Turn Out the Lights

by William Yeatman on July 22, 2008

Albert V. Gore, Jr. (former Vice President, Senator, and Representative) laid out his plan to save the planet from global warming in a speech at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall in Washington on Thursday.  As a member of the We (Can Solve It) Campaign, I got one of the first tickets and was able to attend along with four thousand other lucky folks.  Americans for Prosperity and CEI’s Bureaucrash added to the gaiety by holding a little demonstration in front of the building.  Mr. Gore and his entourage arrived in two Lincoln Town Cars and a Chevy Suburban.  


Gore argued that, because global warming is happening faster and the impacts are even worse than even he predicted a few years ago, drastic actions were required immediately.  He proposed that the United States replace all of its coal and natural gas produced electricity with solar, wind, and geothermal sources within ten years and also move towards replacing our gas-powered automobiles with plug-in electric hybrids.


Coal-fired power plants produce about half the nation’s electricity.  Natural gas-fired plants contribute roughly twenty percent.  He didn’t mention nuclear (another 20%) or hydropower (7%), so I’m not sure whether he proposes to keep or replace those sources.  Electric utility companies are having a hard time building enough new power plants to keep up with increasing demand.  Most of the new power being installed is coal or gas.  At a minimum, it takes several years to design, arrange financing, permit, and build any new power facility.  Gore is proposing that we close thousands of plants worth trillions of dollars and replace them with thousands of new plants costing trillions of dollars in a decade.  That sounds a little unrealistic to me.


Gore argued that the costs would be substantial, but would not be as high as the defenders of Big Hydrocarbon claimed.  First, the costs of solar and wind power have come down dramatically in the past few years.  Second, building new solar and wind facilities on a massive scale would lower prices even more dramatically.  Third, prices for oil, gas, and coal have gone up rapidly in the past few years.  And fourth, hydrocarbon prices could only continue to go up.  So within a decade the cost of solar and wind power would be no higher than the cost of continuing to burn coal and gas. 


Even if true, Gore seems not to understand the concept of sunk costs or the capital required to build all those wind mills and solar panels.  It would require a lot more to accomplish than the sacrifices Americans were forced to make during World War Two, when much of our market economy became a command-and-control economy.


The Dark Side of the Force has now spoken: Turn out the Lights! And Back to the Caves!  Were only there enough caves for six billion people.

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