Thursday, July 17, 2008

Al Gore’s Numbers on Alternative Energy Don't Add Up

Yesterday, Al Gore challenged Obama and McCain to sign onto a program to produce all of America’s electricity from clean, renewable sources within 10 years. Gore estimates that it will cost between $1.5 trillion and $3 trillion dollars to do so.

It’s clear to me that we need to move aggressively in this direction. World demand for oil is only going to grow stronger as 2.5 billion people in China, India, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe continue to join the global economy. That means higher prices. Also, our enormous dependence on foreign oil puts our country at risk, especially given the rather unpleasant characters that control most of the world’s oil.

However, Al Gore’s numbers on what it will cost to make the shift just don’t add up.

T. Boone Pickens recently announced an initiative to generate 20% of electricity in the U.S. using wind turbines. Pickens estimates that it would cost more than $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years to do this. Even if his plan succeeds, we’d still be generating over half of our electricity from fossil fuels in the form of coal and natural gas in addition to continuing to get over 20% of our electricity from nuclear power. Moving to plug-in electric or hydrogen-electric cars would require the production of a lot more electricity than we produce today.

I’m encouraged that T. Boone Pickens is investing his own money to build the largest wind farm in the U.S. I’m optimistic that the hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital being poured into Silicon Valley solar energy startups will pay huge dividends. Honda’s limited release of a hydrogen fuel cell car is also very exciting.

However, we need to be realistic on the timetable and costs for moving the country to a new energy environment. Gore's numbers won't get us there.

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