NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 10, 2006

In the late 1990s, Denmark set out to turn the farming and summer-vacation island of Samsoe into a showcase for clean energy. The government dangled generous financial subsidies. A former environmental studies teacher, Soren Hermansen, was hired to persuade residents to invest in wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and giant straw-burning furnaces.

Today, Hermansen hands out glossy brochures at energy conferences depicting an ecofriendly Samsoe awash in wildflowers:

  • But Samsoe's 4,300 permanent residents never gave up their gasoline-fueled cars.
  • Only a third of the island's 18 villages signed onto a cooperative heating program.
  • Elimination of a tax credit for solar power brought installation of panels to a halt.
  • Wind power, which once showed the most promise, also faces an uncertain future.

The mixed results on tiny Samsoe demonstrate the hurdles of taking alternative energy mainstream, say observers. Last week in his State of the Union address, President Bush proposed ramping up federal funds for researching new solar, wind and nuclear technologies. Bush also linked energy independence to national security and freedom from Middle Eastern oil -- echoing Europe's long-standing argument for fostering renewable energy sources.

But even the European Union's most environmentally conscious members are finding that it isn't easy to get people to commit to change. And the trade-offs can be costly, say observers: Denmark's cutting-edge wind industry, for instance, has flourished on the back of Danish businesses and consumers who pay government-mandated premiums for wind power and other alternative energies. Now, though, the Danish government is pulling back on energy incentives, arguing that they are a drag on the economy.

Source: Mary Jacoby, "A Danish Island Touts Clean Energy, But Reality Sets In," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2006.

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