Imagine Winter with Green Energy

Merrill Matthews

Imagine if radical environmentalists successfully convinced local officials across the country to drop fossil fuels and instead embrace green energy.

This isn’t farfetched. Cities across the country have been moving in this direction for years.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, environmentalists have managed to convince 29 states to adopt “renewable portfolio standards.”

RPSs require utilities to make sure a specific percentage of the energy they offer is from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. In California, for example, utilities must produce a third of their electricity from renewables by 2020. Maine is aiming for 40 percent by 2017.

One environmental group claims that 96 cities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and a few other countries are making the transition from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy.

But with winter coming, though, it’s worth analyzing what such a world would look like.

Let’s begin with heating. Under this scenario, city residents wouldn’t be able to use heating oil or natural gas because those are fossil fuels. Their access to electricity would most likely depend on wind and solar power.

But there is very little sunshine during snowstorms, and acres of solar panels would likely be covered in snow, anyway.

Wind would be catastrophically expensive. Just look at Massachusetts’ plan to put 130 electricity-generating windmills in Nantucket Sound. After securing a $780 million taxpayer-funded credit and a $150 million loan guarantee from the U.S. government to build the windmills, the two utilities that were willing to pay above-market prices for that energy pulled out of the deal, saying project administrators misled them. Now the project is mired in lawsuits and doubt.

Streets would also remain covered in snow all winter.

After all, without fossil fuels, city-owned snowplows would be limited to the distance a fully charged battery provides. But batteries don’t get electric vehicles very far on a single charge, between 50 and 80 miles — and that’s for very lightweight cars. Snowplows and dump trucks are heavy machinery doing energy-consuming work, like scooping up snow and transporting it to the countryside.

In short, city life would quickly turn into city death without fossil fuels.

Thankfully, Americans have ready access to fossil fuels to heat (and cool) their homes and to power their cars.

Americans’ need for fossil fuels becomes particularly strong as the temperature drops. Last winter saw record low temperatures in midwest cities and record snowfalls in New England. And yet, fossil fuels were able to meet the demand.

As U.S. energy demand continues to increase, oil and natural gas will still provide most of the energy the country needs. The federal government’s Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. oil production will average 9.3 million barrels a day this year. Fossil fuels provide 67 percent of our energy today, and the EIA estimates that renewable energy sources will only account for 16 percent by 2040.

Alternative sources simply can’t create enough energy to help Americans through blizzards and extreme winters.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas.