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How Not to Save the Planet

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to make the world a better place by contributing their own time, energy and money to worthy causes and those who want to make the world a better place by using other peoples’ money — usually through the coercive power of government.

Solar energy is one of those things that people love to love in the abstract. A few people live up to their ideals and put their money where their mouth is. Blogger and open government advocate Waldo Jaquith (to name the only person I can think of off-hand who has done so) invested his own money to equip his house with solar energy panels. My friend Steve Nash, author of Virginia Climate Fever, uses solar power for his back-yard pool. Then there are the anonymous benefactors of the Voluntary Solar Resource Development Fund who have contributed to a revolving loan fund administered by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to help fund low-cost solar installations.

The General Assembly created the fund in 2011. There is a dedicated DMME website, Dominion and Appalachian Power have websites, the program is listed in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, and there were numerous newspaper articles about the program when it was enacted. Four years have passed.

As of May 31, 2015, contributions have totaled $344.27, according to an annual report submitted by DMME.

The average cost of a residential solar installation runs about $37,000.

The program is set to expire in 2016. Absent a dramatic surge in contributions — a minimum of $500,000 to $2 million is needed to sustain the program — it will fail to make a single loan.

Why aren’t the fans of solar power publicizing this fund? Why aren’t they ginning up support? Why aren’t they creating waves of publicity through social media? Don’t they want to save the planet? Or do they want someone else to pay for saving the planet?

(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on June 22, 2015)

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