Trees vs. Solar Power

As a counter-point our five-part series on solar power perhaps it’s useful to restate the whole issue in a less technical and more down to earth way.

It seems obvious to repeat that the point of the solar-power boosters is that it’s all for the environment. We all agree that environmental care is  a good and laudable goal. Let’s compare the  value of the solar power experiment to the environment  and see if there aren’t cheaper ways to achieve the same goal, especially if, as  the path North Cowichan now seems to be on, we are going to spend taxpayer dollars on various environmental experiments.

We can  do a simple calculation. A typical residential solar panel installation costs about $4,000 per KW all in. That 4 KW system will return, based on BC Hydro Tier 2 rates, about $530 of electricity per year. This means the $16,000 system has a 30 year simple payback. We’ve excluded taxes, inflation, and all of the maintenance costs to keep it simple.

So what does that do for the environment? At the BC Hydro published carbon intensity rate of 9 tonnes of carbon per GWH, this $16,000 investment will generate about 145,000 KWH or 0.145 GWH  in 30 years. Multiply 0.145 GWH by 9 tons per GWH and this solar panel installation will save 1.3 tons of CO2 over 30 years.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this benefit equals an annual 95 miles not driven, or two barbecue cylinders not refilled, or one incandescent lamp switched to CFL, or one tree seedling planted and grown for ten years.

And we haven’t accounted for the carbon, and other pollutants, created during the manufacture, delivery, installation, and disposal of the solar system. Those are huge pollution producers.

Just to be as clear as possible, we repeat the question: 

Which option saves more carbon dioxide; installing a $16,000 solar system or planting one tree seedling each year?   

Trees seem the better option.

Answer: They are the same.

In light of this simple arithmetic we beg our local governments to think long and hard before embarking on public spending for expensive solar power schemes.

Let’s please just plant some trees instead.