Weak on energy

Oct. 3, 2016
For a debate addressing security, prosperity, and "America's direction," the Sept. 26 contest between major-party presidential candidates made strikingly little time for energy.

For a debate addressing security, prosperity, and "America's direction," the Sept. 26 contest between major-party presidential candidates made strikingly little time for energy. Americans should be relieved. When Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump did speak to the subject in Hempstead, NY, they didn't inspire confidence.

Clinton dragged "clean energy" into a discourse about jobs. "We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels," she declared. "We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That's a lot of jobs. That's a lot of new economic activity."

Intolerable burdens

Actually, that's a lot of rubbish. Her program would impose intolerable burdens on energy consumers and the federal treasury. When liberals like her fantasize about energy, they ignore dreadfully much.

Three days before Clinton spoke, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) in Houston estimated the cost of Clinton's plan to install 500 million solar panels by 2020 would start at $205.8 billion. That excludes costs of the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency's judicially challenged program to force states to adopt federal energy choices.

The IER assumes the EPA initiative survives and is implemented, leaving 83 Gw of solar capacity to be installed to meet Clinton's goal. It cites Energy Information Administration estimates that costs of new photovoltaic solar capacity amount to $2.48 billion/Gw. Multiplying those values yields IER's number.

Other costs would arise for peaking capacity needed to compensate for the intermittency of solar energy and for the inefficiency of curtailing cheaper baseload generation when the sun shines. "If the solar build-out occurs in Clinton's plan," IER says, "more and more plants will be used inefficiently in the middle of the day-first turned off and then turned back on quickly as the sun is setting."

Yet the conservative think-tank doubts the country needs half a billion solar panels. According to EIA, it says, the US must add 122 Gw of electrical capacity to replace premature retirements related to the Clean Power Plan and to meet new demand. Utilities already plan to add 51 Gw of capacity fueled by natural gas and renewable energy. "If Hillary Clinton's plan is executed, the nation will be paying for additional capacity that is not needed just to reach a spurious goal," IER says.

Not to be underperformed on energy, Trump repeated his "take the oil" bombast while criticizing Clinton about US policy toward Iraq and the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Trump said ISIS formed partly because of the "vacuum" left after the US withdrew military forces from Iraq while Clinton was secretary of state.

"Had we taken the oil-and we should have taken the oil-ISIS would not have been able to form either because the oil was their primary source of income," he said. "And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil-a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters."

The best that can be said about this is that the facts are wrong. ISIS oil revenue is known to be down sharply because of a combination of airstrikes, territorial losses, and production declines from fields the group still controls, mostly in Syria. This isn't new. Oil sales had fallen below half of total ISIS revenue by the end of last year.


Worse than ignorance about current affairs is Trump's recklessness with incendiary subjects. Oil not produced can't be "taken" anywhere. It's inseparable from its habitat. Claiming oil thus means claiming land in which it resides. Especially in the Middle East, that means conquest. If that's not what Trump intends, he needs to soften the rhetoric and renounce earlier bluster, which makes him look, not strong, but inept.

Clinton and Trump will debate again Oct. 9 in St. Louis. The hopeful observation is that, on energy, neither of them can do much worse.