There has been much debate about the benefits of moving to renewable energy sources with the economics of the change mired in biases and incomplete data. The two articles1 present arguments related to the economics of electricity generated through renewable sources with the emphasis placed on wind as a key generating source of electricity. Both articles express support for the environment and look at the economics of generation while making certain assumptions. There is often a narrow perspective taken of the topic and overall information which results in the article from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) lacking scientific or general credibility.
The UCS article makes its case based on the economics associated with electricity generated from renewable sources compared to electricity from current fossil fuel sources. The economic case is presented without complete and verifiable evidence. The UCS article assumes a high level of energy efficiency with universal improvements that would ensure more efficient production from renewable sources, transmission and use. When considering savings the UCS also assumes the cost of electricity from renewable sources will decline while the cost of other sources such as fossil fuels and uranium will increase making such sources as wind more viable. The UCS article make no mention of new technologies that could change the landscape of energy generation or use and there is no indication that the UCS authors has even considered the current cost of infrastructure such as the land or generators nor of the considerable government subsidies provided for the development and generation of electricity using renewable sources. This results in numerous questions with respect to the scientific credibility of the authors. The UCS article presents more opinion and limited viewpoints than scientifically supported perspectives. On the other hand, the Bradley article is well document and provides a wide range of perspectives and support for viewpoints thus giving it much more scientific credibility.
It should be noted that the Bradley article was written 10 years before the UCS article yet, for the most part, the information presented remains the same as what could have been presented in the UCS article. Moving to many of the ‘green’ alternative sources creates more environmental problems than does the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas. Even with improvements in the technology associated with wind power, solar power, biomass generation there are still high environmental and economic costs resulting in consumers having to pay higher prices for electricity produced from these sources than from traditional sources such as natural gas fired plants.
The problem of the finite nature of fossil fuels is one that must still be addressed. Neither author looks too far into the future which results in both perspectives leaving us with questions related to the development of alternative sources of energy. Should the development start now so we have a chance to work out the technology before it is too late or should we wait to see what technology or alternatives may appear on the horizon in the future? Which choice is made, there seems to be a strong need for critical thinking by the public whenever articles like these are presented as biases, omissions and limited viewpoints are often used to try to influence us.
Bradley Jr., R. L. Cato Institute (1997). Policy Analysis, Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not “Green”. Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-280.html (2012, March 1)
Union of Concerned Scientists (2007). Cashing in on Clean Energy. Retrieved from http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/clean_energy/cashing-in-national-15.pdf (2012, March 1)