Monday, September 21, 2009

Not all solar-electric systems require transmission lines

Dear Christopher Martin and Mario Parker,

Your misrepresentation occurs because you do not clarify “from remote areas,” meaning that the wind or solar requires transmission lines. Caveat: not all solar systems require transmission lines.

Most solar-electric systems are localized, meaning each home or business powers itself with rooftop panels that feed into the individual building’s meter. Therefore there is no transmission line needed.

On the other hand, solar-thermal electric systems, usually installed in the desert, do need transmission lines. Large-scale solar-electric systems in “remote areas” would also need transmission lines.

All of these statements from your reported story misrepresent the reality of solar electricity:

–”A new solar-power facility costs three times as much as a coal-fired plant of the same size, the Energy Department estimates.”

* A solar-electric system on an individual home or office saves money, especially if leasing the solar system. Grid electricity prices continue to rise, but using a solar-electric system effectively puts a cap on the cost of running one’s home or business. You should have also mentioned that there is an environmental cost to burning coal–rising sea levels, flooding coastal areas, etc.

–”Regulators don’t know when additional wind and solar power would disrupt service.”

* A solar-electric system on an individual home or office does not disrupt electric service to the respective home or office. In California, the meter swings both ways: excess solar electricity spins the meter backward to build up credits on the customer’s account; the credits can be used later as debits. A solar-electric system on an individual home or office does not disrupt electric service to the grid either.

–”The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit group based in Princeton, New Jersey that oversees power systems serving 334 million people, said in an April report that grid monitoring must be improved to add wind and solar power without harming reliability.”

* A solar-electric system on an individual home or office does not harm reliability of electric service.

Once again, for accuracy’s sake, all of these statements need clarification that the solar or wind power is coming “from remote areas,” and therefore would require transmission lines.

Your story is about “Transmission lines,” however you do not make that explicit. Your headline especially confuses the issue of solar electricity’s very reliable and economical potential to produce CO2-free power (without any hazardous byproduct, like the kind left behind by nuclear energy).

Nowhere in your reporting do you two denote that there is an economical solar-electric solution that does not require transmission lines. That is a very important distinction for those of us who already use solar electricity and are saving money by doing so.

Thank you very much for your attention to detail and your efforts to get accurate information to the public. The Press performs an essential function in our democratic society; it’s not mentioned in the First Amendment to our Constitution for nothing. Now please take more care from here on out, and exercise your awesome power to report facts and evidence to the public with more diligence and clarity.

Your Fellow American,

Justin Bass

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