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!