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Balanced energy policy is needed

Fans of “alternative energy” — more on the quote marks in a moment — have begun worrying aloud about President Donald Trump’s aversion to wind power. They fear it will affect federal energy policy.

It should not, of course. You may remember that under the previous administration, federal regulators were giving some wind turbine operators big breaks regarding laws intended to safeguard certain species of birds.

Trump has made no secret of his dislike for wind turbines. He has referred to them as “disgusting,” “ugly” and “stupid.” To date, however, there is no reason to believe federal policy has been affected.

Even in states where legislators have repealed laws requiring utilities to obtain electricity from “alternatives” such as wind and solar power, the big turbines with their whirring blades are going up at a rapid rate.

About 6.3 percent of the nation’s electricity now comes from wind turbines. In four states (Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota), that source accounts for 30 percent or more of power generation.

One estimate is that the current capacity for wind power generation is about 82,000 megawatts. That is the equivalent of about 136 coal-fired power plants.

Now, back to whether sources such as wind and solar power are true alternatives. They are not, in a very basic sense. When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, no electricity is generated from those sources.

Utilities cannot rely solely on such “alternatives.” They need reliable “baseload” generation that can be called upon at any time. For now, that means power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, nuclear energy or even oil.

Americans need an “all-of-the-above” energy policy dictated not be state or federal governments but by the marketplace and technological reality. During the Barack Obama administration, that was ignored. Trump’s administration seems to be moving back toward a more fact-based approach, and that is a good thing for the entire nation.

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