If wishes were horses, legislators could pass renewable energy bills which ride rough shod over the Laws of Nature and Physics, but they can’t. If wishes were horses, wind and solar would have replaced one fossil fuel plant somewhere on earth, but they haven’t. Solar would be more than a fraction of 1 percent of our electric energy, and wind and solar combined would be more than one quad of the 100 quads of annual US energy consumption, but they aren’t. And there would be batteries with the capacity to step up when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind blows too little or too much, but there aren’t. We use natural gas and hydro for that.
Xcel Energy has a program called Windsource where you pay more, not less, to use wind power. The EIA reports that on a per unit of energy basis, subsidies to coal are $0.39; nuclear $1.79; for corn ethanol $20.37; wind $32.39; for solar $63.
We need more public transport; more efficient cars and light bulbs; and to continue support for renewables research. We don’t need premature projects like the $2 billion Ivanpah solar project in Nevada, or the $2 billion Cape Wind off Cape Cod. Neither will produce one tenth the output of Prairie Island nuclear, Xcel Energy’s lowest cost operating power source.
So when political candidates talk about the environment, think also about the economy where the rest of us cough up $7,500 for each wealthy buyer of an electric car. Or about Germany, where middle income power users pay so that wealthy home owners can decorate their roofs with solar panels.
If wishes were horses, it would be easy and cheap to replace fossil fuels, but it won’t be.