It’s taken me a decade to refine my sun worship — by which I don’t mean trying to get a nice suntan.
Ten years ago, our family built a solar cabin. There’s something deeply satisfying about looking at our solar system monitor and watching the amp meter flicker up and down on a sunny day with clouds. I’m also more conscious of the energy costs of things I do. I notice the drawdown on the system when I charge up my computer or fill up watering containers for my garden.
Having loved our cabin’s problem-free solar system for the past decade, my husband and I have recently explored installing solar panels on our home. Extreme weather events seem to cause power outages in one city or another several times a year, and we would welcome the dependability of solar power. And if we produce more than we need, we would be proud to contribute energy back into the grid and be part of our nation’s efforts to become independent of international politics and nonsustainable energy sources. Power generated from our roof would even keep power costs down for everyone else by providing power at peak times in the summer and helping utilities avoid having to build new plants.
It turns out that we plopped right into the middle of a major trend. Just a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that solar voltaic panels were too expensive to ever contribute a significant amount of the nation’s power. But the past few years have demonstrated that this was largely an artifact of conservative, anti-renewable energy policies and assumptions based on older, more expensive manufacturing and installation approaches.
Since the passage in 2006 of the federal solar investment tax credit, there has been a steady increase in solar installations and a steady reduction in cost. And many states like Wisconsin have renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to get a percentage of their power from renewable sources, which has provided market predictability and increased investment in solar.
All this has resulted in more solar power being installed than in the previous 30 years.
In fact, it’s been so successful, it’s making the fossil fuel industry nervous, which has taken the form of several new proposals from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, backed by the same Koch brothers who are also principal funders of Gov. Scott Walker’s campaigns. Two years ago, ALEC promoted repealing renewable portfolio standards in several states, including Wisconsin, but failed. Now they are trying various strategies to weaken those standards, even though Wisconsin’s 10 percent requirement is already much lower than Minnesota’s 30 percent standard, for example. Other assaults on solar are being proposed as well, including a proposed tax for households with solar installations, based on the fiction that they’re free riders on the grid system. That’s absurd, since renewables actually help keep costs for that system down, but the council has never lacked chutzpah.
The nation’s conservatives want to make health care — and, astonishingly, still, the Benghazi attack — election year issues. It’s time the nation forced more discussion about the unpatriotic energy policies that countless Republicans like Walker are promoting. It should suffice to ask simply, “What’s in the interest of the nation — increasing our dependency on fossil fuels or creating energy sources with the least possible environmental footprint?” The motives of candidates — and their campaign backers — who argue against the latter should be suspect.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.