Renewable Energy Requirements: The Ugly Underbelly of Senate Bill S.2657
This is a simplified tale of how good intentions were cleverly hijacked by self-serving special-interest parties — without publicity, and to the detriment of the public, the environment and our national security.
When Senator Murkowski initially proposed an energy bill (S.2657), it was strictly about geothermal. The title was: Advanced Geothermal Innovation Leadership Act of 2019.
Some of the primary reasons that this good legislation had this narrow focus were because deep-drilling geothermal (what the bill refers to as enhanced or advanced):
1) is a reliable, non-intermittent electrical energy source,
2) is projected to be genuinely cost competitive with conventional electrical energy sources (e.g. see this MIT study),
3) is our energy future (e.g. the initial bill stated that: “The Department of Energy has determined that geothermal could represent a large part of the U.S. energy mix by 2050, rivaling the growth of solar, wind, and hydraulic fracturing”), and
4) there is no currently financially successful deep-drilling geothermal business, so R&D is necessary to get this beneficial energy source going.
These are solid reasons, but legislation doesn’t get passed because it makes sense(!). Instead there needs to be political reasons to pass a bill — e.g. large stakeholders who will benefit from such legislation, and who make it a priority to their representatives.
As there is no strong geothermal lobby in DC, the bill languished, and was presumed to be deceased. However, devious renewable energy proponents apparently said: “why don't we piggyback wind and solar onto this bill, so that we can get even more than the $100+ Billion of federal handouts (e.g. PTC) that we’ve already pocketed.”
(FYI, this is probably the first measure promoted by this new lobbying behemoth.)
As a result, in March of 2020 — while most of us were dealing with COVID-19, etc. — they stuck wind and solar into S.2657. They not only awarded themselves the pro-posed geothermal benefits, but (since few were watching) they greatly magnified them. (See some details in the Congressional Record: search over wind as well as solar.)
Of course the wind and solar lobbyists’ argument is just what you heard in kindergarten: if geothermal gets handouts, why not them? Well let’s look at the original reasons for geothermal and see if these two sources are actually equivalent:
1) wind and solar are unreliable, intermittent electrical energy sources,
2) after decades of preferential treatment, wind and solar are not genuinely cost competitive with conventional electrical energy sources (e.g. see this study),
3) our energy future is SMRs and geothermal, not wind and solar, and
4) wind and solar are very successful businesses (e.g. here) — and supposedly mature — so no taxpayer funded R&D is appropriate.
In other words, wind and solar are the diametric opposites of geothermal, so there are zero legitimate reasons for them to be included in S.2657.
Regretfully, it’s worse than this. Wind and solar lobbyists have become so confident that they can easily manipulate state and federal legislators, that they decided to include major provisions beyond what were in the original geothermal bill!
In addition to $600 Million in new US taxpayer handouts for wind, and $1.3 Billion for solar, this S.2657 amendment requires that:
“Renewable Energy Goal — The Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture, through management of public land and administration of Federal laws, shall seek to issue permits that, in total, authorize production of no less than 25 Gigawatts of electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects no later than December 31, 2025.”
There was no mandate in the initial geothermal bill, much less this HUGE amount. (BTW, these shysters cleverly added geothermal into this requirement, knowing full well that no consequential amount of geothermal will likely be available by 2025, so this is strictly a national wind and solar mandate — the first ever!)
These are some considerations that wind and solar lobbyists don't want citizens and legislators to factor in:
1 - When ALL their expenses are properly calculated and fully attributed (e.g. transmission, auxiliary support, etc., etc.), wind and solar are four to five times the cost of conventional electrical energy sources;
2 - Industrial wind energy can cause substantial environmental and eco-system liabilities;
4 - Wind energy can produce more CO2 than gas by itself, so if CO2 savings are paramount, combined-cycle gas is a better choice (and is less expensive);
5 - It is well-documented that industrial wind turbines have caused a wide variety of problems to our military and national security;
6 - There are dozens of studies by independent experts that have concluded that wind turbines can cause severe health consequences to nearby citizens;
7 - Although wind is sold as a local financial boon to host communities, the reality is that a wind project can have a net negative economic impact on the community;
Once these realities are fully comprehended, the obvious question is: why should the US taxpayer pay more to prop up these inferior, expensive, unreliable sources of electrical energy?
As of this writing, Senator Murkowski (R) and Senator Manchin (D) are negotiating through 220+amendments. That number alone should make it very clear that there is a frenetic frenzied feeding of special-interests at the public trough as the word gets out.
Yes, there is some good buried in this morass, but why does every such major measure turn out to be a faustian bargain? The idea that for the public to get some benefits, that we must also except multiple serious liabilities, is simply insane.
S.2657 (and the House counterpart H.R. 4447) could be the most far-reaching, problematic national energy legislation in decades — so we need to be aware of and publicly analyze every handout and concession made in what may turn out to be a 500+ page omnibus energy bill. (For another critical take on this bill (from a different perspective), please see this expert commentary.)
Since the Senate is immersed in the Supreme Court issue, there will be a strong inclination to want to clear the deck of pending legislation (like this). Further, since Senator Murkowski is a swing vote on the Supreme Court matter, it is conceivable that Leader McConnell (ordinarily sensible about energy matters), will agree to look the other way while S.2657 passes, in exchange for Murkowski’s Supreme Court vote.
What to do? PLEASE contact your federal Senator TODAY. Send them this, and politely tell them to keep the geothermal parts of S.2657, but to extract any and all references to wind or solar, as well as all anti-fossil fuel and anti-Science measures.
John Droz, Jr. is a physicist based in North Carolina.