Renewable Energy’s Major Role in the Ownership Society

President Bush won a strong victory with a campaign plank of a new “Ownership Society” where citizens have more control over healthcare, pension, and education choices. In his nomination acceptance speech he said among his priorities for a new term would be “to build an Ownership Society, because ownership brings security, and dignity, and independence.”

So now well into his second term, President Bush is again promoting the ideals of his Ownership Society to push for his administration’s broad second term policy agenda — lately, and perhaps most notably for the partial privatization of social security. Ultimately, whether this and other plans succeed is anyone’s guess, but what’s certain is that any full discussion of an ownership society should include a full review of renewable energy technologies and how appropriately they can dovetail with the President’s ideals of an Ownership Society. At the heart of Bush’s Ownership Society is consumer independence and personal choice. For example, in healthcare, new lower cost, high deductible insurance policies are coupled with savings accounts that inject a measure of consumer decision making and market forces into our health delivery systems. This could create a transformative shift away from third party payers for health care and back toward savvy consumers shopping for the best service at a fair price. With health savings accounts consumers control the spending for most of the routine medical care while still being insured against major health costs. In the Ownership Society promoted by the President, citizens have a growing amount of ownership and control of vital services which were previously provided by a near monopoly provider. In the President’s vision the large provider isn’t eliminated, but moves to a new, but still profitable role, still providing the services it can provide most efficiently, such as major insurance. The parallels of expanding President Bush’s Ownership Society to the energy sector are striking and positive. The proven technologies of renewable energy and distributed generation do exactly what the President is calling for in the Ownership Society. For example, solar panels on the roof of a home, retail or office/industrial complex can take care of providing a portion of the clean, domestically produced power needed for operations. This is power production owned and controlled by the citizen or business owner. They can use the power anyway they want, for backup power, emergency power systems or general use. Similar to the Health Savings Accounts model, utilities, like the insurance companies, are still involved as a major player, managing the grid, providing bulk power, maybe even financing the distributed generation unit, perhaps at a higher rate of return allowed by the Public Utility Commission for renewable energy investment. The solar and renewable energy industry can respond to the call for an Ownership Society based on more citizen control. Pro-Market legislators and public utility commissioners can open up these energy markets and pave the way for the Ownership Society to expand into the energy sector. The effect would be transformative. Clean, locally produced and controlled power would be added to the marketplace and would strengthen our economy and the private sector that drives it. Other recent elections have also shown this is what our citizen/voters want. First, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly (73 percent) supported authorizing their city to issue $100 million in bonds to add solar power to public buildings. They recognized the benefits of lower operating costs, increased energy security as well as health and environmental advantages. Such votes have gone well for renewables in the so-called ‘red’ states also. In Colorado, voters passed a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to purchase increasing amounts of clean, domestically produced renewable energy. Denver Post writer Steve Raabe wrote on December 30th, 2004, that “the voters passage of a renewable energy mandate and Excel Energy’s call for more wind energy is making the state a focal point for wind power developers”. The measure also includes wording that should accelerate solar power deployment in the state. Even in the “Show Me” state of Missouri voters are expressing themselves in favor of the security, and dignity, and independence that renewable energy can bring. In contrasting votes, Missouri citizens let leaders know what kind of energy leadership they want. Two cities with municipal electric utilities held elections in the last few months, Springfield and Columbia. In Springfield, MO, citizen owners of their electric utility voted down a proposed coal fired power plant that would have cost $578 million of ratepayer money. On the other hand, Columbia, MO citizen owners voted 78 percent to 22 percent to move forward with increasing purchases of power from renewable resources. Citizens across the country are deciding to take ownership of the energy problem and solve it like Americans always have. As someone once said, “nothing happens until somebody buys something”. American customers are buying, taking ownership and letting their elected officials know that they want more power and they want that power to be clean and renewable and increasingly in our own control. About the author… Bill Roush has an MBA in Direct Marketing and has been an owner of a solar equipment business. He is currently the President of the Heartland Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA chapter) and on the board of the Heartland Renewable Energy Society (ASES chapter).
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