Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Where Atoms Collide

Timing is everything.

A few days before Christmas it was announced that Arizona State University had secured a $40.8 million federal grant to develop a device to measure radiation in humans that could be used in the event of a nuclear accident.

It appears that this news of possible greater nuclear ‘security’ may have helped to encourage the Governor of our nation's sunniest state, Jan Brewer, to today proclaim her faith that, “[nuclear energy is] the wave of the future.” It is odd that she would employ a water metaphor when speaking of thirsty nuclear power generation in the middle of a desert suffering both its fourteenth year of drought and an undisciplined community depleting its ancient aquifer.

Even if enough puddles and piss could be squeegeed together to slake the thirst of additional Arizona nuclear generation before the next generation of citizens catches on to the evaporative theft, another stark fact remains. It will be at least a decade before a single electron appears from a new nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, the Arizona energy gap looms, the costs of existing traditional energy are increasing, and the financial capital to risk on building an expensive, new nuclear plant is draining quickly from Arizona’s fragile economy. Happily, early alerts to the ascendant economics and the other advantages of solar energy, and the calls for its rapid adoption are finally being heeded.

The Governor also expressed her wish to reduce "the hidden tax of regulation." In Arizona, it is not the “hidden tax of regulation” that has brought the state to this terrible juncture. Rather, it is the state’s long history of the repression of solar energy and energy conservation as well as hidden, regressive taxes that have reduced Arizona.

Brewer further said, "We cannot quash the next generation of entrepreneurs with petty rules and fines." At least, rules and fines are transparent. We must support the next generation of thoughtful creators with effective rules, transparency, and a habit of accountability.

ASU team gets grant for nuclear detection
Arizona Gov. Wants More Nuclear Power in State

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Its Back

solar tortoise

A story published yesterday provides a lens on yet another point of value for the generation of energy at or near the site where energy is consumed.

In Solar showdown in Calif. tortoises' desert home our interests in the survival of the threatened remnant population of the desert tortoise is contrasted against the intention of BrightSource Energy to use a portion of the tortoise’s habitat for a multi-megawatt solar thermal project.

Even without knowing the specifics of this project, there is likely to be immediate and ongoing impact to the fragile desert ecology from the energy plant’s construction and maintenance. If you have ever hiked distance in the quiet desert, you no doubt have come across the distinctive parallel grooves left by a rogue vehicle that could have been carved before the last rain, or decades before.

In addition to traffic for the plant, the possible addition of transmission lines, line upgrades and maintenance, and the eventual decommissioning will all impact the landscape for decades or centuries to come. Then, there are toehold issues, and the countervailing inefficiencies introduced by transmission losses.

The poor planning and design that have occurred for decades should not be exacerbated because of the convenient and narrowly profitable proximity of sky-slashing transmission lines. We have already invaded, plowed, scraped, paved, eroded, and sacrificed enough desertscape only so that we can sprawl away from each other. Let us let the tortoise crawl as it will.

There are many economically distressed desert dwellers who would be more than happy to earn a few dollars – and save many more – by welcoming a solar energy system to the roof. Let’s put solar on our own happy backs.

Other than perhaps a few especially delicate humans, no animals were harmed in the production of this article.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The year Two Thousand and Nine ended on, if not a high note, at least a hesitant quaver somewhere above middle C. After long years of repressing the value of solar energy and energy conservation through a scheme of regressive economic machinations, the statement from a utility executive in our nation’s sunniest state that “[the highest-consumption customers] drive our costs more”, is a welcome admission.

What orchestration might carry and continue that melodic line is only one of many challenging puzzles that must be solved in Twenty Ten. Here is the Rate Crimes current list of brain busters:

  1. The repressive rate schedules and the hidden, regressive taxes they create.
  2. The lack of performance requirements for solar modules in the U.S. market. The increasing risk of substandard modules threatens the solar industry’s domestic reputation.
  3. The solar industry’s reliance on incentives; especially when those incentive programs are regressive and catalyze further questionable market schemes.
  4. The education of a rapidly growing solar workforce. So far, the creation of a professional workforce has been haphazard, at best.
  5. Inadequate industry stewardship and oversight.

What do you think? Would you propose a different order of importance? What’s missing?