Interviewer Tom Brokaw gets points for asking the question that many on the right wing have frequently posed. If reducing power consumption is so important, why does Gore live in a notoriously electricity hungry 10,000 sq. ft. mansion?
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you about your personal lifestyle, because it's been the subject of a lot of dialogue on the blogs, as you know. You and Tipper have bought a big home outside of Nashville, and you had it retrofitted. But for a time there was a comparison between what the president has in Texas at his home as being more environmentally correct than your home. The Building Green Council gave you its second highest award. But Stephen Smith, who is with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, is troubled by the scale of your home. He said, "We all need to evaluate what we ... need in square footage." Present company included. We all have to look at scale, don't we? Why was it necessary for you to have a 10,000 square foot home? Because that is going to be more energy intensive than a smaller home for just the two of you.This is in keeping with Gore's comments elsewhere in the interview in which he asserts that there is so much power available via wind and solar power that we really don't need to worry about reducing consumption but rather switching out sources. He throws out the rather meaningless figure, "There's enough solar energy that hits this--the surface of the planet in 40 minutes to provide a full year's worth of energy for the entire world." Perhaps so, but you would have to capture every bit of that solar energy, putting the entire world into a forty minute night by building a solar cell the size of the earth. The more relevant question is: how much power can realistically be generated by a sane number of solar cells, and how long does it take a solar cell to generate the same amount of energy that was required to manufacture it.
VICE PRES. GORE: Well, there--I don't claim to be perfect, and all of us who care about this issue are, are trying to do our part, but I, I will say this. We buy green energy. The issue is carbon. The issue is carbon, and we have, essentially, a carbon-free home. We buy from wind energy and solar energy. Our roof is covered with solar electric panels, a geothermal system with all these deep wells, and we cut our natural gas bill by 90 percent, and I'm, I'm--we're, we're walking the walk and not just talking the talk. There are always people who are going to try to aim at the messenger if they don't like the message, and I don't claim to be perfect, but we are walking the walk.
But let's get back to Gore's claim that the power consumption of his mansion is okay because it all comes from "green" sources. If I wanted, I could actually claim the same, because our electric billing company commits to getting all its electricity from hydro-electric, wind and solar. (I picked it because it doesn't scale billing rates according to usage, which is key around here in the summer.) But when there are power trading companies such as ours which will only from the "green" generators, that simply means that those companies which don't discriminate by source will by a higher mix of coal and natural gas produced power. Because power is interchangeable, the market will move the mix around to fit the available supply.
So unless Gore's use of a "green" power company is specifically tied to that company building more renewable power production facilities (and in de-regulated states where power providers and producers are split, this is not the case) it really doesn't matter if he buys from a "green" provider or a "dirty" provider. The same amount of power is generated from the same sources. And since burning coal or natural gas is much more scaleable (at low investment) than building more dams, windmills and solar panels -- if he uses more power that will result in more combustion-based electricity being produced, even if he is personally only paying a "green" company.
If he really wants to reduce the amount of CO2 he puts out, he needs to use less electricity. (In which having a house a fifth the size of his current mansion would be a good start.) And if he wants to make sure that more electricity comes from "non-carbon" sources, he needs to put his money where his mouth is and fund alternative energy production start ups. (He has done some of this, but given the starting costs, buying a few green energy stocks is not going to be nearly enough.) How about if instead of lecturing everyone, he first moves to a much smaller house, and then uses his political pull to get together the money to launch a major "green" power production company. This would give us the chance to sit back and see if Gore actually has the ability to run anything, and it would also be a very good test case to see if its actually possible to build and run additional "alternative energy" sources in anything like a net positive fashion.
Personally, if we want to switch out power production, the only real alternatives I see are nuclear in the near term and fusion in the very long term. But it would certainly be interesting to sit back and watch if Gore wants to give real work a serious try. Maybe he'd even learn a little bit of basic economics in the process!