Policy: Environment & Energy

Examiner Editorial: Admit it, greens --- renewables can't power U.S. economy

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Opinion,Editorial,Economy,Energy and Environment,Fracking,Solar Energy,Wind Energy,Ethanol,Washington Examiner,Energy Efficiency

Big Green activists have taken their crusade against hydraulic fracturing to a number of state capitols for the same reason they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. They want the fossil fuels that power the U.S. economy to remain in the ground, untapped. The fact that the ongoing natural gas boom is doing far more through market forces to reduce the use of coal than any government regulation is apparently irrelevant to them.

But the question they must answer is precisely how they propose to keep the American economy functioning until green power can actually replace fossil fuels. It is an important question, because renewable fuel cannot do the job – not even under the Obama administration's most optimistic projections.

How they propose to keep the American economy functioning until green power can actually replace fossil fuels?

The little discussed reality is that renewable energy cannot function without heavy subsidies in the form of producer and consumer tax credits, purchase mandates, and large loan guarantees to companies like the now-bankrupt Solyndra.

But this is only part of the problem. Not only are renewables (other than hydro-electric) already more costly than other energy sources, but there is also no serious chance they can expand sufficiently to produce the energy the economy needs now or for years to come.

Take electrical generation, the main source of U.S. carbon emissions now and bound to become more important in a green technology-driven future if electric cars ever catch on. Like ethanol, whose production falls far short of federal mandates, renewable electricity sources have limits.

As data compiled earlier this year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration demonstrate, even with an aggressive, economy-damaging program of carbon reduction -- far more disruptive than anything currently in place -- renewable power production will fall far short of what America needs to function.

President Obama loves to point out that solar, wind, and biomass have increased their share of the U.S. electricity market under his watch, and that is true. What he is less likely to mention is that despite robust mandates for renewable use, the share remains less than 6 percent of all production.

The EIA, taking into account current policies, projects that non-hydropower renewables will make up only 8.6 percent of world electricity generation and 10.6 percent of U.S. generation by 2040. Even under the most optimistic domestic scenario, which requires "a $25/metric ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions that increases 5 percent each year until the end of the projection period," renewables will produce only 1.1 trillion annual kilowatt hours in the U.S. by 2040, or just over 20 percent of anticipated generation.

If these projections are even in the ballpark, renewables will play no serious role in saving the planet from global warming, whether the consequences for humanity and the world are dire or modest.

In adopting policies that will raise prices – both of energy and the consumer goods it is used to produce – lawmakers must consider both the costs and potential benefits. If carbon-based global warming is truly a dire threat, there is no point in adopting policies that will inflict great economic hardship without even coming close to solving the problem.

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