Planet Gore

Gore’s Great Leap Backward

Rocky Mountain News editorial-page editor Vincent Carroll lets the Goracle have it with both barrels today over his idea for 100 percent of U.S. electricity coming from renewable sources.

He’s a former vice president of the United States, Nobel Prize winner and best-selling author, so the lavish news coverage of Al Gore’s latest brainstorm was inevitable. Less understandable is why an idea so irresponsible – in economic terms, in fact, just this side of deranged – attracted so little ridicule.
Gore proposed last week that the United States “commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”
Not just all new electricity, mind you, which would be challenging enough. But all existing electricity, too.
This would of course require utilities to mothball hundreds of existing power plants as they launched a crash construction program of solar plants, wind farms and transmission lines costing hundreds of billions and perhaps trillions of dollars. (To put this in perspective, T. Boone Pickens, another fellow who’s caught the wind-power bug, claims on his Web site, “Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20 percent of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.”)
Gore would subject 300 million people to an experiment in which baseload power that is needed 24 hours a day to keep the economy — and our livelihoods — humming is replaced willy nilly by power sources still susceptible to natural disruption (such as lack of wind or lingering cloud cover), that cost more (at least in the case of solar) and are far less plentiful in some regions than others (Colorado is lucky at least in that regard). . . .

Stanley Lewandowski, the general manager of the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, is one of the few utility officials willing to suggest that the prophet of global warming is strutting about like an emperor without his clothes. “Al Gore’s statement of obtaining 100 percent of our power from renewables in 10 years has as much a chance of happening as the sun shining 24 hours a day,” Lewandowski quipped. “It’s nonsense.”
Yet revealing. The idea reflects a shocking indifference to the possible fragility of an economy subjected to a force-fed “transformative” (Gore’s word) experience. History rarely is kind to such ambitions, with the most catastrophic example occurring 50 years in China. That’s when Mao Zedong launched his Great Leap Forward – the hare-brained effort to transform that nation into an industrial power within a few years by, among other things, dotting the landscape with backyard furnaces to make steel.
Why would we assume that our economy is immune to the shock of a grand scheme to remake its industrial energy base in a few short years? Politically, of course, our society is far more immune to radical ideas than China’s was under its great tyrant. Gore’s dream to the contrary, most of our fossil fuel plants aren’t going to disappear any time soon.
“Many Americans have begun to wonder whether or not we’ve simply lost our appetite for bold policy solutions,” Gore worried during last week’s speech.
For bold solutions? No. But for nutty ones: Let’s dearly hope so.

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