Misguided Solar Farm | Guest Column

The problem with the Bailer Hill solar farm is the technology and not the location. Solar energy lacks sufficient energy density to power a modern economy. Since it takes energy to make energy, energy output to energy input ratios best describe energy densities. For carbohydrate energy that existed before the Industrial Revolution, the ratio was four. With a ratio of 30, fossil fuels powered the Industrial Revolution and provided 26 additional energy units to create more goods, increase gross domestic product, and raise living standards. Nuclear energy has the highest ratio of 100 and the greatest energy potential to raise living standards. With a ratio of four, solar energy entails a regression to preindustrial living standards. With a 4 ratio, solar energy cannot cover depreciation and guarantees economic decline.

Thirty years ago, a colleague at the University of California at San Diego and I, concluded the world would need to make a Faustian choice between nuclear power with long-lived nucleotides and fossil fuels with CO2 emissions. Today, that conclusion seems prescient. Ford and General Motors closed their EV assembly lines and terminated EV employees as unsold EVs filled dealer lots. Only rich environmentalists bought Teslas as political statements. Workers and commuters relied on gasoline automobiles without the charging and range limitations of EVs. As the Petri dishes of renewable power, California and Germany demonstrate renewable failure with the highest electricity prices in the world, insufficient power for summer cooling, and insufficient power for winter heating. In desperation, California hypocritically halted the closure of its two remaining nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and relicensed them for further use.

A nuclear renaissance grips the world. Aside from Diablo Canyon, the Palisades reactor was refurbished, and six other near-death reactors are under relicensing review. The Biden administration now subsidizes nuclear reactors and uranium mining. The US and twelve other nations agreed to triple installed nuclear capacity by 2050. In Europe, only Spain and Germany continue reactor closings. Chinese policy builds 10 reactors a year until 2050. The UAE recently installed 4 reactors. Saudi Arabia plans 16 reactors. Japan plans to reopen all the reactors it closed after Fukushima. With its existing reactors, India plans vast expansion.

The proponents of the Bailer Hill solar farm lack any knowledge of appropriate energy policy and resemble children reading McGuffey Readers. The proponents also lack any knowledge of the economic concept of externalities or the unpaid costs of operation or production. In the Bailer Hill solar farm, the externalities are the diminished views and the associated diminished property values. Will OPALCO compensate affected neighbors for decreased property values? Will San Juan County reduce the corresponding property taxes? For simple fairness and for theft elimination, those compensations are mandatory. Those compensations are also in compliance with economic theory elucidated in “The Problem of Social Cost” by Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase.

John Drake

Friday Harbor