Earlier this week, Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute published an interesting note on “clean energy” investments. First, he pointed out that the definition of clean energy is not precise but generally is thought to mean solar, wind, and hydropower (although environmentalists oppose hydropower where ever it is used.)
If the term means non-carbon energy, nuclear power should be included as a source of energy. If it includes low-carbon sources, clean energy should include natural gas because its carbon content is less that either coal or oil.
Hayward elaborated on the return on clean energy investments in the U.S.:
The latest Pew report pegged … [U.S. investment at] $34 billion, up from $22.5 billion in 2009, much of this from the infamous “stimulus” program. (In fact, only $7 billion of U.S. investment came from private venture capital.) By far the largest share of the money spent by the United States and other G-20 nations was for wind power.
For this and past sums of money spent, the United States has a grand total of 58 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity according to the Pew report. That represents only 1.4 percent of total U.S. electricity generating capacity as of 2009. At that price per gigawatt it will only cost us about $3.8 trillion to replace our current electricity infrastructure with renewable sources.
At a time of serious economic problems, our government is squander large sums of money on uneconomic, impractical sources of energy. Moreover, both of the reasons clean energy advocates use to justify this push — air pollution and climate change — are overwrought.
Since the first Clean Air Act was passed over three decades ago, our air quality has steadily improved. And activists were scaremongering back then too. A 1970 issue ofLife magazine warned: “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support … the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution … .”
Yet, we have reduced most of the criteria pollutants, those defined in the CAA, by more than 50 percent. Only ozone has been reduced less, but even it is substantially lower now than in the 1970s. Simply put, air pollution is no longer a serious environmental issue. And progress will continue without wasteful government spending and excessive regulatory mandates.
In a similar manner, the “green” lobby presents many near apocalyptic risks of climate change — the other driver for clean energy mandates — as foregone conclusions. However, just last year TIME magazine reported that “scientists are still a long way from being able to make accurate projections about the future of the global climate.”
Those who have made serious efforts to estimate the probability of extreme climate change caused by human activity have determined such events are far outliers and, therefore, not likely because a key assumption in climate models is not supported by scientific evidence. In light of the current state of knowledge, the best plans will be ones that pursue a wide rather than narrow range of energy sources and technologies to help our nation stay adaptable and resilient.
Energy is a vital input to our economy; consequently, it’s in our best interest to work to ensure it remains abundant and affordable. Meddling in energy markets and wrong-headed government policy do just the opposite. The latest jobs report released today — which found U.S. unemployment continues to rise — only highlights the critical nature of the decisions.