Thursday, September 06, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

Over Labor Day weekend, California's solar fields set a new benchmark for generation capacity.

The California Independent System Operator reported that the state's large-scale solar feeds had cranked out 1.1 gigawatts (1.1 billion watts). The number does not account for smaller industrial and home installations that now dot the landscape.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, which ran a small report on the big news, said that's enough juice to "offset two large-scale natural gas power plants. It is also close to the peak output for a single nuclear reactor at either Diablo Canyon or the currently idled San Onofre plants."

That's real industrial-size power generation drawn from an unlimited source. It's the kind of news that takes solar/renewable energy out of the theoretical realm and drops it in every American's pot like a big juicy chicken.

The ramifications are thrilling. A reduction in reliance on foreign energy sources, a drop in tensions associated with the increasingly desperate scramble for fossil fuel, and a new hook upon which the American worker might hang their hats.

It did not happen in a vacuum, of course. It was the result of policy and the funds that go along with that policy. Out of the stimulus and new energy initiatives, the Obama administration has helped lay the foundations for a new industry and an alternative energy policy.

Yes, there was Solyndra and we can expect a bad apple or two with the kind of butter that was spread around southeastern California by the federal government.

But there were other companies too. These, aided by a rather bullying federal push and regulatory cooperation at the state level - sometimes at the expense of established environment review processes - have forged ahead, gotten permitted, and placed their panels throughout the southwestern deserts.

And now you have it. Solar energy helping bear the burden of a hot holiday weekend, filling in a gap left by an aging nuclear facility, and providing demonstrable proof that sun-power is for-real-power.

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