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Tax credits determine all business decisions in this field, and to qualify for the credits, natural gas can be used to supply no more than 25 percent of the energy generated. “And that’s about how much they do use,” Hayden says.
How much land does commercial wind power really need? Imagine a one-mile wide swath of windmills extending all the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles (400 miles). “That land area is what would be required to produce as much power around the clock as one large coal, natural gas or nuclear power station that normally occupies one square kilometer of land.”
As to the lawsuit, it surely is not appropriate to say that a builder “kills” a bird if it flies into whatever he builds. But on one point I do agree with the environmentalists. Tax subsidies make them (and us all) unwilling participants in the whole exercise. I would be all in favor of wind projects if they could compete with other energy sources without subsidies. Clearly they cannot. The expiration of the Renewable Energy production tax credit at the end of 2003 “caused a dramatic slowdown in wind projects around the country,” according to one report. The wind business went back to work as soon as a one-year extension was signed into law last October.
BY THE WAY, whatever happened to that old E.F. Schumaker, small-is-beautiful vision? That’s how it all began. Maybe you’re too young to remember! It was a hippie Whole Earth Catalog ecology thing. You could be off the grid, independent of the utilities. Grow your own vegetables, and grass, hole up in your cabin, roll your own joint, and even partake of a little home-brewed electricity so you can read your Thoreau or Buckminster Fuller by night. And if the sun shone all day the solar panel on the roof might even take the chill off the bath water.
That’s all gone. It’s as though we once had this small town amateur team that started up in a wild burst of enthusiasm and then was somehow persuaded it could compete in the major leagues. It was all a fantasy.
There are still lots of true believers, such as Bill McKibben, who worry that the renewable cause is dividing environmentalists into “bitter factions.” Which it is. We’ve got to stop worrying about bats and Golden Eagles, the true believers say. They beseech us to love those behemoth cranes reaching up above the sky-line. They can think of nothing but global warming and greenhouse gases, and there’s one word they don’t want to hear: the n word. But nuclear power surely is coming back. All we have to regret is the 25-year delay.
Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator, where his “Capitol Ideas” column appears each month. This article appears in the current June issue. To subscribe to The American Spectator, click here.
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