More On Solar – Los Alamos Reporter – Los Alamos Reporter

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This is a response to Steve Tobin’s recent OP/ED in the Post and the Reporter along with David North’s recent letter in the Reporter on Utility-Scale solar.  First of all, I think Steve Tobin is right that the first thing a homeowner should try to do is to electrify their home, add an EV and then consider whether they want to generate their own power.  Rooftop Solar (RTS) is not a good solution for everyone, and some homes simply are not suited for it.

Our business went emissions-free in January 2020.  We did this with a combination of Solar PV and a heat pump.  We did the same thing for our home in 2022 and 2023.  Doing this roughly cut our energy costs in half.

One of the problems with this approach is that we can’t load follow.  When a cloud goes over, our electricity production can easily fall by a factor of 3.  When the sun goes down, electricity production goes away altogether.

As long as the percentage of power produced by rooftop solar is small, this isn’t a major problem for the DPU.  They can compensate for it.  However, we are apparently reaching the point where there is enough solar PV on the grid that the DPU is starting to have problems.  Right now they are effectively subsidizing us RTS customers by providing us with free load following.  I doubt that this is sustainable.  When we first decided to go the renewable route, we recognized that sustainability was an issue.  We need to start adding energy storage.  One way the BPU can encourage that is to charge less for electricity during the day and more at night.  Right now there isn’t any incentive for an individual to add energy storage to the grid.

We’ve held off on investing in energy storage primarily because I am waiting to see if a new technology is going to become available in the next couple of years.  The technology is called V2G, or vehicle to grid.  This is a two-way charging system that uses your EV battery for energy storage for your home.  Thus, if you are going to buy an EV anyway, this system should allow you to have energy storage for your home with little additional cost.  Our fully electrified home uses about 40 kW-hrs of energy daily in the coldest months of winter.  A Tesla Model 3 has about 82 kW-hrs of storage, so it could provide 2 days of power.

Both Steve Tobin and an earlier article by Robert Gibson discussed utility-scale solar.  My brother and I own a couple of small farms in Central Illinois and right now we have two pending offers that would triple our income if we would lease it to a utility-scale solar company.  We haven’t signed up.

In Lee County in Northern Illinois there is currently a proposal to convert 12000 acres of farmland into solar PV.  That’s almost 19 square miles of continuous solar panels in one county.  I suspect that this facility will put about 10-20 family farms out of business. If those farmers own the property, then of course they will monetarily make out like bandits.  If they are leasing the ground (most farmers lease at least some ground) then they are just SOL.

The other thing that is kind of irritating about it is that the solar PV companies want the best farmland for their facilities.  The reason they want it is because it’s cleared, it’s flat, and in our case it has good access to high voltage lines.  We have some non-tillable land in the area and I offered to cut a deal with them but they weren’t interested.  They apparently have very deep pockets and they are intent on getting their way.  The farmland they want is highly productive.  Last year our corn made 246 bu./acre (national average ~ 170 bu./acre) and our soybeans made 83 bu./acre (national average ~ 50 bu./acre).  Taking this quality of farmland out of production to put it in solar PV is just nuts.    

Now imagine that you are a member of one of those 10-20 farm families in Lee County Illinois that just got put out of business, and you decide to take a trip to Chicago or St. Louis to see where all that power is going.  Do you think that you will see a lot of RTS on those fancy suburban homes?  Of course not.  It would be too inconvenient for those folks to produce the power themselves, even though they could.  They want your land instead.  And you wonder why there is a growing urban/rural divide in this country…

Our farms have been in our family since 1851 and even though we don’t directly farm them, they are part of who we are.  Neither my brother nor I are reliant on the income from these farms, so we decided 50 years ago that our highest priority was to be good stewards.   Part of being a good steward means that you don’t stab your tenant in the back just to make more money.

I would encourage our BPU to look at this issue of RTS vs. utility-scale solar from the standpoint of being good stewards.  One of the advantages of RTS is that the power is consumed where it is produced.  It doesn’t require you to string power lines across other people’s property (although I am aware that the proposed Ute solar farm will use existing lines).  It utilizes rooftops, which aren’t being used for anything else.  It also shows our neighbors in Northern New Mexico that we are willing to take responsibility for producing our own power without putting the burden on them.  I’m also concerned about relying on an Indian tribe to provide our power.  They are a sovereign nation, and if they decide to pull the plug on the power, they can do it.  Just ask the people who bankrolled the Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque how well that worked out.

Finally, utility-scale solar is just plain ugly.  I think there is going to be an increasing push back against it just for that reason.  The township next to one of our farms in Illinois has already outlawed windmills and they are a lot more compatible with agriculture than utility-scale solar PV is.  The problem is that they are ugly, noisy and each of them has an obnoxious red light on top of it that flashes on and off in unison with all the other windmills in the neighborhood.  I wouldn’t want to live next door to that.

I’m not naïve enough to think that we are going to provide all of the power that Los Alamos National Laboratory needs with putting solar panels on homes in Los Alamos.  We’re going to have to do some utility-scale solar PV.  What I would like to see is for the DPU to put as much solar PV capacity in Los Alamos County as is reasonably possible.  That could include renovating and expanding the Solar PV array on the old landfill, placing solar PV on schools and public buildings.  That way we would own it and control it instead of a generating company.  Having it sited here would also make us more resilient.

As for RTS, I think it is an important component as well.  It would be helpful to encourage RTS owners to improve the quality of the power they produce by including energy storage.  Having a different daytime/nighttime rate is a good way to start.  Lithium-ion technology is still pretty expensive, and I hope that it will come down in cost in the next few years.  As I mentioned above, V2G may have a major impact on that.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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