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Clean Energy’s Dirty Secret: They are Ineffective at Displacing CO2 Emissions

Rupert Darwall — National Review — September 22, 2014

Renewable energy has become a potent rallying cry uniting Hollywood and the Beltway. “We can move our economy town by town, state by state to renewable energy and a sustainable future,” Leonardo DiCaprio says in his eight-minute climate movie Carbon, released in August. In his fiscal-showdown speech during his first term, in April 2011, President Obama put Paul Ryan’s proposals for a 70 percent cut in clean energy at the top of his list of reprehensible and unnecessary reductions.

“These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget,” he said. “These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in.”

In May of this year, President Obama declared the shift to clean energy a “fight” that was about shaping the sector “that is probably going to have more to do with how well our economy succeeds than just about any other.” At least on that, the president was right. If we get energy wrong, America will throw away the world-leading energy advantages bestowed on it by geology, technology, and capitalism.

Presenting the administration’s Clean Power Plan, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy admitted it was not about pollution control. “It’s about investments in renewables and clean energy,” she told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in July.

“This is an investment strategy.” The president’s favorite corporate-tax inverter has a different take on the nature of the investment opportunity. “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms,” Warren Buffett told Berkshire Hathaway’s investors. “That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

While wind investors hoover up the $23 production tax credit per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced, the real costs of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar are many times greater. And they’re not even good at what they’re meant to do — reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Deriving a large proportion of energy from renewables is proving extremely costly for Germany. Last year, Peter Altmaier, then the energy and environment Minister and now one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest advisers, said that Germany’s effort to decarbonize electricity generation could cost one trillion euros by the end of the 2030s.

Not that you would necessarily see that from Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions. Despite lower economic growth in Germany than in the U.S., German emissions have been rising seven times faster — up 9.3 percent between 2009 and 2013 compared with 1.3 percent for the United States.

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