The Renewable Electricity Standard Con

On November 2, many voters expressed their displeasure with the 111th Congress and its efforts to control personal lives by passing massive legislation few members of Congress bothered to read, much less understand. Some of these bills have future costs which are now coming to light. By its actions, the 111th Congress abrogated a basic principle of representative democracy: that legislation be freely and openly discussed so that the public has the opportunity to understand its consequences.

As the 111th Congress is entering a "lame duck" session, some members are proposing additional legislation, the consequences of which are shrouded by myths and half-truths -- the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). Using government coercion, RES will force Americans to purchase a product few want and most can ill-afford -- electricity generated by wind and solar. Coupled with renewable energy tax credits (tax breaks for the rich), this legislation will advance the interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Repeated economic studies of the experiences in other countries show that electricity from renewable sources, namely solar and wind, is expensive and unreliable. Electricity rates are skyrocketing in Spain, Germany, and Denmark, where these efforts have been tried. Although some companies profit greatly, once the mandates and subsidies are removed, the industry fails. Economic prosperity requires reliable, affordable electricity, not quick fixes that benefit only the promoters.

RES is heavily promoted by wind and solar interests using myths and half truths, such as:

  • RES will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2008, the U.S. generated only 1.1% of its electricity from oil, generally on-site at refineries, etc. RES will do little to reduce U.S. oil dependency.
  • Solar and wind need the same subsidies as oil. Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China sell gasoline to their citizens at below-market prices, thereby subsidizing it. The U.S. does not. It taxes gasoline and other oil products. U.S. energy policies should not be determined by other countries.
  • Solar and wind need tax and regulatory subsidies as oil did. The Rockefellers and others did not build the oil industry with subsidies and protective tariffs. They built it by offering a superior product at an affordable price. Kerosene was far superior to candles and less expensive than whale oil. Tax breaks did not come until the U.S. implemented high taxes to pay for WWI, which it needed oil to win.
  • Wind power will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The wind industry has failed to produce a single compelling study based on experience to support the claim. If it had one, it would flaunt it.
  • Megawatt capacity compares the capability of solar and wind with other sources. Megawatt nameplate capacity is grossly misleading. All sources of electricity need some downtime for maintenance. In the U.S., nuclear produces over 90% of megawatt capacity, base load coal exceeds 70%. Operators control the downtime for nuclear and coal. However, nature controls most of the downtime for solar and wind. The frequently cited figure for wind is usually 30% of megawatt capacity, but that is also misleading. The most useful statistic is dispatchable capacity -- what the producer can guarantee for, say, New York City at 4 pm on August 7. For nuclear and coal, it is almost 100%. For wind it is less than 10% and may approach zero! There are few facts available for solar.
  • Once built, electricity from wind and solar are low-cost. Wind and solar power are highly unreliable. To prevent blackouts, wind and solar require costly backup that must be immediately available, which is expensive and inefficient. They are a waste of resources.
  • Dependability of wind and solar can be raised by building more and with the smart grid. Germany thought so, but experience shows the reverse. Germany discovered that the greater the number of wind turbines, and solar panels, the more susceptible the grid system is to failure. Thus, to prevent blackouts, the greater the use of wind and solar, the greater is the need for backup.
  • RES will provide high-paying green jobs. If jobs are the issue, it is better to build pyramids in the desert. At least once the construction stops, we will not saddle our children and grandchildren with high utility bills.
  • We need RES to win the race with China in these new forms of energy. Solar and wind have been used for thousands of years and still remain unreliable. China is in a totally different race -- a race to build the greatest possible capacity of affordable, dependable electricity for the benefit of its citizens. A brief examination of what China is actually building, as compared to what is "planned" or what RES promoters claim, demonstrates China's goal:
  • Today, China is constructing 24 nuclear power plants -- the U.S., only one.
  • In 2008, China added 20.1 GWe of hydro capacity -- the U.S., zero GWe.
  • In 2008, China added 65.8 GWe of coal-fired capacity (net increase, while closing 26 GWe of old, inefficient coal-fired capacity) -- the U.S., 0.7 GWe.
  • In 2008, China added 4.7 GWe of wind -- the U.S., 8.5 GWe (nameplate) of wind.

The one U.S. bright spot not reflected in the above statistics is the falling prices of natural gas, which is now competitive in many places with coal for generation of electricity. This change came from new techniques for extraction of gas from deeply buried dense shale thanks to innovative private enterprise, not government mandates or subsidies.

When one looks at facts rather than "plans," clearly, the U.S. is winning the wind race in which China is not even running. China is winning the race for affordable, dependable electricity for the prosperity of its citizens -- a race the federal government refuses to recognize.

Are the leaders of Communist China more concerned for the future of Chinese citizens, their children, and their grandchildren than the leaders of the 111th Congress are concerned for Americans, their children, and their grandchildren?

A vote for RES will tell!

Kenneth Haapala is Executive Vice President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

References:

Department of Energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual 2008, January 21, 2010, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epa_sum.html

World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in China, Oct 22, 2010, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Wind Powering America, Feb 4, 2010, http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_installed_capacity.asp
On November 2, many voters expressed their displeasure with the 111th Congress and its efforts to control personal lives by passing massive legislation few members of Congress bothered to read, much less understand. Some of these bills have future costs which are now coming to light. By its actions, the 111th Congress abrogated a basic principle of representative democracy: that legislation be freely and openly discussed so that the public has the opportunity to understand its consequences.

As the 111th Congress is entering a "lame duck" session, some members are proposing additional legislation, the consequences of which are shrouded by myths and half-truths -- the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). Using government coercion, RES will force Americans to purchase a product few want and most can ill-afford -- electricity generated by wind and solar. Coupled with renewable energy tax credits (tax breaks for the rich), this legislation will advance the interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Repeated economic studies of the experiences in other countries show that electricity from renewable sources, namely solar and wind, is expensive and unreliable. Electricity rates are skyrocketing in Spain, Germany, and Denmark, where these efforts have been tried. Although some companies profit greatly, once the mandates and subsidies are removed, the industry fails. Economic prosperity requires reliable, affordable electricity, not quick fixes that benefit only the promoters.

RES is heavily promoted by wind and solar interests using myths and half truths, such as:

  • RES will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2008, the U.S. generated only 1.1% of its electricity from oil, generally on-site at refineries, etc. RES will do little to reduce U.S. oil dependency.
  • Solar and wind need the same subsidies as oil. Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China sell gasoline to their citizens at below-market prices, thereby subsidizing it. The U.S. does not. It taxes gasoline and other oil products. U.S. energy policies should not be determined by other countries.
  • Solar and wind need tax and regulatory subsidies as oil did. The Rockefellers and others did not build the oil industry with subsidies and protective tariffs. They built it by offering a superior product at an affordable price. Kerosene was far superior to candles and less expensive than whale oil. Tax breaks did not come until the U.S. implemented high taxes to pay for WWI, which it needed oil to win.
  • Wind power will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The wind industry has failed to produce a single compelling study based on experience to support the claim. If it had one, it would flaunt it.
  • Megawatt capacity compares the capability of solar and wind with other sources. Megawatt nameplate capacity is grossly misleading. All sources of electricity need some downtime for maintenance. In the U.S., nuclear produces over 90% of megawatt capacity, base load coal exceeds 70%. Operators control the downtime for nuclear and coal. However, nature controls most of the downtime for solar and wind. The frequently cited figure for wind is usually 30% of megawatt capacity, but that is also misleading. The most useful statistic is dispatchable capacity -- what the producer can guarantee for, say, New York City at 4 pm on August 7. For nuclear and coal, it is almost 100%. For wind it is less than 10% and may approach zero! There are few facts available for solar.
  • Once built, electricity from wind and solar are low-cost. Wind and solar power are highly unreliable. To prevent blackouts, wind and solar require costly backup that must be immediately available, which is expensive and inefficient. They are a waste of resources.
  • Dependability of wind and solar can be raised by building more and with the smart grid. Germany thought so, but experience shows the reverse. Germany discovered that the greater the number of wind turbines, and solar panels, the more susceptible the grid system is to failure. Thus, to prevent blackouts, the greater the use of wind and solar, the greater is the need for backup.
  • RES will provide high-paying green jobs. If jobs are the issue, it is better to build pyramids in the desert. At least once the construction stops, we will not saddle our children and grandchildren with high utility bills.
  • We need RES to win the race with China in these new forms of energy. Solar and wind have been used for thousands of years and still remain unreliable. China is in a totally different race -- a race to build the greatest possible capacity of affordable, dependable electricity for the benefit of its citizens. A brief examination of what China is actually building, as compared to what is "planned" or what RES promoters claim, demonstrates China's goal:
  • Today, China is constructing 24 nuclear power plants -- the U.S., only one.
  • In 2008, China added 20.1 GWe of hydro capacity -- the U.S., zero GWe.
  • In 2008, China added 65.8 GWe of coal-fired capacity (net increase, while closing 26 GWe of old, inefficient coal-fired capacity) -- the U.S., 0.7 GWe.
  • In 2008, China added 4.7 GWe of wind -- the U.S., 8.5 GWe (nameplate) of wind.

The one U.S. bright spot not reflected in the above statistics is the falling prices of natural gas, which is now competitive in many places with coal for generation of electricity. This change came from new techniques for extraction of gas from deeply buried dense shale thanks to innovative private enterprise, not government mandates or subsidies.

When one looks at facts rather than "plans," clearly, the U.S. is winning the wind race in which China is not even running. China is winning the race for affordable, dependable electricity for the prosperity of its citizens -- a race the federal government refuses to recognize.

Are the leaders of Communist China more concerned for the future of Chinese citizens, their children, and their grandchildren than the leaders of the 111th Congress are concerned for Americans, their children, and their grandchildren?

A vote for RES will tell!

Kenneth Haapala is Executive Vice President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

References:

Department of Energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual 2008, January 21, 2010, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epa_sum.html

World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in China, Oct 22, 2010, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Wind Powering America, Feb 4, 2010, http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_installed_capacity.asp

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