With electric power going out in those parts of Florida and Texas where powerful hurricanes have made landfall, now would be a good time to assess the long-term viability of America's energy grid. If you are someone who has grown accustomed to reliable and affordable energy sources, and are now suddenly without power, try to imagine what that might be like on a regular basis.
Although global warming alarmists have predictably made every effort to link Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with higher greenhouse gas levels, the real threat to American energy comes not from global warming, but from misguided global warming policies.
That much is made evident in a highly detailed report the U.S. Department of Energy has just released on "electricity markets and reliability" that should be instructive to federal and state policymakers. One key finding that stands out is the impact government regulations, mandates and subsidies have on current and future energy needs. As variable renewable energy has gained traction within the energy grid, it has become more difficult and challenging to meet growing energy needs, according to the report.
That's because wind and solar energy sources cannot stand on their own two feet without government intervention. Unlike their fossil counterparts, renewable energy sources are intermittent, unreliable, and expensive. But they did gain political favor during the Obama administration as a way to mitigate the potential effects of man-made global warming. Since a growing number of scientists now identify natural influences, as opposed to human emissions, as the primary drivers of climate change, it's time to let solar and wind energy rise and fall on their own merits. The government subsidies and mandates that prop up renewable energy have contributed to the "premature retirement of baseload power plants," the study says. The lesson here is that what is politically fashionable and trendy does not always make sense economically or scientifically.
So, is there room for renewable energy to operate effectively in the absence of government intervention?
The Institute for Energy Research has released its own report titled "The Solar Value Cliff" that addresses this very question and concludes that at "low penetration levels" solar power can alleviate stress on the electricity grid. However, IER also finds that solar energy "contributes no additional capacity to the grid at a penetration level of 6 percent or beyond. Indeed, additional solar above the threshold is actively harmful to the ability of operators to maintain the capacity of the grid because it undermines the economics of those energy sources that must continue to provide the capacity to meet peak demand."
Put simply, solar could have a constructive, but limited role as part of a mixed approach to energy unfettered from government directives.
Ideally, it would be best not to politicize the human tragedies that flow out of natural disasters like Harvey and Irma. Contrary to what has been reported by some media outlets, the extreme weather conditions that have occurred recently are not out of proportion what has happened historically. In fact, in the past 140 years, major landfall hurricanes have actually declined even as CO2 has risen.
The population centers that are most vulnerable to severe weather are the ones that stand to lose the most if unworkable, inefficient energy displaces fossil fuels that have raised living standards across the globe. In fact, there's an argument to be made that the oil and gas industry has saved lives that would have otherwise perished in the recent hurricanes.
There will always be challenges to humanity in the form of extreme weather, but we'll be better positioned to handle natural disasters in the future if policymakers embrace technological innovation and responsible industrial development rather than unfounded global warming hysteria.
Kevin Mooney (@KevinMooneyDC) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. who writes for several national publications.
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