Toby Barlow on Sun, 24 Feb 2002 00:22:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] the development of a solar infrastructure

Despite the arguments of free-market thinkers, it is
hard to see an existing large scale infrastructure in
which government funding did not play a major role in
its establishment or proliferation. The silicon chip,
the internet, nuclear power, and more have all
benefited from government aid in the form of
subsidies, procurement, or tax breaks, allowing the
development and expansion of the economies that now
exist on their own in the competitive markets.

A new grass roots movement is growing to expand
renewable energy's share of our energy portfolio. The
methodology is quite simple. Instead of relying solely
on local utilities to provide their energy,  local
governments issue revenue bonds for a mix of solar,
wind and conservation to provide power to their own
buildings (public schools, libraries, city hall,
rooftops on parking lots, etc) The benefits are
two-fold. Obviously, the local government lessens its
own increase in greenhouse gas emmisions, but in the
broader benefit is that their investment will increase
the demand for renewable technologies. The beauty of
pure capitalism is that a growing market is generally
met with an increased supply. An increase in supply
will precipitate efficiencies of mass production,
driving costs down and making these technologies,
especially solar availible to a larger audience. So
solar bonds accelerate the solar economy, just as
large government purchases of computer chips in the
fities and sixties pushed down the costs and
accelerated the computer economy.

With solar mw costs being what they are today, the
payback time is too long for most individual and
commercial property owners. It is not, however, too
long for a local government. If it's a 15 to 18 year
payback, and the estimated life span of a solar
installtion is at least 30 years, that's at least 13
to 15years of free energy local governments can
provide their community. And since the revenue bonds
pay for themselves out of the energy savings they
provide, no additional taxes are needed to pay for
them. In fact, 15 years from now they could be the
basis of a tax cut, since the local community would no
longer need to charge for any of those energy costs. is a web based organizing tool devoted
to disseminating information for community organizers
to use in developing their own local solar bonds. It
uses San Francisco's Proposition B as a model other
communities can follow. Since, during an off-year
election (in which voters are generally more
conservative), 73% of the voters backed B, the
popularity of solar bonds should prove attractive to
any local, state, or national politicians looking for
a positive alternative to Bush's Alaskan drilling
proposals. B will provide between 30 to 50 million
dollars in photovolatic purchases. Imitated in, say,
20 other cities and you have suddenly given birth to
an industy worth between 600 million to 1 billion
dollar dollars. 

The enthusiasm shared around the Porto Allegre and
Davos gatherings points to an interest in finding
solutions to global warming and globalization. A solar
economy could provide both, serving as a way to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and by empowering local
governments through the ultimate in energy
deregulation, home grown power. It would be
interesting to see what communities find this
applicable. It would also be interesting to see what
the internet's role in virally spreading effective
local legislation on a national or even global level
can be.

Toby Barlow

Toby Barlow
250 Texas St. SF CA 94107
(415) 385-6679 cell
(415) 863-4069 home
(415) 733-0783 work

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