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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
Solar power in the United States includes utility-scale solar power plants as well as locally distributed generation, mostly from rooftop voltaics. At the end of 2015, according to Wikipedia, the US had 25 gigawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity with an additional 1.8 gigawatts of concentrated solar power. (Concentrated solar power uses mirrors or lenses to concentrate the heat of sunshine onto a small point.) In the twelve months through September 2016, utility-scale solar power generated less than one percent, just 0.82%, of total US electricity, not including local small-scale solar installations. In terms of total installed capacity, by the end of 2015, the USA ranked fourth in the world behind China, Germany and Japan and ahead of Italy and the UK.

But in 2015, however, 30% of all new electricity generation capacity in the USA was solar. Solar panels are popping up nearly everywhere the sun shines. At Wooster, Ohio, 20,000-square-foot solar panel array -- which the College of Wooster says is the largest on any college facility in the country -- is being installed atop its new student recreation and athletic facility. It will generate 271,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, enough to power a student residence hall. It is being installed by Carbon Vision LLC of Shaker Heights. The company will own the solar installation and lease it to the college, which will purchase all the power generated for 12-and-a-half years. At the end of that term, the college will receive title to the solar installation, which has a life of up to 40 years.

Alliant Energy plans to begin construction of a solar array at Dubuque, Iowa, in the spring. The company announced plans to install solar panels on two sites covering about 30 acres. Cuyahoga County,Ohio, is moving ahead with plans to build a 4- to 5-megawatt solar energy farm to help power 17 county buildings. And Sheridan Community Schools in central Indiana has become a completely solar powered school system.

Everyone has heard of community gardens. How about community solar gardens? Instead of harvesting some turnips, customers who purchase or lease panels in a community solar project get credits on their electric bills in proportion to their investment interests in the solar arrays. The Nebraska Public Power District, it is reported, will soon be offering a community solar leasing program called SunWise. According to another report, Crow Wing Power plans to build a community solar garden at its building near Brainerd, Minnesota.

Solar power is not exactly free. There are considerable costs for erecting solar arrays, turning heat energy into electricity and transmitting it. But there is a pay-off date for every solar garden or farm and, in the meantime, there is no deleterious effect on air or water.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.

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