Five Big Problems With President Biden’s Energy-Climate Plan
1. Oil obviously has no alternative. The infatuation with wind and solar power is an “electricity-only” one. These renewables compete only in the power sector, which accounts for less than 40% of the energy used in the U.S. and 20% globally. For example, even a Herculean surge in wind and solar capacity will effectively do nothing to lower our need for oil, namely our 400-million-gallon per day gasoline requirement.
The recent oil demand rebound illustrates the dearth of oil alternatives. Electric vehicles (EVs) account for less than 1% of America’s passenger vehicle fleet, a harsh reality that advocates in the Biden administration have chosen to ignore. And simple physics and sheer power – e.g., gasoline has 100 times the energy density of a lithium-ion battery – dictate that airplanes, heavy trucking, and petrochemicals will keep oil in the game for much longer than many apparently want to recognize. As the world’s most vital fuel, ingrained in every aspect of life, oil is even crucial to the development of wind and solar technologies themselves.
The Biden administration has pursued policies that block access to domestic oil, such as stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and a moratorium on new drilling on public lands, even as demand continues to grow. In a matter of months, then, climate policy has put the Biden administration – which has been upfront about its anti-oil policies – in the absurd position of having to ask OPEC and Russia to increase crude oil production to lower gasoline prices, while simultaneously hindering our own American industry from doing the same thing here. Biden’s anti-oil policies thereby support rogue regimes that enforce few, if any, environmental regulations and threaten U.S. national security while trampling on human rights.
2. Companies want to produce more with less jobs. President Biden has promoted wind, solar, and EVs as massive job creators. But “factories will need fewer workers, mainly because electric cars contain 30% to 40% fewer moving parts than petroleum-run cars,” as Autoblog observes. “In addition, many union jobs could shift to lower pay as automakers buy EV parts from supply companies or form separate ventures to build components.” Even the liberal New York Times has admitted that the solar and wind industries have actually been against unions. For rooftop solar, for instance, there’s “no unionized work to be had at all.” For EVs, consider anti-union Tesla.
Oil and gas jobs are more unionized and, even better, they are much higher-paying. Moreover, many of the materials required for “green energy” – such as those integral to the lithium-ion batteries needed for EVs – come from outside the U.S. Accounting for half of the world’s EV production, China is following a strategy to hoard, just like it did with medical essentials to fight Covid-19. China supplies 85% of the world’s “rare earths” required for Biden’s climate plans and is now primed to pounce on the $1 trillion worth of minerals left behind in our exit from Afghanistan. And as was widely discussed when President Obama came to office in 2009 – he also promised millions of “green jobs” – the whole concept of companies seeking “more jobs” is suspect. Companies don’t seek to “create more jobs” but to achieve greater efficiency, which usually means fewer jobs. A reality check for Biden’s energy-climate agenda: jobs are costs, not benefits. This is precisely why automation will continue to remake the American workplace.
Not surprisingly, then, nobody knows what actually defines a “green job,” a difficulty for politicians running on the green agenda. Biden’s climate plans begin with coal miners, who extract the coal that produces the steel that powers renewable energy systems, both wind and solar. Modern windmills, for instance, have hundreds of tons of coal and steel in them. We already know from experience – such as Obama’s Solyndra debacle – that “green jobs” favoritism doesn’t end well.
3. Higher-cost, less-reliable energy isn’t a climate solution. Though advocates argue the opposite, the Biden administration’s energy program is undeniably higher-cost. We don’t have to look far to know what such policies have already wrought: soaring energy prices in California, Europe, Ontario, and Australia. Higher-cost energy acts as a regressive tax, disproportionately hurting lower-income and minority communities.
Cost declines for renewables and EVs are already starting to flatten out and even rise again. Experts warn of a “permanent” lithium shortage by 2025, as the demand for EVs continues to mount. Claims that “wind and solar are cheaper” usually rely on academic studies conducted under laboratory-like conditions; real-world applications have disproved such premises. For example, studies routinely don’t mention how renewables need backup generation to compensate for their natural intermittency. This backup generation comes, ironically, from versatile, highly efficient combined-cycle gas plants.
As we’ve seen with California’s obsession with rooftop solar, handouts for Biden’s EV program are a backwards version of Robin Hood. Tax money is taken from poor Americans to help rich ones buy into the market. Plans to tax oil in cars by “miles driven” might be the most regressive idea of all. The president’s energy agenda centers on a clearly fabricated EV market, which owes its existence to massive subsidies to all players in the value chain: EV manufacturers, EV charger installers, and EV buyers. Never considered are the opportunity costs and taxpayer money squandered. CNBC reports that automakers are already losing billions in their shift to EVs. If cars running on electricity were as great as we’re told, none of this would be necessary.
Americans won’t put up with more expensive, less reliable energy being forced upon them. A higher-cost energy plan under Biden is already causing surging food prices. We have the worst inflation in 30 years – with another $5 trillion still on the spending table. More R&D investment might actually be better for renewables and EVs because forced deployment at all costs risks a huge public backlash. The “ethical” push to refrain from investing in new oil and gas supply is already causing 1,000% price spikes.
4. The domestic benefits of U.S. climate policies should be questioned. By definition, climate change is a global issue. This means that claimed domestic benefits of domestic policies are at best dubious. Back in 2000, for instance, the U.S. accounted for 25% of global CO2 emissions, but that proportion has now receded to 13%. Biden’s climate czar John Kerry admits our limitations when it comes to climate policy: “We could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved.” Many Americans see “all pain, no gain” when it comes to our present energy plan, and no wonder. And lest we forget, it’s our use of more low-carbon natural gas that has helped make the U.S. the global climate leader in slashing emissions for the past decade.
American hypocrisy – “we got rich using fossil fuels, but you must not do the same” – is predicably playing out badly in the developing world. The world’s most important statistic might be this: 85%. That’s the part of the global population (some 6.7 billion people) that lives in the poor countries. And 85% is about the percentage of global energy needs met by fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas), despite 15 years of record gains for renewables. In truth, for the world’s impoverished billions, the overriding concern is their next meal, not climate change.
As the pandemic has shown, draconian changes in lifestyles such as economic lockdowns are not sustainable or acceptable. Life is inevitably returning to normal, and emissions are starting to rise again. And why wouldn’t they? Poor countries are too energy-starved not to utilize the same reliable and affordable fossil fuels that made the West rich.
5. Renewables are “supplemental,” not “alternative.” Wind and solar power are naturally intermittent, with capacity factors in the 25-40% range, as compared to over 85% for coal, gas, and nuclear power. This explains why wind and solar supply just 4 to 5% of the world’s energy, despites decades and hundreds of billions of dollars (if not trillions) in support. With gas backing them up (an often-ignored added cost for renewables), it’s no wonder that the most green-friendly states – like California (45%), Massachusetts (75%), and New York (40%) – all quietly use natural gas as their main source of electricity.
In addition to being intermittent, wind and solar are also contingent on geography. Windy Texas dominates our wind power; sunny California dominates our solar power. Ultimately then, wind and solar are not as substitutable for coal, gas, and nuclear in the power sector as some claim. Cloudy Germany, for instance, painfully found this out with its solar obsession; electricity has become a luxury good in that country. Germany is often cited by U.S. environmental groups as “the example for us,” but its family power rates are over 40 cents per kWh, the highest in the world and triple those of the U.S.
Despite tremendous pressure to pursue only wind and solar power, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the nation’s largest government-owned energy provider, has courageously put forth a more practical plan. Knowing that non-dispatchable electricity sources don’t displace dispatchable ones, TVA is mainly planning to replace its remaining coal fleet by 2035 with state-of-the-art gas plants and small nuclear reactors, not wind and solar. And even our most green-friendly state is hearing the wakeup call: looking to avoid future power blackouts, California plans to open five new natural gas plants.
Jude Clemente is the editor at RealClearEnergy.