One oil company thinks solar energy is hot

Vision

April 23, 2006|By LARRY WILLIAMS | LARRY WILLIAMS,IDEAS EDITOR

One oil company thinks solar energy is hot There's another way to think about that incredible 72 percent electric rate increase proposed for BGE customers this summer. Like the $3- or $4- or $5-a-gallon gasoline that may be just around the corner, it's a painful reminder of the Darwinian axiom that the future belongs to those who plan and evolve.

Just ask the folks at BP Solar. The company, a subsidiary of the global oil giant, recently spent $25 million to more than double the capacity of a Frederick plant where it manufactures panels of solar electric cells designed to be mounted on the roofs of homes or businesses.

The company plans to take advantage of rising energy prices and growing demand for the solar-energy alternative to increase its global production capacity from 90 megawatts to 200 megawatts by 2006.

"The expansion of Frederick is good for BP Solar because it will enable us to continue to grow market share in our key U.S. markets," said Mary Shields, BP Solar North America regional president.

BP is pushing solar hard - the company has formed a partnership with Home Depot to market its modules to consumers and businesses in California and New Jersey - and offers a Web tool to estimate potential savings from solar installations of different sizes. (http:--www.bp.com/SolarResults.do)

Punch in a Baltimore-area ZIP code and enter the size of your current or projected electric bill. You will discover that the sunlight intensity in this area is considered very good and that you could cut the cost of the electricity that you use by 20 percent or 30 percent, even after paying to finance the $50,000 cost of a typical solar installation with a mortgage or home improvement loan.

Higher utility bills in coming years appear likely to push the savings higher. That promised 72 percent rate increase could be a substantial early spur.

And that's not all.

Every year, your new home system would help clean the air - eliminating the production of 15,018 pounds of carbon dioxide, 34.9 pounds of nitrogen oxide and 82 pounds of sulfur dioxide. That's the equivalent of planting 3 acres of trees.

And, because your little solar power plant is likely to be working at maximum efficiency on hot, sunny summer days, you could be saving your neighbors money too. Any surplus power you produce will be pumped back into the utility's grid, reducing your bill and making it that much less necessary for your utility to purchase very expensive supplemental, peak-demand power.

Or you could let that giant oil company harvest its solar profits while you pay your friendly neighborhood utility more and more for your growing power needs.

larry.williams@baltsun.com

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