A recent email from Xcel Energy said that the company is well on its way to “delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.” Xcel Energy and other utility companies stress that the push for “clean” energy is in response to customer demand. Of course, the fact that new renewable energy projects increase the company’s rate base (and profits) is not mentioned as a motivation.
But the email got me thinking about this claim that customer demand is driving the expansion of wind and solar projects and the early retirement of coal-fueled power plants. Judging by some of the responses to my columns supporting reliable, affordable, and abundant energy sources like, coal, oil and natural gas, there are people who support green initiatives. But that support does not seem to run very deep.
It really depends on how the choices are framed. If the choice is between renewable energy or destroying the planet people will easily choose renewable energy. But this is not the choice we have today, and people know it.
The goal of 100% carbon (dioxide)-free energy by 2050 is not attainable. But, for the sake of argument, assume that we reach that goal in the United States, what will that achieve? According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this would reduce temperatures by 0.038oC by 2100. So, the choice is not really between renewable energy and saving the planet.
If people are instead asked how much they are willing to pay to "fight climate change" we get a different perspective. According to a Washington Post Kaiser Family Foundation survey in 2019 a majority (51%) somewhat or strongly opposed paying $24 a year more on their utility bills to fight climate change. Two dollars a month? Hardly seems like a groundswell of support for the push to renewables. And we all know the true cost is a lot more than $2 a month.
This push to decarbonize our economy is being done in our names, as customers and citizens and it is important to understand what we are really saying if we support the elimination of carbon-based energy. We are saying that we are comfortable with the costs - financial, environmental, and human - of a green energy future even though the benefits are far less than promised.
At the United Nations, reducing CO2 means that people in poor and developing countries are denied access to affordable energy. According to UNICEF, women and girls around the world spend 200 million hours a day collecting water for their families. Don’t these people deserve a better quality of life too?
The cost and impact of eliminating carbon-based energy will also be felt here at home. The poor and elderly will suffer under higher energy costs. And practically every product we rely on in our daily lives will either cost more or will not be available. Don’t get me started on fake meat.
Before we put our names behind the next great green energy initiative let’s have a frank talk about the true costs.
Grande represented the 41st District in the N.D. Legislature from 1996 to 2014. She is CEO of the Roughrider Policy Center, an "innovation over regulation" think tank. She is a wife, mom, grandma, lover of life and Jesus. Opinions are solely her own.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.