“Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’” Turns 15
[Ed. note: On August 27, 1997, the Cato Institute published Policy Analysis #280, which criticized the government push to subsidize politically correct renewable energy, particularly solar and windpower. Today and tomorrow, different authors revisit what was the free-market-movement's first full-scale rebuttal, on economic and environmental grounds, to so-called "green" energy policy .]
“The policy implication of [a thorough examination of renewable technologies] is, stop throwing good money after bad. All renewable energy subsidies from all levels of government should cease.”
Such is the conclusion voiced today by a rising chorus of energy experts, economists, even politicians, after many years of failed renewables projects and more expensive utility bills in the growing shadow of a $16 trillion national debt ($140,000 per taxpayer). But, remarkably, fifteen years have passed since Rob Bradley crafted this statement for the Cato Institute as the bottom line of his comprehensive six-part policy alarum, Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’‘
An Opening Shot
Few knew about or shared Bradley’s concerns at the time. Even more remarkably, his analysis was at odds with the policy direction of his employer, Enron, as Ken Lay’s political capitalism began promoting renewable investment as sustainable tax shelters.
By taking his concerns public, even as a scholar, Bradley risked much as Enron’s director of public policy analysis. Sparks flew as executives within Enron Wind Corporation digested Bradley’s external work (see these internal memos).
Bradley’s one-person stand also challenged the (Enron-directed) energy policies of Texas governor George W. Bush (and what would be the policies of his successor, Rick Perry). For Bradley, there was indeed a problem in Houston….
Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’ articulated and advanced a number of themes now commonplace in any conversation about the renewables du jour, wind and solar.
Consider the currency of only a few of Bradley’s bon mots:
* “The need for more subsidy continues.”
* the folly of levelized costing: “Head-to-head comparison of wind power and other generation alternatives for new generation capacity is mostly a hypothetical debate.”
* “Wind power has proven itself to be a perpetual ‘infant industry,’ with its competitive viability always somewhere on the horizon. It is erroneous to conclude that even if wind is not competitive now, it soon will be.”
* “Because wind is an intermittent (unpredictable) generation source, it has less economic value than fuel sources that can deliver a steady, predictable source of electricity.”
* “On the environmental side, wind power is noisy, land- intensive, materials-intensive (concrete and steel, in particular), a visual blight, and a hazard to birds. The first four environmental problems could be ignored, but the indiscriminate killing of thousands of birds–including endangered species protected by federal law–has created controversy and confusion within the mainstream environmental community.”
* “A jobs-creation rationale for wind power is marshaled by supporters, almost as a last line of defense. Subsidizing renewable energy for its own sake is akin to “creating” jobs by digging holes and filling them back up.”
* The futility of conservation policy–See how he eviscerates Amory Lovins’s Negawatts.
* Asking the question: “Has Natural Gas Made Renewable Energy Subsidies Obsolete?”
I came upon Not Clean, Not ‘Green’ late in my own arc of discovery about what I have called the wind mess. Glenn Schleede thought it would resonate because of my interest in the entire awful scope of the renewables enterprise.
It did. And then some. Few have distilled the essence of the issue as well, even after all these years. Consider this from 1997:
“Why have so many eco-energy planners clung to wind power, a land-intensive, unsightly, noisy, and wildlife-unfriendly source of energy that accounted for only 1/10 of 1 percent of total U.S. power generation in 1995 (3.2 of 3,365 billion kWh) and 1/5 of 1 percent of the total U.S. electricity capacity of 770 GW?”
Happiest of Birthdays to Not Clean, Not’ Green’! Though it has had many unhappy returns in an era of corrupt energy policy, its time will come when renewable-energy development subsidies get the boot.
Tomorrow, Tom Tanton and Robert Bradley will share their recollections collaborating on the research behind “Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”.