The Big Problem With Wind, Solar, and Batteries

The following article originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

There have been many recent articles in The Daily Sentinel on Xcel’s new Colorado Energy Plan related to climate change policy. In addition, the national news has been covering the Green New Deal being proposed by many politicians to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels in the next 10 years. It is ludicrous to think that we could live in a modern society without fossil fuels.

Affordable fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil have brought more people out of poverty in the modern world than ever before. Nineteenth and 20th century fossil-fuel innovations such as the internal combustion engine, clean-coal technology, increased efficiencies in combined-cycle natural gas power plants, natural-gas heating, jet fuel for high-speed transportation and many other improvements in technology have vastly improved modern society. People are living much longer today due to many fossil-fuel derivatives such as pharmaceuticals, machine-built structures to shelter us from Mother Nature, emergency transportation, and plastics used in the biomedical field.

Intermittent energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels are also fossil-fuel derivatives. They not only require machines to mine their raw materials, but also use a great deal of energy for the processing/manufacturing of carbon steel, silicon, lightweight materials, magnets, plastics, concrete, and many other materials.

Utility companies such as Xcel have stated that due to advances in technology, the low bids they have received recently for large-scale solar, wind, and battery storage are now competitive with fossil fuels. It is highly improbable that these bids for intermittent power include the significant subsidies that wind turbines receive, the additional transmission line costs that are incurred, and the increased cost they impose on conventional reliable backup energy sources such as natural gas and coal power plants due to their variability.

Xcel has proposed battery storage as backup to smooth out these demand cycles, but people have to realize that these batteries will only last hours, need to be recharged and climate controlled which requires even more energy. Batteries are also made of lithium and cobalt that are mined, processed, and manufactured from third world countries that are feeling the environmental and slave labor effects. Some say that you can recycle lithium/cobalt batteries, but this is far from a proven process and also requires an enormous amount of energy.

Intermittent resources rarely last the 20 to 30 years that utilities claim because they have to be upgraded and rebuilt every 10 years or so. I have met with wind technicians in eastern Colorado and they say after a $3.2 million investment on a 1.9 megawatt (only runs 32 percent of the time) capacity wind turbine, they have to sink another $1 million after 10 years to rebuild the generator and replace the turbine blades. I have never been able to calculate a reasonable payout or rate of return on a wind turbine without subsidies or when including the rebuilding costs. These subsidies will eventually end and then who ends up paying the decommissioning and refurbishing costs of this new wind or rust belt in eastern Colorado?

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) data for the past 10 years, states like California, Iowa, Kansas, and even Xcel’s home state of Minnesota have seen their residential electric rates per kilowatt hour go up an average of 30 percent. It is no coincidence that these same states have some of the highest percentage of electricity generated by intermittent resources. This compares to the EIA U.S. national average of only a 12 percent increase in residential electricity rates per kWh for the past 10 years. If you look outside of the U.S., Germany and Denmark have the highest percentage of wind/solar per capita and their rates are about 30 cents euro/kWh, the highest in Europe.

To help educate the general public on the Western Slope about how climate change policy and intermittent sources are driving up costs in other countries and states, the Landman Energy Management Club of Colorado Mesa University is hosting Goreham’s talk — again, at the University Center auditorium on Thursday starting at 6 p.m. I saw Mr. Goreham present at the annual AAPL conference in Denver this past summer and he is well-spoken, polite, and knowledgeable about the subject matter. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering with an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Originally, I intended for this presentation to be a debate and I contacted CSU’s Center for the New Energy Economy, the governor’s Energy Office, Xcel Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Center to represent an opposing view. I got responses such as “we don’t debate policy,” “we don’t have a position on Climate change,” “you should have an economist rather than an engineer debate these issues,” and that people just weren’t available.

I did notice that the people that I was told to contact by many of these entities did not have an electrical engineering background, which I would think would be essential when talking about electrical energy and its primary sources.

With so many politicians and climate alarmists talking about saving the planet with the Green New Deal, it is imperative to become more informed on how policy will affect energy costs in the future.

Steve Soychak has worked in the energy industry for over 38 years with 18 years in Western Colorado helping manage various energy firms. He currently is program director and faculty for the Energy Management/Landman Program at Colorado Mesa University where he has taught as an adjunct lecturer for seven years and full time the past five years.  He has also served on various community boards (GJEP, Community Hospital foundation, CREAC, WSCOGA, etc.) throughout Mesa County while residing in western Colorado.