Opinion

The Great Debate

Why the shift to alternate energies continues, despite shale boom

Thousands of solar panels are pictured generating electricity used at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas

Oil prices are rising as uncertainty grows over the fate of major producers like Russia and Iraq. Everything from transportation to manufacturing to a petroleum-intensive agricultural system is a puppet flailing on the strings of this volatile commodity.

Meanwhile, increased production of alternative power is finally making prices more competitive, particularly for solar energy, as former Vice President Al Gore recently pointed out in Rolling Stone. Costs have declined dramatically — 20 percent a year since 2010. This is not yet reflected in energy prices, however, largely because of the major tax breaks still extended to the dirty technology of the past.

Yet this shift to alternative energies is inexorable. The recent boom in natural gas from shale, which has glutted the market with cheap fuel, has delayed it. But as oil costs rise, the transition to alternative energy is again poised to accelerate.

Roughly 49 percent of new U.S. electrical-generating capacity in 2012 came from renewables. Battery storage and other aspects of solar technology are also now cheaper and far more efficient.

Wind turbines are seen in the distance beyond hills, blackened by the Silver Fire near BanningSolar still accounts for a small percentage of U.S. energy use. The United States currently produces 10 gigawatts of solar a year, powering about 2.4 million homes. But in the past five years, solar-power consumption has increased at a compound annual growth rate of 63.2 percent.

America’s path to alternative energy runs through Brazil

Mitt Romney alone can no longer be saddled with the label of most obvious flip-flopper among this year’s presidential candidates. That honor instead belongs to Barack Obama, whose 180 on the Keystone XL pipeline construction last week was sufficient to induce whiplash among oil industry executives and green advocates alike.

In an effort to actually make good on his “all of the above” energy policy, promoting both fossil fuel and renewable energy, President Obama had no choice but to pull off a neck-twisting reversal. Five months ago he postponed a decision on whether to build a controversial $7 billion pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands fuel down to Texas refineries. But it turns out that was only a temporary sop to the activists who see the structure as both an environmental threat as well as the embodiment of reckless Big Oil greed.

Now, with his opponents falsely equating current high oil prices with Obama’s perceived inaction on domestic energy development, Obama is acting differently. He’s scrambling to counter them by not only reconsidering the earlier postponement but actually accelerating the pipeline’s build as a national priority.

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