Funded through a state program at no cost to the Mayfield Board of Education with an estimated $180,000 savings on the district's electric bill, the solar panel project sounds like a win for taxpayers, the schools and students ("Mayfield district considers solar panels," July 25). This also provides an excellent hands-on learning opportunity for science students at these schools.
How can we ensure that all students in New York and across our country have access to the same hands-on learning about renewable energy? Some would suggest that solar power is too expensive and that it is only cost-effective with state or federal subsidies when compared with fossil-fuel energy. At first glance, this seems true, but when you factor in the external costs of fossil fuels, such as environmental pollution, health impacts and damage from extreme weather such as floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires (for which we as taxpayers end up footing the bill), renewable energy is much more cost-effective.
One way to even the playing field between fossil fuels and renewable energy is to factor into their price their true costs, including health care, pollution and environmental damage created by burning coal, oil and gas. These costs could be factored in through a simple mechanism: Place a steadily rising tax on carbon dioxide at the source (mine, port or wellhead) and return 100 percent of the revenue to American households. This plan would reduce carbon emissions, help families transition to renewable energy without breaking the bank, provide certainty in the marketplace for businesses to invest and stop the government from choosing energy winners and losers. In turn, many good-paying jobs, such as solar installers or energy auditors, would be created, and these positions cannot be outsourced to cheap labor markets. These jobs would likely be sought out by students learning in environments such as that proposed for the Mayfield school district.
We need our elected officials, such as Congressman Bill Owens, to lead on this. This plan has bipartisan support, including from Conservative economists such as Arthur Laffer and Greg Mankiw of the Reagan and Bush administrations, respectively.