- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

Congress has wrestled for two years to shape a “National Energy Policy” to hasten economic growth while enhancing consumer choice. Unfortunately, this effort could be undermined by some proposals currently under consideration.

One of the worst proposals comes from proponents of the theory that humans are causing global warming. They are attempting to use the energy bill as a vehicle to restrict greenhouse gas emissions — setting mandatory caps on the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants. The problem is there is no good argument for demanding drastic reductions in CO2 emissions, since it is neither a pollutant nor is it toxic at any foreseeable atmospheric levels. Indeed, CO2 is necessary for life on Earth.

Further, capping U.S. CO2 emissions will not reduce the threat of global warming but it will harm our economy. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, even if the U.S. cut its greenhouse gas emissions to the level required by the Kyoto Protocol, and all of the other nations meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets, the temperature difference would amount to less than a half degree reduction. This negligible reduction would cost an estimated 50 percent increase in energy prices, a 1 percent loss in GDP, and a million jobs lost.

Some of the other problematic proposals from various legislators include attempts to require each energy provider to ensure that 10 to 20 percent of its delivered energy comes from a preferred renewable energy source within the next 10 to 15 years.

Unfortunately, the best research indicates that renewable sources, excluding hydroelectric dams, will provide less than 10 percent of our energy needs during the next 50 years. If the U.S. continues to experience even modest economic growth during the next 20 years, electricity demand could increase by more than 45 percent. As a result, wind and solar energy mandates could condemn the nation to energy shortages and stagnant economic growth.

Another problem with this proposal, is that after more than 30 years and billions of dollars of government subsidies, neither wind nor solar power is economically competitive. Even with generous subsidies, new solar-power capacity is triple the cost of new gas-generated electricity and quadruple the cost of surplus power. New wind power costs 50 percent to 100 percent more than new gas-generated electricity and surplus power.

Wind and solar power also suffer from intermittence problems. Wind turbines only work when the wind blows above certain speeds and solar arrays only work when the sun shines. This places rather stringent limits upon where it is worthwhile to site either type of plant and requires that both types of plants have back-up, traditional, fossil fuel power plants — an expensive redundancy.

In addition, both types of plants take up enormous amounts of space. When they are sited, as is often the case, in undeveloped or pristine areas, the power plantsdetract from the environmental and recreational value of the area. When they are sited near developed areas, the result is visual blight, and in the caseofwind power, noise pollution. Windturbines have the addedenvironmental drawback that they kill thousands of migratory songbirds, waterfowl and raptors each year. Accordingly, cost and environmental factors are making it difficult for public utility planners to site new wind and solar farms.

Another bad proposal is the effort to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard. CAFE was enacted to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. It failed. While today’s automobiles and trucks do get substantially better gas mileage than those in the 1970s, imported oil usage has risen from 35 percent in 1974 to more than 52 percent today. Improved fuel economy and declines in oil prices made automobiles significantly less expensive to drive and when driving is cheap, people drive more. Indeed, people drive, on average, twice as many miles at present than they did when CAFE was enacted.

Worse, CAFE has cost lives. Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents — or a total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives lost per model year. And USA Today calculated that current CAFE standards had resulted in more than 46,000 deaths.

Few policy issues have as direct a bearing on peoples’ well-being than a national energy policy. A bad energy policy can hamper economic growth. As a result, when shaping an energy policy the legislators should keep the twin goals of economic growth and consumer choice at the forefront of their considerations. The policies discussed above would artificially restrict our sources of the energy and transportation, harming the economy and limit consumer choice, and thus do not merit inclusion in a national energy policy.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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