Alternative energy getting a fair chance?

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Does government have to play fair? A Georgia environmentalist says it’s not a level playing field when it comes to alternative energy getting the kind of government support traditionally offered to the fossil-fuel industry. A conservative writer counters that the mandating of renewable energy will increase our cost of living, even as air quality improves and natural gas energy catches on.

Commenting is open below.

Clean options merit some breaks, too

By David Kyler

It is often said that morality cannot be legislated, but that doesn’t keep people from trying. Yet the public issues most commonly portrayed in moral dimensions seldom if ever include job creation, technology and the use and protection of natural resources.

Our state and nation would benefit greatly by linking government policies to standards that balance moral goals such as fairness and honesty with other important objectives, including economic opportunity, education, public health and defending civil liberties.

For instance, when energy policy favors conventional sources of power like fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) without comparable support for clean alternatives such as solar and wind power, it fails to meet the moral test of fairness and honesty. By any measure, jobs per dollar invested and per unit of energy produced are higher in solar and wind technologies than in traditional power plants.

It is unfair to deprive the public of the benefits of alternative energy and to protect the vested interests of the relatively few who are financially favored by the “fossilized” status quo. Likewise, it is dishonest to deny the threats caused by global climate change and its combustion-related causes.

The longer status-quo policies prevail, the greater the penalties on future generations, with potentially catastrophic consequences. While social programs are often condemned for their longer-term moral implications, political analysis of energy and environmental policies misleadingly marginalizes them. Discounting cumulative damage to water, air and living resources imposes costly burdens on human health and economic prospects.

Even with existing environmental safeguards in place, millions of Americans still suffer the effects of pollution. Asthma, encephalitis and other debilitating diseases are agonizing penalties imposed by dirty industries. Yet the cost of these injuries — in employment potential, medical treatment and shortened lifespan — are condoned under current policies and practices.

Defenders of the status quo also attack subsidies for green technologies, asserting that “free markets” should be the determinant of successful innovation. Such assertions also conflict with fundamental moral principles. It is dishonest to portray leading energy technologies as if they were a result of free markets.

Coal, oil and gas have been lavishly subsidized for decades. And dominant energy technologies impose hidden costs not tabulated in their market price. One respected expert estimates that tabulating pollution clean-up, military costs, and other public obligations supporting fossil fuels would add $12 per gallon at the pump.

Should taxpayers and consumers accommodate the electric power industry, as the state’s largest water user, by exempting it from the deceptively named Georgia Water Stewardship Act? This injustice is worsened by the multi-billion-dollar reservoir-construction program proposed by Georgia officials, to be paid for by residential and commercial water customers rather than the state’s biggest water user.Ponder the ethics of energy policy. Is it fair that a hefty portion of the huge U.S. military budget is devoted to protecting access to foreign sources of oil? One respected expert estimates that tabulating pollution clean-up, military costs, and other public obligations supporting fossil fuels would add $12 per gallon at the pump. In effect, this is a hidden tax that is not only secret, but economically subversive.

If we agree that public policies should be guided by moral principles, surely we must adopt judicious and accountable methods for making such determinations.

David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast in Saint Simons.

Imposing renewable energy won’t work

By Benita M. Dodd

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Watching environmental groups eroding sound energy policy through death by a thousand cuts is a strong reminder.

For years, alternative energy was promoted as preparation for “peak” oil. Domestic energy exploration was hindered to “protect the land.” Air and water pollution were cited to demonize coal. Then global warming/climate change was the reason to reduce coal and petroleum use.

Policymakers concerned about national security were urged to achieve energy independence, with no regard for how global markets operate. In this, biofuel profiteers have been complicit and protectionist. States were pressed to mandate energy portfolios with a percentage of renewable energy including wind, solar and biomass. The pot was sweetened with tax credits, subsidies, grants and rebates, all at taxpayer expense.

Georgia has wisely resisted such mandates. But more recently, a new strategy has become clear: the call for legislators to embrace alternative energy sources because “it’s good for the economy and the right thing to do.”

In a struggling economy where job creation is important, legislators may just fall for this new “moral” argument. But it’s as unpredictable as the future of renewable energy. Why? First, peak oil arguments were soundly defeated by recent discoveries of vast resources of domestic shale gas. In fact, current recoverable gas provides enough for at least the next 100 years. Technological advances are certain to improve upon that estimate.

Air quality has improved even as energy use increased. Between 1980 and 2011, GDP increased 128 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 94 percent, energy consumption increased 26 percent and the U.S. population grew 37 percent. During that period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 63 percent. While carbon dioxide emissions increased 21 percent between 1980 and 2010, CO2 energy-related emissions are expected to decline to 5 percent below 2005 levels by 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s largely thanks to better cars and more (cleaner, shale) natural gas energy.

The moral “justification” includes job creation. That hasn’t worked in Spain, where a 2010 study found that for each green job financed by Spanish taxpayers, 2.2 real jobs were lost as an opportunity cost, and that 9 out of 10 green jobs created over the previous 10 years no longer existed. It hasn’t worked in Germany, whose 80-percent renewable goal is proving so unaffordable that manufacturing industries — and their jobs — are leaving the country.

Meanwhile, other countries are expanding their economies, using or extracting fossil fuels with far less regard for the environment. Europe is using the demonized coal exported from the U.S.

Imposing renewable energy upon Georgia’s taxpayers raises the cost of living. The right thing to do is for government to allow the ingenuity of Americans to continue to create an affordable, reliable energy mix, not legislate on the basis of “morality” agendas of a vocal minority.

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

18 comments Add your comment


March 9th, 2013
8:42 pm

Deborahinathens: the biggest cost of gas at the pump is the TAXES. That is what makes it so expensive.

Also – we have subsidized the heck out of ‘alternative’ energies. And those companies STILL go bankrupt.

So…what should we do? throw more money at them?


March 8th, 2013
3:24 pm

Solar’s problem in a nutshell:
Residential solar costs about $5,000 per peak KW, installed.
Large scale commercial solar costs about $4,100 per KW.

In sunny Atlanta, that 1KW will produce about $106 of electricity per year, retail.
In rainy Seattle, that 1KW will produce only $42 of electricity.

BUT if instead, one took that $5,000 and purchased dividend stocks, the dividend return would be over $250./yr plus appreciation on the capital vs the loss of value on the solar panels which die after about 30 years.

It’s a no brainer for those who can get past the ideology and still think.

James Rust

March 8th, 2013
2:34 pm

The hype by renewable energy advocates in the paper and comments led me to submit a recent paper I wrote. Books are written showing at present fossil fuels are the only cheap energy sources.


Solar proponents point out solar energy cuts down on alleged carbon dioxide pollution; but never mention energy requirements to produce solar facilities or pollution involved in their manufacture and contained in their components.

An example of pollution problems is given by a paper by Paul Chesser of the National Legal & Policy Institute titled “Abound Solar’s Toxic Waste Highlights Enviro Hypocrisy on Pollution”.
This paper features pollution problems resulting from the 2012 bankruptcy of Abound Solar that may have to be paid by taxpayers. At the end of the paper is reference to a 2010 Stanford University publication that describes in great detail pollution problems with all solar PV systems. Paul Chesser wrote, “Ishan Nath, a Stanford scholar specializing in economics and Earth systems, wrote in the university’s Journal of International Relations (PDF) that “until these issues are properly addressed, a shadow of doubt will hang over the true environmental impacts of solar energy.” “. The Stanford University paper must be read by all involved with considering use of solar energy. That means solar energy proponents.

Abound Solar used cadmium in their solar panels and the Stanford University report also notes silicon used in other solar panels cause severe environmental problems.

Most solar PV panel production takes place in China where pollution problems are ignored in comparison to production standards of the United States. The United States may never be cost competitive with China under this type of competition. When bankruptcies take place, as happened to Abound Solar, disposal of toxic wastes may be a liability left over after bankruptcy.

After 25 years, solar panels no longer produce electricity. How much energy is produced during that period of operation in comparison to the energy consumed in manufacturing and installing solar facilities needs to be addressed. Energy and money are linked together because all forms of energy cost money. Subsidies for solar energy systems include a federal 30 percent tax credit for facility costs, rapid depreciation of costs to reduce tax burdens, other subsidies provided by individual cities and states, and requirements that electricity from solar systems must be purchased at costs that usually exceed electricity from conventional coal or natural gas. Because solar electricity without subsidies costs far more than conventional electricity, energy requirements to produce solar facilities are of significance and need to be considered.

Operating data from SunnyPortal
indicates a 1 kilowatt solar PV plant will produce 1200 kilowatt-hours annually in the Atlanta, GA area. For a 25-year operating lifetime in the Atlanta area, an optimistic lifetime output for a solar plant is 30,000 kilowatt-hr. Using 12 cents per kilowatt-hr as the value of electricity, the Georgia average residential electricity rate, the value of electricity from a 1 kilowatt solar plant is $3600. This is far less than costs of such plants, which suggests total energy requirements to place 1 kilowatt solar plants into operation is significant compared to its energy production.

Proponents and suppliers of solar PV equipment will immediately claim outputs and useful lifetimes of solar equipment far exceeds the 1200 kilowatt-hours per year and 25-year lifetimes cited in this paper. Purchasers of solar equipment should demand written guarantees, backed by a cash bond for return of funds spent, for annual performance and lifetime of purchased solar systems. Lots of luck!

Finding reliable estimates of energy requirements to produce solar PV systems is difficult. One reason is the technology is constantly improving and energy requirements should gradually decrease in the future. An Australian reference suggested solar PV panels required 1000 kilowatt-hours of energy to produce a one square meter solar panel. Assuming a peak panel output of 0.1 kilowatt per square meter, it would require ten square meters of solar panels for a 1 kilowatt solar plant. This plant in the Atlanta area would generate 30,000 kilowatt-hours over its 25-year lifetime. Using Australian data, 10,000 kilowatt-hours of energy is required for producing the solar panel. This indicates it would take 8 years of operation before a net energy output would occur for the solar plant. This estimate assumes negligible energy requirements for balance of solar plant from framing, wiring, support structure, DC-AC converter, etc.

Another very important question is who will be around to clean up the mess containing toxic materials once solar panels cease operation? The growth in the solar industry has occurred in the past ten years, so there is no experience on what needs to be done once solar panels no longer produce useful amounts of electricity. Panels contain toxic materials that would be considered life-threatening by the EPA if these materials were used for any other purpose. We are facing the possiblity you can’t sell your home if it contains any asbestos or lead paint. What would a cadmium- containing solar panel do to a future sale?

In Georgia a company named Georgia Solar Utilities is proposing building a 200 Megawatt solar PV facility in central Georgia. This is by far the largest penetration of solar energy in the state and Georgia Solar Utilities needs to address the future of this solar plant after its 25-year lifetime elapses.

James Rust, Professor of nuclear engineering

Lt Dan

March 8th, 2013
1:12 pm

From an article in Forbes magazine: “The federal government by no stretch of the imagination subsidizes the oil industry. The oil industry subsidizes the federal government at a rate of $95 million a day.”

The energy companies are using standard accounting methods and the current tax system as it is currently structured to lower thier tax liability. So they are following the law and hanging onto (legally) their earnings. An answer would be to change the tax laws, better yet, replace it with a system where there are no tax credits allowed. That would be one way to level the playing field.

A tax system should not be based on the government picking winners and losers and whose decision making is based upon input from lobbyists. Other than exceeding 50,000 pages (and taking up several shelves of book space), that is what I dislike most about our current tax system.


March 8th, 2013
12:21 pm

Zeke, your ignorance is showing. There is not more fossil fuel (so called because it comes from millennia of rotting carbon life forms–not dinosaurs, as you seem to think). The technology for getting it out of the ground has improved. And as for alternative energy not being able to compete with alternatives, what on earth do you think the price of a gallon of gasoline would be if the various governments didn’t subsidize the production?

Logical Dude

March 8th, 2013
11:56 am

For the next 50 years, world energy usage will soar. EVERY type of energy will be required to handle this:
Tidal (Think Wind but using Tidal flow)
Current (Think Wind but using water currents)

The other side of this is energy conservation. From inefficient incandescent to LED lights that use a tiny fraction of energy for the same amount of light to moving from power guzzling computers to efficient laptops or tablet computers. Energy consumption in the home and workplace should be reduced as well.

I know energy companies don’t like it, but future neighborhoods, homes, and businesses should have solar panels (or wind farms) to help with energy creation & distribution. Ideally, power meters should run backwards when power is delivered to the grid from a home or business. (it’s already done in many places, more as an exception than a policy.)

When reality sets in, and you get a lot of cloudy and not windy days, then yes, traditional power sources are required. Nuclear is the best for long term, with the exception of politics that lead to higher prices and difficulty in cleanup.

Well, until fusion power comes along and we can use the power of the sun in a power plant.


March 8th, 2013
11:23 am

“while the Chinese have taken the technology and, subsidized by their government, run with it. ”

Now the Chinese have polluted their soils and rivers building these technologies to the point fish will live twenty minutes in the water and people’s life span is short. Now explain to me how different is this with coal and oil? First we have clean coal and oil technologies and have been using them for decades. You will not mentioned that because you have been brainwashed by the left. We will never go back to hunter gatherers like you dream about every day. Oh, you do drive a car, heat your home, drink bottled water, and eat fresh foods daily do you not. Yeah your right lets change that!

Henry Ford, XVIII

March 8th, 2013
11:02 am


You only need to press the *SUBMIT COMMENT* one (1) time, Dog.

Thumping your chest while typing may have caused you to become to confused.

Are you not able to articulate any better counter-argument for someone who disagrees with you than calling that person, “Hater.”

How original!