Tom Steward

Tom Steward is the bureau chief of Watchdog.org's Minnesota Bureau, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is an investigative reporter focused on waste, fraud and abuse in government and has previously worked for WCCO-TV (CBS) and KSTP-TV (ABC) in the Twin Cities. Follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter.

Does state's solar fair exhibit need more sunlight?

Posted by: Tom Steward under Energy Updated: August 26, 2013 - 8:44 PM

There may be nothing new under the sun but I'd never heard of a "solar clothesline dryer” before dropping in on the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair.  The exhibit showcases a prototype of what's called a solar clothesline dryer, a knock-off of a vintage 1960’s clothesline that simulates the solar drying process on a revolving stand with tips and facts on solar energy printed on shirts, tee-shirts and other clothing.

Some might say that taxpayers were hung out to dry by the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Pollution Control Agency’s exhibit, part of a home energy extravaganza display that also highlights wind power in partnership with the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society. Yet how many fairgoers have a clue that Russell Ohl invented the first solar cell in 1941 or that solar energy reduces CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Introducing the all new solar clothesline dryer at the MN State Fair.

Introducing the all new solar clothesline dryer at the MN State Fair.

Those of us who grew up with air-freshened clothes dried on a line in the backyard will be edified to learn how energy-savvy our parents were before it was even cool--or should I say hot?  Full disclosure:  My mother still has a fully operational solar clothesline dryer that dates to the 1950s. For those who may be unfamiliar with how a solar clothesline dryer operates, the photograph provides a basic introduction to the technology.
Clothes pins secure garments to a rope or metal line for drying outdoors.

Clothes pins secure garments to a rope or metal line for drying outdoors.

One thing missing in the state’s indoor exhibit is, well, the sun.  Good thing, given the near 100 degree temperatures dogging those willing to traipse all the way to the Eco Experience at the north end of the fair. 

Although "sunlight is the best disinfectant" may not be one of the solar factoids and sayings included in the state's exhibit, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' truism remains as timeless as the solar dryer.  

It would be nice to see more sunlight on the potential financial ramifications of renewable energy subsidies for ratepayers, taxpayers and the economy. We could learn from more sunlight on the example of Spain, where a recent Forbes contributor called the underlying economics of renewable energy subsidies “something akin to the apocalypse.” 

Then there’s the issue of solar waste. Sunlight matters to solar energy in more ways than one.

 

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