While America’s longstanding love affair with fossil fuels is far from over, America’s more recent embrace of renewable energy is going strong.
At first glance, these would seem to be contradictory conclusions.
For example, boosters of wind and solar power are determined to reduce fossil fuel use and to replace it with cleaner-burning renewables. This is happening but only to a degree.
Meanwhile, many oil and natural gas boosters dismiss wind turbines and biofuels as niche products that don’t really supply that much power to keep the lights on or vehicles rolling down the open road. That’s true, up to a point.
U.S. energy production hit an all-time high last year of 79.182 quadrillion BTUs. That number has moved steadily higher over the last five years, after plateauing at around 70 quadrillion BTUs annually over the two decades before 2007.
Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration paint a nuanced — and fascinating — picture of power production. The agency reports that between 2007 and 2012:
•Natural gas production jumped 25 percent, largely because its cost has plummeted.
•Coal production slumped about 15 percent to its lowest level in a quarter century. Coal has been displaced by natural gas at many power plants. The net sum of this trade has been very positive financially for consumers — and for air quality around the country because using natural gas produces fewer harmful emissions than burning coal does.
•Thanks largely to more exploration in North Dakota and Texas, oil production grew 28 percent to its highest level since 1995.
•Meanwhile, wind energy production surged 340 percent. That’s a significant accomplishment toward producing cleaner-burning power. However, wind energy still was just 1.7 percent of the country’s total power production in 2012.
•As for solar power, its production has almost tripled since 2007, yet it remains a statistically insignificant part of the nation’s power grid.
Summed up, the pro-fossil fuel crowd can point to the fact that coal, natural gas and oil still make up 78 percent of total U.S. power production, while renewables are only 11 percent. The remainder comes from nuclear power.
But environmentalists can counter that energy production from renewable sources has risen 100 percent over the last 40 years, while fossil fuel production has limped ahead by just 7 percent.
It’s encouraging that public investments in renewable power — especially wind energy — have begun to pay off in measurable terms. They deserve to be continued in Washington and the states, with Kansas especially well positioned to reap more benefits.
The Kansas City Star