It just sits there, silently holding its shiny blue face to the sun. Nothing moves. The 24 large solar panels are installed on a frame mounted to four big poles cemented into the ground, after a few days of commotion while workers scrambled. Now it passively waits for sunshine, as it will for the next 25 years. From now on, whenever the sun shines, invisible electrical energy will be created in the solar cells and move instantly through a wire to our home.
No coal mine, no trains or barges, no power plants spewing carbon into an already changing atmosphere. Just clean renewable energy that uses the radiant energy emitted by the sun.
In a way, solar energy is modeled on mother nature. All life ultimately depends on photosynthesis, where plants convert the sun’s radiation into chemical energy. Solar converts sunshine into electricity.
While I admire early adopters who could personally hook up to batteries and self-limit their use of electricity, I have been spoiled by the seamless service of our rural electric co-operative. I like when the power is always there at the flick of a switch. I like leaving the dangerous and intricate work of setting up the power grid to the pros.
However, I am very concerned about climate change. What can we do to make a shift away from coal and natural gas power plants? We already invested in one solar panel of the 140 located at the Rushford office of MiEnergy Co-op.
But now is the time when we can do more, and so we just invested in our own solar system. It is a sleek blue array set back on the north side of a sheep pasture, with a clear view of the sun. Over the course of a year, it should average out to meet all our electric needs, around eight kilowatts. A buried line brings the power up to the house, where several meters keep track of everything.
Several things coalesce to make this choice a good one. First, the installation company, Solar Connections, provids a turnkey service, where they handle all of the planning, permits, construction and connections. The panels and the structure come with a 25-year warranty.
A second necessity was that MiEnergy handles net metering, which gives us credit for excess solar electricity. Solar energy production works intermittently. It does best on long sunny days, but not nights, short winter days or cloudy days. Another electricity source is needed when there is no sun, and our co-op provides it to us. However, it just so happens that summer, with heat waves and air conditioners running, is when the utility is subject to its peak energy demands. Individual and community solar systems make power available to the the co-op at the times when they would otherwise have to buy more expensive peaking power. Their net costs for the whole co-op go down, saving money for everyone. For us as solar members, it means we use our solar power when we can, pay for power from the grid when we need it, and sell any excess solar power to the co-op.
A third new reality is that solar economics now make sense, even with the up-front investment. Equipment costs are down. To spur the solar industry, the federal government provides a 30% tax credit on the cost of the project. Lenders offer a year of interest-only payments, and low rates after that. For us, the best news is that we do not expect to pay electricity bills anymore.
The rational side of my brain wants to know that we can do this economically and not be bothered with maintenance. The more passionate side of my brain wants to do something proactive about reducing fossil fuel use. Solar answers both desires.
I feel and know that the climate is changing. At a time when the President denies climate reality and withdraws from international efforts to stop the madness of relying on dirty fossil fuels, I want to join the majority of Americans who welcome real progress toward clean energy. Syria remains the only other nation on earth besides the U. S. that has not signed on to the Paris climate accord.
I am proud that Minnesota and 13 other states are on target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the amount set in the accord, according to MPR News. Other clean energy initiatives are essential to the mix, including wind, biofuels and energy conservation. But solar is now the cheapest source of electricity, and is the largest category of new electrical generation in the world. We are already on the way.
Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
It’s amazing how huge quantities of tomatoes reduce down to a luscious sauce that can be used on pasta and pizza. I freeze it in meal-sized containers, and then immediately make another batch in the same pan, if tomatoes are bounteous.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large roasting pan, place roughly cut tomatoes skin-side up with a little space between.
Add chopped onion, minced garlic, chopped sweet pepper, and diced hot pepper if you like a little heat.
Sprinkle with oregano, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil over it all.
Bake, on convection if you have it, until a little browning starts. Stir and repeat. The tomato juice will release and gradually reduce to a thick sauce. Remove from oven before it dries out. Use as is, or blend it for a smoother sauce.