- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

The future looks rather dim, if, as House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert stated at the first committee hearing of the 107th Congress, "renewables and … efficiency are the keys to our energy future."

Despite the $10.3 billion that U.S. taxpayers lavished on the research and development of renewable energy between 1978 and 1998, (according to a 1999 General Accounting Office report) non-hydro renewables, such as wind and solar power, made up less than 5 percent of total energy production in the United States in 1999 and only 2.5 percent of electricity generation.

Nor is that likely to increase anytime soon. According to committee witness Mary J. Hutzler, director of the Energy Department's Office of Integrated Analysis and Forecasting, "The share of total energy consumption that is derived from renewable sources" will be approximately the same in 2020 as it is today.

One reason is that power generated by fossil fuels still costs far less per kilowatt hour (kwh) than power generated by renewables. While the efficiency of renewables has increased, non-renewables have kept pace and are expected to continue to do so. Besides, renewables have other failings. Joel Darmstadter, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, testified to the committee that because "wind and solar generation are dependent on the weather and cannot always be dispatched to meet load, cost-per-kwh comparisons may understate the economic challenge faced by these technologies."

Moreover, renewable sources of energy also come with unique environmental costs. In 1999, the Audubon Society opposed the building of electricity-generating windmills in now-benighted California, calling them "condor Cuisinarts." The burning of biomass such as trees results in essentially the same chemical byproducts as burning coal, and even the thought of nuclear power is enough to send environmentalists scurrying into the trees.

Yet thanks in part to phantom fears of global warming, many environmentalists and policy-makers are strong advocates of the increased use of renewable energy resources. Mr. Boehlert said that for a variety of reasons, "business as usual" energy scenarios are unacceptable.

However, solutions advocated for increasing the demand for renewables are even less acceptable. Dr. John P. Holdren, a professor at Harvard in both the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Kennedy School of Government, advocated a variety of heavy-handed measures, including tighter fuel standards, and the implementation of "either a carbon tax or its equivalent in the form of a tradeable carbon-emissions permit system." Other committee witnesses advocated similar measures.

Mr. Boehlert argues that "renewable energy and energy efficiency need to be part of a comprehensive energy policy." However, their benefits should not be overestimated, and their costs should not be overlooked.

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