We’re often told we must end our “addiction” to oil and coal because they harm the environment and Earth’s climate. Ecologically friendly wind energy, some say, will generate 20 percent of America’s energy in another decade, greatly reducing carbon dioxide emissions and land-use impacts.
We are commanded to be good stewards of the Earth and resources God gave us. We should conserve energy, use it wisely and minimize harmful impacts on lands and wildlife. But we also need to safeguard our health and that of our neighbors, preserve jobs and help poor families build wealth and improve their standard of living. I want all children, not just mine, to have a better future.
Heaven knows I’m not an engineer. But Robert Bryce’s readable book, “Power Hungry,” is a real eye-opener to help us appreciate what it really means to be good stewards - and why we depend on hydrocarbons for 85 percent of the energy that keeps our homes, businesses and communities running smoothly.
Mr. Bryce points out that we are no more “addicted” to fossil fuels than we are to food, housing and clothing. It’s simply that fossil fuels give us more abundant, reliable and affordable energy from less land than any alternatives we have today. They enable us to have jobs, hospitals, cars, schools, factories, offices, stores - and living standards better than royalty enjoyed a mere century ago. As fossil fuel consumption increases, so does agriculture, commerce, mobility, comfort, convenience, health and prosperity.
Oil, natural gas, coal and gasoline also give us huge amounts of energy from small tracts of land. One oil well producing just 10 barrels a day provides the energy equivalent of electricity from wind turbines on half of Delaware, according to Mr. Bryce.
It’s also a fact that wind-based electricity is unreliable. It’s available only when the wind is blowing enough, but not too hard. It can add to our electrical grid, but we can’t depend on it to power a business or operating room. No factory or city can get by just on wind power - not in my lifetime, anyway.
Wind turbines actually generate electricity just seven hours a day on average - and two hours a day on sweltering Texas summer days and frigid Minnesota winter nights. This means that every watt of wind power must be backed up by gas-fired generators that kick in every time the turbines stop spinning. And that’s just the beginning.
Wind turbine farms need 10 times more steel and concrete than a nuclear, coal or gas power plant for the same amount of electricity. You also need thousands of tons of raw materials for the backup generators and the thousands of miles of new transmission lines to get the electricity to cities hundreds of miles from the wind farms. All these materials have to be dug out of the ground someplace. And all of that mining and manufacturing is powered by fossil fuels, which requires more mining and drilling.
The backup power plants have to be running constantly - and then roar to full strength every time the wind dies down. That’s like having to stop your car repeatedly for red lights along miles of highway: idling and then gunning it to 55 mph, over and over. That uses huge amounts of fuel and emits enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and pollutants. In the end, we barely reduce America’s CO2 emissions.
Finally, even with billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, wind-based electricity is far more expensive than power generated by coal, natural gas or nuclear plants. That hurts families, sends business costs skyrocketing and means people lose their jobs.
I’m not opposed to wind or solar or biofuels. I just don’t like it when our politicians, news media, environmental groups and government officials aren’t honest with us about the trade-offs. Telling the truth is a basic moral principle. So is being a good steward of the Earth and its resources, by considering all of the facts, the environmental impacts and the harm to jobs and families from unreliable, needlessly expensive energy.
America can’t afford to shut down the fossil fuels that make our jobs and living standards possible - or slap huge new climate-change taxes on them - before we have a real alternative to replace them.
Jay Dennis is senior pastor of the 9,000-member Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., and is a senior adviser for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.