Thursday, April 21, 2011

California's Green Jobs Delusion

How can you tell when the chattering classes in academia, politics, and the media are trying to sell you something you don't want or need? It's not always easy, but here are two clues: you keep hearing about how we need to "invest in" (i.e., appropriate tax dollars for) educating young people in how to do it; or you keep hearing about how American competitiveness is being threatened in some way. This month, Californians are getting a big sales pitch on the topic of green jobs.

Saving the planet, one expensive, inefficient hunk of metal at a time.
A few weeks ago, the Sacramento Bee reported that the Legislature approved SB X1 1, which allocates $8 million from one of the California Energy Commission's special funds to support public-private partnerships allowing high-school students to receive training in the clean technology and renewable energy industries. So, we've got Sacramento funneling money it doesn't have to train our children for "green jobs" that don't currently exist; fantastic. And today, a moronic Bee piece warns of losing the green-technology race to, of all countries, China. Never mind your own memories of Beijing's worse-than-LA smog during the 2008 Olympics; according to Margret Kim, deputy director of the California EPA's "China program", the fact that China spent $20 billion more on wind, solar, and other renewable-energy last year means America needs to catch up. China is, of course, also working quickly to lock up fossil fuel resources as well, but the article and Kim miss that nugget. Instead, Kim reminded her audience at a Sacramento green-energy trade convention that China's ascendance in the sector has come from "favorable financing and other incentives such as grants, long-term tax holidays and free land for factories", clearly hoping that California will follow suit.

We have no reason to believe that the "green energy" propaganda will slow down any time soon, so we'll just start responding to it now. We thoroughly enjoyed this piece in Forbes by Jerry Taylor and Peter van Doren, two senior fellows at the Cato Institute. Taylor and van Doren remind us that society tried running on "green energy" back in the Dark Ages, and offer five quick reasons to not believe the hype, as follows:

1. Green energy is diffuse; in other words, it takes an enormous amount of land and other materials to implement it, even on a small scale. Taylor and van Doren note that environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University has estimated that a wind farm the size of Connecticut (in an area as windy as southeastern Colorado) would be needed to power New York City.

2. Green energy is god-f'ing-awful expensive. Even Obama's energy czar estimates that onshore wind (the least costly green technology in existence) is 80% more expensive than gas-fired electricity. And the cost of new transmission systems to bring wind and solar energy across great distances to their consumers is certainly in the hundreds of billions. All told, the cost of converting America's economy entirely away from nuclear and fossil fuels in a decade would run up to a staggering $4 trillion dollars.

3. This may come as a shock to Sacramento, but you can't always count on a stiff breeze or a sunny day when you need energy. While coal and natural gas can be held on stand-by to generate power whenever it's needed, the technology enabling "backup generation" of green energy doesn't exist, and its proponents are silent on this point.

4. There's just not much land available that would be (a) reasonably close to ratepayers and (b) suitable for reliably producing these types of energy.

5. Wind and solar energy must be used as soon as they're produced; the battery technology for storing them doesn't exist yet.


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