Expanding solar energy to rely less on oil, gas and other nonrenewable resources is an almost universal goal, regardless of one’s political persuasion. Indeed, with growing concerns about climate and the economic and even national security implications of relying on nonrenewable and oftentimes foreign energy sources, it makes sense to look at solar as a viable means to power more of society’s needs.
But as noble as the expansion of solar energy might be, its pursuit should never infringe on individual rights, as some local governments appear to be doing. For example, the City of South Miami is considering an ordinance that would require installation of solar panels on all newly constructed homes, as well as older homes whose owners elect to renovate 50 percent or more of the square footage.
Indeed, although the cost of solar-energy-generating devices has dropped in recent years, they still remain cost-prohibitive to most. This ordinance would not only increase the price of homes in a city where cost-of-living is already way above the national average, but may actually serve as a disincentive to existing homeowners who wish to make their older homes more energy efficient. Residents who might otherwise consider remodeling their homes with energy-efficient doors, windows, roof shingles, insulation and appliances may think twice if they were also forced to purchase expensive solar panels.
But even that is not the point.
This is a clear and egregious example of government trampling on individual property rights. Local and state authorities can and should develop building codes to ensure safety; Miami-Dade County already has a strict building code due to its vulnerability to hurricanes. However, residents should not be forced to purchase an expensive product that serves no health or safety purpose as a condition to develop or improve their own properties, just so politicians can feel good about themselves.
It is fair to debate how to expand solar-energy production and who should pay for it. Should government subsidize research? Should government grants or tax credits be offered to entice individuals to install solar panels? Should utility companies purchase excess power generated by privately owned solar devices?
These are all relevant public-policy issues that well-intended people with differing opinions can debate, and they all revolve around the notion that solar-device installation is a choice, not a mandate. Government should not pick one industry over another through subsidies or unfair incentives or penalties. Allowing energy producers to compete on a level playing field will encourage them to innovate and make their products more efficient and thus more economically viable over time.
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