NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Windmills, Solar Panels and Hydrogen Fuel Cells are Costly

March 28, 2002

Environmentalists have long favored using so-called renewable energy in the form of windmills, solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity, power cars and heat homes. And since 1982, the technologies have received generous federal subsidies. Yet oil and coal still have 85 percent of the energy market. And the reason, analysts say, is simple: energy from wind mills, solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells are highly expensive to produce. Fossil fuels aren't.

  • A wind farm that could produce 1,000 megawatts from propeller-driven turbines would extend -- according to the Environmental Protection Agency -- over 400 square miles.
  • Meanwhile, a similar coal plant would take up 10 acres.
  • A Bristow, Calif., solar plant occupied 75 acres and cost $200 million to build -- and generated only $1.7 million worth of energy a year until it was shut down.
  • A plan to cover 100,000 roofs in Los Angeles with solar panels has been a failure, with only 40 homes adopting the panels despite an average of $8,000 in subsidies per house.

While America generates 8 percent of its power from what the U.S. Energy Information Administration calls "renewables," nearly all of is hydropower from dams and "biomass" -- mainly wood. Wind and solar each represent 1 percent -- not of the total power generated, but only of that generated by renewables.

Finally, abundant low-cost fossil fuel energy is the key to prosperity. Prosperity is the key to cleaner air and water, as a study of 117 countries by the World Bank and the World Economic Forum has shown.

Source: James Glassman (American Enterprise Institute), "Renewables Are Great - For Powering Fantasies," Dallas Morning News, March 24, 2002.


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