Solar sells

OK, I confess.

I have been blissfully ignorant and totally out of the current loop about the city's most recent plan to spend a large wad of cash to amp up our position as an eco-friendly trendsetter town by having residents "invest" in the new and improved "Solar Pioneer II Solar Project."

I presume the name of the effort has two solars in it so we won't go loony trying to understand it.

As presented and approved, residents would get a chance to feel better by ambushing enough photons to provide electricity for "12 homes" and, over a 20-year period, might make back up to 50 percent of their well-intentioned investment.

I believe that this is termed a negative rate of return and will attract only those who feel that the gesture erases some measure of perceived sin or otherwise is the best use of somewhere between $305,000 and $442,000, depending on your preference of using a total installed cost or a "net cost" view.

I leave it up to others to serve up the true costs, for it seems not everyone is talking about the same things.

I have been reading for years that the best way to get our energy use in balance is to step up conservation instead of increasing electrical production. The use of Old Mr. Sol is to be admired, yet there ought to be a way of getting the same results without asking our residents to step up to the electric department and write a check for a technology that is rapidly advancing beyond its limitations every month, with great promise of dramatically lower panel cost in the near and medium term.

I have spent some time going over the proposal, as I initially was given to understand that the panels, all 363 of them, would be pre-sold for $825 each.

Yet I now am told that the council will proceed even if the residents of Ashland choose other ways to produce a lighter carbon footprint.

As you drive about town you will notice that every fifth car seems to be a Prius, a reflection of our concern about the health of the planet.

I don't know what the city plans regarding fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions, but it is clear that their fleet is full of battleships when the town wants to see schooners sailing greenly down the street.

The Holy Grail of successful solar cell sales is a concept, which does not now exist, called "grid parity," which means that it costs no more to generate your own solar energy than it does to buy electricity retail, off the grid.

There are investors betting that solar will get there within four to eight years.

Solar is still several times more expensive (excluding, of course, the environmental ravages of conventional electrical production) than getting it off the grid.

So, what do we have here?

I do not recall if the voters have been asked what focus the city should have regarding the myriad ways to lend a green hand towards the global task before us. Solar is a shining solution. Efficient hybrids are drivingly obvious. L.E.D. lighting has bright prospects. Wind winds wonders. Hydro is so-so. Coal is a catastrophe. Nuclear is like a never changed baby diaper and crude is, well, crude.

Of the 30 or so comments posted to the about the underfunded panels, there were many distinct viewpoints, not the black and white presented to the council.

Maybe we should install some solar-powered lighting around town so that during our next power outage we at least peek out the window and see that our collective thoughts were bright enough to anticipate that the grid will, without fail, go down and expose us as unilluminated.

Lance was last seen running a little late, as he insisted on using a sundial in the hail to gauge his deadline. He is keeping count of all the panels the council members will purchase as a sign of support for this solar surge. Contact Lance using pulses of light at

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