There’s an Ill Wind Blowing for Wind

Listening to a recent discussion about presidential politics my ear was caught by a policy statement made by the Romney campaign.

“Mitt Romney believes it is a time for a new approach to ensure our nation’s energy independence. He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

While much could be said about this position it at least needs to be ask, how would this level the playing field? How would pulling the rug out from under wind energy allow it to compete on a level playing field with government subsidized oil. Big oil receives billions each year in government tax credits while at the same time experiencing record annual profits. There is simply no way wind, solar, and other emerging energy technologies can compete in a market so dominated by oil, natural gas, and coal. Especially if ask to do so without subsidies.

I was in Eastern Ohio recently and observed a number of yard signs reading, “Protect Coal; Fire Obama.” I also saw a very large semi-tractor winding its way along US 40 delivering a single blade for a wind turbine to some unknown location. The contrast of old versus new was obvious.

What is not so obvious is the government’s involvement in our nation’s energy history. Most people today probably don’t realize that the nation’s electric grid, touching about every corner of the country, is the product of government electrification policy beginning in the 1930s. No utility company could have afforded the wiring of rural America and it wouldn’t have been done without tremendous aid from federal and state governments.

Given the reality of global warming, climate change, melting ice caps, diminishing supplies of fossil fuels, environmental  threats, aging nuclear plants, rapidly increasing demands for energy, etc. it is also obvious we need new, sustainable, and green sources of energy which have to include both solar and wind. But again, it is not feasible for private enterprise to fund the development of these technologies all alone. They need continued government involvement to become established and reach a level at which they are competitive with older technologies. As each new turbine comes online the cost of wind energy will decline and become more at parity with existing technologies.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan withdrew government support from wind energy with the result being, the technology left America and went elsewhere. Drive around most wind farms and you’ll notice the brand names on turbines having a foreign ring to them. Matter of fact, the only American name you may see is General Electric and they only have a 7.7% share of the world’s turbine market. The Danes, Chinese, and Germans pretty much own the wind business. By not getting behind wind technology we again see our energy dollars going to other nations for the means to take advantage of all the wind resources we have Available in this country. We have the wind but because of poor foresight we have to buy foreign-made generators.

The worse part of Romney’s position is that it smacks of politics and not policy that best serves the nation’s needs. Being anti-green and making light of the nation’s liberal tree huggers plays well with the conservative voting block he has prostituted himself to. Refusing to support the end of oil subsidies also avoids losing the support of some of his wealthiest donors. The lack of a meaningful energy policy has evaded America for generations. Under Romney don’t expect anything to change. Big money and political positioning will live on.

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