Chas Macquarie: Affordable cost of renewable energy
August 17, 2017
Like Fred LaSor, I too like family-sized renewable energy sources. I also like community and utility scale clean energy. I like raptors too. Oh, and I'm all in favor of eliminating subsidies for clean energy sources, as long as we eliminate the exploration tax credits for dirty energy.
As for the relative cost of different energy sources – well, it's complicated. What a utility pays for the cost of electricity is much less than its customers pay – in large part because of the distribution infrastructure required to get the electricity to the customer, and to a lesser degree because utilities spend a lot of money lobbying at the state and federal level to make sure their current profitable business model isn't upset. Did you know in Florida, the Sunshine State, there's practically no rooftop solar because the big utility companies have opposed it because that would mean they sell less electricity. In Nevada, NV Energy is still against rooftop solar for similar reasons.
The investment bank Lazard, which is the go-to source for independent energy information and analysis, publishes an annual Levelized Cost of Energy report for the USA. Its 2016 report puts the median cost ($/MWh) for different energy sources as follows: Residential Solar Photovoltaic (PV) – 180; Community Solar PV – 106; Utility Scale Solar PV – 55; Utility Scale Wind – 47; and Combined Cycle Natural Gas – 63. So on the utility scale (what we get from NV Energy in our area) wind and solar are both cheaper than natural gas – with no subsidies. Rooftop solar is still more expensive than natural gas, but offers a number of other benefits, not the least of which is the ability to have electricity in your home when the grid goes down – energy resiliency.
As for wind turbines killing raptors, which is something none of us wants to see, there's ongoing research to make wind turbines less hazardous for birds. But remember – oil, gas and coal production destroy much more bird and other animal habitat than wind turbines and solar arrays do.
To get back to the thorny issue of subsidies; there's a market-based proposal that's gaining momentum in the political arena. It's called Carbon Fee and Dividend. A fee would be placed on carbon at its source (mine or well) to reflect the true cost to society of fossil fuel production (additional health costs, disaster relief, increased diseases, ocean acidification, etc., which cost American taxpayers billions of dollars annually); the fee would increase steadily over time so businesses could plan ahead; and all the money raised would be returned to the American people on an equal basis as a dividend (you'd get the same amount as Bill Gates). This means it's revenue neutral – all the money stays in the economy – and studies show it would boost Gross Domestic Product and jobs over time. This market-based solution would eliminate the need for subsidies to any energy industry. You can learn more about this proposal here: https://citizensclimatelobby.org/carbon-fee-and-dividend/ and about a similar proposal by the Climate Leadership Council here: https://www.clcouncil.org/media/TheConservativeCaseforCarbonDividends.pdf. Please encourage our congressional representatives: Rep. Mark Amodei, and Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto to support this proposal in Congress.
Chas Macquarie is a Carson City resident and a proponent of clean energy use at both household and utility-scale levels.