Why Conservatives Are Bad on Energy: It's All About the Costs

Posted by Tom Rooney on August 26, 2010
By Tom Rooney
For the Home Energy Blog

Conservatives,  let's talk about energy. And why so many conservatives are so
wrong -- so liberal, even -- on wind and solar energy.

Let's start with a recent editorial from the home of "free markets and free people,"
the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a "speculative
and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power."

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many
business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves "conservatives" would
say solar or wind power is "speculative." Conservatives know that word is usually
reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you
know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar
business. Many more receive their power from solar.

Solar is not a cause, it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Just ask anyone who installed their solar systems five years ago. Today, many
of their systems are paid off and they are getting free energy. Better still,
ask the owners of one of the oldest and most respected companies in America who
recently announced plans to build one of the largest solar facilities in the

That would be Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal.

Now we come to "immature." Again, the meaning is fuzzy. But in Germany, a country
1/3 our size in area and population, they have more solar than the United States.
This year, Germans will build enough solar to equal the output of three nuclear
power plants.

What they call immaturity our clients call profit-making leadership.

But let's get to the real boogie man: The one that "costs far more than ordinary

I've been working in energy infrastructure for 25 years and I have no idea what
the WSJ means by the words "ordinary power." But, after spending some time with
Milton Friedman whom I met on many occasions while studying for an MBA at the
University of Chicago, I did learn about costs.

And here is what every freshman at the University of Chicago knows: There is
a difference between cost and price.

Solar relies on price supports from the government. Fair enough -- though its
price is falling even faster than fossil fuels are rising.

But if Friedman were going to compare the costs of competing forms of energy,
he also would have wanted to know the cost of "ordinary" energy. Figured on the
same basis. This is something the self-proclaimed conservative opponents of solar
refuse to do.

But huge companies including Walmart, IBM, Target and Los Gatos Tomatoes figured
it out. And last year so did the National Academy of Sciences. It produced a
report on the Hidden Costs of Energy that documented how coal was making people
sick to the tune of $63 billion a year.

And that oil and natural gas had so many tax breaks and subsidies that were so
interwoven for so long, it was hard to say exactly how many tens of billions
these energy producers received courtesy of the United States. Taxpayer.

Just a few weeks ago, the International Energy Agency said worldwide, fossil
fuels receive $550 billion in subsidies a year -- 12 times what alternatives
such as wind and solar get.

Neither report factored in Global Warming or the cost of sending our best and
bravest into harm's way to protect our energy supply lines.

Whatever that costs, you know it starts with a T.

All this without hockey stick graphs, purloined emails or junk science.

When you compare the real costs of solar with the fully loaded real costs of
coal and oil and natural gas and nuclear power, apples to apples, solar is cheaper.

That's not conservative. Or liberal. That comes from an ideology older and more
reliable than both of those put together: Arithmetic.

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