Earlier this summer, The National Review asked whether Americans had a realistic view of our energy needs, our energy supply, and our ability to transition away from conventional fuels and toward alternative sources of power.
The story argued that we have consistently taken a decidedly unrealistic approach to these issues, not only two years ago when Al Gore set a goal of producing 100% of our electricity from alternative sources within a decade, but also Jimmy Carter’s pledge more than 30 years ago that we would never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977. (In fact, we’ve used quite a bit more foreign oil since then).
The story also made the important point that transitions to new sources of energy tend to take a long, long time. Case in point: Oil did not surpass coal as the world’s primary source of power until 1965. That detail, and many of the other facts in the story, support the reality that oil will not – and in fact cannot – go away any time soon.
These are all points that are worth remembering now as we begin to see larger scale adoption of alternative power sources like wind and solar. But as we take a realistic view of the future of oil, we also must ask whether we are doing enough to support these up-and-coming power sources. Consider some recent developments that have thwarted the very power supplies that are supposed to represent our future:
–California’s goal to obtain 20% of its power from renewable sources by the year 2020 is being obstructed by environmentalists’ objections to building new solar power plants.
–A wind power plant in Oregon has generated so many complaints about noise pollution, that the plant has reportedly had to pay off nearby residents to silence them.
–Some lawmakers in Maine are complaining that the state’s efforts to rapidly expand its wind power operations have prevented’ it from building these turbines “to fit harmoniously into the landscape.” They now say these expansion plans may need to be scaled back.
Clearly, there is a lot that we do not yet know about the mass adoption of wind and solar power. We need to listen to the people who live and work near these new power sources to better understand their concerns. But at a time that we should all know that all sources of energy bring risks and require compromise, these widespread objections to what many consider the most benign sources of power do make you wonder: Are we being realistic about our power supplies, both conventional sources like oil and alternative sources like wind and solar?
Or, has our not-in-my-backyard objections gone too far?
Tell us what you think.