NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Gone with the Wind

September 27, 2010

When President Barack Obama seized the Gulf Coast oil spill to push for a clean energy bill, he spoke of wind power, though wind has little immediate connection with oil: Wind produces electricity, not the kind of fuel that oil provides for cars.  The problems with wind and solar power are simple:  The math doesn't add up, says the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

  • The president's push for government-funded wind and solar energy -- and away from sources like coal and oil -- isn't new.
  • Obama's February budget proposal for 2011 included a 48 percent increase in government subsidies for wind power -- from $83 million this year to $123 million in 2011.
  • On solar energy, the president asked for a 22 percent hike -- from $247 million to $302 million.

Experts point to already-proven energy sources they believe deserve more attention: natural gas and nuclear energy.  Natural gas, in particular, is abundant and available now.  It is also easier to extract than oil and cleaner than coal.  And -- like nuclear power -- natural gas trumps any wide scale potential promised by wind or solar energy.  To make wind and solar energy sources consistently reliable on a wide scale would require massive amounts of reliable storage -- technology that doesn't exist on a cost-effective basis.  Forcing utility companies to generate more of their power using wind and solar would likely raise energy costs for U.S. consumers, says the Foundation.

In addition:

  • The Nature Conservancy, a U.S. environmental group, published a report last year estimating that wind power requires about 30 times as much land as nuclear energy, and four times as much land required for natural gas.
  • The high costs, unreliability and land usage are not just a problem for prosperous nations like the United States -- the dynamic is especially unrealistic for developing countries in desperate need of cheap energy for basic survival.
  • Connecting the developing world to affordable sources of energy -- including sources like coal and oil -- and moving the poorest populations away from using sources like wood and dung, remains a critical way to raise the standard of living in some of the most miserable places in the world.

Source:  Jamie Dean, "Gone with the Wind," Texas Public Policy Foundation, September 2010.

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