Monday, June 6, 2016

Comments on "Our car runs on the sun"

The June-July 2016 Image article “Our car runs on the sun” not only contained a number of explicit and implicit fallacies, but more importantly it omits the economic and moral aspect of government solar panel and electric car subsidies. Let me explain.

First, the economic side of the issue.  Having personally installed, maintained and used solar panels at my off-grid cottage for more than 20 years, I am very familiar with the technology. It galls me when people speak glowingly of their solar panel installations and completely miss the deliberate negative consequences when government interferes in the market for energy. Basic economics indicates we have abundant, safe, dense and portable fossil fuel supplies to last us centuries, long before which we will certainly have found even better energy sources, with nuclear fusion a most likely candidate I think (and hope). While photovoltaic panels are coming down in price and getting better, they are nowhere near viable as sources of reliable industrial scale energy, costing several times as much as existing energy sources and suffering from being intermittent, unreliable and low in power density.

To build solar panels requires intensive mining for rare earth minerals, often done in third world countries that are less wealthy and so do not take such great care in the handling of toxic by-products and in site restoration. To build electric cars and their huge batteries again requires large amounts of mining for minerals, not to mention all the other industries required to build the car. Then there is the fact that every panel connected to the grid decreases grid reliability and efficiency since, in contrast to existing sources, solar panels spit out power in an unpredictable fashion, forcing reliable power plants to ramp their use of coal, gas, nuclear and hydro up and down to balance the grid second to second. Thus, reliable industrial power sources are made less efficient because of the constant adjusting for solar power. For every kilowatt of solar panel connected, the grid requires 100% backup by a reliable energy source for the majority of the time when the sun doesn’t shine, thus making the whole system more expensive for everyone, harming most those who can least afford deliberately jacked-up prices. When the people harmed most complain, government gives them subsidies too, so they are first being punished and then rewarded for the same thing, both actions being outside the proper role of government.

Now to the moral problem. If solar panels and electric cars were in reality such wonderful products, people would flock to buy them and create a large and viable market for them. Exactly the opposite has happened. Unless government uses money forcibly taken from taxpayers to heavily subsidize panels and cars, almost no one buys them of their own free will and based on their rational judgement. The writer of the article is being paid about ten times the price at which energy can be produced, absent government interference. In truth, he is being paid on the backs of the people who cannot afford to put $20,000 panels on their roof and buy $40,000 cars. This is pure “weathfare” - the more wealthy being subsidized on the backs of the less wealthy, and is immoral since it is a case of government violating the rights of some citizens to benefit others. Ontario’s Auditor General has highlighted how Ontarians have paid tens of billions more for power in recent years than they would have if not for government interference. This has caused great harm to all Ontarians and is blatantly anti-freedom.

While it is tempting to read the simple story of one family and think it is a nice, encouraging story of how to make Ontario better, while it is actually a cautionary tale of the economic destruction, rights violations, inadvertent consequences and immoral outcomes that have to occur when government force interferes in the free decisions of citizens.