Marcellus Shale

Solar Energy Is No Substitute for Natural Gas

Upstate New York has seen a huge push for the solar industry over the last several months. The anti-natural gas development groups have been trying to convince everyone that cloudy upstate could thrive from the solar industry. While solar energy will, undoubtedly, one day be part of our energy future, it is still not cost effective and is not the best option for Upstate.  That’s the message I took away from a recent solar energy forum held by solar supporters in Chenango County

Solar Is Hardly Free

Solar power, in its current form, is an expensive venture. The panels are made using rare earth minerals which have to be mined in China, Russia or South America and then imported to the United States.  This type of mining is done at great cost to the environment and much risk as compared to natural gas exploration, although our friends in the anti-natural gas community seem content with those impacts as long as they’re not taking place in their backyard.

This is, also, one of the reasons why the solar industry, unlike natural gas operations just over the border in Pennsylvania, have to be subsidized by the government to bring down costs. Even with this government assistance, some companies as we saw recently with Solyndra still can’t stay in business, and the high costs of production, manufacturing and transportation are still felt heavily by consumers.

What If the Power Goes Off or the Sun Doesn’t Shine?

If the utility power goes down, what happens to your solar power?

Well surprisingly that goes down too. The only way to avoid this is to buy a battery to store some energy. Adding a battery bank to this is going to be extremely costly according to the speaker.

What’s more, even with a battery bank, you will only be able to power a handful of appliances for a short period of time.

The same consideration obviously applies to periods when the sun doesn’t shine.  Batteries are essential to the functioning of solar as anything other than a modest supplemental source of energy.  It cannot replace fossil fuels, at least not yet.  Additionally, the manufacturing of those batteries is part of another whole subject of environmental impacts that always seems neglected when solar is discussed.

Solar Fields: Coming to Johnson City?

One of the speakers at the solar energy forum suggested the possibility of leasing farm land for solar fields. It would take 1/3 of the existing roofs and parking lots to power New York State. Could you imagine telling New York City residents they need to take away parking lots for solar energy?

Anti-natural gas development groups argue development of this resource will somehow damage the view of New York’s landscape.  Given that well rigs are typically on-site for less than 30 days, this is not even comparable to the permanent solar fields being proposed. Watch in the video below as the speaker discusses the potential for solar field development in New York State.  She talks about leasing farm fields in the same way gas companies do but neglects to mention the gas leases would allow one to still farm the land (disturbing perhaps as little as one percent of it) while the solar panels would be a permanent feature that would, clearly, not allow farming on the same land.

Following flooding in Johnson City, some buildings that experienced severe flood damage are, apparently, going to be removed. The solar company is trying to obtain the land convert it into a solar field.  One would think flooding could also be a bit of a problem for solar panels unless they’re elevated, which certainly won’t help aesthetically.  The speaker minimizes these issues, however, and seems not to consider the possibility of floating debris damaging the panels.

A Sunny Future? Only with Natural Gas!

One day solar power may be an efficient and affordable resource but, right now, the technology has not come far enough for this to be feasible without major subsidies in the form of tax credits and the like, which are anything but affordable.   Any energy plan that is truly viable for upstate residents, whether or not it moves towards a solar (or other) in the future, will have to include natural gas as part of the conversation. So, let’s get the ball rolling to use natural gas to lower New York energy costs while researching these other ventures properly.

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