The Solar Argument

Local solar power activist Bill Powers is crashing the pages of Natural Gas and Electricity. The industry journal’s August edition will feature an argument by Powers that photovoltaic arrays can be as effective and cost-competitive as gas-fired turbines when it comes to electric power production.

The article’s point of departure is the California Energy Commission’s June 17 denial of Chula Vista’s bid to expand its natural gas “peaker” plant. The commission’s denial, writes Powers (who testified in the plant application hearings) was based in part on a conviction that “solar arrays on rooftops and over parking lots may be a viable alternative to the gas turbine project.” The old saw about solar’s ineffectiveness on sunless days is irrelevant to local peak production, which kicks in on the hottest days of the year. Power can also be stored in large-scale batteries until it’s needed.

The denial of the Chula Vista project may be more significant than first meets the eye. “I see it as a landmark decision,” says Powers. “It sets the urban photovoltaic alternative as the potential ‘first-in-line’ generation resource. Proponents of any new gas-fired generator...must now pass a much more rigorous urban photovoltaic litmus test to gain project approval.”

Why would Natural Gas and Electricity want to publish the solar argument? “Interesting,” says Powers, “the journal’s editor approached me. He’s open to ideas of all kinds. And he sees a genuine solar alternative as one way to help undercut the role of petroleum and coal in electricity generation everywhere.”

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Now he just needs to get sdg&e to pay the providers for the excess electricity they produce.

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