Axing Trees to Build Solar Farms
If wind and solar projects make profound sense, why then would they need government subsidies and mandates? Even beyond the costs of inefficient power production, James Freeman notes, “There’s a question of whether alternative-energy cheerleaders yet have a handle on the environmental impact of their projects. It seems that there is still no free lunch and that every method of producing electricity carries costs and benefits.”
As an example, Mr. Freeman looks to solar farms, where large swaths of vegetation are removed, affecting more than the wildlife and insects that used to reside there.
From the Sun Chronicle (Plansville, Mass.), Scott Peterson reports that numerous homes in town have for months have been experiencing their yards and basements flooded by rainwater flowing down a hill from land where a solar farm is being built…
The flooding has been going on since last summer after trees were cleared from the site to make way for the solar panels.
A tearful Karen Host of Berry Street said about 3 feet of water flooded the finished basement of her home and the damage isn’t being covered by insurance. The fire department had to pump out her basement, and firefighters returned a few days later for their hoses and pumps and water was still pouring out, it was noted…
Niagara Falls in Your Backyard?
“My backyard was a swimming pool,” she said, adding she expected more basement flooding from Wednesday’s rain…
Gary Lewicki of Berry Street said his pump couldn’t keep up with the water. “I’ve had enough,” Lewicki said, adding he is facing cleanup bills and taking time out of work. “It was a waterfall, Niagara Falls.”
Steven Rose of Barry Street told the Sun Chronicle he had to dig a ditch to divert water in pouring rain. “You can’t take down that many trees,” he argues. The trees acted like a sponge for rainwater. Rose fears mold problems and mold’s related issues. “People are going to get sick.”
Not Just in Plansville
True, Mr. Freeman agrees, what happened in Plansville is not going to happen to everybody who lives near a solar farm.
But even if it’s a small risk, one would hope that on the other side of the equation would be cheap, reliable power. But we’re talking about solar energy.
Greg Moran reported for the San Diego Union-Tribune:
A San Diego Superior Court jury awarded two landowners in Valley Center $6.5 million in damages they suffered from the construction of a solar farm on adjacent property, which altered the landscape and caused flooding damage to their land.
From the EPA:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Justice Department today announced that Swinerton Builders has agreed to pay a $2.3 million penalty – divided between the United States, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and State of Illinois – to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act and related state laws during the construction of solar farms in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois.
It would be easy to dismiss all these stories as purely antidotal, but as “the great” Peter Hubbard of the Manhattan Institute explains, sunlight at 93 million miles (away) is not as intense, for example, as in a barrel of oil. (L)arge-scale solar production, warns Mr. Freeman, naturally will demand an enormous geographical footprint. That lack of solar intensity also explains why, “despite decades of political favoritism, solar power just can’t quite seem to reach economic viability.”
Well, Mr. Freeman, let’s not go with acres of vegetation-free solar farms. How about rooftop solar panels?
Where’d the Subsidies Go?
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial noted:
California’s rooftop solar industry has benefited for years from government subsidies that offset homeowner and business installation costs. The state mandates rooftop solar on new homes, and a state net metering program rebates homeowners for excess power that they generate and remit to the grid.
The rebate for many years was up to two to three times more than the wholesale price of electricity…
Enter energy reality. In December 2022, the state Public Utilities Commission voted to reduce compensation for excess solar power sent to the grid by about 75% for new rooftop customers to match the value of their exported electricity to the grid… the subsidy taper is causing withdrawal pains.
Despite the Inflation Reduction Act’s sweetened solar subsidies, California’s solar and storage industry claims that the state subsidy decline cost 17,000 jobs last year as installation applications fell by 80%. Solar Insure recently told pv magazine USA that 75% of solar installers are at “high-risk” of failing.
“We have seen a wave of recent solar installer bankruptcies,” said Solar Insure CEO Ara Agopian.