Marita: Sun and wind … free, but expensive to convert

Here’s the latest from Marita ….

The sun and the wind are free, but converting them to reliable electricity is expensive, if not impossible

In an effort to get America off of fossil fuels, “free” solar and wind energy is often touted as the solution. However, in reality, the so-called free energy has high costs and does little to minimize fossil-fuel use or cut greenhouse gases.

Because solar-and-wind energy are not available 24/7—also frequently referenced as not “dispatchable”—incorporating them into the electricity portfolio requires back-up power to be available on demand. When the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we still expect to have heating or air conditioning, cook our dinners, charge our phones, and use our computers. To do this, requires fossil fuels—typically natural gas “peaking plants,” but depending on what is available, it may be a coal-fueled power plant that is forced to operate inefficiently; releasing more CO2 than it would if allowed to operate as intended.

Think of it this way.

If you want to cook a hamburger, and you have a charcoal grill, you go outside about 30 minutes before you plan to cook. You mound up the charcoal, sprinkle it with lighter fluid, and toss on a match. When the coals are white on the edges, you know they are ready. You put your burger on the grill and cook it for five to eight minutes. Once you remove the burger, the coals are still hot for hours. Ultimately, they burn down to ashes and are cold enough that you can throw them into your plastic trash can, or into the forest. To restart it later in the same day is not efficient.

By comparison, if you are going to cook that same hamburger over natural gas, or propane, you go out five minutes before you plan to grill to heat up the elements. You cook your burger, and you turn it off. No coals, no cool down needed.

Power plants function in a similar fashion.

A coal-fueled power plant cannot easily be turned on and off. It works most efficiently—i.e. cleanly—when it burns continuously. Like the grill, you can add more coal throughout the process to keep the temperature up, which creates the steam that generates electricity.

But, with a natural-gas-fueled power plant, you can easily turn it on and off. So when the wind suddenly stops blowing—with no warning, the gas plant can quickly ramp up to generate the needed power.

As Germany, with the highest implementation of renewable energy of any country, found out, to maintain grid stability, it needs the coal- and natural-gas-fueled power plants. As a result of its policies that favor renewables, such as solar and wind, Germany has had to subsidize its fossil fueled power plants to keep them open.

So, by adding solar and wind power, to the energy mix, we actually increase costs by paying for redundant power supplies—which ultimately, through rate increases, hurts the less fortunate who also have to cover the costs of the renewables.

In the cold weather of Albuquerque’s winter, I received a call from an “unemployed single mother living in an 800 square-foot apartment.” When I answered the phone, she dumped on me. She was angry. Her life circumstances meant she didn’t turn on her heat because she couldn’t afford it. After stating her position, she ranted at me: “I just opened up my utility bill. I see that I am paying $1.63 a month for renewable energy.” She continued: “I don’t give a f#*! about renewable energy! Why do I have to pay for it?”

I tried to steer her attention away from the utility company and toward the Legislature that nearly a decade ago passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires increasing amounts of more expensive renewable energy. As a result, her rates went up, and she had no say in the matter—except that she may have voted for the legislators who approved the policy.

Recently, in Florida, the state NAACP chapter had an op-ed published that, essentially, said the same thing: renewable energy for some people, costs those who can least afford it.

It is not that renewable energy is bad. I have friends who live off the grid. They are cattle ranchers, who live in New Mexico’s Gila Forest. Were it not for their solar panels, they’d have no lights, no computers, no direct contact with the rest of the world. For them, solar panels on the roof—with a back-up system of car batteries—are their salvation. At a cost that worked for them, they were able to purchase used solar panels that someone else had discarded. They are grateful for their solar panels, but they have little option—and they know that; they accept it.

Without thinking of what works well in each situation, government has tried to apply a one-size-fits-all solution. Based on a phony narrative of energy shortages and global warming, err, climate change, renewables have been sold as the panacea. While they may be the right choice in a few cases, such as my cattle ranching friends, or even in the oil fields—which are one of the single biggest industrial users of solar power, many individual locales may be better served by coal, or natural gas, even nuclear, than by renewable power. But the mandates, or the EPA, have not taken that into consideration.

In New Mexico, there are two coal-fueled power plants situated, virtually, at the mouth of the coal mine. The coal is extracted and sent straight to the power plants that generate most of New Mexico’s power and provide enough excess to sell to neighboring Arizona and California. But, EPA regulations require that these plants, now, with years of useful service left, be shut down. Some of the units will be converted to natural gas—something the region also has in abundance. However, the natural gas has pipelines that can take it to the world markets; it is not stranded the in the San Juan Basin.

In contrast, the coal cannot conveniently leave the area—there is no rail to transport it. Looking at the specifics of the basin, it makes sense to continue to generate electricity from coal and allow the natural gas to benefit markets (perhaps even our allies) without other resources—but the EPA and its environmental advocates will hear nothing of it. Their ideology drives the policy whether it makes economic, or practical, sense or not.

Just try to bring truth or logic into the discussion and the crusaders will treat you as they have Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence.

Last month, I released a white paper: Solar power in the U.S. Using real-life data and news reports, we present the harsh realities of today’s solar market—which has reacted, not with facts, but by smearing me and the supposed funding of the organizations I lead. Apparently, when you have emotion and messaging on your side, you do not need to be impeded by facts—such as the sun and the wind are free, but converting them to electricity is expensive; converting them to reliable, albeit expensive, electricity is virtually impossible. Ah, but they never let the truth stand in the way of their feel-good story.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column.


A Different Model — But, With Different Results?

City of Rio Rancho
Image via Wikipedia

By Chuck Ring (GadaboutBlogalot ©2009 – 2010)

Quote Freely From The Article – Leave The Pseudonym Alone

The above title with the built-in question tries to address the issue of whether or not a huge solar power component manufacturer with a different business model can be successful in the United States.  The question is asked because recent reports have told stories of large solar equipment manufacturers shutting down their operations in the United states and moving to China and other locations in an attempt to gain a more competitive position in the market. See: Not So Sunny…

According to New Mexico Business Weekly, a new company manufacturing solar components from the bottom up will attempt to answer the question posed above.  The company, which will build facilities in Rio Rancho expect to start delivering product in 2011 will deliver an economic boost to Rio rancho and New Mexico.  The following is taken from  the April 7th digest of New Mexico Business Weekly:

A new solar energy manufacturing company said Wednesday it will spend $500 million over the next five years to build a 1 million-square-foot plant in Rio Rancho that eventually will employ 1,500 and have an annual payroll of $64 million.

Green2V CEO Bill Sheppard, who ran Intel Corp.’s Rio Rancho plant in the 1990s, said the company expects to break ground on the 124-acre site in the next few weeks.

What is different with Green2V is the total manufacturing process will be handled, start-to-finish by the company under its facility in Rio Rancho:

Green2V will manufacture solar cells and modular glass frames and will design, install, operate and finance the systems, Sheppard said.

“We are a fully integrated renewable energy company, and our motto is ‘Sand to kilowatts,’” Sheppard said. “We will take sand and make wafers and glass and produce solar cells and the modules and the frames that the glass will go in.”

You can read the full article here.  Here’s hoping Green2V will not go the way of  BP Solar (see story above and the links below.)

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Big Solar In New Mexico — Again

GLENDORA, CA - APRIL 22:  Solar panels cover t...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

By Chuck Ring (GadaboutBlogalot ©2009 – 2010)

Quote Freely From The Article – Leave The Pseudonym Alone

Albuquerque’s New Mexico Business Weekly has announced a firm has plans for a 2500 acre solar power array for Guadalupe County.  The Spanish firm, GA-Solar announced that the project would be a 300 megawatt facility.  According to the firm, the project will supply enough electricity for 50,000 homes.

Quoting from the article, it looks like construction will see hundreds of employees and the permanent workforce will be up to 75:

GA-Solar’s parent firm, Corporación Gestamp, will invest $1 billion to develop the project, which will take up to four years to construct. The company will employ 300 during construction, and will have 75 full-time employees once the plant is completed, said GA-Solar and Corporación Gestamp CEO Jon Riberas in a news release.

New Mexico through the Economic Development Department had a say, as did Governor Richardson when he issued this statement:

“I believe this unprecedented investment shows that New Mexico has not only become the center of the North American solar industry, but is ready to take its place as a global player in the production of renewable energy,” Richardson said in a prepared statement.

Surely, something will have to be done to distribute this kind of electricity generation.  Especially, when this project’s capacity is added to output by wind turbine generation and one or two other large solar arrays.  Perhaps, Tres Amigas will play a hand in  the distribution.  That is, if Tres Amigas is ever constructed.

Read the complete story here.

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Girding For The Grid

GE Logo
Image via Wikipedia

By Chuck Ring (GadaboutBlogalot ©2009).

Quote Freely From The Article – Leave The Pseudonym Alone

According to an article in Salon, General Electric (GE) which is heavily invested in both wind and solar is jumping into the inverter business through conversion of their converter units for wind. Their plan is to enable solar direct current power to be converted through inversion to alternating current power suitable for transfer to a grid in multiples of megawatts …  if they are able to develop to that scale.

If GE, by itself. or with others, is able to accomplish inversion of solar power to the degree cited in the article; it looks like “the sky is the limit”.

Read Salon’s article here


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Santa Fe County And Solar Energy Financing

by Chuck Ring (GadaboutBlogalot, ©2009)

Quote Freely From The Article — Leave The Pseudonym Alone

According to the email edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican, in an article written by Staci Matlock, County Moves Toward Solar Energy Financing Santa Fe County has taken the first step toward crafting an ordinance that will allow the purchase of  solar energy equipment with financing  through property tax assessments. We first posted notice about the possibility of such an ordinance in this article Solar Heaven Or A Scam Magnet.

Here’s hoping that they get it right with easy requirements that won’t be so cumbersome that it takes a Sandia or Los Alamos nuclear engineer to wade through.

Solar Heaven Or A Scam Magnet

by Chuck Ring (GadaboutBlogalot, ©2009)

Quote Freely From The Article — Leave The Pseudonym Alone

According to a story in the online version of the Santa Fe New Mexican, a bill has been passed that will allow solar system installation on residences (maybe commercial, also?) and the owner will be able to pay for the system through increased property taxes. I suppose the devil or the angel is in the details and I am certainly hopeful that this program will work and not become a magnet for corruption. If it works, it could make the difference between being a consumer of electric power or a distributor of electric power for those able to participate in the program.

You can read the story from the Santa Fe New Mexican here  Solar System Heaven Or A Scam Magnet