Magazine | April 8, 2019, Issue


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and supporters, January 19, 2019 (Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

O Green New World

Travis Kavulla’s article “What Is the Green New Deal?” (March 11) challenges the GOP to create new climate policies that will put consumers first. He fails to mention that wind and sun renewables can’t meet the challenge of supplanting fossil-fuel generation even with energy storage. Wind and sun produce electricity less than half the time and must fill storage to satisfy demand at other times. To do so, they must more than double the fossil-fuel generation they supplant. Storage at the required scale must be invented and deployed. New modes of electricity-grid management must be devised and implemented to toggle between generation and storage. Adding vehicles to the electricity grid will likely double generation and storage and complicate management.

Two new ideas:

1) Don’t plan on eliminating fossil-fuel generation by using wind and sun renewables. Expansion from where we are will require increase by a factor of at least 50. Cost and diversion of land use will be prohibitive, anti-consumer, and anti-environment.

2) Plan to supplant fossil fuels by developing wind/sun alternatives that provide continuous generation without massive storage. They could include more reliance on smaller-scale community and individual systems, as suggested in Kavulla’s article, and new modes of nuclear power

George F. Steeg
Potomac Falls, Va.

Travis Kavulla responds: My fundamental argument against a Green New Deal is that it relies on state-led central planning in which the risk of making the wrong choice on technology is socialized to a captive set of ratepayers even while profits go to monopolies that have cozied up to a Green New Deal bureaucracy. The proposal I make for a Customer Empowerment Act, under which a retail market for retail energy choices would exists in lieu of the Green New Deal’s coercion, allows those who want to “go green” to do so but also to bear the costs and potential risks of that decision. So it is possible that Mr. Steeg and I are talking past one another. In the paradigm conservatives should propose, there is no need for policymakers to decide what the “right” energy mix is — just as there is no reason for government to decide what the “right” mix of stocks and bonds is in one’s 401(k).

As to Mr. Steeg’s points about renewables’ reliability, he is correct that it would be improvident to depend fully on energy resources intermittently supplied by weather systems. Yet it is also true that those technologies have become more reliable over time. First, regional networks have allowed buyers of renewables to diversify their risk. If a retailer relies exclusively on Wyoming wind or California solar, the company faces a higher probability of turning up short than if it contracts for some of each. Also, advances in meteorology and forecasting have allowed grid operators better predictability of these resources, and this in turn allows fossil, hydro, and battery owners a better opportunity to position their resources to respond to forecast renewable shortfalls.

These factors don’t close the gap fully, and it is true that a system in which 100 percent of energy comes from weather-dependent renewables is impracticable. But the system could accommodate a relatively substantial increase in renewable energy. We should welcome that — or at least conclude there is no reason to close the door to it as an alternative to a Green New Deal.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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