- - Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Joe Biden presidency would unleash an American transformation, but not simply a seismic shift in political power. If the former vice president is to be believed, he would clamp down on the use of fossil fuels and, over time, force the nation to depend on renewable sources for its energy requirements. Before punching the Biden button on Election Day, voters would be smart to consider the likely consequences: less bang for the energy buck.

There are promises aplenty in the sweeping Biden plan “to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future,” which Mr. Biden outlined in a speech delivered last week near his Delaware home. Going “light green” would mean easing rather than jumping into the radical “Green New Deal,” by transitioning away from the flow of carbon-based fuel products that have powered the American economic engine for more than a century.

In its place, the presumptive Democratic nominee envisions implementing a “carbon pollution-free power sector” by 2035 and a “net-zero emissions” nation by 2050. The cost of coming clean: $2 trillion, or more than $6,000 from every man, woman and child in the U.S. “Look, these aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams,” said Mr. Biden. “These are actionable policies that we can get to work on right away.”

Pie in the sky often looks appetizing — until reality lands like a pie in the face. This year, renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and ethanol but excluding hydropower, are expected to provide only 13% of Americans’ electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Fossil fuels and nuclear power, which pack a more concentrated energy punch than breezy air, sunshine and moonshine, provide an overwhelming 87%.

Given their modest contribution to the nation’s energy needs, Biden-era renewables would have a lot of ground to cover. To replace conventional sources with solar energy, for example, the shiny, black panels would need to overlay an estimated 21,000 square miles, an area the size of the Mojave Desert. Efficiency improvements over time would likely reduce the required expanse of solar arrays, but every dark night and cloudy day would hit the “off” switch.

The Biden energy blueprint vows to create millions of good-paying jobs, including a million in an auto industry transition to electric vehicles, a million in energy-efficiency equipment installations for commercial and residential buildings, a quarter-million in “climate-smart” agriculture and reclamation of fossil fuel mining operations, and millions more in renewable fuel industries. Currently, about 611,000 persons work in the renewable and nuclear energy fields, according to the 2019 U.S. Energy Employment Report.

If Mr. Biden has anything to say about the number of conventional energy jobs his plan would ax, it must be stuck inside his COVID-19 face mask. About 1.2 million are employed in traditional coal, oil and natural gas fields for electric power generation, and another 800,000 in the petroleum industry. A 2016 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the technological innovation behind the great American energy revolution, would have a ripple effect throughout the U.S. economy, eliminating 14.8 million jobs and doubling the cost of gasoline by 2022.

A net-zero emissions economy means emptying out the nation’s gas tanks and going all-electric. To be sure, those pricey, battery-powered autos run clean and quiet, but they don’t produce their own juice. The half-million charging stations Mr. Biden wants to install along the nation’s highways would need to draw their electricity from intermittent energy outlets that must also heat, cool and light American cities and towns from coast to coast.

Possibly, the sole salutary effect of the current pandemic has been to lessen the pull on the nation’s power grid. A projected decline in electricity usage for 2020 of 5%, according to the EIA, is leading to an expected average increase in residential electricity bills of only 0.2%.

Americans may see their power bills take a steep upward trajectory, though, as a Biden presidency follows in the carbon-free footprints of Europe. All in with renewables, Germany has been phasing out its conventional power plants with a $580 billion switch to solar and wind. Germans are paying the price: a nearly 50% increase since 2006 in their electric costs.

Joe Biden’s blueprint for going “light green” will likely mean paying more for less power. That may not be a bright idea.

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