John Klar: Vermont, the least sensible place for solar panels

By John Klar

The recent film “Planet of the Humans” documents very real shortcomings with solar power as a solution for environmental degradation. Controversial producer Michael Moore backed the film, which has led to a huge fracas over its claims.

It is wise to consider the pollution (“externalized environmental costs”) generated in the production of consumer products.  Flat screen TVs, cell phones, microwave ovens, gallons of paint — even solar panels — all carry non-monetary environmental “costs.” 

Vermont has mandated taxpayer subsidization of solar panels to achieve future “carbon reduction targets,” but the present and future environmental costs of solar panels have been routinely ignored in this bizarre calculus. Renewable energy advocates treat solar panels as if they drop innocently from the sky (like rays of sunshine), with no carbon (or chemical) footprint of their own. 

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Vermont claims it will “curb greenhouse gas emissions” by such-and-such a percentage, by such-and-such a date. But these projections are fictitious, concocted by excluding solar panel pollution inputs from assessment.

Nevada and Arizona lack Vermont’s bevy of solar panels, because without government subsidy there is no economic return on solar investment even in those sunny states. Vermont rates 44th in the nation for its share of sunshine, but near the top in its installation of solar panels.

Eventually, Vermont seeks to offset the fossil fuel grid with ubiquitous solar panels. In a simple analysis, one could compare the net amount of pollution generated in the construction and operation of a conventional power plant with the total pollution generated in the alternative manufacture and installation of millions of replacement panels. But it’s not that simple. 

For instance, there are pollution costs from transmission lines and maintenance of grid systems.  Vermont’s solar scheme does not eliminate the grid (people who install solar panels sell back their excess production): if it did, all those homes would require banks of batteries with yet greater environmental damage. Solar panels thus do nothing to alleviate the environmental impact of transmission lines and their maintenance. 

There are many other undiscussed costs of solar installations that renewable energy advocates do not wish taxpayers to ponder: shortened life expectancy of installations in cold climates; reduced efficiency in areas with less sunlight; disposal difficulties; the much higher cost of residential rooftop applications than community systems. The more these numerous problems are assessed, the less stellar solar looks.

Vermont announces that it will “curb greenhouse gas emissions” by such-and-such a percentage, by such-and-such a date. But these projections are not just fantastical — they are fictitious, concocted by excluding solar panel pollution inputs from assessment. Ignored are the energy and pollution from the mining of materials, manufacturing, and distribution of those solar panels. 

The bulk of solar panels are manufactured in China, where solar companies have a poor track record of environmental compliance. Solar panels entail numerous component parts. The technology is largely based on the use of silicone, which is manufactured from heated quartz (releasing carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide). Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels both generate silicone tetrachloride in production, a nasty by-product. Thin-film technologies create yet more chemical wastes, including cadmium telluride and copper indium selenide.

Then, these glorious, world-saving products are transported from China to Vermont, consuming still more fossil fuels and packaging costs that are not counted when assessing all that globe-saving fuel reduction forecast for Vermont’s future. Ignored also are the future pollution costs when these panels deteriorate and must be taken down. Proponents dismiss this concern with a wave of the hand, but recycling solutions do not look promising.   

China is already encountering the problem of decommissioning solar panels. It is estimated that by 2050 these waste panels will amount to 20 million metric tonnes of waste, leading one manager of a recycling company in China to proclaim that the solar power industry [is] a ticking time bomb. “It will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment, if the estimate is correct. … This is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle.”

In its grand designs to combat global warming with solar panels, Vermont has not estimated these future disposal costs, or the sizable present environmental costs of manufacturing and shipping for residential installation. Being colder and cloudier than most states, Vermont is perhaps the least sensible place in America to compel the installation of solar panels. 

Or perhaps, weather aside, Vermont is the just the least sensible place in America.

John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. He is running for governor in 2020.

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8 thoughts on “John Klar: Vermont, the least sensible place for solar panels

  1. John,

    Vermont Ranks Lower Than 44th Regarding Solar Power Potential
    Based on the sun index level, Vermont is ranked 44th regarding solar power potential, according to a sun index developed for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) using data provided by NREL’s Renewable Resource Data Center.

    The sun index is defined as an index of the amount of direct sunlight received in each state and accounts for latitude and cloud cover. California is indexed at 1.0.

    However, that index does not take into account snow/ice cover of panels.
    Most of Vermont PV solar systems are in the northwest, which also has frequent snows.

    As a result, in the real world, Vermont ranks even lower than 44th.
    That likely explains Vermont’s low CF compared to other NE states. See table 2
    https://neo.ne.gov/programs/stats/inf/201.htm

  2. This is not even as well thought out as closing VT Yankee and then negotiating for replacement power. DUH!!!!

  3. John,
    All of New England is near the bottom of PV solar, except areas such as rainy Seattle.

    Here are some numbers.
    The tables likely lost their format, but you can see them using this URL

    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/new-england-is-the-least-favorable-for-pv-solar-except-areas-near

    NE Solar Capacity and Production in 2019:

    The installed MW values are from the ISO-NE 2020 CELT report.
    Click on the URL to obtain the spreadsheet.
    Go to sheet “3.1 Forecast of PV Resources by Category and State”. See table 1
    https://www.iso-ne.com/system-planning/system-plans-studies/celt/

    Table 1/NE PV Solar, end 2019 NE total NE grids BTM Total
    See URLs 2020 celt resource mix pv forecast
    Capacity Prod’n Prod’n Prod’n
    MW GWh GWh GWh
    FCM 785.8
    Non-FCM 569.9
    Total Market 1355.7 1644 1644
    BTM 2076.7 2510 2510
    NE total 3432.4 1644 2510 4154

    Total NE solar production was 4154 GWh. See table 2 and pages 16, 17, 41 of URL
    https://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2020/04/final_2020_pv_forecast.pdf

    Production on NE regional grids (Market) was 1355.7 MW x 8766 h/y x 0.13834, CF = 1644 GWh, or 1.38% of electricity fed to grid.
    This electricity is monitored by ISO-NE. See table 1

    The 1644 GWh and CF are real-world numbers, that reflect panel aging, snow/ice cover, PV system outages, etc. See URL
    https://www.iso-ne.com/about/key-stats/resource-mix/

    Production on distribution grids (BTM), estimated by ISO-NE, was 4154, total – 1644, market = 2510 GWh.
    This electricity is not monitored by ISO-NE
    CF = 2510 GWh/(2076.7 MW x 8766 h/y) = 0.13788

    Because, the CF of Market solar and CF of BTM solar are nearly identical, we can conclude:

    1) The ISO-NE estimates are correct, and
    2) The 2510 GWh is a real-world number, that reflects panel aging, snow/ice cover, PV system outages, etc. See URL
    https://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2020/04/final_2020_pv_forecast.pdf

    Table 2/Installed MW, 2019 Capacity ISO-NE estimate Real-world CF
    State MW GWh
    See pv forecast URL Pages 16, 17 Page 41 Calculated
    MA 2180.45 2693 0.141
    CT 566.53 681 0.137
    VT 364.24 408 0.128
    NH 105.24 122 0.132
    RI 159.75 181 0.129
    ME 56.32 68 0.138
    Total 3432.4 4154 0.138

    NOTE: In the REAL WORLD the capacity factors are less than in the ideal/dream world.

    Vermont had installed 364.24 MW of PV solar systems at end 2019, at a cost of about $1.639 billion, using $4500/kW as the AVERAGE price for 2000 – 2019

    Electricity produced was 408,000 MWh in 2019, about 6.8% of total electricity fed to Vermont grids.

    The 408,000 MWh is an estimated by ISO-NE, which turned out to be accurate

    RE folks like to use a PV solar capacity factor of 0.150, but that is for idealized situations, which exist only in their pipe-dream world.

  4. John, in addition to the cloudy skies, I’ve often wondered how effecient these eye sores are with 2 feet of snow on them.

  5. AGW/Green Energy is a dogmatic religion, it’s believers are fanatics, its truth is doctrinal and brooks no dissent. Biden’s trenchant “Truth over facts” expresses it perfectly. The “truth” is their irrefutable gospel; dissidents and (especially) heretics are demonized. They even have purchasable “Carbon Indulgences” to assuage the guilt of the profligate elite who fly private jets to exotic locations to decry the emission of carbon dioxide. By the rest of us. Summertime: I’ll bet Kerry is still going to use the air conditioning that is “a greater threat than Isis.”

    • Kerry uses a custom-made bicycle costing in excess of $10,000.
      That must have taken a lot of CO2 to build.

  6. Excellent points, John! We have to realize who we are dealing with when you use the word ‘sensible’. It certainly doesn’t include the progressives and liberals who are dead set on short term fixes to an aggrandized problem. Even with facts presented as you have done, you’ll never convince these tunnel-visioned people that there are better alternatives than solar panels everywhere.

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