The Alternative Energy Pipe Dream

Let me start by saying I support alternative energy.  I would love to see a day when a windmill or a solar panel can provide more then enough power for the average home.  But I'm also a realist.  After looking into wind power for my own house and looking at what solar panels can do it's clear that the technology we have available to use today would need to advance a long way before we could break our dependency on oil.

Given that background I present excerpts from a letter published in the Nashua Telegraph calling for Senate to pass a bill that would "price carbon".  Skipping over the part about the oil spill the point of the letter basically starts with the following.

The billion dollars per day we spend to import oil from countries, often hostile and politically unstable, puts our national security and economy at risk. New Hampshire spends $3 billion per year, or 5 percent of our state’s economy, to import fossil fuels.

I'm willing to accept this as fact and so far the writer is off to a good start.  They've built their case on a point we can all agree with but as with everything, the solution is the key point.

Take Cancer for example, I doubt you'll find many people if anyone who feels cancer is good.  We all agree its a problem and we all want a solution to cure it but right now there is no true cure.  The government passing a law that by 2011 cancer will be cured wont make it so.

This brings us to the writers proposed "solution".

In 2010, the Senate must pass an energy bill that prices carbon. This would keep American dollars at home to reduce unemployment with renewable energy jobs.

Prices carbon?  In other words the solution is to charge you even more for the fossil fuels you use in your home, car and other places.

They theorize that this will reduce unemployment by creating more renewable energy jobs.  To some degree they might be partly right.  By increasing costs of oil the currently higher costs of solar panels and windmills wouldn't appear as high and low energy products that cost as much as 10 times the cost of less efficient products would be able to show they have a quicker turn around time in return on investments.

But since more money will be coming out of people's pockets to either pay the higher energy costs, the higher costs of efficient products or both there will be less money spent on the other things that make up our economy.

And the theory of new jobs being created with the spending of this money directly conflicts with the following statement:

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its finding that this energy bill would reduce the 2011-20 federal budget deficit by $19 billion.

So if the money is being used to create new jobs then it would be additional monies spent.  If it's being used to offset the deficit then it wouldn't be used for the jobs.  Which is it?

Also one side point, consider the deficit increased by $1.6 Trillion in 2009 and has already reached $1 trillion this year and we're not even through the year yet.  That $19 billion is a drop in the bucket when you look at what Obama is currently spending.  Also take into account that the Bush deficit Democrats continually rail about averaged around $400 billion per year when he had Republicans in control of both houses.

Moving on, this next point raises an interesting comparison.

A similar success was reducing the acid rain polluting Eastern waters by placing a cap on the sulfur emissions from Midwestern coal plants. This approach cost far less than anyone ever predicted.

While the writer would like you to think that creating a carbon tax and placing limits on the amounts of toxins a company can put off into the air is one in the same, it isn't.

In the case of the carbon tax, if a company uses 100 gallons of fuel or 1000 gallons of fuel it does no harm to me in either case.

However if they burn that fuel inefficiently spitting toxins into the air it does me harm because it pollutes the air I need to survive.  In that case a direct harm can be shown.

Chinese industry has already captured half the world’s solar cell market with support from its government. Let’s give our American companies a break this year.

I believe the word support in the above statement is incorrect.  It should have read "subsidized"

Based on this statement I was going to raise a point about the percent of the over all GDP China takes in taxes vs the US but when I looked them up the US is already taking 28.2% compared to China only taking 17%.  I think that says something about how much our government wastes but that's a topic for a different article.

Back to the point, it would be nice to think we could replace oil with solar or wind power but right now the technology isn't there.  I know, I've looked into it.  Unless I spend far more then I make in a year on huge industrial sized windmills (I would think my town zoning would have a problem with them) the best I've found is windmills that advertise they would cover about 40% of the average home's electrical usage.  I contacted an installer and had them come to my house to assess my lot.  The answer I received is that my lot is not situated in an area where I could get much use from a windmill.  I would see very little output from it and there would be no return on investment.  They advised me to instead look at solar which wouldn't produce as much as a windmill on average and would take much longer to show any return on the cost since they cost more up front.  They also pointed out that most homes are not located in areas that could take advantage of wind.

So most homes don't even have access to wind power and solar is expensive and produces less.  It would be nice to think we could all just switch to one of these alternatives and eliminate oil but right now the alternative doesn't exist.

Given today's technology the result of the writers wish would produce one of only two outcomes.  Either we'd all be paying far more for energy than we do today or we'd devolve back to the days of using candles instead of electric bulbs and live life without our air-conditioned offices, homes and cars.  As you sit in your 70 degree climate controlled home or office reading this (if your in a car stop reading and look at the road!!!) think about this and ask yourself, would you want it shut off?  On a 90 degree day would you rather sit working without AC or fans?  Instead of reading web sites like this on your computer or spending the night watching movies on giant flat screen TVs would you rather sit back with a book (and not using an electronic device to download and read, I'm talking the old fashioned paper kind with pages you turn)?  Most of us are unwilling to give those things up or change our lifestyles that much.  Heck, even kids going to summer camps for just one week smuggle in "tech" like cell phones or laptops.

I'm sure someday we'll have the ability to capture electricity from the air or from solar but today we don't and as much as we want that baby delivered now it will still take time before it's ready.