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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Clean Energy?

 Cross-posted from Renewable Energy Report

A recent study published in the subscription only Nature Climate Change (which I do not have a subscription for) found the price Americans are willing to pay to have 80 percent "clean" energy by 2035. Drum roll please  ...$13 bucks a month.

The researchers went a step further and calculated that the cost would have to drop even further to overcome political barriers:
"The researchers — Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen and Anthony A. Leiserowitz — ran a what-if exercise and found the current level of public support insufficient to overcome entrenched opposition in Congress.
Majority rule does not really apply there, of course: getting anything controversial through the Senate, for example, requires 60 votes to break filibusters. With some number-crunching and assumptions about how preferences back home would influence the votes of lawmakers, the researchers found that the annual added cost per household of a clean energy policy would have to drop below $59 a year to pass the current Senate and below $48 a year to pass the current House."

Ignore for a moment the fact that there is no consensus as to what constitutes a clean energy source. The survey also assumed that 80 percent "clean" energy was technologically and economically feasible, which is about as useful as asking people how much they would be willing to pay to vacation on Mars.

Their willingness to pay declined if nuclear or natural gas were included in the definition of "clean." Not having access to the full study, and judging by the name of the journal, I am assuming that by clean, they meant sources that produce the least amount of greenhouse gases:

Justin Gillis of the NYT interprets this to mean that ...

"If we are going to bother with it at all, the public seems to feel, we might as well go deep green."

Riiight  ...deep green, whatever that means. Almost all "deep green" energy today, depending on definition, comes from the combustion of plant material and the damming of river ecosystems. Scaling either one up will exacerbate the extinction crisis. Read Will mega-dams destroy the Amazon? Then read Wildlife in the tropics plummets by over 60 percent.

Over the last 20 years renewable energy in the U.S. has gone from 11% of our mix to 10%. From How wind power fits into our energy diet:

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club have recently joined forces to try to stop a solar project in California:

"...the Calico project covers 4,000 plus acres of important wildlife habitat in the Pisgah Valley, including key desert tortoise habitat.  Building this solar power plant would also threaten at least six other imperiled species such as burrowing owls, golden eagles, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, Nelson’s bighorn sheep and several rare plants."

Photo courtesy of j03via Flickr

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