Responsible Energy Is Anything But
“What is responsible energy?”
The expected answer: renewables. Translation: “wind” or “solar”. These “renewable” fuels are written about in the press as if they were the saviors of America.
But is the hype justified? Are they truly the responsible alternative? Can the American fuel demand be met using these types of fuel and will they continue to make America great through energy?
The answer: No.
Wind, solar, and biofuels may be able to serve as a supplement to our current energy supplies, but there is little certainty that they can replace the hydrocarbon/ nuclear/hydro power combination that fuels America—at least not any time in the foreseeable future or with the current technology.
Famous oilman T. Boone Pickens launched a major campaign in support of wind power. His efforts were short lived, as he found the plan was overly optimistic. In reality, what his plan centered around was increasing use of natural gas—specifically in vehicles. Additionally, increasing the use of wind power would necessitate the use of more natural gas, as it is the only source fuel that can ramp up quickly when the wind dies down (or the sun isn’t shining) to get power to the grid to keep homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter; to keep computers humming and cellphones ringing; to keep foods refrigerated and safe.
Proponents of these so-called “alternatives” tout the benefits, specifically stating that they are green and free. Neither is true.
First, the fallacy that they are green: creating the equipment needed to turn the raw wind or sun into electricity utilizes nasty chemicals, large quantities of cement and, for example, wind turbines requiring two tons of rare earths—this means that approximately 2,000 tons of ore must be dug up, processed, and disposed of. There is also talk about green jobs for America, but most of the wind turbines are not made in America.
Next, free: again, the wind blowing or the sun shining is indeed free. But turning it into usable energy requires expensive equipment. Beyond the solar panels or the wind turbines, these “free” fuels use a great deal of land. For example, a nuclear power plant’s land use is minimal by comparison. The wind may be free, but the land is not.
Because of the land needed for “free” energy sources, they must be out away from residential areas where the land is relatively cheap. This requires high-voltage transmission lines be strung from the remote location of the wind or solar site to the city where the energy is needed. These lines can cost as much as $2 million per mile and they require the purchase of additional land.
Since wind and solar are not available at any time of day, they must have backup power. A traditional power plant is needed to immediately send electricity when the wind stops or the sun sets. If the power plant nearby is coal—which is, at least, inexpensive—ramping the power output up and down is inefficient and actually produces more CO2 than if it ran continuously. So backing up a wind farm with a coal-fired power plant actually creates more CO2 than if the energy came from the coal plant alone.
And make no mistake: individual efforts such as solar panels are very expensive, often outside the budget of most families. Only the wealthy can afford to go the solar panel route to have “free” energy. Distributed solar supporters claim that with subsidies and tax breaks, solar power is almost truly free. How many people have to pay taxes and higher electricity bills so those who want solar panels on their roofs can have them for free?
These “alternatives” only work if they have subsidies. Even T. Boone Pickens admits that he was only interested in the wind farm approach because of the promised subsidies the federal government provided. Without subsidies, T. Boone abandoned the Pickens Plan.
For renewable energy to be responsible it needs to work in both cost and energy parity. Instead, renewables heralded as clean, green, pure, fresh, and free are anything but.
Marita Noon is executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), a member-based, nonprofit organization operating from the platform of “Energy Makes America Great” and supports all domestic energy development. She can be reached at marita@responsiblenergy. org or www.responsiblenergy.org.