The sun’s last laugh

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

North Carolina drew guffaws from around the world last month when some folks perked up during a town board meeting in the little town of Woodland and claimed that solar panels “suck up all the energy from the sun.”

Not the best moment for our state.

Despite rock-bottom oil prices and disappearing government subsidies, solar energy still is making inroads here in the 21st century. They’ve built a six-acre solar farm just outside of Mount Airy with rows of solar panels to produce electricity. Another is planned on 70 acres near Yadkinville. They’ve installed solar panels to help light the new movie theater in Wilkesboro. I wish them all well.

Solar technology has been marketed in these parts since the 1970s and with that decade’s energy shortages. I remember a craze then of installing solar-heat collectors on the roofs of houses with a water tank and/or lines that ran to a hot-water heater inside or even through the house. The craze didn’t last.

Benham resident Kristie Seal had such a system in her home back in those days but said they didn’t turn it on, and finally the home builder removed it in 1982.

But the desire for pollution-free energy did not wane, and in recent times the global-warming debate has driven innovators to continue pushing solar alternatives.

Some folks, of course, wonder about such new things. A solar panel or two on someone’s roof is one thing; filling a perfectly good cow pasture full of the things is another.

“It sounds like once farmland is converted to use for solar farms, it’s not coming back, and eventually that land is pretty well ruined for any kind of farming,” state Sen. Bill Cook of Beaufort said a couple of weeks ago during a legislative hearing in Raleigh.

That kind of thinking aroused folks in Woodland, population 809, smaller than Boonville. You can find Woodland on the way to Norfolk, Va. The town put the kibosh on more solar farms there after the sunlight-soaking claim as well as claims of cancer and other terrible things.

And, no, solar panels do not soak up all the sunlight.

For a while there were dire warnings that we would run out of oil and energy. The Carter Administration infamously told “The New York Times” in 1977 that the world would run out of oil before 2010.

But in recent years they discovered fracking, and now in 2016 the world is awash in oil. So the energy industry is a bit raddled . Can we depend on oil or not? Will we have to buy electric cars or not?

Back in the ’70s they touted homes with a south-facing, glassed-in sun room. Builders would roll in black 55-gallon drums, fill them with water and paint the back wall black.

At the time the idea was called passive solar energy. The plan was that the sun would heat the water in the drums, and then at night you’d open the doors and the warm water was supposed to warm the house. I am not making this up.

That idea didn’t last long, either.

So what about all of these 21st century solar panels and solar farms? Will the oil market collapse and solar energy arise to become our salvation? Or will solar farms join in the dustbin of history those old ‘70s sun rooms filled with black 55-gallon drums?

If I had the answer to that, I’d be writing to you from my winter home in Tahiti.

But here’s a hint. The folks in Woodland just might have the last laugh.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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