Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

In my day job, I calculate the return on investment on large complex industrial projects (paper mills; largely recycled ones that consume all that cardboard you recycle – which has reached an annual recycling rate 82 percent of that manufactured in the U.S. for over half a decade now – give yourself a pat on the back).

On the side, I have conducted a solar power experiment on the roof of our home here in sunny Duluth, Ga.

In 2014, we installed four solar panels. In 2016, we installed four more. In January of 2020, I happened to notice that one of the panels was not working. Turns out squirrels had built a nest under it and chewed up the wires.

In August of 2020, we installed four more and replaced the damaged one. We also had “critter guard” installed around all the panels to keep the squirrels out. In total, I have about $9,000 invested after federal and state subsidies, but you will see in a minute that this is immaterial. At this point, I started monitoring production daily. Our cost to buy electricity from Georgia Power is 11 cents per kilowatt hour, so I pay ourselves (theoretically) 11 cents per kilowatt hour for every kilowatt hour we produce and do not have to buy from them. I started monitoring this daily on Aug. 25, 2020. Every morning I write down each panel’s production for the previous day. Through March of this year, these 12 panels, in total, had produced a savings of $112.90. 

Now, in Georgia we have pine trees which spew sticky greenish-yellow pollen on everything, including solar panels. So, in April, after the pollen season subsided, I hired a window washing company to climb up on my roof and wash my panels in order to restore them to full efficiency. That cost $270. Thus, with the production of April added to my previous production, then subtracting the cost of the cleaning, I was $118.90 in the hole at the end of April.

May was a good month. We made $40.42 in production in May (days are getting longer). June has been a poor month due to cloudiness and rain days. It will not come close to May’s production.

All totaled, at the end of the day, on June 21, 2021, the longest day of the year, I am $53.27 in the hole since last August. If I am lucky I will break even on my current costs by Aug. 25, 2021, a year from when I started recording the data.

Forget any return on the investment of $9,000. It is not there. So, here is a real-life case you can take to the bank.

Citizens of Highland and Clinton counties, you are not alone in fighting solar panels on land. Environmentalist living near the Mojave Desert are fighting solar panels big time (Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2021). Even people there who have up to 200 solar panels on their homes are fighting vast solar panel farms envisioned for the desert lands.

Currently, they are fighting, among others, the “Battle Born Solar Project” by California-based Arevia Power which is planned to cover “14 square miles with more than a million solar panels 10 to 20 feet tall.” It would produce 850 megawatts of electricity.

If you want to see some research that supports your concerns, I recommend the Heartland Institute (www.heartland.org). An article from March 9, 2021 titled “America’s Light Usage Reveals the Insanity of Relying on Weather-Dependent Wind & Solar” opens with “Renewables have already underperformed in temperate climate California, resulting in the states’ (sic) need to import electricity from the adjoining Northwest and Southwest states.”

Heartland has other excellent, well-researched articles as well.

For a balanced view, I suggest you visit the site of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (nrel.gov) in Golden, Colo. Cincinnati’s push for solar in southwest Ohio is chicken feed compared to what is going on in California as you will find on the NREL site. I suggest you read “The Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study” (https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/79444-1.pdf).

The executive summary for this report is "only" 67 pages.

Finally, if you are going to fight, it will take more than a few heartfelt columns in The Highland County Press. You will have to work with the state legislators to get laws that can stop these projects in their tracks. You may have to pony up some serious money to hire a big-name law firm to fight the big-name law firms these solar folks are hiring.

Best wishes.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.