Tucson, Arizona. A group of extremely intelligent and highly educated scientists from the University of Arizona and certain high technology companies gathered at a home on Fourth Street this morning to listen to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other members of the Congressional Committee on Science and Technology. Most of the conversation at the house involved education (math and science in particular), funding for research, and energy. Giffords chaired a field hearing of the committee on solar energy immediately afterwards.
Started 50 years ago in response to the launch of Sputnik, this committee is the least partisan in Congress (Ralph Hall (R-TX) flew to Tucson for the hearing) and has close ties to education and a certain blogger’s heart. Sputnik and the cold war played a huge role in the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the explosive growth of higher education capacity. We created NASA and invested in cerebral horsepower that fueled the greatest economic expansion and propelled us into world leadership.
At both the house and the hearing, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) addressed the audience via speaker phone, his ability to attend impacted by airplane trouble. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) spoke, pointing out that Arizona has sunlight over 300 days a year. Committee Vice-Chairman Lipinski (D-IL) spoke to the interest in solar power during the seventies suddenly dying in 1980. (He did not mention why, i.e. the election of Reagan and the reversal of pro-education sentiments, pro-solar sentiments, and the idea that government should do something other than favor friends and kill people in other countries.)
At the house event, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) heaped praise on Giffords, in so many words saying she was the strongest advocate of solar power in the entire Congress and becoming a powerful leader in the committee.
At the hearing they got technical. Mark Mehos taught me a lot, first pointing out that the American southwest has the greatest solar capacity of any location in the world, with enough sunlight to generate ELEVEN TIMES the current electricity production of the entire country. Arizona, Nevada, and more than I thought, south eastern California kick solar butt.
Then Mr. Hansen of TEP discussed the The Solar Grand Plan published in the January 2008 issue of Scientific American. Solar energy uses proven technologies. They work. All of the systems have been developed to virtually bulletproof reliability. The article is quite "the thing" of the solar energy community.
I'll skip the technical details of utility scale solar energy either dispatchable (parabolic trough, power tower, linear fresnel) that use sunlight to create heat to produce steam for turbines vs. the non-dispatchable (dish/engine, concentrating photovoltaic, flat plate) that generate electricity directly.
What happened today was solid cerebral horsepower engaged in intelligent discourse, part of what is desperately needed if this country is to avoid going off the cliff Eggplant has pushed us towards. The hearing was necessarily very structured, but at the house Rep. Giffords fielded intelligent questions from assembled experts. Today confirmed my speculation of four years ago. She is an information and personal development sponge exhibiting extraordinary growth. Tim Bee has no idea what he is up against, and his gripe last week about her denial of Eggplant's surveillance immunity is barking up the wrong tree.