Reader comments on Rolf Westgard’s Sept. 4 Letter to the Editor

Multiple authors

Mike Barnard:

I might agree if the following two conditions were met:

1. No other form of generation received any market-distorting aid.

2. Negative externalities related to health, pollution, environmental damage and green-house gases were priced in.

However, fossil fuel generation throughout its supply chain continues to receive enormous assistance. So does new nuclear, and so does hydro-electric. These market distortions add up to much more than all of the Production Tax Credit  costs. These technologies are decades and centuries old, yet they continue to be supported by tax-payer dollars. Where is the call for elimination of those distortions?

Coal generation has been a burden on society of 17.8 cents per kilowatt-hour according to credible studies by independent organizations. Natural gas is in the 5-10 cents per kwh range. These burdens include killing thousands of Americans annually, making millions sick or sicker through asthma and emphysema, polluting our waterways and literally leveling mountains. How else do you expect to reduce these enormous impacts except by funding cleaner technologies?

I agree completely with Romney that all sources should compete on their merits. If this were true, all coal plants would be shuttered in five years, and enormous wind farms would be welcomed across America, as they are in Texas, Iowa and other Red States.

As for your assertions that wind is ‘failing’, I can only say that cherry-picking data can easily find that natural gas is ‘failing’ as many natural gas generation plants only have capacity factors of 10 percent, as they are only used for peaking energy needs. Similarly, hydro dams are frequently only at 40-percent-of-capacity factors, and many provide no electricity at all in the fall due to water levels. Yet these technologies are not considered to be failures but to be essential parts of our energy infrastructure.



Agreed: Level the playing field. But for some, that means cutting incentives for renewables and not fossil fuels, or, in the case of the article, cherry picking some of the available information in order to advance a point of view.

For example, the problem with tallying up direct subsidies, as above, is that it misses the two greatest sources of public support for fossil fuels, both of which are indirect, both of which dwarf direct subsidies: The first is the trifecta of indirect costs due to fossil fuel combustion — health problems, military protection of supply and climate disruption; the second hidden — and enormous — subsidy to fossil fuels is the massive infrastructure expenditure on fossil fuels: highways, airports, parking spaces, subsidized urban sprawl and more.

You can’t make these hidden subsidies go away very easily, and there is evidence that they dwarf the direct subsidies. So even if you made all direct subsidies go away — fossil fuel subsidies, too — you’d find renewables were still massively out-subsidized by indirect subsidies to fossil fuels. Again, I agree with the concept — though it should not be credited to Mitt Romney — the conversation has not been as thorough as it needs to be.


David H Ecces:

Wind energy would be valuable if it could be stored. Until provision for this, such as in water-based pumped-storage schemes, is available, there will be huge wastage of energy involved in keeping other energy sources online so that they can take up the slack when wind — or solar, tidal or wave — energy is not available.