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Renewable energy is neither easy nor cheap

The writer of a letter published May 25 seemed to wish that wind energy would replace fossil fuel electric power (“Wind energy a viable alternate to fossil fuels”). But wind energy has not replaced a fossil fuel power plant anywhere on Earth. If wishes were horses, legislators could pass renewable energy standards that have the ability to ride roughshod over the laws of nature and physics. But they can’t.

Xcel Energy has a program called “Windsource,” through which consumers pay more, not less, to use wind power.

The Energy Information Administration reports that on a per-unit-of-energy basis, subsidies for oil and gas are 28 cents, for coal 39 cents, for nuclear $1.79, for corn ethanol $20.37, for wind $32.39, and for solar $63.

We need more public transport, more efficient cars and light bulbs and to continue support for renewable-energy research.

We don’t need premature projects like the $2 billion Cape Wind farm off Cape Cod in Massachusetts or the proposed, bird-killing wind farm in Goodhue County, Minn. None of these will produce one-tenth the effective output of the Prairie Island nuclear plant, Xcel Energy’s reliable, low-cost power source.

When political candidates talk about the environment this year, think about the economy, which requires each of us to cough up $7,500 for each wealthy buyer of an electric car. Or think about Germany, where middle-income power users pay to subsidize wealthy homeowners who can then decorate their roofs with ineffective solar panels. And think about wind energy’s poster country, Denmark, which has the highest electric rates in Europe.

If wishes were horses, it would be easy and cheap to ride from a world run by fossil fuels to one powered by renewable energy or nuclear plants, but that won’t be easy or cheap.

Rolf Westgard

St. Paul

The writer is a professional member of the Geological Society of America and a guest faculty member on energy subjects for the University of Minnesota’s Lifelong Learning program.