Shining a little light on the RNC. Really. A little.
Posted at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2008
by Tim Nelson
Xcel Energy is putting up three new photovoltaic panels beside its new High Bridge power plant to provide solar power during the political convention next month. It isn't much: they're about the size of a parking space in a typical lot, and they put out a max of only about 3,100 watts, which is about 90 percent of what an energy efficient home uses.
That's only a tiny fraction of what it will take to power the truckloads of lights, amplifiers, computers and broadcast equipment running in and around the Xcel Energy Center when Republicans throw the switch on their quadrennial gathering.
Xcel has estimated power use at about 8 million watts, about 900 times what the new solar panels will provide.
But High Bridge plant manager Jim Zyduck says they'll nonetheless have a lasting impact. The panels are mounted permanently on the north side of the new 500 million watt natural gas turbine plant near downtown St. Paul.
"For this region, we're thinking solar is a possibility," Zyduck says. "This is kind of a small step to see how this will work for our customers and if its a viable option for the long term. It's a perfect opportunity to incorporate more environmentally friendly alternatives."
Money is the chief obstacle. The fuel for the photovoltaics is free, of course, but the initial outlay is a doozy. The gas plant cost about 60 cents per watt of capacity to build, compared to about $25.50 for the solar panels.
But Ralph Jacobson, with Minneapolis contractor Innovative Power Systems, says that's not quite a fair comparison. Big power plants may be able to generate millions of watts for a nickel or so a kilowatt hour, but they aren't built to accomodate peak demand affordably.
"Solar energy corrolates very highly with the summer air conditioning, the peak load, when most of the brownouts might occur in the city," Jacobson said. "So you've got the spot market that the utility has to go out and buy power on and the cost there might be anywhere from 5 cents a kilowatt hour to $500 a kilowatt hour. So it's really the Twilight Zone for the utility. If you take the power from this, its an expensive technology, but if you can eliminate that spot market purchase, you might have just saved 10 times what the cost of this is."
Of course the natural gas plant's watts cost less to build - it makes a gazillion watts by burning up a non-renewable fuel. And it's huge, and it's a mature technology.
That same big power plant lurks on the riverbank, has a plume of discharge, shakes the neighbors and makes noise.
If you put those panels on the roof of your house or on the parking lot where you work, the sun just silently shines on it for the 25 years of the guarantee. You buy it once, and then you use the carbonless power. You live better - and the costs to you, the environment, your peace of mind and the national security are certainly proportionate to the cost of the panels.
Unless the RNC puts a plank into its platform that allows some subsidiary of a well-known major corporation to actually patent and license and ration the sun.....
Posted by Practica | August 21, 2008 3:41 PM