VTDigger’s Friday feed is infected with a bit of uncharacteristic headline fearmongering.
HIGH SPACE DEMANDS FOR VERMONT’S FUTURE SOLAR FARMS IF ENERGY STAYS LOCAL
The story concerns a presentation to the Legislature’s Solar Siting Task Force by Asa Hopkins of the Public Service Department. And by “HIGH SPACE DEMANDS,” it means Hopkins’ estimate of between 8,000 and 13,000 acres of solar panels statewide. That’s assuming we are to meet our legally-mandated goal of 90% renewable energy by the year 2050.
Wow. That sounds like a lot of land.
Not really. The state of Vermont has almost 6,000,000 acres. A conscientious reporter (or editor) might have thought to include that fact.
So, if you take the upper end of the estimate, solar panels would cover two-tenths of one percent of Vermont. (A conscientious headline writer might have asked whether “HIGH SPACE DEMANDS” is an accurate characterization.)
You know what? I’d take that, if it means getting 90% of our energy from local, renewable sources.
But let’s say you don’t accept the tradeoff. Here are some further considerations.
— Hopkins notes that there are “roughly 3,650 acres of commercial building area in the state.” The story reports that policymakers intend to encourage solar development on existing structures. Which would greatly reduce solar’s impact on undeveloped land.
(Also, it gives you another idea of the scale of things. Vermont has comparatively little “commercial building area.” At the absolute worst, solar installations would quadruple that very tiny footprint. That’d leave an awful lot of forest, mountain, and wildlife habitat untouched.)
— He assumes that “as much as possible [we] rely on sources indigenous to Vermont.” More likely, we’ll continue to get some of our renewable energy from Hydro Quebec and other outside sources, meaning we won’t have to produce as much energy here.
— He assumes that solar cells would “deliver the majority of future power needs.” If we don’t want that many solar panels, we could change the mix.
— His estimate assumes “current technology to develop models for energy-production projections decades into the future.” Given the pace of technological change in general, and advancements in solar technology specifically, it’s almost certain that future solar cells will be more efficient.
Also, if we develop any kind of decent energy-storage technology, we won’t need as much energy production.
Judging by the Comments section beneath the article, the anti-renewable crowd sees the Hopkins report as fuel for its fire. I see it as reassuring: even if we assume the greatest possible impact, we would have solar panels covering a fraction of a percent of our land. To me, that’s good news.