Point-Counterpoint on Solar

point counterpointOn December 21, PEC member Milton Hawkins, apparently believing the Heritage Foundation to be a temple of truth,  forwarded to me and numerous other people, the following guest column that appeared in the Austin American Statesman, entitled, Kreutzer: Solar Power Presents Significant Environmental Problems.   The author, David Kruetzer, is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. John Watson, a retired Johnson City attorney and PEC reform activist read it and took a different view. So too did member and PEC watchdog, Merle Moden.  Find below Milton’s Krutzer column and the counterpoint responses.

By David W. Kreutzer – InsideSources.comdavid kruetzer

Pollyanna and a pile of money make for bad energy policy. Yes, American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit are famously creative and productive. However, simply repeating that mantra while heaping subsidies on the politically well-connected and mandates on the rest won’t make solar power more affordable or reliable.

For sure, solar power makes sense in certain applications. If you’re far from the grid with low power demand, solar can work for you. Want to charge cellphones in middle of Chad? Solar panels could be the right answer. And my solar-powered watch has kept perfect time for over five years with no battery changes. But when it comes to providing reliable, utility-scale, baseload power, solar faces formidable technical and environmental hurdles.

“Green energy” may conjure images of butterflies and national parks, but solar power presents significant environmental problems, from the toxic wastes of solar-panel production to the incineration of flying wildlife at concentrating solar plants. And solar farms require far more land than a conventional power plant generating the same output.

Many, if not all, of the problems can be addressed, but it will cost. Like growing tomatoes in Antarctica: It’s possible, but why bother when most of the rest of the world is much better suited to agriculture. We face a similar problem with ramping up solar power from wristwatch scale to utility scale; there are other sources of power that are much more reliable and affordable.

The Pollyanna response is that we should use government to make solar energy affordable and reliable.

Instead of putting faith in free minds and inventiveness to provide Americans with the affordable and reliable energy they demand, our solar-energy policies have imposed huge costs on consumers and threaten to cause electricity rates to skyrocket. Solar-energy policies range from the infamous to the insidious.

The owners of Solyndra used their political connections to get more than $500 million in loan guarantees. The Department of Energy put millions into Solyndra even as the proprietors knew the company was crashing and burning.

Solyndra’s was far from the only green-energy loan that went sour, but an even more disturbing aspect of the loan program was that it channeled billions to companies that don’t need taxpayer support. Solar projects owned by companies such as Goldman Sachs, BP and Chevron were propped up by billions of dollars in special federal loans. Another large corporation, the Spanish firm Abengoa, received $2.7 billion in loan guarantees. This loan is now at risk as Abengoa is threatened with bankruptcy.

The Abengoa bankruptcy highlights why green-energy subsidies are a bad idea. In his first term, President Obama pointed to Spain as a role model for our own energy policy. The European Union provides similar object lessons. Germany and Denmark have the highest share of electricity from renewable sources — wind and solar — but they also have the highest electricity prices in the EU. Their citizens pay about three times what the average American pays. Because of the unaffordability of subsidizing and mandating renewable energy, Germany, Denmark, Britain and Spain are cutting way back on their support for solar power. The cut in subsidies is the prime cause of Abengoa’s impending demise, which lays bare solar’s claim of competitiveness.

History proves that America can solve its energy problems when producers and consumers are free to make their own best choices and rid of government meddling that blesses the powerful with largesse and burdens the powerless with higher costs.

Kreutzer is a research fellow in energy economics and climate change in the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Response by John Watson:john watson edited 1

Milton,

The email you sent about the opinion piece by David Kreutzer in AAS has come my way. I have long realized you are hostile toward renewable energy, but I always thought it was because you believed it would impose extra costs to PEC members as being unable to compete economically with fossil fuels. But  now that study after study shows wind and solar are very competitive with fossil fuel produced electricity, you seem to be embracing the shifting arguments – a tactic that follows the well-trodden path blazed by tobacco mouthpieces and bought and paid for “scientists” – of paid flacks for the fossil fuel industry. (Kreutzer is one of the most notorious. He previously worked for Berman & Co., owned by Rick Berman [ http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Berman_%26_Co.] one of the sleaziest lobbyists for some of the worst actors in corporate America; though he has a PhD in economics from George Mason – a right wing university – he has been employed almost entirely in concocting ideological arguments for fossil fuel interests.) That is a sad denial of the onrushing future direction of the electric utility industry, and a dismaying gap in your critical judgment not to recognize blatant propaganda when you see it. Coal is a dead industry walking; much of the reserves in the ground will stay in the ground. Same with oil and natural gas. In order to stay below 2º Celsius world temperature rise, which will create many disastrous calamities around the world, including in the US, credible estimates are that 80% of all fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground permanently. The Paris accords, while disappointing in lack of firm commitments and enforcement mechanisms, clearly represent an awakening recognition by all world governments that climate change is real, is happening now (not in 100 years), and that steps must be taken, even if they are halting at first. Having Beijing air being unfit to breathe during the conference helped drive home the point.

To be sure there will be death throe thrashings from the fossil fuel interests and right wing radical political figures in the US (By the way, the Republican Party is the only major party of the right anywhere in the world that persists in climate change denialism, which is part and parcel of its larger anti-science fanaticism. That is sad as in the past the party had many outstanding environmental champions, including Sen. John Chaffee of RI. Now the whole party has simply gone insane.) will continue to be lackeys for their masters, and there will be some backsliding, but it is essentially game over for burning fossil fuels indefinitely into the future.

As to Kreutzer’s piece itself, where to even begin.

Kreutzer never mentions global climate change as a compelling reason for switching from our dependence on fossil fuels. If one didn’t know better it would seem from his blather that moving toward solar was simply a way for lefties to find a new thing to subsidize with big government expenditures.

Nor does he mention the massive subsidies received by fossil fuels of all kinds for more than 100 years, and that are still ongoing. Talking about fat cat outfits receiving solar subsidies, why not talk about the fact that Exxon (a Heritage funder), one of the largest revenue producing companies in the world, still gladly takes and defends huge subsidies that should have been ended long ago.

Ah, Solyndra again. No reference to the more than $1 billion Uncle Sucker was persuaded to waste on a never-to-be-attained chimera called “clean coal” technology. The amounts sucked out of taxpayers by fossil fuels makes all subsidies for renewables a mere drop in bucket. But, let’s overlook that.

While it is true that no source of power production is entirely free of costs to the environment, solar and wind are far less harmful than continued burning of fossil fuels. If we ended the free riding externalizing of pollution and greenhouse gases associated from fossil fuel use their true cost would far exceed solar and wind. Of course Heritage no doubt still gets substantial funding from fossil fuel interests and has no interest in exploring the real truth.

As for Abengoa, I had to laugh. That is the outfit that San Antonio has selected to head up its disastrous Vista Ridge project, the one that proposes to build a 142 mile pipeline and loot water from the Simsboro Aquifer at an unsustainable rate. I am in a group that is opposing this monstrosity, Oppose the Hose, comprised of folks from the affected region (I own land in Bastrop County over same aquifer, so will be directly harmed by massive, industrial scale withdrawals), from all along the route including Austin, Bastrop, San Marcos and San Antonio. We have been following the fairly recent descent into bankruptcy of Abengoa, which most analysts attribute to the fact that Spain’s economy has been second only to Greece’s in going into the dumper. It has also experienced a huge internal devaluation that has left it with a 30% unemployment rate. Like all large infrastructure builders and operators Abengoa has thrived on government spending; when that slows or dries up they fall into trouble. Plus they have unsustainable debt. So this is a red herring of the nth degree. But then the whole article is baloney.

Why you don’t understand that outfits like Heritage exist to produce misleading propaganda desired by their financial masters is beyond me. Seems to me you would have long ago learned to consider the source and to examine this sort of dreck with a critical eye.

John Watson

Milton: ModenMug

We really can’t compare the solar electricity costs to fossil-fueled electricity costs until we account for the cost of health care attributable to hazardous stack gas emissions from fossil fuel electric generating stations.  It is dishonest to make these comparisons with your blinders on.  In 2013 the CDC reports that the 3rd leading cause of death in the U. S. was chronic lower respiratory diseases accounting for 149,205 deaths many of which were premature.  The 2nd leading cause of death is cancer accounting for 584,881 deaths among which would be lung cancer deaths with some percentage attributable to air pollution other than from tobacco smoke.  Air pollution can certainly be a contributing factor to the deaths of these individuals.  Such deaths, however, do not account for the living sufferers from these diseases with both the dead and the living accounting for substantial health care costs and the dead accounting for premature life insurance payouts. With regard to Federal subsidies, in 1918 the U. S. Congress began granting the infant oil & gas industry preferential tax treatment, i.e., tax expenditures.  Since the oil and gas industry is no longer an infant industry, one wonders why such preferential treatment continues.  The same can be said for the renewal energy industry, although this industry has only been on the Federal teat since 1979 — not 1918. It has been estimated that from 1918-2009 the oil & gas industry has received tax breaks totally $478.8 billion (2013 dollars).  The renewable energy industry has received an estimated $67.6 billion (2013 dollars) from 1979-2009.  I do not support any of these subsidies. One always wonders, however, why the renewable energy subsidies seem to get the most derision.

Merle Moden

 

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