Daily Mail Starting to Pay Attention, Sort Of

In December, the Charleston Daily Mail has run two stories featuring solar power producers in WV.  Both articles provided a lot of information, but their authors also missed quite a bit of the real story.

WV’s media always seems to go out of its way to make solar power an “alternative lifestyle choice” instead of a real way of creating electricity, like giant coal-fired power plants.  Here, the Daily Mail does not disappoint.  But what is really on display in both stories, is the serious ignorance of the reporters concerning electricity.  Unlike reporters at The State Journal and the Charleston Gazette who have covered energy issues for years, the reporters the Daily Mail sent out on these stories seem completely out of their depth.

Monica Orosz wrote a pretty good piece on Bob Hoffa and Tenley Shewmate of Greenbrier County, owners of Alterra Renewable Energy.  There were a couple of things about Bob’s and Tenley’s system that Ms. Orosz left out.  The Greenbrier couple has an 11 kW system.  As noted in the story, this is a pretty large system for a couple that has also been serious about reducing their electricity consumption.  Because Bob and Tenley got their system certified to sell Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) in the District of Columbia, before DC cut off all new out of state credits in 2011, they continue to sell significant amounts of SRECs in DC for anywhere from $100 to $200 each.  My 1.38 kW system generates about 1.5 SRECs per year.  Do the math for Bob’s and Tenley’s 11 kW system, and you can see that DC is serious about promoting renewable power, as WV is not.  The DC opportunity is no longer an option for new grid connected PV systems in WV, and the 2009 ARPS law in WV effectively prevents the marketing of any SRECs in WV for the foreseeable future.

I hope Ms. Orosz had nothing to do with one of the captions that accompanies the story.  Here is the caption:

The couple’s 1,000-square-foot home uses about 9,000 megawatts of power a year. Compare that to the average West Virginia home, which Hoffa said uses 12,000. He and Shewmake have made a conscious effort to reduce their power usage.

First of all, “megawatts” is not a measure of electricity used.  That measurement is expressed as watts multiplied by hours, or power used over time.  Second, if Bob and Tenley are using 9000 megawatt hours, they must be smelting aluminum.  The standard measurement of electricity use is the kilowatt hour, or 1000 watts used in one hour.  One megawatt is 1000 kilowatts or 1,000,000 watts.  Bob’s and Tenley’s system has an 11 kilowatt capacity rating, meaning that the system is capable of generating 11,000 watts at any one time, under optimal conditions.  The amount of energy produced is measured in kilowatt hours, or thousands of watts produced over one hour.  The caption writer should have said that Bob and Tenley use 9000 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year, not megawatts.

It may seem like I am nitpicking here, but how can West Virginians learn about generating their own electricity when newspaper articles don’t provide them with accurate information?

You should also note at the end of the article, the reporter mentions one of my biggest disagreements with Bob Hoffa.  As regular readers know, I am a big advocate of grid tied systems with battery arrays for backup power during blackouts.  Bob does not believe that the inefficiencies of this kind of system are justified by the reliability benefits.  Ms. Orosz apparently didn’t know enough about solar power to follow up on Bob’s support for generators as opposed to battery backup systems.  As I have also said to Bob before, maybe his power company power doesn’t go off as much as mine does either.

The Daily Mail sent three reporters to do the story on Doddridge County’s Linda and Sonny Jobe.  The story provides a pretty clear picture of life with a PV system that is not tied to the power company grid.  But, hey, the regional grid operator is PJM Interconnection, not PJM Interconnections.  Again, nit picky, but also indicative of the ignorance even reporters have about where electricity comes from.

The reporters on this story venture off into a discussion of the WV ARPS law.  Except that they get it completely wrong, giving the impression that the law supports renewable power in WV.  Newspapers should be presenting fact, not propaganda.  There is lots of information on the Internet now, including on The Power Line, that explains how the ARPS law actually prevents renewable power development in our state.

The great thing about both articles, and I credit this to the subjects and not the reporters, is the advice to focus on reducing your electricity use before you invest in a PV system.  As Bob Hoffa says on Alterra’s Web site: “Conserving energy is the logical first step in planning your renewable energy system because every dollar you spend on conservation will save you $3 – $5 on your installation.”

So, Charleston Daily Mail, thanks for the effort.  Maybe if you keep at least one of these reporters on the WV solar energy beat, they can learn enough to provide thorough, factual reporting next time.

2 thoughts on “Daily Mail Starting to Pay Attention, Sort Of

  1. Great critique Bill and good discussion on the actual terminology that should be used in these news stories, I liked the part about the aluminum smelter.

    • Yeah, you’d think that level of power use would get them some special treatment from the Legislature, just like Century. Oh, I forgot, it’s solar power.

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