When advocacy of generating electricity from solar or wind energy first emerged in the long ago, it was aimed at helping people to “get off the grid” by breaking dependence on corporate/government suppliers … and prices. It was part of a combined survivalist/back-to-the-land movement at a time (January 1970 if one dates it to the appearance of the first issue of Mother Earth News) when such thinking became a hedge against nuclear war returning mankind to starting civilization all over again.
Now, with elected officials again telling private industry how best to operate its businesses, Georgia Power has been ordered to put more solar onto the grid even though it is anticipated this will raise prices. Huh? Solar will save the grid, long live the grid?
Hey, if you don’t think the world is crazy enough already apparently all you have to do is wait another generation. Back in those times the “grow your own food” push began as well, now transformed into “eat organic” at higher store prices.
Also, all this original promotion of alternative electricity sources came from a then-fledgling environmental movement that sought to protect and save the natural beauties and creatures of our common surroundings.
Well, since contemporary environmentalists rarely seem to mention it and relatively few Georgians have ever seen solar or wind factories filling the eye from horizon to horizon, it warrants pointing out that solar-panel “farms” and wind-turbine “arrays” are some of the worst visual offenses to Mother Nature imaginable and appear to evict/obliterate much wildlife.
They make clear-cutting forests and chopping the tops of mountains concealing coal seem logical in comparison. In those cases, over time, Mom Nature herself will at least cover up the scars. When man adds unnatural things to what greets the eye the ugly tends to be eternal.
NONETHELESS, there is only mild risk of Georgia’s visual delights being marred by this decision. First, it takes years to plan and then build any such solar arrays. Second, other than perhaps in South Georgia, solar wouldn’t be either reliable or profitable and may have to come from elsewhere. If Greater Romans had been required to rely solely on solar so far this overly cloudy/rainy year they would have had to pick between watching TV or using their refrigerator.
Wind is also not very reliable in the state, which is why Georgia Power recently announced it is adding more of that to its expanding mix of sources but purchased from Oklahoma where, as the song lyrics said, “the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.”
In Georgia about the only viable wind-farm location identified has been offshore from Tybee Island. Wouldn’t that make going to the beach inviting? Still, well offshore or atop arid ridgelines without people nearby does make sense for these – not only is the low whooshing sound heard at great distances but one often can feel a vibration in the air.
ALL IN ALL, unlike a renewable resource for power that many environmentalists now oppose known as lakes and dams, these are unpleasant additions without any attraction for human habitation. At least lakes invite real-estate development, tourism, fishing, water sports. Solar farms and wind turbines offer nothing other than unreliability as a “forever” and “on demand” power source. Which is why, despite all their known possible problems, electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear will for as far as the future can see always be the core of the supply grid. It is either that or kill all the whales for their oil.
This addition of solar capacity ordered by the Public Service Commission is a bit of a joke or exaggeration to start with. It is a called a “massive” expansion because, some years off, Georgia Power would have 800 megawatts of solar capacity.
Here is reality: coal-fired Plant Hammond out in Coosa, the core of the power supply around here and billed as being able to supply nine cities the size of Rome, is able to generate … 800 megawatts. In other words, the same amount now as from all state solar some years in the future. This is like leaving the impression that Georgia could replace the sun with a light bulb to grow all the peanuts and peaches it does now.
These aspects to this now seemingly eternal debate regarding the comparative value of sources for energy never seem to surface. It used to be that considering the economic drawbacks and/or advantages of various choices were enough.
THAT MAY be coming to an end as Commissioner Stan Wise signaled in his clearly outraged dissent to the PSC’s 4-1 pro-solar decision and his lambasting of the apparent unwillingness of Georgia Power to make the necessary economic and environmental case in opposition. That, as most commentators suggested, may well be due to Georgia Power having even bigger topics needing PSC approval/support soon and it not wishing to stir the politicians up.
Irritated as Wise was he is also the PSC’s only true number-cruncher and thus can be relied upon to vote in favor of what makes the most sense (which was not more solar) regardless of political pressures. It’s the other four commissioners, who blow with the wind turbines of hot political air, that Georgia Power (and other state utilities) must increasingly worry about … and seek favor with.
Even those who tend to dislike “big business” as much as they do “big government” tend to concede that Georgia Power is perhaps the most competently run company/service in the state. Much of this is due to past positioning plus operational efficiency.
If power lines come down in the state’s constant nasty weather they go back up with amazing speed, particularly given few consumers realize the problems and difficulties (and dangers) of what is involved. In fact, Georgia Power recently added an interactive internet map (http://outagemap.georgiapower.com) that shows every power outage, of any size, in the whole state at any moment and how long it is expected to take to restore service.
IT USED to be, and should be, that making consumers happy combined with what overall makes the most and best environmental sense determined PSC decisions. Company profits don’t really even factor into all this – the government regulates those as well.
When it comes to electricity, Georgians need to eat their cake and still get to enjoy/admire the ingredients Mother Nature used to make it possible.
Any straying from that approach will almost certainly trip the circuit breakers of our energy supply.
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