Cheap Natural Gas From Harmful Fracking Makes It Harder For Solar Panels To Compete

Renewable energy use has expanded rapidly across the U.S., with solar energy booming as government subsidies help homeowners offset the costs of installing solar panels.

At the same time, the price of natural gas is dropping, thanks to increased supply due to fracking. The process of fracking can harm the surrounding area, poisons water supplies, and even causes earthquakes. But NPR reports that the cheaper cost due to the damaging process is making it harder for more costly renewable energy sources to compete:

Due in large part to a combination of fracking and horizontal drilling, there’s been a nearly 30 percent increase in the amount of natural gas produced in the U.S. since 2005. […]

Natural gas demand has not gone up as quickly as supply, and Klaber says the price has dropped.

“A handful of years ago, natural gas could have been in the order of 12, 13, 14 dollars per million BTU,” she says. “We’re now down to three to four [dollars].”

This has allowed utilities that burn natural gas to produce electricity to hold the line on rates. For most of us, that’s a good thing, but for those who’ve installed solar panels, it makes that investment less of a bargain.

Barbara Scott, who installed 21 solar panels at her home in Pennsylvania, told NPR that she’s glad she installed the panels, but now it’s not as likely that she will quickly recoup the $21,000 she spent to install the panels. “[K]nowing it’s — at best — a break-even proposition, we’re not so comfortable telling other people to do it,” she said.

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Internationally, customers are still opting for solar panels, and the cost to build the panels are dropping while coal prices rise. The U.S. needs to continue embracing renewable energy on a larger scale to keep up with the international community and get away from harmful natural gas extraction.