Our legislators in North Carolina are debating whether to continue a state solar energy tax credit that has helped fuel our growth in solar power. NC is now the fourth most prolific state in solar energy. The solar boom has also helped with job creation, which is often used to support the arguments for fossil fuel. Yet, with this debate comes the argument we should be agnostic to the energy method and let the market gravitate to the cheaper approach.
I have a couple of thoughts on this. First, the cost of solar production has continued to decline along with its expansion, and will actually rival the cost of fossil fuel energy production. I have read that a cross-over point is 2018. I find that very exciting, as when that occurs, the cost on a production basis, may favor this renewable energy source.
Second, the above speaks to a comparison of production costs. I have long believed that a true cost comparison has yet to be done which will show the comparative costs of energy options. What has happened with major coal ash spills is a good metaphor as any for what I am talking about. When the residual costs over the lifetime of the energy source are factored in, the cost of using the cheaper production source, may be the more costly source.
A few costs to consider in this equation are as follows – the cost to clean up messes caused by the energy source (coal ash spills, oil spills, e.g.), the added healthcare costs due to a more polluted environment, the cost of water utilization, the costs of environmental degradation, the lawsuits due to the economic havoc wreaked on people and their land, etc. The bad part about this equation is the costs are borne by different people. Oftentimes, the developers get in and out with their profits, leaving the added costs for others. So, often we taxpayers or utility customers are left holding the bag.
Yet, the biggest risk is how much water must we use for each source. The cost of water utilization is one factor, but the threat of running out of a dear water supply is the greater risk. This is not a pie in the sky concern, as water loss from our water supplies are factored into models for utilities like Duke Energy.
So, let’s look at the real cost of energy production, not just the current cost. My hypothesis is we may be pleasantly surprised that the cheaper cost is the one best for us and our health. With climate change and water utilization being major concerns, I would strongly argue the need to incent the migration to more healthful and environmentally sound renewable energy