FACT CHECK: How Renewable is Renewable Energy?

CLAIM: Many Democratic Presidential candidates have put forward policy positions that would have devastating impacts for our nation’s energy industry.  That includes labeling the energy industry a “criminal enterprise,” as well as some candidates calling for a “total moratorium” on fossil fuel leases on public lands.

Some examples:

“[Bernie] believes we should keep fossil fuels in the ground and instead use renewable energy and sustainable energy while improving energy efficiency.” – Bernie Sanders campaign website.

“I’m proud to be an original supporter of the Green New Deal… I support returning to the Paris Agreement and restoring Obama-era environmental protections like the Clean Power Plan. And that’s why I’ve proposed a set of executive actions I’ll take on day one of the Warren Administration to stop drilling and promote renewables on public lands.” – Elizabeth Warren.

“Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” His plan calls for “using renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen at the same cost as that from shale gas.” – Joe Biden campaign website.

The underlying claim is that renewable energy sources are an environmentally friendly approach to providing the power the United States needs. But is that true?



(Partially) False



As the Wall Street Journal notes, “green energy” isn’t entirely green and “renewable energy” isn’t as renewable as it is made out to be:

“Renewable energy” is a misnomer. Wind and solar machines and batteries are built from nonrenewable materials. And they wear out. Old equipment must be decommissioned, generating millions of tons of waste. The International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that solar goals for 2050 consistent with the Paris Accords will result in old-panel disposal constituting more than double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste. Consider some other sobering numbers: 

A single electric-car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. Fabricating one requires digging up, moving and processing more than 500,000 pounds of raw materials somewhere on the planet. The alternative? Use gasoline and extract one-tenth as much total tonnage to deliver the same number of vehicle-miles over the battery’s seven-year life.

And there’s more:

Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic. Solar power requires even more cement, steel and glass—not to mention other metals. Global silver and indium mining will jump 250% and 1,200% respectively over the next couple of decades to provide the materials necessary to build the number of solar panels, the International Energy Agency forecasts. World demand for rare-earth elements—which aren’t rare but are rarely mined in America—will rise 300% to 1,000% by 2050 to meet the Paris green goals. If electric vehicles replace conventional cars, demand for cobalt and lithium, will rise more than 20-fold. That doesn’t count batteries to back up wind and solar grids.

These are useful statistics for the public to understand the importance oil and gas development, refinement, and transportation to end markets.  American energy security depends on the continued development of oil and gas resources.