Powering Our Homes with Yesterday's Sunshine
By Adrianna Quintero Last week, it snowed in Flagstaff, Arizona, marking an unusually early start to winter. As households cranked up their electric heaters, the local utility, Arizona Public Service, released additional power onto the grid. But this wasn't the typical power produced by a coal or natural gas power plant. Instead, it came from sunshine captured the day before. As we look to transition our economy to clean, renewable energy, storage will be one of our biggest challenges. To bring more power from solar and wind farms onto the grid, we need to figure out how to store that power when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. As the New York Times reported on Thursday, a new solar project in Arizona is making big strides toward improving storage capacity. Fifty miles southwest of Phoenix, a three-square-mile stretch of desert has been converted into a sprawling solar farm. Mirrors focus the sun's energy on a series of black pipes. Those pipes carry the heat to tanks of molten salt. The salt then stores the heat, and when the sun goes down, the plant can extract that heat and convert it into electricity. Power plants in the United States account for 40 percent of our nation's carbon pollution. While they churn out the electricity we need to light our homes, they are also sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And that carbon pollution is causing dangerous effects worldwide. All of the 10 hottest years on record were within the past 15 years. Last year, Arctic sea ice shrunk to the lowest size ever observed. And scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now declared that human-caused climate change helped fuel extreme weather events in 2012. We shouldn't have to choose between having enough electricity and putting our planet and health at risk. We need clean power that helps our economy grow without endangering future generations. Bringing more solar and wind power onto the grid is a critical step, and improving storage technology is already making this possible. But the reality is that our economy is still largely dependent on traditional fuels like coal and natural gas. We need to act now to cut down the carbon pollution spewed into the air when we burn these fuels. That's why the Obama Administration announced a first-ever carbon pollution standard for every new power plant built in America. We already protect our health by limiting emissions of arsenic, mercury, soot, and other air pollution from power plants. Now we can cut down the pollution that is heating our earth and causing sea levels to rise. Already, big polluters and their allies in Congress are trying to block or weaken the new standard. But big corporations shouldn't decide our future--not this time. Write to the EPA and tell them you demand cleaner power and limits to carbon pollution. Transitioning away from our outdated fossil fuel based energy economy is critical for our country's energy future, will make our economy stronger and help tackle climate change while encouraging the necessary innovation to keep our country leading on clean energy. Adrianna Quintero is a Senior Attorney and the Founder/Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Latino Advocacy program, “La Onda Verde.” La Onda Verde is designed to provide Latinos nationwide with bilingual access to environmental information and the tools with which to get involved. Adrianna has been a litigator with NRDC’s environmental health program, where she specialized in public health issues surrounding safe drinking water, bottled water, pesticides and toxic air pollution. Adrianna is also the Founder of Voces Verdes, a national coalition that connects Latino business and community leaders with government decision-makers bringing their leadership to bear on environmental issues. This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.