Op-ed by Beth McKee-Huger
Wanted: reliable, affordable local electricity and a clean path away from expensive pollution.
Comparing our options:
- Capital costs: Coal-fired and gas-fired plants cost millions of dollars. The cost of solar photovoltaic panels and battery storage continues to drop, despite import tariffs.
- Siting, permitting: Coal and gas plants require lengthy permitting because of size and risk. Solar for a property owner’s use can be installed on a roof or over a parking lot; batteries take up little space. Installation is quick and requires only a sign-off from local inspectors and from Duke Energy (for connection to the grid).
- Fuel costs: Miners risk life and health to extract coal and enormous machines remove mountaintops, destroying environments. Rail cars then transport coal from mines to plants to be burned, producing carbon dioxide and coal ash. Fracking to extract gas pumps dangerous chemicals into the ground and leaks methane into the air, 100 times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide. Pipelines, subject to leaks, explosions and terrorists, carry gas to plants to burn, releasing carbon dioxide (though somewhat less than coal). Solar is safely delivered from the sky directly to the consumer for free, with absolutely no clean up.
(While utilities pay the direct cost of coal and gas, the environmental and health damage for extraction and burning is borne primarily by families closest to the mines and plants. Clean-up of coal ash was ignored and then charged to electric customers.)
- Distribution: Utilities deliver electricity to businesses and homes through the grid, with massive towers and miles of cable subject to disruptive outages caused by weather and accidents. Solar feeds directly into the business or home, with excess from sunny days either recharging batteries for use at night or flowing to the grid for a bill credit.
For an expert engineer’s detailed analysis of opportunities for clean energy to transform our environment, mitigate climate change and create new employment, download North Carolina Clean Path 2025 from ncwarn.org/cp25. With only a short time to turn around climate change, he describes what is economically and technologically feasible if we take bold action.