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Bill Maddock, Director of Subsea Systems Institute

Renewable Energy: Should Government Subsidies Continue?

By Valeria Dominguez


The third installment of UH Energy’s popular symposium series featured industry experts presenting research and answering questions surrounding the future of government subsidies to promote renewable energy.

The panel tackled the complex issue from a variety of viewpoints.

Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute — a think tank dedicated to providing information and statistics on climate change — kicked off the evening with a stark statement.

“These are not normal times,” Heinberg said. “Climate change and fossil fuel depletion are on track to being the biggest market failures in history. The environmental impacts of climate change have not been priced into fossil fuel consumption.”

He said that market failures happen when decision-makers fail to factor environmental impacts into transactions. New government policies and incentives, he said, are paramount to financing a successful transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Michael Skelly, the founder of Clean Line Energy and a 20-year veteran of the renewable energy industry, offered insights on how federal production and investment tax credits stimulate renewable energy development. Skelly had arrived at the symposium via public transportation, showing that actions which reduce a carbon footprint are important.

Katie Tubb, policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, offered an opposing view, taking a stance against renewable energy subsidies.

“What the market needs are not more renewable companies dependent on government and tax payers to succeed. We need more renewable companies that are competitive on their own merits. Companies need to think beyond subsidies,” said Tubb.

A consequence from subsidies is skewed electricity markets and prices and in order to have a competitive renewable energy sector, targeted subsidies must be eliminated, Tubb said. The audience applauded loudly when she completed her presentation.

Dev Millstein, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, closed the night by presenting published research on the impact of air pollution generated by fossil fuels has on public health and the role wind and solar energy can play in reducing that negative impact.

“Air pollution causes health impacts through exposure to fine particles that go deep into our lungs, where they elicit an inflammation response from our body,” Millstein said. “Wind and solar power have helped avoid greenhouse gas emissions and reduced thousands of possible deaths.”

Bill Maloney, director at Trident Energy and a member of the UH Energy Advisory Board, served as moderator.

Maloney put the topic in a global perspective by saying the world’s energy usage is currently 80 percent hydrocarbons and 20 percent renewables and nuclear. In 2040, predictions shift to 60 percent hydrocarbons and 40 percent renewables. Global energy consumption is projected to rise between 25 percent and 35 percent due to population growth.

“A question to ask is, are we more powerful now because energy systems are more distributed, and as a result can we as a collective body impact change around the world?” Maloney said.

The UH Energy Symposium Series continues on March 22 with “Energy, Artificial Intelligence & Robotics: The Future of People in Energy.”