February 05, 2011

Power Is In Our Hands: What you can do to promote distributed generation of solar electricity

Posted In economics & Industrial solar & public lands issues & rooftop solar & subsidies & transmission | By Janine Blaeloch

Spread the word

  • The concise briefing papers on this website can help you learn more about the many facets of Big Solar’s impacts and costs, as well as the alternative of Distributed Generation, and become an expert and citizen activist for truly clean, renewable energy.
  • Pass this information along to your friends and networks, so we can get our message spread far and wide and get renewable energy policy turned toward a real solution to the climate crisis.
  • Submit comments on blogs and newspaper websites, and send letters to the editor of your local paper.

Help re-shape national energy policy

Email or phone the office of your congressional representatives, both in the House and Senate. Check out these House and Senate committees and their energy and public land subcommittees and contact the chairs and any members from your state.  With your unique voice, let them know you oppose the use of our public lands as a solar-factory industrial zone.  Some facts and ideas to inspire you:

  • Current proposals would place large-scale solar plants, most covering 5,000-7,000 acres apiece, on fragile, biologically-rich lands in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and Colorado Plateau that are home to diverse, rare, and threatened species. Long-term plans are focused on developing hundreds of thousands of acres of our public land in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. These lands belong to all American citizens, no matter where you reside.
  • Small, distributed, point-of-use solar is faster, more democratic, has far less environmental impact, and would benefit ratepayers and taxpayers.
  • Other countries, particularly Germany, are way out ahead of the U.S. in using effective, efficient, environmentally-sound rooftop and urban solar as a major source of energy.
  • The current policy is driven not by sense or effectiveness, but by politics and money. Big Solar will benefit huge corporations and investors – BP, Chevron, Morgan Stanley, Goldman-Sachs. Big Energy & Old Money can’t deliver us from the climate crisis they have helped create.
  • Public lands now available for many uses will be transformed into permanent industrial zones. Even if the plants are dismantled following their 30 to 50-year operating life, the land they occupy can never be returned to its former state.
  • U.S. taxpayers are funding billions of dollars in loans through the Treasury, backed up by loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, to kick-start solar plants that depend on unproven technology.
  • Remote siting of solar plants will require literally thousands of miles of new transmission lines, also on our public lands. Long-distance transmission – not required for point-of-use solar power generation – is not only ugly and damaging, but extremely inefficient. Line losses can be as much as 7–10 percent.
  • Our solar energy should be developed and generated from the built environment – rooftops, parking lots – and already degraded land.
  • Construction of industrial-scale solar plants will itself directly and indirectly generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Remote, utility-scale solar cannot provide baseload power, only peak power. Further, there is no plan or requirement that these plants offset existing fossil-fuel energy sources, such as coal plants; they may add to power generation, but there will be no concomitant shutdown of dirty generators.

Contact your state legislators

We need to make rooftop solar easier for citizens and ratepayers. Your state regulations need to allow:

  • Net-metering, under which ratepayers get credit against their energy bill for energy they generate.
  • Feed-in tariffs, a policy requiring that utilities purchase power generated from renewable resources, including residential and commercial rooftops.

You can be even more effective if you identify the committees in your state legislative bodies that oversee energy or renewable energy issues and contact the chairs and staff. E.g., in the California State Senate, two relevant committees are Renewable Energy and Smart Grid, and the State Assembly has a Committee on Natural Resources that oversees renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Investigate local bulk purchase options

Though cost of installation of rooftop solar can be prohibitive, joining with others in your area to install in bulk can mitigate that expense, as well as providing policymakers with proof of substantial local interest in distributed generation. One way to do this is to sign up at One Block Off the Grid (, a solar consolidator. You can sign up with no obligation. When they reach a certain number of people who express interest in your area, they will set up a meeting to show you and your neighbors how it all works. If enough of you are serious about it, 1BOG sends out the group project as a Request For Proposals to several local installers. They will vet the proposals, materials, and companies and select one that makes sense. The discounts for contracting a larger project can run 15–20 percent off what you would pay if you hired the contractor on your own.