The GES – an organisation which believes that “using fossil fuels to enable our economic activity is as natural as breathing” – claims in its report Renewable Energy and the Laws of Nature that the four tenets that form the basis of renewable energy’s appeal to the environmental community are false.

Author Mark P. Mills argues that renewable energy sources are no more ‘natural’ or abundant than fossil fuels, but are worse than fossil fuels because they require more intensive land-use, and are as inherently costly as deposits of coal or natural gas.

The report was written in reaction to opinions expressed on EarthDay 2000’s website – a US based environment event, due to be hosted by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in Washington DC on April 22.

Mills points out that all energy sources are natural. “Coal, oil and natural gas are as natural as the sunlight that strikes earth’s surface, the trees that grow on it, and water that runs across it,” he writes. “Fossil fuels are the product of the long and natural conversion of plants and animals that have been concentrated and converted into a useful form over millennia.”

Mills argues that it is no easier to power a computer or TV in rural India using ‘natural’ dung or wood than it is to use ‘natural’ wind or sun in Manhattan for the same purposes, or ‘natural’ coal in Wyoming or West Virginia, for that matter. “The primary natural resource must be converted into an unnatural one: the kilowatt-hour,” he contends.

Even though renewable energy is abundant, Mills dismisses the point as irrelevant. “All energy in nature- whether renewable or fossil – is abundant. It’s a simple physical reality,” he says. “Environmentalists don’t tout fossil fuels’ natural abundance as an opportunity. They see it as a problem. In reality, the enormous scale of natural energy sources is so vast that it doesn’t matter whether it is renewable or not. The measure of whether or not a resource is useful is what matters, and that depends on a number of factors.”

Concerning the EarthDay 2000 Article of Faith, that renewable energy is better, Mills notes that both renewables and fossil fuels require conversion from their largely useless ‘natural’ form into something more useful, like electricity. “What makes using renewable energy resources worse – not better – is that they require vastly more intensive land-use than do fossil fuels. Using renewable energy on a mass scale will increase total land-use for energy by factors that will cause concern for urban sprawl to pale in comparison,” Mills found.

Mills describes the claim that solar power is a free energy source as “the silliest among the four renewable resource tenets, yet it is the most widely and oft-repeated. It is a notion that bumps headlong into the Laws of Physics.

“Of course there is no inherent cost in the fact there is abundant sunlight in Nevada, wind blowing in the Dakotas, water rushing to sea, or trees growing in the Pacific Northwest,” Mills scoffs. “But then, similarly, there is no inherent cost in the abundantly rich veins of coal underlying the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, or the abundant deposits of oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. In this way all energy resources are free. Making an energy resource useful – now that’s another matter.”

Mills claims that putting energy resources to use entails both and energy and economic cost associated with all of the activities and technologies required to convert the resource into useful work.

“The issue is not whether engineers can make renewable sources work. We already know they can and that they do,” Mills writes. “The central issue is whether there is something truly special about renewable energy sources. One needs look not to engineering and economics, but to something more basic – the physics of energy – to answer that question.

“No matter where one ranges along the energy food chain,” Mills says, “materials, fuel, and equipment are required to access energy resources and to convert them into something useful – whether it be heat, light, motion or food. Clearly, a primary energy resource that requires more energy to tap than it can yield is a loser. And renewables are losers.”

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