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.I encourage readers to check out the rest of Tucker's piece.
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.