Renewable Energy Fact Sheet

It’s fairly easy to make renewable energy look like a pipe dream, and misguided attacks on clean energy is doing just that: making renewables look too costly, too sporadic; not merited because it’s not competitive with fossil fuels, or that it won’t create jobs.

These petty strikes against the renewable energy industry don’t even remotely mesh with what we know is true about clean energy, and Think Progress recently published an article pointing out what you really need to know about the value of renewable energy.

1. Clean energy is competitive with other types of energy: Renewable energy is affordable now. Not tomorrow, not next year. Now. Even with the price of natural gas being inordinately low, these cheap prices are unsustainable, like any nonrenewable resource,  supplies will dwindle, and prices will rise. But renewable is staying competitive: with the help of bigger turbines, and increased reliability, some wind developers are signing power-purchase agreements in the 3 cents a kilowatt-hour range, which is far cheaper than any other new power source. The same industry maturity is occurring in solar with California solar developers signing contracts for power costing less than that of a natural gas plant.

2. Clean energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels: Renewable energy job creation outstrips fossil fuels 3 to 1. Not only does the renewable energy sector create more jobs, they create better jobs: twice as many medium to high credentialed jobs are being created in the clean energy economy with wages being about 13% higher, and almost half of these jobs employ workers with less than a four year college degree. Aside from these facts, the clean energy industry is actually growing by a rate of 8.3% which is more than can be said about the overall economy.

3. Clean energy improves grid reliability: Yes, it’s true that if the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining then power isn’t going to be generated. But, that doesn’t mean that renewable energy isn’t a viable option for large scale power production. For instance, predictability of wind power would be easier to manage if there was more of it and energy could be delivered without interruption to the grid. Any additional costs for backup generation would be small (less than 10%) and would have little to no effect on consumer power costs.

4. Fossil Fuels have gotten 75 times more subsidies than clean energy: From 1994-2009 the fossil fuel industry received $446.96 billion in subsidies where as in that same time frame renewable energy received $5.93 billion. A study showed that in the early years of the fossil fuel industry, oil and gas producers received federal subsidies making up one half of a percent of the budget. This amount may seem small, but compare that with the one tenth of a percent of federal spending that’s used for renewables. If more subsidies were dedicated to renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel industry, clean energy would become even more cost effective than it is now.

Renewable energy could be an engine for economic growth and a pathway into a sustainable future, but false information that undervalues its potential could really set up road blocks. It’s important to realize the merit behind renewable energy, not only is it affordable and cost effective, but we can make it reliable on a large scale while creating jobs and with more investments from the federal government, we can more forward into a clean energy future.

The Urgency For Innovation

Innovation is an interesting word. It means introducing something new or different. Depending on what side of the political line you live on, innovation will most likely mean something drastically different than on the other side of the line.

To some, innovation means unconventional gas, tar sands, oil shale. These people most likely believe global warming is a myth, and may even be under the impression that Obama is pushing a “phony theology” on the American people.

On the other hand, innovation means finding new sources of clean, sustainable forms of energy. This group is most likely concerned with maintaining finite resources and keeping atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at bay.

Of course, depending on what side you’re standing on, the other seems to be in the wrong, but in either case the word “innovation” is becoming a source of contention. At present one innovation Obama is being assaulted over is research on algae-based biofuels.

Algae-based biofuels are like any other biofuel whose energy is made from biological carbon fixation. Unlike some biofuels, like bioethanol, which needs a lot of prime land space, algal fuels grow quickly and thrive in any type of water from seawater to sewage. A recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reports that the use of algal-biofuels could replace as much as 17% of U.S. oil imports. With exorbitantly high oil prices and energy security looming, it seems the natural progression of innovation is to invest money into researching the plausibility of algal fuels. Unfortunately, now Republican’s are launching an attack on this “goofy gas”, touting Obama’s $14 million offer towards “weird” algal fuel research.

While the cost of renewable energy (wind, solar, biofuels) is dropping, the technology to improve extraction of fossil fuels is improving. Now, instead of retiring oil fields or strip mined mountains, we’re able to suck every last drop of oil from the ground and dig for every last kernel of coal. Necessity fuels innovation. And right now the urgency to make a drastic shift to a non-fossil fuel based society doesn’t exist.

Even if there was urgency to switch from conventional sources of oil to renewables, supplies of tar sands still exist and are considered innovative enough to some, leaving clean energy pushed to the side once more. The fact the clean energy isn’t being associated with the need to deter the impacts of climate change–not to mention that climate change isn’t being mentioned at all–isn’t putting enough weight on how important clean, renewable energy is to our future.

In the past, necessity has spurred innovation. Right now we’re not forced to come up with an energy source on the fly, but at the same time that seems to be deminishing research of potential [innovative] fuel sources outside of fossil fuels. Somehow, we need to create an urgency to switch from fossil fuels to renewable resources, investing money into all sources, no matter how “weird” they may be.

Keystone XL: The Cockroach Who Refused to Die

The unrelenting pipeline project that aims to transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf is at it again. When TransCanada was told in January the project was being turned down, what do they do? They make plans to build the southern half of the pipeline while they “work out” a new route for the northern half which was slated to go through ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska. The strangest part of all of this, is that TransCanada doesn’t need approval from the State Department, and even if they did, the Obama Administration has decided to back the idea.

The Southern half of the pipeline will divert tar sands from Oklahoma to Texas. It’s not technically the Keystone XL pipeline but will still provide the same service to oil companies that Keystone would.

Controversy around the Keystone pipeline stems from many avenues from potential oil spills to indigenous issues, but for most people their primary issue is climate change. Tar sands are more carbon intensive than mining conventional sources of oil, emitting between 5-15 percent more greenhouse gases. As Climatologist, James Hansen has stated, “it is essentially game over” for climate if tar sands are exploited along side coal reserves.

Obama took a lot of heat on his initial decision to reject pipeline construction from his rival presidential candidates. Rick Santorum claims going through with pipeline construction will lower gas prices. While Newt Gingrich has been swearing up and down that Obama’s playing favorites with “environmental extremists” instead of spending time lowering gas prices.

Other advocates of the pipeline argue the benefits of importing from our friendly neighbors to the North instead of the Middle East. Another benefit they claim, the creation of jobs–which has been a matter of intense debate as the numbers have ranged from 5,000-20,000–would mostly only be temporary positions. My own personal favorite argument (noted above by pipeline proponents Santorum and Newt) in favor of the pipeline is that it will lower gas prices. The fact is that once the oil from Canada reaches the Texas Gulf it will not be be pumped around the U.S. for domestic oil use. It will enter the global oil market from Texas refineries and is very likely to be shipped overseas. It will raise gas prices as much as 20 cents per gallon. It’s the same scenario with the “half-pipe” from Oklahoma to the Gulf: we’re looking at a rise in gas prices while remaining vulnerable to price spikes.

While people argue that the purpose of Keystone pipeline and the “half-pipe” is to lower gas prices for the American people, TransCanada’s plans don’t mesh. The construction of the pipeline will subject the U.S to increased costs of heavy Canadian crude oil. Philip Verleger, founder of PK Verleger LLC (an energy consulting firm) told Bloomberg, “The Canadian plan was to use their market power to raise prices in the U.S. and get more money from consumers”.

It’s a little disconcerting the “half-pipe” is moving forward in that there is little stopping the entire Keystone XL project from taking over the Midwest which would be harmful not only to gas prices, but that pesky thing we call Climate Change. There should be no “half-pipe”, no whole-pipe. We need to start making a concerted effort to get away from an oil based society instead of crawling back to the same fossil fuel burning, environment polluting energy sources.

Keystone is like a cockroach. They’re difficult to kill, but it’s definitely not impossible.