Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Author ... Bill O'Reilly and Me, by Tom Rooney

When you want the facts on environmental issues, where do you go for information? The Internet ... the library ... television? Many people turn on "news" programs ... but these days, "news" programs are more about ratings and less about the facts.

I'd like to introduce you to Tom Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar. He recently took issue with the words of a popular television personality. His report shows us that we have to dig a little deeper than so-called "news" programs if we truly want to be informed consumers.

Bill O'Reilly and Me
By Tom Rooney

I’m not a Bill O’Reilly hater. Neither do I camp out in front of my television five nights a week to watch the world’s most dominant cable TV news host.

To steal a phrase from Bill O, himself: ‘I’m just one of the folks’ -- who happens to be the CEO of a large company that builds solar energy systems.

So it was with great interest when, in between talking football with one son, aviation with another, and getting my daughter squared away on college, and of course talking to my lovely bride, that I caught Bill O’s riff on solar energy.

“I’d like to put solar panels on my house,” said Bill O, the most dominant newscaster in the history of cable TV news. “And heat my house through the sun. I would like to do that for a reasonable amount of money. I don’t want to buy the oil every month. They can’t do it for a reasonable amount of money, number one.

“And its so complicated ... I can’t do it. ... So don’t tell me about my grandchildren. If they can figure out the solar panels, they can have them. But its all bunk. It’s all bull at this point for a guy like me. ...I want a clean planet. But I’d like the stuff to work.”

So there you have it: In the world according to cable news superstar Bill O, solar is too complicated and too expensive.

Bill O may have been living up to the old saying that ‘journalism is the art of speaking with absolute authority about something you know nothing about.” But in doing so, he also violated the top -- and probably only -- rule of journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’

He did not.

Here’s why: O’Reilly’s remarks came just a few hours after the Irvine Unified School District selected my company, SPG Solar of Novato, California, to install one of the most ambitious solar school projects in the country. With panels on 21 of its schools, the district will save at least $17 million over the life of the 20 year project; and will produce about half of its energy.

This will be an immediate 10 percent reduction in the district’s energy bills.

And ready for the best part, Bill O?

All at no cost to the district.

The financing is not complicated: The cost of buying and installing panels has come down so much, and incentives are so good, that the Irvine school district was able to finance this system through the savings it realized from going solar.

The building and operation is not complicated either. Not even for a Long Island mansion.

At least not compared to the solar energy system we installed at one of the great wineries of the world, Far Niente in Napa Valley. There we built the world’s first solar panels that float.

That may have been a challenge to build, but now that it is up and running, the only thing the winery operators have to do is sit back and watch the sun shine. When it doesn’t, the backup from the grid kicks in.

Without any assistance from anyone. It is seamless and automatic and not noticeable, Bill O.

SPG Solar also built five acres of solar panels at one of the most desolate -- and beautiful -- places in the world: The Furnace Creek Resort and Hotel in Death Valley, California.

But now that it is up and running, this solar system is generating power that could have come from a nuclear plant or a few thousands chipmunks on treadmills, for all guests know.

In Livermore, we built the world’s largest solar array ever put on a movie theater -- and all the time the patrons never knew we were there.

Bill O is a smart guy. No doubt about that. But some times even smart guys who don’t pay attention can be in the dark about America’s brightest technology, solar power.

I'd like to thank Mr. Rooney for that report. My personal feeling is that living a green life means that we take responsibility for making informed decisions. Becoming informed is not always easy. But we owe it to ourselves to search out all sides of an issue and listen to what everyone has to say. Mr. Rooney, of course, supports solar panels ... Mr. O'Reilly, it seems, does not. But hearing both sides helps us know the issue better.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. While I do not feel Bill O'Reilly made himself sound very informed, I would like to give a view that takes his side and IS informed.
    When we moved to LV in June, we looking into Solar Panels because we are in the desert. There is a lot of sun here.
    To adequately power a home of ours size, it would cost about $35,000 to $40,000. Our electric bill in the middle of summer was only $175.
    Considering we have added a swimming pool, let's assume it will average that all year. It would take us 17 years to recoup our investment. My husband is 57 years old. We probably won't be here in 17 years. Even with the incentives in Nevada, we would pay for a minimum of 10 years. Additionally, in Nevada, we are required to apply for the incentives because they are limited. If they are over their limit, we get nothing from the state.
    Even those of us who would love to have Solar, have limitations. We would like to be able to retire someday. Going into debt is not the way to do it. At least not at my house.

  2. this is a great article ... i hope mr. rooney writes more of them.

  3. Stopped by to say hello SF, but now I shall read the guest post... :)

  4. Well first I would like to make a correction, Mr. Oreilly is not a journalist, he is at best a commentator. He does not do investigative journalism. Cable commentator shows are not the place for anyone to get informed.

    The information is out there, the costs are prohibitive for most, there are incentive programs beginning to crop up, just as Mary from LV stated, but many still find them, like Mary and myself, not to be good enough. I live in Las Vegas as well and I am frustrated by how slow going it is that we in this state don't have sunroofs on every single rooftop in Las Vegas, while there are places in Liverpool, England where it is cloudy most of the time where they are utilizing solar.
    We do have a new solar field that was built in southern Nevada that part of our energy is now being supplemented with. But this only increased our energy costs because the electric complany raised our electric rates to offset the cost of building the solar field.

    There are forces deliberately pushing against the alternative energy industries and have been for some time, this is part of the reason why the costs are still so high because no one has been investing enough in these industries at the government and mass levels even though the technology has been around for decades.
    I hope the current administration is able to speed things up in the alternative energy to make them more widely available and used.


  5. some of these comments remind me of the punchline to the old joke: who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

  6. Bill O'Reilly is a jackass. Tom Rooney, kudos to you. People need to remember that technology is continually evolving, and the prices continue to come down. In Oregon, neighborhoods are getting together to buy solar panels in bulk, thereby driving the price WAY down. We have some of the best energy efficiency and solar incentives in the country - demand it in your state as well!

  7. I do not come by here often enough. I was intrigued by the headline, though, because I happened to see O'Reilly's show night he spoke about alternative energy. I felt he engaged in a bit of hyperbole, something many hosts and guests on such shows do (and which we, the viewers, must evaluate independently), but he voiced concerns we all have.

    Mr. Rooney acknowledges upfront that he has a vested interest in painting solar energy systems in a favorable light so we must view him in much the same way (but from the opposite side) as we do skeptics of solar power.

    I noted that Rooney made a good case but left me with some questions:

    1. What was the cost of the solar "project" (his term) to the taxpayers at the outset?

    He implies that it would be less than $17 million dollars in that it would be paid for by the savings in reduced energy costs over the 20 year span of the project and counting incentives which are not detailed.

    2. What will be the ongoing costs for maintenance? (including replacement parts and upgrades?)

    Nothing lasts forever and systems always require maintenance. Solar energy is a complex system, it is not as passive as some think. There are computers, valves, switches, and other parts. There will always be ongoing maintenance. The technology is going through a period of growth in knowledge and refinement. will these be incorporated over the length of the contract? Will there be charges for upgrades or are they included in the original contract?

    These are questions I hope the school district has asked and has received adequate answers to.

    As an anecdotal piece of data, I offer this:

    Back in the 70's I lived in San Diego and had a home and looked into solar water heating systems. The state offered an incentive of 50% of the cost up to $1700 in the form of a rebate for the purchase and installation of one of these systems. Interestingly enough, I could not find one system that did not cost less than $3400. Even though they were selling for less than $2800 in the prior year.

    Personally, I like the idea of solar energy systems supplying a fair portion of one's energy. I am afraid our "growing pains" during transition to that will be very uncomfortable and expensive.

  8. Great comments everyone!

    For those of you asking questions ... I've invited Mr. Rooney to stop by and address them. So stay tuned ...


  9. Hi Small

    many thanks for popping bye to see us

    we are busy hanging onto the side of the mountains feirce gales for 24 hours but i will dig out some stuff and pop back

    peace and light my friend

    but i will say for our childrens sake we have to invest in the future and it must be clean er for them and the planet