FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — The desire for renewable or green energy seems good and rational. Many believe that such an approach to our power needs will produce new “green jobs” and lower pollution. Consequently, at least 29 states have adopted renewable portfolio standards, which require some minimum percentage of their electricity to come from renewable. All of this seems admirable, but despite the propaganda, you still can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.
The reality is that there is only so much that we can really expect to gain from “green energy.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if we add all of the wind, solar and hydroelectric power produced in our country, we have a grand total of 3 percent of our power from them. This is not likely to change for decades, since the difficulties that have to be overcome are nowhere near being realized. Even more stunning is the realization that, as documented in a recent study by the Manhattan Institute, green energy is more expensive — at least 25 percent more expensive — than gas, coal and nuclear power. Just as amazing, biomass and ethanol actually pollute more than gasoline. The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2007 that using more ethanol will increase the amounts of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in the air.
By the way, “green jobs” aren’t working out too well, either. Spain found that one “green job” (which is always government subsidized) costs two real jobs. Italy found that one “green job” costs as much as six regular jobs. In addition to being more expensive, it has always been difficult to explain exactly what a “green job” is. Just recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics came up with a new definition that includes the production not only of green goods and services, but also of anything that aids the overall process of environmental improvement — including operating the bulldozers and cranes used to install wind turbines and making and transporting and pouring the concrete in which they’re embedded — though none of these is called a “green job” when applied to, say, erecting an office building. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 2.4 percent of total U.S. employment was “green jobs.” Of these, 2.3 million were from the private sector. The other 860,000 came from government (at all levels).
It is good and important to have dreams, but when we mistake our dreams for reality we find ourselves in a great deal of trouble. The politicians who make these mandates are going to make out OK, as well as the investors in Green enterprises. Let’s take for example the people who invested in Solyndra. Though Solyndra went bankrupt, leaving taxpayers to a half-billion dollar debt, its chief investors owners got their cash out before they lost it. There have been lots more Solyndras, and more are coming. Every time, the average Joe who works for a living and pays his bills gets hit — hard.
All of this regulation for more green energy has the same effect as a regressive tax, meaning the less you make, the higher percentage of your income you pay. That does not help the poor, whom the Christian faith requires us always to remember (Galatians 2:10). Pushing mandates such as renewable portfolio standards might increase green energy use and create more “green jobs,” but how many people will it impoverish? How many jobs will it destroy?
While looking at the alleged benefits of the technology, we must also look at its costs. To ignore them is not just wrong, it’s immoral.
Craig Vincent Mitchell is associate professor of Christian ethics and director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also is senior fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.