Local View: Alternative energy sources are making our planet sick
Let’s be clear. Minnesota Power’s $25 million Fort Ripley solar project exemplifies the inefficient, environment-damaging, land-consuming, supposedly green “alternatives” that, nationwide, are displacing native species and blighting hundreds of square miles of former forest, desert, and prairie. It’s all about money; and the planet, our home, is coming in last.
For the moment, let’s dismiss the green cheerleaders, the profit-seeking industry reps, and the science-deficient legislators who fund these deceptions. Let’s examine facts.
During the search for alternatives to deadly coal, which was guided by an anything-but-nuclear bias, legislators, the Sierra Club, and others took pains to define what was “renewable” — and they excluded nuclear power, the safest, most efficient way to make electricity, and they did so even though we have enough uranium and thorium to last 100,000 years. Because they said nothing about carbon footprints, environmental damage, inefficiency, death prints, short lifespans, and huge subsidies, we went along. However, these “solutions” are making our planet sick.
The death print of solar farms per unit of electricity created is 10 times greater than the death print for civilian nuclear power — and that includes Russia’s “illegal” Chernobyl plant, the only plant to cause deaths that, 30 years later, total fewer than 60.
While solar farms were receiving $775 per megawatt hour, nuclear power received $3. According to Newsweek in April 2015, “As consumers, we pay for electricity twice: once through our monthly electricity bill and a second time through taxes that finance massive subsidies for inefficient wind (and solar) energy producers.”
The return on investment for solar farms: 4 percent. Nuclear power, meanwhile, delivers a 75 percent return.
To generate an equal amount of electricity, 30-percent-efficient solar farms consume 16 times more raw materials than 90-percent-efficient nuclear plants — and they must be remanufactured every 20 years, which consumes even more finite materials. Modern, super-safe nuclear plants last 50 to 60 years.
Solar panels, like windmills, produce their rated power only under ideal conditions; on average, they generate only 30 percent of their rated power. Nuclear generates 90 percent, on average.
Thus, when Allete’s CEO Al Hodnik said Minnesota Power’s solar farm at Camp Ripley has a capacity of 10 megawatts, it really meant it will generate 3 megawatts, on average — and the missing 70 percent will have to be supplied by power plants that burn carbon, usually natural gas, which is primarily methane and which creates more carbon dioxide.
Because of wind’s and solar’s 30 percent capacity factor (which their supporters rarely reveal), it was misleading to say that “at full capacity it can power more than 1,700 homes,” as the News Tribune reported in its April 14 story, “Array of light: Minnesota Power unveils new 60-acre solar farm at National Guard base.” On average, that facility will support just 30 percent of 1,700 homes. Yes, my Honda can hit 120 mph under ideal conditions; but, over a year, it probably will average less than 40.
Methane is the major portion of natural gas and 75 times worse than carbon dioxide. Because our fracking wells and our natural gas distribution systems are leaking severely, this fugitive methane is probably more than offsetting any gains we have achieved by cutting back on coal. In addition, according to the EPA, natural-gas leaks in the U.S. are causing explosions that damage lives or property every other day.
A solar farm requires 4,000 times more land than an equally productive nuclear plant; and, unlike a solar farm, a nuclear plant doesn’t need carbon-burning generators for backup. In 2015, our nuclear plants created 800 terawatt hours of carbon dioxide-free electricity, which is 21 times more than all carbon-reliant U.S. solar. In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the cost of subsidies for 30 percent “carbon-free” renewables was a stunning $250 for each ton of carbon dioxide saved.
Worse, these intermittent “green” alternatives are displacing full-time nuclear plants that, paradoxically, get no compensation for being carbon dioxide-free.