Not so bright lights

So-called “renewable” energy is not clean, renewable, reliable, affordable or sustainable

  • Uncle fester light bulb

“Renewable energy” is a sexy term used to drive public policies and spending.

The Obama Administration and like-minded Green zealots have said repeatedly that they are waging a “war on coal,” intend to bankrupt coal-based power plants, and delay or block oil, natural gas and nuclear projects – while fast-tracking and subsidizing ethanol, wind and solar programs

Another apostle of the renewable energy, anti-hydrocarbon movement is Senator Harry Reid. The chief organizer of and keynote speaker at this week’s falsely named National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Reid is a true believer in destroying conventional energy through subsidies, regulations and strong-arm tactics. He even wants to shut down every coal power plant in Nevada.

Senator Reid may believe that compelling and subsidizing increased renewable energy use, while undermining and even outlawing conventional energy, is the way to economic growth and energy independence. In reality, this reckless scheme could easily cause the collapse of our energy grid, job creation, economy and living standards, just as it is already doing in Europe.

Unfortunately, Reid and his allies could get away with it, because “renewable” confers an almost Holy Grail status that ensures widespread political, media and public support. That lofty status, however, ignores two fundamental facts:

1) Wind, solar and biofuel energy are not renewable, eco-friendly, reliable, affordable or sustainable.

2) Renewable energy schemes can no longer be justified by claims that we are rapidly running out of fossil fuels that are causing dangerous man-made global warming. Hydraulic fracturing has obliterated the depletion myth, while climate change fears are belied by a 16-year hiatus from planetary warming, historic lows in hurricane and tornado activity, and the abject failure of CO2-focused climate computer models.

In other words, the craze for “renewables” is driven by religious zeal, not science or roof-with-solar-panelseconomics. Capturing, converting and transmitting energy from any source requires an infrastructure – which involves construction, maintenance and eventual replacement, all of which require land disturbance, raw materials extraction and processing, energy and investment. There is no pure fountain from which to drink – only limited options, each with its own upsides and downsides.

To compare energy sources honestly and rationally for specific purposes (heating, lighting, transportation or manufacturing, for instance), we need to apply the same standards and analytical methods for each alternative. However, those who champion “renewables” have consistently misrepresented the human, environmental, capital, manufacturing and maintenance costs of providing reliable, affordable energy in sufficient quantities to power a modern economy and maintain desired living standards.

For example, the subsidies needed for wind and solar projects are many times higher per unit of energy actually produced than is the case for oil, natural gas, coal or nuclear power. And yet, even with those subsidies, electricity delivered by “renewable” sources is far more expensive than is power from conventional alternatives. That means families and businesses pay much higher bills for lighting, heating, air conditioning and machinery power, when renewable mandates are imposed – and higher costs for all consumer goods, since higher energy and manufacturing costs are passed along to consumers.

When we factor in the natural gas, coal or nuclear power plants needed as backup for intermittent, unreliable wind and solar facilities, supposedly envWind turbine birdsironment friendly renewable options also require more land, raw materials, energy and money than alternative, conventional energy sources. Solar arrays also impact vast areas of wildlife habitat, while wind turbines slaughter millions of birds and bats annually – necessitating broad, long-term exemptions from endangered species and other environmental laws.

The high cost of taxpayer subsidies and consumer electricity rates also results in two to four jobs being lost in traditional industries for every wind and solar job created via government manipulation of the marketplace. Blue-collar, poor and middle class families feel the worst impacts from this enormous wealth transfer to lobbyists, pressure groups, bureaucrats, and “green energy” companies and investors.

These subsidies are not sustainable; nor are the birds and bats and wildlife habitat being sacrificed on the altar of politically correct energy. Even worse, President Obama’s determination to slash hydrocarbon use by 80% – to stave off man-made global warming catastrophes that exist only in computer models, White House statements and Hollywood movies – will require a 25-fold increase in wind and solar electricity generation, resulting in the annihilation of numerous species in regions all across the Lower 48 States.

Renewable energy hucksters ignore all of this, as they seek more grants, tax credits, production mandates, feed-in tariffs, production tax credits, and guaranteed annual returns on investments. They seek to claim the high moral ground, by chanting “renewable” while ignoring the environmental, economic and human costs of capturing and delivering energy from their preferred sources.

A recent BBC News article notes that, while wind turbines are typically permitted for up to 25 years, developers anticipate upgrading or replacing them after as few as 10 years in many locations. A new Scottish Natural Heritage report says, by 2034, the industry will need to recycle or dispose of some 225,000 metric tons of turbine rotor blade material per year. This means 225,000 metric tons of new rotor blades will have to be manufactured, using materials extracted from the Earth via mining, drilling and other processes that use energy and generate mountains of waste.

A 2009 article in MacLife magazine acknowledges that, while “solar-powered gadgets have become de rigueur in our attempts to shrink our carbon footprint,” there is a rarely discussed “dark side” to solar energy. Many solar panels are made with cadmium, a highly toxic carcinogen, and when these panels are decommissioned after about 20 years there will be a huge accumulation of “e-waste.” Manufacturing polysilicon (a key component in sun-capturing wafers) generates four tons of toxic silicon tetrachloride for every ton of product – and Chinese firms that produce the bulk of this material and rare earth metals for solar panels and wind turbines have been dumping their wastes on farmlands and wildlife habitats.

Electric cars are likewise “environment friendly” only in the minds of renewable zealots. They require multiple large batteries that typically last up to three years and cost about $8,000 apiece, not including disposal costs, Diane Bacher points out in eHow. Battery disposal involves putting their hazardous metal wastes in special landfills, and the mass production of electric car batteries will create large volumes of hazardous wastes, while placing as much demand on the power grid as traditional vehicle equipment manufacturing, Bacher notes. Increased use of electric vehicles would put enormous strain on power grids that rely increasingly on intermittent wind and solar energy and less on coal, natural gas and nuclear.

Meanwhile, Europe’s obsession with climate change and fossil fuel eradication has caused it to spend $882 billion on wind and solar power since 2005. Over 800,000 Germans have had their electricity cut off, because they could not afford to pay their soaring electricity bills; millions of British families have been driven into fuel poverty; and millions remain jobless in a stagnant EU economy.

“Renewable energy” is a deliberate false labeling strategy, designed to curry favor with trendy urbanites who are ignorant about energy and economic reality. The real cost to U.S. economic growth, jobs and living standards from following the Green Brick Road to ecological paradise is equally beyond their ken.

This is energy policy by and for not-so-bright lights, who let their religious fervor for anything not hydrocarbon get in the way of common sense and fact-based analysis. Their policies will result in dim bulbs in our future light fixtures – and expensive, job-killing energy for other needs. We cannot afford to continue going down this suicidal path.

__________________

This article originally appeared at National Journal.

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About the Author: Craig Rucker

Craig Rucker

Craig Rucker is the executive director and co-founder of CFACT.

About the Author: Duggan Flanakin

Duggan Flanakin

Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with both the Texas and Arkansas Public Policy Foundations, Mr. Flanakin has a Master's in Public Policy from Regent University. During the years he spent reporting on environmental regulation in Texas and nationwide, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas.

  • Martha

    Another thing no one talks about is that CO2 is heavier than air and is scientific impossible to reach the atmosphere. Have someone blow up a balloon which is now full of CO2 and you will see that it will not leave the ground. Back in the early 1900′s when scientist where using rocket instead of weather balloons they then discovered CO2
    up there but after studying it it was found that the solar flares were the cause so…until we can control the sun we will never control the CO2 in the atmosphere. I think it is funny that people look down on those from the early 1900′s who would pay money to a huckster who claimed they either had a rain making machine or could make it rain.

    • ChuckS123

      I think you’re wrong. I think CO2 mixes with the rest of the air and gets evenly distributed throughout all the atmosphere. There is a hgher concentration in some places for a while, but it eventually gets mixed.

    • JoeTexan

      If your hypothesis were true, water vapor could never reach the upper atmosphere to form clouds.

      • Martha

        Water vapor is H2O which is different; I can only go by what I see and know. The trees and bushes, plants all use CO2 so if it is not low on the ground how can they use it? Also in the winter when we can see our breath which is CO2 and I see factories that spew out CO2, the gas is not going up but sinking to the ground. Why is that?

        • JoeTexan

          Water vapor and carbon dioxide are both heavier than oxygen and nitrogen. However, both get mixed into the atmosphere and are distributed throughout. When you see your breath in the winter, you are seeing the water vapor in your exhalation condensing in the cool air. Additionally, CO2 is invisible, so you couldn’t see it spewing from factories. You are seeing water vapor in the output. If you notice, the steam from stacks flows along with the air currents until it dissipates enough to be no longer visible.

          CO2 doesn’t have to be “low on the ground” to be used, it just has to be part of the entire atmospheric mixture. If CO2 concentrated low to the ground, it would push oxygen up higher because O2 is lighter than CO2, and we would all suffocate.

        • Icarus62

          It’s a simple measured fact that CO2, unlike water vapour, is well-mixed throughout the atmosphere up to about 100km or so.

  • marykaybarton

    Thank you Craig and Duggan for your continued efforts to battle the “renewables” mania that is wasting our money, and devastating our environment for these useless ‘green’ energy boondoggles.

    I posted the following comment on the National Journal article, but don’t know if they will post it or not:

    William Tucker explains that the REAL fuels of the future depend on understanding “Understanding E = mc2”. See: http://www.energytribune.com/2771/understanding-e-mc2#sthash.5sNBbdf4.dpbs

    Tucker explains that energy density matters, and that wind’s diffuse energy can NOT provide large-scale modern, reliable power. The wishful thinking of “green” enthusiasts can NOT change this reality.

    The term ‘wind power’ itself is an oxymoron, as explained in Jon Boone’s excellent piece, “Oxymoronic Windpower,” at MasterResource.org

    Wind is NOT reliable, predictable, or dispatchable, and thus provides virtually NO Capacity Value, or firm capacity (specified amounts of power on demand).
    Therefore, wind needs constant “shadow capacity” from our reliable,
    conventional power sources. Even Big Wind CEO, Patrick Jenevein admitted that consumers pay twice for this redundancy in his WSJ op-ed, “Wind power
    subsidies? No Thanks” and follow-up TV interview. (See: http://on.wsj.com/YORRi1 and http://tinyurl.com/ctx6k4g)

    This redundancy makes wind one of the most expensive, least efficient sources of energy on the utility grid. On a per kWh basis, wind receives 80 times the public subsidies received by fossil fuels, but produces no reliable electricity capacity. (See: http://www.masterresource.org/2012/08/local-wind-subsidies-more-waste-new-york-states-money-road-to-nowhere/)

    “Ramping” our conventional generators up and down in order to accommodate wind’s skittering flux on the grid forces conventional generators to run much less efficiently, thereby increasing their CO2 emissions – much the same as a car stuck in stop-and-go traffic uses much more gas (and thus more emissions). Iowa exemplifies this.

    According to USEIA data, as Iowa’s installed wind capacity has grown over the past decade, so has their coal usage and their CO2 emissions. Iowa’s increase
    in coal generation at a time of relatively static demand, has occurred despite its’ substantial increases in wind output. Because there is no such thing as wind by itself, wind generation actually locks in dependence on fossil fuels.

    Wind is far from being a ‘Made in America’ product. The top wind turbine manufacturers by annual market share (installed capacity) are: Denmark, China, Spain and Germany, with the U.S. (GE), coming in at 7.7% of the Global Market share. Then there’s the approximately 6,000 – 8,000 pounds of rare earths that are required per turbine, which overwhelmingly come from China. So much for “energy independence.”

    New York State’s experience to date with industrial wind factories should serve as a warning to all those who care about economic reality. NY’s 16 installed wind factories produced an average 23.5% Capacity Factor (actual output) in 2012. Any other piece of equipment that had such an abysmal performance record would have been dubbed a LEMON and relegated to the trash heap a long time ago.

    Consider the fact that ONE single 450 MW gas-fired combined cycle generating unit located near New York City (where the power is needed in New York State), operating at only a 60% capacity factor, could have supplied more
    electricity than all of New York State’s 16 installed “wind farms” combined — AND, would have significantly reduced CO2 emissions — with only about 1/4 of the capital cost of the wind factories, and WITHOUT the unwarranted civic and environmental degradation, negative human health impacts, massive bird and bat mortality caused by these giant “Bird Cuisinarts,” and the property value losses that sprawling wind factories create – both at the “wind farm” sites, and due to all the added transmission lines that must be added to NYC.

    AND, that ONE gas-fired plant would actually create REAL, full-time jobs — unlike the “wind farms,” which the IER figures to cost $11.45 Million per job created, and as a result, cost over 4 jobs lost elsewhere in the economy.

    Even industry representatives and Global Warming enthusiasts are admitting that wind won’t work, and is a waste of our resources:

    - “Wind turbines do NOT reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Fleming Nissen, Head of Denmark’s largest energy utility;

    - “Windmills are a mistake and economically make no sense,” said Neils Gram, Danish Federation of Industries;

    - “Wind is not the future,” said Professor Jack Steinberger, a nobel prize-winning scientist at the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society in Europe. Steinberger went on to say that “wind represented and illusory technolgy – a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battles against climate change.” (See: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6368156.ece)

    - The National Academies of Science National Research Council Report also acknowledged that, “Building thousands of turbines won’t reduce the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain.”

    To date, with approximately 200,000 industrial wind turbines installed worldwide, rounded to nearest whole number, the total worldwide electric generation from wind today is ZERO!

  • Icarus62

    The energy collected by solar panels, wind turbines etc. is inexhaustible. Unfortunately the equipment we use to collect it is expensive, finite and ultimately unsustainable.

    So we are in an impossible situation – fossil fuel combustion is destroying our habitable climate, but so far we don’t have any realistic alternative that would sustain global civilisation on its current path.

    • http://CoSy.com/ Bob Armstrong

      If by “destroying our habitable climate” you mean having an insignificant effect on temperature but visibly greening the planet as seen from satellites , well , I guess so .

    • Carbonscam

      Like it or not the ultimate solution is Nuclear, which is the Baby the Daddy is Nuclear Fusion- Bring it on Baby, Up yours Obummer you Shabez Goi Scumbag!

  • J.P. Katigbak

    Political correctness is actually too good to be true – but, unfortunately, activist ideologues of mainly left-leaning variety are threatening to strangle public dissension against “the ideological and philosophical tentacles of environmentalism” as what I call.

    As it is, people like me must fight for good, tried-and-tested traditional values and customs, fight for traditional institutions (including the institution of monarchy), fight for good governance, fight for a more stable economic and social development, fight for a meaningful environmental protection, and many, many more.

    Time to do that way, CFACT and other meaningful groups, because challenging the prevailing ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism is a fight for a better tomorrow among various societies and economies around the world.

    Please keep on fighting, OK? Thanks very much, anyway. – J.P.K.

  • roberta4343

    you know it is funny the communists of old (well maybe now too) used the we are in this together community idea (same as sustainable development and the like) yet all their schemes failed, the principles they based it on failed yet they are trying to implement it here and they think it will create a cleaner more energy effricient world where everyone is happy as a clam doing the same mistakes that the failed policies of other countries led to. they were implementing policies that wasted resources big time on goals that were both immoral (stealing from others, based on lies and misinfor,eugenics, forced labor that sorta thing)and imaginary and not based on sound science, logic or natural laws either. so those systems failed big time causing famines, severe poverty, high death rates, infant mortalitiy and the like. if something is being wasted, wealth is not being created and no one wins. well someone is gaining wealth it is not the people in general that are, in these tried experiements the enviroment suffered big time and in places like china and russia they still are suffering. so this article really tried to find a balance here trying to help people realize the pros and cons of something like windmills (which are ugly monstrosities and should be dismantled) which does more damage then oil or gas ever did, well in this country anyway, in nigeria where there are no god given rights recongized the wetlands are being devstated by oil spills and I would meander a guess that the owners of corporations are behind this idea anyway since they used the fed gov to close down access to energy on usa soil(in the name of protecting a animal) to force people to buy from them while they fled this country and went to others to get oil cheaply for htem expensivly for us, they shift the liabilities for making money on us more and more (calling it social equity or justice) and take all the profits for themselves calling it public private partnership beneift corporations. if they really cared about social equity or justice they would use thier own money to help those in poverty and not take from others, you know practice what they preach which they don’t hypocrites they are.

  • GeorgeB

    Harry Reid, wow! He’s made a lot of money, and all while being a public servant. So few will care how he made it.

    One of the Las Vegas wonders was Amonix CPV. All the hype, the baby kissing, but once all these big monoliths were placed in the field, complete silence. No one.. not even the Las Vegas Sun had and interest in how that equipment performed.

    As we all know, It’s really NOT about science or saving the planet. When science is part of the equation, the facts are NOT so well hidden.. I think Amonix is a good example. But those who believe in fairy dust will be happy with the answer offered.. the Amonix power plants are meeting expectations :-) Bwaaah!

  • J.P. Katigbak

    I wonder how the situation goes with the prevailing ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism and other sorts of political correctness? Same thing, same ideas that mainly come from the same leftist playbook.

    Therefore, it is time for people like me to take action now before activist ideologues and their allies proceed with the ideological bread and circuses no matter where they come from across the globe. – J.P.K.

  • Eckenhuijsen Smit

    Icarus 62: What a brainless comment you posted again!
    Don´t you ever get wiser or better informed; poor you!

  • Scottar

    On electric vehicles, you need to define the type of batteries. I assume they are the LION type which TESLA is using on their vehicles and currently has the wight to energy advantage to make an electric vehicles range practical, minus the cost.