Let’s get real about renewables

What I’d Like to Hear from the Presidential Candidates about Energy 

Renewable energy is a hot topic among the cadre of Democratic presidential candidates. The opposing GOP field is much smaller thus far and as such, quieter, but we do know that hopefulTrump contender Bill Weld takes climate change seriously and also calls for a push to increase clean energy, including nuclear power. 

It’s what is missing from the discussion that concerns me. 

I’m not necessarily talking about fossil fuels; it should be obvious to both the candidates and the voting public that with current U.S. oil and gas production at an all-time high, these resources will have a prominent role in our energy profile for a very long time, even as other resources grow in both volume and efficiencies. However, the candidates’ environmental and energy political capital relies on touting alternatives to fossil fuels and with that, they are giving wind and solar top billing. 

Wind and solar are not the stars 

I understand this is politics, but at some point, the rhetoric of the ultimate nominee will need to translate into realistic policy, and this current focus is not realistic. The candidates need to include all renewable sources, not just wind and solar. The problem with many renewables is that they rely on something that is variable; such is the case with wind and solar. It’s no secret that a reliance on any variability leads to inconsistency without intervention. Today, both of these sources are inconsistent sources of energy in terms of reliability and availability.

Also, generation for both peaks opposite the demand times, and while battery technology has advanced and increased in availability, it’s not capable of solving all of the inconsistency issues – certainly not cost effectively. 

Then there are the incentives. The economies of wind and solar have been driven by tax incentives. If these are the bloodlines for wind and solar, it is in turn drawing that blood from the customers as that cost is placed on consumers. 

Regulation gridlock 

Two other issues with wind and solar – and with most renewables – are regulations and energy grids. Wind and solar power generation tends to be in lower populated areas. Common sense tells us that most of the demand is in dense and highly populated areas. How do we get that energy from its points of generation, to its points of demand? 

Despite the advances in wind and solar generation – Texas is a good example – we are far from a fully transitioned system in reliably and efficiently getting renewable power to where it’s needed. 

It’s not just the public distaste for large transmission towers; it’s the patchwork of multi-state regulatory restrictions that need to be navigated at prohibitive cost to the utility or energy company. Battery storage is not enough to unlock those regulatory handcuffs to nimbly create a workable solution to renewable energy power – at least not in the near future. 

There are other sensitive issues, as well, such as efficient land use, loss of land-related production, and eminent domain. 

A waste(ful) resource 

One of the reasons I respect nature so much is that in nature there is zero waste. Zero. 

You certainly can’t say that about humankind. In the U.S., the one unlimited resource we have, unfortunately, is waste. 

Landfills are a diminishing resource. We tried recycling, and while I still encourage it, it’s not the solution to our waste problem.

Fortunately, we can viably turn our prolific waste problem into an energy source. It’s been done; it’s being done. And it works. 

I’m going to be covering these topics more in-depth in a series of brief articles, but my primary message to the political candidates is that they are not doing their constituents, or the earth, any favors by investing a lot of dialogue into green and renewable energy ideas without talking about all renewables, and without instituting real change. 

What is that change? Being serious about solving our energy problems, and by association climate change issues, means we need to get to as clean of a regulation slate as possible. 

We need to unravel all of the obstacles that have been built up over time. They are hindering access to our most realistic solutions.