The Non-Alternative Alternatives

by Chris Horner

Bjørn Lomborg indeed does a very good job of pointing out the obvious: “A green future will not result from subsidizing immature technology . . . . Wind and solar power are not yet competitive.” But then he goes on to suggest that we can make them competitive with more research money.

But in the case of wind and solar, this is absurd. They aren’t immature industries: They’re windmills and solar panels. Wind-powered, solar-powered, and coal-powered electricity were pioneered within eight years of each other. One works. The others never could match up but now are (risibly) touted by politicians and greens as “new technologies.”

They remain uncompetitive for the reason Lomborg alludes to earlier in his piece without giving it much thought: “Solar panels and wind turbines are not cost-effective replacements for fossil fuels.”

Emphasis should be on “replacements,” not on the irrelevant “cost-effective.”

The wind blows maybe 20 percent of the time. Solar power, subject to similar limitations, is so incredibly diffuse that it makes the wind look concentrated.

Something is not a viable alternative unless it’s an alternative. Wind and solar are inherently limited (in the absence of utterly unforeseen battery-storage breakthroughs) to being supplemental, niche additions to a power mix. From a policy perspective, the sooner we stop calling non-alternatives “alternatives,” the better.