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Commentaries and editorials

Solar Energy is Taking Off

by Skye Borden
The Missoulian, June 26, 2017

Graphic: Photovoltaic Solar Resource of the United States. Last week in the Northern Hemisphere, we experienced the longest day of the year, when the sun showers our half of the world with bright and powerful rays of light.

Here in Missoula, that means more sunny hours to run up Rattlesnake, paddle the big wave or lounge outside with a cold local brew. It also serves as a reminder that today, and every day, we should soak up more of those rays of sunlight to power our communities with inexhaustible, pollution-free, solar energy.

It’s no secret that solar energy is taking off faster than ever before. Just in the United States, we have 43 times more solar today than we did 10 years ago -- enough to meet the power needs of 8.7 million households.

So, we’re making progress. But of course it hasn’t always been this way. For so long -- since the Industrial Revolution, really -- we’ve relied on the extraction of old and dirty forms of technically sun-powered energy; long-dead plants and organic materials, pushed back into the earth and later pumped out as oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuels.

We know now that extracting and burning these fuels for energy not only harms our environment and our health, but threatens the climate and the stability of the planet.

The time has come to move past such finite, dirty and increasingly expensive resources. Certainly we have the technical potential to directly use clean sunlight for nearly all of our energy needs.

In fact, the United States alone could power itself 100 times over just with the solar power that shines within our borders. Studies show that just around 2 percent of our land mass could power the entire country with solar; panels on American rooftops alone could power nearly 40 percent of the country’s energy needs.

The good news is, we’re reaching a tipping point for renewable energy in the U.S and across the world like we’ve never seen before. Ramping up our renewable goals is not a question of resources, science or technology. It is a question of political will. As more and more leaders in cities, companies, institutions and states commit to goals of using 100 percent renewable energy, we’ll only get there sooner and realize more of the benefits to Montana and our society.

Here in Missoula, we applaud Mayor John Engen for pledging committing to implement the Paris Accord. But, we can do even more. We urge leaders like Engen to commit to a 100 percent renewable energy future; a goal we can and must achieve.

So, on the longest day of the year, we should remember this: every minute of sunlight can be harnessed to create renewable energy to power our lives. We can and must meet this challenge. As we continue to use energy more efficiently, ramp up storage of renewable power and scale up our use of clean energy resources, we’ll make our air and water cleaner, and we’ll leave a legacy that we can be proud of.


Skye Borden, Missoula, is director of Environment Montana.
Solar Energy is Taking Off
The Missoulian, June 26, 2017

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