Dumb Energy

It is easy to tell when an energy source is “dumb”–i.e. inefficient, unreliable and expensive. Smart energy sources like coal, nuclear, hydroelectric and natural gas, exist because they satisfy a permanent demand for cheap and reliable energy. Dumb energy sources, on the other hand, exist because government has put its thumb on the scale in the form of subsidies and mandates. The most valuable employees of companies that sell dumb energy are lobbyists, not engineers. If an energy source exists by virtue of government favoritism, you know it is dumb.

Which brings us to Norman Rogers’ brand new book, Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy. Dumb Energy is reviewed in the current The Week That Was by the Science and Environmental Policy Project:

Dispelling myths is difficult, particularly when strong vested interests profit from them. In a clearly written, short book, Norman Rogers explains why wind and solar power are “Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy.” Electricity generation from wind was invented in the 1880s, shortly after Thomas Edison opened the first electrical coal-fired power plant with the necessary infrastructure to use electricity for practical purposes. Particularly after the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Americans demanded electric power and light. Reliable electricity became the mark of modern civilization.

In the early 20th century, systems of delivering reliable electric power, called the grid, were developed, and regulated by local and state governments. In 1935, the Federal Power Act was passed, largely written by power engineers and scientists. It recognizes the grid is an energized system of delivering power, not electrons, for the benefit of all on it. Contrary to myth, it is impossible to distinguish which electrons come from which generators and the grid does not recognize political boundaries. Reinforced by Supreme Court decisions, the Power Act divides the power industry in three categories – generation, local distribution, and transmission. States were given jurisdiction over generation and local distribution. The federal government over transmission. A large part of the costs of transmission is created by the need for stability on the grid, not than just delivering power.

Wind power was initially used in many communities and rural areas. Because wind power is inherently unreliable, it lost to the reliability of the grid. Human preference demonstrated that reliable electricity is of high-value, while unreliable electricity is of low-value. Wind power will continue to be unreliable until a low-cost system of storing electricity on a massive scale is created. Solar power has similar issues and the sun sets daily. Massive subsidies and “accounting tricks” hid the high costs of unreliable wind and solar energy from the public.

Rogers addresses many of the weaknesses of wind and solar and accounting “tricks” used to make them appear to competitive with traditional power. These include heavy subsidies in the form of tax credits that can be sold to corporations desiring to reduce their taxes. Rogers does not clarify the costs (subsidies) that transmission companies (gird operators) must pay for making the unreliable electricity reliable, raising the value of unreliable electricity.

These costs are passed on to the consumers, not the generators of unreliable electricity. Thus, the US public pays a double subsidy for unreliable energy from wind and solar. It subsidizes the capital costs of construction through tax credits, etc., and it subsidies the costs of making unreliable electricity reliable. On top of these subsidies, over half of the states require these low-value types of electrical generation.

In addition to the myth that wind and solar are a low-cost substitute for fossil fuels and hydropower, Rogers addresses many other myths about electricity and its generation. No doubt, this valuable book will receive great criticism from those who benefit from current myths.

A lot of money is being made on “green” energy–just ask Tom Steyer and Warren Buffett:

We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.

Energy sources that depend on government subsidies to be viable are dumb. Norman Rogers’ book is here.

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