Monday, April 12, 2010

Public money for private energy

I heard on the radio that Public Service of NH, the statewide utility, is building a good sized solar electric park. They plan on building it on top of the old landfill near Manchester. At first, I thought it was a good project -renewable energy plus reuse of a landfill site. What's not to like?

The way it's being financed, that's what's not to like. Part of the money for the project is coming from a fund that's used to reimburse small solar projects. It was geared more towards the guy who puts a half dozen panels on his house. The fund has less money in it than they expected to have by now, and yet, PSNH will be getting 5 million of it?

The small producer would become a bit more independent from the grid. The PSNH plan is to dump the power into the grid, and charge customers for it. In a way, that's fine. It's their business. However, why should the public fund be used to help build a money making project for a private company? The utility argues that the money is needed to make the plan competitive with other power sources. They say it'll help NH meet its long range alternative energy goals.

Here's the dirty secret of the plan. If every solar panel the project will use was dispersed around the state, it would produce three times the usable power than the Manchester project. Why is that? Transmission losses. Grid power loses 2/3 of the produced power to the inefficiencies of the grid. All that wire crisscrossing the country wastes huge amounts of power. Yes, it's that huge. I was surprised myself when I found out.

Solar energy is a dispersed resource. It makes sense to make it where it will be used. Grid power makes more sense in a compact urban environment. Transmitting power out to the hinterland is a waste. It was one thing when energy was plentiful. It isn't anymore.

If the state is going to encourage alternative energy, it will get the most bang from the buck on small projects.

By the way, all my solar eclectic system was put up without a single dollar from the state. For me, the numbers made sense in their own right. I didn't need state funds to make that work.


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