Clicking the Emerald Slippers, Stealing Your Money

National Journal ran a piece yesterday (behind a paywall) by the German Marshall Fund’s Bruce Stokes, making the arguments that will be ratcheted up in the Senate beginning on Monday in favor of mandating windmills and solar panels: if we don’t mandate them, we not only won’t be using them but we won’t be making them either! This dire situation will leave the Chinese only themselves to sell the things to. Carry the one and you see how that harms our competitiveness.

p06windmills

Where to begin? At the root of this ritual case is a strange notion that being a leader in something – here, it’s windmills or solar panels – is intrinsically a desirable end. As I discuss in "Power Grab”: if we’re not the world’s windmill king...so what? It’s a windmill. It is not, as President Obama said, a new technology”, one of his rhetorical repetitions the curiosity of which should require no elaboration. Windmills are not a strategic industry. We have centuries of fossil fuels.

And after all this time windmills have come about as far as they can and will come with the possible exceptions of improvements in efficiency at the margins(solar is spectacularly worse). The laws of physics will not be repealed, the wind cannot be made to blow any more or regularly, and you will not decrease the host of very troubling NIMBY and other issues elaborated here by George Will.

Even rabid demander of such mandates, Obama’s Science Czar” (and population nut) John Holdren implicitly acknowledges the falsehood of the sales pitch that we can replace energy sources that work with windmills and solar panels. This leaves us with the principal argument in favor of these costly schemes, reported by E&E News last week as even acknowledged by Brookings Institute economist Adele Morris, as “the immediate need to reduce emissions”.



That’s about Strike Five I think, given that not only does no one say any posited emission reductions—under Kyoto, or cap-and-trade legislation – would remotely, detectably impact the climate, but the world’s most aggressive windmill and solar panel schemes have not in fact reduced emissions. Obama models Spain and Denmark are Europe’s two biggest Kyoto violators, seeing emission increases of over 40% under the treaty’s relevant period (vs. in the mid-teens for us).

These schemes have yet to result in the closure of one fossil fuel plant. That’s not for lack of trying, spending, or mandating (and the concomitant harms to competitiveness and family budgets, as I also detail in "Power Grab”). The, ahem, “backup” still has to exist, and do most of the work. This is all pain, no gain, just as would be requiring you buy two cars because the first one only runs every fifth day.

Still, we are told again in NJ that, apparently, requiring such redundant costs is good for the economy. Then comes argument made most aggressively, that failing to mandate these inefficiencies – remember, the premise includes an admission that without mandates, they will not come, saying quite a bit about their net benefits – will result in our becoming less competitive.

That’s absurd. It’s clear even in Stokes’ piece that what they’re really saying, without saying it, is that we would only become less competitive in the things we have decided not to mandate and without which mandates will not be in demand. We aren’t competitive in producing Concordes or civilian hovercraft, either. Thank goodness we left that to Europe, too.

So the final claim is the resulting failure to create jobs in these industries. Of course, even mandating windmills and solar panels would only ensure more jobs in those industries (other than installation) in China, the Philippines, and elsewhere where they are now being made due to comparative advantages. Larding on more costs of production here with renewable mandates won’t improve that situation. Which raises the most glaring in this irritating free ice cream pitch is the willful blindness to the costs of these mandates.

If you really believe that hurricanes and the Chicago Fire were good for the economy because, look, you saw how it put people to work, then the NJ article and green-jobs mantra are both compelling. But the fact that at this late hour this sort of fantasy-making remains the lead argument for demanding we leap forward to old energy technologies shows you just how dire things are, and hints at how bad they will get if the rationers succeed.

And they begin their effort to do so in the Senate, by whatever means necessary (the committee process has already been suspended by Harry Reid) on Monday.

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