From Yahoo News:
“Natural-food grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said Tuesday it will rely on wind energy for all of its electricity needs, making it the largest corporate user of renewable energy in the United States.”
I rather like Whole Foods. I was shopping there when they were nothing but a slightly seedy hippy store in downtown Austin. I don’t begrudge Whole Foods doing what it can to sell itself as an eco-friendly company. Their upper income, over-educated target demographic is more than willing to pay a premium in return for getting a warm fuzzy feeling that they are helping the environment. However, this story reveals all the serious delusions about “alternative” energy that are systematically warping all our political debates about energy policy.
The biggest delusion is the belief that anyone, anywhere can run any kind of on-demand production or distribution system using solar or wind power. There is not a single factory, farm or transportation system anywhere that runs exclusively off solar or wind power. None, nada, zip. The reason for this is simple: the sun goes down, the wind doesn’t blow all the time and we have no efficient electricity storage technology. Solar and wind power simply can’t provide power in a reliable manner.
The actual electricity that will power Whole Foods stores, offices, distribution and productions facilities will not actually originate in wind farms. Instead, they will use a system of vouchers that will effectively subsidize other people’s use of wind power when it is available. It’s all an accounting trick. Most of the power that Whole Foods will use will come from burning coal and natural gas just as it always has. Of course, this will increase the overall amount of wind power used over the entire grid but the wind power will always be a minor adjunct to the real energy sources. The grid will always have to have enough excess capacity to completely replace wind power when it inevitably drops offline.
Unfortunately, politically significant numbers of people will believe that Whole Foods is literally running their entire operation off of wind power and they will demand that government force other companies to do the same. In the debate over global warming, they will resist real-world solutions like nuclear power because the example of Whole Foods will convince them that windmills work just as well as nukes.
Whole Foods is a great grocery store (if you can afford them), but as the pied-pipers of a grownup energy policy, they suck.