Chopping Down the Fence

Wooden fence
Photo: James Thompson

“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison

Can you guess who said the quote above? It wasn’t Al Gore, Mother Jones or the president of the Sierra Club. Those words were spoken by Thomas Edison, the brilliant inventor who brought us the electric light bulb and lived from 1847 to 1931.

Here in Colorado we’ve had a bout of mild weather, and yesterday I sat on the patio, soaking in the sunshine and thinking about a news story I’d recently read. Consumers are protesting because our power company Xcel Energy wants to restrict the rooftop solar program incentives we so recently put into force.  It’s frustrating, and sometimes I wish ole’ Thomas could sit down with those regulators and share his forward-thinking views.

Meanwhile, nearly every day brings extreme weather events around the globe, our president is considering whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and glaciers are dissolving before our eyes.

Do you think we’ll see widespread solar energy use in our lifetimes? Or will humanity simply submit to the powerful money interests of the oil and coal industries, and let them chop down our fence in the name of jobs and economy? Let me know what you think.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

6 thoughts on “Chopping Down the Fence”

  1. Eliza – Thank you for your reflection. It is so hard to watch the powers at be melt to pressure from self-interested multinational corporations when there is so much wind, sun and water at our disposal. I am glad that I am not alone with these concerns and frustrations. We are having more snow here in New England – glad for a real winter, but getting ready for spring. Cheers, Lyn

    • Lyn, I have a feeling we are kindred spirits! If enough of us keep speaking out, I have to believe our voices will be heard. Here’s to those springtime thoughts, too. xo

  2. Every household that invests in solar is a lost customer and often, a wholesale energy provider. Xcel correctly believes that it benefits more from huge solar fields than paying each household with excess energy to sell back to the grid. What the regulators need to come to agreement on is that it is not a citizen’s duty to be an Xcel customer and profit center. Xcel never had the small solar producer’s best interests at heart and never have. It is so expensive to put the infrastructure in that those credits are hugely important.

    • I share your view, Meghan. I’ve also heard that consumers may be able to buy or lease solar equipment in a solar field that will help offset emissions. We can all make our voices heard to keep this technology moving forward. Thanks so much for sharing your comments.

  3. Oy… I fear I could rant for a good long time on this topic, but I think that it all boils down to one very sad truth about our society. The only thing that really motivates people (and when I say “people” I’m using the Mitt Romney definition which includes massive corporations) is money.

    I guess this is why I always feel like the environmental movement is just shooting itself in the foot at every turn by focusing on the “do the right thing” aspect of everything instead of looking at the economic realities. As long as it’s cheaper and more profitable for power companies to use dirty sources of energy… that’s what they’ll do.

    The only way to enact change on a meaningful scale is to build the environmental cost of our behavior into the monetary cost.

    But instead of doing that, our society keeps doing the opposite… subsidizing the polluters and charging extra for greener alternatives. It’s a ubiquitous trend – we subsidize farmers who produce herbicide drenched GMO corn, while we charge extra to organic farmers to have their crops “certified.” We throw billions of tax payer dollars down the toilet on research and development grants for oil companies, meanwhile if one solar energy company goes belly up it’s a national scandal. And don’t even get me started on the small stuff like Denver’s trash collection policies – you can dump organic waste in the garbage for free, but if you want to participate in the municipal compost program, it’ll cost you!

    Changing this mentality will require enacting legislation (like a carbon tax among other things) that is really NOT gonna be popular with a LOT of powerful “people”. Unless and until Xcel can make more money by encouraging people to install solar than it can by selling them cheap fossil fuel generated power, nothing meaningful is gonna happen in this department.

    OK… I tried not to rant, but it would seem that I failed miserably. Sorry…

  4. I fear we are too late. I see quite a few of the younger generations, teen to early 20s are actively making choices based on environmental concerns but at every step I see corporations with government in their pocket preventing any real change. Just look at the fuel efficiency of cars. The US is way behind and even bans the import of truly efficient cars.


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