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Solar Suction?

Jan. 21, 2016
As energy infrastructure gets renewed and updated we’re going to have plenty of resistance – some valid and rational and some just plain crazy.

Public ignorance and distrust of basic science and technology can derail progress.

Well, this is a little embarrassing to our nation, particularly when the world is watching.

The British publication Independent, as well as a number of American sources (check it out on the Internet), reported the following:

“Members of the public in Woodland, North Carolina, expressed their fear and mistrust at the proposal to allow Strata Solar Company to build a solar farm off Highway 258.

During the Woodland Town Council meeting, one local man, Bobby Mann, said solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not go to Woodland, the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald reported.

Jane Mann, a retired science teacher, said she was concerned the panels would prevent plants in the area from photosynthesizing, stopping them from growing.

Ms Mann said she had seen areas near solar panels where plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her solar panels didn't cause cancer.”

My first reaction was to laugh. But really (and sadly), isn’t this an example, granted an extreme one, of public ignorance of science and technology?

When our daughter Kristin was about four years old we were driving through Northern California on a very windy day. Kristin, seeing a large wind turbine on a nearby hill, said: “Dad, I know why it’s so windy. Look at that big fan!”

Kris is now a scientist herself and knows better. But I wouldn’t doubt that there are a few (grown-up) folks that believe wind turbines produce damaging winds.

Recent polls show that public ignorance of basic science is pervasive. And we in the power industry have been crippled over the years by public ignorance and pseudoscience. As a somewhat geeky engineer, sometimes I feel the need to tell a few of my (who I unfairly think of as bubble-headed) friends that: Trailers don’t attract tornadoes, copper bracelets don’t cure arthritis, no one has really measured auras, and electromagnetic emanations from smart meters don’t fry the brain!

But, good as it might feel, that’s the wrong approach. Led by patient, talented industry leaders and communicators, we’ve been able to build needed generation, power lines and wireless communication. It just takes more time and costs a lot more.

Sometimes public objections result from the difficulty in explaining our complicated practices. For example, a good friend of mine is pretty upset over the local utility rates for payment of residential solar generation. He believes the homeowner should get the same pay per kilowatt hour as a coal plant. I tried to explain that the two sources aren’t economically comparable. Power payment is based on contracts that take into account availability, reliability, power quality, transportation costs, etc. On that basis, solar doesn’t have the value of baseload generation. It was just too complicated to explain and I got the feeling that he thought I was full of baloney and merely defending the industry. So we changed the topic to football.

So, you can bet that as energy infrastructure gets renewed and updated we’re going to have plenty of resistance – some valid and rational and some just plain crazy.

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