Meta, the parent firm of Facebook, was in the media promoting its environmental, social and governance (ESG) virtues in December 2021. That preening didn’t end well for the company this month after a decision was handed down in a lawsuit dealing with the destruction of a trophy fishing lake in Lumpkin, Georgia.
“We thank Silicon Ranch . . . for their dedication to successful execution and for sharing our commitment to have a positive impact on the communities where we locate,” said Meta’s renewable energy chief after the firm had agreed to use Silicon’s Lumpkin Solar Farm and two others to power its Georgia data center.
But by that point, Silicon and its construction partner, Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives (IEA), were already five months deep into being sued over environmental damage done at Lumpkin.
U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land later ruled the Lumpkin project creators had instead “created, operated and maintained a nuisance” where “pollution poured downhill and downstream onto the neighbors’ property” for nearly two years, “inundating wetlands with silt and sediment” and turning a “21-acre trophy fishing lake” into a “mud hole.”
The neighbors won their case. This month, a jury assigned by Judge Land to assess a penalty returned a $135.5 million verdict against IEA and Silicon Ranch, $100 million of it against IEA. Silicon promised to appeal and blamed IEA for the damage.
Whomever ultimately pays up, this certainly wasn’t a “positive impact on the communities” where Meta chooses to locate.”
Solar Land Use
To be fair, Meta didn’t befoul the lake. But the ESG agenda it embraced makes environmental abuses inevitable. The land use of solar farms is brutal.
Silicon Ranch claims 100 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity for Lumpkin, on a footprint of 850 acres—or 1.2 square miles. Ideally, that works out to 0.11 MW of power capacity per acre.
But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the capacity factor of solar farms is just 24.9 percent. Capacity factor is a measure of how much of that 100 MW Lumpkin will really crank out. As with any solar farm, it is restricted by unpredictable weather and entirely predictable sunsets.
On the other side of the state from Lumpkin sits Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear station, soon to be a minimum 4400 MW facility taking up about 2/3 of a 3100-acre (4.8 square mile) chunk of real estate.
That works out to 2.2 MW per acre, or land use that is at least 20 times friendlier than Lumpkin.
The actual disparity is much larger because nuclear has a 92.5 percent capacity factor. It works in the dark, in heavy rain, and in everything else. A Bloomberg analysis reported that solar chews up 47 times more land to do the same job as a nuclear plant. Environmental journalist Michael Shellenberger has calculated the disparity at 180-1 and much worse, depending on location of the solar farm.
Politicians professing love of the land use your taxes to purchase the opposite.
Energy journalist Robert Bryce reported in 2020 that federal subsidies for solar were 250 times more than nuclear per unit of energy produced.
And the lake in Lumpkin wasn’t an isolated problem.
“Runoff from a growing number of giant solar farms polluting rivers and streams in rural South Georgia is becoming a major concern,” reported Georgia Public Broadcasting in October 2022, citing the opinion of the state’s environmental regulators.
The ESG Agenda
Nuclear provides 20 percent of American electricity; solar less than three percent. There’s no good reason why Meta and many other big corporations deliberately purchase solar energy.
There is, however, a bad reason.
“Our climate program is aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and guided by the latest science on what is necessary to transition to a zero-carbon future,” claims Meta on its corporate website.
Along with the United Nations, SBTi is a collaboration with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Both CDP and WWF stridently opposed a 2022 decision by the European Union to include nuclear as an acceptable zero carbon fuel. In 2018, WRI hosted an event to honor a South African activist for her effort to block construction of ten nuclear power stations.
These nonprofits, along with the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and hundreds of others are the “E” in ESG. They form a web of anti-nuclear climate groups that promote instead environment-gobbling wind and solar energy. Collectively, they spend more than a billion dollars per year.
Corporate America can’t appease this mob by doing the right thing on nuclear energy. Should Meta have done any different?
From January 2021 through the first quarter of 2023, Meta reported total net profits of $68.3 billion. Facebook’s parent could easily afford to move its operations to places powered by nuclear energy. That leadership would encourage more nuclear energy development. Indeed, Meta is so rich that just its profits since 2021 could build another four-reactor Vogtle facility, which is enough to power one million homes and businesses.
Meta is one of those rare firms so economically enormous it could unilaterally lead a revolution towards carbon free power. Instead, it has a “mud hole” in Lumpkin because the real “climate” agenda was just to keep the ESG hypocrites off its back.
This article originally appeared in RealClearEnergy on June 26, 2023.