Energy Track Record Leaves Serious Doubts
The new year promises to bring with it some old disappointments regarding so-called "clean energy."
It begins with lofty resolutions, said William Yeatmen and Jeremy Lott of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
"In choosing Nobelist and alternative energy enthusiast Steve Chu as his nominee to head the Department of Energy, President-elect Barack Obama is saying he is serious about his plan to invest an awful lot of taxpayer money in alternative 'clean' energy schemes," they wrote recently. "At an international climate summit in November, Obama proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years. Two days later, California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she will introduce a bill in Congress to spend $15 billion a year 'to spur innovations in clean energy.'"
The president-elect contends government must be involved -- heavily.
"Obama says huge government investment in wind and solar power and other alternative energy technologies can usher in a 'new chapter' of clean energy in America. It's a nice, sunny notion -- really! -- but first he ought to acquaint himself with the old chapters of this sad saga," Yeatmen and Lott wrote.
Discussions about clean energy rarely involve much looking back.
Always, "the next big breakthrough is said to be just around the corner," they wrote.
The naive believe that government intervention is all that's needed to spark a clean energy revolution. But such a belief is worse than unrealistic -- it's destructive.
"The downside is in falling for it. America's real history of investing in non-nuclear clean energy is a story of waste and harm on a massive scale," Yeatmen and Lott contended. "Government has demonstrated time and again that it's a sucker for a good pitch and therefore awful at picking winners in future energy technologies. The consequences are far greater than just more taxpayer funds flushed down the drain."
The ill-fated FutureGen project to produce "clean" coal power is a prime example.
"Three years ago, FutureGen was trumpeted by Congress as the future of the coal industry," the authors noted. "In January the DOE finally pulled the plug on it, because of meager results and skyrocketing costs."
That upset some pork-hungry lawmakers, though, and Obama seems ready to reinstate the project.
"Granted, it's only natural for members of Congress or presidents-elect to bring home the bacon," Yeatmen and Lott said. "But let's not pretend that more pork-barreling is going to magically fix our environmental problems."
The history of ethanol is also less than impressive.
Ethanol mandates passed in 2007 "add little effect on oil prices -- it takes about 400 pounds of corn to make enough fuel to fill a single gas tank -- but food prices worldwide went crazy. The price of corn trebled, which pushed up prices of foods that are partly composed of, or fed by, corn."
The incoming Obama administration and Congress should take heed of history when considering new policies to promote "clean energy."
The track record, so far, is pretty poor.