Dispatchable. It’s a word that legislators in St. Paul should keep in mind as they debate a 100 percent renewable energy mandate by 2050. They should pay attention to the experience of some of their constituents just a few weeks ago. In late January, Xcel Energy notified their customers to drop their thermostats to 60 degrees due to the cold weather and strain on their system. Due to the weather, wind and solar were not available so the demand on natural gas made dispatching power difficult.

The lessons learned during our recent cold snap should take some wind out the sails of those pushing away from traditional, carbon-based energy sources. The recent experience shows that the claim that renewables will be available during extreme heat or cold are false. But the green pull is strong.

The 100 percent renewable mandate is not workable, the technology is not available. But, in pursuit of the green goal, politicians, regulators and utility companies are making decisions that have real consequences, impacting consumers, especially the elderly. The electric grid must have reliable power from coal, natural gas or nuclear sources. These sources are dispatchable, meaning the power is available when needed within the grid. When it is 30 below and the wind isn’t blowing, it will be coal and natural gas keeping you warm.

To be clear, the push to replace coal, natural gas and nuclear with wind and solar is not about the environment. It was reported in the Washington Post that Georgetown University has cleared 210 acres of trees in rural Maryland to house a solar panel project. So, for the university to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) they cut down 210 acres of trees, trees that were removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Green logic.

It gets worse, in rural Virginia, 3,500 acres of woodlands were cleared as the site was prepared for $1.8 million solar panels. Concerns regarding the large clearings of the woodland such as water issues, storm water and runoff, erosion of the land and wind damage of nearby properties need to be addressed.

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Closer to Home

The issues raised by wind and solar development are being felt in North Dakota. The Public Service Commission is reviewing a permit for a large solar project 15 miles west of Fargo. The 1,600-acre project is located on property considered “prime farmland.” Prime farmland is currently an “exclusion area” by regulation with restrictions on use for energy facilities.

Private property owners who want to use the land for solar panels or other things is one thing, but the subsidies need to go. It is troubling the level of government incentives and mandates that it would take to make a 1,600-acre solar panel project feasible in North Dakota.

This fear of “carbon dioxide pollution” is ridiculous. Carbon dioxide is what you and I and the animals exhale every time we breathe. And it is what plants need to grow. The more carbon dioxide there is in the air, the faster and better crops grow, and forests and grasslands flourish, using less water in the process. Weather forecasters are calling for at least two more cold blasts yet this winter, but breath easy. Coal will keep you warm.