Melanie Sturm: Think Again |

Melanie Sturm: Think Again

Melanie Sturm
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

As if accompanying Dorothy en route to the Emerald City of Oz, Americans seek a green wizard to fulfill our hearts’ desires – a world powered by renewable energies like solar, wind and biofuels. Bedazzled by Glenda the Good Witch’s solar-powered ruby slippers, we want the green-brick road to lead us to a cleaner energy future.

However, without Auntie Em to awaken us to reality, Americans must Think Again. Though cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, over the past decade the conventional energy industry has revolutionized America’s energy outlook. Today we’re the most energy-endowed nation in the world, with enough clean, reliable, abundant and cheap natural gas to last for generations.

It’s “like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020,” according to Pulitzer Prize-winning energy expert Daniel Yergin, who believes that the world energy map now centers on North America, not the Middle East. Energy consultant Wood Mackenzie estimates that tapping new reserves would generate 1 million jobs by 2018 and generate $803 billion in governmental revenue through 2030.

Additionally, these new extraction technologies require far fewer wells, though they present fresh environmental challenges that several states (including Colorado) have addressed with new regulations to protect the environment and secure water supplies.

Thus, rather than crucify the conventional energy industry, we should celebrate the entrepreneurialism and technological ingenuity that’s enabled the U.S. to become a net energy exporter for the first time since 1949. The government need only permit development of new reserves to further American energy independence, fuel our vehicles, lower energy costs and reap economic gains.

Meanwhile, promoters of green-energy policies continue to argue that “investments” in renewable energies are environmental and job-creation boons for America, though our journey along the green-brick road proves otherwise. Whether evaluating wind power in tornado-swept Kansas or solar energy in sunny California, renewable technologies are woefully uneconomical, wickedly unreliable and surprisingly unsound environmentally.

It’s understandable that Americans dream green, considering we were told in 2008 that by investing $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energies, we’d reap 5 million new jobs. But as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers noted, “The government is a crappy venture capitalist.” That’s because lobbying prowess and political viability outweigh economic viability when government picks winners and losers.

After “investing” $110 billion since 2009, the sector is littered with taxpayer-backed, bankrupt companies like Solyndra, Beacon Power and Ener1, all of which paid bonuses before going under. Reuters reported last month that “the wind industry … has shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has nearly doubled” … while the demonized “oil and gas industry added 75,000 jobs.”

The truth is that industries that aren’t economically viable don’t create real jobs, and those that are viable don’t need subsidies. Plagued by competitive disadvantages like sun and wind intermittence, and expensive land, capital, transmission and backup capacity, these technologies are uncompetitive small-market players and remain subsidy-dependent.

Despite receiving 53.5 percent of federal financial support for the electric-power sector, wind and solar supply only 4 percent of U.S. power at a cost 100 to 300 percent more than conventional sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. A University of Wyoming study noted that because green policies increase prices, the “economic benefits derived from building renewable energy facilities in the short run are more than offset by losses in economic output and employment,” thus hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.

Additionally, given renewables’ green patina, many don’t appreciate their adverse environmental impacts beyond the eyesore, noise, water usage and wildlife destruction. Called “energy sprawl” by the Nature Conservancy, renewable energies require vastly more land while producing significantly less energy than conventional energy. Most disconcerting, their incurable intermittence requires utilities to rely on conventional power to cycle up when there’s no wind or sun and power down when there is, thus diminishing carbon-reduction advantages.

If policymakers weren’t brainless scarecrows, cowardly lions and heartless tin men, they’d adopt Bill Gates’ proposition that cheap energy is “a fantastic vaccine” for the economy. That’s what Americans deserve – a booster shot to deliver authentic solutions, real jobs and genuine economic growth. Moving beyond fossil fuels will happen eventually when superior and affordable energies are scaled for mass use.

Energy development isn’t a zero-sum game, as the Wyoming study concludes: “Environmentally responsible development of fossil fuel resources could be complementary with renewable energy development, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to ensure a robust economy capable of creating and funding innovative renewable energy technologies of the future.”

Given our economic straits and the remoteness of the green dream, the underlying question is how much more Americans are willing to pay to harness wind and sun. Isn’t it time to demand that our leaders propose energy solutions based not on ideology but on how to best guarantee prosperity for generations of Americans?

Think Again – a secure, affordable and environmentally sound energy future is not over the rainbow.

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