WSJ Busts The Right’s Renewable Energy Myths!

Those heads exploding all over the country on Monday? That was Wall Street Journal readers – including, maybe, Rupert Murdoch – after reading what was, on balance, a thoughtful, fact-laden article in the paper on the state of renewable energy in the United States.

Reporter Keith Johnson’s piece, “Six Myths About Renewable Energy,” is hardly a work of renewable energy advocacy; in fact, it pokes holes in two claims that greenies love to make – that renewable energy can soon entirely replace fossil fuels and that its development inevitably will result in millions of new jobs. No doubt some of you will quibble with Johnson on these points.

image scan from Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 Wall Street Journal

image scan from Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 Wall Street Journal

Still, the bulk of Johnson’s myth-busting is aimed squarely at the common conservative critique of renewable energy. No, he says, renewable energy is not an insignificant source of power. No, renewable energy is not too expensive. No, variability does not doom renewable energy. And no, cheap natural gas is not the enemy of renewable energy.

Among the hundreds of comments posted online in reaction to Johnson’s piece, this one was fairly common: “Myths? Baloney, everything or almost everything in this article is phonier than a nine dollar bill – renewables can only exist with government subsidies, period. Do we approve of government subsides? I don’t think so.”

That comment came from a John Austin, who I’m guessing is an editorial writer at the Journal. After all, as Media Matters pointed out, the very myths that Johnson punctured have formed the foundation of the Journal’s relentless attacks on renewable energy and the Obama administration’s support for it:

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board previously claimed that Big Wind “can’t make it in the marketplace… despite more than $30 billion in subsidies.” Another Journal editorial celebrated a supposed decline in clean energy investment, saying it was a “silver lining” that venture capitalists were “moving on to more worthwhile pursuits.”

But Johnson wrote that “costs are falling fast” thanks to “technological advances… and cheaper components.” In fact, a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that the price of renewable energy is “plummeting.”

Some might fear for Johnson’s future at the Journal, given how dramatically he dismantled the arguments of its ownership, but the truth is that the journalists at the paper have long done good work on the changing energy picture. Just last week, Rebecca Smith and Cassandra Sweet checked in with a feature on how big companies are more and more creating their own power, one of our favorite trends.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.