Blade runner

What Romney wrote on that wind turbine blade in the primaries.

Remember the Iowa primary, and the Republican candidates queuing up to sign a locally manufactured wind turbine blade, including Mitt Romney?

That was then. Romney today (though watch out for firmware upgrades through the wi-fi implant):

We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favoured approaches. That is a recipe for both time and money wasted on projects that do not bring us dividends. The failure of windmills and solar plants to become economically viable or make a significant contribution to our energy supply is a prime example.

Romney programme, energy summary web-page

… Wind and solar power, two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative fuel, remain sharply uncompetitive on their own with conventional resources such as oil and natural gas in most applications. Indeed, at current prices, these technologies make little sense for the consuming public but great sense only for the companies reaping profits from taxpayer subsidies.

Romney programme, energy full pdf, unnumbered (why?) page 4

So what was Romney writing on that welfare queen-sized wind blade?

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

12 thoughts on “Blade runner”

  1. Given the continually falling price of even residential solar, what’s the political equivalent of “not even wrong”?

    1. Current wind prices here; I can’t find an index, but Romney’s assertion that renewables are “sharply uncompetitive” is plain wrong. It depends where you are. “On average, still a little bit more expensive, (without counting subsidies) than fossil fuels (without counting their pollution costs)” would be defensible.

      1. Right, because fossil fuels have no history or present of government subsidies (*cough* sweetheart leases *cough* depletion allowance* cough)

        1. Good point of course (as is Anomalous’ one). I haven’t run the numbers, but since renewables are still a pretty small slice of US energy supply, it wouldn’t be surprising if the unit subsidy were higher than for fossil fuels. If this is so, the moderate cost gap would survive if you stripped all the subsidies out. The enormous unpriced externalities are the 500-lb invisible gorilla.

          1. The cost of photovoltaic cells has fallen by two-thirds in three years. Today, solar energy costs around 15 cents a kilowatt-hour in the United States. In some regions, like Southern California, the cost of solar power is nearly on par with what consumers pay for electricity now.

            This info-graphic, “What if solar got the same subsidies as fossil fuels?,” is directly on point (and includes references):

            Its points are:

            Total fossil fuel subsidies: $72 billion. Amount of these subsidies you’ve paid toward fossil fuel subsidies as a taxpayer over 5 years: $521.73; Amount you’ve paid towards solar energy subsidies: $7.24

            Places where solar energy is cheaper than grid power: Today, with current solar subsidies – 14% of the USA. 
If solar got the same money as fossil fuels – 100%

            The United States has 3,900% more sun than Germany, but Germany has 6,000% more solar energy. Why? Because Germany has killer solar subsidies and thus a solar industry that dominates ours.

            Why should you care about subsiding Solar?
            Over sixty percent of electricity in the U.S. is created by the burning of coal, and energy source that will enter a terminal production decline in just 20 years. Skeptics say that solar can’t compete on price without public subsidies, but the history of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power shows that no energy sector was ever developed without subsidies. Coal couldn’t have competed with wood, steam or water-mills as an energy source without subsidies.

            The simple truth is that unless we start subsidizing solar and other renewable energy sources in a big way right now, the United States will run out of its main source of electricity in just two generations. We have an opportunity to make a historic shift from subsidizing a dirty, dead-end energy source to clean, limitless ones. And subsidizing solar won’t just replace coal. It will bring down the cost of electricity overall, enhance national security (by making us more energy independent,) and create thousands of good, permanent jobs in the process.

          2. Pamela: The thought experiment of giving solar energy (<1% of current energy supply) the same $72 billion over 5 years as the dominant fossil fuel sector is a good debating point, no more. As you point out, solar PV is now at or very close to grid parity in quite large areas, and if you could only get current German balance-of-system costs rather than current American ones, most of the US would be there already.

            It’s not really a strong argument to say that buckets of money are being wasted on fossil and nuclear energy, why shouldn’t renewables get their hands in the cookie jar? The practical test IMHO for the renewables subsidy régime is whether it’s allowing the industry to expand at a rate the allows it to follow the historic learning curve. By this standard, the current tax credit is quite generous enough for solar, and it was too generous for wind before the financial crisis, judging by the increase in wind turbine prices throughout the Bush years (chart here, page (i)).

            If I were benevolent despot, I’d renew the production tax credit for 2 years for solar PV, 5 years for wind and CSP, and 10 for geothermal and new-technology biogas.

  2. We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favoured approaches.

    Interpreting “politically favoured,” (does Romney spell it with a “u”? unAmerican, I say) broadly, I don’t see why not. If there is broad consensus that it would be a good idea to expand wind and solar greatly, why shouldn’t the government steer things that way? That consensus could arise for any number of sensible reasons, including externalities, desire to reduce reliance on Middle Eastern oil and its political consequences, encouraging technological network effects, etc.

    1. If there is broad consensus that it would be a good idea to expand wind and solar greatly, why shouldn’t the government steer things that way?

      Of course. But this isn’t so, precisely because we haven’t had the needed national conversation: Dog or Pig Capitalism versus Managed Capitalism.
      Instead we have the right wing driven conversation: Capitalism versus Socialism.

      Romeny’s remarks come from the latter C vs. S frame…
      Of all the failures of the Democratic Party and Obama, the greatest of all in these last three years, is to accept the Republican framing.
      It is not enough to say: we are not socialists. It is enormously important to backfill the denial with something of progressive substance.
      As such, we have ended up with a population that doesn’t even know that Managed Capitalism is what once made the country great…
      And Bain’s pig or dog capitalism is what has laid it low….

    2. Romney does not in fact spell it with a u – my bad, I’ve set the spell checker in the application I use for drafting to British English. John Kerry might go treacherously Anglophile on spelling, not honest all-American Mitt.
      I’m fully with you on the argument. Note that Mitt’s position also implies getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, and zoning restrictions that promote sprawl and car use.

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