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Letter: Need to view solar in larger context

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I’m writing in response to the recent number of letters to the editor from people opposing solar farms in Montgomery County. The letters seem to reflect personal anxieties and grievances that certainly are real to individuals, but these letters haven’t considered the larger context. When we do look more widely at the production of solar energy (that our country is fast embracing) versus the production of coal and gas, a fuller picture of our nation’s energy requirements in coming years emerges.

Given the tremendous spike in energy costs of late owing to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and Saudi Arabia’s recent decrease in oil production, it is important to note that the current widespread use of solar power (here and everywhere) is much less costly, both in terms of dollars and in human health, than is the burning of coal and oil. As importantly, solar power is used in the region where it is produced. Panels are built with recycling in mind.

Solar panels are easily installed on a roof surface or on the ground, and they harness the free gift of light from our local star. Oil, on the other hand, is extracted from the earth at great cost, and that cost is not only in terms of dollars and cents. Oil extraction pollutes the atmosphere. When oil is burned, it also results in the degradation of the earth itself. This may be the elephant in the room, but the process of drilling, shipping, selling, transporting, and occasional spilling, erodes our soils and pollutes precious ground water, resources not easily or ever recouped.

Solar power has a very different profile. The World Health Organization has found no evidence that the production of solar energy is harmful to human health: the extremely weak magnetic fields generated by electricity from solar panels and its transmission to the power grid has no effect on human health. The slight increase in temperature in the immediate vicinity is negligible. To have solar power available is a magnet both for farm and urban innovation. When John Deere’s new ad campaign leads with “Run with us to an electric tomorrow,” it’s surely time to do some serious thinking about how we generate power for the sake of our shared future and for that of our children.

Currently 40% of our U.S. corn acreage goes to the production of ethanol, a so-called “biofuel,” rather than to food production. Think of that cost: we are using fuel to grow a plant that we’re turning into another carbon-dioxide-emitting fuel. Admittedly, I myself think that a field of corn ripening in the sun is far more pleasing to the eye than banks of solar panels. To me, though, a less polluted atmosphere and a much, much cheaper source of power needs to offset esthetic considerations. And, we don’t have to think that the choice is either crops or solar panels either. Purdue University, among other innovators, is experimenting right now with solar panels on stilts, tall enough for combines to go under.

And, finally, given the recent cuts in Saudi Arabian oil production, increasing domestic solar energy production will make the U.S., including Montgomery County, less reliant on the whims of an unpredictable, foreign government.

Marc Hudson

Crawfordsville

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