Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Solar, wind less costly than fossil fuels

by Leigh Pomeroy

Leigh Pomeroy is a member of the executive board of the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council. In March, April, May and June of this year, his solar panels produced more energy than his home used, putting the excess back into the grid.

Minnesota has set its sights on reaching the goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Naturally, some have wondered whether this is possible. It is, and here's why.

Historically it's been thought that fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas were cheaper than renewables like solar and wind. And they were, as long as one didn't take into account the costs that society bears for the pollution and health problems fossil fuels cause, and the government subsidies they require. Health costs from the burning of fossil fuels have now reached $2.76 trillion worldwide.

And government subsidies currently amount to $5.3 trillion worldwide — or $3.80 per gallon for gasoline, $4.80 per gallon for diesel, $.24 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity and $.11 per kWh for natural gas. In other words, the cheap gas for your SUV and the cheap electricity for your home are being subsidized by your own tax dollars.

Increasingly, solar and wind are being shown to cost less than fossil fuels when taking into account all costs. Further, renewable energy coupled with smart-grid technology can create a totally fossil fuel-free energy system, which has been detailed in research by Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and others. (See "Stanford engineers develop state-by-state plan to convert U.S. to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050" and "100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) AllSector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World".

Countries already approaching this goal are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Bringing this idea closer to home, what with depressed prices in agricultural markets, farmers are finding greater per acre income from leasing out their land for wind or solar. With wind, the land can also be farmed. With solar, the land underneath the solar panels is being used to provide pollinator habitat.
As far as we know, there is no coal, oil or natural gas in Minnesota, but we do have plenty of solar and wind. So why send our energy dollars and jobs outside of Minnesota when we can develop this economic resource locally?

Clean, renewable energy coupled with the smart grid, new energy storage technology and developments in energy efficiency (such as energy neutral buildings) are not just the future: The technology exists today to do all these things and for a cost far less than the real price we're paying for fossil fuels.

Iowa is already doing this, as noted by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

Just as we replaced wood with coal and whale oil with petroleum, thus creating a higher standard of living, so too will clean energy replace fossil fuels with the same result.

That future is here. It is now time to recognize it and act accordingly.

A version of this piece was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

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