The Truth about "Alternative Energy"

Roy Innis
Issue CXXXII - December 13, 2007
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We often hear that “clean, free, inexhaustible” renewable energy can replace the “dirty” fossil fuels that sustain our economy. A healthy dose of energy reality is needed.

Fully 85% of America’s total energy comes from fossil fuels. Over half of its electricity comes from coal. Gas and nuclear generate 36% of its electricity.

Barely 1% comes from wind and solar. Coal-generated power typically costs less per kilowatt hour than alternatives – leaving families with more money for food, housing, transportation and healthcare.

By 2020, the United States will need 100,000 megawatts of new electricity -- government, industry, and utility company analysts forecast. Unreliable wind power simply cannot meet these demands.

Wind farms require big subsidies and vast stretches of land. To meet New York City’s electricity needs alone would require blanketing the entire state of Connecticut with towering turbines, says Rockefeller University Professor Jesse Ausubel. They kill raptors and other birds, and must be backed up by expensive coal or gas power plants that mostly sit idle – but kick in whenever the wind dies down, so that factories, schools, offices and homes don’t shut down.

On a scale sufficient to meet the electricity needs of a modern society, wind power is just not sustainable.

For three decades, US demand for natural gas has outpaced production. In fact, gas prices have tripled since 1998, to $13 per thousand cubic feet today, and every $1 increase costs US consumers an additional $22 billion a year.

With Congress and states making more gas prospects off limits every year, this trend is likely to continue – further driving up prices and forcing the US to import increasing amounts of even more expensive liquefied natural gas.

American consumers simply cannot afford to halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants, though some politicians, activists, and even companies are trying to do exactly that.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. supported anti-coal initiatives in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. The scheme was intended to drive up the price of natural gas, and thus profits, by making coal less available and more expensive – with little regard for poor families. 

As Kansas discovered after its environmental chief blocked a proposed new coal generator, coal projects also come with transmission lines to carry intermittent wind-generated electricity and more reliable coal-generated power. Wind farms typically do not. Now a dozen Kansas wind projects are also on hold.

Former Clinton Administration environment staffer Katy McGinty engineered the lockup of 7 billion tons of low-sulfur Utah coal, worth $1 trillion. Current and proposed regulations would make it even more difficult and expensive to provide adequate coal-fired electricity.

But the facts support more coal use, not less.

Power plants fueled by coal are far less polluting than 30 years ago. Just since 1998, their annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have declined another 28% and 43% respectively, according to air quality expert Joel Schwartz.

Coal-fired power plants are now the primary source of US mercury emissions only because the major sources (incinerating wastes and processing ores containing mercury) have been eliminated. US mercury emissions are now down 82% since the early 1980s, and new rules will eliminate most remaining mercury and other emissions by 2015.

That leaves carbon dioxide and catastrophic climate change as rationales for opposing coal. However, the latest UN-IPCC report again reduces projections for future temperature increases, polar melting, and sea level rise. Moreover, increasing scientific evidence suggests only slight warming, climate change controlled primarily by solar cycles, and storm, drought, and sea level trends in line with historical experience.

Yet, claims about imminent catastrophes became borderline hysterical, as delegates and activists traveled to the island paradise of Bali to promote a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

They and the news media ignored the inconvenient truth that climate chaos horror stories are based almost entirely on computer models and digital disaster scenarios. They likewise ignored the fact that their air travel generated nearly 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, US politicians are promoting initiatives like the Lieberman-Warner bill and Midwestern Governors Association climate pact, which they say will prevent a cataclysm, by slashing CO2 emissions by 60-80% and generating “thousands of megawatts” from wind energy.

If these initiatives become law, Senator Lieberman himself admits, they would cost the American economy “hundreds of billions” of dollars. Electricity rates would soar another 50% by 2012. Millions of lost jobs will be lost, labor unions predict, as companies shift operations to foreign countries.

Preeminent alarmists Al Gore and Hillary Clinton emit more CO2 in a week from the private jets they take to campaign, lecture, and fund-raising events, than the average American does in a year. And yet the two are demanding a wholesale “transformation” of the US economy and living standards.

Mrs. Clinton says she is switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), to save a few kilowatts. But CFLs contain mercury, and a nationwide switch to these bulbs could make them a more significant source of mercury than power plants. Mr. Gore justifies his emissions by noting that he gets (free) “carbon offset” indulgences from his company. He’s not offering free indulgences to the rest of us.

China and other rapidly developing countries will build 1,000 new coal plants during the next five years – with few of the pollution controls required in the USA. That means even major sacrifices by American workers and families won’t affect global temperatures, even if CO2 is the primary cause of global warming – which many scientists say is not the case.

We need every energy resource: oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, nuclear – and wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass.

We cannot replace 52% of our electricity (the coal-based portion) with technologies that currently provide only 1% of that power (mainly wind). Wind is a supplement, not an alternative.

We cannot generate electricity with hot air from politicians eager to create tax breaks, subsidies, and “renewable energy mandates” for companies that produce alternative energy technologies – in exchange for campaign contributions from those companies.

We cannot afford to trash the energy we have, and substitute energy that exists only in campaign speeches and legislative decrees.

Doing so would leave a huge energy gap between what we need and what we will have.

Poor, elderly, and minority families can least afford such “energy policies.”


Roy Innis is national chairman of the New York-based Congress of Racial Equality, one of America’s oldest and most respected civil rights organizations. This article is based on his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2007.

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