Edward Flattau: GOP’s Renewable Fiction

What is really holding back a full-blown renewable energy boom is not technological shortcomings. It is the lack of political will to risk the fossil fuel industry’s wrath.

The Republican Party pays lip service to renewable energy while striving to reduce government subsidies for research, development, and distribution of same.

In more candid moments, the contradictory thinking of the majority of congressional Republicans becomes quite clear. They maintain that renewables such as wind and solar are not sufficiently perfected to compete with fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. As it stands, these lawmakers dismiss wind mills as eyesores that kill enormous numbers of birds, and warn that a network of giant solar mirrors would desecrate thousands of square miles of American wilderness.

Ignored are the effective wind power mitigation measures for bird mortality, and the vast amount of barren open space to accommodate solar facilities that could support the demands of millions of people.

(From the GOP’s perspective, it doesn’t help renewable energy that it is a major part of President Obama’s and Liberal Democrats’ political agenda.)

Republicans insist that until renewables can succeed in the marketplace without government subsidies, the nation’s focus must be on accelerated extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas. That scenario delights the well-entrenched fossil fuel industry, which just happens to receive much larger government subsidies than renewables as well as lead the charge in donating to Republican campaign war chests.

Eliminate all the subsidies, the renewable energy industry retorts, and it could compete quite handily cost-wise with conventional fossil fuels. Moreover, the global climate would be all the better because of the substantial reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

What is really holding back a full-blown renewable energy boom is not technological shortcomings. It is the lack of political will to risk the fossil fuel industry’s wrath. There is also concern at the prospect of a short-lived public backlash against a major shift from traditional fuels to renewable ones. The latter are initially more expensive (and thus should be temporarily subsidized for low-income folks), but amortized over time are cheaper. And that doesn’t count the environmental economic-related benefits.

Despite all the negative attacks, renewable energy technology has been amply demonstrated to have arrived. In 2011, the technology provided nearly 20 percent of global electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Wind, solar, hydro power, and other renewables have already proven their value in other ways as well. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics show that jobs related to the production, distribution, and maintenance of renewable energy amount to 3.1 million, which is more than the fossil fuel industry employs.

And what about the personal health benefits? They are hard to precisely quantify, yet bound to be considerable because of the reduction in carbon, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, lead, and mercury emissions.

A decent quality of life for future Americans will depend on a successful transition to a predominantly renewable energy-based society. With all the partisan bickering going on in Washington, it’s hard to believe our politicians could come through for succeeding generations. But they can if they have enough guts to be leaders rather than be led.

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