Fox News Spreads Propaganda on Clean Energy

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Apparently, the Fox News article “Four Dirty Secrets about Clean Energy” is going viral, as I just got it from a friend who is normally not too closely connected to the subject. I have to hand it to these guys; they’re sure good at getting their word out.

In addition to admiring the sheer aggression with which Fox promotes its beliefs, one has to like their cleverness as well. Even the ploy of referring to their enemies’ concepts as “Dirty Secrets,” implying as it does the existence of some clandestine group with a malicious, hidden agenda is really a very bright idea from a public relations perspective.

In any case, I promised my friend that I would take a few minutes and respond to each of these damnable “dirty tricks,” so here goes:

Dirty Secret #1: If “clean energy” were actually cheaper than fossil fuels, it wouldn’t need a policy.

The cost of renewable energy is anything but a secret. No one disputes that, in each of its many forms as they currently exist, clean energy is more expensive than coal – especially when it’s burned in the absence of scrubbers on the plants to remove the most damaging components of its emissions. And, though the prices of renewables are falling constantly, this inequality will remain in place for at least the next few years. The larger issue that the author elected not to discuss, of course, is that fossil fuels come with huge but generally unseen costs in terms of the health of our people, our society and our environment.

Dirty Secret #2: Clean energy advocates want to force us to use solar, wind, and biofuels, even though there is no evidence these can power modern civilization.

This ties into #1 above. No one who has seriously looked at the matter doubts that clean energy can power the civilization, but the issue is cost. As Dr. Peter Lilienthal, world energy expert whose software is used by power utilities in more than 80 countries says, “There’s plenty of clean energy, if you don’t care what you pay for it.” Most clean energy advocates suggest weaning ourselves off fossil fuels using the market forces that would be created by establishing a level playing field in which the true costs of all forms of energy are taken into consideration and “internalized.” We also hope for a bit of help from government; it would be good (as well as fair and wise) to remove the enormous subsidies bestowed upon the fossil fuel companies – and perhaps send the funds thus freed up in the direction of renewables, as the latter clearly represents a public good (as opposed to a public hazard).

Dirty Secret #3: There are promising carbon-free energy sources–hydroelectric and nuclear–but “clean energy” policies oppose them as not “green” enough.

Oh, you’re concerned about carbon? That’s interesting, since it’s the direct opposite of your usual position. In any case, it’s true that many (though not all) clean energy advocates see certain dangers in nuclear power. I’m not sure what planet someone would have to be living on not to share these concerns.

Dirty Secret #4: The environmentalists behind clean energy policy are anti-energy.

It is true that there are environmental extremists who are unwilling to make any compromises, and thus become de facto advocates for the end of economic prosperity, a return to an agrarian society, etc. Pointing to a few people with fringe views may stir up the passions of a largely uninformed audience, but it’s hardly to the point. I’m sure you could find a few who believe in astrology as well, though I can’t see the relevance of that either.

The vast majority of clean energy advocates are honestly looking for trade-offs that make sense. In fact, we don’t see this issue as “us vs. them,” as all seven billion of us live on the same sick planet. Our main agenda is doing what’s right for this sorry world; I’m not sure Fox News can say the same.

Again, I congratulate Fox on its cleverness, even though its command of the facts and the intellectual honesty it displays in dealing with them are dubious at best.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

8 Comments

  1. The only problem with the Fox news “secrets” that I can find is that it exposes the orthodoxy that dominates our environmental discussions today. The true failure of our environmental laws is that they fail to require a balancing of interests which would force an honest debate instead of this ‘gotcha’ debate about the merits of the issues.

  2. joelsk44039 on

    For the foreseeable future, “clean energy” will not be able to compete with cheap coal for the production of power. My objection to the use of the term is that there is an implication that these energy sources will somehow be a substitute for liquid fuels. This is certainly not the case.

    If the U.S. were to make major strides introducing all electric vehicles with a driving range of more than 100 miles, how many additional (coal fired) power plants would need to be constructed to provide the power for these vehicles? Certainly, wind and solar alone will not be up to the job.

    When President Obama touts renewable energy, the implication is that it is a substitute for liquid fuels. The gullible American public may believe this, but those of us that are better informed do not.

  3. Good piece. It is refreshing to read something that is balanced, fair and does not leave out half of reality.

    Having worked in nuclear power I would have to agree that it is not a reasonable clean energy source. First, lowest cost and nuclear safety are always at odds. Capitalism and Fusion are just not a good mix as there is too much potential for wide spread contamination and danger to public health. Then there are the hazards with storing the waste, potential other uses of fission products at various stages, and natural disasters. Even in good countries they impact the whole world.

    As far as the electrification of transportation goes: Of course short term we will trade gas for coal in some states. Long term there is more than enough potential to power our transportation needs, our computers, our endless lights, heat and whatever else we can think of from renewable energy. 89 square miles of concentrated solar in the AR desert could power the whole country. I know the infrastructure is not there. When trains were first tried there were not tracks either.

  4. Another thing both you and the author failed to mention is that Fossil fuels are subsidized by the US government to the tune of around $10 billion a year. In contrast Renewable sources of energy received $23 billion from 1973 to 2003. If you equalize the subsidies you make renewables cheaper.

  5. Concerned Citizen on

    Michael, Thank you for being level headed and not completely buying into this argument as others have done for years. The Conservatives argue for limited government involvement in economics, but if it were not for this involvement, renewable energy would be more of a major player in current energy allocation. The article argues that renewables are not a proven source of energy for modern civilization, but it can be argued that fossil fuels are in fact proven to be finite. I would place all my chips on something that is a possibility rather than hold out on something that is most certainly going to fail at some point.

  6. @David first you basically referenced the same study twice. Second that study is nothing but estimates based on no accurately quantifiable data other than the health care cost of the workers of the coal mines(which is figured into the price of coal electricity because the companies pay for their health care). All other figures in that study are meaningless guesses based on whatever dollar amount they attribute to damage to the environment per ton of coal.

    @michael ok coarse the subsidies are less for renewables as of 2009 fossil fuels power over 80% of our energy requirements renewables 8% so now I figured $23 billion/30 yrs is about $767 million per year average divide that by 8 to figure out the cost per percent you get

    $98575000 per 1% of energy for renew

    $10 billion divided by 80 you get

    $125 million per 1% of energy

    for a total difference of about

    $26.5 million per 1%

    and by they way if you didn’t know this already my calculations are based on have 8% renewables per year for the last 30 years when in reality they didn’t produce anywhere near that much except in the last 10 yrs so the difference is negligible at best definitely not making up for the 30-40% higher cost per KWh of renewables. Oh and if I figure in all the recent additions(tax credits etc) the figures will look even worse for renewables.

    With that said renewables will eventually replace fossil fuels but not for a long time due to the high cost of updating the electric grid to the smart grid required to run a country adequately on renewables.

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