I love contrarians because they make think. One great example comes by way of Margaret Wente's recent column in the Globe and Mail on the Province of Ontario's announcement of $8 billion worth of green energy initiatives (i.e. subsidies) on top of $7 billion already promised. Among her points:
* The province will pay solar producers "around 80 cents a kilowatt hour for the power they sell back to the grid. That's about 15 times more than the current spot price that consumers now pay for power. The difference will eventually show up on their electricity bills. In solar terms, Toronto is not exactly Southern California. Even there, nobody has figured out how to make solar power cheap."
* "Green-energy advocates say the extra cost is worth it. Renewable energy will reduce our use of fossil fuels, cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions, and bolster the economy by kicking off a new era of green jobs.
"Don't bet your solar panel on it. Renewables simply can't produce the large volumes of reliable energy that our economy needs.
"These energy sources are so intermittent and unreliable that you have to have backup power at all times," says Prof. Trebilcock (Michael Trebilcock, a professor of law and economics at the University of Toronto). "For every wind farm we build, we'll have to have a coal or gas-fired power station waiting in the wings to take over when it's 20 below. I think we'll get next to nothing on carbon dioxide abatement."
* "George Monbiot, the environmental firebrand in Britain, which has just introduced its own subsidy scheme" says that "Germany has spent €1.2-billion on solar roofs. Their total contribution to the country's electricity supply was 0.4 per cent. Their total contribution to carbon savings is zero. "
Ms Wente and Mr. Monbiot may be right. The "green" costs don't include the vast amount of land needed for solar panels--unless you build one on every existing rooftop--to produce the same energy as a compact natural-gas-fired steam or supplemental combined heat-power gas-turbine generator. Then there's the land and costs for transmission and distribution systems to connect them to grids.
The answer to green power lies with most every other environmental issue: add in all the attributable direct and indirect costs including land consumption, pollution and health costs into the energy bills, and factor in peak-period-pricing and both users and generators and distributors will get smarter, and cleaner.