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Joe Romm: "It is clear that solar and wind are competitive in many situations right now" (Where have we heard this before?)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 27, 2011

“It is clear that solar and wind are competitive in many situations right now — see Wind now on even playing field with gas and Solar costs may already rival coal.  And continued aggressive deployment along with continued R&D will keep driving the price down (see Energy Sec. Chu sees “wind and solar being cost-competitive without subsidy with new fossil fuel” by 2020.”

– Joe Romm, “Fred Hiatt Back to running Climate and Energy Disinformation from the Likes of Bjorn Lomborg,” April 21, 2011.

Are wind and solar really “competitive in many situations right now”? For decades, we have heard that this is the case. But the reality is that dilute energy flows do not compete on either a price or a reliability basis with the stock of energy that is oil, gas, and coal.

Why would anyone buy a product that is more expensive and of poorer quality than a ready rival? Would you pay extra for a car with a trick motor–an engine that went on and off at any time? Of course not! And this is why wind and solar as grid electricity must be taxpayer-gifted to the hilt and in some states (Texas being foremost) have a mandated market share.

If Joe Romm thinks that politically correct renewable energies “are competitive in many situations right now,” then let him 1) define those situations and 2) recommend that preferential subsidies/mandates be removed. Let’s see what consumers want in terms of price and reliability. (And sure, we can end all government energy subsidies while we are at it.)

Wind/Solar Exaggerations

Romm circa 2011 continues a multi-decade siren song of wind and solar becoming affordable, prime time, industrial energies. Yet the litany of exaggerations and disproven claims should give pause to current claims–and increase understanding about the density problem with wind and solar. The diluteness of wind and solar as on-grid electricity is not the result of a lack of inventive effort (a breakdown of human ingenuity), insufficient taxpayers subsidies, or a conspiracy by rival energies. It is basic physics.

In 1983, s study by Booz, Allen & Hamilton for the Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association, and Renewable Energy Institute concluded:

The private sector can be expected to develop improved solar and wind technologies which will begin to become competitive and self-supporting on a national level by the end of the decade if assisted by tax credits and augmented by federally sponsored R&D.” (1)

In 1986, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute lamented the untimely scale back of tax breaks for renewable energy, since the competitive viability of wind and solar technologies was “one to three years away.” (2)

In 1990, two energy analysts at the Worldwatch Institute predicted an almost complete displacement of fossil fuels in the electric generation market by, well, about now:

Within a few decades, a geographically diverse country such as the United States might get 30 percent of its electricity from sunshine, 20 percent from hydropower, 20 percent from wind power, 10 percent from biomass, 10 percent from geothermal energy, and 10 percent from natural-gas-fired cogeneration. (3)

Wind Power Exaggerations

In 1986, a representative of the American Wind Energy Association testified:

The U.S. wind industry has … demonstrated reliability and performance levels that make them very competitive. It has come to the point that the California Energy Commission has predicted windpower will be that State’s lowest cost source of energy in the 1990s, beating out even large-scale hydro. (4)

He added: “We are not quite there. We have hopes.” (5)

Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute has been predicting competitive viability since the 1980s:

Tax credits have been essential to the economic viability of wind farms so far, but will not be needed within a few years. (6)

Although wind farms still depend on tax credits, they are likely to be economical without this support within a few years. (7)

Early evidence indicates that wind power will soon take its place as a decentralized power source that is economical in many areas…. Utility-sponsored studies show that the better windfarms can produce power at a cost of about 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with conventional power sources in the United States. (8)

Solar Power Exaggerations

In 1976, solar advocate Barry Commoner stated:

Mixed solar/conventional installations could become the most economical alternative in most parts of the United States within the next few years. (9)

In 1987 the head of the Solar Energy Industries Association stated:

I think frankly, the—the consensus as far as I can see is after the year 2000, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of our energy could come from solar technologies, quite easily. (10)

In 1988, Cynthia Shea of the Worldwatch Institute wrote:

In future decades, [photovoltaic technologies] may become standard equipment on new buildings, using the sunlight streaming through windows to generate electricity. (11)


Wind and solar are not infant industries; they are perennially government-dependent industries that penalize consumers and/or taxpayers. “Buyer beware” should also apply to the pronouncements of purveyors of political energy. Self-interested consumer decisions in the energy marketplace should be respected—and false promises about inferior energies exposed. Only then can lawmakers get the message that the government should not be in the energy business.


(1) Quoted in Renewable Energy Industry, Joint Hearing before the Subcommittees of the Committee on Energy and Commerce et al., House of Representatives, 98th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1983), p. 52. (emphasis added)

(2) Lovins, in K. Wells, “As a National Goal, Renewable Energy Has An Uncertain Future.” Wall Street Journal, February 13, 1986, pp. 1, 19 at 19. (emphasis added)

(3) Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, Beyond the Petroleum Age: Designing a Solar Economy (Washington: Worldwatch Institute, 1990), p. 47. (emphasis added)

(4) Statement of Michael L.S. Bergey, American Wind Energy Association in Renewable Energy Industries, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, 99th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1986), p. 129. (emphasis added)

(5) Ibid.

(6) Christopher Flavin, “Electricity’s Future: The Shift to Efficiency and Small-Scale Power,” Worldwatch Paper 61, Worldwatch Institute, November 1984, p. 35. (emphasis added)

(7) Christopher Flavin and Cynthia Pollock, “Harnessing Renewable Energy,” in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1985 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985), p. 197. (emphasis added)

(8) Christopher Flavin, “Electricity for a Developing World: New Directions,” Worldwatch Paper 70, Worldwatch Institute, June 1986, p. 53. (emphasis added)

(9) Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p. 151. (emphasis added)

(10) Scott Sklar, Solar Energy Industries Association. Quoted in Solar Power, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1987), p. 12. (emphasis added)

(11) Cynthia Shea, “Renewable Energy: Today’s Contribution, Tomorrow’s Promise,” Worldwatch Paper 81, Worldwatch Institute, January 1988, p. 44. (emphasis added)


  1. Jon Boone  

    One can subsidize dysfunctional technologies and make outyear predictions for their success, which can never come true. Wind particularly will only gum up the works, no matter how much government and craven industries prop it up. People like Joe Romm and Amory Lovins remain purveyors of goo. Their pretensions belong in the same category as those who think phlogiston makes more sense than oxygen.


  2. Ken Langford  

    The Cook Inlet Regional Corporation is attempting to force, through rent-seeking local government influence, local utilities to purchase their wind farm energy at 8.7 cents per kilowatt wholesale. This does not include the 6 to 9 cents per kilowatt required to regulate the intermittency. That’s more than the ratepayers are paying at the meter. Wind “power” is not competitive in Alaska Joe. Not even close!


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  4. Alex Epstein  

    Great article, Rob. As always, the historical perspective puts the latest, fallacious claims in context.


  5. Retired Utility Worker  

    Here is a good link.
    My take on this that it looks like all the snow caused by the “Global Warming” has given BPA excess hydro power and they don’t need the windmills, which we still get to pay for.


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