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Con: Should Congress give solar, wind power major roles to combat climate change?

Energy freedom isn't blowing in the wind or basking in the sun, it's drilling now

Posted: Friday, June 05, 2009

Miguel Cervantes created one of the most memorable characters of literature with Don Quixote, a delusional man who jousted with windmills he thought were giants.

Now the Obama administration and Congress are quixotically raising their lances against another hypothetical menace: fossil fuels. In this instance, it's not a just a fictional Spaniard who'll be tossed to the ground, but an already staggering U.S. economy.

Turning their backs on America's huge, untapped reserves of oil and gas, President Barack Obama and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are championing more federal subsidies for the sorriest solutions to our energy problems - wind and solar power.

Has anyone in the White House or on Capitol Hill ever taken a course in logic? Apparently not! If they had, they might not be shunning economic stimulus that would cost taxpayers zilch, yet could create up to 160,000 jobs and up to $1.7-trillion in new government revenue.

A significant part of this would flow to cash-strapped states, giving them funding needed to help unemployed workers and their families, fund schools, and avoid cuts in critical state services.

The U.S. Mineral Management Service calculates that up to 115-billion barrels of recoverable oil lie beneath our outer continental shelf - enough to replace almost 53 years of current imports from unstable and often unfriendly OPEC-cartel members, including Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and Algeria.

New Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he will auction off two leases in the Gulf of Mexico this year, neither of which is located in the 85 percent of the outer continental shelf that was, until recently, subject to a decades-long moratorium on drilling. The moratorium effectively still exists.

Salazar has championed the construction of wind turbines along the Atlantic shoreline, arguing wind power could replace 1 million megawatts of electricity now generated chiefly by natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

Wind currently provides less than 1 percent of America's electricity needs and construction of the giant towers has been vigorously resisted by communities from New England to Florida and by environmental activists.

Locals see them as eyesores that destroy natural panoramic views, while some "greens" see them as executioners chopping up thousands of birds, including such beloved species as eagles.

If Salazar sincerely believes 1 million megawatts of electricity can be generated by wind, he's about as delusional as Quixote. Some 330,000 wind turbines - equal to about 160 for every mile of the U.S. Atlantic coastline - would be needed to generate that kind of electricity, a Department of Energy study suggests.

Even if Salazar could overcome activist opposition to his plan for - let's call it "energy sprawl" - he and his allies would face a brutal backlash from consumers, angered by skyrocketing power bills. Electricity from wind already costs about 50 percent more than coal. Offshore wind turbines would be even more costly due to higher technology and maintenance costs.

Solar power is even worse. Solar thermal electricity costs double natural gas-generated power and triple coal-generated power.

With America in the midst of what's been called the worst recession since the Great Depression, many are looking to that crisis for lessons for today.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman understood how critical domestic supplies of energy are to both U.S. national security and economic recovery.

During the 1943 miners' strike, for example, FDR questioned not only the patriotism of miners who didn't return to work - but that of their wives and children, too!

And in 1945, Truman issued a proclamation asserting the U.S.'s exclusive right to the natural resources in the seabed of our continental shelf, noting, "... efforts to discover and make available new supplies... should be encouraged."

To put Truman in today's vernacular, "drill, baby, drill!'

• David A. Ridenour is vice president of The National Center for Public Policy Research (www.ncppr.org), a conservative think tank.



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