Blowing Hot Air Up Our Shorts

Paul Driessen

7/22/2008 11:09:53 AM - Paul Driessen

T. Boone Pickens is being lionized for his “socially responsible” efforts to legislate national “clean” wind and solar energy mandates.

We’re “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” he argues. We need to “overcome our addiction to foreign oil,” by harnessing that wind to replace natural gas in electricity generation, and using that gas to power more cars and buses. If Congress would simply “mandate the formation of wind and solar transmission corridors, and renew the subsidies” for this renewable energy, America can achieve this transformation in ten years, he insists.

Pickens’ pitch makes good ad copy, especially in league with Senator Harry Reid’s bombast about oil, gas and coal “making us sick.” However, his policy prescriptions would impose vast new energy, economic and environmental problems.

Hydrocarbon fuels created America, gave us the technologies and living standards we enjoy today, enabled us to eradicate diseases that plagued earlier generations, and boosted our life expectancy from 50 in 1900 to nearly 80 today. They still provide 85% of our energy, and we could greatly reduce our reliance on oil imports if we would simply end the outrageous policies that keep our nation’s abundant energy resources locked up.

We have enough oil, natural gas, oil shale, coal and uranium to provide power for centuries. We have a growing consensus that we need to drill, onshore and off. But partisan intransigence and absurd environmental claims prevent us from utilizing them. Instead, we’re offered bromides like wind.

Wind contributes more every year to our energy mix. However, it still provides only 1% of our electricity – compared to 49% for coal, 22% for natural gas, 19% for nuclear and 7% for hydroelectric.

Wind power is intermittent, unreliable, noisy and expensive (even with subsidies). Many modern turbines are 400 feet tall and carry 130-foot-long, 7-ton blades that slice up raptors and other birds. They operate only 8 hours a day, on average, compared to 85% of the time for coal, gas and nuclear plants. They rarely provide power during peak summer daytime hours, when air-conditioning demand is highest, but wind speed is low to nonexistent.

Using wind to replace all gas-fired power plants would require some 300,000 1.5-MW turbines, covering Midwestern “wind belt” acreage equivalent to South Carolina. The noise, scenic impacts and bird kills caused by such an “eco-friendly” energy source defy imagination.

Building and installing these turbines requires 5 to 10 times more steel and concrete than is needed to build far more reliable coal or nuclear plants to generate the same amount of electricity, says Berkeley engineer Per Peterson. Add in the financing, steel and cement needed to build transmission lines from distant wind farms to urban consumers, and the effects multiply.

That means vastly more quarries, mines, cement plants and steel mills to supply those raw materials. But radical greens oppose such facilities. So under the Pickens proposal, we would likely import more steel and cement, instead of oil.

Moreover, since adequate wind is available only a third of the time, we would also need expensive gas-fired generating plants that mostly sit idle, but kick in whenever the wind dies down. That means still more money, cement and steel – and still higher electricity prices.

A successful oilman, investor, deal-maker and speculator, Pickens’ large natural gas holdings position him to make billions from selling gas for backup electricity generation under his wind energy proposal – especially if drilling bans remain in effect, keeping gas prices in the stratosphere. Launching the enterprise with the backing of federal mandates and subsidies minimizes his financial risk and attracts “free market” investors, by putting the risks for this fanciful scheme on the backs of taxpayers.

In short, Pickens’ proposal is “true green” – in the financial and public relations arenas, though hardly in the ecological sphere.

Pickens says we can’t drill our way to freedom from foreign oil. But that’s true only if we keep our best prospects off limits to drilling. Open ANWR and the OCS, and the situation changes dramatically.

There are other viable, economically sound options, as well. Unfortunately, greens and Democrats have opposed them for decades and refuse to budge now – no matter how soaring energy prices batter poor families, workers, small businesses and countless industries: including automobiles, airlines, tourism, chemicals and manufacturing.

A single 1000-MW nuclear power plant would reliably generate more electricity than 2,800 1.5-MW intermittent wind turbines on 175,000 acres. Permitting more nukes would ensure that we can meet increasing electricity demand for a growing population and millions of plug-in hybrid cars.

Coal too offers centuries of affordable, reliable fuel for electricity and synthetic gas and oil, at lower cost than competing fuels, and with steadily diminishing emissions. With 27% of the world’s total coal, America is also the Saudi Arabia of this vital resource. America needs more coal-fired plants, to avoid the widespread brownouts that analyst Mark Mills says will be commonplace if we do not.

Between 1970 and 2006, coal-fired electricity generation nearly tripled – while NOX emissions remained at 1970 levels, sulfur dioxide pollution fell nearly 40% below 1970 emissions, and fine particulates declined to 90% below 1970 levels. In a few years, power plant stacks will emit only water and carbon dioxide, the two dominant greenhouse gases of Climate Armageddon hypotheses.

Al Gore, James Hansen and certain legislators may fervently believe fossil fuels are destroying the planet. But they are increasingly on the fringes, whereas countless others finally realize that we have vastly more important priorities, the economic costs of climate bills like Warner-Lieberman would be staggering, and the global CO2 and climate benefits of US economic suicide would be imperceptible.

Nearly 32,000 scientists have now signed the consensus-busting Oregon Petition, saying they see “no convincing scientific evidence” that humans are causing catastrophic climate change. They have now been joined by the American Physical Society, which recently announced that it was reassessing its prior position – that evidence for global warming was “incontrovertible” – because many of its 50,000 physicist members disagree strongly with climate chaos claims.

Halfway around the globe, China continues to build two new coal-fired power plants every month, to power its electricity-hungry homes and businesses. India too is charging ahead with hydrocarbon-based energy. Its new National Action Plan on Climate Change disputes manmade global warming fears and asserts that the nation is more concerned about saving its people from poverty than from climate change.

“Political leaders,” says journalist Barun Mitra, “can no longer afford to sacrifice the poor today for the sake of the rich tomorrow.” Neither in India, nor in the United States.

It’s increasingly obvious why Gore, Hansen and Reid are becoming more shrill and hysterical by the day. The hot air they are trying to blow up our shorts is no basis for economy-killing cap-and-trade rules or ecology-killing forests of wind turbines.

We need to safeguard access to the opportunities created by abundant, reliable, affordable energy – as a fundamental right of Americans and people the world over.