Mark Your Calendar – National Solar Tour

Every fall, chapters of the American Solar Energy Society sponsor home tours around the country.  This year, most of the tours are on October 6, but some are earlier, such as this coming Sunday, September 23, in San Francisco.

It’s a great opportunity to find out what kinds of alternative energy measures people have adopted in your local area.  For example, there’s nine throughout the state of Colorado.  There’s literally 100s of them nationwide.  Unless you’re in the Dakotas, Wyoming or West Virginia (West Virginia??); there’s one in your state, and also in Puerto Rico.  Bowling Green, Kentucky’s having its “first annual” solar home tour this year.

Here, too.

They’re all organized by local chapters of ASES, and there’s no uniformity of presentation.  Some have fees, some don’t, for example.  Some have chartered buses (parking issues, or perhaps the carbon footprint?)  Others are self-guided.  But they’ll all have clever and interesting ideas put into practice, and people on site to explain what they’ve done.

Dyer, Nevada’s Quad D Ranch is one of the sites in Nevada, near a town I’ve never heard of, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Nevada:

Tour will last 2-3 hours on 25 September. Items to see include: solar space heating, domestic hot water heating, therapy pool heating, solar electric power panels (32 on fixed mounts, 64 on dual-axis trackers), wind power generation; energy conversion and connection to the grid, and battery back-up power.

This solar stuff is starting to catch on!  And, in fact, people are learning that it’s especially helpful in remote areas where the costs of transmission and maintenance on the grid are really high.  Local conditions vary, and have different suites of solar technologies that are helpful, so you can learn what’s suitable to you own area.

It’s probably a decade since I first went to one of these.  And will do so again this year, this time with one of our fellow Kossacks I convinced to let me drag along.  I’ll see if I can convince *DallasDoc* to write one of his all-too-rare diaries about it.

The Solar Capitol of the World

You may remember Gary Johnson, that libertarian/Republican governor of New Mexico before Bill Richardson.  The one who used to go on cable news arguing for the decriminalization of marijuana?  He has a house in this area, and I’ve seen him in recent years at the grocery store, looking like Sean Penn’s Jeff Spiccoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Into extreme sports: climbed Mt. Everest shoftly after leaving office.  Not long thereafter broke his back in a hang-gliding accident at Haleakala Crater on Maui.  Very strange dude.

He used to say that he wasn’t elected to get along with the legislature.  And he used to veto every damned thing; there was a Republican Governor in Arizona then (Meacham?) who did a lot of vetoing, too.  I can recall joking that they were competing for a spot in the *Guinness Book of World Records* or sumpthin’.

He issued some ridiculous vetoes, too.  One in particular sticks in my mind:  The legislature decided that in addition to a state bird (Greater Roadrunner), state tree (Pinyon Pine), state flower (one of the yuccas), and so on, the state should henceforth have a state question.

Here in New Mexico, we tend to like food that bites back.  And we take our chilies very seriously – not unlike the French are about their wines.  *Hatch Green* or *Chimayo Red* mean very specific things, with centuries tradition attached.  People have fond childhood memories of time shared while peeling roasted green chilies.  Sort of a New Mexico analog to a quilting bee.  (Though we’ve got those, too.)

The state question they passed was “Red or Green?”.  Which is something you’ll get asked here in New Mexico if you walk into a restaurant and order, say, a chicken enchilada.  As it happens, one of the possible answers to the question is “Christmas”.

Ultimately, this is not something of much political consequence.  No monies were to be expended, beyond a press release, and it would only ever be of interest to the occasional travel writer (good for attracting visitors, and not controversial in the least), and not much else. 

And Gary Johnson vetoed it.

Johnson retired to spend more time playing!  If only that other governor from the adjacent state to the east had done the same, rather than move on to a job so far over his head.  But Johnson was ahead of Bush in the Unitary Executive department.  Because while he busy vetoing as much as he possibly could, he was issuing Executive Orders and Proclamations and like they were proof of his manhood.

And so it was that Governor Johnson issued an edict declaring Taos, New Mexico the Solar Capital of the World.  And if you believe there were proper checks and balances between the branches of the state government through all this, then Taos is indeed the Solar Capital of the World.

It’s a good place for solar: lower latitude, higher altitude and relative lack of overcast days combine to make it so.  And people have been fiddling around with solar energy here for decades, especially back in the years of the Carter energy credits.  Ronald Reagan’s Administration (including several of today’s top troublemakers) deep-sixed all that.  I can’t help thinking that the world would be in immeasurably better shape today than it is had Carter’s policies remained in force.

Passive Solar
People think of solar energy as being mostly about how many KWH can be produced.  But it’s not.  Every decision to plant a tree can be a solar one.  Conifers can break wind (here come the cheap jokes), and cutting/diverting wind can help save on heating costs.  I planted some cottonwoods for shade in the summer morning, keeping the place from heating up too much.  They’re placed just far enough north that they don’t block any of the winter sun, needed for heating.

That’s passive solar.  So are trombe walls, which are one of the niftiest things ever.

And solar ovens work good.  I know ‘cuz I’ve done demos where we baked cookies in one:

My house was designed that the part that would naturally be the coldest would be the pantry.  Dark and cool.  Good place to keep stuff like old photographs, too.

There’s more ideas than you can count.  And in each locality, you’ll find out about things that work well exactly there.

The American Solar Energy Society National Solar Tour is a good way to spend a day.


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  1. http://www.docudharm

    Same pic!

    • Pandora on September 20, 2007 at 03:20

    I’ll be checking out the one in Corvallis Oregon. I’ve been thinking of installing an attic fan and just found one that is solar powered! How cool is that??!!

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