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I recently read in Renewable Energy: Ontario’s New Gold Rush By David LaGesse For National Geographic News Published September 30, 2010 how in Ontario, Canada, home of Niagara Falls, one of the biggest hydroelectric plants in the world, 23,000 farmers are switching over to solar farming. I have been writing and talking to our EU parliamentarians and local politicians for over a year trying to get Estonia to see the merits of this.

“Ontario gets considerably less sunshine than other centers of solar investment—about a third less than Nevada—but its renewable energy industry is booming due to a one-year-old government program. They're at the vanguard of a new gold rush—a race this time to capture the sun's golden rays.

They have jumped into solar energy over the past year, spurred on by a government effort—unlike anything on the continent—to encourage renewable energy. Since October 2009, Ontario's government has agreed to buy energy from renewable sources at a price that all but guarantees a profit. Some installers have claimed small projects could get hefty returns of 20 percent or more, paying back costs in about five years with pure annual profits of at least $4,000 (Canadian) for the rest of a 20-year contract. In a flash, the province became a North American hotbed for investment in renewable energy, second only to California.”

Why are California farmers switching to solar as well? The massive costs and threats of blackouts and the end of free and unlimited irrigation water in California are just two reasons, but mainly because clean energy is more and more in demand. The cleanest and most direct form of energy production is solar. At present the full technology hasn’t been exploited for the world to rely solely on solar energy but it is only a matter of time when it will.  Why not switch costly farm subsidies (which in turn cost even more when we add in the cost of cleaning up the environment from nitrate runoffs (from subsidized fertilizers) into environmentally clean, productive and profitable solar farms?

We know our global eco system is fragile and we can only guess what horrors are still in store for us from the BP Gulf oil spill, or from the toxic chemical spill Hungary is desperately trying to clean up today. We need to rethink how casual and how accepting we are about everything. Already forgotten and forgiven British Petroleum capped the spill and will again be paying profits to their shareholders at the start of the new year. Who knows what long-term consequences have been left behind for us to deal with? Today the Russians and Germans (with Finnish, Danish and Swedish acquiescence) have started laying down their infamous gas pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, one of the most mined sea beds found anywhere in the world today. No one seems to mind how whenever Russia and Germany work together, nothing good ever comes of it. This project is nothing but the manifestation of greed and corruption and apathy from a public indifferent to the possible consequences. Russia should be the last country any country, especially Estonia should entrust its environment or future to. Russia still hasn’t definitively dealt with Chernobyl.  Do we really need to have a Russian tanker run aground or suffer a massive leak from the pipeline killing off what little life is still remaining in the Baltic?

"It struck me we are already harvesting energy from the sun on these prairies," Canadian Gilvesey says. "It seems that solar is a natural for us farmers."  Politicians in Estonia however see little solar potential in Estonia. It makes no difference the Estonian Meteorological and Hydrological Institute EMHI and NASA both have proven, with over 60 years of study, Estonia has more solar resources than either Poland or East Germany (because of our long sub polar summer days), yet both of them have invested heavily in solar development. Whenever alternative energy is discussed in Estonia, only wind and biomass are mentioned seriously. Could it be because these can be controlled, marketed and monopolized centrally? We have 5 wind parks in Estonia today, two belong to Eesti Energia. According to EE they see a bright future for wind and would like to build more. Yet, the three privately owned wind parks are in financial trouble because of a lack of government and local energy supports.

In Estonia, 70% of the homes and apartments are heated by bio mass, or fire wood. This is unusual because most countries in the EU rely totally on fossil fuels for home heating, and this is why Estonia has received and just sold off a part of the1 billion Euros in carbon credits. Here is the rub, Who gets this subsidy? 1995 Eesti Energia received 1 billion kroons in carbon credits, but after that they somehow overlooked or forgot to collect again. But still rates go up.  Being ever so politically astute, our Prime Minister asks now why, with all the oil shale subsidies granted Eesti Energia, our electricity rates keep going up?

Last autumn our Parliament agreed to give a 25 billion kroon subsidy spread over 20 years for Eesti Energia to build 2 state of the arts, 600MW (mega watt) oil shale burners in Narva. The government claims EE needs the subsidy to guarantee Estonian energy security from Russia. When it was pointed out how Russia needs only to lower the Narva River, the coolant, one and a half meters to melt down the 2 600MW burners, a spokesman responded with, “water flowing back from the Baltic would make this impossible!”. Yet this past week I watched on the news how the Narva River was lowered 2 meters in order to make repairs on the base of the Narva Peace Bridge.

What is the problem here in Estonia? The enemy of renewable energy in every country where alternative energy has been addressed has been the local energy company which of course is only interested in protecting its own interests. In every European Union country where alternative energy is taken seriously, i.e., Germany, Spain, Great Britain and Latvia among others, the feed in tariff for alternative energy is at least 6 kroons, in Lithuania where they recently were forced to close their nuclear power plant, the subsidy is more than 8 kroons kWh, but Estonia pays less than 2.-kroons per kW hour. The Estonian economics minister scares the public by claiming electricity bills will skyrocket if the feed in tariff in Estonia is increased to accommodate alternative energy, but admits the rates are still going to rise even if the feed in tariff is not increased. Besides, he boasts, here in Estonia we have learned to rely on oil shale!

Oil Shale is the dirtiest producer of energy, second only to Polish coal. Poland has received almost 8 billion Euros from the EU to increase their solar energy development by 50 times, and Poland has already significantly invested in solar energy. The EU is desperate for clean energy. Estonia has not asked for a cent for solar development. Why?, because solar energy cannot be monopolized. Solar is the ultimate democracisor, literally- solar brings, Power to the People!. Anyone with a roof top or flat empty field can become a solar energy producer. With the new smart cables connecting Estonia to the European super grid, anyone can sell clean solar energy directly into the grid at the going rate. Naturally the more energy you produce, the more money you can ask, which is why I believe Estonia should be seriously switching their EU heavily subsidized farmlands into productive and profitable energy plants. This would go a long way in helping Estonia meet our Kyoto plus demands.

Solar panels have a life expectancy of more than 40 years, and unlike wind turbines which have a life of 15 years, solar panels have no moving parts. Solar panels need no maintenance, no filaments nor have any harmful anything in them, it is just a silicon wafer chip, nothing but sand crystals. They may seem to cost the most, but all the expense is up front. Right now is the time for our farmers to ask for government and EU loans and grant subsidies for developing our farms into solar power plants. Why here? Because Estonia (unlike elsewhere in Europe) is a relatively flat and empty country. Our farmers stand, hat in hand every year competing with bigger and more productive EU countries for agricultural subsidies.  Estonia doesn’t necessarily need to guarantee a large feed in tariff; it can simply enable farmers and those communities interested in developing solar potential to get long term loans with which to build these parks. The money to pay back these loans will come from the future EU consumer buying off the grid at the going rate. Backers in Canada say their effort will not only generate clean energy, but also a green industry with 50,000 workers. The province hopes to replace jobs lost to the troubled auto industry and other manufacturing. A pro solar energy program in Estonia would be giving our people fishhooks instead of just promising fish.  By supporting solar energy today in Estonia we would also be helping to create an entirely new industry here. Our universities are producing and have patents already for state of the art solar panels; they can continue to dedicate efforts on even newer and related technologies. There is a considerable market for locally produced solar products in the European Union and we in Estonia should be exploiting this window of opportunity instead of waiting for Kurenurme’ Michael and Suzanne Wegescanyi’s (recently from Australia)  and their 100% Estonian company, Energy Smart to prove the obvious. Solar power is the future.

Viido Polikarpus

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