Sow the Wind and Reap the Whirlwind

Environmentalists have created a monster. They have engendered a climate of hysteria by hyping risks for everything from global warming to coal ash, water quality to environmental racism. They have mastered the art of throwing every conceivable objection against the wall to see what sticks. They have perfected the strategy of question, question, delay, delay, obstruct, obstruct, sue, sue. Now, in the Spotsylvania County controversy over a solar farm, their tactics are biting them in the hindquarters.

After a nine-hour meeting at which more than 100 people spoke, reports the Virginia Mercury, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors delayed yesterday a decision on whether a 500-megawatt solar facility will be built in the western part of the county.

A large majority of the hundreds of people packing the Spotsylvania County auditorium opposed the sPower project, which would be the largest east of the Rocky Mountains and would almost double the amount of solar energy Virginia is currently producing. The concerns expressed seem utterly without merit, as far as I can tell. Yet hundreds of Spotsylvania citizens have convinced themselves that the 6,000-acre solar farm with 1.8 million solar panels would pose a hazard to their community.

Despite nearly 6,00 pages of documentation on the project, says Virginia Mercury, citizens insist that questions remain about nearly every facet of the project from its effects on erosion, human health, economic viability, and impact on property values of people living nearby.

“This project, as planned, is much too close,” said Spotsylvania resident Pamela Rizzo, while Vivian Stanley, who said she represented “We the People,” characterized it as a “solar monster” that was a threat to the “lives and welfare” of the people of the Livingston district, where the facility would be located.

“How much poison does it take to cause cancer?” she asked the supervisors in the first of several impassioned speeches, alluding to sPower’s plans to use cadmium telluride panels for about 30 percent of its installation. The opposition has claimed that cadmium telluride poses a threat to human health if it leaches into water sources.

The fear of cadmium telluride seems especially misplaced. The chances of cadmium, a heavy metal, leaking into the groundwater are nil, even in the event of breakage or melting in a fire. Even if the panels were pulverized, sPower says, the cadmium would not leach. The only away for the cadmium to leach would be through “aggressive extraction” involving the crushing of panels into millimeter-scale pieces and agitating it in an acidic solution — a scenario that in no way mimics a real-world environment.

The fear of cadmium leaching is irrational. But the fear of heavy metal contamination of groundwater has been stoked by environmentalists who have insisted that Dominion Energy spend an additional $1 billion or more to move coal ash to synthetically lined landfills with no consideration to the minimal risks posed by the EPA-approved solution Dominion originally proposed. The risks associated with solar panels appears to be even more miniscule than with coal ash, but Virginians have been conditioned to believe that “toxic” metals are dangerous, they are oblivious to the concept that there might be acceptable levels of risk, and they don’t want to be those metals anywhere near them.

Other fears are likely to be exaggerated, such as the claim that the solar farm will harm residential property values. Why that would be the case, if the solar panels are screened from view, eludes me. But ask yourself, where would the sPower foes have gotten such an idea? Perhaps from environmentalists’ arguments that natural gas pipeline would harm property values by impacting viewsheds.

Virginia needs more solar power, which is a clean, renewable, and economically competitive energy source. Everything I’ve read indicates that Virginia can incorporate up to 30% intermittent energy sources like solar and wind without undermining the reliability of the electric grid. It would be a terrible development if foes succeeded in blocking this project. I’m not saying that every big energy or infrastructure project proposed in Virginia is well conceived, but I will say this: We are fast approaching a time when it will be impossible to build any new infrastructure in the Old Dominion, and that includes projects espoused by environmentalists like solar. If sPower can’t build a project so limited in scope and impact, who can build anything anywhere?

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18 responses to “Sow the Wind and Reap the Whirlwind”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The parallel between opposition to the solar farm and to that compressor station seems obvious to me, but I’m sure that will cause quite a response! Do a little mental exercise and flip them. Would the compressor station near that gated Spotsylvania neighborhood get the same opposition? How about solar panels flattening forests all around that Buckingham County rural crossroads? Different individuals might be louder, but somebody would be squawking either way.

  2. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    I would gratefully accept the solar farm next to or on our farm. It pays regular income to the landowner. If I chose to welcome it, it would not negatively affect my business but would be a plus. We really should be putting these on buildings instead of on land, but even on land, there are some uses of the land left and there is no worry that they will blow up or be a terrorist target.

    However, the pipeline is another matter. I only get a one time payment but my use of my land is forever changed and I continue to owe property tax every year. Yet the company wouldn’t even compromise about where in my land it goes. They also refuse to even consider my request for increased safety protections that could be accommodated on my land, not affecting others. My business and my life will be at risk yet I get no benefit, cannot influence any aspect of it, and have to live with the danger every day.

    Sorry Steve, there’s no comparison. The compressor station/pipeline still are by far worse.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I didn’t say the pipeline, I said the compressor, which I see as a fairly typical industrial facility. I understand the comparison to the pipeline is more complicated.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    Why Spotsylvania County? I’m sure there’s a reason but Spotsy is very fast growing and has a population density of 322 per sq mi. It seems like any 6,000 acre plot is going to be near somebody’s homes. It also seems like it would cost a fortune to buy that acreage. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build this somewhere “further out”? Don’r get me wrong – I think the objections are ridiculous but I wonder why they picked that spot.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      One reason was proximity to a major transmission line, plugging it into the grid close by. So a big swath of suitable land in a fairly remote location with a willing seller and a big trunk line near by.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Yes – and this photo is what it looks like right now (except the trees are gone/timbered – it’s a clearcut area with a Dominion powerline right of way and substation.

        Most rural solar projects being proposed these days are sited next to a powerline right of way and substation.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Make no mistake – this is plain old NIMBY disguised as “environmental” concerns. These folks are not “environmentalists” – they live in $700,000 homes in a gated community and the land proposed for the panels has already been clear-cut – it was cut some time ago before the
    owner agreed to sell it to S-Power.

    DJ asks why Spotsylvania – it’s a good question and I have not heard an answer beyond the fact that the land abuts a major Dominion powerline path.

    Oh, and the opponents have also claimed that the solar project will INCREASE the price of electricity – and at least one of the BOS has tasked the planners with finding out if this is true!

    Also – the Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of the project and a representative from Microsoft spoke in favor of it and explained why they wanted that kind of power for their data center.

    About the best you can say for the opponents (who have nothing at all to do with “green” enviros is that they are a wonderful example of NIMBY and ignorance on steroids despite the fact they are successful high income folks with college educations… they do indeed play that “cadmium will get loose and kill you” game.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Reminds me of the many meetings on siting wireless equipment on school property (or almost anyplace else). Parents by the droves come out to complain about the health risks presented by radio waves (even though federal law prohibits local governments from getting into those issues unless it can be shown that the equipment does not meet FCC engineering standards). There is karma though. At one meeting, the lawyer for the wireless company asked the parents how many of them have gotten cellphones for their children, which provides much more exposure to radio energy. Dead silence.

    I believe that the zoning process must be followed. But if you vote green and dislike fossil fuels, you damn well better accept renewable energy facilities in the area.

  7. DLunsford Avatar

    Why not use solar panels to fill up all the green space in the median of the US interstate highway system? Federal land, already leaching salt and vehicle toxins, would cut down on mowing. And if configured smartly would decrease glare and camouflage the trash. What’s not to like?

    Same for a well constructed wall on the southern border. Just the right latitude and a chance to build the world’s longest solar array. Border integrity would be secondary to the infrastructure. Problem solved!

    1. NorrhsideDude Avatar

      I have asked the same question. Also think about all that cloverleaf, closed landfill, and grounds surrounding prisons going to waste…. solar panel it all up.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      My guess is that it would be costly and dangerous to have maintenance technicians work on solar panels in the median strips. The border wall idea is brilliant. I’m sure you can only transport electricity so far before the loss makes the distance impractical but you could at least light up cities like El Paso.

  8. It’s funny, but it’s not really funny.
    This weekend we took a DC visit to the US Postal Museum. They had an old “help wanted” sign looking for Pony Express workers, saying you need to be prepared to lose your life doing this job.

    Today it has gotten down to, even if something is zero(0) risk, but somebody can perceive a non-existent risk potential, we are absolutely terrified and outraged, and will not accept the zero risk.

    Actually though this is exactly the way the human brain works as far as incorrect risk perception, we are absolutely terrified about risks we cannot see, but perceive might exist. And we are complacent about huge risks we can readily see.

  9. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I once in all seriousness asked some shipbuilders if you could cover the five acre flight deck of a carrier with a material that converted sunlight…..they got an uproarious laugh at my expense…..but you watch! One day! (Actually, you won’t as long as that nuke reactor is pumping out all the power the ship could possibly need.)

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: interstates – yes,… and also powerline and pipeline even water/sewer rights of ways… parking lots – which would also sequester oil/antifreeze droppings – under roof like parking garages so that it does not get carried away by rain to pollute creeks, rivers, the Bay.

    There are lots of venues for solar – to include fallow land that someone is paying taxes on and would also consider putting a cell tower on for money flow – which, in turn, goes to pay taxes and thence to pay for schools and public safety, etc.

    If you use landscaping and berms – it effectively shields the solar from viewing.

    in terms of energy – solar is not “dense” like fossil fuels – so it takes a LOT of panels to generate even a small amount of electricity. So they don’t generate near enough for power a vehicle or similar.

    But if we have enough solar – even though it is intermittent/not dispatchable – every MW that you do generate – is a MW that you do not have to burn fossil fuels to generate. It’s less costly and less polluting.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Can you economically make solar panels which can withstand the weight of a car (in the parking lot example)?

      There is a lot of empty land in America. The sPower plan seems reasonable.

      Ultimately, Elon Musk has the right idea – roofing shingles (that look like shingles) but are solar panels along with home scale battery storage walls.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Well.. I don’t know but I was really talking about solar roofs for parking lots. They’d capture the sun AND prevent oil/antifreeze in runoff…

        and I’m glad that YOU see the empty land – and hope others who read here will take a look the next time you go out in your car… look around you – and you’ll see how much land is sitting fallow and not being used for anything other than capturing trash and debris.

        in terms of land needed for solar – it is estimated it would take a square 145 miles on each side to provide enough land for enough solar to power the US.

        That’s indeed a LOT of land:

        but think about how much you’d need for Virginia – a LOT LESS – on the order of 1/50th – on the order of 20 to 30 miles square.

        so take that out to a per county basis – 100 counties – so how much solar to power a county?

        Well now – you’re getting to some real things:

        500 mw – where one MW powers 400 homes…
        thats 200,000 homes… we have about 40,000 homes in Spotsy.

        That project is about 2 miles on a side… and it will easily power
        the entire county which is 400 square miles

        Take I-95 through Spotsylvania – there’s a 300 foot median between the lanes and it goes for 20 miles. That’s enough
        land for enough solar to power all of Spotsylvania!

        Take a look up in NoVa at the beltway and other major roads right-of-ways…

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I hate to help gut your argument, but Larry’s right. If you read the Mercury story it says most of the opposition to the solar farm comes from a gated community nearby. That implies that privileged people are reacting as NIMBYs, not environmentalists per se.

    1. “Privileged people are reacting as NIMBYs, not environmentalists per se.”

      Correct. Obviously, Virginia environmentalists want to see solar farms built. But those “privileged people” in Spotsylvania reflect the dominant zeitgeist — irrational fear of “toxic” chemicals, intolerance of the slightest risk, and the attitude that they are entitled to viewsheds even if it limits someone else’s ability to do what they wish with their property — that environmentalists have created.

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