Stumping for Solar in the Heartland

March 10, 2022

In the battle to save a livable planet, just like the fight to save democracy, a big part of the action is at the local level. I would say the critical part.

Currently doing some work in Southeast Michigan pushing back against anti-clean energy nonsense and in favor of solar farms. Following a successful presentation in the area a few weeks ago, the expected angry pushback showed up in the local paper, which made a perfect opportunity to respond.

Monroe Daily News (Michigan):

After viewing my recent presentation in Erie, Jim Dunmyer raised several questions about solar energy in a Letter to the Editor.

Mr. Dunmyer seems to have trouble understanding how variable energy sources, such as solar and wind, can be the foundation of a reliable energy system, and yet there are numerous examples of such systems around the world. Germany, for instance, produces nearly half of its electricity from renewable sources, and has a grid five times as reliable as the U.S.

Last year, Iowa produced almost 60% of its electricity from renewable sources and continues to attract corporations like Apple, Google and Facebook, which require highly reliable power for data centers. In fact, Apple’s Tim Cook cited Iowa for its “world class power grid.”

A reliable grid is about design and engineering, not a limited range of “traditional” power sources. Michigan has a huge advantage over other Midwestern states, with the Ludington Pumped Storage power plant, one of the world’s largest batteries, which has stabilized and backed up our grid for 40 years. Newer energy storage technologies, already competitive, are plunging in price, so the range of options to maintain grid stability will only expand.

Renewable energy is of enormous benefit in preserving farm land. University of Michigan researcher Sarah Mills has pointed out that farmers who have wind turbines on their land are far more likely to have a succession plan for the their land and are less likely to sell out to sprawl developers. Communities like Gratiot County have chosen to site wind and solar fields precisely to preserve the rural, agricultural character of their communities.

By far the greatest threat to farm land is when farmers are forced off the land and urban sprawl moves in. Land in use for solar energy could, in the future, be returned to agriculture if needed, and the soil will only be improved for having been fallow.

Our farmers are the best stewards for their land, and protecting their property rights and freedoms should be our highest priority. Solar and wind are now hands-down the lowest cost sources of new generation.

The highest electric rates in the continental U.S. are in Connecticut, which relies on gas and nuclear power for more than 90% of its supply. States with the highest penetration of renewables tend to have lower rates. Michigan, with high reliance on gas, nuclear and coal, ranks 11th highest among states in electric rates, while Iowa is 35th.

Mr. Dunmyer points to nuclear power as a desirable source, and there are high hopes for new reactor designs, but we’ll have to wait till the next decade to see how they perform. Right now, the only nuclear plant under construction in the U.S., the Vogtle Plant in Georgia, has been beset by massive cost overruns and delays that have already caused the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Corp., the initial contractor.

Solar is not only the least expensive source of new energy but is the cleanest and safest production method available. According to the Department of Energy and Annick Anctil of Michigan State University, there has never been an instance of contamination of soil or ground water due to solar farms. Solar farms are quiet, clean and good neighbors as well as providing much needed tax revenues to support local services and keep taxes low for homeowners. Property values are not impacted by solar farms, according to multistate studies by Cohn Resnick, a top 10 accounting firm.

Finally, Mr. Dunmyer cites filmmaker Michael Moore as his source on energy topics. I will only say that, among the hundreds of scientists and engineers from our top universities that I have interviewed in researching my many presentations on clean energy, Mr. Moore is not widely respected or cited as an energy expert.

4-5 years ago overwhelmingly the action was in the wind area, now solar is hotter than hot, and, as expected, the usual suspects are wheeling out exactly the same arguments that were used against wind, to oppose solar. Even, incredibly, claims about the horrible noise that Solar panels make, as they convert photons to electrons.

First, look, and listen, to this recording at the University of Illinois solar farm at Champaigne.

Now, compare to the presentation made by anti-clean energy activist Kevon Martis at a Southeast Michigan planning commission meeting, a few months ago.

As incredible as it seems, when a good part of the target audience lives in rural “news deserts”, where local papers have disappeared in recent decades, local radio is overwhelmingly skewed to bizarre, right wing talk, and Facebook reigns as a news source and major pastime, this stuff actually gets traction.

Mr Martis is a self-described “Senior Fellow” for the well known (in energy and climate circles) “Think Tank” E&E Legal, based in Washington DC, and famous for threats, bullying, and intimidation against scientists over the past decade and a half.
Local officials in proposed wind and solar areas now experiencing what scientists have come to know too well.

4 Responses to “Stumping for Solar in the Heartland”

  1. jimbills Says:

    The simplest answer to those questioning replacing fossil fuel use has been and will be for a while: there is no other choice.

    Fossil fuels are harming our environment and ability to live on the planet sustainably, and if one doesn’t believe that, they are also a substance that runs down without growing itself back. Even without running out completely, we face an immediate future of increasingly higher energy bills due to the simple fact that fossil fuels are becoming more and more difficult to extract. If one doesn’t believe that, we also lack and will never have energy independence with reliance on fossil fuels, and we directly fund nations like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia due to our reliance on fossil fuels.

    Any reduction in fossil fuel use reduces those issues. Greater reduction decreases their use further.

    There is no good excuse for delay, especially as it will take decades of replacements to affect those reductions. Any ‘but’ argument to the above, and there are a million of them, is just noise.

    I found the Dunmyer letter here:

    In your response, you didn’t quite answer his 4 questions: what about intermittency, why do his rates keep rising, why mandates, and why is CA electricity expensive.

    You partially answered the intermittency question, but it could be expanded to mention that intermittency is simply not a problem in our current grids, assuming there is zero battery storage, until renewables become a very high percentage of the local grid’s production source. But that will take many years for most states to achieve that. Michigan’s 15% renewables in 2021 isn’t anywhere close to that. It will take time for that percentage to rise, and in the coming years, battery storage will become more affordable and capable, and that will answer intermittency issues.

    You could probably answer his question about rising rates better than I, although I’d bet it’s wholly down to rising costs in coal and natural gas – not the extra 5% of renewables added to Michigan’s grid in the past few years.

    Mandates are inherent part of the government. There are plenty of pro-FF mandates that few seem to mention when complaining about renewables mandates. They are simply a tool to help steer a market towards one direction or another – but they have to written well to be effective.

    The reason for California’s high electricity cost is mostly due to its geography. It’s a spread out, large state, with a very high rate of wildfires, and it has an enormous amount of infrastructure that needs to be continuously maintained. It also has higher taxes and several inefficient governmental policies (for instance, they locked in multi-decade solar and wind rates years ago, and while the actual prices for that production have dropped many times since those contracts were signed, they still have to pay for that higher rate). Which is to say, the extra cost for those renewables are not because of renewables themselves so much as outdated contracts.

    Alaska, in comparison, has a higher electrical cost than California and has 3% of its grid using renewables. Texas, also a large state, has significantly lower costs, but it has 25% renewables compared to Michigan’s 15%, but it also has a deregulated market (lowers costs but has issues during ice storms) and a local source of natural gas (which until recently was historically cheap).

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “The reason for California’s high electricity cost is mostly due to its geography.”

      I don’t think Iowa has a lot of mountains, either.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Even, incredibly, claims about the horrible noise that Solar panels make, as they convert photons to electrons.

    My fault! My fault!
    I may have been doing my vocal exercises out by the solar panels when whoever it was came by.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Someone has to follow that “inverter noise” guy around with recordings of cicadas, frogs and screech owls. (I can make a recording of screaming jays, but that’s here in the city, not the country.)

    You can also record ICE noise and play it along with EV noise.

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