By Andy McDonald

This past October more than 400 Kentuckians learned a powerful lesson: Solar energy works in Kentucky. The Kentucky Solar Tour featured more than three dozen homes and other sites that use solar energy to produce electricity, heat water or provide space heating/cooling. The Solar Tour crossed the state from Bowling Green to Berea, from Kenton County to Rockcastle County. Kentucky was one of 48 states on the solar tour that day, with 150,000 people nationwide participating. The message is simple: Solar energy has arrived. It works. It’s proven technology. It’s no longer the technology of the future; solar is the technology for today.

Wind energy presents another great opportunity for Kentucky. Conventional wisdom says Kentucky has poor wind resources. However, conventional wisdom is based on outdated wind resource maps that analyzed Kentucky’s wind resources at 50 meters above the ground. Modern wind turbines, the kinds we see in neighboring states like Indiana and Illinois, operate at 80 meters or more, where wind speeds are much higher. More recent studies measuring wind velocity at the height of modern wind turbines found enough wind to justify hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Now, Indiana has an additional 500 megawatts of wind farms under construction.

Our in-state wind resources do not limit our ability to use wind power. With utility-scale wind farms in operation or development in every state bordering Kentucky, and with existing power lines crossing state borders, Kentucky has access to thousands of megawatts of wind potential in neighboring states. Meanwhile, we can research and develop appropriate sites within the state.

Low-impact hydro is another local renewable resource available today. Soft Energy Associates has identified 39 existing locks and dams on rivers within and bordering Kentucky that potentially could generate more than 800 megawatts. Lock 7 Hydro Partners LLC recently redeveloped a hydroelectric station near Shakertown, providing renewable energy credits for KU and LG&E’s Green Power program. This past summer, AMP Ohio broke ground on a new 84 MW hydro plant on the Ohio River and is expected to begin construction on another 72 megawatt project in 2010.

Large-scale development of renewable energy would bring many benefits. Diversifying our power supply (currently 93 percent dependent on coal) would provide protection against rising costs and risks of using coal-generated electricity. Cleaner air and water would improve public health.

Distributed generation (with thousands of micro-generators across the state) would make the grid more resilient, lower peak demand and reduce the risk of blackouts.

Economic development and job creation would be another benefit. To harness these renewable resources, someone has to manufacture the equipment and materials. Then these must be warehoused and shipped, marketed and sold. Professionals are needed for installation and service. Accountants, truckers, engineers, tradesmen, laborers and teachers are needed to bring renewable power into our homes. Students are needed to learn the skills to work in this new economic sector.

Germany leads the world in installed solar photovoltaics capacity, despite having solar resources similar to Alaska’s and weaker than Kentucky’s. A German government report found that an active solar market supports 30 jobs for every megawatt of solar photovoltaics installed. Other studies have found between 15 and 30 direct jobs created per megawatt, and another 3.5 indirect and induced jobs created for every direct job created. The result in Germany has been a renewable energy sector supporting 280,000 workers.

One thousand megawatts of solar photovoltaics could power 200,000 energy efficient homes, generating 1.2 percent of the total electrical power consumed in Kentucky. States such as North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have directed their utilities to provide in the range of 0.2 percent to 2.1 percent of their power from solar within the next 10 to 12 years. New Jersey, with solar resources comparable to Kentucky’s, has the second-largest solar market in the U.S. as a result of such policies.

The bottom line is that solar and winds are being developed on a very large scale in other states. Those states are attracting billions of dollars in investment and creating thousands of new jobs, while furthering their goals of energy independence, public health and environmental protection. The barriers to doing this in Kentucky aren't technical, and they aren't for lack of wind, solar and hydro resources. There is no need to wait for technological breakthroughs. What we need is leadership in crafting policies – feed-in tariffs and a Renewable and Efficiency Portfolio Standard -- to open up the market and create an environment where renewables can flourish.
McDonald is director of the Kentucky Solar Partnership and a member of the Kentucky Solar Energy Society and the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the Kentucky Forum. 2/10


Chill said...

Very good overview Andy. You make a lot of good points. I would love to see more government push. It seems the incentives are weakening and new legislation is needed if solar and wind are going to step out of the shadows of coal!