Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Solar’s dirty secrets: How solar power hurts people and the planet

False beliefs about renewable energy are harming the environment. I say this as someone who championed renewable energy for over two decades—first as executive director of a green building non-profit, then as CEO of a consulting firm specializing in clean energy, and most recently as founder of a cleantech startup. I thought my efforts were helping to protect the environment. But I was wrong.

Like many people, I believed the worst harm to the environment came from fossil fuels—and greedy companies exploiting the land, polluting the air, and destroying ecosystems to get them. It took me many years to realize that this viewpoint is distorted and to admit that many of my beliefs about renewable energy were false. And now I’m ready to talk about what we really need to do to save the environment.

The Truth about Energy

The truth is this: every source of energy has costs and benefits that have to be carefully weighed. Wind and solar are no different. Most people are familiar with the benefits of wind and solar: reduced air pollution, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. But not as many recognize the costs of wind and solar or understand how those costs hurt both the environment and people—especially people with lower incomes.

Looking at Life Cycles

To fully evaluate how solar and wind energy hurt people and the environment, we must consider the lifecycle of renewable energy systems. Every artifact has a lifecycle that includes manufacture, installation, operation, maintenance, and disposal. Every stage in that lifecycle requires energy and materials, so we need to tally up the energy and materials used at every stage of the cycle to fully understand the environmental impact of an object.

Think of a car. To understand its full impact on the environment, we must consider more than simply how many miles it gets per gallon of gas. Gas consumption measures only the cost of operating the car, but it doesn’t measure all the energy and materials that go into manufacturing, transporting, maintaining, and ultimately disposing of the car. Tally up the costs at each stage of the car’s lifecycle to get a more complete picture of its environmental impact.

The same is true of solar panels. To fully understand the environmental impact of solar panels, we need to consider more than simply how much energy and emissions the panels produce during operation. We also need to tally up the expenditure of energy and materials that go into manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining, and ultimately disposing of the panels. Once we tally up those costs, we see that solar power leaves a larger ecological footprint than advocates like to admit.

The Environmental Costs of Manufacturing and Installing Solar

Solar advocates often gloss over the solar-panel manufacturing process. They just say, “We turn sand, glass, and metal into solar panels.” This oversimplification masks the real environmental costs of the manufacturing process.

Solar panels are manufactured using minerals, toxic chemicals, and fossil fuels. In fact, solar panels require 10 times the minerals to deliver the same quantity of energy as a natural gas plant.[1]Quartz, copper, silver, zinc, aluminum, and other rare earth minerals are mined with heavy diesel-powered machinery. In fact, 38% of the world’s industrial energy and 11% of total energy currently go into mining operations.[2]

Once the materials are mined, the quartz and other materials get melted down in electric-arc furnaces at temperatures over 3,450°F (1,900°C) to make silicon—the key ingredient in solar cells. The furnaces take an enormous amount of energy to operate, and that energy typically comes from fossil fuels.[3] Nearly 80% of solar cells are manufactured in China, for instance, where weak environmental regulations prevail and lower production costs are fueled by coal.[4]

There are also environmental costs to installing the panels. Solar panels are primarily installed in two ways: in solar farms and on rooftops. Most U.S. solar farms are sited in the southwestern U.S. where sunshine is abundant. The now-canceled Mormon Mesa project, for instance, was proposed for a site about 70 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It was slated to cover 14 square miles (the equivalent of 7,000 football fields) with upwards of a million solar panels, each 10-20 feet tall. It would have involved bulldozing plants and wildlife habitat on a massive scale to replace them with concrete and steel. Environmentalists and local community groups opposed the project because it threatened views of the landscape and endangered species like the desert tortoise, and the proposed project was eventually withdrawn.[5]

Placing massive solar farms far from populated areas presents additional challenges as their remote locations require new power lines to carry energy to people who use it. Environmentalists and local community groups often fiercely oppose the construction of ugly power lines, which also have to get approval from multiple regulatory agencies. Those factors make it almost impossible to build new transmission lines in the U.S.[6] If approval is granted, installing those lines takes a further toll on the environment.

In addition, the farther the electricity has to travel, the more energy is lost as heat in the transmission process. The cost-effective limit for electricity transmission is roughly 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers.) So you can’t power New York or Chicago from solar energy farms in Arizona.

Limitations to Rooftop Solar

Rooftop solar installations could sidestep some of the problems of solar farms, but they have problems of their own.

First, many buildings are not suitable for rooftop solar panels. Rooftop installations are typically exposed to less direct sunlight due to local weather patterns, shade from surrounding trees, the orientation of a building (which are often not angled toward the sun), or the pitch of the roof.

Second, the average cost to buy and install rooftop solar panels on a home as of July 2021 is $20,474.[7] This makes rooftop installations cost-prohibitive—especially for lower-income families.

Finally, even if we installed solar panels on all suitable buildings in the U.S. we could generate only 39% of the electricity the country needs according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.[8]

Solar panels also have a shorter lifespan[9] than other power sources (about half as long as natural gas[10] and nuclear plants[11]), and they’re difficult and expensive to recycle because they’re made with toxic chemicals. When solar panels reach the end of their usable life, their fate will most likely be the same as most of our toxic electronic waste: They will be dumped in poorer nations. It is estimated that global solar panel waste will reach around 78 million metric tons by 2050[12]–the equivalent of throwing away nearly 60 million Honda Civic cars.[13]


Shutting Canadian Pipeline Would Cost US Consumers $23.7 Billion More in Fuel Costs: Report

A recently published analysis by a consumer advocacy nonprofit maintains that shutting a 4.5-mile section of a nearly 70-year-old pipeline that spans the Great Lakes from Wisconsin to Ontario would impose $23.7 billion in higher fuel costs on families and businesses in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Consumer Energy Alliance’s (CEA) 14-page report estimates that closing Canada-based Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, would spur regional fuel price spikes of 9.47 to 11.66 percent “independent of any other market conditions, such as the surge in fuel prices observed over the past 12 months that are tied to international oil markets and logistical challenges caused by the pandemic.”

Enbridge and the state of Michigan have been engaged in litigation for more than a year over the pipeline after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in November 2020 revoked the pipeline’s original 1953 lakebed easement and ordered the pipeline to be shut by May 2021, citing the risk of a spill in the ecologically sensitive straits.

Enbridge ignored the order—the pipeline is still funneling 540,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil, and natural gas liquids (NGLs) through the straits—and petitioned to have the case heard in federal courts. In October 2021, the government of Canada backed Enbridge in its challenge and invoked a 1977 pipeline treaty with the United States to demand bilateral negotiations at the federal level.

In November 2021, a federal judge transferred Whitmer’s suit out of Michigan’s courts. That suit was subsequently dropped, but a similar lawsuit filed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel remains in state courts, although a ruling is pending regarding its jurisdictional status.

Built in 1953 by Bechtel Corp., the Line 5 pipeline is actually two 20-inch-diameter parallel pipes with an enamel coating that’s three times thicker than a typical pipeline. Enbridge maintains that there has never been a leak in its 69-year operational existence.

The company maintains that it monitors Line 5’s Straits crossing “24/7, using both specially trained staff and sophisticated computer monitoring systems” that include “regular inspections of the line, using inline tools, expert divers, and remote operating vehicles (ROVs), going above and beyond regulatory requirements.”

In April 2020, Enbridge filed an application with the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) requesting authority to replace its 4.5-mile Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac and encase it inside a tunnel.

The Straits Line 5 Replacement Segment Project would replace the dual 20-inch diameter pipes with one 30-inch diameter pipe and relocate it within a concrete-lined tunnel below the lakebed.

The application didn’t address the tunnel—only the pipeline replacement. The proposed $500 million tunnel project is being reviewed under separate applications filed with state and federal agencies. The last date for public comments on the proposed tunnel was March 11. State regulators and the three-member PSC are currently reviewing the proposal.

Enbridge sought swift approval for its pipeline replacement project based on its original 1953 approval, but the PSC determined that the proposed pipeline replacement project presented significant differences and denied its request for declaratory relief, referring it to the state’s Act 16 process for formal contested case hearings.

Six months later, Whitmer pulled the plug by revoking its easement and ordering the pipeline shuttered by May 2021, effectively pushing the matter into the courts.

Although there have never been any reported leaks from the pipeline in the straits, Enbridge-owned pipelines have been responsible for oil spills elsewhere in Michigan, including from Line 5 in Crystal Falls in 1999 and in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Eight Michigan counties and municipalities have formally called for the “retirement “of Line 5 including Cheboygan, Cheboygan County, Emmet County, Genesee County, Mackinaw City, Mentor Township, Munising Township, and Wayne County.

According to a study published by the University of Michigan and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a leak in Enbridge 5 near the Straits of Mackinac could affect roughly 700 miles of shoreline. A pipeline leak and oil spill could cost as much as $6 billion in cleanup efforts and environmental damage, according to the state, citing a close call in 2018 when a ship’s anchor stuck, but didn’t rupture, the pipeline in the straits.

An August 2020 study by Gary L. Street, former Dow chemical engineer, found a temporary court-ordered shutdown of one of Line 5’s dual pipelines following an incident elsewhere along its traverse didn’t affect gas prices or supply in Michigan or Canada.

But according to CEA’s analysis, shutting down the pipeline permanently would be another matter.

CEA stated that its “independent third-party analysis,” conducted by California-based Weinstein, Clower, and Associates, examined the effects that a Line 5 closure would have on the region and found “shutting down this critical infrastructure would have a devastating impact on the supply of transportation fuels in regional markets, and hurt petrochemical refiners that rely on the pipeline to safely and efficiently deliver feedstock.”

According to the report, Ohio residents and businesses would incur $2.73 billion in higher gasoline and diesel prices through 2027. Michigan residents and businesses would see $2.22 billion in higher costs, those in Indiana $272 million, and those in Pennsylvania for $630 million.

“The jump in transportation fuel prices will not be borne evenly across all consumer groups,” the CEA report reads. “But given current macro-economic trends, most of these higher costs will likely be passed on to households.”

The increase in fuel costs will radiate through local and state economies, according to CEA.


Biden Budget Packed with Cash for Extreme Climate Agenda

President Joe Biden's latest budget proposal has arrived and it is jam packed full of funding proposals for his far left policy agenda.

According to information released by the Treasury Department Monday, Biden is asking for $11 billion to continue his war on America's energy sector.

"The Budget includes over $11 billion in international climate finance, meeting the President’s pledge to quadruple international climate finance, a year early. This includes $5.3 billion in appropriations, in­cluding a $1.6 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund, a critical multilateral tool for financing climate adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries," the Treasury Department released. "The Budget also supports a $3.2 billion loan to the Clean Technology Fund to finance clean energy projects in developing countries by increasing energy security in high-emitting markets. U.S. international climate assistance and financing would accel­erate the global energy transition to net zero emissions by 2050; help developing countries build resilience to the growing impacts of climate change, including through the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) and other programs; and sup­port the implementation of the President’s Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks, while increasing energy independence by decreasing reliance on producers of carbon-intensive non-renewable resources."

Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to hold America's oil and gas producers hostage as prices at the pump skyrocket. From CNBC:

The Biden administration is delaying decisions on new oil and gas leases and permits after a Louisiana federal judge blocked officials from using higher cost estimates of climate change when making rules for polluting industries.

The leasing pause is an unintended result of the Feb. 11 decision by U.S. District Judge James Cain, who sided with a group GOP-led states and argued that the Biden administration’s attempt to raise the real cost of climate change would hike energy costs and hurt state revenues from energy production.

The ruling has prompted delays and uncertainty across at least four federal agencies that were using higher cost estimates of greenhouse gas emissions in decisions, including plans to restrict methane emissions from natural gas drilling and a grant program for transit projects. It also continues a contentious legal battle that has hampered Biden’s plans to address climate change.


Australia: The ‘Green’ shades of political hypocrisy

It was only last month that the Leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, called on the government to ensure that all rental properties contained ‘compulsory air conditioning’ as part of a minimum standard requirement in a letter to Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Melissa Horne.

Air conditioning is an energy-consuming monster.

While those of us who are comfortable living in the modern world feel no guilt about the advances in technology that allow humans to wear a jumper inside when it’s over 45 degrees outside – the Greens hail from the apocalyptic ‘end is nigh’ pool of thought. They are prepared to send Australia back to the caves armed with candles through their relentless pursuit of policies that dismantle Australia’s energy security, but sure, let’s mandate air conditioners?

While the Greens terrify children and incite them to skip school and stage mock ‘die-ins’ in capital cities, they don’t mind arguing in favour of air conditioning to drag votes from the hot and sweaty poor (who are being made more poor by Climate Change policies).

This month, the Greens are back on track, calling for the luvvies in Canberra to give up their vehicles on ‘car-free’ days and try out ‘car-free zones’ in the city. Mind you, this might not be necessary as fuel prices continue to rise on the back of Australia’s dependence on internationally-sourced oil (because ideological zealots fight against domestic resources).

Jo Clay, the Greens’ transport spokesperson, released a discussion paper containing the above proposals along with the usual cash splurge on footpaths, bikes, and – of course – dramatically lowering speed limits so that cars have to expend more fossil fuels to go nowhere.

The paper also suggests mucking around with traffic light sequencing to make life miserable for motorists and leave cars pumping out fumes while bikes and pedestrians take priority. Or if that doesn’t suit, other recommendations include removing roads entirely to make ‘more space for the community’. Pesky things like on-street parking are listed as a ‘loss of space for little real gain’ – aside from having somewhere to park, which is a pretty big gain for motorists.

‘Canberrans love active travel,’ Clay insisted. ‘We have the highest level of cycling in Australia and almost everyone uses active travel at some point. Even those who drive most places will still get out of their car and walk or wheel to their final destination.’

According to Clay, these car-free days and zones are meant to offer the people of Canberra a way to ‘experience a different way to use our roads’ because exploring transport options for fun is probably high up on the list of activities for struggling businesses and families desperately scrambling to recover from Covid health orders.

Australians are more likely to believe in ‘active transport’ when representatives of the Greens permanently exchange their government-funded cars for push-bikes and cycle to Parliament in the pouring rain, freezing cold, and sweltering heat of Canberra. If they want us to believe that the working-class need to give up their cars for the ‘greater good’, Greens MPs should set the example by refusing to fly around the country and instead hop on long-distance trains or buses.

No takers?

‘We have to do more to help Canberrans choose the original zero-emissions transport method of active travel. We need to make active travel fun, accessible, and safe for everyone.’

How does this declaration work with the paper’s recommendation to trial off-road bicycle exemptions for helmet requirements? Helmets are widely regarded as the most important safety advancement for cyclists – something openly acknowledged by the paper – but people don’t like wearing helmets so the Greens reckon we should just ‘ditch them’ because cycling ‘participation dropped when helmet laws were introduced’. Sure, but fatalities also dropped by 46 per cent.

‘This off road exemption could be trialled and the effect on participation measured to see if this increases cycle commuting, especially for short distances within suburbs.’

The original zero-emissions method of transport has been common with the peasantry for thousands of years – walking – although we are yet to see that less-glamorous mode of transport kick off with MPs screeching ‘Net Zero!’ from the chambers of Parliament.


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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