Is an all-green energy strategy worth the cost? | Don Brunell

What if we could peer into the future and see the consequences of the decisions we make today?  In a way, we can.

According to Washington state economists, a carbon tax high enough to achieve Gov. Inslee’s stated climate change goals would increase gasoline prices almost 60 percent over time and raise natural gas prices – currently our most affordable energy – nearly 35 percent.  The carbon tax is only one part of Inslee’s climate change agenda.  How much will the rest of it cost Washington families?

At this point, we don’t know precisely how the governor’s energy agenda will affect our economy.  But we can see that a misguided and mismanaged “green” agenda can cripple a nation’s economy and stick struggling families with the bill.

Germany has launched a program to virtually eliminate the use of fossil fuel and nuclear energy by 2050.  Called Energiewende, or energy revolution, it seeks to build a nationwide infrastructure of wind and solar power at an estimated cost of one trillion euros.  Chancellor Angela Merkel says, “No country of Germany’s scale has pursued such a radical shift in its energy supply.”

Well, that much is true.  And judging from the results, no country will.

The program has been marked by poor judgment, ineptitude and mind-boggling cost overruns.

To take advantage of more consistent winds, the government encouraged wind producers to site their turbines offshore.  But to protect shoreline ecosystems, the wind farms were pushed up to 60 miles offshore, where rough seas and construction challenges have sent costs soaring.

Electricity generated by wind farms in northern Germany must be moved to the industrial south, but The Wall Street Journal reports that Germany has no north-south transmission line. The government must build and upgrade more than 4,000 miles of high-voltage power lines, but because of delays, community opposition and indecision, only 220 miles have been completed.

To encourage expansion of wind and solar power, the German government set guaranteed prices for renewable energy developers, paid for by surcharges on people’s electricity bills.

Der Spiegel, Germany’s version of Time magazine, reports that this year German consumers will be forced to pay $26 billion for electricity that sells for less than $4 billion on the open market. More than 300,000 German families a year have their electricity cut off because of unpaid bills.  There’s even a name for it:  energy poverty.

Energy costs for employers have jumped 60 percent over five years and nearly 75 percent of Germany’s small and midsize companies say rising energy costs are a major risk, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Global giant BASF, which has more than 50,000 employees in Germany, announced in May it would substantially reduce its investments there because of the country’s energy policy.  A major German industrial gas company cited the risky energy policies when it shelved plans to expand production there, opting instead to build in France.

Ironically, Washington state has benefited from Germany’s problems.

Citing Washington’s affordable electricity, SGL Carbon, a German maker of carbon-based products for BMW autos, decided to invest $200 million in a new plant in Moses Lake instead of investing in its home country.

Germany’s climate change agenda is putting its entire economy at risk, even though it contributes little more than two percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Will we do the same?

Our state contributes only 3/10th of one percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.  Even if we gutted our economy with crushing “green” regulations, would it have any impact on global climate?  Will it be worth the cost?

As Gov. Inslee develops his climate change policy to be announced next year, he needs to answer those questions.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.