Making Solar Power Mainstream

  • Chuck and Pam Wingo in the kitchen of their solar-powered home. (Photo by Tamara Keith)

Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away. But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:

Transcript

Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many
people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean
power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away.
But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public
Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give
homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s
the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:


A little over a year ago, Chuck Wingo and his wife Pam moved into a
new house in an innovative housing development. Their house, like all
the others in the neighborhood, is equipped with bank solar panels, built
right into the roof like shingles.


“These are the 2 meters that are on the house. It’s simple. One uses for
our usage, what we use, and the other one is from the solar panels, what we
produce.”


Chuck says sometimes he walks to the side of his California house and
just watches the solar meter spin.


“We check it all the time, what’s even better is checking the bills. The
bills are great, we paid 16-dollars for our usage in August, the hottest
month in Sacramento. So, it’s kind of cool.”


The Wingo’s weren’t big environmentalists before moving into this
house, but Pam says when she heard about this development, something
clicked.


“The idea just sounded, if you’re going to move, do it right at least. Do
something pro-active about where you’re going to be living and spending
your money. It’s really good for everybody, for the country. We all
should be living like this so we’re not wasting out energy.”


And many more Californians will be living that way, if the California
Solar Initiative lives up to its promise. State energy regulators approved
the initiative, which will add a small fee to utility bills in order to create a
3-billion dollar fund. That fund is designed to make solar panels more
affordable.


It starts by offering rebates to consumers who buy them. Bernadette Del
Chiaro – a clean energy advocate with Environment California – says
once those panels get cheaper, the marketplace goes to work…


“The problem with solar power today is its cost. Most of us can’t afford
an extra 20-thousand dollars to equip our home with solar panels, and
what we’re doing in California is saying, we’re going to get the cost of
solar power down. By growing the market 30 fold in the next 10 years,
we’re going to be able to cut the cost of solar panels in half.”


Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get the California
legislature to approve something similar. That plan got bogged down in
state politics … so he took it to the Public Utilities Commission. While
the commission can raise the money, there are some parts of this
revamped solar program that have to be legislated.


Democratic State Senator Kevin Murray has worked with the Republican
Governor on solar power issues. He says he plans to introduce a new bill
that would require solar panels be included as an option on all new
homes built in the state.


“Rather than some specialized left-wing alternative kind of thing, we want it to
be in the mainstream, so that when you go in to buy a new home, you
pick your tile and you pick your carpet and you pick your solar system.
So, that would have to be done legislatively and the other thing that would
have to be done legislatively is raise the net metering cap so that if you’re
selling energy back to the grid, you can get compensated for it.”


The new program would also target businesses, even farms. Public
Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich says she hopes this doesn’t stop
with California.


“I’m very, very excited. This is the largest program in the country
and I’m hoping that other states will look at this program as well, so that
it’s not just something in California but helping other states.”


And if the solar power initiative is a success in California, backers say
it’s good news for consumers all over the country. Much like the hybrid
car, made cool by Hollywood celebrities… California leaders hope they
can make solar trendy and more affordable for everyone.


For the GLRC, I’m Tamara Keith.

Related Links

Politician Retaliates Against Amtrak Supporters

  • A Member of Congress retaliated against his colleagues when they supported Amtrak. (Photo by Michael Sloneker)

A Republican leader in the House of Representatives is retaliating against members of Congress who support Amtrak. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Charlie Schlenker reports:


(According to a news report, the Member of Congress who took
the action, Rep. Istook from Oklahoma, has since apologized and has said that he will do everything in his power to rectify the situation. You can read the report by following this link)

Transcript

A Republican leader in the House of Representatives is retaliating aganst members of Congress who support Amtrak. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Charlie Schlenker reports:


Ernest Istook is a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma. He opposes Amtrak, and he chairs a key subcommittee that controls some transportation funding. Some Republican members of Congress signed a letter asking for additional spending on Amtrak. In the recently passed omnibus spending bill, Istook made cuts in transportation projects in the districts of members who signed the letter. Tim Johnson is a Republican congressman from Illinois and one of the members who spoke up for Amtrak. Johnson says the effort to squelch Amtrak support is petty.


“Well, I am outraged. I think it is unacceptable in a system where the free expression of ideas and particularly advocacy for one’s district is punished.”


Johnson and some of the other rebuked Republicans say they will continue to speak out for Amtrak. Last year, though, 32 House Republicans signed the Amtrak support letter. This year, there were only 21.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Charlie Schlenker.


(According to a news report, the Member of Congress who took
the action, Rep. Istook from Oklahoma, has since apologized and has said that he will do everything in his power to rectify the situation. You can read the report by following this link)

Related Links

Greens React to Bush Re-Election

  • The re-election of George W. Bush has many environmental groups worried. (Photo by Judi Seiber)

Environmental groups worry that the Bush administration will further dismantle environmental protection laws during its next term. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Environmental groups worry that the Bush administration will further dismantled environmental protection laws during its next term. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


The big environmental groups have been very critical of George W. Bush’s first term in office. Despite speculation that the President will take more moderate positions in this next term, environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are skeptical. Greg Wetstone is the NRDC’s Director of Advocacy.


“We have to prepare for the worst and we’re hoping for something better. We would like to see this president use the election as an opportunity to embrace more broadly the support for environmental protection held across the public. But, we can’t be naïve.”


In a letter to NRDC’s members, the group’s president took it a step farther, writing that -quote- the White House attacks of the past four years are but the leading edge of a much broader assault that will come in a second term. Other environmental groups are expressing similar skepticism.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Scientists Speak Out Against Bush Administration

  • A group called Scientists and Engineers for Change is touring battleground states, campaigning against the Bush Administration. (Photo by Emanuel Lobeck)

A group of prominent American scientists, including 10 Nobel prize-winners, will bring a campaign against the Bush Administration to key battleground states in the region. The group says the President has misused and marginalized scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:

Transcript

A group of prominent American scientists, including 10 Nobel prize-winners,
will bring a campaign against the Bush Administration to key battleground states
in the Great Lakes. The group says the President has misused and marginalized
scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports:


The political advocacy group formed last week is called Scientists and Engineers for
Change. Stanford University professor Douglas Osheroff is a member. He won the Nobel
Prize for physics in 1996. He says the Bush Administration is compromising scientific integrity.


“Having scientists reporting to middle-level bureaucrats who simply don’t have the background
to assess what the scientists are saying and he, of course, has essentially put a gag order
on scientists that are paid by the government directly. They are really not free to say what
they want.”


Osheroff also says President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s ties to the oil industry have
led them to minimize evidence of climate change.


Members of the Scientists and Engineers for Change will speak in Battleground states
like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania this month.


The group has no direct ties to Senator John Kerry’s campaign. The Bush campaign hasn’t
responded to the group’s claims.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Sommerstein.

Related Links

Glassing Bottled Water’s Image

  • While your bottle of water may depict this... (Photo by Ian Britton)

Over the past ten years, sales of bottled water have tripled. There’s a huge thirst for water that’s pure, clean and conveniently packaged. As part of the ongoing series, “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes a look at why we’re turning to bottled water and whether it’s worth the price:

Transcript

Over the past ten years, sales of bottled water have tripled. There’s
a huge thirst for water that’s pure, clean and conveniently packaged.
As part of the ongoing series, “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes a look at why we’re
turning to bottled water and whether it’s worth the price:


On a warm sunny day, it’s easy to believe that sales of bottled water
are skyrocketing. People everywhere in this waterfront park in
Toronto are carrying plastic water bottles labeled with pictures of
glaciers and mountains. With a price tag of anywhere from fifty
cents to over a dollar a bottle, that’s a lot of profit flowing to
the companies that sell it.


But Catherine Crockett and Colin Hinz are packing water the old-
fashioned way. They don’t buy bottled water. Instead, they fill up
their own bottle before they leave home and refill it at the drinking
fountain.


Crockett: “Well, it’s cheaper and as an environmentalist, I’d rather
refill a container than waste a lot of money on pre-filled stuff that
isn’t necessarily any better than Toronto tap water. What’s the
point in paying a dollar for a disposable bottle full of what’s
probably filtered tap water anyway?”


Hinz: “Personally I think a lot of what’s behind bottled water is
marketing and I don’t really buy into that very well.”


Colin Hinz’s suspicions are shared by Paul Muldoon, the Executive
Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. His
organization has done a lot of research on water issues. He says the
reality often doesn’t live up to the image that companies have tried
to cultivate.


“There’s no doubt in my mind that when a person buys bottled water at
the cost they pay for it, they’re expecting some sort of pristine 200
year-old water that’s from some mountain range that’s never
been touched or explored by humans, and that the sip of water they’re
getting is water that is so pure that it’s never seen the infringement
of modern society. In reality, pollution’s everywhere and there are
very few sources of water that has been untouched by human intervention
in some way, shape or form.”


Environmentalists say it’s not always clear what you’re getting when
you look at the label on an average bottle of water. First of all,
it’s hard to tell by looking at the label what the source of the
water is. In many cases, it comes from rural areas just outside of
major cities. It can even be ordinary tap water which has been
refiltered. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does set maximum
levels of contaminants, and some labeling requirements as well. But
they don’t regulate water which is bottled and sold in the same
state. That’s one of the reasons critics of the bottled water
industry say the standards for tap water are at least as stringent,
and often even higher than for packaged water.


Lynda Lukasic is Executive Director with Environment Hamilton, an
environmental advocacy group in Ontario. She still has confidence in
tap water, despite the fact that the water supply in a neighborhood
in Hamilton was recently shut down because of the threat of
contamination.


“I think we’d all be better to focus on ‘what is the water
supply like in the place that we’re in?’ and ensuring that we’re
offering people who live in communities safe, affordable sources of
drinking water. And going the route of bottled water does a few
things. It creates problems in exporting bottled water out of
certain watersheds when maybe that’s not what we want to see
happening. But there’s also a price tag attached to bottled water.”


Paul Muldoon of the Canadian Environmental Law Association says there
are other costs associated with bottled water that can’t be measured
in dollars.


“Some of the costs of bottled water include the transportation of water
itself, and certainly there’s local impacts. There are many residents
who are now neighbors to water facilities with truck traffic and all
that kind of stuff. There’s also the issue of bottling itself. You’ve
now got containers, hundreds of thousands… millions of them probably.
So there is the whole notion of cost, which have to be dealt with and
put into the equation.”


There are many things to take into account when you pick up a bottle
of water. You can think about the cost and whether or not there are
better ways of spending your dollar. You might think about
convenience. And whether the added convenience is worth the price. Ask
yourself what you’re really getting. Read the label to find out
where the water comes from and consider whether it’s any better than
what comes out of your tap.


The bottom line is, be an informed consumer. And keep in mind that
the choices aren’t as crystal clear as the kind of water you want to
drink.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Victoria Fenner.

Related Links

Acid Rain Advertising

The effects of acid rain on the environment as well as historic
buildings and monuments is the focus of an outdoor advertising
campaign by the Adirondack Council. This month (September ’99) the
New York environmental group launched the campaign on the streets and
subways in Washington DC to call Congress’ attention to acid rain
damage. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Moe reports: