Letters to the Editor - Sept. 3

September 03, 2012

We need a real debate on energy policy

To the editor:

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton commented in an Aug. 21 editorial that a campaign should be about informing voters. One specific issue which really needs to be debated in this election cycle is the U.S. energy policy.

Tim Rowland’s piece titled “Cars, politics and solar energy” uses the history of the auto industry as an analogy to the evolution of solar energy. Analogies are great ways to inform but if they are used to illustrate chronological evolution we have to make certain they align correctly. The difficulty I have with Rowland’s approach is that solar energy is not in its early stages of development and is well beyond the assembly lines of Henry Ford.

Discovered in 1838, the ability to transform sun into electricity was demonstrated in 1883. The assembly line did not start producing automobiles until 1908. In 1956 the first commercial solar cell was made available to the public at a very expensive $300 per watt. In 1958 the Vanguard I space program launched the first satellite that used solar energy to generate electricity. (A good government investment by the way.)

The Energy Crisis of the 70’s (OPEC oil embargo) suddenly found us in search of alternative forms of energy as we realized just how reliant we really are on nonrenewable sources. Solar energy history was made during this time as the price of solar cells dropped dramatically to about $20 per watt. Today the cost per watt has been on a steady decline to about $1 per watt and worldwide sales are about 20 gigawatts (a billion watts).

The solar industry is far more mature today than the auto industry was in the late 1800s. With this background and the Solyndra business case I am sure students in Mr James’ Political Economics class at Saint James would recognize how “massively wasteful and squalidly political” (Economist Nov. 15, 2011) our subsidy of Solyndra was.

To Rowland’s more important message, “we seem to have a need to assign winner and loser status to one and all.” The purpose of this letter is not to label solar energy as a loser. Solar energy should be a viable and important component of our energy strategy.  What may have been better use of our dollars (over $500 million at last count) would have been to invest them in smarter grids to more efficiently manage energy production and usage such as absorbing energy produced at the local prisons back into the supply, smarter homes that both use and produce solar electricity and packaging solar panels in ways that would be acceptable by local planning and zoning.

Solar energy probably will never produce enough energy to supply our total needs but if we can keep cronyism out of the decision-making process and have a real energy debate which includes natural gas development, solar, wind and all forms of energy, how energy subsidies should be used and the essential infrastructure investments necessary for overall success then just maybe this will not be a wasted election. 

Russell Weaver

A warning about Obama that you need to hear

To the editor:

Every United States citizen needs to see the movie, “2016: Obama’s America.” It imparts valuable information that is necessary for each of us to make an informed decision in the upcoming presidential election. Please, my friends, neighbors and fellow Washington Countians, make viewing this movie a top priority while it is still playing in the local theaters.

Virginia Emerson
Clear Spring

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