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Inheriting the wind

The Senate may vote this month to require that 15% of domestic energy production come from alternative sources by 2020. Welcome to the People’s Republic of America.

The Senate Energy Committee has sent to the full Senate legislation effectively nationalizing the energy sector of the economy by mandating increased alternative energy use in the private sector. It further requires that 10% of federal power purchases be from “green” energy sources by 2010.

We have nothing against alternative energy sources. We just don’t believe government should be picking winners and losers in the economy. We are in an energy pickle precisely because government has been meddling in the market, restricting construction of new refineries and pipelines, blocking oil and gas development in Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf and requiring the use of boutique fuels of questionable effectiveness.

New technologies take off when they are practical, cost-efficient and beneficial – qualities that can’t yet be ascribed to so-called “renewable” energy like wind and solar power. The fact is that after more than 30 years and billions of dollars of government subsidies, neither wind nor solar power is economically competitive.

Besides their still-high cost, the main drawback of solar and wind is that they are intermittent. There’s no economic way to store the electrical energy for use at night, on cloudy or windless days, and during peak periods.

Marlo Lewis, senior fellow in environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has pointed out that after three decades and over $14 billion in taxpayer subsidies, so-called renewable energy – wind, solar and biomass fuels – together supply only 3% of America’s electricity, with wind and solar providing less than 0.2 of 1 percent.

Touted as a means of protecting the environment from pollution, giant wind farms threaten birds and endangered species. The Center for Biological Diversity has sued wind farm operators in California’s Altamont Pass where it is estimated that as many as 44,000 birds have been killed over the past 20 years. The casualties include an average of 50 golden eagles annually, by what the Sierra Club has called “the Cuisinarts of the air.”

Congressional Democrats and Al Gore aren’t the only ones who think energy independence can be achieved and climate change prevented by government edict. When Washington state voters approved a referendum last Nov. 7 mandating that 15% of that state’s electrical power come from renewable sources, it became the 20th state plus the District of Columbia to pass such a measure.

If any state in the union needs to be freed from dependence on imported oil and make a successful go of renewable energy, it would be Hawaii. Plenty of ocean breezes and lots of Pacific sunshine.

Hawaii passed a law last year that calls for one-fifth of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. But right now it imports 90% of its energy. And it isn’t for lack of trying. So far, solar power has not proven feasible for Hawaii for generating electricity, although solar-powered water heaters are in widespread use.

The Big Island has a wind farm with 16 turbines turned by the tropical ocean breezes. The 100-foot turbines can generate enough electricity for 1,200 homes. One recent afternoon, the breezes died and so did the power from eight of the turbines, forcing the local utility to get its power the old-fashioned way.

In the command economy of the old Soviet Union, it was believed that simply ordering something to occur would make it happen and that distorting the workings of the marketplace was the path to productivity, efficiency and prosperity.

Now some believe that is the path to energy independence. But before we end our addiction to oil, we first have to end our addiction to government.

Investors Business Daily


7 May 2007