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Marc Peterson: Solve climate change with creativity, not misinformation

Solar and wind energy have a lot more going for them than some people may think.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wind turbines, solar panels, and hog farms north of Milford on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

There is so much misinformation in Don Gayle’s commentary in the Salt Lake Tribune of October 15 that it is hard to know where to begin.

I’m a retired electrical generation executive, having spent 30 years in the industry. I was first involved with fossil fuels, and then later with renewables. I was a founding member of one of the largest studies completed on how to provide a low CO2 solution for the Western U.S. electrical grid. This study grew to include 34 energy companies, was technically reviewed by 11 grid participants, and was performed by two of the most knowledgeable grid consulting companies in the world.

Gale’s assertions incorrectly assume the weather and performance impact incurred by a wind and solar based grid system is the same as that incurred by one wind turbine or one solar section, in one location. A grid system is impacted much less than a single turbine or solar section.

For example: Excess solar energy produced during a sunny day in Southern California can be used in Utah, or almost anywhere in the Western U.S.. if the need exists. This system is called the Energy Imbalance Market and has been in operation since 2014. Also, wind and solar systems are highly complementary. Wind usually blows stronger in the evening, at night, and in the morning. Solar generation is obviously more productive during the day. A cloudy day is windier. And a sunny, low-wind day produces more solar generation.

Gale’s statement that you can’t turn electricity generated from wind and solar down is incorrect. Individual wind turbines or solar sections can be turned off, reducing the output of a wind or solar facility. His statement that you can turn fossil fuel generated electricity up is correct, but only to the extent those resources were operating below their designed capacity. You can also turn on wind turbines or solar sections to the extent that the generation facility was operating below its designed capacity.

Gale’s assertion that a renewables-based system requires standby backup resources that need to be kept ready to generate electricity 24 hours a day is correct. But the same is also true of a fossil fuel generation system.

His assertion about needing two transmission systems for each electrical source is incorrect. Some new transmission would need to be built to new renewable generation facilities, but only to existing transmission lines already providing power from fossil fuel plants. The reduction in electricity transmitted from fossil fuel plants opens up space for renewables on those transmission lines.

His comment that the most demand wind and solar could cover is “maybe 30 percent” is incorrect. Denmark currently produces over 50% of their energy from wind and solar. Scotland met over 97% of its electricity demand with renewables in 2020. Do a web search and you will find that many countries are currently producing more than 30% of their electrical demand from clean energy and many have plans to hit 100%.

Gayle is correct that climate change is a real and critical problem. It has already had a large impact on us here in Utah.

The most efficient solution is placing a fee on CO2 emissions (partially compensating for societies cost impact of those emissions) and let the market choose what technologies are used. Utilities, including Rocky Mountain Power, already have plans to significantly increase their generation from wind and solar. If nuclear power, or fossil fuels (with 100% carbon capture and sequestration), can cost-effectively solve the issue, the market will make that decision.

Marc Peterson

Marc Peterson is a retired electrical generation industry executive living in Sandy.

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