Harnessing the sun to save life on Earth
By ARMANDO J. OLIVERA and ERIC DRAPER
A little more than 40 years ago, on Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 was completing a lunar orbit when a remarkable sight appeared in the window of the command module. It was the Earth, 240,000 miles away, rising above the horizon like a blue-white marble. Little did they know it at the time, but Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders would fundamentally change how we think about our planet.
The image they captured that day, called "Earthrise," made us realize more powerfully than ever before that this is the only home we have. In a word, they gave us perspective. And perspective is what’s badly needed in our energy and environmental policy these days. The political process easily succumbs to the tyranny of the urgent.
But it is the longer-term issues, such as climate change and preserving our natural heritage, that will determine the quality of life for our children and grandchildren. Whether it’s passing legislation in Tallahassee to expand renewable energy in Florida, or enacting a cap-and-trade bill in Washington to put a price on carbon, we need policymakers with the vision to see how their actions shape our world.
Our hope is that the Florida Legislature and U.S. Congress will understand that climate change is the defining issue of our time and pursue policies that pave the way for more emissions-free power.
The Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center, which we celebrated at a groundbreaking ceremony last week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, is a great example of what our energy future must look like. This project will bring 10 megawatts of emissions-free solar power to Florida, enough to meet the electricity needs of 1,100 homes. It will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons. It will use no water and produce no waste. And combined with the other solar plants that Florida Power & Light is building in the state, it will make Florida No. 2 in the nation for solar power.
Nor should we ignore the significant economic benefits that clean energy will bring. The solar projects that FPL alone is building will create nearly 1,500 good-paying construction jobs during this economic downturn. And as Florida achieves critical mass in the number of solar projects it builds, we’ll be able to attract research and development and solar manufacturers to the state as well.
But we must emphasize: Only with continued strong public policy support will this vision become a reality. Otherwise the clean-energy economy that so many wish to build will find a home in Texas, or Arizona, or some other state.
The time has also come to get serious about Florida’s energy security. Florida is dependent on fossil fuels for more than 80 percent of its electricity needs. One of the only ways to bring that number down is with a dramatic expansion of renewable energy. Simply put, we need more solar power to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center alone will reduce annual fossil fuel use by more than 100,000 barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. And solar plants never suffer from price volatility — the fuel is always 100 percent free.
From space, it’s easy to see our planet as it really is — a fragile ecosystem with human beings as the only stewards able to preserve it for all inhabitants. Here on Earth, in our fight to combat the worst potential effects of climate change, it is imperative that we capture more of the sunlight that illuminated that first Earthrise.
Olivera is president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Co. Draper is policy director for Audubon of Florida.