CA Study Calculates Benefits of Clean Energy
Thursday, January 13, 2011 (Listed under Environment)
Today, EnergyBoom published my article, California Study Calculates the Benefits of Clean Energy Innovation
Last week, Michael Norton's January 4th article for the Provincetown Banner, Eight More Cape Winds? questioned the efficacy of Massachusetts partnering with research institutions and offshore wind energy experts to reduce the cost of offshore wind by 40 percent by 2020 and 60 percent by 2030.
Norton's article, like so many others that have monopolized media headlines for years, discounts the relevance of green energy research and innovation. Are American journalists simply dismissing the economic adrenaline that a Clean Energy Industrial Revolution would deliver, or do they genuinely lack the awareness of resource economics, which compellingly pairs job creation, corporate profits, and long-term economic sustainability?
Maria Bartiromo, Anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell, proclaimed last Friday on MSNBC's Hardball Show with Chris Matthews, “If there's one thing we need to protect in this country it's innovation. We need to be manufacturing again. We need to sell products to the rest of the world.”
When David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones Magazine, offered Bartiromo the solution that a clean energy economy could enliven abandoned U.S. factories by producing the components we currently import from other counties, particularly China, Bartiromo, like so many economists looking for a quick profit replied, “Come on, come on…going green won't work.”
Fortunately, there is economic evidence to the contrary. Going green can work. The recently released Energy Policy paper (Part ll)*, co-authored by Mark A. Delucchi, Professor of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, and Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, is opportune in that it clarifies the marked distinctions between the cost of wind-powered energy, for example, and traditional fossil fuel energy sources, such as coal. The authors' November 22, 2010 report validates Massachusetts' aim in pioneering increasingly sustainable clean energy solutions beyond the recently approved Cape Wind project.
In Delucchi and Jacobson's 21-page study, which was not funded by any interest group, company, or governmental agency, the authors' findings are telling: When the “external costs” of coal (the human health and environmental burdens of burning coal to make electricity) are combined with coal's production costs (mining, transportation, etc.), the price for coal-based energy in 2005 ranged from a low of $0.082 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to a high of $0.290 per kWh. Looking forward to 2030, the authors' models project coal's combined production and external costs in the range of $0.10 to over $0.30 per kWh.
This is profoundly important information, considering that the U.S. Department of Energy reports that as of 2008, top performing wind farms in areas with excellent wind resources had costs averaging only $0.059 per kWh, significantly less than the current and projected costs of coal-based energy, documented by Delucchi and Jacobson.
Moreover, Delucchi and Jacobson's paper presents, in Table 1, that the “generation and conventional transmission costs" for onshore wind power ranged from $0.04 to $0.07 per kWh in the last five years, pairing nicely with the Department of Energy's calculations. Offshore wind power, while generally more expensive than onshore wind, is presented in the report as costing about the same as coal, when the health and environmental burdens of coal's external costs are incorporated. Offshore wind power, however, is projected by the authors to be less expensive than coal by 2020-2030.
Delucchi and Jacobson's statistics debunk the distorted calculus of fossil fuel pundits, who routinely misguide American consumers (and journalists) into believing that clean energy innovation and U.S. economic vitality are mutually exclusive.
The authors' paper concludes: “Evaluating the feasibility of providing all energy for all purposes everywhere in the world from wind, water, and the sun (WWS), the barriers to a 100 % conversion to WWS power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic.”
The researchers' findings not only validate the metrics championed by social economists, like James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Thomas Friedman, Eric Pooley, and James Hoggan, who each support a major shift in U.S. energy policy, but they also pass scrutiny with world-renowned Venture Capitalist firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In a 2008 telephone interview, John Denniston, KPCB's Green Team leader, shared his perspective as to why there remains resistance to U.S. energy reform and clean energy advancements. In two words Denniston remarked, “Public perception.”
Last week, Representative Rush Holt, of New Jersey, mirrored Denniston's view. He described on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show what he sees as an “anti-science agenda” that seeks to disparage scientific breakthroughs in clean energy and roll back epic environmental achievements, such as the 1970s' Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Rep. Holt, who himself supports reenergizing the American economy through energy innovation, decries the disdain of opponents who allege that energy reform is “nothing more than malarkey.”
The lack of alignment between fact-based clean energy economics and the public's perception of its viability (what Rep. Holt calls the “evidence-free zone” of thinking) may explain, in part, the failure of legislative energy reform in 2010. Recent Gallup and Pew Research Center polling data reveals that public interest in energy modernization and climate action has declined significantly over the last three years.
While it is true that the disparity between clean energy fact and fiction is largely the work of well-staged and well-financed fossil fuel corporate messaging, surely a country in need of an economic-energy boom can see beyond the crafty ads portraying “regular Americans” endorsing offshore oil exploration and coal mining as the future of American innovation. On the contrary, acknowledging that fossil fuels carry profoundly heavy environmental and human health costs, and that paired side-to-side, renewable energy is not only cleaner and safer, but also economically competitive, change becomes the easy option, not the mystifying, destabilizing conundrum opponents portray.
Imagine the U.S. shifting its collective perspective just a fraction of a degree, but far enough that it embraces Delucchi and Jacobson's model? Imagine Americans back to work building and manufacturing, for example, windmill blades, towers, and turbines; thin-film solar components; wave-powered electrical generators; urban and rural bike-ways, efficient transportation vehicles, and an updated national energy grid!
And if pragmatic economics alone are not enough to change a nation's outlook, perhaps focusing on the core pride of our nation should be!
Dr. Carl Safina, one of the world's leading marine researchers, reflected on this topic when he wrote in The Washington Post December 21st, 2010: “As several writers including myself have pointed out, U.S. leadership on climate change and energy innovation is also very much about national security, patriotism and rebuilding the economy. The nation that owns the energy future will own the future…but the United States has to decide it wants to lead.”
*Delucchi, M.A., Jacobson, M.Z., Providing all global energy with wind water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies. Energy Policy (2010), doi:10.1016/j.empol.2010.11.045
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