Our View: Solar, Wind Subsidies Won’t Lower Gas Prices

March 6, 2012
Atle Brunvoll /Free Photos

The bi-annual debate over gasoline prices is once again upon us, with the usual suspects touting their usual solutions and non-solutions to try and mollify angry drivers.

One of our favorite acts in this cyclical drama is the renewable energy misdirection scene.  You know, the one where politicians opposed to a meaningful expansion in domestic drilling and added pipeline capacity take to the stage in an effort to convince the audience that wind and solar power are the key to “ending our dependence on foreign oil.”

President Obama is a chief proponent of this strange argument, which supposes that the solution to our liquid transportation fuel crisis is to generate electricity with windmills and solar panels.  In fact just this weekend Mr. Obama reminded us that “We can’t just drill our way out of this problem,” and boasted that “because of the investments we’ve made, our use of clean, renewable energy has nearly doubled – and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.”

It may very well be that “thousands of Americans” have jobs thanks to the “investment” of tax dollars into solar panel and wind power companies that subsist on public funds, mandates and guarantees.  But even if America were to become a futuristic version of the 16th century Dutch countryside overnight – where happy workers in wooden clogs tend to highly subsidized windmills generating 100% of our electricity – it wouldn’t do anything to increase the production of oil, or reduce demand for the stuff.

With apologies to the critically acclaimed and rarely purchased Chevy Volt, our cars run on liquid fuels.  And there are only two ways to reduce the price of those liquid fuels: increasing supply or reducing demand.  And even the president concedes that reducing global demand isn’t much of an option, noting during a February speech that “in five years, the number of cars on the road in China more than tripled…And those numbers will only get bigger over time.”

So that leaves increasing supply – which Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to be terribly keen on.  He’s right when he says that “[t]he amount of oil we drill at home doesn’t set the price of gas on its own.”  But as a major oil producing nation, we do influence the global price of oil.  And a clear, long-term commitment to increased domestic drilling would send a clear message to world markets, placing downward pressure on prices.

So too would the development of realistic alternatives to conventional oil drilling that could help ease the transportation fuel crunch.  The leasing and development of oil shale and tar sand deposits on western public lands could be expanded and accelerated by the Bureau of Land Management.  Breaking through the bureaucratic log jam on the Roan Plateau would be beneficial in the medium-term as natural gas becomes a more widely used transportation fuel.  Even liquefied coal is a proven fuel technology that could play a key role in the diversification of our transportation portfolio.

Even better, these changes in policy wouldn’t require taxpayer “investments” in  anymore Solyndra or Abound-style social engineering.  Instead, they would create thousands of private sector jobs (the kind that don’t require permanent public subsidies), provide tangible relief to motorists at the pump, and expand commercially viable alternatives down the road.

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