Green? Maybe Not So Much

Soon Nevada may no longer have the largest solar power plant in the nation, the 14-MW Solar One at Nellis. Two larger plants are planned for California, although they face possible bureaucratic hurdles.

The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant.

Elsewhere in California, legal action has possibly prevented several other power plants from being built. One of the proposed plants affected by the ruling is a natural-gas facility slated for the city of Vernon. It would generate 914-MW and, according to this article, require 13.7 acres. Yes acres.

There are 640 acres in one square mile, which means the natural-gas plant planned for Vernon would generate 667 times more power per acre than the solar plants. And that’s comparing peak power from the solar facilities to anytime power from the gas. So, in reality, the Vernon facility likely would generate approximately 2000 times the power per acre than the two solar plants.

The court ruling affects 12 other facilties besides the one in Vernon. One official stated that the Los Angeles Basin needs 2000 MW of new capacity to avoid brownouts and blackouts. Solar plants using the same technology as those touted in the NYT article would require a minimum of 31 square miles of photovoltaic cells. Think the enviros will go for that? I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: I’d like to make clear that I believe that solar is the power source of the future – well, along with nuclear. But the idea that we can simply quit building new coal- or gas-fired plants or reduce the number of them that we currently have and still be able to provide adequate power for our homes, schools and offices is quite simply a fantasy.


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