I disagree with Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.,’s column in the April 7 Journal on the adoption of renewable energy. His comments minimize the problem of making the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
I’m not a foe of renewable energy; quite the opposite. I did my first solar energy research project and my first design of a commercial-scale solar energy system in the early 1970s. I was a founding member of the Solar Energy Society of Canada Inc. at that time, and I served on its board of directors for several years. Ever since then I have been active as a researcher on solar energy and energy conservation in buildings in Canada and the United States.
In the 1980s, I taught several courses on the design of solar energy systems to design engineers across the country, and I have served on several standard committees developing performance standards for solar energy equipment. I am now retired and living in New Mexico, and my house gets 95 percent of its electricity from a solar energy system that I had installed.
Heinrich and I agree on the fundamental problem – global warming. We have to reduce and finally eliminate our emission of carbon dioxide. However, the problem is to find the most economical way of doing that.
Unfortunately, electrical utilities have not “… found that clean energy is now more reliable and more cost-effective than traditional sources like coal,” as Heinrich suggests. I wish it were more reliable and more cost-effective than fossil fuels, but at present it is not, unless it’s subsidized by the government. If renewable energy were more economical, the government wouldn’t have to subsidize it or mandate it, and the Koch brothers would be in that business instead of fossil fuel.
Utility economics is a complex business. Every power source has a different mix of capital and operating cost. The Holy Grail is reliability. I don’t have time or space to go into the problems of integrating an intermittent power source like solar or wind into the mix, but those problems are considerable. There are solutions, including energy storage and an enlarged transmission system, but at present those solutions are still too expensive.
We need a solution to the problem of global warming, which is injuring everyone – those who conserve energy as well as those who waste it. What is the solution? Not government subsidies or government mandates. I have seen governments mess up in their attempts to promote solar energy over the past 50 years, wasting everyone’s money.
Economists are almost unanimously agreed that the only practical solution to global warming is a carbon dioxide tax. That means that those who use energy pay for not only the cost of producing is, but also the cost of the damage that it’s doing to the environment. That latter cost is very high, and if carbon dioxide producers had to pay it, many clever people would be improving solar and wind energy systems, improving cars and buildings and everything else that uses energy and inventing new energy systems that we haven’t thought of yet. Only the innovations that were truly cost-effective would be adopted, not the ones that some bureaucrat happens to like.
At the same time, energy users everywhere would use a little less energy as it became more expensive – buying a more fuel-efficient car, having their houses air-tightened, spending their vacations closer to home, or doing whatever else they chose as the best way for them to save energy.
The public wants clean energy, but they don’t want to pay too much for it. A carbon tax is the best way to give them what they want at the minimum cost.