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I admit I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but it was just too ridiculous to pass up.

 

Wind Turbine, Tower in a Corn Field

Image Credit: Sebastian Celis via Creative Commons

Last week, Governor Romney’s presidential campaign announced in Iowa that if he is elected president, he will allow the Production Tax Credit (referred to below as the “wind credit”) to expire.

According to The Des Moines Register,

Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Romney’s Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register, “He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

It the Romney campaign actually wanted to get rid of all energy subsidies, I’d be 100 percent for it because energy subsidies create market distortions. But of course the Romney campaign continues to support oil subsidies; because of course they don’t create an uneven playing field.

Besides, if Romney wanted to do away with oil subsidies, you can bet the Koch brothers et. al. wouldn’t be bankrolling his campaign anymore.

That aside, Romney really needs to work on his swing-state strategy. Iowa has more wind energy jobs than any other state, and Iowa Republicans were quick to point out just how misguided his notion was.

As Republican Rep. Tom Latham pointed out, this proposal demonstrates “a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation.”

This isn’t just turning heads in Iowa, either. Green energy jobs are so important here in Colorado that only one Republican representative, Doug Lamborn, supported Romney’s notion. Even Birther lunatic Rep. Mike “Obama’s not an American” Coffman opposed Romney’s proposal. (This clown is my representative, sadly.)

Lest we forget, the wind energy tax credit was originally signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992 and renewed in 2005 by a Republican Congress and signed by George W. Bush.

The bottom line is Romney’s wacky proposal to do away with the PTC and the wind energy tax credit is so ridiculously off-the-wall that even his own party is disavowing his statements.

I seriously doubt Romney ever expected this to be good policy. He’s just doing the pandering he needs to do to appease the Tea Party and his oil billionaire donors.

He never needed Colorado and Iowa’s 15 electoral votes, anyway.

Wind turbines and solar panels on the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland, Oregon

Wind turbines and solar panels on the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland, Oregon

I was visiting Portland, Oregon, last weekend, and I came across this building while wandering around near Powell’s Books.

This is the Indigo Tower at Twelve West in Portland’s West End. This building is certified LEED Platinum, and you can see wind turbines and solar panels on the roof.

Why don’t we have buildings like this in Denver? We certainly get enough wind. I’m jealous.

Credit: Tod Baker via Creative Commons

I read in the Denver Post earlier that the head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dan Arvizu, said at a conference recently, “if we don’t start phasing out even a scale-up of natural gas by 2040, 2050, we will not achieve any of the carbon loading goals we have set for ourselves.

On a related note, Think Progress reports that the “International Energy Agency Finds Safe Gas Fracking Would Destroy A Livable Climate,” based on the conclusions drawn by the IEA in its recent Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas report.

They’re right, of course. Natural gas alone is not the solution to climate change or to our reliance on other, dirtier, fossil fuels. It may be better than coal or oil, but it should never be viewed as more than an intermediate step.

Besides, if we allow the gas industry to become as powerful as the oil and coal industries, we’ll probably have to fight the gas industry in 2040 in much the same way that we’re fighting coal and oil now.

So is there any place for natural gas in a renewable energy economy?

Some argue that there is no place at all for natural gas; while it may generate lower carbon emissions than coal, it is still a fossil fuel and therefore must be phased out as quickly as possible.

It’s hard to argue with that, but the problem remains that we still don’t have a fully viable alternative to energy generated using fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Don’t get me wrong: wind, solar, wave, and geothermal energy are fantastic. I have every confidence that these forms of energy production will reach the point where they provide all the energy we need.

But they’re not there yet. There are still some problems with these forms of energy that have not been fully addressed. The wind isn’t always blowing, the sun isn’t always shining, geothermal and tidal power are only available in certain regions, and the U.S. power grid isn’t nearly efficient enough to transport energy from one region to another. Unfortunately, that means that electricity from those sources is currently not as reliable as energy produced from coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants.

It’s true that a diverse energy grid drawing from of a variety of renewable sources can easily provide base load power. However, due to the intermittent nature of most varieties of renewable energy, renewables can’t produce power in a way that effectively meets peak energy demand.

Coal and nuclear power plants are also much more efficient at providing base load than peak load, because these power plants rely on turbines powered by steam. Once a coal or nuclear plant is ‘turned on’, it often takes days before it is operating at full efficiency.

Battery technology hasn’t yet reached the point where excess energy generated using renewable sources can be stored and then released later to address peak demand, so what do we do until it reaches that point?

That’s where natural gas comes in. In natural gas turbine power plants the combustion of the gas itself spins the turbine, so gas power plants don’t take nearly as long as coal or nuclear to reach peak efficiency. This makes power from gas turbines the ideal candidate to handle peak load. In fact, that’s exactly how they’re used today.

Even though the primary methods of producing natural gas are oil wells and fracking, these are not the only options. Natural gas can also be captured from ranches and landfills, or created with fermentation. When produced using these options, natural gas is much cleaner than when produced with fracking.

So yes, natural gas does have a place in a renewable energy economy, but only when used responsibly – as a complement to, not a replacement of, renewable energy.

Until better battery technology arrives, we don’t really have another option.

Image Credit US Coast Guard

In 2011, the top five oil companies (BP, Chevron, Conoco, Shell, Exxon Mobil) posted a combined profit of $137 billion. In the first quarter of 2012, these companies earned a combined $33.5 billion.

These windfall profits were enough to put Exxon and Chevron in the first and second spots, respectively, of the Fortune 500 most profitable list.

Last year, fossil fuel companies got $11 billion in government subsidies.

How can we justify giving these companies our tax dollars when budget cuts have forced the de-funding of social programs and the layoffs of over 100,000 teachers nationwide?

Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) announced they will introduce the End Polluter Welfare Act to Congress.

“People are sick and tired,” said Sanders, “of seeing the same folks who want to cut nutrition programs for hungry children fight tooth and nail to preserve federal tax breaks that go to Exxon Mobil – one of the most profitable corporations in history.”

This legislation will save the Federal government (and taxpayers) over $11 billion annually by doing away with fossil fuel subsidies, such as tax breaks, special financing, and taxpayer funded research and development.

According to 350.org, getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies will put $807 per year back into the pockets of US taxpayers.

The fossil fuel industry receives nearly six times more in government subsidies than the renewable energy industry. This creates significant entry barriers (see oligopoly) for the renewable energy industry and stifles competition.

A fact sheet hosted on Senator Sanders’ website shows how doing away with fossil fuel subsidies will save money in the years to come. I’ve listed some of the highlights below:

– $14 billion saved by eliminating the intangible drilling deduction, which allows oil and gas companies to deduct up to 80 percent of the costs of drilling.

– $12 billion saved by repealing a law passed in 2004 that allows oil companies to claim manufacturing tax credits.

– $6.8 billion saved by closing the loophole that allows corporations like BP to deduct costs incurred from cleaning up spills and paying damages. How can we expect oil companies to prevent spills if they can rely on taxpayers to pay for cleanup?

– $10.6 billion saved by recouping lost royalties for offshore drilling in public waters.

The End Polluter Welfare Act is good for the economy because it will reduce market distortions, put money back in the pockets of taxpayers, and promote green job creation.

Senator Sanders is asking citizens to speak out against corporate welfare by calling and emailing their senators and representatives, or by signing the petition.

Welcome to Economics, Politics, and the Environment, where I will pontificate at length on issues that I think are important. You have no doubt already guessed what many of those topics will be.

A little about me: I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics with a minor in environmental science and (almost) one in politics. I am endlessly fascinated (an usually very frustrated) with our economy and political system, and I’ll admit that I’ve become a little obsessed since the start of campaign season.

I am currently employed in the mortgage due diligence industry, though my interests lean more towards sustainability and renewable energy economics and policy. It has, however, given me a lot of perspective on the sub-prime mortgage crisis and resulting recession, as well as the housing market in general.

In the fall I will be starting graduate school for natural resource and environmental economics.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Economics is boring! Why would someone want to study so much of that?!”

Sometimes economics is really boring, I’ll admit. But most of the time, I think it provides a unique way of looking at the world that, at least for me, helps me make connections between policy, the economy, and sustainable practices that might otherwise never occur to me.

I’m also an insatiable reader, so expect occasional posts about what I’m reading and why you should read it too.