Toward workable energy solutions

The Obama administrationâÄôs renewable energy stool, with its three legs of biofuels, solar and wind, is now tipping over as all three legs start to crumble.
The administration is being accused of âÄúpicking specific winnersâÄù in energy technology instead of leaving the decision to the marketplace. ThatâÄôs not the real problem. The real problem is spending billions to prematurely push unworkable and uneconomic programs into production.
The final push came from the recent closing of Range Fuels Inc.âÄôs cellulosic ethanol plant in Soperton, Ga. After only four years and more than $300 million in taxpayer and private investment, the plant was unable to produce quantities of ethanol from wood chips and other cellulosic material because thereâÄôs no effective cellulose-to-ethanol large-scale production process. Undeterred by this failure, the Obama administration has announced another $500 million for manufacturing plants to produce ethanol jet fuel from algae for military aircraft. There is no effective process for large scale algae-to-ethanol production either. There is also little light for subsidized programs in solar energy. This has been illustrated by the $500 million taxpayer loss on the Solyndra corporation, which is the result of going to market with a non-competitive technology and process.
Recently, Nevada broke ground on a concentrated solar power project using a $1.6 billion taxpayer-guaranteed loan. MinnesotaâÄôs Prairie Island nuclear plant, in comparison to electricity production estimates, produces eight times the amount of the Nevada project. Far to the east, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved Cape Wind, a $2 billion project which will place wind turbines in the sea. Congressman William Delahunt (D-Mass.) blasted the project, estimating it will be the most expensive wind farm in the country at more than $2.5 billion.
Texas has three times more installed wind-generation capacity than any other state. However, during recent summers when the state set new records for electricity demand, the intermittent turbines were incapable of producing serious power.
At their current stage, biofuels and intermittent wind and solar lack the scale to provide a significant percentage of our energy needs. Our resources are better spent on renewable research and development. An example is the University of Minnesota Center for Nanostructure Applications which is working on technology that promises to enhance the efficiency of solar panels. ThereâÄôs also the UniversityâÄôs new Wind Energy Research Station at UMore Park in Rosemount.
In the meantime, new combined-cycle natural gas plants can replace coal with greatly reduced environmental impact.