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Clinton puts solar power in limelight

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President Clinton's plan to have solar systems installed on 1 million rooftops across America by the year 2010 got a nationwide screening this past week.

The president's Million Solar Roofs Initiative was endorsed by solar energy experts, Department of Energy officials, homebuilders and others who took part in a video conference telecast to some 200 sites. People from around the country called in with questions on Wednesday.Clinton announced the Million Solar Roofs project in June at a U.N. conference on climate change. He said the federal government was ready to work with private businesses and communities to use the sun's energy to reduce America's reliance on fossil fuels.

Clinton asked the Department of Energy to head the project. As part of the initiative, the DOE set a goal of having at least 20,000 solar systems on federal buildings operating by 2010.

Clinton and Energy Secretary Federico Pena both appeared on the nationwide telecast.

"We must reinvent how the federal government, the nation's largest energy consumer, buys and uses energy," Clinton said in a taped message played for the conference Wednesday.

Pena said hitting the million rooftops target would mean "energizing our federal facilities and resources and collaborating with people and companies who build and use these solar systems."

Mark Kapner is vice president of such a company - Energy Photovoltaics in Princeton, N.J., who viewed the telecast while attending the Utility Photovoltaic Experience Conference & Exhibition in Albuquerque.

Kapner said Sacramento, Calif., is a good example of a city committed to increasing its use of solar energy.

There, the municipal utility has been installing 100 solar electric systems a year since 1993 on existing homes, he said.

Kapner's company provides many of the solar panels and equipment used in Sacramento homes. He said the average cost for a 4-kilowatt solar system on a 2,000-square-foot home ranges between $20,000 and $24,000.

"Those homes will generate more (solar) power during the day than the house uses," Kapner said. "The extra power goes into the (city's) utility grid and is distributed throughout all of the Sacramento utility system. At night, the home draws all of its power from the citywide utility system. Those homes, in a sense, are acting like mini-generators dispersed all over Sacramento."

Kapner said one trend in new home construction is the use of solar energy and abundant insulation to produce a house that is so energy-efficient that it needs no air conditioning.

"They are built so energy-efficiently, that the heat gained in the summer is very little compared to normal homes," he said. "Super insulation and good shading minimize the need for either heating or cooling."

Several states already offer tax incentives to businesses that convert to solar energy, said Scott Sklar, executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Asso-ci-a-tion.

Clinton, DOE officials and other solar proponents say benefits of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative include:

- Carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by an amount equal to what is now produced by 850,000 automobiles during a year.

- One million solar roofs will produce the same electricity generating capacity as up to three to five coal-fired plants. Solar energy also will expand the nation's energy options and reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

- By 2010, approximately 70,000 new jobs will be created as a result of new demands for photovaltaic, solar water-heating and related technologies. This year, five new photovaltaic production plants will open in the United States with six more planned for 1998.