Why the solar industry can shine in our current political climate
by Allen Best
Patty Limerick had the perfect story to warm the hearts of renewable energy proponents at the opening session of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association annual conference on Monday evening.
A professor of history at the University of Colorado-Boulder where she directs the Center of the American West as well as the Colorado state historian, Limerick is a familiar figure at events in Colorado, sure to provide both humor and penetrating insights, no matter what the audience, sometimes both in the same story. This was no exception.
Last October, she explained, she was traveling on an airport shuttle. She didn’t advertise herself, and the two men riding behind her wore blue jeans and otherwise seemed to be guys in blue-collar occupations. Their conversation drifted to the city’s fouled air. Turning around to them, she asked them what they thought the solution was. More renewable energy, they said without hesitation.
“That was not what I had scripted for those two fellows,” she told the audience at the Omni Interlocken in Broomfield. The moral of the story, she added, was that your allies could be hidden in your back yard—or back seat.
If America’s national discourse remains unsettled, she said in a nod to the post-election snipping, that flux also presents an opportunity to the solar industry and other advocates of renewable energy. “Your position is promising hope and prosperity.”
Limerick drew on both science and popular culture as to why the solar industry has good cards to play. There is evidence linking sunshine and mental health. Specifically, experiments have shown that patients suffering from bipolar disorders who have rooms facing the east can recover more rapidly than than with rooms facing the setting sun. Then there are the many songs that link happiness and sunshine. Heard “You are My Sunshine?” How about “Sunny?”
Solar has been criticized as an intermittent resource, but that’s not true. The sun rises daily, she says, as was noted in Ecclesiastes long ago. If clouds sometimes covers the sun, they are not the problem, not the sun.
Continuing to extol the solar professionals as if giving a campaign stump speech, she nodded to the business element of their work, noting: good capitalists get paid to solve problems. “This industry has more charm than any I can think of,” she said.
If the national election was seen as crisis, the solar industry has a message of “extraordinary hopefulness” with its potential to offer coal miners new careers, she said, before going on to recite two of her nearly impromptu limericks about new figures in the Trump administration.
In Fort Collins, there’s also extraordinary hopefulness. The city council last year adopted goals of shifting to 80 percent renewables by 2030 and a carbon-free electrical portfolio by 2050. There’s no clear plan for how this will be achieved, but Kevin R. Gertig, the executive director of the city’s utilities department, expressed no doubts that it can be achieved.
Fort Collins “wants to be a city that demonstrates this can be done” by drawing on the expertise of the local citizenry, he said. But he also invited the participation of outsiders. “We’re going to continue on this path, and we invite you to join us.”