I recently came across an exchange between a proponent and opponent of the proposed Morgnec Road Solar LLC installation on the 400-acre Clark farm, located on Route 291 at the eastern border of Chestertown, Maryland. The rebuttal by Frank Lewis (to Pamela Reeder) is noteworthy, throwing punch after punch against the idea that solar has any advantage, just disadvantages.
The “Shared Letter to County Commissioners: Proposed Morgnec Solar Project” (September 24, 2021) follows:
Paula B. Reeder
With climate change-related issues becoming ever more acute, it is incumbent on all MD municipalities to support the State’s goal of having at least 50% of electric power used in the State generated by renewable power sources by 2030, with 14.5% of the total generated by solar power producers.
Achievement of this goal will require 6 times the amount of solar power generated by existing producers. Of all existing renewable energy sources, solar power is the cleanest, most dependable, most environmentally friendly source available.
Further, it is inexhaustible. Implementation of the Morgnec Rd. solar power station will reduce local dependence on and costs associated with buying power from the privately owned PA/NJ/MD Interconnection LLC; improve the sustainability and lower power production costs at our regional electric power grid thereby reducing pressure to increase consumer electric rates; and reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based power production and our carbon footprint.
Frank Lewis’s rebuttal:
… [Reder] states “solar power is the cleanest, the most dependable, most environmentally friendly source available. Further, it is inexhaustible.”
This statement is ludicrous. Solar panels utilize numerous rare earths – cobalt, nickel, cadmium, lithium, vanadium, graphite – whose mining techniques are among the dirtiest and most environmentally damaging in the world. Not accidentally, this mining takes place almost exclusively in China and Africa, where environmental protections are nonexistent.
The statement about dependability is the most laughable, as solar power obviously ends each day at sundown, decreases in the winter to miniscule amounts, and fluctuates daily in unpredictable ways as clouds, haze, and rain obscure the sun. Overall solar power generation is available for less than 40% of the time, whereas all other sources (except wind) are at 90% plus. This mandates a poor and inefficient return on the capital costs.
Solar power always has to be backed up 100% by other generation techniques, usually gas turbines, which can ramp up and down quickly to compensate for its fluctuation. Solar power in excess of about 30% of grid power destabilizes the grid because of this variability, and leads to power blackouts, as was seen this past year in California and Texas, when electricity demand peaked and blackouts ensued for several days to a few weeks.
As far as “inexhaustibility” is concerned, solar panel lifetime is officially stated at about 25 years, but in reality the panels decrease steadily in efficiency after installation, and rarely last beyond 15-20 years. By contrast, gas turbines and other fossil fuel plants run for decades, and nuclear plants typically last for 80 years plus. Both can supply uninterrupted power 24/7/365.
Lastly, the cleanup of solar panels when their lifetime ends, as far as handling and disposition of the many toxic metals involved in their construction, is currently a totally unaddressed and unsolved problem. If solar power were not maintained and supported by government subsidies, it would cease tomorrow, as has been demonstrated in California on several occasions over the last three decades when subsidies were temporarily withdrawn.
Also in her second point, Ms. Reeder states that solar power will be less expensive. This is also totally untrue. First, the power generated will be sold wholesale to the grid, and distributed everywhere through conventional power companies in the usual way at usual rates.
Second, the fact that solar power must always be 100% backed by gas turbines means that when you buy solar you automatically have to buy two power generation systems so that power can still be delivered when the sun doesn’t shine.
The total costs are approximately twice what other types of power generation require. Solar power is considered cheap only because this universal need for a backup power generation system is not factored into its stated cost.
This has been clearly demonstrated in Germany and Denmark, which have more solar power than any other countries in Europe, and where the power costs are approximately 150% as high as the average of power costs in France, England, or Sweden.
The same is true in California and Texas. Without exception, in every locale where solar power has been introduced as a major source of power, electricity costs rise, usually by about 50% over conventional power. To speculate that solar power will lower energy costs is folly which contradicts documented reality. In addition, countries which have installed large solar installations have failed to lower their CO2 emissions, belying its principal rationale as a method for reducing global warming.
Frank R. Lewis (Millington)