Analyzing Joe Biden’s “ambitious plan for tackling climate change” that the Democratic presidential candidate unveiled last month, The Washington Post said it showed how far the party has moved on the issue since the Barack Obama administration.
A look at the details of the proposal, specifically in eliminating carbon-generating sources to produce electricity, also shows that Biden’s goals are unrealistic. Even worse, his plan relies greatly on a power generator that carries a different risk.
The Post said that in 2019, fossil fuels generated 62% of America’s electricity, while “clean fuels” were responsible for the remaining 38%.
Almost half of that clean power comes from familiar sources. Wind and hydroelectric generation each produced 7% of the nation’s electricity. Solar power produced another 3%, while biomass and geothermal fuels made up another 1%.
That’s less than half of the clean-fuel share. The remaining half comes from nuclear power, which certainly does not release carbon into the atmosphere but just as certainly creates its own set of environmental risks.
So if you move nuclear power into a separate “not carbon but not clean” category, that means less than one-fifth of America’s electricity comes from clean, renewable sources, such as wind, solar and water. Biden’s proposal, which sounds like a retooled version of 2019’s controversial Green New Deal, is to get the country all the way to clean-generated electricity by 2035 — just 15 years from now.
Will we move toward this goal? Almost certainly. Solar-power technology has improved rapidly in the last few years, and virtually every residential and business rooftop in the country has the potential to install a few panels and soak up the sun for most of its electrical needs.
But it’s important to remember that while solar power generation has grown rapidly, it still only produces 3% of the country’s electricity. It’s the same story for wind turbines, which only produce 7%. The large and growing energy demands of our country indicate that it’s going to take a lot longer than 15 years before we don’t need oil, natural gas and coal to produce some of our electricity.
Nevertheless, we do need to aim high — in the same way NASA did through the 1960s. The world can still argue about global warming, but when the real frozen tundra — the permafrost in Siberia, not Lambeau Field in Green Bay — is thawing, it’s clear that something’s amiss.
Biden proposes to spend $2 trillion to remove carbon from electricity generators, to weatherize homes and commercial buildings, and upgrade the nation’s transportation system.
Most likely, such a plan would cost far more than $2 trillion. We’ve spent $3 trillion just this year for coronavirus economic protection, and more of that is coming. Government rarely gets praised for efficient spending, so it’s easy to predict that a nationwide retrofitting program would be riddled with waste.
A dose of reality must be part of any push for clean electricity. Efforts to address global warming will have to be tempered by the public’s ability and willingness to pay for it. Let’s aim high and think differently, but let’s also be honest about the limitations that do exist.