THE POWER OF THE SUN

Dear Islanders:

I read a book about Nikola Tesla earlier this year called “Wizard, The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla.” I thought I knew about Tesla, and especially his work at Niagara Falls. It was Tesla who finally mastered the mighty cataracts to generate electricity and transmit it over long distances. But Tesla did so much more, including research and development of technologies related to remote control, super-conductivity, fluorescent lighting, the bladeless turbine engine, and many other works that helped define the modern world.

Unlike his peer Edison, however, Tesla never achieved the full recognition he deserved until after his lifetime. He died penniless. But today, many of our greatest minds look to him as a mysterious paragon of innovative thought. If you walk through the headquarters of almost any Silicon Valley startup, for example, you will see tributes to Tesla. Maybe not large statues like we have on both sides of Niagara Falls, but there are definitely posters and coffee mugs bearing Tesla’s noble image in dorm rooms and hi-tech offices across the country. And then, of course, there is Tesla Motors, the electric car company which proudly bears the “wizard’s” name. And "Who is John Galt?" Probably Nikola Tesla. His story is remarkably similar to the basis for Ayn Rand's character.

Tesla’s ultimate goal: free energy

Tesla achieved much, but aspired to do so much more. He envisioned a world of “free energy” that could be transferred over great distances through the air, i.e., wireless power for all. Some claim that J.P Morgan (the hideous looking banker—they had to photo shop his image even back then—who funded Tesla for a time) became so unnerved by Tesla’s aim to provide limitless, free power and the implications it would have for his business, that he withdrew his support and took moves that ultimately led to Tesla’s complete demise.

Where would this energy come from? Tesla believed that useful energy could be extracted from the heat of ambient air itself and from the sun. “The day is not distant,” he said, “when the very planet which gave [mankind] birth will tremble at the sound of his voice; he will make the sun his slave.”  Whether Tesla’s goal of free power was lunacy or the thwarted key to man’s eternal bliss (unlimited clean energy) we will never know. But given recent technological advancements, we are all starting to believe in a piece of his dream: solar power.

For Grand Island, not free, but cheaper energy

Recently a man visited my office. Like me, he is a UB graduate looking to reinvest and recommit to this part of the world. And like Tesla, he has been working on developing and creating advanced solar energy concepts. This man had read something I wrote about solar energy last year, and he wanted to talk. He told me that Grand Island was the perfect spot for his work. He also said that if we work together, he could help Grand Island take advantage of New York’s developing solar energy programs.

His plans are in the works. But if all goes well, soon, very soon, Grand Island will have a first rate solar project being established on industrial land that has sat empty and unused for decades. The panels will glitter from the freeway marking Grand Island as a forward thinking, cutting-edge, green community.

This project will also bring another taxpaying form of commerce to Grand Island. And this is an industry we need to be focusing on. Renewable energy employment in the US grew by 6% in 2015 to reach 769,000. Solar employment in particular is growing 12 times as fast as the job market in general. To give you some context, the average number of coal mining employees declined to 65,400 in 2015. Trust me when I say the Chinese are well ahead of the curve on this. We need to catch up.

There are 3 ways to kill a project

There is a law being drafted to regulate solar power. Some of our board members asked for a moratorium on solar energy projects earlier this year citing claims about the alleged dangers of solar panels. While we should be wise about the implementation of any new project or initiative, I sincerely hope that this wonderful new opportunity is not—like other recent projects—shackled with undue political theater or hindered by the implementation of needless or overly constrictive regulation.  

I have come to understand that there are 3 ways to kill any project:

1.     Fight the project head on. Debate is good. But it can take healthy forms and pernicious forms. Healthy debate is when two sides present ideas in a well-reasoned and logical manner. Wit is important, but disrespect and insult is not. The more malicious forms of direct debate feature name calling, rumor, character assassination, and claims of skulduggery. "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser," is a phrase alternatively attributed to Socrates, Plato, Einstein, Seneca, and Cicero. I don’t think any of them said it, but it’s still a great quote.

 2.     Bury the project in bureaucracy. This is the tool most often used by politicians. It avoids direct responsibility, i.e., “I think we need to propose another study or I think it should go back to committee or thank you for your thoughts, we will get back to you.” Due diligence and getting the input of stakeholders is not only important, it is necessary. But endless critique to bury a plan in the fog of oft less than legitimate risk assessment and analysis is almost always a strategy to do nothing. It’s a time old maxim in the world of business: “time kills all deals.”

 3.     Nitpick until it’s yours. This way to kill a project favors those who lack creativity or innovative instinct. This is where you come forward with no plans, proposals or ideas, but cast doubt and yourself as the grand evaluator and judge—crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s until there is enough white out to make the plan unrecognizable. But the one applying the whiteout will eventually claim credit for whatever Frankenstein concept emerges. It’s not about collaborating, it’s about controlling.

Let’s not kill this project, and let’s not be afraid of other projects

Grand Island is getting a lot of attention. Good things are happening. And there are more good things to come. I’m not talking about terrible apartment complex development schemes or gaudy attractions. I’m talking about ideas that will improve the standard of living for our community—just like I promised.

As a young mother who recently visited me said, “it’s an exciting time for Grand Island!” From solar to dark fiber to recreational trails and so much more, it certainly is. I receive a lot of positive feedback regarding our progress. And maybe I am on TV a lot, but the press calls daily because they are excited about the things happening here. (Or they like some of the drama.)  Either way, Grand Island is no longer drive-through territory. 

We will continue to push ahead with news ideas. If you feel some anxiety, please rest assured that my primary goal is, and will remain, keeping Grand Island green. To some my words may have little persuasive impact, so instead I will try to inspire you with the words of a far, far greater man. Nikola Tesla once urged JP Morgan to continue his support. He said “. . . permit me to remind you that, had there been only faint-hearted and close-fisted people in the world, nothing great would ever have been accomplished. Raphael could not have created his marvels, Columbus could not have discovered America, the Atlantic cable could not have been laid.”

Mr. Tesla was not afraid of innovation. He was not afraid to dream. Forward!

With warmest regards,

Nate