The cost of solar power has come down to earth, so dramatically that in some areas of the country, its power is as cheap, or cheaper, than that generated by fossil fuels. So why isn’t the government doing more to promote the solar alternative in Metropolitan New York and Long Island, for example, where much of the traditional power grid wrecked by Superstorm Sandy is now being rebuilt? This was the question asked by David Crane and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in an oped-ed column in Thursday’s New York Times, and it seems like a good one.
Given that solar panels are 80 percent cheaper today than just five years ago, and given the threat to the traditional power system’s infrastructure caused by increasingly common extreme weather events, solar probably should be getting more attention when there are massive hits to the distribution system as there were from Sandy, as well as last year’s tropical storms, Irene and Lee. Or in areas of the country where a lot of new construction is going on. Heck, if the state of Florida required all new houses to be powered by solar, think of the energy that could be saved!
Much of the problem, say Crane (the president of an energy company) and Kennedy (an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council), is due to monopolistic electric utilities: They don’t want to cooperate with a competing technology that might hurt their bottom lines. Government red tape is another sore spot: Permitting and siting requirements cause delays ranging from 120 to 180 days and push the cost of solar installations up 25 percent to 30 percent.
In Germany, where the authors say licensing and installation only takes eight days, and where the sun shines only about as much as it does in Alaska, nearly 50 percent of the nation’s power is solar-generated.
The United States needs to get with the program. Not only is solar becoming cheaper and more reliable — less prone to disruptions caused by things like hurricanes — it is superior environmentally: No coal or oil have to be burned and no fracking or invasive pipelines are needed.
Maybe best of all, solar doesn’t create additional greenhouse gases, the very ones implicated in the sharp jump in extreme weather events.