To Fight Big Pollution, We Need Big Solar


As spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association, the nonprofit national trade association of the solar industry, Monique Hanis represents 1,000 companies across the solar supply chain. Hanis lives with her family in a solar-powered home in Arlington, Virginia.

Without question, moving to cleaner sources of energy is the number one way to protect our environment today. We need to take steps now to reduce our use of polluting fossil fuels and we need to do it quickly to address both the long-term impacts of climate change and to protect our waterways, air quality, and public health in the near-term.

Solar energy is ready now as a clean, safe energy choice for the nation. Solar power comes in a variety of technologies, with reliable options for everything from powering a laptop to heating your shower to generating electricity on solar farms. One of the quickest ways to add more solar to our energy mix is to build utility-scale solar power plants.

For many reasons, solar power plants make sense. The United States has some of the best solar resources in the world, especially in the arid Southwest. From California to Texas, there are millions of acres of sun-baked land that are ideal for generating large amounts of clean, solar electricity.

missing image fileNational Renewable Energy LabThe future of utility-scale solar is bright: Proposed projects in
development could power 4.6 million homes.

Because the solar industry is committed to solving environmental problems, not creating them, developers work to minimize any impacts that utility-scale solar power plants may have on the land and habitat. Each solar project undergoes strict environmental impact reviews by local, state, and federal agencies before it is approved. In addition, these projects are subject to scrutiny by the public and other stakeholders. Solar companies are required to conduct environmental studies, provide detailed project construction plans, and propose mitigation strategies to address any impact created by their facility.

Over the years, solar developers have successfully implemented practices to minimize their impact. At Kramer Junction, California, the developers built special fencing and hired a dedicated Tortoise Patrol Officer to keep endangered tortoises off of the plant’s access road. They also protected local plant life by replanting cacti and other sensitive flora.

Solar companies have also worked to reduce the amount of water their power plants need. While all forms of electricity generation require water, many solar power plants are employing dry cooling technologies to reduce their water needs by as much as 95 percent. And water use must be put into context: Independent studies by the US Geological Survey and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory show that solar facilities use about a quarter of the water per acre that agriculture uses.

Utility-scale solar power plants are just part of the solution to reducing the air pollution that is causing global warming. Distributed-generation solar will play an important role in deploying more clean energy, too. Not only can home and business owners generate their own electricity with photovoltaic panels, they can reduce the amount of fossil fuels they use to heat water and to heat and cool their buildings with solar thermal technology. It’s all part of the diverse energy portfolio we need.

While distributed generation solar is vitally important, deploying utility-scale solar power plants can dramatically increase our clean energy portfolio. We estimate 100 megawatts (MW) of new utility-scale solar power will come online in 2010, followed by several thousand megawatts in the next few years, saving us from building eight new coal-fired power plants and emitting 7.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The pipeline for utility-scale solar power keeps growing: There are 23,000 MW of proposed solar projects, enough to supply 4.6 million homes.

Across the country, Americans recognize that responsibly developing utility-scale solar power should be a priority. In fact, a recent independent poll found that three out of four Americans support development of solar power plants on public lands.

Today there are no utility-scale solar power plants operating on public lands. But in the last two decades, 74,000 permits have been approved for oil and gas drilling on public lands. Our country now consumes electricity from aging coal and nuclear plants that are due for decommissioning in the next several decades. We need to get our energy from somewhere, and solar energy is a cleaner, safer option than the status quo. The solar energy industry is ready to power America.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.