Why are we not?

I just headed down to Goodwill to pick up a suitcase. I’m heading to Scotland to work on an organic vegetable farm for a couple of months. As I was coming back up the hill, I happened to look at the freeway and the thought came to me: Why is it that there are no solar photovoltaics on the south-facing sides of the freeway? What a perfect spot. Out of the way, not doing anything. Some places 20 to 30 feet from the ground to the road bed. South facing. Don’t have to take anything down. We own the right away. Why don’t we do something like that in Duluth? Apathy, ignorance, afraid of change, sold out to power companies, scared, need the money for hockey rinks … what’s the reason? I just don’t get it.

This is a revolution that is sweeping the world. The cost of solarvoltaics is cheaper then fossil fuels in some places. We can’t even try something so small as one solar street light. For 15 years I’ve been going on this rant. Is it going to be another 15 years? Is Duluth going to be that far behind the rest of the world? I just don’t get it.

44 Comments

Tomasz

about 10 years ago

Well gee, Frank - perhaps if you put your energy into working on a project like this at home instead of going to Scotland for a few months, your could be the change that you want to see in the world.

Dorkus

about 10 years ago

Well, in case you hadn't noticed, we live on the 47th parallel. That puts us relatively poor spot as far as the efficacy of solar panels. There simply is no solar technology that is efficient enough to generate enough electricity for something like this to be cost effective.

If it was, someone would have done it here already.

Even with incentives from the state and federal governments it would be a loss of money and this city is not in a good enough financial state where it could take a risk like that.

We already have two alternative fuel power plants in our area, with the Thompson hydroelectric plant and the Hubbard renewable energy plant over by NewPage.  

We will build more when it becomes cost effective.

Bret

about 10 years ago

Germany does wonders with solar, and it's at least as far north as Duluth (and more overcast).

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

Tomasz, you are probably right. I should do more, having spent four or five years going to city council meetings, writing letters, being on committees, spending hours researching things pertaining to storm-water retention, constructed wetlands, making presentations to the mayor fighting the Environmental Protection Agency, going head to head with the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District on storm-water issues -- all which was futile. But that was then and this is now. 

I haven't been bitching much lately, because you are right, I'm not doing anything. They beat me. So I am running away for a couple of months, recharging my batteries. What have you been doing? 

As far as Germany, even a small Goggle search would show that it has less sun then Duluth does. I don't believe there's no money. The state has plenty of money to kick in for a billion-dollar football stadium. The thing is, I'd happy to see some small steps; no need to jump in over your head.

Bret

about 10 years ago

Yes, Frank, what I meant to say is that Germany has less sun and is farther north than Duluth.  And, in Germany they do wonders with solar.  We're in agreement.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

No problem, Bret. I shouldn't even have started this, when you are not doing anything you have got no right to bitch. 

I just saw all that potential and then you look at the rest of area lot of unused ground. I'm sure it's slated for ind. development but you could put so much solar there, same as at the Rice Lake dump. 

They can probably never build anything on the dump, but you could do solar. They now have these huge rolls of solar voltaics that you just roll out, cover the dump. I think in Atlanta that is being done. I shouldn't have mentioned Scotland either, off thread, no relevance, except maybe the fact that five miles from where I'll be they are putting up a wind farm to supply 35,000 homes. Scotland is trying to be 100 percent renewable by 2020. Good luck with that, but they are trying.

Thomas

about 10 years ago

Why are we not doing anything? Well, that is a large discussion Duluth really does need to have with itself. We have a lot more solar resource than Germany, a lot more. But Germany has energy policy that is based on different rewards than our energy policy is based on. But things are changing, and Duluth does have an opportunity as it is in the final stages of creating a Local Energy Leadership Plan. 

The city administration will be looking at this plan over the next few months and public input is wonderful. You can see the plan at the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission website.

If you want to have a discussion about why solar is a fine investment when viewed over the lifespan of the equipment and balanced against the 5 percent annual increase in energy costs I would be delighted to start a new thread for that.

The only thing keeping Duluth from experiencing the values of the emerging energy economy, is Duluth.

davids

about 10 years ago

Frank and all,

Check out the Solar Commons project, which is experimenting with exactly the kind of the thing you are talking about--using public right of ways as commons spaces for solar energy generation for the public good.

You might say, "Well, they're in Phoenix, they have the sun to do this," but solar resources are sufficient here to be meaningful.

And an added connection to this project--UMD Cultural Studies professor Dr. Kathryn Milun is actively involved in the Solar Commons project, and teaches a course at UMD on the Commons. You'll find her in the UMD directory.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

How about that? Of course someone would pick up on this. It's common sense. It's a logical thing. I have always thought how great it would be if the land in the middle of freeway to the cities was raspberries and apples and such. It would be a great project for school kids in all grades to be a part off. It would teach them how to raise plants from seeds all the way to making jam. There is no reason there couldn't be a little solar action going on.

Thomas

about 10 years ago

However Frank, "a little solar action"  is just Minnesota Nice. That is what got you into this position of following everyone else. What you need is some bold leadership in Duluth to say you are ready to join the rest of the world.  Just doing "a little" keeps you where you have been.

Google: "Minnesota gets failing grades in solar" and you will see what I mean.

hamptonio

about 10 years ago

I think that's a great idea, Frank.  Posting it here is doing something, you just made it more visible to our community.  I think change often works that way: you push and push, and nothing seems to happen, but then you reach a tipping point and everyone wonders why it took so long.

Duluth does have better solar energy potential than a lot of places that are betting heavily on it:

Photovoltaic Solar Resource of the United States

etspring

about 10 years ago

Frank, speaking of the UK, check out Blackfriars Bridge in London. It is like Oz.

[img]http://www.perfectduluthday.com/wp-content/uploads/comments/Blackfriars-bridge-with-s.jpg[/img]

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

I had never heard of that before. I like it. Here is something similar.

High-speed Euro train gets green boost from two miles of solar panels

Thomas

about 10 years ago

OK, so is there any motivation to creating a little local action?  Or is the community just content with raising the issue and finding a few links?  Could PDD start a dedicated subject page for local energy? Just asking.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

At the risk of seeming ignorant I have to ask, what is a dedicated subject page?

Thomas

about 10 years ago

I guess you might refer to it as a 'specific category' page, much like current events, geeky, outdoors, politics, bitching. I apologize for not using correct language.

[email protected]

about 10 years ago

Just to be clear:  I support green stuff, sure, but no children should be farming with traffic going 85 on either side of them.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

Rhetoric Guy, you are right. After I posted that I realized that wouldn't work too well. You still could put solar there.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

For some reason I keep coming back to a solar street light. A small step which could turn into a big step. Currently the street-lighting budget, if I read it right has $2,150,700 in revenue and $1,889,400 in expenses, leaving 172,000 in the fund. I should state these are 2013 projected. The report states they have $440,000 dollars left over. I'm not an accountant. So how much is a solar street light? They make  a brand in Michigan, hooks right onto existing pole. American made for the most part. Not sure but somewhere 4 or 5 thousand a piece. So just for an example, using the surplus you could buy 110 of them. If you take the number of intersections in the area from Lake to 21st Avenue East and up the hill from Superior Street to Eighth you have approximately 160 intersections. You have approximately between 12 and 20 houses being served and charged for that street light. What are they charged? Five bucks a month, 60 bucks a year times 16 houses $960 a year per intersection times 160 = 153,000. At 4,000 per light cost to put in all solar street lights would be 640,000. So with the surplus of 440,000 plus the years revenue of 153,000 you can almost put one on every intersection. Nice thing about these lights there's no cost for electricity, the new bulbs last. Low maintenance. Once installed you pretty much walk away and save money, and you if did this for each of those  intersections you would make national news, unless you buy bad street lights, then you'll be a fool. Someone rip, gotta be something wrong here.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

If you want to get really crazy you could help start a company and make them right here in town. I predict down the road, maybe ten years everybody gone to use something this.

DaVe

about 10 years ago

There are lots of good resources out there, such as postcarboncities.net.

Aside from confronting global warming and Peak Oil, some are planning how to run cities as economic growth becomes impossible.

Thomas

about 10 years ago

You da man Frank, doing da math is a great step in realizing just how possible change can be.  Duluth does have solar street lights, well, solar parking lot lights, courtesy of St. Louis County.  Check out their parking lot across from where they have the solar panels on top of the county garage above the courthouse.  (4th and 4th W?)

You can see the quality of the light, and also appreciate that they were cheaper to install because they did not have to tear through bedrock for supply lines.  St. Louis County has done some very smart projects toward understanding economics and energy.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

Case study: Regent Street  

So weird, this is real close to where I'm going. I'll be checking it out.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

My mistake, I don't think these are solar powered, just have more advanced LEDs. They do make a unit that is. I'm not recommending these guys, there are many to choose from and it would be prudent to check them all out.

baci

about 10 years ago

"Dedicated project sub-page" = Tag. Just make a tag called energy and everyone use it ... bammo!

Wind, a resource we may have more of around here, deserves mention.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

We do not use tags on PDD because there are too many people creating posts for it to stay organized and useful. One person would tag their post "local energy" and the next person would tag "solar lights" and neither post would connect with the other, rendering the tagging process pointless.

We could create a category, but we like to keep our list of categories pretty short. So if we did create a category it might be something broader like "science and energy" or something like that.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

http://www.magnet4less.com/product_info.php?products_id=971&gclid=COSBreOp47UCFQ2nnQod1kkA5A  

Just for you, Baci. I like the combination wind/solar street lights. Gives you redundancy.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

Just read an article that U.S. army corp. of engineers has been installing solar streetlights in Iraq since 2008.

Shane

about 10 years ago

One problem that I can see with solar powered street lights in Minnesota is that battery performance is reduced by cold weather, which is the time of year the batteries would need to operate at their peak efficiency, due to the long nights.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

Shane, for a minute I thought you found the Achilles heel, but look at these guys. I know there must be some reason this idea wouldn't work, just haven't seen it yet.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

The Enertia Cobra solar street light is my choice. The only issue I might have with it is does it have a cold weather battery. Good looking, the ones where the solar collector is located outside the head just don't seem to be as sleek. Some units on the market have the battery and some of the internals at bottom of pole, so they need an extra length of wire, which means higher labor cost at install. Also seems thieves like them a lot.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

I'll put a hundred dollars on the Cobra. We should just try one out. Looks like there about 3500, maybe one of the Homegrown stages could be called the Cobra Stage and get some donations, raise a little money, buy one of these. Gotta check the cold battery thing. If it don't work, ain't no good.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

They installed one in Kimbery, British Columbia in 2011. Maybe tomorrow call their city hall and find out.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

You folks get one and when I get back in May we'll put it on my corner. Do that and I'll build that boulevard rainwater garden on my dime, get me permits to do the curb cuts and check for gas and water and if I can't stop at least 85 percent of the runoff on my side of the street from going in the drain, that be failure. I'll be aiming for none in 1 inch rainfall and be happy with 50 percent.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

It'll be right under the Cobra.  Then I can have some peace and quiet from this rant. You could so trip this town out. Right out of the rain garden you arch the sidewalk with something nice, organic and climb the Cobra with Maybe Clematis. Three of them, spring flowering, mid summer and late summer.  It would be so sweet.

baci

about 10 years ago

Thanks Frank! On a night like tonight, I could be selling back to MnPow.

frank nichols

about 10 years ago

What is this crazy law the power companies have? You can only sell back  40kw or something like that effectively killing one of the incentives that make having more capability at home than you need. Places that don't have that law seem to be installing more units. If I'm wrong correct me. Part of the reason Minnesota got an F or was it D in renewable energy.

DaVe

about 10 years ago

On the one hand it's good to talk about this stuff. On the other hand this is all talk-is-cheap pipe-dreaming. Yes, we're hypocrites for driving cars, and we should all put solar panels on our roofs, but our entire infrastructure is designed around endless, cheap fossil fuels. And the richest, most powerful corporations in the world (energy companies) have many more fortunes to be made by burning every last bit of oil and gas. I sure don't have the answer to how we can completely turn around our way of life in the time frame required to stop further global warming. Fossil fuels fund our plutocracy and the plutocracy funds fossil fuels. However, the Earth always bats last.

Thomas

about 10 years ago

Frank and all, a really good paper that explains how the net-metering laws in Minnesota can be improved can be found by Googling "MN 2020 Net Metering" short, easy to read, and informative. 
 
Last night the Mayor portrayed Duluth as maybe the next Boulder CO.  Boulder at this moment has more solar than the entire state of MN.  And it is also trying to break free from Excel Energy by a process called municipalization, in order to form their own municipal utility.  Now hard to believe but those scalawags down in the Cities are trying the same thing by starting minneapolisenergyoptions.org.

All it takes is for good folks to do nothing and you can guarantee a future of trouble.

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