OPINION: Here comes the sun

On June 21, we experience the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. As the sun reaches its farthest on the horizon, half of the world is showered in the year’s fullest light.

Here in Alaska, the solstice means midnight mountain summits, festivals and blackout curtains. This summer celebration also reminds us that we have a great opportunity to harness the sun’s power to supply our homes and communities with clean energy.

Solar energy is expanding faster than ever before. In the United States alone, we produce more than 23 times as much energy from the sun than we did in 2011, enough to power more than 12 million average American homes. Broader solar adoption means the cost of the technology is plummeting. The cost of utility-scale solar fell by 90% from 2009 to 2020.

We’re making progress. But it hasn’t always been this way. For so long — since the Industrial Revolution, really — we’ve relied on extracting forms of energy that when burned, create toxic pollution: long-dead plants and organic materials, pushed back into the earth and later pumped out primarily as oil, gas and coal.

We know now that extracting and burning these fuels for energy not only harms our environment and our health, but also threatens the climate and the stability of our planet. The historic tundra fires outside of St. Mary’s, melting glaciers and increasing need for lighter, warm weather clothing remind us of the urgency for action. Yet, in 2020, fossil fuels were still used for 79% of U.S. energy needs.

The Summer Solstice is a perfect time to acknowledge we should leave these finite, dirty and increasingly expensive resources behind.

America has the power to move toward the light generated by renewable energy. By capturing the solar energy that shines only within our borders, the United States could power itself 78 times over. Every single state has either the wind or solar potential to power its current electricity use at least once over. Eighteen states have the solar resources to power current electricity needs 100 times over. Nearly one-third of the country’s energy needs could be powered by solar panels on American rooftops alone.

Nationwide, cities are leading the charge to realize their full clean energy potential. A recent Shining Cities report found a tenfold increase in solar capacity in 15 major U.S. cities between 2014 and 2022. While Anchorage is still behind the pack, we’ve made significant strides in the last 10 years — starting at less than a watt per person and ending 2021 at 16.5 watts per person. The city of Kodiak is setting the standard for our state; it’s now powered by 100% clean electricity.

We’re reaching a tipping point for renewable energy. Rather than a question of science or technology, ramping up our renewable goals requires political will. More and more leaders in cities, companies, institutions and states are committed — or committing — to goals of using 100% renewable energy. Here in Alaska, we should get all of our energy from clean and renewable sources. We urge state, city, and regional leaders, both incumbent and incoming, to commit to 100% renewable energy. This is a goal we can and must achieve.

On the longest day of the year, we should remember that we can harness so many minutes of sunlight for renewable energy to power our lives. As we ramp up proven solar technologies, we’ll not only dramatically reduce the pollution contaminating our land, air and water, but we will also leave a legacy for a cleaner, greener future.

Dyani Chapman is state director of Alaska Environment, a nonprofit group with the goal of moving toward a cleaner, greener America.

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