Is anyone else saturated by the media’s coverage of Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed energy revolution? Perhaps more appropriately called an energy experiment, the heralded Green New Deal assumes that the renewable energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels can completely replace fossil fuels by 2030.
Yet the viability of a policy to power our energy-intensive society exclusively with renewable energies is defied by simple arithmetic and the basic laws of physics. Add to that insuperable barrier the estimated cost of over $90 trillion for the plan’s full suite of programs, including job guarantees and retrofitting every building the country, and the Green New Deal spells environmental lunacy.
Given the stakes involved, it would be worthwhile to contrast the ideas that make up the Green New Deal with another energy revolution, commonly known as the shale revolution, which has dramatically increased production of oil and natural gas. This monumental energy breakthrough, achieved not by a grand government plan but primarily by innovative entrepreneurs, is well underway and already creating palpable benefits in human welfare.
Although we rarely hear about it in the media, the shale revolution is breaking record after record, more than doubling U.S. output of oil and natural gas over the past 15 years. In 2005, the U.S. was importing about 30 percent of its energy and almost 70 percent of its oil, and policymakers were wringing their hands over how to make America energy independent.
Now, the U.S. has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the largest producer of oil and natural gas, and it is projected to export more energy than it imports in 2020. Energy, far from being the geopolitical liability that it once was, has now become an asset for the U.S., providing a dynamic stimulus for economic growth, job creation, and national security.
The Green New Deal is promoted as a planet-saving energy revolution that is achievable if we initiate a wartime level mobilization over the next 10 years. But the low energy density and uncontrollable nature of wind and solar energy renders the Green New Deal’s plan to derive all our energy from these sources by 2030 a mere fantasy.
With an approximate density of 50 acres per megawatt, barely 1 percent of the density of fossil fuels, wind farms occupy vast tracts of land. Replacing the U.S.’s current electricity demand with wind turbines would require over 480,000 wind turbines and cover an area roughly the size of Wyoming, not to mention the transmission lines, energy storage, and other infrastructure. Compare this number to the roughly 2,500 wind turbines installed in 2018, and you can see how unfeasible the Green New Deal truly is.
The Green New Deal is also not a step forward for energy abundance and affordability. It is a step backward: a regression to preindustrial days when energy scarcity was the norm.
In Europe, this energy regression is already beginning as middle income families are cumulatively paying hundreds of billions for subsidies and back-up power, primarily from coal and natural gas, for constantly fluctuating wind and solar energy. As noted by Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, in testimony to the Senate, these policies are creating “undoubtedly one of the biggest wealth transfers from poor to rich in modern European history.”
In a glaring contrast to the energy austerity advocated by the Green New Deal, the shale revolution augurs energy abundance for centuries ahead. Unlike fears of peak oil and repeated “booms and busts,” the shale of the shale revolution is what petroleum engineers call the “source rock” of oil and gas. Today’s fracking technologies have given us access to what may be as much as 90 percent of the oil resource left in place after conventional vertical drilling.
Every American now living was born into the most energy-rich country in the history of the world. From our electric lights to our unlimited mobility to our effortless access to the digital universe, the vast store of concentrated energy from fossil fuels is so embedded throughout our lives that we typically overlook it. Centrally controlled rationing of the weak, diffuse renewable energy proposed by the Green New Deal threatens this energy affluence.
As energy luminary Vaclav Smil wrote in his book Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems, “Any rapid substitutions by low power-density renewable flows are illusory without dismantling existing urban societies.”
The fate of our nation and the welfare of our families may be determined by which of these two energy revolutions prevails.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on March 29, 2019.
The Honorable Kathleen Hartnett White is Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment and Senior Fellow for Life:Powered. She previously served as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.