March 25 2009

Actions Speak Louder than Words with the President's Energy Policy

Amy Watson

During the campaign, President Obama avoided answering specific questions about energy policy.  In the last few weeks, the Obama administration has outlined a fairly detailed environmental and energy plan, providing much needed clarity. Unfortunately, the change that is coming doesn't seem to be change for the better.  The future looks particularly bleak for the coal industry and for taxpayers, who are going to see more of their money pumped into dubious "alternative" energy technologies. 

Last January, during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, then-candidate Obama made contradictory statements about his position.  He began by saying that the "notion of no coal was an illusion," but ended by explaining that the emissions auction he supports would bankrupt coal-fired power plants, and eventually the whole industry.  In that interview he also described the need to allow the market and entrepreneurs create alternative sources of energy, rather than having government pick winners and "maybe we pick wrong."  Yet he's taken a different course since taking office.

Since being elected, President Obama has signed into law the massive $789 billion "economic stimulus" package, which provides an unbelievable $40 billion for renewable energy research, development, and subsidies.  Although being touted as the only solution for our dire economic situation, really it appears to be little more than a vehicle to reward the environmental movement and fund politically correct, but largely unproved, technologies.

What happened to his commitment to allowing the market and entrepreneurs to discover and create the newest alternative forms of energy?  Was it merely campaign rhetoric?  One simply needs to look at the cold, hard facts about the wind and solar industries and see that his statement "and maybe we pick wrong" could be prophetic.  In Europe, Germany is leading the world in wind energy with almost 20,000 wind turbines, yet even their wind provides only 6 percent of their total energy.  Germany must instead rely on France who exports some of their excess electricity from their nuclear power plants.

Big goals like doubling "this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years," as President Obama pledged during his speech to a joint session of Congress, sound nice, but are entirely unrealistic and don't mean much in terms of the overall energy debate.  Currently, wind and solar technology are responsible for less than 5 percent of our total electricity.  Even doubling that amount (unlikely when you consider the infrastructure this endeavor would require) would still leave alternative energy providing us with less than 10 percent of our energy needs. 

In that address, President Obama also asked Congress to provide him with legislation that "places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America," which suggests he is certainly trying to make good on his promise to bankrupt the coal industry.  By taxing the emissions from natural gas and coal fired power plants, he will artificially drive the cost of electricity up and place a heavy financial strain on the 70 percent of families and industries who rely on natural gas and coal produced electricity.

The fact remains, coal is an abundant, domestic, natural resource that provides Americans with close to 50 percent of their electricity.  Why would President Obama want to bankrupt an industry that provides so many Americans with a cheap and reliable source of electricity, especially in light of our current economic crisis?  Unfortunately for the majority of Americans who pay an electricity bill, the only way the President's pet wind and solar industries will become viable is by removing their greatest competition. 

The reality is wind and solar technology cannot compete in the energy sector without the government's interference.  Although in the days following the release of the San Francisco Chronicle interview, the Obama campaign tried to backtrack and spin away from those statements, his actions in recent months indicate not only did he mean what he said originally about wanting to bankrupt the coal industry, but he will be aggressive in pursuing those goals. 

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