Energy for the 99%

Tomorrow is 20 November.  A community group called Solar Mosaic declared 20 November as Occupy Rooftops day.  Meaning, find the rooftop of a building in your community where you would like to see rooftop solar, take a picture and send it to Solar Mosaic.  The organization has already used "crowdfunding" to install solar on the rooftop of a community building in Oakland, and is now raising community investment to install solar on other buildings in Oakland and Flagstaff. (I sponsored a solar tile at an Oakland-based food justice organization).

Solar Mosaic is a small slice of the rooftop solar pie, but one that is emblematic of how distributed generation -- also known as local clean energy -- can cut greenhouse gasses without asking giant utility companies to devastate desert habitat or mountaintops for big solar and wind projects that are hundreds of miles away from our cities.

There is room for utility-scale solar on already-disturbed lands (minimizing ecological destruction), such as the Westlands Solar park in California, where the soil and water resources no longer support agriculture, or on brownfields identified in EPA's RE-powering America's Land program.  But the future is going to be distributed, and investors are already catching on. 

As the Carbon War Room stated, "jumbo-sized solar is a jumbo-sized mistake." Solar photovoltaic technology is "not about building massive arrays to feed the GRID. It is about getting off the GRID," according to their recent op-ed.  As the Nature Conservancy of California pointed out, "no single drop of rain believes itself responsible for the flood, and as a whole these individual actions...make a big difference." Rooftop solar is not just some "cute idea":
  • California has already installed 1,000 megawatts of rooftop solar as of October, most of it in zip codes with median incomes.  
  • Solar leasing companies are expanding rapidly, and citizens are pushing for access to their own solar financing, known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).  
  • One of the nation's largest home builders is expanding its rooftop solar option because of increased demand.
  • Companies like Wal-Mart, Chipotle, Kohls and Toys-R-Us have been adding rooftop solar to hundreds of their stores, utilizing previously worthless but vast space right over their heads.
  •  Germany -- where their policies are built to benefit individual citizens pursuit of clean energy, and not big utility companies -- has already installed 27,000 megawatts of locally owned clean energy, according to Energy Self-Reliant States
  • A UCLA study found the there is enough suitable rooftop space in Los Angeles County to generate up to 19,000 megawatts of solar energy -- enough to meet the city's energy demands.
Most national environmental groups have adopted a blind "we need it all" approach, however.  They have supported some large destructive solar facilities on intact desert habitat, arguing that we must act fast to cut greenhouse gas emissions (see Environmentalism for the 1%).  We do need to act quickly, but shouldn't we take this opportunity for a positive transformation, instead of asking Wall Street-backed energy firms to shift destruction from coal mines and oil fields to our deserts and mountains?

In his first communication to Sierra Club members as chairman, Michael Brune gave a nod to rooftop solar, but also said we have to "scale up large-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy."  Oddly, he stated that the Sierra Club has been "organizing in communities" to advance large-scale solar and wind.  What community wants to wake up to the industrial terror of utility companies?  I have only seen the Club re-organize, pushing grassroots volunteers to leave the organization and form their own groups to save their communities from an onslaught of 30-story tall wind turbines, and solar facilities that bulldoze several square miles of beautiful desert and Native American sacred sites.

I welcome more rooftop solar, and even some big solar when it's on already-disturbed lands.  But if the Sierra Club wants me to support more greenwashed ecological destruction on behalf of Wall Street, that is not "community organizing".  That is just doing the bidding of the same companies that have been destroying the planet for the past century.

We need energy for and by the 99%, not energy from the 1%.
The video below shows a machine cutting down yucca plants that are probably hundreds of years old in the northeastern Mojave Desert. They are making way for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System,  which will earn Wall Street millions of dollars, cost electricity customers more money, and deprive future generations of a beautiful desert valley.  The company received a loan guarantee from the tax payer worth nearly 1.6 billion dollars.  Why are we still financing ecological destruction when we could be financing more rooftop solar?


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