Viewpoint: False arguments against solar

January 19, 2011 

I strongly agree with Ken Haggard, John Ewan and Tom Murray’s Viewpoint that San Luis Obispo County should lead California in going green (Jan. 16). Below, I will explore the false arguments of those who oppose solar farms.

Energy conservation can reduce the need for solar electricity: Better designs of refrigerators have greatly reduced electricity needs (from 1,800 to 500 kilowatt-hours per year). In spite of such progress, United States electricity demand continues to rise by 14 percent in the last decade.

Wind energy can solve our needs: Unfortunately, the timing of wind energy does not mesh well with societal needs, which is a better fit with solar that peaks when energy is most needed. Energy policy is dependent on economics. Companies are needed to invest, which will not be done by the government.

Distributed solar energy is preferable to large central solar farms: Economies of scale do matter and small distributed solar is more expensive than solar farms. I support distributed solar and my house is almost self-sufficient with 1 kilowatt of solar power, but at a cost that some find prohibitive.

The proposed Carrizo Plain site is an ideal site that is dry, fog-free and without shading by trees and neighbors. The vast investment capital for the solar farms is available, which is unlikely for most other approaches.

The kit fox is doomed: The environmental impact statement does not make this grim charge. The National Environmental Protection Act commits the companies to maintain the kit fox population. From the plans I have seen, I believe this will happen. The solar farms will occupy less than 2 percent of the Carrizo Plain, which leaves ample room for the kit fox.

Build the solar farm in Kern County where it is polluted: Carrizo solar farms are far less polluting than farming and cattle grazing. Some are willing to stop these projects by legal action, thus discouraging investments and creating pollution in other places.

California pollutes elsewhere by importing 22 percent of its electricity from Four Corners (Wyoming coal), Mexico and Arizona. To shift from fossil fuels is a tremendous task and society will need solar farms in all the relevant counties. The excess demand for fossil fuels endangers global security and the global environment.

David Hafemeister was Sen. John Glenn’s science advisor with the Senate Energy Committee to establish appliance and automobile standards, was a professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and taught courses on energy at Cal Poly.

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