November 25, 2012
One Solar Array, with PropagandaBy Phil Shannon
It appears that some of the folks working at the Town Hall in Carver, Massachusetts are committed to making Carver into "the solar capital of New England". I'm going to demonstrate how they have used propaganda -- in the classic sense of falsifying and manipulating information -- to help move this effort forward.
After they decided that wind isn't a good option for this location, they considered solar. It was determined that the best place for a solar array wasn't on this property, but next to it on a south-facing slope of highway Route 44. Building the array there required an easement from the state Department of Transportation, which was received in 2009.
The original price estimate given for this project was close to $1 million. Carver received a $150,000 grant from the ARRA ("stimulus") Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program. Even with the grant in hand, and a site ready for the array, it took several years to find a developer willing to take on the project.
The first developer that was selected was a company called Greenbridge Solar. They backed out in 2009, after long negotiations with the town. Next up was Waterline Industries, who were able to get the town to sign a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) in 2011. Within weeks of securing the PPA, Waterline withdrew from the project due to financial considerations.
This solar array finally went online in Carver this August, four years after the discussions began. It is a 99 kilowatt array of more than 300 solar panels, built by Solare America on state-owned land along Route 44. This array will supply electricity for the North Carver Water District system, at rates predetermined in the PPA, with the monthly payments going to Solare America for 20 years.
On August 29th 2012, an article titled "Carver welcomes highway solar array" (by Richard Knox) appeared in the Boston Globe. This is where I first noticed the following statement, attributed to Town Planner Jack Hunter:
"For Carver, the renewable power supply will save about $3,000 a month in electricity costs, Hunter said."
For such a small solar array, the possibility of the town saving $36,000 a year seems amazing. But on further review, it's not even close to being accurate. Carvers' renewable energy "consultant", Glen Berkowitz, provided a range for potential savings, to the Board of Selectmen in Nov 2011. As reported by Brittany Burrows of the Carver Reporter:
"He also answered some more questions on how much the town would save over the next 20 years, giving the board a range from $4,000 to $60,000 depending on how much the price of electricity increases."
But according to the towns' own calculations, the actual savings related to this array could average just over $3,000 a year. And we won't be saving more than $3,000 in any year until 2021, based on their own energy price predictions.
Jack Hunter and Sarah Hewins have been among the biggest proponents of solar energy in town. I found the same factually deficient claim printed in Carver Selectman Sarah Hewins' newsletter,on September 01, 2012. That the same misleading quote would be attributed to them both, is no coincidence to me.
Also reported in the Boston Globe article is another misleading statement from Selectman Hewins, who was commenting on the Route 44 solar array:
"Every bit of renewable and alternative energy we use is that much less dependence on foreign oil."
What connection could a relatively small solar array in Carver have to foreign oil? Paul McMorrow reported on the state's electricity generating industry in 2012, in Commonwealth Magazine:
"The high cost of petroleum has virtually eliminated oil-fired electricity in Massachusetts."
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 99% of the electricity generated in Massachusetts came from sources other than oil (in 2010). Where are we burning "foreign oil" to produce electricity here in Massachusetts?
Only one of the top ten (total capacity) power plants in this state is powered by oil. This is the GenOn Canal power plant, which is located in Sandwich, Massachusetts. Over the years, as the price of oil has increased, the production at GenOn Canal has been decreasing.
"The number of days that the canal plant was operational in 2011 was significantly lower than in years prior... -- Paige M. Kane, GenOn"
With the cost of oil as high as it's been (and continues to be), plus infrastructure upgrades to the lower Southeastern Mass. region (Lower SEMA) that NStar has been making, GenOn Canals' future is in serious doubt.
In case you still aren't convinced that we don't rely on "foreign oil" for electricity in Carver, I present one additional graphic for your review. This indicates that we aren't using foreign oil in Carver, in Massachusetts, and all of New England.
ISO-New England oversees the operation of New England's bulk electric power system and transmission lines. The following graphic shows the percentage of the New England region's total energy, at the start of the most recent three decades:
Based on the facts that I have presented to you, I believe that the Route 44 solar array isn't helping to make anyone less dependent on "foreign oil". In Carver, in Massachusetts, and in New England, our primary electricity sources are clean-burning domestic natural gas and nuclear power.
Public officials should never use propaganda to prop up special interests, or to distract from the truth. Doing so erodes the public trust, and lying to the people that you are supposed to represent is ugly. Public trust is built like an ancient tower, slowly and systematically, stone by stone. These towers, no matter how old or how tall, can be easily destroyed. Lies, misrepresentations, and distortions weaken the tower by taking stones from the bottom, thus eroding the very foundation that it was built upon.
Phil Shannon blogs with the watchdogs of Carver
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