At a U.S. Senate field hearing today, Senator Bernie Sanders extolled the extraordinary potential of solar energy and welcomed a Bureau of Land Management decision to rescind a moratorium on new solar projects. At the outset of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing, Sanders had urged the Bush administration to rescind a "very unfortunate" decision made late last month to place a two-year moratorium on new solar plants on public land in the West. He applauded news of the about face that was e-mailed to senators midway through the hearing.
"I congratulate the bureau for making the change and for understanding the enormous potential of solar energy," Sanders said. He urged the bureau to devote more resources to processing a growing backlog of applications for permits.
The hearing at the Sandia National Laboratory here was held at Sanders' request, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced. It focused on the potential of large-scale solar generating plants that use so-called concentrating solar power. Concentrating plants - like the Nevada Solar One plant Sanders toured yesterday in Boulder, Nev. - use mirrors to aim beams of sunlight toward a fluid. The liquid is heated and converted to steam that powers a turbine and generates electricity. Photovoltaic technology - like the massive array the senator saw at Nellis Air Force Base and the small solar units atop homes and businesses - converts sunlight on solar panels into electricity.
"This hearing reinforced my view that there is extraordinary potential for concentrating solar in helping us reverse global warming, break our dependence on fossil fuels and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs," he said afterward. "We have optimum solar resources in the Unites States and we have to take advantage of it."
Sanders also cited tremendous potential in generating power from wind, geothermal and other clean renewable sources, especially at a time when skyrocketing prices for oil have whetted demand for alternative sources of energy, sources that also would help address the crisis of global warming. "I hope Congress and a new president will aggressively address this," he said.
Sanders is the lead sponsor of legislation to encourage the installation of 10 million rooftop solar units on homes and businesses over the next ten years.
The bipartisan bill would offer rebates that would cover about one-half of the $20,000 average cost of installing a solar unit. Rooftop solar panels can provide up to one-half of the electricity for a typical home. They can be quickly installed, are cost effective, and could play a major role in combating global warming. Sanders said his legislation would compliment a groundbreaking approach by Vermont's Green Mountain Power. Under the plan approved yesterday by the Vermont Public Service Board, the power company will pay customers for excess energy generated from solar panels on homes and businesses.
For a copy of 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2000, click here.