I was meeting with some clients with whom we’ve had a long, ongoing relationship (designed and built their house, then an addition and a barn/garage, maintained both through the years) to review a just-completed inspection report. The house is 20 years old so we had produced a document outlining the major maintenance to come and predicting when various measures might make sense to do.
The house needs a new boiler, so it’s a good time to think hard about the best approach to heating and cooling for the next 20. It needs a new roof so it’s the one chance they’ll get (for decades) to add insulation under the roofing. Is it worth it? Is now the time to add a solar electric system to stabilize long-term energy costs? A detailed energy evaluation will determine the answers to these and other questions.
When we discussed solar electric I was struck by a comment they made (I’m paraphrasing but I think this is close): “We do not want to look at that option as ‘making a statement’. Until our country makes a serious commitment to doing what we must, and we’re all in it together, we’ll base this decision on economics.”
I thought that was particularly well put – clear and simple. The implication: the massive political failure that has led to our current predicament is holding people back.
My friend Matthew Kiefer recently wrote an essay in the University of Colorado Law Review called “Toward a Net-Zero Carbon Planet: A Policy Proposal” in which he says that “the global economic adjustment now underway was in part caused by a prolonged period of living on excessive credit – of borrowing from the future. In a similar fashion, we have borrowed the planet’s carbon absorption capacity to finance our economic growth, and after more than a century, the debt is coming due.”
He calls for a scientifically derived balanced carbon budget to replace the current arbitrary greenhouse gas reduction targets. Carbon sub-budgets could then be allocated to each nation, each region, each state, each city, each town, even each neighborhood. Those affected would have choices about how to implement.
My client would be part of something instead of feeling like a lone wanderer spitting into the wind if he puts some solar panels on his roof.
I should add that here in Massachusetts the Department of Energy Resources is about to announce a very strong solar electric incentive program that is likely to make many people install solar who previously might not have – like my clients. The economics will look better than ever. I don’t know the final details yet – more about this later – but the intention of the program is to encourage the installation of 400 megawatts of solar electric in the coming years. The current installed PV capacity in the state, after years of attractive incentive programs, is right around 20 megawatts. The 400 megawatt goal amounts to 20 times more in the years to come – quite a commitment, and a giant leap forward.
Unlike yesterday’s Massachusetts senate election, which was a backward stumble. Ted Kennedy’s none-too-happy about this one. Hopefully it will serve as one big wake-up call.