Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Politicians, Taxes, Subsidies, and Renewable Energy

A candidate for the office of Iron County Commissioner spoke at a recent American Legion meeting in Cedar City. I was pleased to see that the number one issue listed on her flyer was "fiscal responsibility at all levels of county government...."

However, the third issue she listed causes me concern: "encourage renewable energy advancement...." On www.ironcountygop.org she answered a related question in a way that further concerns me:
Q - What do you believe is the best solution for Iron County's energy needs?

A - Based on my discussions with our economic development personnel, and supported by their overall research, our best solutions for renewable energy sources would be 1) solar, 2) geothermal, and 3) wind.
Sadly, at least two other candidates for the Iron County Commission also favor pushing the County into the alternative energy boondoggle.

It doesn't take much study to learn that the technologies Mrs. Bulloch and her advisers aspire for are expensive and are not economically viable in a free market. If "green" energy is such a good idea, why hasn't any power company already established wind or solar farms at its own expense? Why is their decision always to build new energy plants that use carbon? It's because they know that rational consumers (that's the overwhelming majority of us) won't consiously pay more just so they can brag about using "green" energy -- energy that can't even be relied on to produce heat or light or work when needed.

Without substantial government subsidies at taxpayer expense, none of these technologies would exist except for remote off-the-grid applications. (In 2007, American taxpayers subsidized government-preferred energy sources to the tune of nearly $17 billion!) These technologies cannot survive in a free market and are only in the market because the government has forced them into the market -- and we have local "leaders" who are eager participants in that force!

A typical "renewable energy" project is the 17-acre, 100-kilowatt "SunSmart" solar farm that the "leadership" of St. George imposed on their citizens. After the project was complete, authorities admitted that it would never pay for itself -- even after collecting taxpayer-funded federal and state subsides!

In the early days of his administration, Obama inaugurated a new $100 million solar project at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. That project allegedly will save the base $1 million in electric bills per year. Do the math -- 100 years to pay for itself -- and it'll only last 20 years!

The irrational cost of solar projects isn't the only problem. They only work when the sun is shining. And, the production of the solar panels is one of the nastiest industries in the world with regard to the toxic waste that is produced. They simply displace the pollution somewhere out-of-sight-out-of-mind. They call that "green."

In my extensive travels around the nation and the world, I've seen a lot of wind farms. They're far uglier and more intrusive than almost any other human intrusion on nature. I got to spend some time talking about them with a project supervisor who is working on the wind project in Milford county. He described the project's huge demand on fossil fuel for the energy needed to fabricate the turbines, towers, new power lines, etc. Each tower's foundation alone requires many tons of concrete which, in turn, requires tons of fossil fuel to create. Then, there is the heavy demand on fossil fuel to run the equipment to put the things in place. (When you really need to get some work done, you need fossil fuel to do it.)

In similar fashion to solar systems, wind turbines only produce electricity when the winds blow -- and they only produce their rated capacity when the winds are above 30 mph (well above the average wind speed). Actual output is generally less than 20% of rated output. Only a person completely ignorant of the facts or a person who stands to gain financially could support such a system. Like the solar systems, wind systems have a short lifespan. Being mechanical devices, they wear out. A drive between Barstow and Bakersfield, California is all it takes to discover the poor reliability of wind power technology -- a substantial portion of those wind turbines are inoperative. Our politicians are generous with taxpayer money to subsidize new projects. However, maintenance is not subsidized and the turbines don't produce enough electricity to pay for repairs. So they are essentially abandoned. What a waste!

Both solar and wind power are so unreliable that traditional power sources (coal, gas, hydro, nuclear) must be sized to provide 100% of the energy needs of the customers. California's infamous brownouts are a natural consequence of trusting the wind to blow and the turbines to not break down. You might remember that, shortly after St. George proudly inaugurated their 100-kilowatt solar project, it installed a new 40 megawatt gas turbine (which covers only a few hundred square feet) to meet the growing electrical needs of St. George because they can't trust the solar project to meet those needs. In addition to being reliable, the electricity produced by the gas turbine is substantially cheaper than that produced by the solar farm.

Similar arguments can be made against bio-fuels (including ethanol), geothermal energy (except in a few regions where Earth's molten core is close to the surface such as Iceland), and electric/hybrid cars. (Has anyone in the "green" movement given thought to what happens to all those toxic batteries when they're worn out or has any electric/hybrid car purchaser considered the cost of replacing them?)

According to Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy, "One nuclear power plant in Texas covers about 19 square miles, an area slightly smaller than Manhattan. To produce the same amount of power from wind turbines would require an area the size of Rhode Island. This is energy sprawl." To produce the same amount of energy with ethanol, another "green" fuel, it would take 24 Rhode Islands to grow enough corn. How can anyone say that's a good idea?

"Green" energy advocates like to talk about the jobs that their agenda creates. There are, indeed, steady jobs in manufacturing alternative energy components such as solar cells and wind turbines -- in other countries such as China. However, a substantial portion of the remaining "green" jobs are transient. I met the above-mentioned wind-farm project supervisor while he was commuting from Utah to his real home in another state. He said most of his workers live in RVs or motels. Few workers -- even temporary help -- are hired locally. Then the workers move on to install a another project in another site. The "green" people like to count the jobs at each site as a new set of jobs -- even though it's the same group of workers moving from site to site! The only real impact on local jobs is a temporary bump in motel occupancy and burger sales. If "green" technology is such a great place to work, why can't they at least count the jobs honestly?

There is a reason why so-called "renewable" or "alternative" energy technologies are subsidized: They can't even produce enough power to feed the industries that create them! I am unalterably opposed to subsidizing or bailing-out any industry -- including so-called "green" industries. I am even opposed to my city and county governments accepting federal and state subsidies, as St. George did, and Iron County is about to do, to help fund such a boondoggle.

Any person or entity that seeks or accepts government subsidies to fund so-called "alternative" energy schemes is a thief. Some might say that is a strong accusation. Consider this: Every dime that the government gives away has to come from somewhere. The only place government can get that money is by taking it from someone else, by force or threat of force. That makes any recipient of that theft an advocate of, and complicit in, said theft. What difference does it make for one person to steal money to pay the cost of his solar array or hybrid car (There's a $7,500 tax-payer-funded subsidy for Chevy Volt buyers!) or have someone else (the government) steal it for him? I'm getting really tired of involuntarily paying someone else's bills. Shouldn't everyone be getting tired of involuntarily paying someone else's bills?

These technologies would not exist outside the lab (where they still belong) without taxing the people to force these technologies into the market. If wind and solar power were practical or profitable, entrepreneurs would invest in it without the need for government to take money from taxpayers and give it to people pushing green products.

Perhaps, some day in the future, the cost of traditional power sources will rise to a level that justifies the use of the "alternative" energy resources without the need for subsidies -- especially if politicians continue to place unreasonable restrictions on oil, gas, coal and nuclear development. Until then, if a technology cannot stand on its own in a competitive free market, it needs to die.

People who favor these "green" scams don't seem to care about science, don't seem to understand economics, won't do the math, and enjoy having the government force other people to pay their bills for them. Few politicians have the sense to take the time to study the issue before committing taxpayer money to these money-pits. It is time for politicians, journalists, environmentalists, and voters to learn something about science and economics and muster the courage to say no!

All government subsidies of "alternative energy" scams such as solar and wind power and electric and hybrid cars must cease immediately. I even oppose government subsidies for research and development of conventional power.
It's both logically and historically fallacious to conclude that, because something is desirable, government should subsidize it. -- Don Boudreaux
If politicians can't muster the courage to cut off subsidies for "alternative energy" schemes, they must, at least, mandate placards on all subsidized products that clearly specify the amount of subsidy -- and that placard must be visible at a distance of at least 20 feet and permanently affixed (removal prohibited unless the purchaser refunds the entire subsidy to the taxpayer).

It doesn't matter whether the money for government projects comes from local, state, or federal taxes -- it ultimately is money that was extracted from hard-working taxpayers who very likely could do a better job of spending that money than the politicians. I expect my elected officials, and the bureaucrats they hire, to be good stewards of my tax dollars. "Investing" in alternative energy is not a wise use of taxes!

The decision to use so-called "green" technology must always be a business decision made in a free market -- never a decision imposed upon taxpayers and consumers by naive, idealist politicians and activists.

1 comment:

  1. Another of Obama's dream "green" investments collapsed this month -- exactly in the month some experts predicted. Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels, closed its doors after obtaining a half-billion dollar infusion of taxpayer money. See Jon Stewart's analysis at www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=46239.

    Government central planners must immediately stop using taxpayer money to force products and services into the marketplace. Only free-market forces can introduce new products and services efficiently and wisely. Politicians, bureaucrats, and other central planners cannot.