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Civic Minds in The Seattle Times

Program Content for September 12, 2014

Date:  Friday, September 12, 2014

e-Edition Date:  Sunday, September 7, 2014

Article Title:  Power clashes cloud solar’s future

Section:  Main, A1


Vocabulary Review: Fledgling & Toehold


“Government cash incentives have helped a fledgling solar-energy industry gain a toehold in Washington.”


Please look up the definition of both fledgling & toehold and use them in a sentence, using your own words.






Comprehension Questions


1.      What spurred an intense debate in Olympia among utility companies, solar leasing companies and smaller installers like Smithson about how to overhaul the state’s solar industry?


2.      Solar power represents less than a quarter of ____ percent of the nation’s electrical supply, and remains substantially more expensive to generate than power from conventional coal or natural gas plants.


3.      Solar energy’s global capacity increased by _____ percent in 2013 and will continue to expand in the decades ahead — the only question is how fast.


4.      Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast earlier this year that _____________  _____________ will claim a fifth of the world’s investment in new energy resources through 2020, and that could trigger major changes for once staid utilities as more customers produce their own power.


5.      What is solar’s big allure? Drawbacks?


6.      In recent years, how has the solar industry grown/benefited?


7.      In Washington, utilities must buy back the power from the first wave of solar producers at retail prices rather than the wholesale prices they pay other producers. On top of that, homeowners who install solar also are eligible for cash rebates from state taxpayers that typically top $_________ a year and can rise as high as $__________.


8.      Washington at the end of 2013 had less than __________ solar installations. That tally is dwarfed by California, where there are more than _____________ installations.


9.      Solar-power advocates argue that even in hydropower-rich Washington, solar can help reduce the use of fossil fuels.


10.   Puget Sound Energy, the state’s largest power utility, continues to generate 48 percent of its electricity from _________ and _______.




Class Discussion Questions and Essay Prompts:



·        What do you think about using solar power as an energy source to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels? 

·        Have you seen solar panels on buildings/roofs in your community?  Where?

·        Have your parents or other family members or friends installed them on their homes?  Why or why not?

·        Do you think you would install them, if you were a homeowner?  Why or why not?

·        Do your parents own low emission/electric cars?  Why or why not?

·        Why is lowering emissions so important to our world?  How does this impact global warming?






Those incentives have helped solar gain a toehold in a state that boasts some of the lowest power rates in the nation due to abundance of zero-carbon hydropower, and thus is one of the toughest places in


There is plenty of potential for more solar. The total amount of sunlight in Washington is roughly on a par with Germany, the world’s leading solar nation.


·        Do you believe the geography, topography and climate in Washington state would make solar work?  Why? 


Most of the solar rooftop systems installed in recent years in California are leased, a financing tactic that lets homeowner install panels with little or no money down. The leases are championed by SolarCity, an industry powerhouse chaired by Elon Musk, a billionaire investor who founded Tesla Motors, the electric carmaker.


“Few people have enough money to purchase a solar system up front. (Before leasing) it was more or less a boutique item,” said Andy Schwartz, a director of policy and markets at Solar-City.  


But SolarCity has been largely shut out of Washington.


Only utility customers who purchase their power system can claim the state incentive payments, which are greatest if they use equipment manufactured in Washington. And these payments are limited to the first wave of installations within each utility’s customer-service area, so the money would run out if there was a huge surge in the state’s solar industry.


Schwartz and other leasing advocates have been lobbying Olympia to make leasing a ready option in the state.


“I don’t think there can be any serious discussion of solar (in Washington) without leasing, and currently leasing is not viable in Washington” Schwartz said.


·        Why do you think SolarCity has been “shut out” of Washington? 

·        Do you think leasing panels is a good idea, financially for the consumer?  Why or why not?





How far should our state go to promote higher-cost solar energy, given the very successful conservation efforts of recent years that has weakened demand for their power?  Many utilities have an abundance of low-cost hydro that produces no carbon emissions. They often have to dump that hydropower on Western power markets at discounted prices.


What are the problems that we’re trying to solve (with more solar)?


How will solar power help?



Newspaper-related CBA activity:  U.S. Policy


How the United States government interacts with the world affects people across the globe.  Analyze and evaluate the causes and effects of US foreign policy on people in the United States and across the world.


·        Using The Seattle Times e-edition, find an article from this week that deals with world politics or foreign policy. 

·        What are the main points of view from someone living in that particular country?  How is that “view” similar and different than your own opinion, regarding the specific issue the article is discussing?

·        Why is it important to study and learn about foreign policy?  How does it help you understand the world we live in, using current issues and events?  



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