Increases in efficiency, solar, wind and biomass threats to fossil fuel interests

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Fossil fuels remain the dominant global energy source. But increases in efficiency, solar, wind and biomass are seen as long-term threats to fossil fuel interests. While roughly 40 percent of our electricity is still produced from coal and slightly less than 1 percent of utility customers get power from their solar arrays, solar installations are on the rise. In 2013, the 29 percent of new generating capacity from solar nearly tripled the 10 percent of installations in 2012.

A report from the Edison Electric Institute warned that if state incentives are not rolled back, “it may be too late to repair the utility business model.”

Efforts to roll back the solar revolution are multifaceted. One focus is that of imposing a tax on homeowners who sell power back to utilities. The effort succeeded in Oklahoma and Arizona, but failed in Kansas. In Ohio, efforts are under way to freeze or roll back standards calling for a percentage of electricity coming from renewable energy. Requirements in 43 states that compel utilities to buy excess power from rooftop solar installations are also being challenged in some states.

Another attack on renewable energy that appeared in The New York Times was countered by Charles Komanoff, a keynote speaker at a renewable energy fair. He indicated the article had cast Germany’s move away from fossil fuels and nuclear in favor of a rapid increase in the use of renewable energy as an incipient failure.

Komanoff cites a September Foreign Affairs article by Paul Hockenos that points to the achievements of the German Energy Revolution while acknowledging the challenges it poses to the German electric grid and society as a whole. Hockenos credits the energy transition for the booming industrial and service sector based on renewables. He describes the German switch to clean power as a new industrial revolution that is causing uncomfortable change to their entire society.

By 2013, more than 20 percent of German electrical production came from renewable sources — wind, biomass, solar and municipal wastes. The output is roughly three times that of the comparable U.S. percentage, even though it is farther north and has more cloudy weather.

All major energy sources in the United States are subsidized, and emerging technologies often rely on subsidies to initiate technological advances. The $30 billion invested in wind generation in the Midwest since 1994 was driven by federal subsidies and state incentives.

If the damaging effects of climate change are to be lessened, it is important to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. As ocean levels rise and acidity levels within the oceans increase, droughts and floods intensify and polar ice caps melt, investments in efficiency and renewable energy are essential and increasingly cost-effective.

Solar also provides a measure of energy security when the grid goes down during storms, provides electricity during the heat of summer, lessening the demand on the grid and helping to keep overall electrical costs lower, and lowers carbon releases.

Efficiency and renewable energy sources are not costly failures. As new business interests, they are being attacked because their successes are adversely affecting older existing businesses.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the May 14-20, 2014, issue

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