A new report reveals the transition to solar and wind energy, under the banner of decarbonization, will require vast tracts of land. 

The ICF Climate Center warns that only a small fraction of available land is actually suitable for large-scale wind and solar farms, hindering the Inflation Reduction Act’s push to transition the U.S. to solar and wind energy. Wind and solar power require at least ten times as much land per unit of power produced compared with gas and coal-fired power plants.

These inherent attributes of wind and solar are not going to be changed by government support. A 2020 study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) demonstrates the extent of subsidies that disproportionately prop up wind and solar power compared to other energy sources. Wind and solar received 17 times and 75 times more subsidies per unit of electricity generated than the average for oil, gas, coal, and nuclear. 

While all energy sources received billions of dollars in federal subsidies between 2010 and 2019, wind and solar received the most: $37 billion and $34 billion, respectively, compared with $25 billion for oil and gas. Nuclear received $15 billion between 2010 and 2019, primarily from research and development grants, despite its safe and reliable track record as the largest source of clean energy in the U.S. 

In 2019, wind and solar received about $14.40 and $40.74 in subsidies for each megawatt-hour of energy produced. Using 2018 wholesale prices, the study estimates that “wind generators on average have received nearly as much money from subsidies as they have from selling electricity.”

TPPF finds that fossil fuel sources, such as oil and gas, mostly receive subsidies that drive research and development, while renewables like wind and solar are incentivized to build with existing technology. The tax credits that oil and gas producers receive, which total more than 90% of their subsidies, are mostly for oil well exploration and research into better and cleaner technologies. Yet renewables tax credits don’t require companies to demonstrate technological advancement, which means that producers are incentivized to scale up older technologies rather than innovate to make their technologies more efficient and competitive in energy markets.

The study uses a methodology similar to that of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), with the most recent report examining subsidies in fiscal year 2016. EIA’s methods do not count any state-level subsidies, loan guarantees, or tax credits, making total subsidies higher than estimated here. The TPPF study, updated in 2020, also could not have taken into account the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act’s mind-boggling $369 billion commitment to “energy security and climate change programs” over the next 10 years.

Climate alarmists often blame fossil fuel subsidies for incentivizing more drilling and keeping oil prices artificially low. Yet the more generous subsidies that wind and solar energy receive not only artificially lower prices—sometimes into negative wholesale prices—but deeply entrench existing technology and support businesses that otherwise would not survive. The study suggests that renewables are far more dependent on subsidies as a source of revenue than fossil fuel businesses, which generate large amounts of electricity compared to the amount of subsidies they receive.

Despite ample subsidies, renewables are simply not meeting U.S. needs. Solar power was only 1.8% of all energy consumed in 2022, and wind was only 3.8%. The reality is that no amount of taxpayer support or special treatment by the bureaucracy can overcome the technical shortcomings of wind and solar.

Subsidies to all energy sources distort markets. Consumers are left to bear the brunt of the government’s largess in higher taxes and less reliable, affordable energy.