Opinion: Why it’s Okay to Hate Solar

on March 27, 2015 at 3:00 PM


It’s Okay to hate solar. I don’t, but I can see why some people might. It is after all a form of insurance – and who likes insurance?

Solar is our planet’s insurance policy. While technology can help hedge against the negative impacts on the environment as a result of climate change, solar does it with additional benefits such as greater energy independence and a healthier economy.

I get it. Insurance can be annoying and in some cases costly. Health insurance, earthquake, fire, homeowners, business, liability, flood, auto – it adds up. American households each spent $5,500 on average in 2013 – for something we hope we never need. Insurance exists in a hypothetical world of “what if” and yet the monthly payments and confusing coverage loopholes exist in the world of today. It’s greedy. It’s sinister. It preys on our fear of the unknown and it’s worthy of disdain.

But, whether we like it or not, as we get older and we accumulate more wealth, more stuff, and more physical ailments, the responsible decision those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to make is to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our assets, in case of an emergency.

Living in San Francisco, where we’re all waiting for the next “big one,” our HOA pays top dollar for an earthquake insurance policy we’ve had in place for nearly 30 years because the risk of getting hit by a tremor is real. Nobody wants to cash in on this policy. Nobody wants to deal with losing all our personal belongings, only to receive some amount of money that may or may not cover replacing them. And none of us want to live somewhere else while our building is repaired in case of major damage. But the risk is real and mitigating the impact of the worst-case scenario is exactly what our insurance policy does. And it’s this security that we’re paying for.

The threat of environmental destruction, the doomsday version that scientists warn against is that looming worst case scenario. We can’t just assume that arguments against protecting our environment are solid. What if they aren’t? What if the “big one” does come? In the absence of knowing exactly what will happen, shouldn’t we prepare for the worst? And by worst I mean Kevin Costner’s “Water World” or Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max”.

I can’t speak for others, but I like clean air, skiing and beachside resorts. I love polar bears and I’d be miserable with pruned skin all the time. Besides, there’s only a few people who can pull off chain mail shoulder pads like Tina Turner, and I’m not one of them.

That’s what solar energy is for America and the world at large – an insurance policy. Despite our individual disdain for the insurance industry, our economy and utility infrastructure is accumulating more and more assets and getting older. It’s time to put a safety net in place.

It is no surprise that we’ve produced higher CO2 emissions levels than ever before, and our demand for electricity is only rising. Solar is an investment that we can make today, and can continue to make, because we’ll be able to cash in on it if and when it’s necessary.

Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Wouldn’t it be great if in 30 years we could say, “Ha! We were wrong about climate change!” But now have a smarter utility grid, energy independence and a booming energy job market to show for it? Because if we don’t prepare for the worst and support all forms of renewable energy, the alternative is that the scientists’ predictions were right. And our children’s children will be left with a world that’s been permanently damaged and some degree less glorious than it is today.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle are scared to stand behind anything that looks like a handout. But, that’s the wrong way to look at solar incentives. Extending federal support like the Federal Investment Tax Credit at 30 percent and pushing states to support solar with solar renewable energy credits and cash rebates is like paying our insurance premiums. And if we commit to them for the long haul, it’s a more manageable way to pay for protection in case of some future post-apocalyptic situation.

Nobody’s saying it will be cheap, although many have argued that solar is considerably cheaper than the billions given to the oil and gas industry for more than half a century. However, like the investment you make to insure your home, car, family, health or loved ones after you’re gone – it’s a small price to pay for protecting our future, which is the responsible decision to make.

Philip Hall is vice chair of the Solar Energy Industries Association’s PR committee.

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