The Nation

Mark Hertsgaard and Christian Parenti, two reporters from The Nation, a far-left periodical, have an oped in syndication about how the federal government’s huge buying power can alter the economics of green energy.

Here’s how it works, in the authors’ own words:

Federal spending is responsible for roughly 25% of the gross national product, giving Washington enormous power to influence marketplace behavior even if annual spending levels are trimmed…If the Pentagon, the Postal Service and other agencies shifted their buying wherever possible from dirty technologies to clean ones, it would give manufacturers…a huge influx of orders. These orders would yield economies of scale that would enable green manufacturers to substantially reduce prices.

As the prices of green technologies fall to near that of dirty technologies, consumers and private companies will begin buying green of their own accord. Their purchases will yield additional economies of scale, enabling green manufacturers to lower prices further and entice more buyers, thus hastening the displacement of dirty technologies.

Hertsgaard and Parenti call their plan the “Big Green Buy.” I call it a “Very Dumb Idea.”

Recent history supports my description over theirs. Evidently unbeknownst to these authors, the federal government already has attempted The Big Green Buy, and it was a disaster.

From 1999 to 2006, the Post Office became the world’s #1 buyer of “flex-fuel” cars capable of running on E-85, a fuel blend containing 85% ethanol, a then-voguish green fuel distilled from the starch in corn. The Post-Office’s 30,000 car buying spree was meant to achieve markets of scale for ethanol production and use.

Unfortunately for the feds, the flex fuel plan backfired. The problem was that E-85 fueling stations were only available in a handful of states; everywhere else, the new Post Office vehicles had to use regular unleaded. And because “flex-fuel” vehicles tended to be SUVs, and were therefore larger and less fuel-efficient than the vehicles they replaced, gasoline consumption increased by almost 1.5 million gallons.

Such are the unintended consequences of Best Laid Plans.