Is an Increase in Renewables Worth the Price?

Christopher Flavelle in Bloomberg asks: “Is it even possible for the U.S. to increase so quickly the share of power it gets from renewables … by the end of the next decade? If so, what will it cost? And who would pay? ”

“One way to answer the first question is asking whether there’s precedent for so rapid a shift. The answer is yes, but with caveats — and those caveats suggest that the pace of change Clinton proposes could come at significant cost.”

“In 2014, six states got more than 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources other than hydro power … But there’s a catch: Much of the new renewable capacity was in states with landscapes ideally suited to large wind farms, built to export clean power to other states.”


Who bears the costs? “Most states still have regulated electricity markets, where utility companies recover the expense of building and upgrading plants by adding those costs to customers’ monthly energy bills.”

“The debate over renewables, as with climate change more broadly, needs to move past whether policy has to change (it does) and toward how much we’re willing to pay for it — and who gets the tab. Leaving that discussion for later, or pretending it doesn’t need to happen, is the wrong way to turn promises into something real.”


  1. If we want to get serious about carbon we need to do more than just reduce emissions from power plants. A cap-and-trade system for carbon is a must. Next up is higher efficiency standards across the board for EVERYTHING including engines, appliances, light bulbs and anything else that requires electricity or an internal combustion engine. Then big increases in tax credits for electric cars and rooftop solar panels coupled with the remove of all subsidies for oil, coal and natural gas companies. A massive tree planting campaign as well as significant funding for research into carbon sequestration would help a little too.

    Do ALL of that and we will have made a start. But you’d need Democrats to hold significant majorities in both houses of congress as well as the Presidency and even then it would be a tough fight to get half of that passed much less all of it.

    1. Why do you favor a “cap and trade” system over the simpler and easier to enforce carbon tax?

      1. It has a history of working, proving to be hugely successful with sulfur and it allows flexibility for businesses to buy or sell carbon credits to fit their output needs.

        1. Where has it worked? I only ask because California has a cap and trade system, and it hasn’t seemed to have made a difference.

    2. Obama’s EPA has already passed new efficiency regulations and requirements for numerous appliances, cars, trucks, nad the old ligtbulbs are being phased out.

      The Tax credits are helpful and do speed the transition, although the ones for solar and wind are expiring or already have expired thanks to an inactive republican congress), however they are no longer necessary for these renewable energy industries to continue to grow because their real price has declined to be less than most fossil fuel sources.

      planting trees can help some on the margins, but stopping deforestation worldwide is even more important, but carbon sequestration research is an area where more effort needs to be put.

      although there is not a federal cap and trade system there are several statewide systems, I used to be very favorable to cap and trade, however, because renewable energy is now price competitive on its own it would likely make only a marginal difference on power plant and industrial emissions while doing nothing for transportation emissions, which is why I now believe something like citizens climate lobby’s carbon tax and dividend is a better piece of national legislation to push for.

  2. “The debate over renewables, as with climate change more broadly, needs to move past whether policy has to change (it does) and toward how much we’re willing to pay for it — and who gets the tab. Leaving that discussion for later, or pretending it doesn’t need to happen, is the wrong way to turn promises into something real.”

    Sigh. Until we can get the idiots on the Right to even acknowledge the problem, we will stay stuck in neutral. And chiding believers isn’t really very helpful at this point.

    Besides, I see Clinton’s proposals as the start of a negotiation (if we ever get there), not its ending point.

  3. Germany has been having this debate for years–you go there, you see solar panels on so many private homes–but they’re generally very nice homes. See, the government gives big tax incentives to home owners who pay to put up solar panels, and then those same home owners get to sell power back to the grid, and they make out very nicely.

    However, if you can’t afford to put up solar panels (or own your own home, which most Germans do not), guess who gets to pay the bill for that?

    Germans get behind it, grudgingly, because they don’t like the idea of nuclear power plants on German soil, support the idea of replacing them before they get their own Chernobyl or Fukushima. The thought of good German land becoming uninhabitable for many generations is anathema to them. In the meantime, of course, they’re still buying nuclear-generated power from France.

    The more we do this kind of thing, the better we’ll get at it, but I wish people would get it out of their heads that there’s any such thing as free energy. That just doesn’t jibe with what we know of physics or thermodynamics. The question is always “How much are you willing to pay for your power, and how do you want to pay it?”

    1. Also “Are we paying the true cost for our energy, taking into account the environmental cost, infrastructure costs etc.” For decades we’ve been paying a far, far lower price for energy than we should. It may be a shock, but at least it better represents reality.

  4. It’s interesting that Flavelle says we have to talk about the costs of switching to renewables without any mention of the concomitant environmental savings from switching to electricity generated from wind or solar sources. Nobody ever talked about the environmental costs of using coal or oil, and that’s why we are at risk of major environmental problems (which the Pentagon has predicted will cause major national security problems) now.

    In other words, when talking about “costs” it is important to consider more than just the direct costs of building and installing solar and wind generating systems and comparing those to the costs of operating existing coal-burning power plants.

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