MILLIS: Confused by all the renewable energy studies? Trust your common sense

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
North Carolina is one of the top states in the solar market

Studies can confuse, especially when organizations with competing interests produce seemingly contradictory results with regard to the policies they advocate.Take the battle to mandate and to improve tax benefits for the production of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and biofuels.In 2009 a Beacon Hill Institute study published by the free-market John Locke Foundation determined that North Carolina’s renewable energy mandate, which requires that utilities generate 12½ percent of their power from alternative sources by the year 2021, will likely cost the state 3,600 jobs and $1.8 billion in higher electricity rates, and inhibit the state’s economy by more than $140 million a year.And the conservative Civitas Institute found the renewable requirements will decrease economic output by more than $6.6 billion in 2025, and that North Carolina will have 50,000 fewer jobs in 2020 and 45,000 fewer jobs in 2025. By 2020, the policy will force electricity costs up by $1.9 billion, the report said.On the other side is the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, which espouses the benefits of renewable energy requirements. They argue that “clean energy costs have largely been shown to either reduce residential customer bills, or to help customers avoid an equal amount of future utility cost increases in the future.” They contend the state’s ratepayers have realized $162 million in energy cost savings since 2007, when the renewable mandate was implemented, and estimate they will save another $489 million by 2029.So who to believe? Besides the confusion of statistics and economic modeling offered by these policy groups, fortunately citizens have another tool to discern the truth: their common sense.In North Carolina, our Utilities Commission is required to ensure that the electricity providers they regulate (primarily Duke Energy and Dominion Power) deliver reliable service at the lowest cost possible. Besides what their government overseers demand, however, it is in the best interest of companies like Duke and Dominion to keep their costs as low as possible so as to attract more businesses and residents to the state, to further expand their customer base. Thus in a truly free market, the utilities would seek out the most economical and dependable sources possible.Unfortunately the nature of so-called “clean” energy supplies, like wind and solar, are not cheap, nor are they dependable. An analysis by the Institute of Energy Research of data from the Energy Information Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that electricity from new wind and solar power is 2.5 to 5 times more expensive than electricity from existing coal and nuclear power. Many of the power plants currently in operation could continue to provide inexpensive, dependable electricity for decades to come, but federal and state carbon dioxide regulations have spurred utilities to replace many coal plants with renewables.As a viral video from a few years back articulated, they “make cheap energy expensive, so that expensive energy would seem cheap.”This costly electricity, which we expect to always be “on” at our homes and businesses, is not dependable either — because it is not “dispatchable” (in energy industry lingo). This means the sources cannot be turned on or off on demand, like fossil-fueled plants can. When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, the renewable “generators” are actually degenerates. This means traditional sources must always function as back-ups, which are less efficient and more polluting when they operate that way.So so-called “renewables” are not cheap, they’re not dependable, and they’re not cleaner to operate than fuels that have been traditionally used for electricity. If you don’t know what studies to believe, trust your common sense: The high costs and environmental ineffectiveness due to North Carolina’s mandate of “green” energy is all pain and no gain.Chris Millis, who lives in Hampstead, represents the 16th District in the N.C. House of Representatives.