Solar Power Rising in Popularity, Prices Are Down, but There’s Still a Problem

The small and sunny town of Del Norte, and most of southwestern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, is served by one major power line. It comes in the valley through stretches of the Rio Grande National Forest, where long periods of drought and spruce beetle infestations have led to significantly higher fire danger in the last 15 years.

Del Norte is the example of a community at risk, and one that needs to find creative solutions to a possible grid disaster.

In Del Norte, the Public Works Supervisor Kevin Larimore shows off an array of solar panels that provide electricity for the town's water supply.

Dan Boyce/Inside Energy / Dan Boyce/Inside Energy

In Del Norte, the Public Works Supervisor Kevin Larimore shows off an array of solar panels that provide electricity for the town's water supply.


“If that line was to go down, then most of the valley I think would lose electrical power,” said Del Norte Public Works Supervisor Kevin Larimore.

He was standing among a field of solar panels which help power the city’s water supply. Del Norte also has solar installed outside the town hall, the town general store, and on top of the police department. The city uses the solar panels to lower municipal electric bills.  Ironically, what they can’t be used for is what may be most needed:  a backup power supply when electricity is cut off.

Del Norte’s solar panels work in the same way the vast majority of solar works in this country:  If the outside power supply is cut off, the panels become instantly lifeless.

This solar power conundrum came into sharp focus nearly two years ago when Hurricane Sandy thrashed the east coast, causing widespread blackouts that sometimes lasted for weeks. James Newcomb, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute, said while New Jersey has hundreds of megawatts of solar power,  it was rendered useless because of perhaps antiquated connections to the  larger power grid.

But that might be slowly changing. Inside Energy’s series, The Solar Challenge, has the details.

One thought on “Solar Power Rising in Popularity, Prices Are Down, but There’s Still a Problem

  1. I would use alternative energy even if it were slightly more expensive, but not because I believe oil based energy is too precious or too polluting or caused wars. War is the health of govt. War is a racket. It destroys wealth on net but is good for defense contractors and increasing govt. power. Therefore, as long as we have govt., we will have war. Oil is just an excuse for fighting.

    I want to get off the grid so I will increase my freedom, be more independent, and not support the energy monopoly, which is made possible by govt. Individual independence is more efficient and conducive to life. I don’t support the concept of giving away my power to a gang. If my neighbors do so, that is their choice. I wish them well, but I don’t acknowledge their right to force me to join them.

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