People used to understand that government was necessary to achieve certain goals; profit didn’t rule everything.
Today, renewable energy programs are bringing jobs and economic growth to America and the world. Many of these programs receive government help, which a lot of conservatives oppose, apparently unaware that fossil fuels receive far more government subsidies than renewables. Also, jobs such as coal mining are shrinking due to automation and economics. The new coal mine President Donald Trump boasted about will employ 70 people, fewer than the jobs created by a new supermarket.
Renewable energy jobs, in contrast, are expanding rapidly. Solar jobs are expanding 17 times faster than the overall economy, and wind turbine technicians have one of the fastest growing occupations in America. (Truthout, 6/14/17)
Here in Nevada, solar capacity more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, from 1,033 megawatts to 2,191 megawatts. Solar energy powers 360,000 homes and provides 7.3 percent of the state’s electricity, along with 8,371 jobs. (Las Vegas Review Journal, 3/8/17)
One of the complaints by the anti-renewable energy folks is that solar only works when it’s sunny, wind when it’s windy, and so on. I don’t know if they are willfully ignorant, but at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, Tesla has a huge factory making Powerwall batteries for home use which store any excess energy produced during the day, to be used at night, on cloudy days, etc. Not only does this make solar energy totally practical, the factory anticipates creating over 6,500 jobs directly, which will then create an additional 20,000-30,000 jobs. All that without the dangers of a coal mine.
Tesla is also building electric cars, and developing electric pick-up trucks and heavy-duty semi trucks. For these to work, electric charging stations need to be built. We have one such station right here at Fox Peak gas station, part of a chain of recharging stations along U.S. 95, Las Vegas through Northern Nevada. “The stations along the 400-plus mile stretch will mean electric vehicle users will be able to make the trek through Nevada’s remote heartland without running out of juice… [Gov.] Sandoval said the program will make U.S. 95 among the first rural highways in the nation to be electric-car friendly.”(Las Vegas Review Journal, 6/16/17)
Here in Churchill County, we have “the world’s first and only hybrid energy plant to combine geothermal, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies.” (Las Vegas Review Journal, 3/9/17). This plant employs 25 people and can generate 61.5 megawatts, powering over 30,000 homes. Because of plants like this, Churchill County is 100 percent green, plus exporting nine times more energy than we consume.
Several renewable energy bills were introduced in the 2017 Nevada state legislative session. Eleven passed and nine were signed by Gov. Sandoval. One of the most important was AB405, which restores what is called “net metering.” This means that energy customers who produce solar energy will be credited for any electricity they send back to the electric grid. It also includes a Solar Bill of Rights, making it easier for Nevadans to generate, store, and consume renewable energy. All of this will be better for our environment, our health, and our economy.
All forms of energy production have drawbacks. Fracking causes earthquakes and poisons groundwater; windmills can kill birds. Oil pipelines leak, contaminating land and drinking water; solar panels can create glare. The point is, we have to decide which drawbacks we can live with and which will destroy us, and we need to use facts, not anti-government ideology, to make those decisions. As Elvis Presley said, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.”
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.