The high cost of renewable energy

The world's poor suffer most.

By Patrick R. Gibbons
  • Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), along with former President Bill Clinton and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens converge on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this week for the National Clean Energy Summit.

At the heart of this summit is talk of reorganizing America's energy supply to reduce its "dependence on foreign oil" – a slogan rife with economic fallacy.  Pickens claims that our "dependence" on foreign oil means Americans send $700 billion abroad annually just to meet our energy needs.  But is sending U.S. dollars abroad for our energy needs any worse than sending U.S. dollars abroad to buy electronics or automobiles?

Nationalists and socialists would have us all say yes, but think about it:  If the money never comes back to the U.S., then we get electronics, automobiles and gas, and foreign nations get green pieces of paper.

If the money never came back, America would have the cheapest and most efficient export industry in the world. What a deal for us!

The ludicrous "dependence on foreign oil" argument aside, Pickens' plan calls for $1.2 trillion to be spent on wind farms in America. Wind farms will generate electricity for our homes, allowing natural gas (in which Pickens is already heavily invested) to be shifted toward use in automobiles.

Pickens claims his plan will reduce foreign oil consumption by $300 billion a year. Instead of foreign oil, Americans will be wolfing down wind and natural gas energy. In other words, through taxpayer subsides and government mandates, the U.S. government will order the shuffling of $300 billion right to the bank accounts of Pickens and his friends.

If the Left ever had an opportunity to be vindicated in their claim that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in America, this case of crony capitalism is it. But it appears they've become mystified by the religious dogma of environmentalism.

The $1.2 trillion wind farm plan will only replace 20 percent of our current energy demands. That is enough money to build between 240 and 400 nuclear power plants, at a cost of $3 billion to $5 billion apiece.  Those 240 to 400 nuclear power plants would have the ability to produce an additional 1.8 trillion kWh to 3 trillion kWh of energy.

Two hundred forty nuclear power plants is almost enough to replace every coal fire boiler in the U.S., while 400 nuclear power plants would allow nuclear power to replace more than 90 percent of our current energy needs.

If the first world put as much energy and emphasis on nuclear power for the entire world as we did on wind power for ourselves, 240 nuclear power plants would supply enough energy for 1 billion of the world's poorest people currently living without electricity.

With electricity, the world's poor could stop using indoor wood fires, which not only contribute to deforestation but also to the deaths of millions of women and children due to smoke inhalation.

So for the same price as Pickens' wind farms, we could provide energy for 1 billion of the world's poorest people and save millions of lives and millions of trees at the same time.

Sadly, though, the speakers, thinkers and guests at the Clean Energy Summit won't be concerned with energy efficiency, cost effectiveness or the world's poor.  On their minds instead will be subsidies, subsidies and subsidies.

Patrick R. Gibbons is a researcher for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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