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U.S. Utilities Get Solar Power Tour of Japan

U.S. utility companies explore Japan for solar energy inspirationWhile the fossil fuel industry continues to wreak havoc over the American landscape in pursuit of coal, oil, and natural gas, U.S. utilities have started to make a collective shift toward safer and more secure sources of energy.  Last spring, a utilities industry research group partnered up with the new Solar Technology Acceleration Center to push solar energy development forward. This week, the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) sent a group of top utility executives on a solar tour of  Japan in order to learn more about integrating solar energy into grids and communities.


You can get a blow-by-blow account of the solar tour by following @JuliaHamm on Twitter, so let’s put that aside for a moment and focus on SEPA, which is a non-profit that works to promote solar energy to the utility industry.  Naturally its board includes solar industry companies such as Kyocera, but it is also top heavy with utility industry executives.  It provides an interesting snapshot of how far utilities have come, and how far they have to go.

Solar Power Cage Match: SEPA vs. U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been making a name for itself in the global warming denier field, and as a direct result it has lost prominent members in the utility industry such as Pacific Gas & Electric, a SEPA board member.  Another major utility on SEPA’s board, Duke Energy, has been a vocal critic of the Chamber’s position.

U.S. Utilities and Global Warming Legislation

Compared to the price spikes and shortages that plague the fossil fuel markets, renewable energy paired with advanced storage solutions offers a steady, reliable power stream that makes life easier for utility companies.  That partly explains why Pacific Gas & Electric joined a long list of businesses to oppose a California’s Proposition 23, a measure heavily backed by the fossil fuel industry which would effectively repeal the state’s 2006 global warming legislation.  Another SEPA board member, The Arizona Electric Power Cooperative also represents a forward-looking position; it was one of the founding members of The Climate Registry, a voluntary greenhouse gas reporting system with third-party verification that originated during the Bush administration, which had dropped the ball on legislating verified reporting.

Utilities and Renewables

Meanwhile, utilities on the SEPA board are pushing forward with renewables and conservation projects.  Wisconsin’s We Energies, for example, has just embarked on a new wind power project.  The Sacramento Municipal Utility District won $20 million in federal stimulus funds for home energy conservation projects, which is also expected to create more green jobs.  San Diego Gas & Electric is in the approval process for a new power line to bring solar, wind and geothermal power into the metro area, and in the past several years Xcel Energy has ranked number one for wind power and is in the top five for solar.

And About Those Nukes…

Also on the SEPA board is the Long Island Power Authority, which was formed from the ashes of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant debacle.  The plant was ridiculously sited within the heavily congested New York City metropolitan region and was decommissioned in the 1980’s without ever providing a single customer with electricity, but customers were forced to pay for it anyways, and now almost 30 years later the Long Island Power Authority is still grappling with the costs of reclaiming the site.

Still a Ways to Go

One interesting board member is Springer Electric Cooperative, which like The Arizona Electric Power Cooperative is a rural cooperative.  Unlike AEP, however, Springer is using its home page to promote a “grassroots” national anti-greenhouse gas legislation lobbying effort called “Our Energy, Our Future.”  Since the rural cooperatives as a group depend far more on coal than the national average, the fossil fuel industry might be having some influence there but perhaps this trip to Japan will convince Springer execs that coal is a resource not worth fighting for when other more attractive alternatives are available.

Image: Sun on blossoms by OiMax on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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