Editor, The Spotlight:
In his February 16 letter to the editor headlined “No such thing as free money when it comes to solar power array,” Thomas J. Donohue elaborately calculates the “hidden costs” of a photovoltaic installation at Niskayuna’s Town Hall at great length. Such length, in fact, it suggests that his aim is less to correct a misconception than to stir up disfavor for the very idea of solar power itself by invoking the cry that “taxpayers” will have to cover a portion of the cost.
This rather blatantly sidesteps the reality that for nearly a century now taxpayers have had to shell out to support tax breaks, subsidies, and “incentives” heartily enjoyed by fossil fuel producers and energy corporations. That has been a significant part of what has historically kept their prices lower in comparison with alternative energy. In fact, the whole concept of “affordable electricity” from traditional sources exists only as the result of massive taxpayer-financed government programs such as the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority, as detailed in science historian Phillip F. Schewe’s The Grid (Joseph Henry Press, 2007).
Taxpayers also foot the many “hidden costs” of fossil fuels and nuclear fission. We pay for investigations when coal miners are killed in mine collapses resulting from safety violations. We pay for emergency responses when natural gas lines leak or explode. We pay for long-term storage and security of nuclear waste. We pay for increased road and rail maintenance for fuel and waste transport. We pay the balance of clean-up when no one can be held accountable for deep ocean oil well blowouts or tanker groundings caused by negligence and greed.
In contrast, the fuel source for solar electricity carries with it no need for emergency response due to spills, no storage of hazardous waste for hundreds of years, no threat of interruption by terrorist attacks, no contamination of water, no fouling of air, no stripping of land, no tragedy of disease or death from having to mine it.
That said, solar electricity is not completely without cost. No power generation is. But trying to raise an alarm about solar energy credits while giving other fuels a pass is like blowing the whistle on a jaywalker while letting armed robbers make a clean getaway in the other direction.