Michigan videographer gives presentation in Erie
ERIE – Farmers and local residents gathered in Erie for a solar energy information session hosted by a videographer from Michigan.
Peter Sinclair, an advocate for solar power and environmental issues, spoke to dozens of Erie VFW residents about the potential benefits, costs and impact of adding solar power farms to Michigan.
The presentation included video interviews conducted by Sinclair that featured statistics, analysis and scientific explanations by solar energy experts. He also addressed the opposing concerns and alleged disinformation campaigns before opening the floor for a Q&A session.
Sinclair started the session with a personal introduction and an overview of how he approaches his work.
“I look for the best and most reputable people,” Sinclair said. “I ask them the right questions, translate everything they tell me into plain English and try to say it honestly.”
One of the first points Sinclair made about solar power was cost. He presented an unsubsidized analysis of energy costs, created by the international investment firm Lazard. According to the report, alternative energies such as wind and solar average about the same or less in dollars per megawatt-hour (MWh) compared to conventional means such as nuclear, coal and gas.
In one of Sinclair’s video segments, former Michigan Tech engineering expert Joshua Pearce claimed that the end cost of some solar technologies is around $0.05 per kilowatt hour, while conventional electricity costs about $0.15.
Wolfgang Bauer, professor of physics at Michigan State University, echoed this in a video interview.
“Green energy is now really cheaper than fossil fuels,” Bauer said. “We can save the planet and save our wallet at the same time.”
Sinclair then addressed a concern that some naysayers have cited – noise pollution caused by solar farms. He released a video that took sound recordings at various distances from a solar farm, including entirely within the area of the panels, with very little audible noise.
Sinclair said Michigan is a leader in solar energy, with more supporters emerging as new projects come to fruition. The video shown during the presentation shows a recent project in Lapeer, which has won support from the town’s mayor and other residents. According to the video, the farm can generate enough energy to power around 11,000 homes, although Lapeer only has around 3,600 homes.
U.S.-based global companies such as General Motors, Microsoft and Facebook are also getting into solar power, Sinclair said. A GM representative noted that solar power allows the company to reduce carbon emissions while saving on production costs.
Property values are also a major concern when it comes to building new solar power farms, Sinclair said. He showed a video featuring Patricia McGurr, an internationally certified real estate appraiser, who shared the results of a study that show solar farms do not negatively affect adjacent property values.
McGurr also noted that values have risen sharply over time for properties adjacent to the Assembly Solar Farm in Shiawassee, which is currently Michigan’s largest facility.
Another area of concern with solar power is the fear of soil contamination from toxic materials used to cover solar panels. Since snow, ice, and liquid water must slide off the panels, units generally require waterproofing. Critics of solar energy have claimed that some panels are coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.
Michigan State University’s Annick Anctil addressed the concerns in a video segment. She said most solar companies avoid using PFAS for waterproofing because there are better and safer alternatives. She also claimed that there has never been a single case of solar panels causing soil or groundwater contamination.
After addressing power generation downtime, Sinclair said it’s not a major concern with solar power and compared it to the longer downtime associated with nuclear power plants and the coal.
The use of agricultural land for solar installations seemed to generate the most interest among participants. Sinclair said Michigan currently has about 10 million acres of agricultural land, 40,000 of which is used for solar farming, or about 0.4%. He then compared this to golf courses in Michigan, which occupy approximately 97,000 acres of land.
He also noted that about 2.3 million acres of farmland is devoted to growing corn in Michigan, and of that, almost a million is used to produce ethanol. Sinclair asserted that the demand for ethanol will decrease due to the increase in the number of electric vehicles on the road over time, which will create opportunities for alternative uses of agricultural land.
“I believe keeping farmers on the land, as stewards of the land, is one of the most important things we can do to maintain the quality of life and the quality of soil and water. .. in this condition,” Sinclair said.
He added that solar farms give farmers the opportunity to have a drought-resistant income for years and incentivize them to conserve and maintain their land for future generations.
Towards the end of the presentation, Sinclair claimed that the solar energy movement had fallen prey to my disinformation campaigns. He showed news clips of such alleged efforts in Iowa and other parts of the United States.
An opponent of solar energy, Deerfield Zoning Administrator Kevon Martis has spoken out locally against energy farms, Sinclair said. Martis hosted an invitation-only meeting at Ida on Wednesday evening. Topics included zoning issues, disputes and zoning issues associated with solar farms.
After the hour-long presentation, Sinclair opened a question-and-answer session for attendees. One person asked how much land is lost to new homes and similar developments each year in Michigan compared to solar power. Sinclair said the construction of new homes results in a significant loss of farmland each year.
Another person asked where the solar panels and other equipment are made. Two representatives present from the manufacturer First Solar, who did not identify themselves, volunteered to answer the question.
They said about 30% of their equipment is currently made in the United States. The rest is made in Vietnam and Malaysia. One of First Solar’s representatives noted that the company is currently in the process of doubling its manufacturing operations in the United States.
Sinclair added that the tariffs could influence more solar companies to move their installations to the United States.
One of the final questions of the evening came from an attendee who asked about Sinclair’s compensation for speaking events. Sinclair noted that he spoke on behalf of several organizations that compensate him.
The participant then asked how much Sinclair earned annually for his presentations.
“If I run for president, I will release my tax returns,” Sinclair replied.
Jay Hathaway is a contributor to The Monroe News.