Stop worshipping the sun: Biden’s solar power enthusiasm is unmoored from reality

New York Daily News
September 13, 2021

Hyping solar energy is one of Washington, D.C.’s most renewable resources. Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared the U.S. needed to capture more energy from the sun because of “inevitable shortages of fossil fuels.”

Last week, President Biden released a plan that claims the U.S. should be getting nearly half of its electricity from solar by 2050, up from 3% today, because — contrary to what Carter said back in 1979 about shortages of fossil fuels — we are using too much coal, oil and natural gas and because climate change poses “an existential threat to our lives.”

But Biden’s plan ignores history, land-use conflicts and the need to preserve and expand our use of nuclear energy.

There’s no doubt that solar is politically popular. According to Gallup, 73% of Americans want “more emphasis” on solar energy. But solar remains a tiny contributor to our overall energy needs. Forty-two years ago, while celebrating the installation of 32 solar panels on the roof of the White House, Carter said he wanted the U.S. to “derive 20% of all the energy we use from the sun” by 2000.

What has happened since then? Despite continuing improvements in the efficiency of the panels, solar now produces just 3% of the electricity generated in the U.S. and 1.3% of our total energy needs.

Yes, it’s growing rapidly. Since 2014, solar production in the U.S. has quadrupled. Solar panels are now on more than one million rooftops across the country, including mine. But installing the massive amount of solar capacity outlined by the Biden administration — a staggering 1,600 gigawatts — will require paving vast tracts of rural America with oceans of foreign-made photovoltaic panels at the very same time that large-scale solar projects are facing fierce opposition.

In 2019, officials in Cambria, N.Y., rejected a proposed 100-megawatt solar project that would have covered about 900 acres with solar panels. In the last three months alone, proposed solar projects in several states have been rejected or withdrawn due to local opposition.

In June, Mount Joy Township, Pa., supervisors rejected a plan for a 1,000-acre solar project proposed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources that would have been the state’s largest solar project. According to a local news report, it “faced a strong backlash from 168 property owners that border the project.”

In July, a permit for a 1,600-acre solar project was denied by the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board by a vote of 5-0. According to the Montana Standard, the board members “cited the pure size of the array, saying it would undeniably change the landscape” of the local region and that “the public’s strong opposition carried weight.”

Also in July, a proposed 850-megawatt project that aimed to cover 14 square miles of the desert north of Las Vegas with solar panels was pulled after drawing “opposition from naturalists and environmentalists, recreation enthusiasts, tribal groups and local residents.”

Using the Nevada project as a yardstick, a simple bit of algebra shows that installing the 1,600 gigawatts of solar capacity that the Biden administration wants to build will require paving more than 26,000 square miles of real estate with panels. For perspective, that’s an area larger than the state of West Virginia. Setting aside that much land for solar when so many projects are already being rejected is nonsense on stilts.

Finally, Biden’s solar scheme only serves to underscore his administration’s refusal to save our existing nuclear plants from premature closure, a move that would do more to lower emissions, at lower cost, than any other action.

If climate change is an existential threat, then Biden’s team should have stopped the closure of the Indian Point Energy Center near New York City, which prematurely shuttered its last reactor on April 30. That plant’s output has since been replaced by gas-fired generation, which of course, has led to a spike in the state’s emissions. Biden’s team should now be working double overtime to save the Byron and Dresden nuclear plants in Illinois which are on the verge of premature closure, and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California that is slated to be shuttered in 2024.

Before closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that nearly half of the global supply of the polysilicon used in panels has been coming from China’s Xinjiang province, where hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are working in slave labor conditions. I’d also be remiss not to mention the recent study by three economists at Harvard University who warned about the looming wave of toxic “solar trash” and their prediction that by 2035, the amount of discarded solar panels could “outweigh new units sold by 2.56 times.”

In short, it’s time for Biden and his team to quit hyping solar and get serious about nuclear energy.

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