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A convenient untruth 

Renewable energy is only a part-time solution

Our local Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham is proposing legislation to have nuclear power listed as a "renewable" energy source. It is rare and impressive to see a local politician with the strength and courage to swim against the relentless, California anti-nuclear riptide; to actually consider the senseless, disastrous effects that the closure will have on his constituency and the environment; and to show some regard for the benefits that Diablo Canyon Power Plant and nuclear power have bestowed upon our community and our fair state over decades. In fact, I am moved enough to consider giving him my vote, and I have not voted for a Republican since Teddy Roosevelt.

On the other hand, there is a chance that being a "renewable" could further tarnish nuclear power's already distorted and unfair reputation. After all, the majority of renewable production is non-dispatchable, meaning it is unreliable and only available part of the time, while other renewables involve burning things, which is hardly in the spirit of cutting carbon emissions. Let's face the facts. If we are ever going to be able to face up to the existential threat of climate change, we are going to have to change our ways. We have to find another path, and, most importantly, we have to choose the right path. The sad fact is the current renewable energy path, embodied in the Green New Deal and volumes of California legislation, simply will not work because part-time resources can only do part of the job.

Solar power is great stuff: converting energy directly from the sun into useful electricity. The problem is that the sun can only produce that electricity about a third of the time and even less in the winter. Wind is slightly more flexible as it can produce power at varying levels around the clock; if the wind is blowing, of course, and depending on how hard it is blowing. There is some talk of storing up renewable power for use when it cannot be produced, which is most of the time, but so far, it is all talk. Besides, when and if an efficient means of storing solar and wind power is ever developed, its implementation will gobble up massive amounts of already strained resources and easily multiply the costs of solar and wind power production to the point that they will become far too expensive, and something else will end up providing the power. That something else will be fossil fuels by default. It happened after San Onofre, it happened in Germany, and it will happen here.

The other issue is that without storage, wind and solar are only useful up to the point of maximum demand at the time they are produced. After that, any expansion of wind and solar capacity is essentially wasted, or even worse than wasted considering the needless consumption of resources that will end up producing little or nothing. There are now strong signs that in California wind and solar are fast approaching their maximum efficient level of production. Beyond that point, continued subsidies for expansion of wind and solar capacity will be a waste of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, and efforts like community choice energy rendered inane and useless, since they will have absolutely no effect on the power mix, which will continue to fall back on fossil fuels.

Good people have been led to believe that wind and solar are the answer to our future, and that unlimited expansion of their capacity can provide all of our future energy needs. The great former pediatrician turned self-appointed energy guru Helen Caldicott once stated that 100 square miles of solar panels could power the world. Maybe so, if the sun should start shining directly over the 100 square miles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not bloody likely. The truth is, the idea that wind and solar are the only answer is pure delusion.

Yet the media and environmental groups eagerly propagate this delusion. Some established environmental groups do so because they are encouraged to by fossil-fuel donations, and fossil-fuel companies buy a lot of media advertising. The California Democratic Party has embraced the delusion because it allows them to collect campaign contributions from both fossil-fuel interests and renewable interests. The delusion is useful because it preys on the average person's fear for the future, and embracing the delusion gives people comfort that there is hope, and that they can do their part by paying only for clean energy (except nuclear). That way they can relax and focus on consuming more stuff.

The fact is that wind and solar are, and always will be, only a part of the solution. The only other proven feasible, round-the-clock, non-carbon-emitting power production possibility is nuclear power. So, why then are we closing Diablo Canyon? Because we have fallen for the delusions of the likes of Helen Caldicott and anti-nuclear hysterics, the self-interest of established environmental groups, and the greed and hypocrisy of the California Democratic Party. The Green New Deal is a delusion: a convenient untruth.

Ultimately, should we continue on the present path, the only ones to really benefit will be the fossil-fuel interests and renewables contractors. Do you really think that will be a mere coincidence? We all need to wake up. Δ

Mark Henry writes from San Luis Obispo. Send comments to through clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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