Ken Braun: German-style green energy boondoggle averted when Michigan …

September 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

On Election Day last November, Michigan rejected the “25 by 25” ballot proposal. It would have nailed a renewable energy mandate into the state constitution, requiring at least 25 percent of the state’s electric power be generated by “renewable” sources by 2025. It was similar to existing standards in the European Union, requiring 20 percent renewable power by 2020.

Over the last year, news from Germany – the EU’s biggest industrial economy and an aggressive adopter of the renewable standard – has put a spotlight on the boondoggle Michigan averted in 2012.

“Renewable” sources would include wind, solar, biomass, and hydro-electric dams. Support for “25 by 25” came from labor unions, faith leaders, and green energy companies with a financial interest in the inherent subsidy.

The Economist reports Germans were getting 22 percent of their electricity from renewables, as of last year, and plan to zoom that all the way to 48 percent by 2022. The details are messier than the “clean” energy.

By 2011, German industry was already forking over more than twice the price that Americans were paying for electricity. German homes and small businesses were paying almost three times as much as Americans.

“How Electricity Became a Luxury Good,” blared a headline last week in Der Spiegel, the German magazine. Noting Germans pay the highest energy prices in Europe, the article says the nation’s “aggressive and reckless expansion of wind and solar power” has hit the poor particularly hard.

The rapid wind and solar expansion has created a convoluted system of green subsidies, industrial subsidies, and backup systems based on fossil fuels and more. As a result, the nation saw a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions last year. And a cross-subsidy forces households to absorb more of the higher energy costs so German industry can remain somewhat competitive.

More than 300,000 German households per year have their power shut off due to unpaid bills. Der Spiegle profiles a charity giving away energy-saving light bulbs so families can both keep the power on and enjoy hot meals.

In addition to relying on coal-fired power plants when the wind and sun won’t cooperate, the Economist reported in April that 38 percent of Germany’s “renewable” energy comes from burning wood, which emits carbon dioxide. While the carbon is eventually absorbed if new trees are planted, it can take up to a century to get back to “carbon neutrality.”

Thus, another big reason why the carbon emissions are increasing.

And in what the Economist calls “environmental lunacy,” Germany and other nations don’t have nearly enough domestic biomass to support this wood-burning habit, so more and more is imported from North America. This necessitates fossil-fueled ships to bring it over and more energy output to grind it into burnable pellets.

Some EU nations meet up to 80 percent of their “renewable” mandate by burning wood. Wood prices spiked 60 percent after 2011 in what one industry representative says is a market “invented from nothing.”

The rapid expansion of ever larger and louder windmills into every corner of the nation is also marring the landscape and pitting “tranquility of nature” environmentalists against those worried over climate change. The only winners appear to be farmers who get paid to accept the windmills and green energy corporations getting paid to build and run them.

Like Germany, Michigan relies on heavy industry needing large infusions of power. Michigan was just emerging from one economic “lost decade” in 2012. It was wise that almost two-thirds of the voters that year didn’t support hammering another failed decade into the hard-to-change language of the state constitution.

Ken Braun was a legislative aide for a Republican lawmaker in the Michigan House and worked for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He has assisted in a start-up effort to encourage employers to provide economic education to employees, and is currently the director of policy for His employer is not responsible for what he says here … or in Spartan Stadium on game days.

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