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Jun 242011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The txchnologist blog, sponsored by GE, has assessed several famous rooftops in the Big Apple to see how solar could reduce the building’s electricity costs.

Celebrities like Madonna could save a lot — and could afford the installation costs — of solar, according to the blog, which challenges the wealthy and famous to think about it.

“For some, the limited rooftop space or shading makes an installation impractical,” writes the txchnologist. “For others, notably JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, the size and location of their building’s rooftops suggest the potential to generate up to 100 kilowatts of clean energy. (A typical single home array is about 5 kW).”

1185 Park Avenue

Solar power on that building, at 1185 Park Avenue, could save the building $25,000.

So Dimon, honey, show us the money — and let the sun will shine on you!


A note about the “txchnologist” blog: It is an online magazine that aims to follows journalistic standards but with a stated focus on optimistic news on the energy front. We like that. We could all use a walk on the sunny side. Climate change, fossil fuels and wars in the Middle East, it’s all rather depressing.

And kudos to General Electric for the transparency.

But…let’s get real here. Our friend the txchnologist blog has devoted a lot of copy to natural gas, the so-called “cleaner” fuel. Something is going on.

I’ll spare you a lecture on corporate-supported journalism. Let’s just stick to the natural gas issue.

Natural gas, while it burns cleaner, still faces serious opposition from activists in Pennsylvania, New York and Texas and elsewhere over concerns that natural gas extraction, namely fracking, emits large volumes of greenhouse gases and also threatens underground water supplies. (Here’s a snippet about the pushback in New York.)

Fracking forces millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals thousands of feet into the earth. New Yorkers, in particular, are squeamish about this as their state legislature and officials consider whether to allow extensive drilling for gas into the Marcellus Shale beneath the Hudson watershed. The water at risk serves millions.

They have a right to be nervous. Some people in Pennsylvania and Texas, where gas drilling has been more extensive, have reported that their water wells were contaminated after gas drilling commended nearby.

Concerned citizens in New York are worried.

Is GE, a company with a stake in the natural gas business, trying to reach the New York market with reassuring news about natural gas.? You can read the blog and judge for yourself. (One headline: Natural gas helps (not hurts) renewables and 7 other reasons gas can be green.)

But rather than begrudge GE its position as a company that makes gas engines, gas refining equipment, new-fangled co-generation machinery that uses natural gas etc., New Yorkers, and everyone else in the U.S., should get informed.

So for balance, here are some other sources that look more critically at the natural gas picture:

  • ProPublica: This journalism organization has worked tirelessly to investigate the potential pitfalls involved with natural gas, and recently reported on a peer-reviewed study about water supplies polluted by natural gas drilling.
  • Post Carbon Institute: Their fellows advocate for a post-carbon future, and yup, they believe climate change is happening, so we need to redirect our energy (pun intended) toward cleaner solutions.  But researcher David Hughes has questioned the assumption that seems to have overtaken Washington that natural gas is abundant and the obvious, clean “bridge fuel” to the future. Policymakers have been sold a phony promise by producers that the the U.S. is sitting on vast stores of natural gas, according to Hughes. His recent report calls out the wishful thinking behind all the rosy talk about natural gas.

It would be nice if there were a panacea for the U.S. reliance on dirty fossil fuels. But it’s not natural gas. There is something close to a magic bullet right in front of us, in the form of energy efficiency and wind, solar and geothermal power — a foursome that could easily power the nation.

Here’s a formula for the future: Take the $1 million it takes to support a soldier in Afghanistan for one year and apply it toward training him/her to install solar roofs, become a wind technician or work running these businesses.

Then take the leftover $975,000 or so and offer rebates or subsidies to middle- and low-income Americans who install solar roofs or retrofit their homes to save energy.

OK, I hear T. Boone Pickens over my shoulder. He’s saying we can’t power big trucks with solar or wind power. So maybe for awhile we can power big trucks with natural gas. I could live with that. But we could also reduce the need for long-haul transportation by rebuilding local agricultural networks and increasing our use of trains. Eventually, we can transition even those big trucks to electric power. (Just like we’re doing with cars, it can be done.)

Now that’s an optimistic low-carbon future.

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