Solar energy is more than freedom from bills

by William P. Muhammad

ST. LOUIS – Solar technology dealers are picking up more business across the country today as the Obama administration’s push for renewable energy takes hold and the desire of those wishing to become independent of utility companies spreads among ordinary people.

“The electrical energy grid system is over 100 years old and is outdated and outmoded,” said Dawud Muhammad, owner of JMS Solar Network and Associates, a Black owned solar energy company that provides technical sales, installation, and consulting services on a nationwide basis. “When solar is introduced to the market it helps create competition and decentralizes the existing electrical grid system,” Mr. Muhammad said. “Churches, mosques and homeowners should take a serious look at this (because) we cannot have a 19th and 20th century vision to address a 21st century problem.”

As one of the pillars of a national energy policy, both state and federal government have initiated various incentives to encourage the use of green technology. “Under President Obama’s energy plan to build a smart-grid, and through his economic stimulus bill, most states have solar rebate plans and the federal government offers an additional thirty percent tax credit,” Mr. Muhammad told Wisdom House Online. “Your payback could narrow down household expenses and show a return on your investment in five years.”

Mr. Muhammad, also the host of Black Talk Radio Live, an internet radio talk show which promotes the use of green energy, said financial incentives such as cost savings on electric bills and cash back programs benefit his clients whether they are preparing for emergencies or just wanting to save money.

“I heard brother on Innerlight radio and the things he said pricked at my soul,” said Aletha Ray one of Mr. Muhammad’s clients in Houston, Texas. “We had hurricane Ike in September of ’08 and I had my system but hadn’t used it. I bought it in 2005,” she said.

Ms. Ray told Wisdom House Online that having her solar arrays made all the difference when Ike took down her city’s electrical power and that she was prepared while others were not. “I went and pulled out my solar system and I was able to enjoy some creature comforts, see the TV and listen to the radio,” she said. “My next door neighbor spent a lot of money buying candles and batteries. It’s amazing to me how unprepared Black people are. I would advise everyone to get a solar system even for everyday use because it can also save money and keep your electric bills low”.

Another of Mr. Muhammad’s clients, Joshlalyn Lawrence of Washington D.C., agreed there was a benefit to owning a solar power system and said its value alone was enough to convince her to purchase one. She said the power generated by her solar panels freed her from being a consumer and made her into a producer. “Black people are under economic apartheid as long as we are consumers. We need to be independent,” Ms. Lawrence said. “Seeing what is going on with gas and food, everything is going up. It is common sense to use things that are used naturally. It just made common sense,” she said. “It’s a waste when you have the knowledge of wind and solar and don’t use it.”

Because of the efficiency of the latest generation of solar technology, systems have improved dramatically over the last decade. “There is new technology coming out on the market now that consists of Black silicon which can increase electrical output 100 fold. Systems are improving everyday,” Mr. Muhammad said. “In Canada and England respectively, over one million homes use solar energy and in both Germany and Japan, approximately fifty percent of their entire electrical infrastructures use solar and other renewable green energy sources.”

Mr. Muhammad further stated that beyond solar energy’s practical applications were profound economic opportunities. “Energy must now be looked upon as having some sort of intrinsic value in comparison to currency, gold and silver. By putting into practice economic leveraging, we can position our communities to become solar economic sanctuaries,” he said. “While the president’s plan to create green jobs will offer economic opportunity for some of America’s unemployed, we as Black people should do for self by creating a solar manufacturing plant, not only to supply our own needs, but also to create our own jobs,’ Mr. Muhammad said.

A “blueprint” for inner city success

by William P. Muhammad

Over the last 40 years one of the tragic realities for urban Blacks in America has been the systematic closing down of inner city manufacturing. Where jobs and fairly decent incomes once led to family security and relatively stable communities, the relocation of factories and the ceding of labor to foreign markets have negatively impacted employment opportunities for African-Americans and the poor.

From the “Great Migration” of the early twentieth century, when many Blacks fled or otherwise left the rural south for the major industrial centers of the north and west, African-Americans flooded urban areas in search of work and housing. In these new locations policies leading to redlining, economic isolation and the eventual creation of the urban ghetto forced many Blacks to depend upon low-skilled jobs and overpriced housing.

Initially lured by job opportunities, a chance for a fresh start and the desire to breathe free from southern oppression, the northern migration of the 1930s and 40s evolved into an exercise of simple economics through the late 1960s and into the 70s. As long as jobs remained plentiful, northern cities continued to grow and for the Black factory worker and professional, opportunity led to home ownership, prestige and a chance for a middle class lifestyle.

However, with the influx of Blacks came the trend of whites moving out and with “white flight” came the eventual departure of factories and businesses. With the subsequent moving of the tax base from inner-cities to more suburban locales, or in some cases to entirely different towns and cities, the eventual degradation and financial decay of America’s urban centers was all but guaranteed.

Lacking an infrastructure of our own to replace the vacating tax base, economic uncertainty and declining property values brought with them substandard educational environments, a general rise in unemployment and an increase in the various other maladies associated with a collapsing inner-city economy. While a growing population led to increased political activity for the urban elite, the lack of Black owned industry showed that our communities were more consumer than producer oriented and as such, dependent upon outside dollars.

Today, as the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, and the weaknesses of America’s economic system are made manifest, it is incumbent upon Black leadership to promote a new agenda of innovation and productivity. Old ideas must give way to new paradigms, and thinking associated with building and producing must trump the old mind of consumerism and debt. If productivity is associated with the accumulation of wealth generating assets, then to be secure in a 21st century America Black people must not only have access to capital, land and own the means of production, but we must also own the technology necessary to exploit the benefits of a green economy.

With a new administration in Washington promoting the use of “green energy,” now is the time to invest in wind and solar technologies. Not only for use on our homes, businesses and religious institutions, but also for the purpose of converting our communities from a culture of consumption to one of production, wind and solar power has the potential to free us from debt and dependency on the utility company.

With the potential to generate thousands of megawatts of electricity, and subsequently billions of dollars, activity associated with energy production could open limitless opportunities for Black America. By creating wealth in the form of energy, as opposed to debt in the form of consumption, sunlight and wind could effect individual net worth and redefine the concept of wealth creation as we currently know it.

Across the country, zero net energy homes and developments are being built as prototypes for change in what many believe is a post-capitalist economy. By empowering the homeowner or a community to generate their own electricity, consumers become producers and the dollars ordinarily flowing to the utility company would instead work toward increasing property values and lifting the quality of life.

An opportunity to lead in the coming green economy, by grasping these technologies, Black America has the opportunity to no longer remain at the tail, but to emerge with the head. With the proper dedication and organization, we have a chance to “rebuild the wasted cities” and to redefine the terms of our economic participation in American society. With green energy comes opportunity and it would be a shame to let it pass us by.

Black Americans have always been in the cultural vanguard of American society and have been most creative with new technologies and ideas - often before becoming mainstream fixtures. Now with the promotion of wind and solar technology perhaps that same creativity could translate into economic positioning, financially viable leveraging and a new form of entrepreneurship.

William P. Muhammad is an author and a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.