Should the Government Help You Buy a Solar Panel?

Supkis is campaigning for the federal government to create a solar energy program based on the FHA format. The program would initially be funded by the government, with perhaps about $100 billion in "seed" money. That money would be loaned to people who want to install solar cells on their homes or businesses, and it would be paid back, with interest, on a schedule based on the income of the applicant.

The payments would be "recycled" as loans to new applicants, thus producing a self-sustaining system.

"It needs to be self perpetuating," she adds.

Good Idea, But...

One way to make it palatable would be to make the payments the same as the applicant pays for electricity through the local utility. And if the system produces more electricity than the home owner needs, the excess could be sold to the utility.

Eventually, when the loan is paid off, the system will provide "free" electricity to the home, and the sale of excess energy could provide a little cash, thus stimulating the need to exercise restraint in energy usage.

Supkis says she picked the figure of $100 billion "out of my hat," but she notes it's about what the United States plans to spend in the effort to rebuild Iraq.

Unfortunately, like so many timely ideas these days, this one probably won't go anywhere either. As long as energy remains relatively cheap, it's easy to put this aside, ignoring a problem that isn't going to go away.

But photovoltaic systems have vastly improved over the past few years, and more and more public utility companies and government agencies are launching efforts to tap into a resource that won't run dry. Imagine how far that technology would advance if there was a viable marketplace filled with home owners eager to buy the latest system, with just a little help from Uncle Sam.

Nothing stimulates progress like money.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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