February 13, 2010

Senator Sanders Solar Dream

If my arithmetic is correct, Sen. Sanders plan would cost federal and state governments $271,250,000,000 out-of-pocket for these solar system subsidies. That's $271 Billion of additional government spending, all adding to the deficit for the federal portion of the subsidies and the remainder requiring scarce state tax dollars.

Sanders would have us believe ("This country spends, in a typical year, $350 Billion importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries.") that somehow this solar plan would save us from importing all this oil. That's nonsense. The reality is that a minuscule fraction (less than 1%) of today's U.S. electricity is produced from oil. He mixes all energy sources together on the dubious assumption they are interchangeable.

Solar may have some value to provide electricity for future electric cars if they are charged when the sun shines. Those vehicles will reduce demand for oil by a tiny amount.

The fallacy of his proposal is the implication that baseload electricity needs (the 7x24x365 requirement that's still needed when the sun doesn't shine) can be reduced by adding solar to the mix. At best, some small daytime demand for electricity can be met by solar, but the coal, nuclear, natural gas and hydro plants must remain and operate when the sun does not shine (or the wind does not blow). No effective technology yet exists for storing electricity at the scale required to overcome this basic fact.

If his plan has substantive value, Senator Sanders should clearly explain what portion of today's or tomorrow's U.S. electricity demand will be produced by his plan. Further, he should be asked to explain what portion of baseload generating capacity will no longer be needed if his plan were implemented.
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