Proposition 127 is very bad policy because: 1) wind and solar generation of electricity are both expensive and unreliable; 2) wind and solar generation can be dangerous to wildlife, human health, and the environment; and 3) the perceived need for more wind and solar generation is based on the false assumption that carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of global warming.
The method of generating electricity should not be determined by one-size-fits-all government mandates, but rather by local market conditions and resources.
In the following summary I explain the problems with renewable energy. More background is available in the references at the end of this post.
Arizona proposition 127, dubbed “The Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment” will amend the Arizona Constitution to require affected electric utilities generate at least 50% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. The amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030. The Amendment allows electric utilities to earn and trade credits to meet these requirements. (Read full text)
Arizona currently produces half of its renewable energy from hydropower generated at the large dams on the Colorado River, but, according to the proposed amendment, this electricity is not to be counted toward the 50% mandated goal. According to the Energy Information Administration, power plants in Arizona generate more electricity than the state consumes, and Arizona generating stations supply electricity to consumers throughout the southwest.
Promoters of proposition 127 claim that (based on computer modeling) more renewable energy generation will decrease the price of electricity. The computer model claims that “average electricity bills in 2030 would be three dollars a month lower if Arizona pursues a high-renewables future, and five dollars a month lower in 2040.”
Contrary to claims of proposition promoters, real-world experience shows that the price of electricity can triple as the percentage of wind and solar generation increases. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Arizona’s existing 7 percent renewable power mandate (on its way up to 15%) cost the average Arizona household $304 in higher electricity charges in 2017. At 50 percent renewables, as required by prop. 127, that could rise to an additional $2,179 per year compared to present electricity costs. (Source: The Heartland Institute) Higher electricity rates disproportionally impact the poor. (See this story)
My own electric bill from Tucson Electric Power is running at the rate of an extra charge of $230 per year due to the renewable energy mandate. A curious thing: These charges used to be listed on the bill as “Green Energy Charges” but since March, 2017, they are listed merely as “Surcharges.”
Electricity produced by wind and solar turns out to be much more expensive than electricity produced from coal and natural gas. That is mainly because wind and solar are unreliable, they can’t respond to demand. Therefore they need nuclear or fossil fuel generated electricity as backup which causes the fossil fuel plants to run inefficiently which is more expensive (and produces more carbon dioxide).
Europe has been a world leader in using wind and solar energy. The price, however, is high. Real operational data show that the more installed solar and wind capacity per capita a country has, the higher the price people pay for electricity. (Source) In some European countries electricity prices are triple the average cost in the U.S. Ironically, carbon dioxide emissions in those countries are rising while in the U.S. emissions are decreasing. Also ironically, according to the New York Times, renewables are helping to push nuclear power, the main source of zero-emissions electricity in the United States, into bankruptcy.
Australia has been flirting with replacing coal generation with renewables. Australian engineers warn 55% renewables will add $1400 to electricity bills, an 84% increase in electricity rates. (Source) The state of South Australian generates about 50 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power. South Australia’s consumer electricity prices are the highest in the world and electric reliability is one of the worst in the developed world. (Source)
California: According to Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear advocacy group:
Between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity prices rose five times faster than they did nationally. Today, Californians pay 60 percent more, on average, than the rest of the nation, for residential, commercial, and industrial electricity. California’s high penetration of intermittent renewables such as solar and wind are likely a key factor in higher prices. (Link) Had California spent an estimated $100 billion on nuclear instead of on wind and solar, it would already have had enough energy to replace all fossil fuels in its in-state electricity mix according to a new analysis by Environmental Progress.
A study by the left-of-center Brookings Institution found replacing conventional power with wind power raises electricity prices 50 percent, and replacing conventional power with solar power triples electricity costs.
From the Brookings report:
Costs are much higher for three reasons. First, the cost per MW [megawatt] of capacity to build a wind or solar plant is quite high (and much greater than that of a gas-fired plant). The cost per MW of solar capacity is especially high. Reductions in the cost of solar-voltaic panels have reduced the cost of building a solar plant by 22 percent between 2010 and 2012, but further reductions are likely to have a lesser effect because the cost of solar panels is only a fraction of the total cost of a utility-scale solar plant.
Second, a wind or solar plant operates at full capacity only a fraction of the time, when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. For example, a typical solar plant in the United States operates at only about 15 percent of full capacity and a wind plant only about 25 percent of full capacity, while a coal plant can operate 90 percent of full capacity on a year-round basis.
Third, the output of wind and solar plants is highly variable—year by year, month by month, day by day and hour by hour—compared to a coal-fired plant… Thus more than six solar plants and four wind plants are required to produce the same output with the same degree of reliability as a coal-fired plant of the same capacity.
The Institute for Energy Research (IER) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. They conclude: “As a means of producing useful electrical power, wind and solar are very expensive generating technologies because of their low capacity factors and because of their non-dispatchability and intermittency.” (Source)
It has been proposed that the intermittency problem with wind and solar can be solved by battery storage. But an MIT Technology Review article says that would be too expensive: “The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid: Fluctuating solar and wind power require lots of energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries seem like the obvious choice—but they are far too expensive to play a major role.” The $2.5 trillion battery system would provide just 12 hours of storage for the entire U.S. (Link)
Utility scale wind and solar installations require vast expanses of land that affect local habitats. Wind turbines chop up birds and bats, including endangered species. Solar installations burn up birds and other flying animals. Low frequency sound from wind turbines causes a variety of human ailments. The manufacturing and disposal of solar panels put dangerous chemicals into the environment. For example, many PV solar panels rely on polysilicon being manufactured in large quantities and at high quality. A byproduct of polysilicon production is silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that poses a major environmental hazard. Wherever silicon tetrachloride is dumped, the land becomes totally infertile. A major environmental cost of photovoltaic solar energy is toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium) and energy consumption associated with the large-scale manufacture of photovoltaic panels. Does that sound like “clean energy”?
A recent study shows that solar modules cause more greenhouse gas emissions than modern coal power plants. It turns out that because of the emissions of extraordinarily potent greenhouse gases nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride and energy requirements of manufacturing solar modules, solar energy ends up being worse for the climate than burning coal.
(See references 5 & 6)
Another danger is that proposition 127 is intended to be an amendment to the Arizona Constitution rather than a statute. It will therefore be much harder to repeal once its utter folly is realized.
The false assumption:
The push for renewable energy, especially wind and solar generation, is based on the contention that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are a significant cause of global warming.
This claim is not based on physical evidence but only upon garbage-in, garbage-out computer models, the results of which diverge widely from observations. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the major promoter of the human-caused global warming scare. Yet, in five major reports, the IPCC does not provide any physical evidence that carbon dioxide emissions play a significant role in global warming. I have asked several university climate scientists who support the claim to cite supporting physical evidence. Although they are alleged experts in the field, they could not cite any physical evidence. They devolve to computer modeling. On the other hand, there are several lines of physical evidence that show carbon dioxide emissions do not enhance the dread greenhouse effect. (See references 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 & 9) Many scientific studies present physical evidence showing that carbon dioxide is but a bit player among the many factors influencing climate change. (See these references: link)
A report from the Science and Public Policy Institute estimates the temperature savings theoretically obtained by stopping all carbon dioxide emissions for each state and for the U.S. as a whole. According to SPPI, if Arizona stopped all carbon dioxide emissions, it would theoretically prevent a temperature rise of 0.0014°C by 2050 and 0.0029°C by 2100. If the U.S. stopped all carbon dioxide emissions, it would theoretically prevent a temperature rise of 0.172°C by 2100. (Link to report) Do you think that’s worth the higher electricity prices and disruption of the electric grid?
In the entire geological history of the planet, there has been no known linkage between CO2 and temperatures other than that temperature controls the solubility of CO2 in the oceans. (See reference 8) The war on carbon dioxide tries to cure a problem that does not exist.
Generating more electricity from solar and wind is just a very expensive exercise in political correctness that will have little impact on carbon dioxide emissions, but a big impact on your wallet, and an adverse impact on electric grid stability and the environment. (See reference 7) If you really want low/no emissions generation of electricity, we should invest in more nuclear generation which is always there when you need it.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” – H. L. Mencken
Note: This article is based upon my own observations and research. I have had no dealings with any of the several PACs organized for or against the proposition. This article may be reprinted provided credit is given to the author and link back to the original.