Financially Speaking, the End of the World Doesn't Make Sense

04/14/2007 02:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Just read Damon Darlin's explanation in the Times "Your Money" column on why home installation of solar "makes no economic sense." Interestingly, his math largely applies to New Jersey, where I'm guessing he lives, and not to sunny places like Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. He does mention that the payback for solar in Southern California could be as little as three years, but somehow that doesn't affect his math. Only New Jersey matters. (And people find the New York Times elitist?) Also, published studies on how solar profitably affects a home's resale are, according to him, pure guesswork.

Mmmn, maybe.

On the other hand, the future economic costs of electricity powered by coal are actually not guesswork. According to the rigorously researched Stern Report, our failure to address global warming -- of which coal is perhaps the largest contributor -- will eventually cost between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product each year. I don't have my calculator handy but I'm guessing we're talking a lot of trillions of dollars. It would be interesting if Mr. Darlin could use his extensive skills to figure out how that number will ultimately affect "your money." Not to mention your life, and your children's lives, and their children's lives.

I suggest two avenues. One, if you own a home in a sunny climate, look at installing solar on your home anyway. You already do a lot of things that don't make absolute economic sense, right? Eating out? (can't you make a sandwich?) Buying clothes? (home sewing is so much cheaper!) So one more bit of economic folly perhaps isn't such a bad thing, especially if it helps the general good. Besides, this actually does pay itself back. There are also lots of subsidies out there to help lower the cost and great products, like the cool Powerlight Suntiles (wish I'd invented it) that won't adversely affect the aesthetic of your home. And - if the free market works like Republicans say it works - increasing the demand on solar will increase the supply, which will lower costs for future generations even more. So look into it.

The second thing we should do is get our government to tax the coal utilities what we think is fair to compensate for the extreme environmental damage they are causing, and apply those funds raised to subsidies for solar installation and research. It's that simple. Level the playing field to bring greater benefit to the planet. Yes, a tax like that would raise energy rates, but that would lead to a greater demand for conservation. Write you congressman, help make it happen. Then even the shortsighted people like Mr. Darlin will have to embrace solar. Even in New Jersey.

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