Knowing the struggles that my company faces in paying some of the highest electrical rates in the nation – double what our competitors pay – many people have asked me over the years, "have you ever thought about solar energy?"
Yes, I have -- and it’s not practical at all.
We use around 3 megawatts of power at the plant. To put that into perspective, let’s look at the much-ballyhooed Desoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Florida. With 90,000 panels in use and an imprint of 235 acres, it is touted as the nation’s largest solar farm. It is rated for 25 megawatts yet only produces 4.8 megawatts of energy. That’s because 100 percent efficiency is impossible -- according to scientists and solar manufacturers, the capacity factor of a typical high-quality solar panel is only 11 to 15 percent with 20 percent being exceptional. We would need a solar farm of the approximate size of Desoto to accommodate our energy needs after our upcoming expansion.
Further tempering the inefficiency of energy generation is the availability of sunlight. We’re a 24-hour facility. What do we do when the sun sets? No sun equals no energy. The days are only so long (especially in the winter) and, here in WNY, they are quite cloudy. Over the course of the year we receive 48 percent of available sunshine. In comparison, Phoenix, Arizona gets 85 percent. Solar generation is primed for failure on the Niagara Frontier because, no matter how many panels are erected, backup sources must always be available for use in the day as well as the night.
Not only is solar completely unreasonable from the standpoints of space and efficiency, the costs are as equally unrealistic. Desoto’s total construction cost was in the neighborhood of $150 million. If such an investment were made for my company (which it couldn’t be, as every bank would laugh in my face) I would never see a payback in my lifetime -- and neither would my daughter and, one day, her kids.
It’s obvious, in just the quickest of analyses, that solar energy is impractical, inefficient and expensive. That’s why it’s rather dumbfounding that elected officials continue to push for it in their drive to go green or, in the case of the manufacture of solar cells and components, as a means to jumpstart our economy.
We here in Western New York know too well how much taxpayer money Governor Cuomo and his team have contributed to SolarCity’s cause. But, he’s not the only one who’s guilty of such misguided corporatism. In 2010, President Obama announced that the government was handing out nearly $2 billion in corporate welfare to two solar companies, Abengoa Solar, to build one of the biggest solar plants in the world in Arizona, and Abound Solar Manufacturing, which planned to open 2 US plants.
How did that work out? Abound went bankrupt in 2012 and Abengoa is now only days away from insolvency.
Didn’t we already give enough to giant corporations (Wall Street, anyone?) with no return on investment and no benefit to the working class or the economy to even entertain such foolish investments?
Understand that it is not the government’s role to choose winners and losers in the markets. Yet, it does and, once again, it’s obvious that the government is only capable of choosing losers and making them out to be winners, which, in turn, makes the consumer and the taxpayer the ultimate loser in the equation.
That said, you’re almost guaranteed that SolarCity will go the way of Abound, Abengoa and Solyndra before them (remember that the ill-fated Solyndra cost taxpayers $535 million).
Solar is not the answer to what ails our economy -- not now and not ever.
From the 30 November 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers