O’Malley Pledges to Power Country on Unicorns and Pixie Dust

In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate Martin O’Malley claims that his “administration would call for 100 percent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2050.” The former Governor of Maryland and long-shot Democratic hopeful stated “as president, I would use my executive power on day one to declare the transition to a clean energy future the number one priority of our federal government.”

O’Malley’s statement amounts to an empty campaign promise. Not only is it impossible for the U.S. to rely entirely on wind and solar power, but even if it were possible it would be catastrophically expensive. O’Malley’s is the latest in a long line of quixotic predictions over the years about wind and solar power.

The 100% Renewable Myth

The first problem with O’Malley’s promise is that he can’t keep it. Powering our country on 100% renewable energy is neither possible nor desirable. Hydroelectric power, the largest source of renewable energy in the country at about 10%, is a reliable source of electricity, but its use is limited to areas with a steady water supply. Therefore, O’Malley’s plan depends on massively expanding wind and solar production. The problem is that wind and solar are not reliable energy resources. Wind and solar only work when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining—they are inherently unreliable.

Even the meager amounts of wind and solar we use today, about 5% of our electricity use, pose problems for grid reliability. The more wind and solar we force onto the grid, the harder it will be for grid operators to manage the grid, which must be carefully calibrated so supply matches demand precisely at every moment of the day. Volatile spikes in wind and solar production threaten to destabilize the grid, which can lead to blackouts.

For an idea of what it would feel like to live in a world powered 100% by wind energy, click here. Spoiler: it isn’t good.

More Wind, More Problem$

Even if it were possible to run our country on 100% renewable power, we shouldn’t. Natural gas, nuclear, and coal provide 86% of America’s electricity. That’s a good thing, since these sources are abundant, reliable, and affordable. Scrapping these existing sources and replacing them with new renewables, including wind, would be hugely expensive.

As pointed out in a new study by the Institute for Energy Research, electricity from new wind resources is nearly four times more expensive than from existing nuclear and nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal. This will lead to dramatically higher energy costs for American families and harm low-income, minorities, and the elderly the most, forcing these vulnerable populations to make painful tradeoffs between energy and other basic necessities such as food, shelter, and health care. In other words, more mandated wind and solar means more hardship for American families.

The O’Malley–Carter Delusion

O’Malley’s fantasy is not new. In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter called for massive increases in wind and solar production. He even put solar panels on the roof of the White House, which President Reagan later removed. Consider the following headlines from The Wall Street Journal. The first, from August 1978, predicts that solar power would supply 20% of our electricity by 2000. Today, more than three decades later, solar still supplies less than 1%.


Presidential campaigns are known for over-promising and under-delivering. O’Malley’s pledge to get 100% of our energy from renewable energy is no exception. Except, unlike more vague campaign promises (see “hope and change”), we don’t need to wait four years to figure out we’ve been duped.

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