Solar Energy Is Not a Viable Solution

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California has made a significant commitment to support the development of a vibrant solar industry. In 2006, SB1 established the California Solar Initiative. The initiative's ambitious goal is to place solar electric systems on a million California roofs by 2016, with a total generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts, equivalent to the peak output of three large nuclear reactors. Initiative critics claim that solar electricity is too expensive, and that the money spent on solar incentives would be better spent on other energy options. These critics, including Severin Borenstein, whose views appear on this page, assume electricity produced from natural gas and coal-fired power plants would cost today what it cost in 2001- 2005, thus ignoring the major increases in the price of oil and power-plant construction costs. Nor do they include the cost of continued reliance on fossil fuels, including the impacts of global climate change. Nor does it take into account the revolution in the electric industry represented by the solar panels sprouting on roofs across California. Consumers are no longer content to let utility companies build large power plants, then string transmission lines across the state to deliver the energy. Just as with the local food movement, consumers want more control over how and where their energy is produced. Borenstein's analyses do not account fully for the long-term infrastructure savings and reduced environmental impacts, if we can produce a significant share of our electricity where it is used. The initiative represents the next step to build upon California's very successful energy-conservation programs. Over the last 30 years, electricity use per capita in California has not changed, while per-capita use in the rest of the United States has increased by 50 percent. Consumers in California have embraced insulating their homes and buying more efficient appliances, as the best means available to control their energy costs. The next step in this...
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