As he toured the largest solar power facility in North America at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Senator Bernie Sanders announced today that he will introduce legislation to encourage the installation of 10 million rooftop solar units on homes and businesses. With oil prices shooting up this week to a new record high, Sanders said sun power could provide economical electricity for millions of Americans from a combination of rooftop systems on private homes and businesses along with power from generating plants. Sanders toured the base on the Nevada desert and a nearby private solar plant one day before a Senate energy committee field hearing on solar power at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M.
"I am in Nevada and New Mexico in order to learn more about solar energy," said Sanders. "In my view, there is huge potential both in solar thermal plants in the southwestern part of this country and in photovoltaic panels in Vermont and throughout this nation in helping us become energy independent and breaking our dependence on fossil fuels."
Underscoring the potential of solar thermal, Sanders said a California utility is building a plant on the Mojave Desert that will generate enough electricity for 400,000 homes, about the same energy output as a small nuclear power plant, like Vermont Yankee.
To expand solar power for single homes and businesses, meanwhile, Sanders said he will introduce a bill that would make it more affordable to install rooftop solar panels. Rebates would cover about one-half of the $20,000 average cost of installing a solar unit that, depending on location, could provide up to one-half of the electricity for a typical home.
The legislation's bipartisan cosponsors include Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), John Warner (R-Va.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2008 would encourage installation of 10 million photovoltaic systems over a ten-year period at private homes and businesses. Non-profit organizations, and state and local governments also would be eligible for rebates covering up to half the cost of systems. In order to qualify for the federal rebates, the homes and businesses would have to meet stringent energy efficiency standards.
Some experts say 10 percent of the existing rooftops in the United States, when equipped with properly installed and maintained solar systems, could supply 70 percent of peak U.S. energy demands during summer months.
Sanders' legislation is patterned after successful state programs promoting solar energy in California and New Jersey.
He cited several benefits from combining large-scale solar power generating plants in the sun-soaked southwestern United States with an aggressive program promoting private solar panels in Vermont and other states. "We can reverse greenhouse gas emissions. We can break our dependence on foreign oil. Transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels can be a tremendous boon for the United States economy and create millions of good-paying jobs. This is a win, win, win situation."
To read the 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2000, which will be formally filed when the Senate reconvenes on Monday, click here.
To watch the senator discuss solar power, click here.