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Obama’s Solar Energy Fantasy

In true postmodern fashion, objective facts have vanished in the mist of a progressive wish.

by
Jeff Perren

Bio

July 24, 2010 - 12:00 am

Obama has now committed $2 billion more of the taxpayers’ money to pursue his solar energy fantasy:

Abound Solar is supposed to create 1,500 “permanent” jobs, while Abengoa Solar is promising just 85 “permanent” jobs, according to the Department of Energy fact sheet, at its plant in Arizona. Add another 3,600 construction jobs, which will disappear after the three plants are built, and the cost per job created still amounts to $386,000 — which is more than seven times the median household income in this country.

Forget for a moment the absurdly high cost of government-created jobs. Forget the boondoggle, the corruption of handing out huge sums to politically connected companies. There are more fundamental problems here.

This is more than a repeat of the 19th century’s error of subsidizing railroad construction. That effort had disastrous results, with huge sums and effort wasted. It led to massive corruption, as congressmen were bribed to continue the subsidies. The roads didn’t pay.

According to Prof. Burton Folsom of Hillsdale College, author of The Myth of the Robber Barons:

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific were poorly built railroads, they went broke, and both cost the nation over $60,000,000 to build  – a sum higher than the total national debt just a decade before they were built.

Here, though, the situation is even worse than simple crony capitalism, given its unique 21st century twist. The wrinkle is that at least in the 1860s it was possible to deploy a technology that could conceivably fulfill its purpose. Trains could potentially deliver freight and passengers from point A to B in a cost-effective way. No such claim can be made for large-scale solar power technology, at present.

It would be bad enough for the federal government to subsidize the construction of solar power projects if they worked. It would still be an inefficient use of resources; it would still exceed its constitutionally enumerated powers; it would still be an immoral redistribution of wealth to politically connected companies. But at least in that case American taxpayers — somewhere — might get a Hoover Dam out of the deal. In this instance, that’s simply impossible.

There is no known solar technology that can reliably deliver large-scale power in a cost-effective way. There is nothing even in the research stages that promises that result anytime soon, if we just throw enough R&D money at the right company. This is nothing less than a sheer waste of public funds to create a mere appearance, a chimera to satisfy the vanity of a powerful Green demagogue longing to appear visionary.

In true postmodern fashion, objective facts have vanished in the mist of a progressive wish.

The projects can’t actually improve the environment through the deployment of huge solar panels. Installing large panels takes large tracts of land in sunny areas, usually far from electricity consumers. That means building more roads, stringing longer cable, and handling more cadmium (a heavy metal needed to produce the panels). That’s before even considering liberal shibboleths like producing copious greenhouse gases and disrupting the habitat of native desert species.

No matter. In the manner of applying failed Keynesian economics to energy production, just build them ever bigger and what seems like a drawback magically becomes an advantage. Parallel to the economic error, such projects look only at the immediately visible effects, not the whole picture.

They can’t actually create power economically. Because of clouds and seasonal variations, all solar power plants require backup from other sources, such as coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants. That’s solving the problem twice, increasing the costs. And that doesn’t even count the still woefully low efficiency of current solar technology, technology no one yet knows how to radically improve.

No problem, according to the postmodernist. Just pretend. Pretend hard enough and circumstances will comply. No need to feel constrained any longer by objective reality; there’s no such thing. There are only different perspectives. Just wish upon a star and your dreams can come true.

Spot a contradiction in the plan? Just take a “wider perspective” and all contradictions vanish in the haze of “competing narratives.” Hegel’s philosophy has been Disneyfied by Dewey’s followers and the resultant over-made up hag is ravaging American energy policy.

But reality always has the last word and it’s never soft on self-deluded dreamers. Unfortunately for us, it’s even harder on those forced to go along for the ride and pay the fare besides, especially on a train going nowhere.

Jeff Perren is a freelance writer. Educated in philosophy and physics, the lure of writing soon outweighed science. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and blogs at Shaving Leviathan.
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