Free-market policies aid county, not green energy subsidies
By John Justman
Think global. Act local. Sounds good. However, beware of unforeseen consequences. And that’s just what we’re in for, lots of unpleasant side effects, if we aren’t careful heading down the road to “Green"ville.
No one disputes the wisdom of developing sustainable, renewable energy sources. No one, other than comic book characters, wants to destroy our planet. But let’s allow innovation and the free market, rather than government fiat, to guide us. How can we “act locally” when faced with mandates from Denver and D.C.?
Environmentalism has become religion. So many of the rules, regulations and mandates being foisted upon us stem from emotional ideologies with little or no basis in reality. It’s fine when the government sets goals and encourages enterprise. But that is not what’s happening in the headlong rush to “save the planet.”
Let’s slow down; let’s be rational. Let’s learn from Europe’s mistakes.
Here in Mesa County, Grand Valley Transit added two compressed natural gas buses to the county’s fleet last year. This makes sense. CNG is cleaner and less expensive than diesel, and it’s produced right here in Colorado. That’s how thinking globally and acting locally should work.
Unfortunately, actions like this year’s Colorado Senate Bill 252 defy logic. SB252 arbitrarily doubled (to 20 percent) mandated renewable energy requirements for rural cooperatives. That doesn’t affect Mesa County so much, but it certainly harms our neighbors. We should not be happy about seeing our friends in Delta, Montrose and elsewhere facing enormously escalating utility prices because Gov. John Hickenlooper disregarded common sense and good business practice to bow at the altar of environmentalism when he signed SB252.
Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the “green lobby” in Germany forced the phasing out of the country’s nuclear power plants in coming years. Germany dedicated $140 billion to develop an enormous solar network with more than 400 terawatt hours of renewable capacity. However, the best it has ever generated is fewer than 70 terawatt hours annually.
In late December 2011 and January 2012, Germany’s huge solar-powered systems generated almost no electricity at all because of overcast days. To keep the lights on, Germany is now building coal-fired power plants.
Wisely, this past January, Germany capped and froze further subsidies to green energy.
Europe aspires to be the world’s leader in green energy, but it’s interesting to note that while European countries have gone all-in on the green bandwagon, the United States (which, unlike Europe, did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol) is the only nation whose reduced carbon emissions are on track to actually meet the Kyoto goals.
England’s results, likewise, are not encouraging. At least the Brits know they don’t get a lot of sunshine. So, they invested in wind. Now, it seems, they don’t like the ugly, noisy, undependable, bird-killing windmills. In 2010, during the four highest demand periods of the year, windmills produced an average of only 3.83 percent of the needed power.
A cold, windless spell last January left more than 1 million homes short of power. Several coal- and oil-powered generation plants were fired up to cover the shortfall. These generation plants are slated to be disassembled next year. What will Britain do for emergency power shortages then?
Here in Mesa County, more than a dozen energy rebates and tax credits are available to help make our homes and businesses more energy efficient. Programs like these are baby steps, but they work, and they are getting us closer to energy independence and a cleaner environment.
Can America learn from Europe’s experiences before we waste hundreds of billions more? Can anyone say Solyndra? Solyndra is the most notorious green-energy failure, but there are many more projects which have already cost Americans billions of dollars.
I’m not saying green energy is not worth exploring and developing. But I firmly believe that the free market will solve this challenge.
The natural gas industry here has undergone huge changes in the last seven years, making us the world leader in drilling innovation. Recently, one well in Garfield County produced more gas in 90 days than most wells used to produce in 20 years. And it will produce for another 20 years.
Sound scientific advancements have opened up vast supplies of cheap energy in this country, and by 2025 we could be energy independent — something not dreamed possible 20 years ago. The clean energy people lobbied to shut down coal-powered generators to promote green energy, but had no idea that natural gas production could be ramped up so much, so quickly.
Now, their knee-jerk reaction is to attack natural gas.
Europe’s business community is worried about losing manufacturing jobs to the U.S. because of electric rates that are 50 percent higher than in our country. Our huge supply of natural gas at very affordable rates makes that possible. With our wealth of oil and gas this could be a boon to Mesa County.
European policymakers have put their countries way behind the economic curve. The only way they will catch up is if we copy their failed policies. Locally, our economic development group, GJEP, should be looking to Europe to attract business to the Grand Valley.
Andrew McKillop, former energy analyst for the European Commission, summed it up: “The European Union is wracked by sovereign debt, budget deficits, monetary weakness, slow economic growth, trade deficits and mass unemployment, but it has the supposedly proud role of world leader in Green Energy Transition.”
With our national debt zooming toward $17 trillion and ongoing economic malaise, we can choose to follow in Europe’s footsteps. Or we can choose a free-market path that will benefit the nation and Mesa County in particular.
John Justman is a Mesa County commissioner. This column reflects his personal views.