Community Solutions was founded 74 years ago as Community Service by Arthur E. Morgan, author of The Small Community and over 20 other books. Arthur Morgan was the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, president of Antioch College, a humanist, and a Quaker. On the eve of our 75th Anniversary, Community Solutions is inaugurating the Arthur Morgan Award, designed to recognize individuals who possess the traits that Morgan wrote about: character, vision, entrepreneurship, and love of community. Our first recipient is William Beale, of Athens, Ohio, longtime member of Community Solutions, serial entrepreneur, founder of Sunpower, husband, father, community member, and passionate advocate of solar power.
William Beale was born in Tennessee and grew up during the Depression in small southern towns. He served briefly near the end of the war in the Navy, and went to college on the GI bill, getting a mechanical engineering degree from Washington State in 1950, with subsequent graduate mechanical engineering studies at Cal Tech and MIT. He moved to Athens to take a professorship at Ohio University in 1960. He taught there for 15 years, and slowly learned that he was intensely interested in doing other things, so he started his own business, Sunpower, to develop and market his Free-Piston Stirling Engine, which featured significant improvements in performance, durability and simplicity over earlier versions of the engine. Beale has received 26 patents for his work, and Sunpower spun off two firms: Stirling Technology, Inc. and Global Cooling, Inc.
He sold Sunpower a few years ago, but continues his promotions of solar energy every opportunity he gets: “It’s simply good engineering logic: when you look at the energy situation it’s blindingly obvious that solar is the way to go. Nothing matches its multiple virtues. I’m interested in solarizing as much as we can.
“When I was trying to sell solar, people would say it’s not economic. There’s something wrong there: that definition of economics is crazy. Their definition is just money. We need to get out of this blind alley, this trap of capitalism.”
In a series of op-eds and letters to the editor, Beale has recommended government investment in electric car retrofits, solar water heaters, super insulation of homes, and bio-gas generators. He writes: “What we need is not less government interaction, but more of the right kind, the kind that knows what the future is and helps that future, instead of ignoring the future and helping the past. The past is named fossil fuels.
“We have got used to living in a paradise of free oil, and now we don’t anymore. I myself slid thru life real easy on a big slick puddle of that near-free oil. But now I and my kids have slurped it all up. But we are still stupidly investing in a hopeless chase for the last cheap oil there is left, and we aren’t finding it because there isn’t any. Still, most of us just keep up the hopeless chase for the cheap stuff in the arctic, deep ocean, tight rocks (fracking) and so on.”
Beale married Carol in 1959 and they bought a piece of waste property on a hill overlooking Athens that was partially strip-mined, partially forest denuded, and partially trampled by cattle. They’ve let nature reforest it, and now have a flourishing forest, as well as a large garden that provides much of their food. It was a very ordinary old farmhouse with no insulation or wiring and they plugged away at it, improving it year after year. Their three children complain that they spent most of their childhood in plaster dust. In addition to insulation, they’ve added solar panels and now run the entire house on their output. A year ago the Beales decided to get off fossil fuels entirely, and now they live on solar and wood culled from their forest with no fossil inputs at all.
Beale continues to tinker and create and advises young people to develop a lot of ideas: “Don’t hesitate to have bad ideas-being judgmental too early is bad strategy.” He’s currently working on an automatic transmission bicycle and a wood-burning, gas-producing electric generator that produces power through a carbon-negative process.
Beale is the recipient of the 2012 Ohio Patent Legacy Award and the 2013 Konneker Medal for Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. He has also donated solar panels to the Athens Library and has been a continual catalyst for energy efficiency discussions and projects in his community.
He worries about climate change and our lack of attention to it: “Many of the most energy-consumptive things we’re doing are near useless or worse than useless.” But he has hope for the future: “The torch is being passed to a new generation and the new generation has a big problem, which gives them an opportunity to be heroes. They have a fantastic opportunity to do something really world-changing. So grab that opportunity and go do it.”
William Beale’s Communnity Award Acceptance Speech
First, I thank all the good people here for doing the hard work of organizing this wonderfully encouraging conference – Pat Murphy, Faith Morgan, Susan Jennings and every contributor. And of course, Arthur Morgan himself, whose vision and initiative started up the whole process when few were giving these hugely important problems much thought at all.
I myself, and I am sure many here, have benefitted greatly from attendance at Community Solutions meetings here and elsewhere. Many thanks to for all that hard work to get them all together. And never doubt that your hard work has been worth all that work. It has been enormously beneficial to one and all.
As to the award itself, I, like many others in my situation, confess to a little twinge of guilt in receiving an award which I am quite sure, that there are here present those have earned better than I. After all, I have been fairly well acquainted with this guy Beale for a while, and I know he is hardly any paragon of anything.
But now to the most valuable component of any such award- a chance to say a few words to the young people – the ones who will determine the way that the present is turned into the future.
Young folks, the job is all yours, you have got it. And it’s a hell of a get you got.
Your problem is far more difficult than the classic crises of the past; I remember well the British. Facing a victorious, deadly foe poised to jump at them across a narrow channel, the Americans whacked at Pearl Harbor, had to act fast and effectively, and they did. Those were single immediate obvious dangers requiring instant collective reaction, and the leaders used the circumstances to convince their people to immediately do what was needed.
Your situation is far worse – a far wider and more deadly threat, and an insidious one, sneaking up on an unsuspecting majority still in a mood to just continue playing their happy games. “What, me worry?”
So, feeling guilty about my giving you such a mess, I wonder if I have anything to say that might help you in your gargantuan task. I think of two quotes that did in fact help me to start to think about beginning to do something. They might be useful to you as well.
The first was in a pleasant long conversation with economist Kenneth Boulding, one of my favorite people. We had met by accident at lunch during a Quaker conference many years ago.
He asked me what I did, and when I answered that I was an R&D engineer, he paused a second, and then said in his mild, humorous way, “Ah, yes, engineers – those who spend their lives trying to find the best ways to do things that should not be done at all.”
I was quite taken aback by this remark, but a moment’s reflection showed me how right he was, since – like most of my generation of engineers – I had spent my first decade working on nothing but weapons having the sole purpose of killing lots of people a long distance away.
The second quote came during one of those wide ranging bull sessions in grad school, wherein we were amusing each other with our various childhood interpretations of the concept of sin.
My recollection was typically primitive: “anything you might be tempted to do for fun.”
My rabbinical buddy then gave a definition from his tradition: “A sin is that which our grandchildren will regret that we did.”
This struck me very hard. Of course, it has to be right, since our grandchildren are in fact us once removed. When we harm them, we harm ourselves.
So, I end with the same advice to you that elders over the ages have urged on the young – do oood, and avoid sin.
And good luck with that little problem you inherited from me, the sinner.