A Taste of Renewable Reality–and Google’s Little Trick

On January 5, Wired magazine published a missive by Nick Stockton, “No Matter What Trump Does, Green Energy Will Prevail.” He claims the United States will lose out in the global economy if it does not continue to push green energy to the detriment of fossil fuels. A close examination of the facts shows Stockton’s post if full of half-truths – a piece of wishful thinking.

Ending government mandates and subsidies for renewable energy boondoggles, which our economic competitors continue to promote (though less than they used too), will cement our continued global economic leadership. Fossil fuels, which America has in abundance, are and will remain cheaper than any form of renewable energy likely through at least 2050, and probably beyond. And fossil fuels are also the most reliable source of energy. If energy remains relatively cheap in the United States, and the country opts out of the Paris climate agreement as promised by President Donald Trump, then expect more and more manufacturers to shift operations to the United States.

Europe is already cutting its support for renewable power. If America follows suit and reduces subsidies and mandates for wind and solar power, then the largest market for China’s renewable products will dry up. If China continues its renewable expansion, it alone will suffer the higher energy costs and down-time attached to those technologies, no longer subsidized by purchases abroad. China’s economy is already slowing. Without U.S. and European markets for its renewable wares, it will be interesting to see how long China “leads the world” in renewable power, if its increased use proves to be the drag on China’s economy it proved to be in Europe and to a lesser extent the United States.

While China has decided to reduce by more than 100 the number of coal-fired power plants it will build in the coming years, it still has more than 100 planned and is building them at a pace of about one every two weeks. Yes, India is building solar installations in the hinterlands, but it is also rapidly building coal-fired power plants as are countries throughout Asia and Africa – where nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning or construction.

Even Japan, the country that has in many respects led the fight to prevent purported dangerous human-caused climate change by pushing developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, has announced plans to build 45 new coal-fired power plants to offset the decline in operating nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima power plant failure.

But what about Google, Facebook, and Amazon? Aren’t they going fossil-fuel-free? Hardly. As my friends and colleagues Isaac Orr and Paul Driessen explain, and the evidence of our senses show, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, and when it doesn’t, Google will be using fossil fuels (or possibly in some places nuclear or hydroelectric power) just like everyone else. As Driessen writes, “no 24/7/365 company like Google can be 100 percent renewable, … 5 to 25 percent of the year is far more realistic. Electricity the rest of the time must come from ‘backup’ systems that are actually the primary energy sources, 75 to 85 percent of the year.” Orr rightly describes Google’s “100 percent renewable” announcement as a “gimmick” and goes on to explain:

According to Google’s own explanation of their plan, it comes down to [Google’s] purchase [of] Renewable Energy Certificates, which allows Google to buy renewable energy generated at wholesale cost, which is significantly lower than retail cost, and then sell that power back into the grid for the higher retail rate.

Google’s foray into renewable energy is not an altruistic endeavor to save the world, it is a cheap marketing gimmick to appear “green” that allows the company to make a profit by exploiting policies that subsidize renewable energy.

Google’s renewable energy certificates are valuable only as long as government policies support them. If the mandates and subsidies go away, the value of, and market for, Google’s renewable certificates will collapse. If this occurs, for taxpayers’ sake let’s hope the government doesn’t consider Google “too big to fail.”

— H. Sterling Burnett–Heartland Institute

SOURCES: Wired.com; Isaac Orr; Paul Driessen; and The Daily Caller

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