since the back-to-nature administration of Gov. Jerry Brown,
politicians of both political parties have boasted that
"California leads the way" in environmentally
sensitive policies. One of the linchpins of these policies
has been to actively discourage the construction of conventional
power plants in California, preferring such trendy alternatives
as "solar power," the direct conversion of sunlight to
electricity through photovoltaic panels.
the energy shortage has intensified, so too has the commitment
to solar power. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is
considering a $100 million bond to build a photovoltaic
generator for the city. California already offers to subsidize
half the cost of household solar panels, and $50 million of
additional subsidies was recently approved overwhelmingly by the
first glance, the advantages of photovoltaics are intriguing. Modern
solar panels use a fuel that is inexhaustible and costs exactly
nothing. It is not necessary to store the power for
evening use: home rooftop photovoltaic panels can pump
electricity into the grid during the day when most people are
not at home, run the meter backwards and cancel out the cost of
drawing from the grid in the evening hours.
advantages like these, one wonders what took the San Francisco
Board of Supervisors so long to think of it - and why the world,
or at least California, hasn't "gone solar."
Photovoltaic technology has been around since its discovery by
Edmond Becquerel in 1839. After many years of intense
solar subsidies, less than two one hundredths of one percent of
California's power is produced by photovoltaics. What's
wrong with this picture?
all the solar exuberance, politicians would do well to heed the
old maxim, "When it sounds too good to be true, it probably
first the production cost. The cheapest photovoltaic
panels cost $6,000 per kilowatt to manufacture, producing peak
power for about one fifth of the day under average conditions.
Thus, to replace the 52.8 gigawatt-hours daily output of the
single nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon would cost about $66
billion - enough to build 13 Diablo Canyons, or 22 comparable
nuclear plants with today's technology. Just
to recoup the material costs would require 26.8-cents per
kilowatt-hour over the 25-year life of the facility. This
compares poorly to the 3-cent per kilowatt-hour that nuclear
power now costs for construction, operations, maintenance and
that doesn't include land costs. A modern photovoltaic
panel produces about 10 watts of peak power per square foot
under average conditions. Replacing
Diablo Canyon would require 35.9 square miles of solid solar
comparisons aren't fair, say the solar enthusiasts. Solar
cells can be distributed among rooftops, producing all the power
that homes would need. Never mind that solar panels don't
work in the shade and that shading is a major factor in reducing
air conditioning needs. An average home consumes about 19 kilowatt-hours of
electricity each day. To
meet this demand would require a peak capacity of 4 kilowatts of
solar panels, at an initial cost of $24,000. At six percent
interest, that homeowner would pay $154 per month, for the
25-year useful life of the panels or roughly twice the current
average monthly electricity bill.
then, are homeowners purchasing them? Because solar panels
are heavily subsidized with taxes, which hides their true cost.
Even with 50 percent subsidies, the best that solar panels can
do is to match the cost of today's expensive electricity.
And the comparison is illusory, since it would require roughly
$100 billion in new taxes to provide such a subsidy to every
family in the state.
energy has taken great strides in efficiencies in the last ten
years, but then again, so have nuclear power and many other
the industry's progress continues, someday the economics of
solar energy may pencil out. But at this moment in
history, it doesn't.
great tragedy is that politicians routinely tout the solar
option as the cure for the state's electricity shortage.
It is the same tragedy created when quackery diverts seriously
ill patients from proven remedies until it is too late to save
them. The precious time since the electricity crisis
became obvious last year has been squandered with such solar
sophistries, and summer now approaches with no time left to
build the conventional power plants to meet the demand.
Impeach Gray Davis
Senator Tom McClintock represents the 19th State Senate District
in the California Legislature. His website address is www.sen.ca.gov/mcclintock.
can e-mail him at Senator.McClintock@sen.ca.gov.
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