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Texas Energy Development Fund \(State-Funded R&D Support 1977-78 Biennium Solar Energy $215,000* Lamar University Wind -Electric 75,000 SunWay Corporation Biomass Conversion 127,000 Texas A&M Texas Tech Dow Chemical $417,000 * Figures rounded to nearest $1,000. Source: “Project Abstracts,” Texas Energy Advisory Council, August 1978. Texas Energy Development Fund \(State Government Assistance for 1977-78 Biennium R&D Category Amount* Lignite $207,000 Geothermal 350,000 Conservation 93,000 Special Projects 87,000 Solar 215,000 Wind 75,000 Biomass 127,000 Administration and surplus 346,000 $1,500,000 * Rounded to nearest $1,000. Source: “Project Abstracts,” Texas Energy Advisory Council, August 1978. However, Spence and Hutchinson were denied this advantage, because, according to Spence, “the SBA doesn’t like, or rather doesn’t trust, solar energy.” To qualify for a $25,000 loan, the partners had to extract $33,000 from other sources, and that was just the beginning of their problems with government bureaucracies. \(In addition to undercapitalizing Aus-Sol Energy, Inc., the SBA has not provided the customary follow-up support, including management consultation. “The SBA gives you just enough leeway to get you in trouble,” says Spence. “They help Due to the federally induced lag in direct consumer sales over the last two years, Spence and Hutchinson have started to bid on government contracts to keep their company alive. They had intended to compete for a solar installation at Fort Polk, Louisiana, but the Defense Department insisted they spend substantial amounts of their own money coping with contractual red tape and flying back and forth between Texas and Louisiana for conferences. “We couldn’t afford to bid on that job,” says Hutchinson. The company did get a contract recently with the Texas Highway Department to install a solar system for heating asphalt, but the state’s infamous policy of delaying voucher payments to independent contractors for 60 to 90 days has confronted Aus-Sol with serious cash-flow problems. “If it weren’t for the patience of.our local suppliers,” says Hutchinson, “We’d have gone under,” as have many small solar enterprises that tried to get by on government contracts. Another hurdle small firms have to surmount is the typical municipal building code in Texas. Most of the codes require that any plumbing, electrical, or mechanical engineering work be performed by contractors licensed by the city or the state. Since a little of each of these crafts is generally involved in a solar installation, no matter how modest, and since most independent solar firms cannot afford to keep three licensed contractors on staff, they are forced to hire outside contractors to do the work \(usually requiring the skill-level of a high school Not only does this make solar installations more expensive, it compels the entrepreneur to squander valuable time chasing down multiple permits. Spence and Hutchinson described an Aus-Sol project that took three weeks to complete, instead of the five days specified in the contract, simply due to bureaucratic bungling and delays in issuing permits. “I sometimes get the feeling,” says Hutchinson, “that these building codes were designed to make sure companies like ours cannot stay in business.” Talking it down, buying it up Also inhibiting Texas solar entrepreneurs is the doggedly negative image of solar energy in the minds of most consumersan image deliberately fostered by utilities and competing energy corporations as well as by co-opted university professors and other “experts” called upon to inform the press and the public of the technical facts about solar devices. Hutchinson cites as examples a number of Austin-area “consumer-oriented energy seminars” at which university professors, using their academic cloaks without revealing their ties to the energy industries, have advised their audiences to “stick with electricity and natural gas” in preference to solar energy systems. Another example comes from a meeting this month of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Houston, where Ethan Kapstein, a “visiting scholar” at DOE announced that “solar energy does not look encouraging in the near term.” According to an article by Houston Post reporter Jim Maloney, Kapstein went on to cite as historical evidence of excessive optimism a 1952 Paley Commission prediction that there would be 13 million solar homes in the U.S. by 1975 without bothering to mention that the commission’s forecast was based on the expectation of an all-out federal effort to develop solar technology. \(Kapstein concluded, in keeping with the conventional corporate wisdom, that wide-scale use of solar “That sort of thing impresses people,” says Hutchinson, who suggests that the motive behind such “badmouthing” is the desire of the university engineers “to delay the commercial development of solar energy so that they can do another ten years of research on it. The only people making money out of solar today are researchers and bureaucrats.” And Jean Spence gets particularly annoyed at the resulting reports in the press that “solar isn’t ready yet.” Spence, you see, grew up in a Florida house equipped with a solar hot water system which has functioned economically and continuously since 1937. \(Incidentally, President Carter hasn’t helped the solar image much by announcing, according to the Associated Press, plans to install THE TEXAS OBSERVER