23 February 2009

Alternative Energy: Cut-throat Industry, Stimulus Beneficiary?

My previous entry delved into the debate surrounding the production of electricity by coal plants, highlighting some of the difficulties in shifting away from this method and advocating cleaner methods of energy production like solar and wind power. I also touched briefly on newly inaugurated President Obama’s possible move later this year to tax the coal industry in order to accelerate the U.S.’s transition to a greener economy. A corollary to this possibility is the question of how much the stimulus package Obama (see left) so vigorously promoted will assist the emerging clean energy industry-a question raised in a recent blog post by Kate Galbraith, a New York Times’ Green Inc. blog writer who previously worked as a correspondent for The Economist. Finding Galbraith’s post both insightful as well as relevant to the topic of my blog, I have taken time to read and comment upon it at the New York Times’ website, expressing my hope and excitement that the silver lining of the economy cloud may be the green industry’s potential to flourish. The other post I will consider here (originally published by The New American but cited by Eric Leech at TreeHugger) addresses safety issues of nuclear power, suggesting that nuclear plants are much safer and have a better record than solar or wind power in terms of accidents and deaths. I feel that this topic is an interesting one when considering the future of the energy economy, especially since new government funding means new lobbying for this assistance. These two posts have generated much discussion at their respective sites-the nuclear vs. solar/wind energy post especially so. In order to frame my comments to these posts, the reader may examine them at their original sites, to which I have linked. I have also copied them below to circumvent any technical difficulties.

"Will the Stimulus Help Wind and Solar?"

It is clear that Americans will prove to be rather polarized on an issue like renewable energy and its subsidization during the economic downturn (see: this post’s comments). This is a logical response, considering that an economy like the one the U.S. is experiencing is, by nature, frightening to both investors and individual consumers. For this reason, alternative energy’s needs as a fledgling industry may be at quite a disadvantage. Therefore, there are some facets of green energy’s investment climate (no pun intended) that I would like to address.

First, I would like to point out that those who are considering investments in the green energy industry are still most likely looking at a long term benefits picture despite the years of extreme growth that the industry experienced before the recession hit. The statements you have made regarding the stimulus package’s inability to produce an immediate rebound for companies like Renewable Energy Systems Americas are significant: I have serious doubts that any developments (short of every American suddenly feeling financially secure and spending vast amounts of their savings) in the near future will produce a macroeconomic miracle. Thus, it is important for any potential investor to realize the concrete benefits green energy industries are receiving through the stimulus package, yet not expect too much, if we have any hopes of giving companies like Mr. Kruse’s the capital they need to move forward with these technologies.

Second, and more succinctly, I would like to voice my optimism for the prospects of alternative energy in general. Jack Lesard raised an important point when he assured another commenter that coal is also subsidized; the notion that we are subsidizing an “expensive” industry is absurd, as our government does indeed have “Big Energy” in mind, and whether that means solar, wind, nuclear, or coal is pretty much irrelevant, considering that many of these industries are mixed. For many reasons, I feel that alternative energy gives America an opportunity to create jobs when they are desperately needed as well as allows us to secure a cleaner future for our children. I would appreciate any opinions you (or other posters) might have regarding alternative energy’s ability (or inability) to help the U.S. out of its economic rut.

"Wind vs. Nuclear Energy: Wind Power Deemed Far More Dangerous"

The article you have cited here seems to reek of interest group mentality-something you appear to have noticed as you dub those involved “spin-mysters.” I appreciate your bringing this article to the TreeHugger community so it may be discussed by an audience other than The New American’s.

It has been widely addressed in the comments prior to mine that the statistics gathered by the original article are skewed and inaccurate, and this is important to realize. As the first poster pointed out, The New American (see below right) is an affiliate of the John Birch Society, and following a few easy-to-find links informs us that this organization endorses continued development of coal power as well as increased harvesting in Alaska. Thus, as an affiliate of the John Birch Society, The New American is hardly looking to publish articles praising alternative energies like wind and solar. I am sure we could find alarming statistics about nuclear and coal power if we were to read a report done by an affiliate of Greenpeace, and in fact, I would welcome any such statistics you or those that have commented might be able to offer. The point, though, is that we must really consider these findings with a grain of salt.

To conclude my comment, I will offer my own opinion on the matter. It appears to me that, just like any other emerging market, the alternative energy industry will be characterized by different companies (solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal) competing for investors and government subsidies, and these companies will undoubtedly publish negative findings about other sources in order to secure these benefits for themselves (and I thought we had just left the election behind). However, if there is anything that I have learned about the future of alternative energy, it is that it cannot be perfectly focused. If we are going to devote ourselves to a cleaner future, we must realize the risks and deficiencies of each source, whether these manifest themselves as a nuclear meltdown or simple noise pollution. Thus, it is my opinion that we need not make the alternative energy industry a zero-sum game; every new source has its benefits and its drawbacks and we must produce a comprehensive plan for it to work.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, I am so pleased that you have written this post about the costs and benefits of alternative energy during this economic crisis. From reading your posts, it is clear that you have done extensive amounts of research on the subject and that your background knowledge allows you to pass educated judgments on the comments of others. In your first comment section for the article "Will the Stimulus Help Wind and Solar?" you address the inevitable pessimism of investors in today's failing economy. Your comments offer several suggestions for these investors to consider, particularly suggesting that they look at the “growth that the industry experienced before the recession hit.” I could not agree more with you on this point: before the recession, the green movement was thriving, and it has the opportunity to do so again with careful investment and the proper use of government funding. Your second comment section on “Wind vs. Nuclear Energy: Wind Power Deemed Far More Dangerous” was very interesting to me. Your request for more information and statistics regarding the difference in safety reports provided by sponsored sections of the renewable energy industry is provocative. Not only are you engaging with your writer, but you are encouraging more comments on the blog and further discussion on the subject. You also expressed your opinion nicely by taking the article you were commenting on into account while at the same time providing a viewpoint to encourage the inquiry of others.

    Overall, your posts are extremely well-written and well-researched. You clearly feel strongly about alternative energy and its place in our future. I appreciate the fact that you take a stance on the issue and ensure that you voice your responses to the opinions of others with respect and professionalism. In your future posts, I would love to read more about your opinion on the separation of alternative sources of energy and how their competition can be beneficial to us as consumers and to the economy as well. Also, it would serve your purpose very well for you to utilize more terms and concepts familiar to the international relations community, such as when you stated that “we need not make the alternative energy industry a zero-sum game.” Doing so would open up the discussion to other international relations scholars that might bring different perspectives to your topic.


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