Talking with Ed
Ed Begley Jr. talks about Nevada Solar One and ways anyone can be more Earth-friendly
Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., was in Las Vegas to speak at the Feb. 21 dedication ceremony of the gargantuan Nevada Solar One project. The 400-acre solar thermal power plant in Boulder City opened in June and produces enough energy to power some 15,000 homes. For Begley, a vegetarian who powers his own home with solar power, drives an electric car, owns a small wind farm and is star of the HGTV eco-reality TV series Living with Ed, the project was right up his alley.
What is the Nevada Solar One project?
Nevada Solar One is a solar electric project that’s 64 megawatts. That’s a pretty good size power plant of any sort—be it natural gas or coal or anything. In the old days, I bought a 75 kilowatt wind turbine in 1985, and I thought ‘Boy, I’m making 10 homes-worth of power.’
How does the plant work?
It’s a huge array of parabolic mirrors. It’s a huge trough, if you will, that starts every day facing east, and as the sun rises, they focus light at the center, the focal point of this parabola, where there’s a tube with liquid in it. That liquid goes to a plant, where there’s water. It heats the water to an incredibly high temperature, therein making steam, which turns turbines, therein making electricity.
Arizona just announced plans to open a solar power plant that could power 70,000 homes. Do you think concentrated solar power is the future of energy, or just one part?
It’s one thing. I think [we should use] every tool in the toolbox that works. In the energy realm, it would be wind power, biomass, biofuels, photovoltaics, solar thermal power generation. All these things are tools in the toolbox. You can’t do everything with the pliers and wrench. You need different tools for different things, and they all complement each other.
How did you become involved in environmental issues?
I started in 1970. I was fed up with the smog in LA. I wanted to do something that would make me feel better about my actions. … I just wanted to do my part, and when I did it, the shocking thing I hadn’t counted on was that I was saving money. Even my primitive 1970 electric car, it was cheaper to maintain. Everybody likes to save money, and I’m no exception, and that really grabbed me. That’s what my book’s about, Living Like Ed. It’s all about that same kind of stuff you can do today. In 1970, I did all those things on an extremely low budget—I was a struggling actor then. So it’s telling people to do stuff cheap and easy because that’s why I did it.
What are some of your top cheap-and-easy environmental recommendations?
No. 1: Compact florescent bulbs. They save lots of energy and last nine times as long.
No. 2: Ride a bike if weather and fitness permits.
No. 3: Ride public transportation if it’s available near you.
No. 4: Do some home gardening or home composting. And if you don’t have a front or backyard, become part of a community garden. In 1970, I had an apartment; I composted in the apartment.
Last but not least, if you can afford it, get an energy-saving thermostat, and you’ll save a lot of money. … People, understandably, are put off by the list of things they can’t do—'I can’t buy an electric car like Ed or put up solar.’ But what’s on the list that you can do?