When it comes to electricity, ordinary Mainers probably care most that it be provided in the most efficient manner at the lowest possible cost, understanding that the monthly bill is only one cost among many.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves, or allow others to fool us, that some methods of power generation come without environmental costs, including those described as “friendly to the environment,” whose problems are often downplayed or even ignored by their advocates.

A case in point was alluded to in this week’s Maine Sunday Telegram, in a story about a plan to charge Maine ratepayers $75 million a year to build natural gas pipelines that would, among other things, help a power plant in Rumford obtain affordable supplies.

Interestingly, the plant’s owners oppose the plan, saying private enterprise will eventually resolve their problem.

But the story included this revealing statement: “Environmental groups are (also) fighting that idea, largely because they favor renewable energy over natural gas.”

So, green groups reject natural gas along with coal? And honestly expect renewable sources to replace them? How many Americans know that?

Or, as one news story reported this week about a U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, how many people know that “environmentalists are (proposing a) new treaty to mandate a cap and tax on greenhouse gas emissions to go into effect by 2020. And to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether by 2050.”

Eliminate fossil fuels? But so-called “renewable” sources, such as wind and solar power, have their own costs, including set-up and maintenance expenses, visual and noise pollution and wildlife depredation, while offering only sporadic availability.

As new oil and natural gas discoveries here and abroad have assured those resources’ availability for many decades to come, the utility of “renewables” has become increasingly controversial, no matter what green activists may think.

Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy group, says that wind power gets $56.29 in total subsidies per megawatt-hour of production, compared to $3.14 for nuclear power and just 64 cents for natural gas. Is that really a good investment?

In fact, a new report casts a huge shadow on renewable sources. Two Stanford Ph.D.s, an aerospace engineer and a specialist in applied physics, have spent four years working for Google to determine how renewable energy could fight “global warming,” which they both believe is real and caused by humanity’s carbon emissions.

However, Google has shut down its “RE<C” (“renewable energy is cleaner than coal”) project because, as Ralph Koningstein and David Fork reported in a Nov. 18 article in IEEE Spectrum, a journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, they determined that all renewable projects combined simply “won’t work” and are a “false hope” for the foreseeable future.

When the researchers added the energy demands of manufacturing, transportation, agriculture and other industries to power generation, they concluded that renewables of all types would never meet the needs of a modern economy.

A British newspaper, The Register, describing their report, said, “Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fiber, neodymium, shipping and haulage, etc., etc., would appear. … Far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy.”

The RE<C authors call for the invention of “disruptive technologies,” but admit they have no workable ideas yet.

But hard-core environmentalists like those in Peru have one: They want to shut down most of the developed world’s economy to reduce carbon emissions to the levels of a century ago.

That such a move would return much of the world to medieval levels of privation, disease and hunger is inevitable, though not much discussed.

But there are answers that don’t require cutting our own throats. One is the modernization and substantial expansion of carbon-free nuclear power.

Want electric cars? Then you need a reliable and large-scale generating source to keep them humming, and renewables won’t cut it.

Then there’s something I mentioned briefly a few weeks ago – a miniaturized fusion reactor project now underway not in some mad scientist’s lab, but at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s fabled “skunk works.”

It may seem too good to be true, but subsequent stories in a variety of media have taken the project seriously (while awaiting solid results, which the company says are five to 10 years away).

But if it turns out we can build perfectly clean 100-megawatt fusion reactors that will fit on a flatbed truck, then you will never see a windmill project again.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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