Power struggle

The numbers behind the energy rhetoric


"Everything is about creating jobs." So said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in her keynote address to the 2010 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C., on May 4. She was talking about the enormous economic potential of "green" industries like wind power and energy efficiency. But her words could just as easily have spouted from the lips of a coal executive, defending his company against the specter of climate change legislation.

The war over energy generation and conservation is often framed in terms of jobs and economics. So how do different electricity sources shake out in raw numbers? High Country News took a look at 500 megawatts each of hypothetical new wind and coal power generation -- each requiring approximately $1 billion worth of investment -- in Montana, a state currently aggressively seeking to develop and export both resources. We also looked at a comparable investment in energy efficiency. (The numbers provided here are for electrical generation only and don't include manufacturing or mining.)

Power Struggle article
Michael Mace
Michael Mace
May 30, 2010 10:37 AM
The economic assessment here seems to suggest that the number of jobs created is an important criteria. This is not true, labor is a cost, not a benefit. Using this thinking, we can vastly increase the number of jobs in this country by banning the use of bulldozers on construction projects, thereby requiring armies of workers with shovels (if there's still unemployment, we can ban shovels and make them use thimbles). Would we be better off? Keep in mind that our wages and our standard of living have risen due to the substitution of capital for labor. Perhaps a better strategy for job creation is not to tie small businesses up in bureaucratic knots as we do here in California.

As far as wind energy being relatively cheap, at first glance it may appear so. However, there are additional costs since wind generation is intermittent - it must be supported by continuous (traditional) generation sources. Apparently the electrical "grid" can accommodate only about 20% wind generation before serious system reliability problems arise. Besides, wind generation is despoiling many western vistas. Such are the trade-offs I suppose.