Report answers the sticky question: Where'd it go?
Subsidies. It's a word that prompts finger pointing from all directions in the energy industry. Now a new study, Federal Incentives for the Energy Industries, has uncovered which sources of energy (em not which type of provider (em received the most federal dollars over the past 50 years.
But don't expect the finger pointing to stop.
Management Information Services Inc., a Washington, D.C. economic and research consulting firm, found that federal subsidies over the past five decades totaled $564 billion in 1997 dollars. The oil industry received the greatest portion of that (em $272 billion. The "second place" awardee, the recipient of $90 billion, or 16 percent, was the renewable energy sector. This would include solar, hydro and geothermal sources. Coal, natural gas and nuclear energy each received between $61 billion and $74 billion in subsidies, or, to use the more formal name, "federal incentive funds."
So did the U.S. government get its money's worth? It depends. With regard to research and development funding, for example, coal and nuclear technologies produced the greatest return on investment; solar and wind energy systems had the poorest return. As MISI spokesman Charles Hauer says, "if the near-term policy objective [for federal R&D renewable funds] is to address global warming and utility restructuring, the energy return on this money would be much greater if it is invested in nuclear and fossil energy research.
"This may be an unpopular truth," Hauer admits, "but it must be acknowledged if we are to develop rational policies to deal with energy, global warming and electric industry restructuring."