Obama’s Energy Delusion

As spring bloomed, the president addressed the nation on energy. The president told us, “Without our planning for the future, it will get worse … The oil and natural gas that we rely on for 75 percent of our energy is simply running out.”

Unless profound changes are made in the next decade, the president warned, the world will demand more oil than it can produce. He called for “strict conservation” and switching to “permanent renewable energy sources like solar power.” Because such sources promise future energy independence—or at least according to the president—his administration would spend billions of taxpayer dollars on wind, solar, and biodiesel, plus offer massive “clean energy” subsidies.

No, the president is not Barack Obama, and the speech was not delivered in 2012. It was President Jimmy Carter, speaking on April 18, 1977.

Since that time, American oil and natural gas production has skyrocketed. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that natural gas consumption has doubled since 1980, production is at an all-time high, imports are at a 20-year low and heating expenses are the lowest in a decade>. Meanwhile, the latest recession barely affected North Dakota, a state rich in oil and natural gas.

President Carter’s speech sounds familiar because it is based on the same flawed assumptions that underlie many current politicians’ belief that wise and enlightened central planners in Washington can manage the countless and infinitely complex transactions and calculations that comprise a $14-trillion-dollar national economy.

These politicians hold on to these flawed beliefs despite being regularly embarrassed by them. For example, a recent Capitol Confidential article and video showed President Obama and two senators from Michigan praising a heavily subsidized “green energy” battery manufacturer that is now under severe financial stress and has had its federal money pulled. Another Capitol Confidential piece reported a litany of similar embarrassments on a YouTube channel created by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Economist F.A. Harper once wrote, “If the planner could plan discovery for others, he probably would have made that discovery himself in the first place. If he is more able in this respect than the others, he is wasting his time not to do it himself; if he is less able, he can hardly plan it for others who are more able than he is.”

It’s much easier for politicians to make plans with other peoples’ money. It would show real leadership for government to actually do less.

Jarrett Skorup is a 2009 graduate of Grove City College and former student fellow at The Center for Vision & Values. He is the research associate for online engagement for Michigan Capitol Confidential at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Centers are properly cited. Mr. Skorup can be reached at Skorup@mackinac.org.

Cover Photo Credit: Inhabitat.com

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  • Joe DeVet

    As a former Midland Michigander (a strange bird!), I am happy to see that something good can come from Midland!  Good article.

    Obama’s subsidies of “green” energy ideas are not only wasteful, but are corrupt.  Taxpayer dollars are showered on politically-friendly companies, who “tithe” the federal gifts back to the Obama re-election campaign.  It’s a campaign funding, money laundering scheme.

    Instead of this, let free-market pricing, which amounts to a signaling mechanism, give free-market entrepreneurs the signal when newer forms of energy are appropriate to invest in.  Stop wasting our tax dollars, and ruining our country’s credit worthiness.

    Let us Catholics remember that what applies to the energy industry also applies to other areas of the economy.  Namely health care.  For whatever else health care is, it is an economic phenomenon.  As a result, the free market will deliver better results than any central-planning scheme, no matter how much the USCCB might lobby for them.  It’s good that the USCCB has awakened to the threat of one of these schemes, Obamacare, and overdue for them to realize that any socialized-medicine system will pose similar moral problems.  Unfortunately, they seem to think that Obamacare would be just fine if only a few specific flaws in it could be corrected.

    They are wrong.

  • Poppiexno

    During the Carter administration era I was heavily involved in the evaluation of photovoltaic technology (direct conversion of sunlight into electric energy) with a private company. The technology was nowhere close to being competitive with electricity generated by fossil fuel or nuclear power. It still isn’t!
    The appeal to convert sunlight into electricity is seductive.  After all, sunlight is free and abundant. But the technology to convert the sunlight into electricity is definitely not free.
     Consider: 1. While sunlight may be free and abundant, the intensity of the light on a square yard of panels provides only a relatively low amount of electricity.  That’s why pictures of installations show large arrays of panels. 2. The panels only provide electricity when the sun is shining.  So if you want to use that electricity at some other time  
    you need to store it for future use. You have now added the cost of a battery. 3. Solar panel provide DC electricity. That’s OK for lightbulbs and resistance heating, but it is not OK for electric motors which require AC electricity. So if you want to use that electricity to power electric motors you must add a device called an inverter – .another item of cost.
    4. One of the major contributors to the cost of a complete solar electric system is the cost of the glass to protect the solar cells.  But the production of plate glass is a mature industry with a huge volume output.  It is not likely that that cost can be reduced.
     Solar energy technology is a prime example that there is no such thing as a free lunch. It is also an example of the greed of people willing to accept taxpayer money for their own purposes.  Government officials who give this money are either naïve or nefarious.  Despite liberals attempts to cripple the free market system it still has some life in it.  If
    solar energy were economically competitive,  entrepreneurs would be producing systems without using taxpayer money.