The Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, recently sought a report to better understand our electric grid and what impacts an increasing reliance on renewables – specifically wind and solar – are having on our ability to produce energy in a cost-efficient way that ensures our electricity supply is stable and reliable. Much of the debate surrounding this highly anticipated report has endorsed an all or nothing approach to renewable power sources. But it is wrong to oversimplify the issue in this manner and, in particular, I reject the elitist view that we should be blindly pro-renewables. This narrow view simply ignores employment opportunities and the cost of living for average Americans across this nation.
Let me first say that I agree that our nation’s acceptance of renewables is, in many ways, a positive development. If we can produce energy in a clean way, and source that energy domestically, that is something I fully support. Undoubtedly, renewables have a role to play in everything from generating electricity we use in houses and offices, to fuel for trucks and vehicles. Nearly all conservatives understand the need to explore the use of renewables, and invest in new technologies that produce clean energy.
However, what conservatives also believe is that the government should not be picking winners and losers through incentivizing one industry over another. Also, it is misguided to use subsidies and mandates to artificially make renewable sources of energy more cost effective than traditional energy sources – like coal and nuclear. Coal and nuclear generate power more cost effectively than renewables, if you eliminate the subsidies for renewables. It’s also wrong to make traditional and reliable fuel sources more expensive by imposing on them punitive taxes and regulations. The combination of rewarding renewables and punishing coal and nuclear was President Barack Obama’s strategy to make our country more reliant on wind and solar.
Thanks to those Obama era policies, older coal and nuclear power plants are closing down, not because they cost too much to maintain or present any danger, but rather, because government regulations and subsidies for alternatives are making them unprofitable. This is happening across the nation, including recent closures of plants in Ohio and Illinois. The result of these premature plant closures is that the cost of energy rises and workers at those facilities lose their jobs. This is the reality for far too many families across America.
Hence, the Department of Energy issued this study, not because it benefits any one industry over another. But rather, because identifying how to produce energy in the most cost efficient and reliable ways possible, helps all Americans. Reducing the amount of money a family has to spend on their electric bill frees up those funds for food and other consumer products that drive our economy.
What also must be considered by policymakers, is that wind and solar energy production are not as reliable as energy produced by coal, natural gas and nuclear. Wind and solar can be impacted by foul weather. For example: the polar vortex in 2014 lead to record, or near record, cold temperatures all across the nation, and this put significant stresses on our electric grid causing massive pricing surges.
When the Department of Energy releases it’s final report, I hope all Americans will look at its conclusions, and consider the impacts that an over reliance on renewables means for the average American. Going green is important, but it cannot supersede affordability and reliability. After all, what else should consumers rely on?
Steele served as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland from 2003 – 2007, and as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 – 2011.