The Green Energy
Green energy policies would hobble the
By Keith Lockitch
Will a green energy industry be an engine of economic growth? Many want us to
think so, including our new President. Apparently a booming green economy with
millions of new jobs is just around the corner. All we need is the right mix of
These include a huge (de facto) tax on carbon emissions imposed through a
cap-and-trade regulatory scheme, as well as huge government subsidies for
“renewable,” carbon-free sources. The hope is that these government sticks and
carrots will turn today’s pitiful “green energy” industry, which produces an
insignificant fraction of American energy, into a source of abundant, affordable
energy that can replace today’s fossil-fuel-dominated industry.
This view is a fantasy–one that could devastate America’s economy. The
reality is that “green energy” is at best a sophisticated make-work program.
There is a reason why less than 2 percent of the world’s energy currently
comes from “renewable” sources such as wind and solar–the very sources that are
supposedly going to power the new green economy: despite billions of dollars in
government subsidies, funding decades of research, they have not proven
themselves to be practical sources of energy. Indeed, without government
mandates forcing their adoption in most Western countries, their high cost would
make them even less prevalent.
Consider that it takes about 1,000 wind turbines, occupying tens of thousands
of acres, to produce as much electricity as just one medium-sized, coal-fired
power plant. And that’s if the wind is blowing: the intermittency of wind
wreaks havoc on electricity grids, which need a stable flow of power, thus
requiring expensive, redundant backup capacity or an unbuilt, unproven “smart
Or consider the “promise” of solar. Two projects in development will cover
12.5 square miles of central California with solar cells in the hope of
generating about 800 megawatts of power (as much as one large coal-fired plant).
But that power output will only be achieved when the sun is shining
brightly–around noon on sunny days; the actual output will be less than a third
that amount. And the electricity will cost more than market price, even with the
life-support of federal subsidies that keeps the solar industry going. The major
factor driving the project is not the promise of abundant power but California’s
state quota requiring 20 percent “renewable” electricity by 2010.
More than 81 percent of world energy comes from fossil fuels, and half of
America’s electricity is generated by burning coal. Carbon sources are literally
keeping us alive. There is no evidence that they have–or will soon have–a
viable replacement in transportation fuel, and there is only one in electricity
generation, nuclear, which “green energy” advocates also oppose.
We all saw the ripple effects last summer when gas prices shot above $4 per
gallon, and higher transportation costs drove up prices of everything from plane
fares to vegetables. If green policies cause a permanent, and likely far
greater, hike in the cost of all forms of energy, what shockwaves would that
send through our already badly damaged economy?
We don’t want to find out.
Regardless of one’s views on global warming–and there is ample scientific
evidence to reject the claim that manmade carbon emissions are causing
catastrophe–the fact is that kneecapping the fossil fuel industry while
diverting tax dollars into expensive, impractical forms of energy will not be an
economic boon, but an economic disaster.
We in developed countries take industrial-scale energy for granted and often
fail to appreciate its crucial value to our lives–including its indispensable
role in enabling us to deal with drought, storms, temperature extremes, and
other climate challenges we are told to fear by global-warming alarmists.
If we want to restore economic growth and reduce our vulnerability to the
elements, what we need is not “green energy” forced upon us by government
coercion but real energy delivered on a free market.
Keith Lockitch, PhD in physics, is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Center
for Individual Rights, focusing on science and environmentalism. The Ayn Rand
Center is a division of the Ayn Rand Institute and promotes the philosophy of
Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”