Tuesday, February 24, 2009

William Tucker Shares His Thoughts on Renewable Mandates

William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy (his latest book "about nuclear energy, global warming and the threat to the environment"), shared his thoughts at the American Spectator about what it means to be renewable as well as what renewable mandates may do to the country. Here are a few nuggets:

What is a renewable portfolio? Well, it's what we used to call an "unfunded mandate." The premise is that the government has perfect foresight on where our energy future is going and as good legislators it's their responsibility to hasten its arrival. Corporations and utilities, you see, are generally too greedy and stupid to perceive the future so they have to be prodded on their way. In their wisdom, the legislators will mandate that by 2000-whatever the state or nation shall derive XX percent of its electricity from "renewable sources." It's up to the utilities to do the job. California pioneered this strategy in the 1990s but 26 states have now followed suit, although four make it only voluntary.

All this is likely to make electricity more expensive, which is what is holding the utilities back. Solar electricity now costs about 24 cents per kilowatt-hour and wind 14 cents, as opposed to 5 cents for coal or natural gas. Utilities will pay the bills but then will inevitably pass them along to consumers. California now pays the highest electrical rates in the country, precisely because it will not allow coal or nuclear plants but has pursued a 30-year strategy to develop renewable energy.

The best criticism of renewable portfolio standards ("RPS" for short) comes from Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense, who is (please don't tell anyone) a closet conservative. In his book, Earth: The Sequel, Krupp writes: "Mandates presume that the government already knows the best way to proceed on energy. But the government doesn't know any better than anyone else. The best thing to do is to level the playing field, through something like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade, and then let the market sort things out."


So just what is a "renewable" source of energy? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Wind is definitely renewable (although some people are pointing out that if we put up too many windmills we may start changing wind patterns, which will affect the climate). Solar heat and electricity are renewable because the sun shines every day. Geothermal energy is renewable because the heat of the earth will always be with us. It is generated by the breakdown of uranium and thorium atoms in the earth's crust. (That's why I titled my book on nuclear power Terrestrial Energy.) If we take those same uranium and thorium atoms and put them in something called a "nuclear reactor," however, that is not renewable because -- well, because it isn't, that's why.
I encourage readers to check out the rest of Tucker's piece.


Marcel F. Williams said...

There's nothing wrong with the State or the Federal government mandating that a certain percentage of energy be produced through non carbon dioxide polluting technologies.

But they'll run into serious trouble attempting to do this if they exclude the best energy technology that can do that job-- mainly nuclear.

Marcel F. Williams

perdajz said...

I agree with Marcel in a way. It's clear that the financial sector (e.g., "Wall Street", RIP) can't or couldn't do the cost/benefit analysis to sort of the best energy technology, so maybe the federal government will.

I used to get upset about these kind of diffuse energy mandates, but now I welcome them in an odd way. Let's get it over with. Let the feds dump billions into diffuse power to no avail. After that, nuclear power will be the only source of energy left standing, its superiority will be manifest, and political and regulatory hurdles will fade away.

Kit P said...

Leadership in RPS was established in states like Texas that established a modest requirement in 1998. With the economics of wind generation established, Texas has become a world leader in that field of renewable energy. Other states like Washington State started building wind farms based on economics before a RPS was established. Now wind generated electricity is being marketed to California.

If California has high electric rates I suspect it has more to do with the number of different ways different governments agencies have figured out how to tax natural gas. Now, that is leadership

Also, according to the California's 2005 energy plan the to meet growth is importing LNG to make electricity. More leadership.