When I was growing up in suburban Philadelphia, our neighbor across the street put solar panels up on his roof. They were large, clunky things mounted on heavy brackets with pipes running to them—the first solar hot water system I’d ever seen. It was the late 1970s and the United States was facing its second energy crisis in six years. President Carter had just installed solar panels atop the White House and committed the nation to a goal of achieving 20 percent of our energy from solar power by the year 2000. Sadly, neither set of solar panels, the President’s nor our neighbor’s, stayed in place for more than a few years.

In 1992, I moved into a little cabin tucked way back in the wooded mountains of central Pennsylvania. The place had originally been built off the grid—solar panels sited in a clearing up on the ridge provided power to a scaled-down electrical system. The propane dryer, fridge, and water heater all worked great, but the homeowners quickly grew weary of electrical brownouts resulting from inefficiencies in the system. They eventually dismantled the solar array and paid to have electric lines run up and over the mountain from the next valley. By the time I rented the place from them, each month’s electric bill arrived tinged with coal dust like so many others in mailboxes across the country.The U.S. has had a number of false starts with renewable energy. But it seems that we’re finally getting real about entrenching renewables into our national energy psyche. Perhaps it’s stemming from the dog pile of energy-related pain and suffering we’ve experienced of late: gasoline racing past $4 per gallon, oil leaking into the Gulf, mountaintops blown away in pursuit of cheap coal, nuclear catastrophe in Japan, and the unfolding potential catastrophe of natural gas drilling right here at home. Maybe we were waiting for the technology to improve and become more cost effective, as it continues to do. Perhaps, like fine wine, the renewable energy idea simply had to age a bit before the bottle could be opened.

source: wvobserver

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