Onell Soto has provided a full-page article in our diminutive daily paper entitled “Big Solar Projects Bloom In The Desert,” describing nearly a dozen alternative energy developments now breaking ground in the Imperial Valley and throughout Southern California. While such projects will help to improve San Diego Gas and Electric Company and other investor owned utilities' ability to draw on non-fossil-fueled power generating capacity, many of the projects are using new technologies that have yet to prove themselves as economically viable on such a large scale for generating many megawatts of power.

The article does provide good information on the future of power utility dominance of the grid, but the grid getting smarter will not be getting cheaper for small business and residential power consumers. While SDG&E has championed the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line from Imperial Valley as an eventual bringer of alternative energy into the San Diego power market, SDG&E is also pushing its PeakShift at Work/ PeakShift at Home (PSW/PSH) business hours rate hikes for San Diego County's small business and residential customers, stating to California's Public Utilities Commission that there is not enough electricity now or in the foreseeable future for SDG&E to keep costs to customers down in its service area. Under the IOU (investor owned utility) solar power distribution model, SDG&E consumers will pay increasingly higher prices for what SDG&E gets from the sun for free.

One hedge against the increasing price of SDG&E electricity is for us to produce increasing amounts of our own off-grid solar power.

In the past decade, security analysts have consistently pointed out that America's power infrastructure remains vulnerable to any number of threats, from anti-American terrorism to utility regulatory neglect and illegal acts leading to an increased threat of utility-caused wildfires. Under the National Response Framework providing guidelines for responsibilities in the event of catastrophic disasters, individual citizens are empowered to do things that reduce their exposure to hazards that threaten life, liberty and property. As it is now, we live with the constant threat or power grid failure on a fairly predictable basis, even to the point where SDG&E claims the right to cut power to customers because SDG&E equipment is expected to fail in high dry wind conditions. Given that basis in federal emergency preparedness guidelines, each of us is free to have our own always-on standby power generation to ease SDG&E's burden in re-establishing the power grid after a wildfire, earthquake or some other disaster of national significance.

One local source of off-grid battery-charging solar panels is Harbor Freight, which is about the only firm that regularly advertises off-grid power generating capacity that is affordable by individual residents. The 45-watt panels are regularly priced at about $250 each but are now on sale at about $160. Once purchased, a single panel provides power for free from direct exposure to sunlight, a product of solar fusion on a stellar scale. A frugal, dedicated purchaser can add another panel every other month or so, adding to one's ability to ride out a prolonged power failure. Five such panels should be enough to operate an energy-efficient refrigerator-freezer. Twenty or more should power a typical household with the use of multiple car batteries for daytime storage and evening power usage, and may provide a free source of recharging power for one's personal electric vehicle.

As an off-grid backup system that is not a home improvement, individual power consumers can avoid city permits and both state and federal requirements to become a Qualifying Facility pursuant to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules. Without FERC QF certification, a home-improvement solar power-generating consumer cannot be paid by SDG&E for excess consumer-produced solar electricity seized and then subsequently sold at SDG&E's profit to other non-producing consumers on the grid.

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