Renewable energy sources offer many potential environmental benefits, including the reduction of air pollution, carbon emissions, and other consequences of energy extraction and production. To date, however, many renewable energy sources have had difficulty breaking into energy production markets. Despite decades of federal subsidies and other support, it often remains difficult to offer renewable energy at a competitive rate.
Many argue that the best way to promote renewable energy sources, such as wind power, is to offer yet more federal subsidies, tax incentives, and the like. In this article on NRO — another contribution to NRO's "Energy Week" — I suggest a different tack: Reducing regulatory obstacles to alternative energy projects. One of the largest hurdles for major wind projects, for example, are regulatory requirements that increase costs, induce delays, and offer NIMBY activists opportunity to strangle such projects in the crib. Though well-intentioned, some of the regulatory requirements imposed on wind, wave, and other power projects have the effect of stalling the advance of alternative energy technologies. I conclude:
Alternative energy advocates often bemoan the lack of a "level playing field" for renewable energy, recommending additional federal subsidies as the solution. Yet renewable energy sources already receive generous financial support from the Department of Energy and other government sources. In practice, such funding does little to bring commercially viable facilities on line.
To promote alternative energy development, there's no need for more handouts. Instead the government should get out of the way. If the goal is to increase actual alternative energy production, and increase the proportion of renewable energy that supplies electricity to American consumers, the best thing the federal government can do is reduce or remove regulatory obstacles to energy entrepreneurship and innovation. If renewable energies are to capture a sizable share of the energy market, what they need, more than anything else, is regulatory room to compete.
UPDATE: Well, it did not take long for me to receive hate mail for this article. A representative of the Industrial Wind Action Group, an anti-wind power organization, has already e-mailed to say my article is "uninformed babble" consisting of "easy recitations borrowed from the renewables industry." Given my criticism here and elsewhere of federal renewable energy subsidies, I am sure that the renewables industry has a different take.