Tim Schoechle: A muni critic's misconceptions

In his Aug. 2 guest opinion critical of our community’s struggle to gain control of our own electricity supply, Bob Martin complains about ideas that “…take on a life of their own.” Then he immediately repeats one such recurring but mistaken idea: “…wouldn’t we be better off investing that money in energy-efficient homes, rooftop solar power and, with the advent of safe and economical battery storage, keeping the energy in our homes and not having to return it to the grid?”

This question is based on the naive misconception that solar panels and batteries can replace local wires and poles and take everybody off-grid. But, this is not how electricity works. Solar, batteries, and local wires can replace large centralized generation and long-distance transmission facilities, but not local wires. Distributed solar-plus-storage is clearly the future of electricity, but it is not intended to take every house off-grid, nor is such feasible or desirable. Rather, it is intended to facilitate local community sharing of locally produced electricity.

Another related misconception in the Martin commentary is, “Why would the city of Boulder want to pay top dollar for a transmission system that may become less important in our daily lives?” Martin confuses “transmission” with local distribution wires and poles. The difference is huge. The local distribution wires are what Boulder needs control of and they are likely to become more important with solar-plus-storage, not less.

A yet larger misconception embedded in Martin’s myth is that we already have a legal right to freely hook up the solar, batteries, and wires. However, under our present investor-owned corporate monopoly system backed by the power of state government, we will not have that right until we take the courage to run the many legal and regulatory hurdles to create our own community utility.

This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in the Daily Camera.