Renewable energy is defective solution in search of a problem, money and power
Guest essay by Paul Driessen
The Greek philosopher Diogenes reportedly carried an oil lamp during the daytime, the better to help him find an honest man. People everywhere should join Congress and the Trump Administration in search of honest energy and climate policies – as too many existing policies were devised by special interests seeking money and power, and often using imaginary problems to justify their quest.
The health and environmental impacts from fossil fuels are well documented, though often exaggerated or even fabricated by activists, politicians, bureaucrats and companies with lofty agendas: securing climate research grants, and mandates and subsidies for renewable energy projects to replace fossil fuels; reducing economic growth and living standards in industrialized nations; and redistributing the world’s wealth, fundamentally transforming the global economy, and telling impoverished countries what kinds of energy and what level of economic development they will be permitted to have.
More often than not, proponents justify these agendas by insisting we must prevent dangerous manmade global warming and climate chaos, prevent unsustainable resource consumption, and safeguard people against purported technological risks. My multiple articles on the catechism of climate cataclysm … sustainability realities, absurdities and duplicities … and selective application of precautionary pabulum address the conceptual fallacies of these interchangeable, agenda-driving mantras.
All three are routinely defined, twisted, used and abused to block technologies that activists despise, and promote technologies and policies that advance their agendas and fill their coffers.
But beyond their glaring, often insurmountable conceptual problems are the practical issues. With what, exactly, will these agitators replace fossil fuels? Applying the same health and environmental standards they use against oil, natural gas and coal – just how clean, green, Earth-friendly, sustainable, climate-stabilizing, healthy, and human rights/social justice-oriented are their renewable energy alternatives?
If their alternatives are so wondrous, why do they still need permanent mandates, renewable portfolio standards, investment tax credits, production tax credits, feed-in tariffs, myriad other subsidies, exemptions from endangered species and other regulations, and laws requiring that utility companies buy their electricity whenever it is produced (even if it is not needed)? Why must they build and run fossil fuel “backup” power plants for the 50-85% of the time that wind and solar are not producing?
The following brief examination will hopefully guide more rigorous analyses of the impacts of these “technologies of the future” – aka wind, solar and biomass technologies that served mankind rather poorly for countless generations, until the fossil/nuclear era began, and now are supposed to serve us once again.
Probably the biggest single problem with any supposedly renewable, sustainable alternative is its horrendously low energy density: the amount of energy produced per acre. We can get far more electricity or fuel from a few dozen, hundred or thousand acres of oil, gas or coal production operations than we can from millions or tens of millions of acres of renewable energy projects.
Moreover, fossil fuel operations can often be conducted in the middle of farm fields or wildlife habitats – or the land can be reclaimed and returned to those uses once the energy has been extracted. Offshore oil and gas platforms actually create thriving habitats for marine life. Most renewable energy operations displace food crops or destroy wildlife habitats – and must do so in perpetuity.
And so we have corn as high as an elephant’s eye, across an area the size of Iowa (36 million acres) to produce ethanol that replaces 10% of US gasoline but also requires vast quantities of water, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides to grow the corn and turn it into fuel – instead of feeding hungry people.
We find bright yellow canola fields across more millions of acres in Montana, Saskatchewan, Germany and elsewhere, to produce biodiesel – and still more acreage devoted to switchgrass for ethanol and algae ponds for “advanced biofuels.” In Brazil, it’s millions of acres of sugarcane for ethanol, and millions more for other biofuels from palm oil, from areas that once were rainforests, “the Earth’s lungs,” as environmentalist groups like to say. Once teeming with wildlife, they are now monoculture energy plantations – so that we don’t have to desecrate Mother Earth by drilling holes in the ground to produce oil and natural gas: nature’s own biofuels, created over millions of years and stored for mankind’s benefit.
Of course, when these expensive, environment-intensive alternatives are burned, they send more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same as fossil fuels do – on top of the CO2 that was burned by fuels and released from soils and clear-cut trees to produce the “climate-friendly renewable” energy.
Meanwhile, American and Canadian companies are cutting down millions of acres of forest habitats, and turning millions of trees into wood pellets that they truck to coastal ports and transport on oil-fueled cargo ships to England – to be hauled by truck and burned in place of coal to generate electricity. The pellets cost more than coal (which Britain still has in abundance), so utility companies receive huge taxpayer subsidies to make up the difference. One power plant received £450 million ($553 million) in 2015.
The financially and environmentally unsustainable scheme is justified on the ground that trees are renewable; so the scam helps Britain meet its climate change and renewable fuel obligations under various laws and treaties. Even though the trees-to-pellets-to-power process emits more carbon dioxide and pollution than coal-based power generation, the “wood fool” arrangement is considered to be “carbon neutral,” because growing replacement trees over the next century or two will absorb CO2.
If this sounds freaking dishonest and insane, it’s because it is freaking dishonest and insane. Diogenes must be turning summersaults in his grave. But there’s more.
On top of all this biofuel lunacy, we also have tens of thousands of wind turbines towering above fields, lakes, oceans and homes – butchering millions of birds and bats, and impairing the health of thousands of humans whose wellbeing is sacrificed to Big Wind profits. We’ve also got millions of solar panels sprawling across countless acres of desert and grassland habitats, to produce well under 1% of the world’s electricity. Their expensive, intermittent power reaches distant urban areas via thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines. They all require greenhouse gas-emitting backup power plants.
Those turbines, panels, transmission lines and backups require millions of tons of steel, copper, concrete, rare earth and other exotic metals, fiberglass and other materials – much of it produced under nonexistent health and environmental laws in faraway countries, where injury, illness, child labor and death run rampant … and are ignored by local, national and United Nations authorities and human rights activists.
Removing all these worn-out turbines and solar panels will cost billions of dollars that state and federal governments don’t have, and developers have rarely had to cover with bonds.
Finally, the energy produced from all these “planet-saving” enterprises is far more costly than what could be produced using fossil fuels. Poor families are hit hardest, as they must spend a much larger portion of their incomes on energy than middle class and wealthy families. Businesses, factories, hospitals and schools also face rising energy costs, and must lay off workers, reduce services or close their doors.
The impacts ricochet throughout communities and nations, adversely affecting living standards, nutrition, health and life spans. We are reminded once again: Corporate fraud affects a limited number of customers; government and activist fraud affects every taxpayer, citizen and consumer.
The essence of all these renewable fuel programs is embodied in the notion that we must capture methane from cow dung, to safeguard Earth’s climate from this “potent greenhouse gas.” The operable term is BS.
The US Congress and Trump Administration could become world leaders in returning honesty and sanity to energy, climate, economic and environmental discussions and policies. Let’s hope they do.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.