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The “Transition from Oil” and Other Fairy Tales

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eye on the news

The “Transition from Oil” and Other Fairy Tales

Politicians promising a painless switch to renewables are deluding themselves—or more likely you. November 3, 2020
Infrastructure and energy
Politics and law

In the last presidential debate, Joe Biden made waves by suggesting that he would “transition” away from oil as a major American energy source. The comment was especially controversial given the importance of the issue to voters in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, who have traditionally been suspicious, to say the least, of such proposals. But the issue matters well beyond the Keystone State. Indeed, of all the issues that Americans vote on today, energy policy ranks among the most important.

Americans generally don’t give much thought to energy policy, except when they stop at the local gas station for a fill-up. But if state and federal leaders who want to ban fracking and “transition” away from oil prevail, that complacency will change quickly.

You may not think about energy policy, but it thinks about you. Energy is the foundation of society. Everything—food, clothing, shelter, your iPhone, you name it—requires energy to produce. When it costs more to supply that energy, the cost of everything else increases. The OPEC oil embargoes in the 1970s, for example, ushered in an era of double-digit inflation.

Some environmentalists like the idea of high-cost energy. They view humans as a plague on the planet and want us to minimize our environmental footprint by living like ascetics. (Some, like the Voluntary Human Extinction movement, go even further and want you to cut your environmental footprint to zero by dying. But that’s another story.)

Politicians who promise that we can power society solely with wind and solar energy are deluding themselves—or more likely you. Solar and wind are not inexpensive resources. Just look at the costs of all the offshore wind plants slated for construction from Virginia to Massachusetts—they’re far greater than the costs of electricity in wholesale power markets. In a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, I describe how electricity from the new Southfork Wind Project, to be built off Long Island, will cost $160 per megawatt hour (MWh); the average wholesale price of electricity in New England in 2019 was only $31 per MWh.

Yet, states are swooning over unrealistic renewable pledges. California insists that it will ban internal-combustion vehicles just 15 years from now. New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act Report, released last month, mandates that within ten years about 90 percent of all vehicles purchased in the state will be electric. Each year, about 500,000 cars and trucks are sold in New Jersey. Last year, thanks to federal and state subsidies, about 8,000 of those, or just over 1 percent, were electric vehicles. But both states intend to force you to buy them. New York is sure to follow their lead.

As my Manhattan Institute colleague Mark Mills has documented, the volume of raw materials required to mass-manufacture wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries to store electricity will have a staggering environmental impact, especially overseas, where much of the materials would be mined. But for many green energy advocates, out of sight is out of mind.

Politicians and policymakers cannot overturn the laws of physics. But green energy advocates want you to believe that we can painlessly abandon fossil fuels in favor of wind and solar power.

Don’t believe the hype. Sure, those positioned to capitalize from subsidized green energy will benefit. But for the rest of us, it will mean higher prices for everything, a hamstrung economy, and more poverty.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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