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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

HR 3585 Solar Technology Roadmap Act of 2009

October 22, 2009

House Chamber, Washington, D.C.  October 22, 2009.  M. Speaker:  I rise in opposition to the rule and in opposition to the underlying bill.  And to explain why, I’d like to walk through a little history and a little math. 

Let’s begin with history and two important years: 1978 and 1839. 

 In 1978, the Wall Street Journal carried this headline: “Solar Power Seen Meeting 20 percent of Needs by 2000; Carter May Seek Outlay Boost.”

 Oddly, the same paper carried a headline in 2006 making the same promise this time for all renewable fuels – only this time by 2025 – but I digress. 

Billions of dollars were poured into research and development for solar technology, and an entire solar industry solely supported by massive subsidies arose to grab those dollars. 

And what was the result of all of this plunder of taxpayers and ratepayers?  More than 30 years after that promise was made in 1978, solar power accounts for just one percent of electricity generation.  That’s not for lack of subsidies – it’s because despite billions of dollars of subsidies, the technology remains immensely inefficient and expensive.

And that brings me to the second year: 1839.   This is not a new technology.  Photovoltaic electricity was first discovered by French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel in the year 1839. 

This technology has existed for 170 years.  And in those 170 years of scientific discovery and progress, and despite billions of dollars of subsidies to the solar industry, we have yet to discover a more expensive way of generating electricity!

When the state of California was squandering its wealth on subsidizing this industry a few years ago, I asked the California Energy Commission what is the price range of various forms of electricity generation. 

And here is what they reported:

The cheapest form of electricity generation is hydroelectric.  It ranges from a quarter cent to 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour – average around 1.5 cents.

Then comes nuclear power, with a midrange around 1.7 cents.

After that, coal, about 1.9 cents. 

Then wind at 4.6 cents and then natural gas at 10.6 cents.   And finally, we get to the most expensive way to produce electricity, solar, between 13.5 cents and 42.7 cents per kilowatt hour, with a mid-range of 28.1 cents.

It gets worse.

In a day, a solid acre of state-of-the-art solar panels can produce 2.2 megawatt hours of electricity, assuming an average of 5 hours of peak sunlight.  2.2 megawatt hours per day. Compare that to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant that produces 49,000 megawatt hours of electricity each day. 

In order to duplicate that single nuclear power plant, it would require 22,000 acres of solid solar panels – or 34 square miles.  By comparison, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant sits on one square mile. 

So this technology, after 170 years and countless billions of dollars of research and development, is roughly 17 times more expensive than nuclear power and consumes 32 times the land area of a comparable nuclear facility. 

But don’t worry, say the proponents of this bill.  It just needs a few billion dollars more to become competitive.  I’m sorry, but we’ve heard that song before. 

I suppose hope springs eternal.  For decades the federal government and gullible states like California have kept the solar industry afloat, pumping billions of dollars into subsidized loans, credits to consumers who buy solar panels and, of course, Research and Development ($166 million last year and $175 million this year by the Department of Energy alone). 

This is an industry that exists solely of the dole, by the dole and for the dole.  It is now clambering for billions of dollars more.  And if this rule is passed and the bill is taken up, they’re going to get it – directly out of the shrinking savings accounts of American taxpayers.

The Solar Technology Roadmap Act of 2009.  You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere.  This is the roadmap that will get us there.