Originally published at The Grande Junction Daily Sentinel on December 11, 2022.
In the ’70s, it all seemed so simple. President Carter issued a proclamation declaring the sun “an inexhaustible source of clean energy.” A joint resolution of Congress predicted that “the development of solar technologies will provide an abundant, economical, safe, and environmentally compatible energy supply.” Robert Redford assured Americans that “the sun will always work” and “never increase its price on a heating bill.”
But nearly 50 later, solar’s failure is blindingly clear. The Southwest Public Policy Institute recently explored the contribution sunshine makes to utility-scale electricity generation in the eight states we study: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. What we found was jarring.
In the Southwest, solar generates a mere 6.4 percent of utility-scale power. That’s despite the region enjoying the sunniest skies in America. While it wasn’t surprising that California (16.7 percent) and Nevada (14.4 percent) had the heaviest solar shares, the dropoff for the remaining states was profound: Utah (8.1 percent), Arizona (5.5 percent), New Mexico (5.0 percent), Texas (3.1 percent), and Colorado (3.0 percent). Coming in last—and by a country mile—was the Sooner State, at a miniscule 0.1 percent.
This tremendous failure is all the more perplexing, when one considers the massive level of government support that has flowed the solar industry’s way since the era of Annie Hall, the Bee Gees, and the Star Wars Holiday Special. In 2012, an audit by the Government Accountability Office found that federal agencies oversaw hundreds of “initiatives that support solar energy across the four key federal roles” of R&D, “fleets and facilities,” “commercialization and deployment,” and “regulation, permitting, and compliance.” For decades, wildly generous tax credits have been offered at the federal and state levels. And in the late 1990s, lawmakers began to adopt renewable portfolio standards, which require power suppliers to generate or purchase “green” electricity. In Arizona, 15 percent of power must be politically correct by 2025. In Nevada, the rule is 50 percent by 2030. And in New Mexico, all electricity is mandated to be “zero carbon” by 2045.
Enjoying both free fuel and government-conferred advantages, the solar industry should dominate the Southwest. Yet it doesn’t.
The problem is, essentially, fundamental. As the Institute for Energy Research noted, sunlight is “relatively weak because it must first pass through the atmosphere, which protects the Earth from the sun’s intensity.” A 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described the solar radiation that reaches us as suffering from “low energy density.”
And that’s when it is around. Intermittency, in journalist Robert Bryce’s opinion, is a “killer drawback” for solar: “Lower power output on cloudy days and during the winter—and zero output at night—means that solar power facilities must be paired with expensive batteries or conventional power plants in order to prevent blackouts or brownouts.” (Unfortunately, as a new study by the Global Warming Policy Foundation concluded, the “energy storage problem is enormous, it is critical, and it is far from being solved.”)
Then there’s the NIMBYs. Utility-scale solar, in community after community, faces resistance from locals. Last month, the Roswell Daily Record reported that a New Mexico regulatory agency “voted against three proposed [solar] projects after hearing objections from county residents.” Issues raised included fencing that “will deter from scenic views and hurt property values” and “concerns that the panels contain hazardous substances.” According to The Durango Herald, residents near Hesperus, Colorado have banded together to fight a photovoltaic project, worried about “water runoff” and “direct loss of 1,900 acres of elk habitat.”
Solar is inefficient, unreliable, and—when all costs are considered—expensive. Even many “greens” oppose it, when a facility is sited in their neighborhoods.
Solar is a bust, even in the sun-drenched Southwest. If it can’t make it here, it can’t make it anywhere.
6 replies on “Solar in the Southwest: A Bright Shining Disappointment”
Spent a month in Pittsburgh a few years ago and it seemed the sky was gray every day.
Once again progressive people jump right in on something, turning into a failure. Technology is a great thing, however, there are a few, significant steps to follow prior to jumping in. Testing is a big one! Now days, modeling is the answer all testing; if it works in the model it will work when implemented. Not true! Modeling can not cover all the situations or be exact on anything. Modeling was developed to get you closer to a final product by not the final product. So, we hear, a lot, the model says this or that, but the reality of the situation it doesn’t happen. NM just shut down the San Juan power plant, based on the ability of wind and solar to pick up the load. But the evidence and real science of the thought doesn’t agree with the assumption! There isn’t going to be enough energy to support ALL electric. Europe has fallen for this misleading information and are now re-firing coal generation plants for more power. The have figured out the myth of fossil fuels is just a myth! Studies, testing, and actually evaluations are necessary prior to implementing anything! As for NM, we are going to be in a “catch up” mode once brown out and power outage start occurring. Not to mention the supposed saving we are supposed to be getting! Energy prices have soared! it’s higher now than when we had fossil fuels, with all this fancy new technological stuff, supposedly to make it easier, safer and cheaper!
You can’t fix stupid. Proof that the green movement is a non starter is it’s refusal to embrace nuclear power. No way to get to zero carbon without nuclear power . The problem in NM is compounded by single party Democrat rule. The last time Republicans held a majority in both houses of the state legislature at the same time was 1930 , and the last time they held a majority on the state Supreme Court was in the 1920s.
I’ve looked. Can’t find any other stuff like this so it’s not carrying much weight with me. If anyone one has links to articles about solar farms anywhere producing little power show it. I can use that information.
Not gonna happen overnight. I got solar 10 years ago. Paid for itself 5 years ago and I get free energy for the next ~30 years for my car and my house. Best decision I’ve made.
I am also wondering what the life span of the typical solar panel is & where will we dispose of the no longer useable panels. Will they be a hazard to the environment? I don’t think we can just toss them in the nearest landfill & wash our hands of them. Or do we just leave them on our houses like all of the old panels from the 80’s or on all of these sections of land & destroy grazing. If panels paid for themselves in 5 years & they are now 10 years old, will they need to be replaced soon? Not too sure that their life expectancy is for an additional 30 years without some major additional investment. I believe there is a place for solar, probably in an area where there is no transmission lines & it would be too costly to bring them in at this point. But as an end all replacement for fossil fuels, I don’t think so.