Debate over clean energy funding resurfaces; critics say funding is excessive, produces few victories; supporters say not enough is spent on producing complex technologies
November 15, 2011
– A roundup of recent news articles on the gold rush of subsidies for large-scale energy projects from Obama Administration stimulus spending make the case that the public’s money is being wasted, Time Magazine reported Nov. 15.
Critics of the funding say the federal government’s US$172 billion spent from 1961 to 2008 produced few winners. Supporters of the funding argue the government is not spending enough money, citing that such subsidies, to the tune of $66 billion in 2010 for renewable power, are nothing compared with the $409 billion in subsidies spent that same year on fossil fuels. Established industries such as coal and oil — in spite of adding up to 80% of worldwide energy use — are typically less in need of government help due to their maturity.
The articles criticizing green funding may be overstating the cost of green subsidies. NRG Energy, whose $1.6 billion California Valley Solar Ranch was nearly all funded by the government, said a majority of the money consists of loans that must be repaid.
The Council on Foreign Relations said that the $172 billion spent on clean energy over the last some 30 years was a small sum compared to the $30 trillion spent on fossil fuels and electricity infrastructure. Additionally, research deemed an initial failure during that time, such as President Jimmy Carter’s synthetic fuels campaign that spent billions to create liquid fuel from coal but tanked alongside oil prices in the 1980s, led to carbon capture and storage technology and coal gasification methods still in use today.
Also, private venture capital, as well as defense research, is given a wider berth for high failure rates on the road to success, a leeway that should also be given to complex energy research. Such research requires such massive changes and trillion-dollar funding to make inroads toward reversing climate change, a goal that demands significant public investment.
The primary source of this article is Time Magazine, New York, New York, Nov. 15, 2011.