-Solar electricity is more expensive and heavily subsidized. -Solar cannot replace fossil fuel plants because it is erratic. -Solar delivers energy at the wrong time of day. -Solar is not a good way to reduce CO2 emissions. -Solar is promoted for profit and the promoters lie shamelessly. -Solar will destabilize the electrical grid if too much solar is added. -Solar is a complete waste of money.
The new law SB258 requires 50% “renewable” power by 2030. In Nevada this means mainly solar because the renewable alternatives are more difficult. The promoters of solar are trying to put the 50% requirement into the Nevada constitution. If the voters pass this in 2020, the solar interests will guarantee themselves a market for the future and Nevada electricity users will always be paying money to the promoters of solar energy. If solar is so great why is it necessary to pass a law to force the electric company to spend billions on solar energy?
Solar power cannot reduce the need for fossil fuel plants because peak summer demand takes place just as solar is quitting for the evening. Solar energy is erratic energy that has to be constantly backed up by fossil fuel plants. Solar power supplements current plants. It does nor replace them. Even if batteries are added to support solar power into the evening, fossil fuel plants can't be eliminated because there are too many cloudy days, even in the sunniest parts of the southwest. One cloudy day and the battery will run flat.
If much more solar is built, the Nevada electrical grid will be faced with excess solar power during the middle of the day, forcing the solar to be curtailed, wasting money spent on solar. The solar interests are proposing the use of expensive storage to "solve" this problem.
Solar is very ineffective for reducing CO2 emissions. Using solar it costs $140 to reduce CO2 emissions by one metric ton. Alternative methods start at $4 or 35-times less.
The U.S. is responsible for only 14% of world CO2 emissions and electrical generation produces only one quarter of U.S. emissions. The real source of CO2 emissions is in Asia. Yet the promoters of renewable power justify overpriced solar as a helping to save the Earth by reducing CO2 emissions. But they conveniently ignore the real problem of China and India. Their real interest is profit, not saving the Earth.
The cost of solar will increase if the federal investment tax credit subsidy is phased down, as provided in current law, from 30% to 10% by 2022. But now the solar people are asking their friends in congress to extend the credit once again.
Companies that have paid large penalties to be excused from purchasing electricity from NV Energy are likely to be forced to follow the 50% renewable by 2030 scheme.
The white paper below provides details concerning these points.
How Nevada is Fooled by the Purveyors of Solar Energy Norman Rogers
Solar energy is all the rage on the fashionable left. They see it as a cure for pollution and global warming. Without understanding the details or the numbers, the fashionable left thinks that solar energy is cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Nevada is a small state that has been taken in by this rosy picture of solar energy. It is about to embark on a massive spending spree to greatly increase the amount of solar energy. In most of the country wind energy is the dominant form of green energy. But Nevada is wind-poor and sunshine-rich. For that reason it is an ideal test site for solar energy. This paper is an attempt to explain to the people and leaders of Nevada the fatal flaws of solar energy before it is too late.
Nevada is a small state, in population, not geography. Nevada is the seventh largest state in the United States. The population is little bit more than three million. About two thirds of the people live in the Las Vegas area, most of the remaining third are clustered near Reno. Most of the state is a desert and eighty-five percent of that desert is owned by the federal government.
Solar energy works fine for remote cabins and weather stations in the mountains. For supplying the massive needs of modern society, it is quite useless – a scam. Solar is expensive. It can’t be counted to perform when it is needed. Solar stops when a cloud goes in front of the sun. It goes to sleep every night. In sunbaked Las Vegas, demand for electricity peaks on summer evenings, just as solar is putting on its pajamas.
Solar energy is sold with a blizzard of lies and a pyramid of subsidies. The promoters have convinced the federal government to massively subsidize solar energy. About 70% of the cost is subsidized by the federal and state governments. Then, the promoters boldly claim that solar energy is inexpensive power. Industry lobbyists have convinced many states, including Nevada, to establish quotas for so-called renewable energy. In Nevada green, or renewable, energy is mainly solar energy and geothermal energy. Future expansion is likely to be in solar energy, because there are formidable problems involved in expanding geothermal energy. Geothermal is also expensive. One has to ask, if solar energy is so cheap, why does there have to be a quota to force the electric utilities to buy it? If there were freedom of choice hardly anyone would buy solar. The industry’s solution is to pass a law forcing people to take solar. A quota, imposed by law, makes it possible for solar promoters to get sweetheart contracts from electric utilities, because the utilities have to buy solar energy to fulfill their quota.
No electric utility and no public utilities commission would, barring ignorance, mental disfunction, or membership in the environmental conspiracy, approve large scale investment in solar energy without being forced. Solar is too difficult to deal with. It starts and stops unpredictably. Too much energy is generated in the middle of the day and too little in the early evening.
In order to generate electricity from sunlight, photovoltaic panels are used. The panels convert sunlight to electricity directly, using semiconductor technology. Photovoltaic technology is the dominant technology and the least expensive. A more expensive and less practical technology is thermal solar. Thermal solar concentrates the sun’s rays with mirrors, creating a very hot heat transfer liquid that can be used to generate steam to drive a turbine and generator. Currently about 10% of Nevada’s power comes from solar and 10% from geothermal. Eighty percent is from natural gas with some electricity imported from other states. Southern Nevada’s only coal plant, an innovative plant recognized throughout the world for having a coal slurry pipeline, is in the process of being retired under pressure from environmental fanatics. Most future expansion of renewable power is expected to be solar, due to the difficulty of developing geothermal power.
Electricity in Nevada is provided by the dominant utility, NV Energy. NV energy is owned by Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway also owns the pipeline that brings natural gas from Wyoming to Nevada and California. Both NV Energy and the pipeline company are heavily regulated, but one wonders who is smarter and more motivated, the regulators or Warren Buffet.
Nevada’s renewable energy quota law is called a renewable portfolio law. Renewable portfolio sounds better than renewable quota. The law requires that by 2020 22% of electricity must be renewable. By 2024 34% must be renewable. By 2027 42% must be renewable and by 2030 50% must be renewable. The law also sets a target for renewable energy equal to 100% of electricity sold by 2050. This is an incredibly fast ramp up of renewable electricity. It sets up an impossible situation.
Bizarrely, the promoters of renewable energy have managed to put a proposed amendment to the Nevada constitution on the November 2020 ballot. If adopted by the voters, the amendment would incorporate a 50% renewable energy by 2030 quota into the constitution. This will assure that the parasites that profit from renewable energy will enjoy continued prosperity in near perpetuity. The constitution is not an appropriate place in which to guarantee special interest groups everlasting prosperity.
The usually accepted definition of renewable energy is that renewable energy should not use fuel or other resource that might run out in the future, and that renewable energy should not emit carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, of course, is suspected of causing global warming. But, the Nevada law, very similar to the California law, does not stick strictly to the definition. Some types of energy are allowed that are not strictly renewable and other sources of energy that are renewable are banned. This is a consequence of romantic ideas concerning energy and economics embraced by the environmental movement. Some types of energy are politically correct, and others aren’t. What is and what isn’t renewable doesn’t make much sense except to environmental dreamers.
According to Nevada law, geothermal energy is renewable. Currently, half of the renewable energy in Nevada is geothermal. Geothermal power plants use hot rocks deep underground that heat water. The water is bought to the surface via wells and then used to generate energy either by making steam or by using a water substitute that can create high pressure gas to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Geothermal energy is not renewable, according to the requirement of not using a fuel that will run out, because the subterranean rocks often cool after much of the heat has been extracted, requiring drilling new wells or requiring taking other measures to try to renew the energy source. Exploitation of geothermal energy requires finding sites where the hot rocks are not too far beneath the surface and have needed characteristics friendly to geothermal energy. Compared to solar, geothermal energy is reliable. It works day and night. But it is expensive and limited to rare good sites.
Hydroelectric energy is renewed every time it rains, but Nevada severely limits the use of hydroelectric energy to satisfy the renewable requirement. Basically, hydro is not allowed if it involves a dam or is a large scale facility. That rules out most hydro energy. Banning clearly renewable hydroelectric energy reflects the environmental movement’s long-running hatred of dams. The environmental movement cares far more about free-flowing rivers than it cares if people lose their lives and property in floods. Without Hoover dam on the Colorado river and Lake Mead, Las Vegas would still be a small town in the desert. To the environmentalist groups, the contrast between reliable and cheap hydroelectricity versus expensive and erratic solar electricity is not important. The posh members of the Sierra Club are not worried about paying their electric bills.
Energy from burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas, is not considered renewable because it releases CO2. But burning wood or other fuel from living plants (biomass) is permitted. Even though burning wood releases CO2, it is assumed that the CO2 is recaptured when a new tree grows.
The most interesting case is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy releases no CO2 and the fuel is, for any practical purpose, unlimited. The sun is powered by nuclear energy and it will run out of energy in a few billion years. Wind and solar energy are driven by the sun. The fuel for nuclear reactors is extremely cheap. But nuclear is arbitrarily banned from being considered renewable. Many important leaders in the global warming movement have declared that nuclear is the only solution to prevent global warming from CO2. But the environmental lobby spent years trying to scare everyone with nuclear power and they aren’t about to reverse course now. Apparently fear of nuclear power trumps fear of global warming. It is puzzling that groups that scream about the supposed danger of global warming are not willing to tolerate the minimal and known dangers of nuclear power. Twenty percent of U.S. electricity is from nuclear.
Wind and solar energy are considered renewable and are the most common forms of renewable energy. Nevada is a wind-poor state, but a good solar state. Nevada has geothermal resources. But, geothermal power costs more than $80 a megawatt hour – about double what electricity from a new natural gas plant costs.
It will be very difficult for Nevada to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 as required by the renewable portfolio law. An attempt to greatly expand solar generation will run into an over generation problem when solar output peaks around noon. Electricity is most needed in the early evening, especially during the hot summer. When there is over generation, solar has to be curtailed, raising the average cost of the solar electricity and reducing renewable energy credits. The poor timing of the delivery of solar power with respect to the need for power is a fundamental problem.
A large solar project called the Gemini project is proposed for a site north of Las Vegas. This project will have a very large battery, approximately doubling the cost of the project and thus doubling the cost of the electricity. The purpose of the battery is to move electricity from the middle of the day to the early evening. The advocates of solar are apparently willing to double the cost of the electricity in order to overcome the middle of the day over generation problem. Solar has never been a good solution and adding batteries to solar only makes things worse. The batteries will wear out in about 5-years and have to be replaced.
It is possible to satisfy the renewable portfolio requirement without actually generating or buying renewable power. The utility can buy a certificate, often called a renewable power certificate, saying that someplace, somewhere, renewable power was generated, and a megawatt (or kilowatt) hour is allocated to an electricity producer in Nevada. In Nevada these certificates are called Portfolio Energy Credits or PEC's. The power is not necessarily produced in Nevada and it doesn't have to be transmitted to Nevada. This is a bookkeeping transaction. The result of buying certificates is sending millions of dollars to other states and getting nothing in return except virtual pieces of paper. The certificate has the legal ability to change non-renewable power into renewable power. Renewable power certificates are often used to fool people into thinking that they are actually buying real renewable power that comes out of their electric outlets. Another dubious property of the certificates is that they can change peaking fossil fuel power into effective solar power when the sun is nowhere to be found.
Solar power is expensive electricity. Without subsidies and quotas, it would cost about $70 to $100 per megawatt hour. NV Energy is paying $198 per megawatt hour for electricity from the Nevada Solar 1 plant. Aside from bad contracts, like Nevada Solar 1, massive federal subsidies and state quotas can reduce the price of solar to $30 or even $25 per megawatt hour. The federal subsidies are being partially phased out by 2022. The state quotas have the effect of forcing utilities to sign long term power purchase agreements. Once the solar developer has a 25-year contract with a financially solid utility it is able to operate profitably with a low rate of return. Without huge subsidies and quotas forcing the use of solar power, the solar power industry would instantly collapse.
Solar power does reduce emissions of CO2 to the extent that it reduces fuel consumption in the associated natural gas plants that take over when solar fails. Solar is a very expensive technique for reducing CO2 emissions. The solar subsidies are often justified as the price we must pay for CO2 reduction. Using solar power, it costs approximately $140 to reduce CO2 emissions by one metric ton.
Reducing CO2 emissions by one metric ton is called a carbon offset. Carbon offsets are traded and can be purchased from various companies. If you fly Delta Airlines from New York to Los Angeles, your share of the CO2 emitted by the plane is about 0.69 metric tons and Delta will sell you a carbon offset to offset those emissions for $10.33. This is equivalent to a cost per carbon offset of $15. Delta is marking up the cost of carbon offsets that can be purchased for $10 per metric ton at carbonfund.org. In large quantities carbon offsets are available for around $4 per metric ton. The carbon offset market may be depressed because it is not generally allowed to substitute carbon offsets for building wind or solar installations. If carbon offsets were allowed to accomplish the same objectives as building wind and solar plants, that would hurt the wind and solar industries. They don't want to be hurt, so they make every effort to marginalize their competition. If a CO2-free nuclear plant is constructed rather than a coal plant, a vast reduction in future CO2 emissions takes place, generating carbon offsets cheaply. But, as you might guess, it is legally prohibited to use nuclear plants to avoid CO2 emissions. The wind and solar industries have managed to make the rules favor themselves.
A coal plant emits about 0.7 metric tons of CO2 per megawatt hour. Electricity from a new coal plant costs about $59 per megawatt hour. Electricity from a new nuclear plant in the U.S. costs about $78 per megawatt hour. The difference, $19 per megawatt hour is the cost to reduce future CO2 emissions by 0.7 metric tons per megawatt hour. The cost of carbon offsets generated in this way is $27 per metric ton, much cheaper than using solar to reduce CO2 emissions. In some countries, where nuclear power has not been shut out by scare campaigns, like South Korea, nuclear power costs half what it costs in the U.S. and nuclear is the method of choice for reducing CO2 emissions.
I'm not suggesting that reducing CO2 emissions is even desirable. I'm just suggesting that if reducing CO2 emissions is your goal, wind or solar is a very poor method of going about that.
If the emission of tons of CO2 seems like a lot, keep mind that the Earth’s atmosphere is vast. The atmosphere over each square inch of the Earth’s surface weighs 15-pounds. The Earth’s atmosphere weighs approximately 21,200,000,000,000,000 metric tons. Billions of metric tons of CO2 barely move the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere is very beneficial for plants that grow better with less water.
Summary Solar power is very expensive. Massive subsidies and quotas can lower the cost of solar (without batteries) to $25 or $30 a megawatt hour, but even at those rates, the fuel savings created do not pay for the cost of the solar power. Solar power is an expensive method of reducing CO2 emissions. The cost per carbon offset generated by solar power is about 14 to 30 times higher than the cost of carbon offsets purchased in the carbon offset marketplace. Solar power is limited as to how much can be added to the power grid without running into an over generation problem during the day. That problem is already looming in California. Nevada will soon be pushing against that same threshold.
The Subsidies for Solar Power There is a 30% federal tax credit (the “ITC”) for the construction of a solar power installations. Essentially 30% of the construction cost is subsidized by the federal government. Currently this will be phased down, for utility-scale solar, to 10% by 2022. For residential solar the ITC will be abolished in 2022. However the solar industry has started a campaign to extend the current subsidies and cancel the phase down now in law.
A tax credit may be used to reduce a company’s federal income tax, dollar per dollar. For a company that owes federal income taxes a tax credit is as good as cash, better, in that it is not itself taxable.
In addition to the ITC, solar power benefits from tax equity financing. This is a complicated scheme that increases subsidies of solar power. Due to special rapid depreciation rules and other relaxed tax rules, a solar developer can partner with a highly-taxed corporation. The partner receives the tax benefits from the investment tax credit and the depreciation, saving corporate taxes that would otherwise have to be paid. The bottom line is that money that otherwise would have gone to the federal treasury flows to the solar developer and its partner. This is not an accidental tax loophole, but a scheme deliberately created by committees of Congress to benefit friends in the green energy industry. The obscurity and complicated nature of tax equity financing serve to hide the subsidy from the public. Although the direct ITC subsidy is being phased down from 30% to 10%, the tax equity subsidy will continue to result in an approximate 20% to 40% federal subsidy of solar power. However the total subsidy of solar power is and will continue to be typically over 70% due to the state quotas for renewable energy. Lowering the ITC shifts the burden of the subsidy from the federal government to electricity consumers. Since electricity consumers on average are less affluent than taxpayers and spend a greater portion of their income on electricity, the relative burden will be higher on low income people.
Renewable portfolio laws, enacted in about 30 states, set escalating quotas for renewable electricity. State legislatures have been convinced, with the aid of lobbyists, propaganda, and campaign contributions, that renewable energy is somehow good energy. Renewable energy is routinely misrepresented as being cost competitive with fossil fuels. Where there is a renewable energy quota, utilities and public utility commissions must encourage construction of renewable energy projects. The cost is foisted on electricity customers and the taxpayers. Typically, a solar developer gets a 25-year power purchase contract from a utility and then can arrange financing on very favorable terms based on the utility’s good credit rating. The renewable portfolio laws are a critical support for the industry.
There are low cost federal government guaranteed loans for projects considered to be innovative. The Tonopah, Nevada Crescent Dunes solar project received a $737 million loan guarantee. That project is selling electricity to NV Energy for $135 per megawatt hour.
Electricity can be produced by new natural gas generating plants for $40 to $50 per megawatt hour. For NV Energy’s depreciated fleet of generating plants, the cost is closer to $25 per megawatt hour. The value of fuel saved in the NV Energy gas plants when solar electricity is substituted for gas electricity is approximately $25 per megawatt hour.
In the current economic environment with very low interest rates, that will probably be the new norm, as they have been in Japan and some European countries, there is a hunger on the part of insurance companies and pension funds to find low risk investments that pay better than government bonds. Investments in wind and solar backed by 25-year power purchase agreements have been sold on this basis. The rate of return of the investments can be under 5% if he investors can be convinced that the investment is truly low risk.
Are these investments really low risk, or are the investors not understanding the potential risks. A crack has appeared in the facade with the bankruptcy of PG&E, the most important California utility. The bankruptcy is related to forest fires, not renewable energy. But a judge has ruled that PG&E can cancel $40 billion of renewable energy contracts. This might never happen because it would make the California politicians pushing renewable energy folly look very foolish. But the bankruptcy raises the specter that the 25-year contracts may not be as solid as hoped.
PG&E previously declared bankruptcy in 2001. That bankruptcy was related to political mismanagement of the electricity industry. The California government refused to let PG&E raise it rates commensurate with the cost of wholesale electricity. The cost of wholesale electricity was out of control also for reasons of political mismanagement. The greatest risk to the 25-year power purchase agreements is political. If it suits their agenda, be assured that the politicians will throw the insurance companies and pension funds under the bus by damaging the value of their investments. These investments are political in the first place. The economic value of wind or solar energy is completely negative. It is only propped up by dubious claims concerning saving the environment.
Most of the contracts I've seen provide that the utility receiving the solar energy can curtail the delivery of solar electricity and not have to pay for the energy rejected. If the curtailments become significant the revenue will decline and the investments will turn out to be bad investments. Yet, everyone knows that if solar becomes too big a part of the grid, there will be too much solar in the middle of the day and curtailments will be necessary. The industry is gambling on storage of electricity, generally via lithium batteries, to move the excess midday electricity to the evening. But the batteries are very expensive and currently wear out in about 5-years. The federal subsidies only apply to the batteries that are a part of the initial construction, not later replacement of worn out batteries.
TheThe Storage Illusion Solar electricity suffers from the basic problem that it delivers electricity when it is not needed and does not deliver electricity when it is needed.
In order to overcome the intrinsic faults of solar energy the promoters have been advocating adding electricity storage to solar power. The maximum power is generated in the middle of the day, but the power is needed in the early evening. Solar, in Las Vegas, dies by 7PM (standard time) but peak loading continues far beyond that time in the summer when air conditioning loads are heavy. As solar is added to the grid an over generation problem emerges at midday, with under generation in the early evening. Once there is over generation, the solar power must be curtailed, resulting in the permanent loss of energy that could otherwise be used. The industry desires that the excessive power that solar generates during the middle of the day be stored (in batteries) and used in the evening, when the electricity is needed. The solar lobby is busy in Washington trying to broaden subsidies for storage. The Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act was introduced in the house by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA). The current subsidies for solar power only cover storage if it is part of a new solar installation. They do not cover stand alone storage or replacement batteries. Lithium batteries wear out in about 5-years or 2000 charge, discharge cycles.
The problem is that the storage of electricity in the amount needed by utilities is extremely expensive. Adding a big enough battery to solve the problem will increase the cost of a typical solar plant by up to 100% and the battery will probably have to be replaced about every 5-years. Subsidized solar electricity that can be sold for $30 per megawatt hour might cost about $60 per megawatt hour if a battery is added to move power from midday to early evening. The real cost, without the massive subsidies would be over $140 per megawatt hour. The industry wants uncle Sam to solve its problem with money. Without acceptance of expensive battery storage, expansion of solar will be stalled by the over generation problem.
Batteries are not the only scheme for correcting the time imbalance of solar generation. Another scheme that can be applied to thermal solar plants is to store heat collected during the day in a tank of molten salts, and then use the stored heat to generate electricity in the evening. Solar thermal plants use mirrors to concentrate solar radiation and transfer the heat to a carrier liquid. The heat can then be used to make steam and drive a turbine. The problem is that thermal solar plants are much more expensive than the more popular photovoltaic plants. The Crescent Dunes plant in Tonopah, NV is such a plant and, in spite of massive subsidies, the electricity is costing NV Energy $135 per megawatt hour. In California the Ivanpah thermal solar plant (without the heat storage tank) sells electricity for more than $150 per megawatt hour. That plant is just across the Nevada-California border, 50-miles from Las Vegas. Both plants have suffered repeated breakdowns.
None of the storage schemes for solar energy solve the fundamental problem that solar is unpredictable. A battery that moves power from midday to early evening will fail completely if it is cloudy during the middle of the day. Fossil fuel generating plants must still be present in sufficient numbers to carry the full load without the uncertain presence of solar energy.
The Rooftop Solar Net Metering Scam As part of the general propaganda push to confuse the public about solar power, small rooftop solar installations are being sold to homeowners. The homeowners are told that they can utilize cheaper solar energy and save money on their electrical bill. Solar is not cheaper, but it is correct that the homeowner can sometimes save money. The trick is that someone else pays the cost of the solar. The homeowner with rooftop solar does not disconnect his electric service. He remains connected to the grid and the utility is expected to supply whatever power Is needed on a moment’s notice. But the utility does not receive the revenue that it would normally receive because solar power displaces utility power when solar is working. This is losing situation for the utility that has to maintain not only transmission lines, but generating plants ready to spring into action, without the corresponding revenue. This is very real. If cloudy weather kills solar generation from thousands of homeowners, the utility must have large generation plants ready to go. When rooftop solar goes to sleep in the late afternoon and early evening, the utility must ramp up its generating plants to take over.
Utility scale solar, without subsidies, costs at least $70 per megawatt hour, or 7-cents per kilowatt hour to generate, but due to its erratic nature, an unsubsidized company would have to sell solar for at least $100 per megawatt hour. Residential rooftop solar, without subsidies costs at least 3 times as much as utility scale solar, due to lack of economies of scale. The homeowner is entitled to the 30% ITC federal subsidy. But the ITC is being phased out and for residential property – it disappears in 2022 unless solar lobbyists succeed in changing the law.
Some jurisdictions, including Nevada, have net metering. This scheme allows homeowners to send excess electricity back to the utility. The electricity is banked to the user's account and may be drawn at a later time, sometimes with no loss and sometimes only a percentage of the deposit is available to draw. In Nevada the percentage draw for net metering was 100%, then dropped to about 30% and then after political protests it was raised to between 75% and 100% depending on the customer’s history.
Net metering is ridiculous because the utility does not have a “bank” where it can keep the electricity. The electricity accepted is immediately sold to other customers. When the customer draws his banked power, the utility has to generate it. The utility acts as if it has a battery to bank the power, thus overcoming the major solar problem with the timing of solar energy delivery. But there is no battery, and if there were, it would be extremely expensive.
In Nevada, if there are enough subsidies and if interest rates are low, rooftop solar can make a small profit. It is marginal largely because Nevada’s residential electric rates are only 11-cents per kilowatt hour, and even with subsidies and net metering it is hard for rooftop solar to beat the utility’s regular price.
Fundamentally, it makes no sense to build thousands of tiny solar installations that cost 3 times as much per kilowatt hour produced compared to utility-scale installations. (Nor do the utility-scale installations make sense.)
Global Warming and the China Problem The U.S. is responsible for about 14% of world emissions of CO2. China is responsible for twice that, probably more, because, possibly due to corruption, their statistics are not very good. U.S. emissions are slowly declining. That is due to energy efficiency measures and increased use of CO2-light natural gas. China’s emissions are increasing rapidly because its very large population is increasingly using energy and increasingly buying automobiles. China has little natural gas and primarily uses coal and oil for energy.
There are a number of other countries in Asia that are responsible for large CO2 emissions, especially India, another coal burner. Yet, global warming activists seldom mention these countries when they declare CO2 emissions to be a critical problem. They concentrate on the U.S., claiming that it is vital that the U.S. reduce emissions.
Of the CO2 emissions in the U.S., only about a quarter are from electricity generation. Yet most of the emphasis on reducing emissions is focused on electricity generation. Another 30% of U.S. emissions are from cars and trucks. Those emissions could be cut in half simply by demanding higher gas mileage and substituting cheaper, compressed natural gas fuel for gasoline and diesel fuel. But those measures would be politically unpopular since it would directly affect the population by forcing them to use smaller cars and different fuels. The activists don’t give much play to that politically unpopular alternative. Rather they concentrate on turning the electric generation system upside down and hide the cost with massive subsidies for green energy.
The emphasis on the U.S. compared to other countries with a much greater CO2 emissions problem indicates that the movement to reform the electrical grid is more political than scientific. Even though the biggest part of the problem is in Asia, the political activists know that China and India are not going to cut short their development by using less energy. One has to ask what is the point of reducing U.S. emissions if it is a useless gesture in the face of massive emissions from the developing countries of Asia.
Is Global Warming Real? Although there is a kernel of science in the global warming scare, it is primarily a political movement. The problem with science-based scares is that they are greatly beneficial for scientists. If a group of scientists can plausibly launch a science-based scare, they are assured that money will flow their way. Prior to World War II the federal government spent little money to subsidize science. The war changed that. In his 1961 farewell address, president Eisenhower said that he was extremely worried that because science was financed largely by the federal government, that scientists would manipulate science policy to improve their situation. That has happened with global warming. The scientists and their environmental allies make dubious claims such as that all scientists agree that global warming is an extremely dangerous threat. The predictions of the global warming advocates have to be revised on occasion. Recently the National Park Service quietly removed the signs in Glacier National Park that said all the glaciers would vanish by 2020. Indeed, the name of the movement was changed from “global warming” to “climate change” because the globe was failing to warm.
The contradictions in the global warming movement are many. For example, the globe strongly warmed between 1910 and 1940. Nobody knows why that happened, but it is certain that CO2 had nothing to do with it. CO2 emissions were small back then. The globe warmed again from 1975 to 1998. The global warming movement says that that warming is due to CO2, but there is no proof. It could have been caused by the same unknown force that caused the 1910 warming. That warming from 1975 to 1998 was followed by 15 years when the globe failed to warm, even though CO2 was increasing. The evidence suggests that global warming may be a minor problem. On the other hand, increased CO2 in the atmosphere is greatly beneficial for plants, including commercial crops, making them grow better, with less water. Greenhouse operators commonly place CO2 generators in their greenhouses to increase the growth of plants.
Even if you believe earnestly in a looming global warming disaster, the answer is not to build more wind and solar installations. The only real way to cut CO2 emissions on a global scale is nuclear energy. That is backed up by many of the sincerest and best informed promoters of global warming. They agree that nuclear is the answer. James Hansen is a climate scientist, often considered the most important advocate of global warming danger. Michael Shellenberger is the president of the organization Environmental Progress. In an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on April 4, 2019 these two gentlemen wrote: "Anyone seriously interested in preventing dangerous levels of global warming should be advocating nuclear power."
The Real Nuclear Disaster Nuclear power was invented in the United States. We were global leaders until the 1970’s. But the industry in the U.S. has been destroyed by political agitation from environmental groups. The nuclear industry has moved to other countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea and France.
France supplies nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear energy. South Korea supplies 29% of its power from nuclear. In South Korea reactors are built for half as much as in the U.S. The U.S. supplies about 20% of its power from nuclear. But most of the reactors were built many years ago and are reaching end of life.
Nuclear reactors emit no CO2 and no smoke or other pollutants. The fuel for nuclear reactors is very concentrated and very cheap. At recent prices nuclear fuel costs about $7 per megawatt hour; less than half the cost of fuel for the most efficient natural gas or coal plants. Twenty-five tons of nuclear fuel provides the same energy as 3 million tons of coal. Typically, a power reactor only needs to be refueled every 18 months, replacing 1/3 of the fuel at each refueling. Nuclear reactors can pass through disruptions in fuel delivery that cripple traditional plants, continuing to operate for many months without refueling. A coal plant may have enough fuel on hand for 30 days. A natural gas plant will go down when the pipeline goes down.
According to Wikipedia, China has 38 nuclear reactors with 18 units under construction. In the U.S. there are two units under construction, while 34 units have been closed down for good. The illustration below shows nuclear cost escalation during the 1960's and 70's.
There are safety concerns with nuclear. But, the long record with hundreds of operating reactors is very good. Only one serious accident involving the release of significant radiation has taken place. The Soviet, Chernobyl reactor failed spectacularly and caught fire in 1986. That reactor was a product of socialist corner cutting. It had no containment vessel, a standard feature on western reactors. Thirty-one people were killed, and 4,000 people got easily cured thyroid cancer. There were only 9 deaths among the cancer cases. If the Soviets had responded promptly with iodine pills most of the thyroid cancer would have been avoided.
To put this in perspective, thousands of coal miners are killed each year by accidents in countries with poor safety standards. In the U.S. about 35,000 people are killed each year in traffic accidents. In China 260,000 person are killed each year in traffic accidents. In India 235,000 are killed each year in traffic accidents. Every technology has risks and the risk of nuclear power is tolerable.
The most exciting news concerning nuclear is the prospect for new technology. Modular reactors that are built in factories and transported by truck promise to make nuclear cheaper and safer. New generations of reactors have passive cooling systems that prevent meltdown, even if there is no electricity available on site. There are prospects for reactors fueled with thorium, a more plentiful alternative to uranium. Future reactors will burn nuclear waste to make energy. Unfortunately, these new technologies will probably be developed overseas, rather than in the U.S. U.S. reactors are so wrapped in environmental red tape that the industry is paralyzed and dying.
What Should Nevada’s Energy Policy Be? Building more solar or geothermal energy is just stupid. There is no point to it. Natural gas has been and should remain the best solution for generating electricity in Nevada. What should be done with the existing solar and geothermal plants? In many cases the utility, NV Energy is locked into long, high cost, contracts with the suppliers. One possibility is to sell this electricity to California where, so far, they have a great love for renewable energy. Possibly a California utility would take over the contracts. The only problem with this is that PG&E, the most important California utility is in bankruptcy and is threatening to cancel its existing renewable energy contracts. If NV energy can’t get out of these contracts, it may be necessary to continue purchasing this overpriced energy for the next 15 to 25 years. Thankfully it is only 20% of NV Energy’s electricity.
The renewable portfolio law should be repealed and the voters should reject the renewable energy constitutional amendment in the 2020 election. The public utility commission should stop forcing other consumers of electricity to subsidize residential rooftop solar.
Norman Rogers is the author of the book: Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy. See https://dumbenergy.com or Amazon for more information.
 A megawatt hour (MWh) is the amount of energy generated by a million watts of electricity flowing for one hour. A kilowatt hour (kWh), used in residential bills is a unit of energy 1000 times smaller than a megawatt hour.  The cost of CO2 reduction is calculated by assuming the subsidy for solar power, about $50 per megawatt hour, is the cost of reducing the use of natural gas that would be used to generate one megawatt of power in the natural gas plant.  A metric ton, sometimes written tonne, is a thousand kilograms or about 2204 pounds. A ton in traditional units is often called a short ton and weights 2,000 pounds.  The New York Times reported Nov 3, 2015 that China coal burning may be 17% higher than previously reported.  The Wikipedia article “Pro Nuclear Movement” has an extensive list of prominent supporters of nuclear power. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro-nuclear_movement