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“Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’” Turns 25

By Jon Boone -- August 25, 2022

[Ed. note: On August 27, 1997, the Cato Institute published Policy Analysis #280, which criticized the government push to subsidize politically correct renewable energies. This review by Jon Boone, published ten years ago, is reprinted below.

“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….

Then-Now Issues

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?”

My Discovery

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 Cheap, 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 will share his recollections collaborating on the research behind “Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”.


  1. Sherri Lange  

    Excellent “birthday” recollections, Jon Boone.
    How, indeed, has this chimera, this blank cheque of subsidy greed, gone unchecked for so long!

    A very needed rear view mirror glance in order to further contemplate the urgency of corrections required.

    Thank you as always, for the Jon Boone clarity.
    Bradley’s bon mots stand the time-test. Excellent.

    Would, however, change “thousands of dead birds, to ” millions.” Between 13 to 31 million in the US alone annually. Based on comparables to the mortality gleaned in Spain. Grisly numbers.

    (Not sure US birds and bats are more clever than the Spanish.)


  2. Denis Rushworth  

    Just to keep you current on the King Island renewable energy experiment. King Island is in the Bass Strait between southern Australia and Tasmania – the so called “roaring 40es” where the wind is strong and often. The system consists of wind turbines and solar panels sufficient to provide all of the Islands electric power for its ~1,700 residents. It includes a flywheel (to stabilize frequency I suppose),a bunch of electronics to control the whole thing and a backup diesel generator(s) to fill in the gaps whenever needed – oh, and a battery. Two days ago, the wind/solar system was providing all the islands power. Yesterday, the wind had died down and became very puffy and the diesels were running to fill in the erratic gaps with power requirements varying as much as 50% with a few second time constant – very hard on the diesels. Fortunately, the diesels survived the rapid cycling and today, as I write this, are running full bore because there is no wind whatever; and this in the roaring 40s. The wind turbines are using about 11 KW of diesel power to keep them slowly turning to assure the turbine shaft does not warp and the bearings are fully lubricated in case the wind picks up.

    Two systems, or is it three, for the production of one. Just another day in the world of “renewable” power.


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