Conventional Wisdom is Terrible
'All of the Above' Is a Terrible Strategy
Eli Lehrer rejects the common political wisdom on developing new sources of energy.
Even as Republicans, rightly, accuse of him waging a "war on coal," President Obama has spent millions running commercials criticizing Romney's own past anti-coal statements. Romney, while criticizing President Obama's subsidies for alternative energy, runs on a platform that promises "to aggressively develop alternative sources for electricity generation such as wind, hydro, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal energy" and has been mostly silent about ending alternative energy subsidies.
"All of the above" sounds nice, and may win votes, but the evidence shows it certainly doesn't reduce prices -- at least in North America. (U.S. and Canadian power grids are integrated along North-South lines, so energy discussions should consider the continent as a whole.) Big political subdivisions like New York, California and Ontario that have a mix of coal, gas, hydro, nuclear power plants have the highest energy costs in North America. (Click here for U.S. data and here for Canadian.) On the other hand, locales like Idaho, Quebec, and Manitoba (almost all hydro), West Virginia and Missouri (almost all coal) had much cheaper power. Major sub-divisions like Pennsylvania that had just two major sources of power (coal and nuclear) had lower power rates than those that tried everything. Of course, any number of geographic, resource and regulatory factors, determine power rates but, at minimum, it's clear that broad power portfolios don't reduce prices.
Of course, price isn't everything -- environmental consequences matter too. Here, however, it's worth noting that heavy use of emissions-free hydro power correlates strongly with lower power rates. (Capacity for hydro in the lower 48 states is essentially tapped out, but there's a lot left undeveloped in Canadian rivers that already export a lot of power south of their border.) The other two genuinely promising emissions-free energy sources, nuclear and wind, also need significant economies of scale to be at all effective.