USA Today Ignores Enormous Logistical Roadblocks to Carbon-Free Electricity

A USA Today article, “US counties are blocking the future of renewable energy,” illustrates the unrealistic goal of carbon-free electricity by 2035. While the article focused largely on zoning, land use and aesthetic problems, it did not address other issues such as a lack of transmission lines and the cost to build new wind and solar facilities. These obstacles will require years to overcome. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the U.S. would require as much as 10,100 miles of new transmission lines each year to meet 2035 demand, yet in 2021 just 386 miles of transmission lines were built. At that rate, adding the needed new transmission infrastructure would take more than a quarter of a century.

There also is the staggering investment necessary to build new wind and solar facilities. Electricity sources vary in their dependability, which is measured as a “capacity value.”  The higher the capacity value, which is expressed as a percentage, the more dependable an electricity source is when electricity demand hits a peak.  No electricity source is 100% dependable, but traditional electricity sources are the most dependable.

The chart below shows the greater dependability of traditional sources of electricity (nuclear, coal, and natural gas) compared to less dependable renewable power sources (wind and solar). 

Capacity Values of Electricity Resources

These differences mean that coal, for example, is 3.4 times more dependable than wind and 6.6 times more dependable than solar. To replace a single large 1,000 megawatt (MW) coal plant with an equally dependable amount of electricity would require 3,400 MW of wind or 6,600 MW of solar power at a cost of $7-9 billion.

Replacing the nation’s coal fleet with wind and solar power would require an investment of at least $1-2 trillion.

The article says that wind and solar are “the most economical energy solution,” but given all the facts, consumers may question that assumption.