solar farms

Manufacturing vs. installation: A hard look at the economics of Solar energy in the U.S.


I recently took a brief tour of a NC Solar farm under construction, and got into a conversation with one of the supervisors about Trump's 30% tariffs on imported Solar panels. I was not surprised when he spoke favorably about the resulting increase in manufacturing jobs here in the U.S. as a result of said tariffs, because it is a very common misconception by those who support renewable energy. If you raised your eyebrows at that, you definitely need to continue reading. But before I get into the explanation, here's an article from 2009 to chew on:

Wacker Chemie AG will build a $1 billion plant in southeastern Tennessee that is estimated to create 500 green collar jobs in the region to manufacture hyperpure polycrystalline silicon, primary material used in the manufacture of solar panels...With the right policies and leadership from the government this sector is poised to take off and experience a long period of very rapid growth, becoming an important contributor to our nation’s electric energy mix and providing many tens of thousands of green collar jobs across the country.

Sounds promising, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's a heck of a lot more complicated than it sounds. Follow me below the fold to find out why.

Koch Brothers' tentacles reaching into NC county Solar farm ban


Backtracking the circuitous path of industry-funded pseudo-science:

Five of the planning board’s nine members present for Tuesday’s meeting voted unanimously to recommend the county’s unified development ordinance be amended to remove solar arrays as a permitted use.

The Planning Board’s recommendation comes in the wake of commissioners’ decision last month to impose a 60-day moratorium on consideration of any more solar farms in the county. Currituck Planning Director Ben Woody cited a number of reasons Tuesday for commissioners’ decision to impose the moratorium. One was a report by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality expressing concern about the loss of agricultural land and jobs in the state, as well as the loss of wildlife habitats.

And here is the first (of many) misleading statements or observations. The report cited did not come from DEQ researchers, it was compiled by the Energy Policy Council, a hodgepodge of business and industry people led by (believe it or not) Lt. Gov. Dan Forest:

The next anti-Solar attack vector: Herbicides

And it always helps to have a professor back up your manufactured threat:

Ron Heiniger, a professor of crop science at N.C. State, is one of them. He said that in many cases, solar farms are a bad use of land and potentially harmful to the environment.

If a company goes out of business, he explained, a farmer could be left with an unusable piece of land. That’s because many companies want to use powerful herbicides to manage plant growth under the solar panels, which could hurt the environment.

Okay, Solar farms should be using the least damaging methods of controlling weeds and such, whether it's goats or standard landscaping approaches. That being said, NC State is the very last entity that should be whining about herbicides. Here's just the weed control chapter of the 2016 Agricultural Chemicals Manual (published by NC State), 146 pages of recommended herbicides for various crops, including a couple of doozies:

The GOP's illogical attack on the Solar industry

The party of "no" cannot abide a successful venture:

The Republican leadership is starving state services to give tax cuts to big corporations because they say that “business friendly” approach will encourage job growth. But when a tax credit – essentially a targeted tax cut – produces the job growth and rural benefits that the broader tax cuts have not, they let it expire. The confusion in this approach was evident in the execution of it. The House voted overwhelmingly to extend the credit. Then, under pressure from senators opposed to incentives, renewable energy or both, the House reversed itself and agreed to let the credit end.

And given the chance to create jobs in the energy source of the future, they said no. Given a chance to help struggling rural counties benefit from a profitable new use for open land, they said no.

The bottom line is, Republicans really don't care about actually helping rural NC landowners, they are much more concerned about staying on the good side of a couple of Kansas billionaires. I remember several complaints from Democrats when the Hagan campaign chose to attack the Koch Brothers in TV ads, but you know what? She did us a favor by raising awareness of their activities. As a matter of fact, the reference to AFP in this second paragraph might not have even been written without that exposure:

Op-Ed: Solar farms a way to ease economic struggles in rural NC

In which I preach from my digital soapbox:

One of the most difficult issues facing lawmakers and rural advocates is how to bring some level of prosperity back to areas that used to have textile mills and lucrative tobacco farms. Our consumer-based economy, which generates so much revenue in densely populated regions, fails miserably where populations aren’t so dense. And the very thing that makes these areas attractive to many who live there, the lack of bustling crowds and traffic jams, is the very thing that’s killing them.

I'm going to ask a favor of you dear readers. No, it's not money for some critical cause or organization (not this time, anyway), I just want you to click through and read the article. The N&O graciously published this piece in a timely fashion, and the number of reads or hits might encourage them publish more in the future. But here's a little more before you go:

Freezing Renewable Mandates Doesn't Make Sense

1. There is no guarantee energy costs would be lower without the renewable mandates. Over time, costs go up, not down.

2. Access to renewables has put off the need to build new power plants, thus keeping costs lower than they would be as the costs of new plants are paid for by the consumer. The cost of renewable energy may be higher than the cost of standard energy, but the cost of new power plants is much, much higher than the cost of a solar farm.
Solar energy has created 23,000 jobs in North Carolina. Cut the mandates and lose jobs. And this General Assembly is all about jobs.

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