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Sanders pushes "go solar" initiative

As he toured the largest solar power facility in North America, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced last week that he will introduce legislation to encourage the installation of 10 million rooftop solar units on homes and businesses. As oil prices shot up this week to new record high, Sanders said sun power could provide economical electricity for millions of Americans from a combination of rooftop systems on private homes and businesses along with power from generating plants like the one here at the military base on the Nevada desert. Sanders toured the air force base and a nearby private solar plant one day before a Senate energy committee field hearing on solar power at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. I am in Nevada and New Mexico in order to learn more about solar energy, said Sanders. In my view, there is huge potential both in solar thermal plants in the southwestern part of this country and in photovoltaic panels in Vermont and throughout this nation in helping us become energy independent and breaking our dependence on fossil fuels. A California utility is building a large solar plant in the Mojave Desert that will generate electricity for 400,000 homes, however, the facility will take up a bigger footprint on the land for the same energy output compared to a small nuclear power plant. To expand solar power for single homes and businesses, meanwhile, Sanders said he will introduce a bill that would make it more affordable to install rooftop solar panels. Rebates would cover about one-half of the $20,000 average cost of installing a solar unit that, depending on location, could provide up to one-half of the electricity for a typical home. The legislations bipartisan cosponsors include Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), John Warner (R-Va.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2008 would encourage installation of 10 million photovoltaic systems over a ten-year period at private homes and businesses. Non-profit organizations, and state and local governments also would be eligible for rebates covering up to half the cost of systems. In order to qualify for the federal rebates, the homes and businesses would have to meet stringent energy efficiency standards. Some experts say 10 percent of the existing rooftops in the United States, when equipped with properly installed and maintained solar systems, could supply 70 percent of peak U.S. energy demands during summer months. Sanders legislation is patterned after successful state programs promoting solar energy in California and New Jersey. He cited several benefits from combining large-scale solar power generating plants in the sun-soaked southwestern United States with an aggressive program promoting private solar panels in Vermont and other states. Despite Sanders claims, some experts have cautioned that sunshine is not a reliable energy source for northeastern states such as Vermont. In such states, the cost of going solar would be higher than replacing Vermont Yankee with a new, more efficiently engineered nuclear-power reactor on the existing reactor site.

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