Debunking alternate energy denial: seven responses

By Larry Behnke

Climate change denial has been around for years. But there’s another climate-related denial that is just as damaging: alternate energy denial. You usually hear this put-down of alternate energy from utilities that fear loss of control and income as people discover ways to produce their own power.

Solar electricity is often the target for alt-energy denial. We’ve heard for years, “It’s too expensive; it’s inefficient; we need more research.” But the efficiency of PV (photo voltaic) panels has increased as their price has dropped the last few years. More people are buying them, while utility companies fret.

Over the past few months in our area, I have seen the following examples of alt-energy denial, actual quotes from local officials. I will comment on each one according to my experience as a user of solar electricity to power my home with a system I installed in 1984.

“Salesmen will tell potential customers that their panels will save them X amount of money over a 30-year period, but the panels themselves are only warranted for 20 years. That means the homeowner has to re-invest in new solar panels before they have received the benefit of the utility savings.”

Only 20 years? Your car should have such a warranty! But that’s just a warranty, not the life of the panels. My PV panels have been producing more electricity than I can use for 33 years. The panels General Electric made 60 years ago still work. Some scientists predict PV panels could work for 100 years; there are no moving parts to wear out (although there is slight loss of output). You will never have to buy new panels unless you want to expand the size of your system, and it is easy to wire on new panels.

“PVs don’t produce any voltage on cloudy days.”

Yes they do, just not as much as in bright sun. My PV panels fully charge my batteries by around noon or 1 p.m. On cloudy days it may take until 2 or 3 p.m. to get a full charge. I know this as fact from 33 years of checking my battery voltage. I simply push a contact button on my wall to see the voltmeter reading.

“Solar panels can’t move with the sun.”

For more than three decades the Zomeworks Company has built an efficient tracker that moves panels to follow the sun across the sky all day and then repositions them for the next morning, all with self-contained solar power. But my panels don’t need to move.

“PVs don’t produce much voltage in the winter or when covered with ice or snow.”

PVs actually work better in winter, producing more power when they are cold (a balance to the shorter days of sunlight). That’s why an air space between the panels and roof is important during hot weather (and why solar shingles are less efficient).

Ice and snow are no problem in the Sunshine State. If northern PV panels don’t slope enough, snow may accumulate. But a rare covering of ice would still let enough sunshine through to produce electricity.

“Solar is higher cost compared with other forms of generating electricity.”

That may have been true 30 years ago, but in some communities, solar electricity is the same cost as coal generation (fossil fuels and nuclear would be far more expensive without their government subsidies and tax breaks). But what is the added cost of burning coal for electricity? Damage to humans who have to breathe its toxins, as well as the heat of burning coal that is warming up our planet (2016 was the hottest year on record).

Recent research by Bloomberg showed that new solar power around the world is “robustly entering the era of undercutting fossil-fuel prices.”

“The most expensive and inefficient use of solar is by one individual;…”

I am one individual using solar electricity to pump all my water from a well. I use solar for lights, fans and assorted 12-volt appliances. The cost of my PV system, figured over the years I’ve used it, is $8 a month. Does that sound expensive?

I also use $5 a month worth of grid power (plus the customer fee of $20, and taxes) for my refrigerator, lights and TV. My house is wired for these two separate systems, so I am less affected when the grid goes down during storms.

“…it is more cost effective if solar use is on a city-wide basis, and most cost effective if a group of cities can employ solar using the very latest technology.”

Solar is only more cost effective on a citywide basis for the utility company so they can sell solar electricity to their customers. They don’t make profits when people have their own solar “power companies” on rooftops.

Making electricity on site with PVs is more efficient than having to transport it over long distances, losing power along miles of lines.

Not all utilities are in denial. According to Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun: “Sunrun pays to install a solar electric system on a person’s roof. There’s no up-front cost for homeowners. They then buy the power from us, typically at 20 percent less than what their utilities charge. We take care of the maintenance. Homeowners save money immediately. We’re in 12 states now.”

Of course our local utilities would rather have “solar farms” that they can own and control to sell power to their customers as they always have. As for cities being able to use the “latest technology,” PVs themselves have changed very little over the decades. What has changed is that they are much more efficient and cheaper than ever. I paid $260 for a 30-watt panel in 1984. Now you could buy a 300-watt panel for the same amount.

Why do our utility officials tell us all these falsehoods about solar electricity? Control and profit. They can sell electricity for a profit when they control the buying and selling of coal, gas, oil and nuclear. But they have not figured out a way to sell us sunshine, except with their own solar farms.

In the stock market fossil fuel has been among the worst performing sectors, while investors are now piling more money into renewables, because that’s where the growth will come. Economics will kill alt-energy denial.

Perhaps our local utilities will someday work with their customers to promote and sell PV panels. But they are used to doing business their old way, so for now they will use alt-energy denial to dissuade us from installing our own PV power, using free sunshine.

You can contact Larry Behnke at,   386-454-3249, or  P.O.Box 1311, High Springs, FL 32655. D

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