Why Become a Solar Energy Advocate?

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Activists’ Diary, a space in the Co-op Voice for local activists to share their experiences and insights; not a position paper or a consensus statement, but a personal, subjective view. As with all of our articles, we welcome your responses.

It is easy to see that our produce aisles are filled with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, vibrantly colored by the sun’s power, whose energy is captured in the miraculous process of photosynthesis that takes place in the plastids of plant cells. Less obvious is that all of the food on the shelves, with the exception of minerals, is similarly powered by the sun. The sun is captured at the bottom of the food chain, and anything one eats up the food chain relies on the plant producers who capture the sun’s solar energy.

There is no good reason that our personal and industrial power shouldn’t also come from renewable sources — solar, wind (also caused by the sun and differences in air temperature), geothermal, and tidal/wave/hydro power. In fact, in many developing nations, where people are not used to having electrical lights and power at night, inexpensive solar panels have been no problem to put up. Within a couple of weeks whole villages became solar in Central America and other places.

However, here in Albany, with good engineering schools, dedicated environmental sciences programs, and the engine of state government, we have not yet made solar or other renewable resources the primary source of energy. We have not fully accepted the gifts of the sun.

What’s the holdup? It’s not technological. It’s not lack of education. It’s not lack of evidence for the need to transition. The barriers are strictly social, legal, political, and the stalwart economic forces that oppose transition from fossil fuels. In the recent Percoco/CPV scandal (regarding the CPV Valley Energy Center which is a gigantic polluter in Waywawanda, New York, and subject to a significant corruption investigation), a ruthless attempt was made to avoid renewable energy alternatives in favor of fracked natural gas. The problem even included corruption, resulting in building vast fracked gas infrastructure instead of renewable energy facilities.

The global statement that will be made when even Albany — a symbol of the Industrial Revolution, a place that was once ruled by the Rockefellers, whose ancestral wealth stemmed from the Standard Oil Company — transitions off oil, gas, and coal, will be a breath of fresh spring air felt round the world. We have a responsibility to stand up to our history and move forward into a sustainable age of living.

Solarize Albany is one group making practical steps to hasten this change. They meet at the Co-op every week. Here is a personal account by one of their core members, David Hochfelder:

About a decade ago, I was introduced to the concepts of the Transition Town movement, which began in the UK around 2005. There are two core assumptions behind the Transition idea that an energy descent will be necessary: resource depletion and climate change. That these factors would require communities to make a transition to a less energy-intensive way of life within the next couple decades is a powerful and sobering idea— our way of life would have to change.

The Transition movement also calls us to have hope and optimism, and to work to change the world around us. So, four years ago, several of us decided to launch a Solarize campaign here in Albany County.

Solarize groups are composed of private citizens who seek to educate the public about the benefits of solar electricity. Solarize groups usually work with one or more solar installers to bring customers to them in exchange for group volume discounts of 10-20%. Our first campaign was in 2015. From 2015-2017, we facilitated a total of about 100 residential solar installations. For 2018, we plan to concentrate on Community Solar, which offers a way of pooling resources to make solar electricity available to low- to moderate-income households and renters.

For me, the Solarize effort is part and parcel of the Transition mindset. History tells us that an energy transition (say from wood to coal, or coal to oil) takes a generation or two. For the first time in history, the energy transition from carbon-intensive fuels to renewables is taking place because of the choices of environmentally conscious citizens, and not from blind market forces alone. This is an exciting time, and I hope you will join this effort.

Solarize Albany meets every first and third Thursday of the month at Honest Weight from 6-8pm.

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Grace Nichols has been a member of the Honest Weight Food Co-op since 2002. She has been a staff member, member-owner and a consumer at different times throughout the years. She is looking forward to seeing Co-op members continue to come together to protect Earth – from which all our precious food originates. Dave Hochfelder lives in downtown Albany and has been a Co-op member for about 10 years. He and his wife own a share of a Community Solar array operated by Monolith Solar.