No Free Lunch

The alternative energy crowd is so consumed with the idea of capturing free energy that they are willing to spend any amount of taxpayer money to achieve their goal. 

The idea of obtaining something for free is a seductive proposition that powerfully propels those under its spell to suspend reason in their attempt to obtain their elusive prize. After all, who hasn’t been pleasantly surprised to find a currency note of some denomination lying on the ground and picked it up to enjoy the illusory satisfaction of finding something for nothing? I say illusory because when one dwells on the situation, one realizes that the found money that’s come to be in their possession is also realized to be lost from the possession of another, and the thought begins to weigh upon the finder that the loser might be in some sort of financial predicament due to his loss.

When it comes to energy, we are all painfully aware of its increasing cost in the form of rising prices at the pump and higher utility bills. The Obama Administration has been busily working to drive energy costs ever higher in the hopes that alternative energy pricing will finally become competitive with traditional energy sources. Massive government subsidies placed on solar, wind, and biofuels have failed to germinate sustainable markets for these alternative energy sources since their production costs are far higher than those of established fossil fuels with production, storage, transportation, and distribution infrastructure in place.

So we come to the crux of the problem with alternative energy and its failure to be competitive with traditional fossil fuel energy sources. The green crowd scratches its collective head wondering why free energy can’t compete with costly oil, gas, and coal sources in generating the electricity required to power our modern conveniences. After all, the sun produces solar power free for the taking while winds blowing across the plains are free to power windmills. This crowd doesn’t realize that petroleum, natural gas, gold, silver, wood, and any other natural resource is also free for the taking (disregarding the rights of the landowner for the moment). If one happens to stumble across a gold nugget while wading through a stream, one freely seizes a valuable commodity just as if it had been a wad of hundred dollar bills. However, it is more likely the case that expensive mining and production equipment will have to be employed in an expensive operation to discover, mine, and refine ore into gold.

Energy is a natural resource along with gold, silver, copper, wood, fish, water, and any other commodity taken from our surroundings. Some of these resources are renewable and some are more readily available, but all require some form of production to capture them and make them available to consumers in a usable form. It is this means of production that adds to the cost of these free natural resources. Petroleum in the form of crude oil locked away in an underground reservoir requires extraction, refining, and distribution to transform it into the gasoline with which we fill our tanks at the local station. Natural gas trapped in deep underground shale formations requires sophisticated drilling technology for its extraction and pipeline infrastructure for its distribution to our home furnaces.

It is this production, storage, and distribution infrastructure that costs consumers at the pump and in their utility bills. We have become accustomed to equating cost with traditional energy because we pay for its supporting infrastructure. This point is further emphasized by alternative energy supporters in a disingenuous campaign to promote solar and wind power as free energy sources. Yes, these sources are free, but the infrastructure required to capture them in a usable format is not. Solar energy requires expensive panels to convert sunlight into electricity while expensive wind towers are required to convert wind power into electricity. These things aren’t free, but the alternative energy crowd doesn’t highlight this fact. Both solar and wind power require a $50 thousand to $100 thousand investment by the homeowner before they can enjoy the benefits of these free energy sources. An investment on that scale would buy a lot of electricity generated from traditional sources and most homeowners have no trouble making this simple calculation.

Hence the need to drive up the cost of traditional fossil energy sources to make alternative energy an affordable attraction. The tactic of scaring consumers into believing that these traditional energy sources were disappearing and in danger of exhaustion that began under the Carter Administration has been thoroughly discredited with new discoveries and the development of technology to take advantage of massive shale gas deposits and Canadian tar sands. Alternative energy sources have been made even more unaffordable with these traditional fossil energy discoveries, along with their lack of technology discoveries that would bring down their alternative energy costs.

Fuming environmentalists are pressuring the Obama Administration to increase regulation on the fossil fuel sector to drive costs through the roof and Obama is complying with their demands. The EPA recently released new rules on coal-fired power plants requiring the installation of prohibitively expensive scrubber technology to achieve incremental gains in air quality. These rules, which the EPA under Lisa Jackson had been threatening to release for some time, will force the closure of a large number of coal-fired power plants and result in much higher electric bills for consumers.

Traditional fossil fuel sources are competitive precisely because the massive infrastructure investments required for their production and distribution have been gradually built up over time with their costs spread over a large customer base and depreciated over a long period of time. Solar and wind power lack this infrastructure and their industries are forced to develop, install, and pay for it up front and all at once before realizing any revenue. Environmentalists seek to drive up the cost of traditional energy in an attempt to gain the breathing room necessary for this infrastructure installation. They are convinced that the myth of peak oil and diminishing supplies is a reality just around the corner and that we are all doomed if we don’t immediately switch to renewable alternative sources they promote as the answer.

Another inconvenient fact suppressed by the alternative energy crowd is the need for traditional energy to maintain a constant supply of base energy. Solar and wind power generation is intermittent and dependent upon the sun shining and the wind blowing. Cloudy days and calm conditions don’t produce power and traditional energy supplies are required to keep a constant level of energy supplied to the electric grid. Even if we made the switch to solar and wind power, we would still require traditional fossil energy sources to maintain a constant supply of energy to the electric grid.

Finally, biofuel is promoted as a renewable resource that serves as an alternative to rapidly diminishing fossil fuels despite the fact that fossil fuel reserves are increasing rather than decreasing. Biofuel production involves the diversion of a portion of our grain production from food production to fuel production, requiring heavy government subsidization and resulting in higher food prices for consumers while doing nothing to reduce fuel prices at the pump. Switchgrass and various other non-food crops have been proposed as alternatives to alleviate this situation, but their production still requires the diversion of arable land from grain cultivation and does nothing to eliminate the large government subsidies required for their conversion into competitive fuel products.

No matter how much we would like to believe, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Exposure to an economics class should be required for anyone seeking to promote solar, wind, and biofuels as viable alternatives to traditional fossil fuel energy sources. Promoting these sources as free while ignoring the costs inherent in their production and distribution is deceptive to consumers, and working to increase traditional energy costs through government intervention is nothing more than a criminal conspiracy to artificially inflate prices, gouge consumers, and gain market share through the illegal control and monopoly of the market. President Theodore Roosevelt forced the breakup of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust for precisely the same illegal market control that environmentalists and the alternative energy crowd are practicing with government assistance and encouragement today. In both cases, consumers are the losers as powerful interests control their economic destiny. Well, so much for progressivism protecting the interests of the average American as it is exposed to be the illegal crony capitalist system that it is.

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