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The Future of Solar Power: Few Subsidies, But Four New Federal Projects

10/22/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: solar power, renewable energy

As much as we all love alternative energy, it can’t compete with cheap, subsidized coal and oil without government help. So many Natural Home readers want solar panels, but even with tax rebates and incentives, solar’s high cost discourages them. Economics force us to rely on coal, which is affordable because our tax dollars support it. Coal supplies more than 60 percent of the United States’ electricity and receives, along with other fossil fuels, $72 billion in federal subsidies each year. Solar receives $1 billion. In the past five years, your tax dollars have contributed an average of $521.73 toward fossil fuel subsidies but only $7.24 toward solar. 

As the recession continues, many states—including California, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—are suspending or cutting their clean-energy rebate programs. Growing demand for limited funds has also forced state governments to slash the rebates they can offer each individual. In Arizona, for example, a 5-kilowatt home photovoltaic system that would have received $15,000 in January will soon receive $8,750.  

First Solar solar panels 
Without additional federal subsidies, the future of solar power is anything but bright. Photo Courtesy First Solar. 

History shows that without major subsidies, coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power never would have survived in the energy market. Those aren’t so likely in today’s hamstrung Congress, but the Obama administration is lending a hand. Within the last month, President Obama’s administration announced plans to re-install the White House solar panels (a largely symbolic gesture, but, cool beans…) and signed a lease to build four large-scale solar projects on government-owned land—including the first in Nevada. 

Dubbed the Silver State Solar Project, Nevada’s first federal solar farm will be located on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property 40 miles south of Las Vegas. Operated by First Solar, it will power 15,000 homes. Silver State and the three new solar projects in southern California are expected to generate up to 1200 megawatts of solar power. 

We may all be able to afford solar after all. 

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