On December 20, the Wall Street Journal ran a misleading and logically convoluted editorial attacking wind energy. The most salient points worthy of correction:
– The editorial omits mention of the fact that our government's permanent subsidies for fossil fuel generation greatly outweigh the small, short-lived incentives provided for wind energy. Wind energy is being forced to compete against fossil fuels that have received hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies so far, and that still receive subsidies outpacing the incentives awarded to renewables. Between 1950 and 2003, oil and gas garnered 60 percent of an estimated total of $725 billion in federal assistance, with coal taking 13 percent, hydroelectric 11 percent, and nuclear 9 percent (not including nuclear plants' invaluable Price-Anderson liability cap), while all renewables (including biofuels) only received 6%.
– Renewables' disadvantage has continued in recent years: the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined federal incentives for electricity between Fiscal Years 2002 and 2007 and concluded that “Tax expenditures largely go to fossil fuels: about $13.7 billion was provided to fossil fuels and $2.8 billion to renewables.” While it's legitimate to be concerned about “throwing good money after bad,” as the editorial puts it, a good place to start reforms would be taking a closer look at the massive subsidies for fossil fuels that have been embedded in our permanent tax code for generations. These subsidies create an unfair playing field that is strongly slanted against wind energy; rational policies would instead encourage renewable development to compensate for the major negative public health and environmental effects of fossil fuels and the positive energy security and economic development benefits of renewable energy.
Wind energy as a job creation engine:
– The wind industry has created more medium and heavy manufacturing base in recent years than any other industry. Wind energy provides direct employment for 85,000 Americans, but also new economic opportunities to hundreds of thousands more, particularly in depressed rural areas where it increases local tax bases to pay for new schools, libraries, town halls, and other public benefits, and provides a stable source of long-term income for many landowners.
Renewable energy enjoys broad bipartisan support:
– The reality is that renewable energy is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Renewable energy consistently receives support from more than 85% of Americans in polls, including a strong majority or Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike. Whether you value wind energy for its economic development and job creation benefits, its value in improving America’s energy security, its benefit in reducing consumers’ energy bills, or its role in reducing the harm to our health and environment caused by fossil fuel use, wind energy provides something for everyone.
– Unlike the dirty energy from fossil fuels, wind energy does not cause smog, acid rain, or dependence on unfriendly foreign regimes. It is clean, domestically produced, and a source of jobs and local economic development across the country. More importantly, it is abundant and affordable. U.S. winds contain enough energy to provide well over 10 times our total electricity demand, and to fuel a large portion of our auto fleet with electricity as well. In addition, numerous reports have found wind energy's cost to be in a competitive range with other energy sources. The federal tax credit available for wind energy is a modest way of leveling the playing field between renewable energy and fossil fuels, which receive significant subsidies of their own – including the fact that they do not have to pay to clean up the emissions they send into the atmosphere.
I say this not as an opponent of fossil fuels. I recognize and appreciate the need for a diverse energy mix that includes natural gas and coal. Renewables can't and won't entirely replace fossil fuels, or nuclear for that matter. But, we should broaden–not narrow–our energy mix, and wind is an important component of our nation's energy mix. So, while most Republicans on Capitol Hill have embraced an “all of the above” approach to energy generation that includes renewables–an approach our competitors in Europe and Asia have also adopted–the Journal stands alone in its unremitting hostility to wind power.