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By the Light of the Sun
Solar Spring
by Duncan Sprattmoran

With March all the light tumbles down from the sky and our PVs grow hot as the electrons in the silicon jiggle and migrate. During these weeks when we have sun and snow, I marvel the most at the power of this new technology... it is the seemingly most simple, benign way to generate power; after all, all you need is some panels and the sun and you have energy to run all the conveniences of our modern life. The computer I am writing on is powered by the sun, as is the cd player that fills my house with the sounds of Ziggy Marley, the coffee grinder that grinds my morning brew, the washer that cleans my clothes, the lights that let me read at night.

And while I know that photovoltaic cells are not truly benign, as it takes energy to produce them and solvents which pollute the environment, they are benign within the environment in which they produce their electricity. Outside my house they generate their current and release no toxic or greenhouse gasses, and so this small plot of fields and woods in which I live remains relatively unsullied. I consider this important considering the times during which I live. Northern Michigan is rapidly growing, the projections are that these top ten counties of theNorthwestern Lower peninsula will be the home of an additional quarter million people within the next twenty years. With each of these homes which will be built, the occupants will place a greater demand on the existing power infrastructure, which as of today draws its power from nuclear power plants (Big Rock by Charlevoix must be mothballed soon--wrapped in its concrete sarcophagus to await the future generations) and coal fired plants which release CO2 and the sulphur which falls as acid rain, killing the Adirondack lakes and forests. With each new home come more power lines, more transformers, greater and greater reliance on the megaproducers which by design must make a profit off of our need.

And so when I drive through the county and see all the new houses going up and think about how this environment, devastated in the 1880's with timber exploitation but now rebounding with healthy forests, I think the woods and fields are once again facing an onslaught of human resource extraction. The resources today however are not renewable, and so every choice to turn on a light or tv is a quantum step in the continual paradigm that sees nature as ours to exploit. It seems to me that the choice once made is hard to un-make. Once we hook into the grid for the sake of convenience, it is unlikely we will unplug ourselves.

This argument always leads me to those gray areas of contemplation: collusion vs. compromise, action vs. reaction. It is clear to me that as a member of our technologically dependent culture, every act I make is made within a larger web of relation and interrelation, and thus I can not totally expect to extricate myself from this complex nexus of technological responsibility. However, I do believe I am capable of making informed choices, and that each choice I make will have long term effects which will affect the lives of my children's children. I must admit my culpability as a member of a society which depends on resource extraction and the consequential environmental degradation. And yet, concomitantly, I can attempt to mitigate the effects of my choices by making choices which have fewer malignancies than the more mainstream choices provided me.

So as the sun streams into my house and the panels in the front yard vibrate with energy, I attempt to place my actions in a broader scope than just this narrow field bounded by beech and birch. It is too easy to feel holier than thou, by presuming my power supply system is beneficial to the planet. I remind myself that I consume energy, as do my neighbors. The only difference is the long term effects of my consumption may be less ecologically detrimental. However, only time will tell.

For now, I intend to add more energy components as my children grow and their demand increases. I plan to plug a few more panels into my array and let the sun fill my house with power. And I hope that some of my new neighbors in the next two decades will consider the alternatives to the grid.
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