December 7, 2009

Most subsidies still go to dirty, polluting fossil fuels

Another report from the New York Times tells how in the US, most government subsidies for energy research goes to polluting fossil fuels and unsafe nuclear energy:

Despite a lot of promises, no one so far has wanted to pay the extra costs to make wind and solar more than a trivial energy source. Research is uncertain and expensive, and the benefits seem far away.

So while all kinds of domestic energy technologies are being advanced in the name of energy independence, most of the money and attention are still focused on the dirty but cheaper standbys: offshore oil, oil sands and coal, in all its various incarnations, from straight out of the pit to black-coal liquid.

“You have fossil fuels competing with renewable fuels,” said Benjamin Kroposki, a senior scientist at the Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Renewables lose every time.”

One example is the shotgun approach to tax incentives, loan guarantees and other spending in the 2005 energy act, the first major energy legislation enacted by Congress in a decade: $13.1 billion for oil, gas and coal, $12 billion for nuclear energy and $7.7 billion divided up among a wide assortment of renewables like ethanol, hydroelectric, wind and solar.

Now that they are in control of Congress, Democrats have promised to increase the amount going to renewable energy sources, taking the money from tax breaks for oil companies.

But even additional money for renewable energy will be going up against government tax policies that encourage more energy consumption. Companies can still deduct purchases of sport utility vehicles and utility bills, for example, while consumers get a break to build bigger homes with deductions for interest payments on mortgages, even on second homes, that far outweigh their energy saving credits.

Meanwhile, fuel efficiency standards for automobiles have changed only slightly over the decades, and the federal government still does not have a building code to encourage energy efficiency.

The graphic (from NYT) shows that fossil fuels are projected to rise significantly, while renewables remain well below the levels the world (and the US) need to reach by 2020 and 2030.

(Via Sean Kidney.)

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