Beware Anti-Solar Propaganda. It’s Part of a Smear Campaign
A group calling itself “responsible” is spreading disinformation about the health and environmental impacts of solar panels.
Why is it that people can’t leave a technological innovation like solar panels alone? Maybe it's because almost all technology has its shadow side. Space travel with rocket technology is awe inspiring. Nuclear weapons on hypersonic rockets are nightmarish. Vaccines save untold lives, yet a small percentage of people will react badly to them.
But what about solar energy? How much rage and disdain can you summon up for a non-mechanical sheet of glass and silicon with a wire out the back? Apparently, at least one group of naysayers has latched on to this technology, misportraying it as hostile to land and lives.
According to a new report by NPR, a group calling itself “Citizens for Responsible Solar” is spreading provably false talking points all over the United States. “The group's website says solar requires too much land for "unreliable energy," ignoring data showing power grids can run dependably on lots of renewables. And it claims large solar projects in rural areas wreck the land and contribute to climate change, despite evidence to the contrary.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered some bizarre pushback against solar. I monitor various neighborhood groups for “chatter” about housing and sustainability. A few weeks ago, I noticed an uproar on the Nextdoor neighbors network when monthly bills for electricity spiked suddenly in Florida.
About half of the dozen or so comments I read attributed the price hike to a conspiracy by “liberals” to try to get Floridians to buy solar panels.
Let me dissect that conclusion.
FPL Blues. First, Florida’s utilities are some of the most hostile in the nation toward solar power. Florida Power & Light has actively lobbied against pro-solar legislation in the State. Why would they want to steer anyone away from their established fossil fuel dependency, toward solar energy?
What Liberals? Florida’s government, at the moment, is a trifecta or extreme right conservatism. So called “liberals” have little impact on legislative matters in the State, but Florida benefits tremendously from federal “liberality.” The State receives about $34 Billion in federal money, much of it from taxes paid in less extremist states with strong renewable energy portfolios—and that doesn’t include billions in emergency funds handed out by the Feds every time a hurricane hits. This money funds roads and subsidizes “housing, education, and other needs across the multitude of sectors and factors that are part of daily life in the United States.”
My point is that tying solar adoption to the culture wars makes no sense. Florida’s utility monopolies can make or break household budgets with unchallenged rate hikes. Solar would give people a chance to make their homes and communities more, not less, resilient.
Almost every technology-based cultural shift meets resistance. Solar panels don’t need to become yet another political football.
The nation is moving away from fossil fuels, and a lot of people don’t like seeing that change in the fields and on the rooftops around them. But we frankly have no better choice at the moment. Wind generators can do their part, but solar is the most scalable option on the table at present. it’s also the most cost-effective energy generator on a cost-per-watt basis, and that includes natural gas. Solar generation reached “grid parity” with natural gas way back in 2015.
It’s hard to say how much of the anti-solar sentiment in Florida and elsewhere is driven by propaganda, but as NPR’s map shows, the “Responsible” nonprofit is working with other conservative activists in at least 12 states.
Anti-Solar Activities. This map from NPR shows the 12 states where propagandists are attempting to spread resistance to solar energy.
Solar is not a “perfect” technology. Creating solar panels requires a lot of energy. To date, the solar industry lacks a consistent recycling strategy, although progress has begun on that front. All that glass and metal should not end up in landfills.
What’s missing from the anti-solar conversation is WHY rapid conversion to solar is necessary here and now.
The answer to that is simple, and corroborated by thousands of scientists worldwide. The planet is heating up, due to CO2 production from human beings. Much of that pollution comes from fossil fuel-based power plants.
At present, powering the entire US with solar panels would require about 22,000 square miles of panels. That’s an area about the size of Lake Michigan. But those panels don’t need to be crammed into one place, nor should they be. Instead of looking at them as some kind of menace to our health and land use, why not embrace them as a pathway to cleaner air, more affordable energy and lower impact on ecosystems and wildlife?