What is responsible energy?

With an organization named “Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy” people frequently ask, “What is responsible energy?”

The expected answer: “renewables,” or “wind,” or “solar.” These “renewable” fuels get all the good press as the saviors of America.

But, are they really “responsible?” Can we fuel America on them? Are they the energy that makes America great?


Wind, solar, and biofuels may be able to serve as a supplement to our current energy supplies, but there is no way that they can replace the hydrocarbon/nuclear/hydro power combination that fuels America—at least not anytime soon or with the current technology.

Famous oilman T. Boone Pickens launched a major campaign in support of wind power. His efforts were short lived as he found the plan was overly optimistic. In reality, what his plan centered around was increasing use of natural gas—specifically in vehicles. Additionally, increasing the use of wind power would necessitate the use of more natural gas as it is the only source fuel that can ramp up quickly when the wind dies down (or the sun isn’t shining) to get power to the grid to keep our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter; to keep our computers humming and our cell phones ringing; to keep our foods refrigerated and safe and allow us to cook our dinners.

Proponents of these so-called “alternatives” tout the benefits stating that they are green and free. Neither is true.

First, “green.” Creating the equipment needed to turn the raw wind or sun into electricity utilizes nasty chemicals, large quantities of cement, and, for example, each wind turbine requires 2 tons of rare earths—which means that approximately 2000 tons of ore must be dug up, processed, and disposed of. There is also talk about green jobs for America, but most of the wind turbines are not made in America.

Next, “free.’ Again, the wind blowing, or the sun shining is “free.” But turning it into usable energy requires expensive equipment. Beyond the solar panels or the wind turbines, these “free” fuels are land hogs. For example, a nuclear power plant’s land use is minimal, producing 227 kW per acre. One acre of solar PV could generate 27 kW. For that one acre of wind: 5kW. The wind may be free, but that land is not.

Because of the land needed for the “free” energy sources, they must be out, away from the people—where the land is available cheaply. This requires that high-voltage transmission lines be strung from the remote location of the wind or solar site to the city where the energy is needed. These lines can cost as much as $2 million per mile and they require the purchase of additional land. Add to that the legal battles that take place as no one wants the high voltage transmission lines in their back yard.

Since the “alternatives” of wind and solar are not 24/7, they must have back up power—meaning a traditional power plant is needed to immediately send electricity when the wind stops or the sun sets. If the power plant nearby is coal—which is, at least, inexpensive—ramping the power output up and down is inefficient and actually produces more CO2 than if it ran 24/7. So backing up a wind farm with a coal-fired power plant actually creates more CO2 than if the energy came from the coal plant alone. (Isn’t the fear about CO2 levels the reason these “alternatives” have become vogue?)

But wait, some say, put solar panels on your roof. They are very expensive too—outside the budget of most families. Only the wealthy can afford to go the solar panel route to have the “free” energy. Distributed solar supporters claim that with the subsidies and tax breaks they are truly “almost free.” How many people have to pay taxes and higher electricity bills so those who want solar panels on their roofs can have them “free?”

These “alternatives” only work if they have subsidies. Even T. Boone Pickens admits that he was only interested in the wind farm approach he so loudly touted if he received the subsidies that the federal government provided. Without the subsidies, T. Boone abandoned the Pickens Plan.

For renewable energy to be “responsible” it needs to work in both cost and energy parity. Instead, the renewables are heralded as clean, green, pure, fresh, and free—are anything but.

Use the links below to read additional commentaries related to the above text (published through CARE or companion advocacy organization Energy Makes America Great Inc.).

Calling Pawlenty to Confess Climate Contradictions
Is the Pickens Plan Wrong Once Again?
Note to Candidates: “It’s about the energy, stupid”
High Time to Rethink Hydropower
Transmission lines: The Missing Link In Energy Evolution
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