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My Turn: Some serious questions in regards to renewable energy

  • ANDREW

  • CUDNOHUFSKY



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Oct. 25, two well-intentioned organizations, Greening Greenfield and The Trap Rock Peace Center, showed the film “Breakthrough in Renewable Energy” at the First Congregational Church. Everyone would be wise to watch this film, which you can for free on YouTube.

Backlight VPRO, a Dutch film company, produced the film in 2016. On its website, the film is described as “something between a story and journalism.” A story it is. Journalism? Questionable.

The major focus of “Breakthrough” is a celebration of the significantly reduced monetary cost of producing solar arrays and industrial wind turbines that now makes possible an enticing investment opportunity for the world’s hedge funds and billionaires.

We would ask: At what expense to the earth, the climate and the rest of us?

Alternating between billionaire investors (excited by the prospect of increased wealth), immaculate Chinese factories manufacturing increasing numbers of pristine solar arrays, and images of miles and miles of countryside covered in massive solar arrays, the public is encouraged to be thrilled that now, at last, the price of solar panels (and incidentally industrial wind turbines) will be affordable, allowing us to contemplate vast numbers, particularly of solar panels, being manufactured and installed, claiming this will save us from increasing our impact on the climate.

Given the focus of the film, it seems worth noting that the co-anchors and principal narrators of “Breakthrough” are Michael Eckhart and Michael Lebreich.

Lebreich is the founder of New Energy Finance, chairs the selection committee for the Bloomberg New Energy Pioneers, and was founder and CEO as well as Chairman of the Advisory Board Bloomberg New Energy Finance — named “the world’s leading provider of research for senior decision-makers in clean energy and transportation.”

Michael Eckhart, currently Managing Director of Institutional Clients Group at Citigroup, works with Citi’s corporate, investment, public and private sector clients to better understand their challenges and objectives related to environmental matters while taking advantage of market opportunities. Eckhart served as the president of Solar International Management, Inc., was the founding president and a Director of the American Council On Renewable Energy, was co-head of the North American Secretariat of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership. (ACORE) — a Washington D.C. nonprofit think tank. ACORE, American Council On Renewable Energy, is a national organization dedicated to advancing the renewable energy sector through market development, policy changes, and financial innovation and was prominent in producing and scripting this film.

It is thus no surprise that the film celebrates the ‘breakthrough’ in cost that will attract hedge funds and billionaire investors to the prospect of thirty percent and greater annual profits — profits that will be brought about by the significantly lower cost of ‘renewables.’ The film makers conveniently exclude the cost to the public of twenty-plus years of energy subsidies, investor accelerated tax write offs, cost of necessary grid upgrades and installation and maintenance, cost of battery storage (brazenly stated as only 5 cents per KW), cost of and the need for redundant 100 percent back up generation sources and the resulting pollution, cost of curtailed energy production (guaranteed payment even if the energy is not consumed), and cost of required new transmission lines. Environmental and human impacts are not considered.

Those featured in the film, along with co-narrators Eckhart and Liebreich, appear to see themselves and their peers as financial masterminds and clever investors supporting the transition from fossil fuel to “clean energy.”

T. Boone Pickens, among our illustrious billionaires and one-time investor in wind power, found himself peddling nearly 300 wind machines at a deep discount. Pickens’ de-investment in wind power is not mentioned.

Warren Buffet is cited as the litmus proof of wise investing in wind and solar. Not mentioned is the only reason Buffet does invest in solar and wind — the generous and guaranteed subsidies. Otherwise, he says, “… they make absolutely no sense.”

If the visuals in this film (and our own research) are any indication, enormous tracts of forest and field are, and will be, covered in solar arrays, every ridge turned into a super highway paved with industrial wind turbines. Giddy business projections and goals will produce and cover even more fields and ridge lines around the globe.

Questionably a documentary, this appears to be an industry film specifically designed to promote financial investment and, indirectly, public support for private investment in the euphemistically labeled “renewable” technologies. As online comments about “Breakthrough” suggest, there are viewers who see this film as corporate and hedge fund/investor propaganda.

There is no cradle to grave analysis. No mention of the impact of mining or diminishing resources, the impact on land use, forest removal. Nor the cultural, fiscal, aesthetic impacts. Nor impact on the air, the environment, or climate. In spite of claims to the contrary, these measurable costs are not anywhere included on the balance sheet of these promoters. Investors are enticed (and the public encouraged) by the possibility of expanding profits conveniently covered with a self-described “green” mantle.

The film implies that investing in solar arrays/panels and industrial wind turbines will reduce our impact on the climate. The reality is that this film does not for a second make a solid factually based case for either solar or wind technology as a viable sustainable solution to our overly consumptive energy use. It does, however, further deceive the public by supporting the illusion that we can go on as usual with an increasing appetite for energy. If this were true, we would certainly celebrate.

Reduce our impact on the earth, the climate? It will have to be magic. Or, like magic and illusion, the truth is hidden.

Not once mentioned are some very inconvenient facts. CO2 is not the only gas that impacts our climate. In fact, several are considerably more harmful than CO2. Methane: released via hydro-fracking and the melting perma-frost due to warmer temperatures, and through hydro-fracking (in the hope of maintaining current demand/use of oil and gas), an ever increasing U.S. military, industrial farming, and non-regenerative agriculture practices. All contribute methane.

And then there are the even more harmful gasses released via mining and manufacture of solar arrays/panels:

C2F6: 12,000 times more potent than CO2, is 100 percent manufactured by humans, and survives 10,000 years when released into the atmosphere.

NF2: 17,000 times more virulent than CO2

SF6: 25,000 times more threatening than CO2

Abengoa Solar, featured in the film, covers a 2,471 acres of former agricultural fields outside Seville, Spain and claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. Is this really possible, given the mining and manufacturing that is required to produce and install the 154 silicon plate heliostats, the two 40-story high concrete towers?

Included but not featured, the reduced cost of industrial wind turbines will also allow investors to consider the potential for profits. No mention, however, of the resources required for one 3mw wind turbine: 335 tons of steel, 4.7 tons of copper, 1,200 tons of concrete, 3 tons of aluminum, 2 tons of aluminum, zinc, molybdenum.

All must be mined, transported, and/or manufactured. Each will affect the environment and the climate. All are diminishing resources. As resources become scarce, will there be more covert or overt wars?

The increasing collection of data worldwide indicates that industrial wind turbines and solar arrays/panels have not brought about the much hoped for reduction in CO2.

If the collective release of CO2 by industrial countries is caused in large part by our current demand for and use of energy through de-forestation, industrial farming, transportation, excessive consumption, and the ever expanding military, one might reasonably ask: “How will massive expansion of the mining, manufacture, transport, installation, repair, maintenance, decommissioning, waste stream and replacement (around every 20 years) of so many solar arrays and industrial wind turbines reduce CO2? And our impact on the climate?”

Investors in the film are induced by the prospect of profits to be gained. Profits for investors, but at what cost to the environment and humanity?

Are we wise to celebrate investors’ interest and the reduced monetary cost of so-called ‘renewables’ with ample evidence of rising costs to ratepayers, the need for subsidies at tax payer expense, and absent any credible proof of mitigating climate chaos?

What if investments, without the profit motive, were instead made in conversion to regenerative agriculture that sequesters CO2 while producing healthy food? Energy conservation and maximizing solar gain in all homes and buildings? Planting trees for shade in summer and CO2 absorption? Mini-buses in rural communities for transporting children to and from school, citizens to and from work? Re-localization of food supply including dairy products? Weekly delivery, and the re-use of glass milk bottles, crocks for butter?

Remember when we wound our watches and clocks? When simplicity of life was a goal?

Many, understandably, wish for a continuation of life as it is or as hoped for, perhaps including modest changes, embracing renewables, solar farms, wind farms.

If solar arrays and industrial wind turbines are not the answer, what is?

This does not exclude a more vigorous exploration of ways to use both the sun and wind in passive architectural design and broader planning.

There is much agreement that ongoing conservation is essential. There is also strong and encouraging evidence that replacing factory farming with regenerative agriculture that sequesters CO2 would have many positive outcomes. Re-localization as a means of reducing the need to transport goods and adoption of solutions particularly suited to specific locales. Redesigning cities for walking, biking with more trees and green spaces. Most challenging: Consideration of a significant reduction in the military, probable redesign of our system of governance and methods of decision making.

Massachusetts state legislators, with broad public support, are promoting 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Serious questions need to be raised.

As a start, we believe there is good reason to question the validity of “The Breakthrough in Renewable Energy.”

Deborah Andrew and Walter Cudnohufsky are members of Citizens for a Wise Energy Policy and hail from Franklin County.