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Al Gore’s Nuclear Power Hypocrisy

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  • Feb 13, 2013

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I recently had the pleasure of reading Al Gore’s latest volume, The Future. This not particularly tightly written book has among other things a section on biotechnology that shows that Gore’s attachment to science is somewhat fleeting. Of particular interest to me is a comment Gore makes about nuclear power.

In the climate change section entitled “False Solutions,” Gore expresses some skepticism on nuclear power, and writes the following:

There is still a distinct possibility that the research and development of a new generation of smaller and hopefully safer reactors may yet play a significant role in the world’s energy future. We should know by 2030.

Similarly, in a Reddit Q & A, Gore bemoaned new reactor designs being long in the future: “New reactor designs hold promise but they are all at least 15 years away.”

So, new nuclear reactor designs are 15-18 years away from coming about. Certainly not a good situation.

However, instead of moving the clock forward 18 or so years, let’s move it back 19 years. In 1994 the Clinton-Gore administration shut down work on the Integral Fast Reactor, the very type of reactor Gore is complaining about being years away. If this decision had not been made we would not be looking at new reactors by 2030, but instead new reactors up and running right now, and also capable of running on nuclear waste.

So, what we have here is Al Gore using a situation he helped bring about as a reason to be skeptical of nuclear power. Instead what he ought to do is apologize for the wrong headedness of the Clinton-Gore administration on the issue, and support calls for the Obama administration to restart the IFR programme. Gore, unfortunately has long had a blind spot on nuclear power.


Robert Wilson is a PhD candidate in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He blogs at Carbon Counter, where this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @planktonmath.

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J Elliott's picture
J Elliott on Feb 13, 2013

Perhaps the inconvenient truth was that nuclear technologies were not supported by the UN IPCC and did not stand much of a chance of qualifying for ‘flexible mechanisms’ carbon credits.  This, of course, was inconsistent with VP Gore’s developing personal business plan, which was to advocate, politically influence and invest in many large carbon trading schemes and businesses.  Over the past 18 years these personal business strategies have very successfully yielded enormous financial rewards for him.  Also, his personal jet airliner that he routinely flies around the world to various climate change events and meetings cannot operate on nuclear energy, but requires huge amounts of petroleum jet fossil fuels.

Besides being a perceived leader in climate change, Mr. Gore has inspired many others to support his campaign over the years.  My favorite quote developed by the well known author Scott Adams: “You can’t save the earth unless you’re willing to make other people sacrifice”.     Mr. Gore and his elite allies have done an exceptional job in persuading others that the middle and lower classes living standards must be sacrificed for the good of the liberal elite, no I mean the earth’s survival.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 13, 2013

With this book of platitudes and his pocketing of $70M in oil profits Al Gore is becoming the poster child for climate hypocrisy.

Most curious: "we should know by 2030". How on Earth would we know without investing in R&D?

Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 13, 2013

Gore is on the right track.

Of all the energy alternatives to fossil fuels,

nuclear power is one of the most expensive.

Recently the State of Texas announced that

it did not need to build any more nuclear power

plants because wind energy is proving to have

such enormous potential that nuclear is not needed.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 13, 2013

Of course the State of Texas isn't telling you that They Need to burn Coal or Natural Gas (both CO2 /Methane producing energy sources), to even out the fluctuating Wind power, or as Baseload to underpin Wind power.

If you really want to stop burning Carbon/HydrCarbons for power. You need Nuclear power. Or you can build tons of storage and risk lowering the amount of power available while also raising its cost.

By the way what is it about the greenies that makes  them feel COMPULSIVELY that they have to attack Nuclear Power all the time?

Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 13, 2013

With their action, the State of Texas is telling us that wind power is cheaper than nuclear power, even through nuclear power is heavily subsidized by the government.

What is it about the shills for the nuclear power industry that makes them attack wind power and solar power? It wouldn't have something to do with money, would it?

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Feb 13, 2013

@BI or Mr Wilson - why do you think so many people want to write books about climate solutions, that are, as you described, not tightly written?

"I recently had the pleasure of reading Al Gore’s latest volume, The Future. This not particularly tightly written book has among other things a section on biotechnology that shows that Gore’s attachment to science is somewhat fleeting. Of particular interest to me is a comment Gore makes about nuclear power."

How do we get over that? Is there a market (or an ability) to write things that aren't so narrow sighted or floppy? I'm going through a phase of perhaps disenchantment regarding climate and energy discussion, and I'm wondering what to do about it. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 13, 2013

1) Could you please Tell us more about the Heavily Subsidized by the government nature of Nuclear Power? Just what subsidies are you talking about?

2) Could you please point to the Attack on Wind Power on this site. What I stated about Wind Power relying on Coal and Natural Gas is a fact, not an attack? Wind power fluctuates and has to be ballance out usually by quick ramping Natural Gas, are you even aware of this fact?

3) Could you please Tell us more about who exactly are the "Shills" and who is giving the Shills money?


I'll be looking forward to your answers to these 3 specific questions. It is very easy to just come out and say things, but it is not so easy to back up what you say with facts.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 13, 2013

Mark, intermediate solar and wind is only currently economical when sufficient excess natural gas peaking power it available to stabilize connected power grids and when substantial power lines construction is not needed to connect into existing power grids.  If these two conditions do not exist, the cost of wind and solar are very uneconomical compared to fossil fuel or possibly nuclear alternatives.  These factors are why T. Boone Pickens abandoned his project to substantially expand wind power generation within Texas a few years ago.  

Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 13, 2013

1) From Wikipedia: In the United States, the federal government has paid US$74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power ($50 billion) and fossil fuels ($24 billion) from 1973 to 2003. During this same timeframe, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion.

Another subsidy to the nuclear industry from the government comes is the form of legal liability -- the nuclear industry is not required to buy insurance.

2) Germany has over 21 times more solar per capita than the United States, even though Germany has much less sunshine (despite what the liars at Fox Noise tell us). Yet this fact is rarely reported, even by our "objective" corporate media. At the same time Germany's economy is doing quite well, and does not seem to have suffered by switching to solar. In fact, many would argue the opposite. Japan is also moving away from nuclear with its expansion of wind and solar.

3) Regarding the nuclear industry's paid shills, this is hard to prove but, in the case of the fossil fuel industry, we have this revealing bit of history going back to 2002:

"A think tank partly funded by Exxon Mobil sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000 to critique findings in a major global warming study ... which found that global warming was real and likely caused by burning fossil fuels.

"The American Enterprise Institute sent the letters to scientists offering them $10,000, plus travel and other expenses, to highlight the shortcomings in a report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group widely considered to be the authority on climate change science."


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 13, 2013

On Point:

1a) R&D is not a subsidy. It is Research and Development. It does not subsidize the cost of nuclear power to consumers, nor the cost of building a Nuclear power station. 

1b) Nuclear Power provides 19.2pct of our electricity...50 billion in R&D

Wind and Renewables provide about 2.5 pct of our electricity (As near as I could tell)....How much R&D...26 Billion.

Who gets more bang for the buck?

1c) Nuclear Insurance: Please Read or Google the Price-Anderson Act

According to the US Govt. Nuclear operators have paid into a pool the sum of  $12 billion to cover insurance liability. Where is the Subsidy?

The real subsidies are the Laws that require US power companies to buy Unwanted and difficult to integrate Wind and Solar power.


The question that really counts is this, what form of electrical power generation can provide steady base load  scaleable power to meet future needs, with the minimum impact on the environment?

Can Wind provide baseload power without support from CO2 producing sources, or taking up land, and negatively affecting wild life? After we've placed windmills on the best sites, what then do we do if we need even more power for the future? How much will it cost to provide that power if we add storage to the equation?

If you want to support Wind and think that it can meet these objectives, then fine make your arguement, we'll listen and debate. I am however very turned off by the apparent need by some Greenies to denigrate Nuclear power, rather than extoling the virtues of Renewables on their merrits alone.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 13, 2013

According to the US DOE's EIA, new plants which enter service in 2017 are expected to have these costs, which do not include government incentives (as of July 2012):

  • Wind, onshore: $0.096/kWh
  • Geothermal: $0.098/kWh
  • nuclear: $0.111/kWh
  • biomass:  $0.115/kWh
  • solar PV:  $0.153/kWh  
  • solar thermal: $0.242/kWh

So nuclear is actually in the middle of the range.  These prices are based what utilities report, so of course they are weighted toward the utilities that install the most of the technology (ie. solar in the desert and New Jersey, geothermal in California, wind in the heartland).  Nuclear costs about the same everywhere, but renewable resources are poor in the most densely populated areas.  

Most importantly, these cost don't include energy storage (with most of our electricity coming from dispatchable fossil fuel, there is no need or hope for new storage).  So while the cost of nuclear power is constant for any penetration from zero to about 60% (rising only modestly as penetration reaches 80% as in France), the cost of wind and solar starts rising as the penetration reaches 20%, and there are no reputable studies or real-world examples showing that >40% is possible without adding the very high cost of energy storage (except in cases where a small region produces a lot of wind which is then exported to neighbors with mostly dispatchable power and little wind).

Costs aside, the main reason that environmentalists should favor nuclear is that nuclear is the only technology that has allowed any developed nation to power their grid without fossil fuel.  France, Switzerland, and Sweden all get >90% of their electricity from a combination of nuclear and hydro.  There simply are no examples of this being done with renewables!  The often touted German energy program seems to be having the effect of protecting their coal industry from nuclear competition.


Regarding Texas, I'm sure that you've read too much into their statement.  They get most of the their electricity from natual gas (which is produced in state, from an industry that is a huge chunk of their economy).  It is highly unlikely that an elected official would articulate a vision that involves bankrupting that industry by replacing it wind power.  When they start replacing natural gas plants with wind farms and energy storage, that will mean something.

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Feb 13, 2013

Glad to have Robert Wilson posting here.  He's a breath of fresh air amidst all the hopium.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 13, 2013

Oh, I think the energy situtation is quite hopeless in countries that produce a lot of fossil fuel, the "loosely" written stuff can be comforting because it does not bear the burden of having to be scientifically true.  The only reason that America was able to side with science on the "smoking causes cancer" debate is because most adults personally know smokers who have died of lung cancer (and of course all old smokers have emphesima and a sickly cough).  If the only evidence of smoking related cancer came from detail scientific studies, no one would believe it.  Our nation simply does not have enough respect for science to stand up to an economic power like the fossil fuel industry.  Their lobbying has made us fear radiation, and keeps us from being concerned with CO2 emissions.

The good news is that there are lots of people in world living in countries that lack major fossil fuel resources, and have low labor costs (e.g. China).  This means that they can choose nuclear power and newables to save money on energy, independent of the CO2 benefit.

Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 14, 2013


As for why Wikipidia lists a $50 billion subsidy for nuclear, you'll have to take that up with the Wikipedia source.

Regarding the Price-Anderson Act, it states: "Any claims above the $12.6 billion would be covered by a Congressional mandate to retroactively increase nuclear utility liability or would be covered by the federal government." In other words, the American taxpayer is on the hook for nuclear accident claims -- a taxpayer subsidy.

I didn't say wind could immediately meet all of our objectives. Solar is coming on strong, but only one country has taken major advantage -- Germany. As I noted, Germany currently produces 21 times the energy that we do from solar, even though Germany's solar potential is much less due to its limited sunlight. Somehow German utility companies manage to integrate solar into their systems. We need to take a few lessons.

Finally, I'm very skeptical of energy requirement projections coming from right-wingers, some of whom are heavily invested in the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. It was only a few years back that our right-wingers were telling us that we would soon be experiencing peak oil and that we would be running short on energy in the not too distant future. This projection has turned out to be dead wrong. The United States is now expected to be a net energy exporter in just a few years.


Factsheets and Statistics

Wind Energy by the Numbers

Wind energy produced worldwide: 65,000,000,000 kWh per year (enough power for 6 million U.S. homes)

Wind energy produced in the U.S.: 16,000,000,000 kWh per year (enough power for 1.6 million homes)

Potential U.S. wind energy production by 2020: enough power for 25 million homes yearly

Installed cost of wind energy: 2-6 cents/kWh

Yearly emissions eliminated by generating energy from a 1 MW wind turbine instead of 1 MW of conventional sources: over 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 6.5 tons of sulfur dioxide, 3.2 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 60 pounds of mercury in one year.

Wind power farms generate between 17 and 39 times as much power as they consume, as compared to 16 times for nuclear plants and 11 times for coal plants, according to a study of Midwestern wind farms by the University of Wisconsin.

Source: American Wind Energy Association

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Feb 14, 2013


China lacks major fossil fuel resources?  What about coal?

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Feb 14, 2013

Gore deserved his Nobel Prize for raising awareness about climate change.  

However, he also deserves the criticism he receives from nuclear power advocates.

I studied Gore's position on nuclear power as expressed in his previous book "Our Choice:  A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis".  

Gore put his "adapted" version of the often cited McKinsey "Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy, Version 2" chart which he entitled "The (Often Negative) Costs of Reducing Greenhouse Gases" on page 246.  Here it is.  A copy of the original McKinsey chart he "adapted" his chart from is here.  There is a tiny difference.

Gore didn't want his readers to see that McKinsey's analysis is that nuclear power is more scalable and will cost less in terms of dollars per tonne of CO2 emissions avoided than wind, solar PV and solar CSP, or new coal plants fitted with carbon capture and storage.  So he removed the word "nuclear" from his version of the chart.  

He cherry picked two great quotes for his (anti)nuclear chapter, from a Forbes magazine article published in 1985:  "The failure of the US nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale", and:  "For the United States, nuclear power is dead - dead in the near term as a hedge against rising oil prices and dead in the loing run as a source of future energy.  Nobody really disputes that".  

Here's a quote from that same 1985 Forbes article that Gore didn't want his readers to see:  "It wasn't technology that doomed nuclear power in the U.S. As experience everywhere demonstrates, the technology is as sound and productive as its promoters always have claimed it would be".  Here is the whole article.  

The question its author, James Cook, wanted to answer in his article was:  why did the U.S. fail where the French, Germans, and Japanese succeeded?  

Notwithstanding that Gore regards the McKinsey analysis of what it will cost for all other GHG abatement possibilities as so good he republished their chart for his book, and notwithstanding the fact that McKinsey found nukes cost effective, Gore states:  "the driving force that has converted once vibrant nuclear dreams into debilitating nightmares for electric utilities has been the grossly unacceptable economics of the present generation of nuclear reactors".  

And so on.  Gore's world class advocacy is marred by things like this.  I can't explain why he does it.  

Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on Feb 14, 2013

I already sent a few link to Wilson documenting that Gore didn't passively happen to be part of the government that shut down the IFR. He actually took a very active part in killing it, together with Kerry and Hazel O'Leary.

Here's the blunt testimony of someone who was an ANL employee at the time :
"Word then came down from DOE headquarters to us at Argonne that if anyone so much as used a sheet of copier paper to write a letter to Congress or the media supporting IFR, that person would be criminally prosecuted for misappropriation of government property"

See also this analyzes of the book "Plentiful Energy: The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor"
"Paradoxically, this policy decision was driven by then VP Al Gore"

And interview of Dr. Till :





Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on Feb 14, 2013

Germany has a real hard time integrating Wind energy, as shown by those prices, going down to *minus* 270 €  average and a few transactions at  minus 500 € :

And they're building more. But with the FIT, it's not the buidlers who are going to foot the bill.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 15, 2013

Hi Mark,

I'm starting to enjoy the tone of this debate, thanks.

Mark, when people state that wind generates enough power to run X million homes it gives me a stomach ache because I am unable to fathom what they actually mean.


Wind energy produce in the US was :- 16,000,000,000 kWh per year (enough power for1.6 million homes)

Question: Did Wind actually power 1.6 million homes ?  If so, where are the homes?

Answer: Probably NOT.  That number is actually too high to be a reality.

Question: If Wind did not power 1.6 million homes in the US, then where did all that wind energy go?


Answer: It probably didn't go anywhere because a great deal of it was unusable, from windmills that are not being connected to the grid, or that spun too fast, or too slowly for the energy produced to be useful. Or the energy fluctuated way too much for Grid operator to be able to use.

Mark, herein lie the problem with Wind Energy:

1) It is too dispersed. Energy everywhere, means power lines everywhere. This is not a simple matter to overcome if the electricity generated is to be of use for our power grids. For wind generated in the US Great Plains to be usable in California, you need buried cable everywhere there are windmills.

2) Wind speeds change, from being Too Fast to Too slow to Just Right.  This all means that without a way to store all that wind energy, and then tap the energy when it is needed (dispachability), much of the energy you see quoted is literally spinning your wheels.

3) In the absence of storage, highly fluctuating wind energy is currently being used concurrently with fast ramping Natural Gas Generation (CO2).

The Problem is and has been that  consistently refuses to publish their Quarter Hour wind energy logs. If we are to truly believe what they tell us, they need to tell us the truth.  The AWEA publishes figures like:-

Wind energy produced worldwide: 65,000,000,000 kWh per year (enough power for 6 million U.S. homes)Wind energy produced in the U.S.: 16,000,000,000 kWh per year (enough power for1.6 million homes)Potential U.S. wind energy production by 2020: enough power for 25 million homesyearly.

The AWEA won't detail how much of that energy was connected to the grid, and was actually used for some useful purpose. They won't tell us if the energy was produced in steady and continuous levels that does some good, they won't release quarter hourly logs that makes independent analysis of wind energy production possible.

Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 15, 2013

(Reuters) - German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour - equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity - through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank said.

The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022.

They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.

Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR) in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power per hour fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50 percent of the nation's midday electricity needs.

"Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity," Allnoch told Reuters. "Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over."

The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world's leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources.

Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.


Some critics say renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany is eager to demonstrate that is indeed possible.

The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity this year and bright sunshine nationwide.

The 22 GW per hour figure is up from about 14 GW per hour a year ago. Germany added 7.5 GW of installed power generation capacity in 2012 and 1.8 GW more in the first quarter for a total of 26 GW capacity.

"This shows Germany is capable of meeting a large share of its electricity needs with solar power," Allnoch said. "It also shows Germany can do with fewer coal-burning power plants, gas-burning plants and nuclear plants."

Allnoch said the data is based on information from the European Energy Exchange (EEX), a bourse based in Leipzig.

The incentives through the state-mandated "feed-in-tariff" (FIT) are not without controversy, however. The FIT is the lifeblood for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the FIT for solar power adds about 2 cents per kilowatt/hour on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world with consumers paying about 23 cents per kw/h.

German consumers pay about 4 billion euros ($5 billion) per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the Environment Ministry.

Critics also complain growing levels of solar power make the national grid more less stable due to fluctuations in output.

Merkel's centre-right government has tried to accelerate cuts in the FIT, which has fallen by between 15 and 30 percent per year, to nearly 40 percent this year to levels below 20 cents per kw/h. But the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, has blocked it.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 15, 2013

Is this in fact hype?

1) If I hide 20 GW capacity of solar cells in my windowless basement, I still have 20GW capacity. Even if the 20GW worth of Solar Cells actually produce nothing.

2) If they are serious about Renewables, The Germans need to add storage to their Solar and wind. If they don't it really is pointless.

3) The Germans need to stop burning coal, especially low grade lignite coal..the worst possible type AFAIK.

Mark,  without storage, the Germans are still putting out AGW gasses,  inspite of all the Billions they are spending. If they really want to stop contributing to global warming, and make Renewables really worthwhile, they do need to add storage to their production capacity.
Then they won't be needing CO2 and methane producing sources that they rely upon in spite of all the 20 GW capacity.
Mark Tracy's picture
Mark Tracy on Feb 15, 2013

Million metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita (2006):

United States: 19.78

Germany: 10.40

Lowell Michalove's picture
Lowell Michalove on Feb 16, 2013
America's hedonist energy waste is culturally pervasive, inexcusable, and suicidal.
Humanity's fate is ALL about the overconsumption of Energy.
Yet, AMERICA Continues to WASTE over 70% of the Energy it Consumes.  
(1) 100's of millions of lights unnecessarily burn energy every day and night. 
(2)  We over heat, over cool, and over light our municipalities, businesses, offices, homes, churches, SCHOOLS, etc… 
(3) Over packaging is the norm, and recycling is inadequate.  Our landfills are busier than ever. Plastics (all of which are derived from petroleum) are the cause of most cancers.
(4) Most Americans do not minimize their driving; road congestion is horrendous.
(5) America's incessant obsession with driving and road construction is the ultimate contradiction to sustainable living.
The only way to eliminate waste and over demand for energy is by using the economic impact of taxing energy.  Crude oil must be taxed at $160 per barrel(42 gal) and this 'energy consumption tax' be offset by making Federal Income Tax begin at $60k.  Only with a substantial and tangible dollar consequence/reward will there be the incentive to conserve energy.  Until the price of gas is $6 to $7 per gallon, Americans will not significantly reduce their over consumption and energy waste.
Ford, GM, and Chrysler continue toward bankrupt, yet basically continue to do business as usual.  They must transition to the lucrative business of building solar and wind 'energy producers' for the world's 6.7 BILLION people reason$.  They already have the needed infrastructure to mass produce, sell, and install these products.  Failure to innovate the auto industry away from energy consumption to energy production will ultimately cause the ruin our economy and the environment .  Energy demand cannot continue to support dwindling fossil fuel 'supply'.  
China, India, and other former 'developing countries' have just begun to compete for the world's remaining fossil fuel.  Continued global demand for energy can only be satisfied with conservation and renewable sources.Global warming continues to increases with our persistent waste and overuse of fossil fuels.Human extinction will be the reward for our failure to rapidly and broadly implement renewable energy supplies.  The incentives necessary to implement sustainable and renewable energy supplies can ONLY occur when we employ the economics of TAXING ENERGY.
Look around you; the energy waste is EVERYWHERE !!
Use your influence and resources to promote Energy Conservation.
Americans need to be ever reminded/told to STOP the/our/your Energy WASTE !
Lowell Michalove,PhD   Energy Conservation Advocate

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