Renewable Energy and a Level Playing Field

As I’ve written, I’m more than gratified at both the quantity and quality of the comments we’re receiving on the Three Brass Tacks. At a certain level, one could review these comments and note that the subject matter is quite varied, covering all aspects of the reports – a bit of praise, a few challenges to the accuracy of certain points, new ideas for renewables, etc.

But I want to call readers’ attention to one central point. Many of these comments assert either:

a) that there are corporate/political pressures that actively work against renewable energy in favor of traditional power sources, or

b) the exact opposite, i.e., that there are no such forces, and that renewable energy will be adopted when it can compete cost-effectively with coal, nuclear, oil, etc.

Well that certainly raises at least one big question, doesn’t it? Which one’s right? As we all remember from our logic classes, they can’t both be. The Law of Non-Contradiction reminds us that if proposition A is true, then proposition Not A cannot be true. E.g., it can’t be both raining and not raining at the same place and time, in the same sense of the word “raining.”

And doesn’t this discussion lie at the very core of the future of renewable energy? Is the RE industry playing on a level playing field, or isn’t it?

Both in the report and in this blog, I’ve clearly taken the stance that the RE industry faces all manner of corrupt influences that make it very difficult for large-scale deployments to be licensed, built, and set into operation. There are numerous posts and articles that provide what I feel is compelling evidence to this effect.

Yet I have the utmost respect for readers like Mark of San Jose, former employee at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose comments echo those of many other very senior people and assert that there are no such pressures in one direction or another.

Rather than belabor the point with more anecdotal evidence to support my theories, let me leave you with this:

Even if there are no overt pressures that work against RE, what’s the problem with asking the oil and coal companies to pay for the true cost of the power they provide? How long do you think we’d be scraping coal out of the earth and burning it in our 600+ coal-fired power plants if the coal industry had to pay even an ultra-conservative estimate of the increase in healthcare costs (respiratory disease) its presence causes, and the cost of the long-term environmental damage that it inflicts on us every minute of every day?

As long as they can pass those costs on to you and me and our descendents, I don’t think we can realistically expect any change. All we’re going to see is clever PR on the subject of “clean coal,” “an oil company being part of the solution” and other oxymorons that are nothing but a slap in the face of anyone really paying attention.

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