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Free power to the people.



Two words: power outage. One growing national fear: blackout. One missing phrase: solar power.

It's time to fish or cut bait, as they say in the sticks. But, funny -- there doesn't seem to be much in the way of enlightened discourse in Memphis or in the national media, for that matter. Just a bunch of hot wind blowing.

During Memphis' extended power outage, my husband's restaurant ran off a diesel generator for a week -- 180 kilowatts of expense, noise, and stench, but, boy, were we grateful. The restaurant didn't go out of business and none of our employees missed a paycheck, but it was a strenuous week, even considering all the partying. (There are worse places than a pub to get stranded during a power outage.)

Luckily, I'm from Arkansas, so I'm experienced with living like a refugee. It's a consequence of a childhood in a third-world country (the Delta). But it is surprising to see how unprepared the Big City is for the new millennium and its inevitable dread of all dreads: system overload.

Fact is, my husband could have run our whole restaurant off a solar panel. A friend of mine in Arkansas builds solar panels with a larger output than what we required. Huge, trailer-mounted, portable solar panels. He constructed one that ran a 200-kilowatt sound system at an all-day outdoor concert -- in the sticks of Arkansas. We also ran a solar-powered water fountain, solar-powered fans, even a solar-powered van! No noise, no fuel, no stink, no cost. It's so simple, even hicks like me can comprehend it. It's called free power.

During Little Rock's ice storm several years back, we opened our monthly gas bill by candlelight: $400. For one month. (Thanks, Enron!) Then, as we huddled in the dark, gas heat got shut off to tens of thousands of families. (Appreciate ya, Entergy!) What an unforgettable Christmas that was.

We had to warm ourselves with memories of a blissful winter years before in, yes, the boondocks, the backwoods, the absolute podunkity of Arkansas. Fact is, we spent the happiest winter (complete with its own ice storm) cozy as could be in a solar-powered Ozark cabin equipped with an efficient wood stove. Electricity, lights, TV, and never a monthly bill. Oh, sure, you got a little exercise from chopping a bit of wood or carrying a gallon of water from the spring. Other than those few simple, invigorating activities, however, everything was free. As in, free power.

My son was born in that solar-powered cabin, all nine healthy pounds of him. He's now 6' 3" and wears a size 14 shoe. You'd think he might have seen some improvement in solar technology, but so far the only mass-produced panels are in the hands of NASA and highway crews. Instead of an education in how to combat electrical outages by constructing solar panels and batteries, my son gets a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth: The Collapse of the System. He calls it "The Elite Blues."

I call it hilarious. If Arkansas, a state whose own governor once proclaimed it a "banana republic," can produce free solar energy for poor white trash like myself, why can't the rest of the country get it together? The WPA worked in the Great Depression. The current great depression could benefit from a simple thing called solar panels and batteries. It's not like we're talking bizarre utopian claptrap.

Freedom is freedom, whether it's the freedom to subsidize oil companies or the freedom to subsidize solar-panel construction. What a waste if American "freedom" excludes the possibility of free electricity from the sun. What is our government afraid of? That the resultant pollutionless light will illuminate the horrific truth that the emperor wears no clothes?

Denise Parkinson is a Flyer copy editor. For information on solar power, go to StellarSun.com.

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