Comments from Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, August 12, 2010 at EETN’s Ribbon Cutting for Tennessee’s largest solar site.
First let me thank Robbie and Harvey and their team at EETN for seeing this project through and allowing myself and my SACE team to be a part of it. It is indeed a bright and sunny day in East Tennessee and a bright and sunny day for clean energy. Before I begin my remarks I want to give a shout out to someone in the crowd here who has played a key role in this day: Gil Melear-Hough, who worked for me for 10 years and is now working in Oak Ridge with RSI, for his tireless advocacy for solar in east Tennessee and close collaboration with the City to help make Knoxville become recognized as a solar city.
I was asked to share some thoughts on why solar is not just an environmental thing anymore. First let me reiterate why it is an environmental thing: It is clean energy that is produced without causing mountaintop removal coal mining. It does not add to our ground level ozone, acid rain, fine particulate, or regional haze air pollution; does not cause massive spells of toxic coal ash in our rivers, nor lead to drilling or spilling or leaking oil and exploding gas pipelines; will not harbor long-lived deadly radioactive waste, excessive thermal pollution in our rivers or nuclear weapons proliferating terrorist targets – and as we swelter in a worldwide record-setting hot summer it does not emit climate destabilizing global warming pollution. Of course, all energy sources have their drawbacks; some just have significantly more than others. I say this not to be glib but to clearly point out that how we produce and consume energy in this country does have very serious consequences.
Solar has many clear advantages and it is moving out of just the environmental realm into the realm of serious business for business. Our great state of Tennessee, thanks to our Governor and his energy and economic development team, is well down the road to becoming a major solar manufacturing hub, with in excess of $3 billion dollars – yes billion with a “B” – in economic development over the past 24 months. SHARP, the makers of the panels we see here today and the ones I have on my home, has tripled its solar production capacity at its Memphis facility, and we are seeing the Tennessee solar installer community gaining in strength and experience. All of this is good for business in Tennessee and is good for quality jobs in Tennessee.
While today is an important milestone, the first MW solar station, it is just a point in time. We already know that this site will be leap-frogged by a larger site under development in West Tennessee. We know that TVA is struggling to keep up with the demand for solar systems being deployed and we know that if you poll the people and ask what they want, they overwhelming say they want clean energy with solar power being at the top of the list.
So I’m bullish on this technology, one because I know it works. I happily watch my electric meter run backwards the majority of the time at my house when the sun shines; two because I know that the cost curve trends for this technology continue to come down. Last year we saw a 40% drop in panel manufacturing cost and a 10-20% reduction in installed system cost, yes solar is still more “expensive” than traditional dirty energy, but only because tradition energy continues to rely on society to carry the burden of “externalized cost of production.” But that is changing. More importantly solar is already hitting “grid parity” in some U.S. markets now and I expect to see “solar grid parity” in the current planning horizon for TVA and its power distributors. Three: as a father of three boys and two grandsons, I know solar is the right thing to do. Because in a global warming world of more than 6 billion people, all who want the same standard of living we take for granted, I know we better figure out how to produce and consume our energy with a lighter footprint that is safe and clean, that tries to work with the natural world instead of against it.
Just remember this simple but compelling fact: Every morning the sun comes up and bathes our planet with more energy in one hour (one hour!) than all the energy humans will consume in a year. We need to unleash the innovation to harness this gift.
This site is an important step along that path. I ask all of you to commit yourself to helping this smart, clean and safe technology continue to grow and help overcome the barriers so it can power our world safely, cleanly and cost efficiently. It is the right thing to do!
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