It’s been a long time coming, but Mississippi is about to join the green energy parade. It’s not going to be wind energy like Texas, which is not getting a quarter of its electricity from west Texas windmills. Mississippi winds aren’t anything like West Texas’.
But Mississippi does get plenty of sunshine. Eight solar projects are in the works that could add up to more than 806 megawatts of total capacity. That’s more than the famed Kemper coal plant and more than half the maximum output of the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant.
Bear in mind, these solar plants only work when the sun is shining, so the actual usable output will be something like 20 percent of the maximum rated output. Even so, that’s a big new player in the energy generating field.
The beauty of wind and solar is the low variable cost. You don’t have to pay the wind to blow or the sun to shine. It’s free, other than maintenance.
Because of the unpredictable nature of solar energy, Mississippi will be heavily dependent on natural gas for the foreseeable future. Currently, 88 percent of Mississippi’s energy is produced by natural gas.
That’s a good thing. Natural gas prices have been at an all-time low. Fracking technology has greatly expanded the amount of natural gas. There’s a further bonus: Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel — twice as clean as coal and oil.
The expanding use of natural gas has reduced national greenhouse emissions by 12 percent, back to 1996 levels.
Mississippi has long had a green-friendly nuclear power plant at Grand Gulf. But nuclear has fallen out of favor for two big reasons. First, these plants are incredibly expensive to build and maintain — far more expensive than wind and solar.
Second, if a nuclear plant melts down, the cost is astronomical. A meltdown can destroy an entire region.
The Fuku-shima meltdown in Japan will end up causing over a trillion dollars in economic damage. The risk is great.
Say what you will about solar and wind, for the last several years, worldwide, solar and wind plants are increasing electricity generating capacity per year twice as rapidly as fossil fuels. There’s no denying it’s real.
Investment bank Lazard Freres has for years tracked the cost of generating electricity from various types of power plants. The key metric is called the “unsubsidized levelized cost of energy.” For the first time ever, wind and solar energy have the lowest cost. That’s one reason you are seeing such an explosion in new wind and solar installations.
Even more impressive is that the dramatic cost reductions in these two energy forms have not stopped. If current trends continue, wind and solar energy could cost only half as much as fossil fuels in five years.
The Achilles heel of wind and solar is that the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine all the time. But great progress is being made in battery storage technology. A breakthrough in this area is almost guaranteed to happen soon. At that point, the need for natural gas plants would decline significantly.
It is not outlandish to foresee a world in which cheap wind and solar energy fuel our homes, businesses and cars, while fossil fuels become an old dirty and expensive form of energy.
The planned Mississippi solar farms typically require about 500 acres. They are massive projects. Don’t worry. Mississippi has plenty of land to accommodate these facilities. Even if every car, house and factory in the state used solar power, it would still require less than 1 percent of the total land in the state.
In 2019, Delta’s Edge Solar filed an application to build a 100-megawatt solar generation facility in Carroll County, which would require an investment of $109 million. The electricity generated there will be sold to the state’s largest non-profit electric cooperative, Cooperative Energy, which provides power to 11 member power associations that serve 55 of the state’s 82 counties, with a 15-year agreement.
The facility is supposed to enter commercial operation by November 2022.
The Cooperative Energy model is the best. They are contracting with an independent solar company to buy the energy at a fixed cost. The ratepayers have no risk if the project fails.
The Entergy model of building and owning is less preferable. The Mississippi Public Service Commission should be vigilant in protecting ratepayers and employing the least risky structure for electricity users.
One hour of sun energy falling on earth is enough to fuel the whole world for a year. Human ingenuity will find a way to produce ample energy in an environmentally sustainable way. We are now witnessing this transpire in sunny Mississippi.