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Renewable Energy: The Key To Liberty

J. Mijin Cha

When people talk about energy independence, they are often referring to the U.S. not having to rely on other countries to provide our energy supply. Here’s what energy independence should mean: individual freedom from big corporations and price manipulation.

Currently, we are solely reliant on corporations or utilities for power. With what result? Oil speculators make millions of dollars off of manipulating the price of oil. Big oil companies made over $32 billion in profit just in the third quarter. Connecticut’s utility company took over ten days to restore power to hundreds of thousands of home and businesses after the last snowstorm.  For the average consumer, this translates into higher energy costs and less reliable service.

But, what if we decided to stop empowering these institutions and become individually energy independent? Instead of big oil companies receiving record profits, individuals could generate their own energy and pocket the savings. Instead of relying on government utilities for power, individuals could generate their own power. This vision is possible through renewable energy. Individuals would have a difficult, if not impossible, time becoming energy independent through traditional fossil fuel means.  An oil or gas well costs around $400,000 to drill. The average cost of a solar system for a three-bedroom house, on the other hand, is $16,500—a hefty sum, for sure, but cost savings will pay for the installation in less than seven years, or sooner if homeowners are able to sell any surplus energy back into the grid. As electric cars become widely available, this energy can also help meet people's transportation needs.

Individuals are already reclaiming their energy independence all over the world. Sales of small-scale wind turbines are increasing and are expected to continue to increase. Advances and adaptations in technology will only increase these numbers. And, Gainsville, Florida generates more solar power per capita than California, Japan, France and the rest of the U.S. Through a program called feed in tariffs, individuals and businesses can sell surplus electricity back into the grid. The program is so successful that Gainsville residents will be generating 1.5 million kWh (kilo-watt hours) by the end of the year. 

Gainsville is an example of the need for uniform federal policy to level the playing field in all states. If a national feed-in-tarrif were adopted, the market would dictate which companies and efforts were successful and offer a stable business environment for investors and entreupreneurs. In fact, the current tax break and incentive structure puts renewable energy at a marked disadvantage compared with big oil and distorts the market viability of fossil fuels. The tax breaks and incentives for big oil are written into the tax code, which means they will be available until Congress acts to specifically repeal them. Most renewable energy incentives, on the other hand, have to be reauthorizied every year leading to market and demand uncertainty.

And yet, even with these disadvantages, renewable energy production is increasing. The U.S. is set to break its record on solar panel installations this year alone. Can you imagine how much renewable energy we could produce if we actually had a market-based economy?