The United States has seen a tremendous uptick in solar energy over the last decade, but in Mississippi having these heightened solar initiatives costs taxpayers an abundance of additional funds.
Solar energy is lauded as an efficient and affordable alternative to fossil fuels, something many climatologists argue can soon replace their natural gas counterparts. Since April 2020, the Public Service Commission has approved over $1 billion dollars worth of solar utility-scale projects, enough to more than double the current solar capacity of the state. One Public Service Commissioner in Mississippi has claimed that solar farms and projects are “cost-competitive”, without apparently being able to show how these investments will save consumers money.
While the Public Service Commissioner claims solar energy lowers costs, research published by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy says otherwise.
For example, Entergy Corporation, an energy company in the Southwest United States, announced it was either operating or in the process of building five solar farms in 2021. In order to have solar energy, Entergy’s customers were paying an additional $83 annually, or a 5-percent increase from the approximate $1,584 per year they were previously paying.
MCPP’s report, written by Investigative Journalist Michelle Brodsky, argued that while solar energy has proven to have made tremendous gains over the last few decades, some solar projects ultimately have more negative effects than positive ones.
The Mississippi Sunflower Solar Station, located in Ruleville, is the largest utility-owned solar installation in the state, and while it helps bring power to approximately 16,000 homes, it also spikes its consumers’ electricity bills. According to Entergy’s 2018 Motion to Intervene, each resident pays an additional $16.56 per year for the Sunflower County solar farm. Instead of paying roughly $1,584 each month, residents will pay $1,667 for the privilege of having five solar farms as a source of electricity.
“My research has shed light on the fact that solar energy raises utility bills and customers’ yearly costs will continue to go up with every new solar facility that is approved by the PSC,” Brodsky said.
Solar, to the public view, may appear less expensive than coal or other fuels, but Brodsky said this can be misleading, citing that solar actually costs users more money due to energy subsidies, transmission costs and storage that energy companies sometimes do not add into the equation.
While all public power companies are openly required to report their prices, private entities such as Cooperative Energy, a Mississippi-based energy company, are not mandated to do so, causing consumers to not know exactly what their dollars are being spent on and leaving the true cost of green energy with missing pieces.
CE announced plans for a solar facility in Covington County, Mississippi, amounting to approximately $9,000,000, but because the company is not required to report its spending, the public does not know the exact amount of how much taxpayer dollars went to the project, such as funds for transmission lines. Transmission lines are a necessary part of the calculation because the energy needs to get from the solar farms, many of which are far away from residential areas, to people’s homes. Based on a follow-up report filed by CE, Brodsky said an additional $100,000 was placed into this facility but not reported in the initial Motion to Intervene.
“When I initially went to the Public Service Commission’s website to look for Cooperative Energy’s costs, I could not find their initial investments because they’re not required to report them,” Brodsky said. “I was able to calculate the approximate cost of the facility based on other facilities that were half the size of this one. Conveniently, however, neither transmission costs nor battery storage was included in the report, and I had to scour through a host of government archives in order to discover that just the transmission lines themselves cost $100,000.”
Brodsky’s final portion of the report shows that batteries create additional costs as well. For example, Tesla can hold 129 megawatts at a time to operate its batteries. Using this figure as a benchmark, Brodsky estimated that Mississippi would need $87 billion in order to meet its current consumption of about 48.2 terawatt hours of energy the state roughly uses per year to power batteries, based on how much Tesla uses per day. That amounts to an additional $1,237.68 each consumer would have to pay every year.
“Despite what the Public Service Commission may say, solar energy is not a cheaper alternative,” Brodsky said. “The numbers that it cites only take initial costs into account. The facilities not only have to be built and run, but the electricity has to be able to get to consumers and be stored. Otherwise, when the sun isn’t shining, the solar farms will be unable to produce.”
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