High oil prices raise interest in renewables, and this time it may stick

Whenever the price of oil spikes, interest in renewable energy spikes along with it — but despite the perpetual hopes of advocates, interest recedes as prices go back down. This time, though, as oil tops $55 a barrel, it may be different. Really. For one thing, although most analysts agree that the current spike is temporary, the long-term trend is clear: Global supplies of oil and natural gas are dwindling, demand is rising, and prices will trend upward. In addition, renewables are finally more than a novelty. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that, at today’s average wholesale prices, wind power is running 4.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, with oil power at 9.1 cents, natural gas at 6.8 cents, and nuclear at 10 cents. Large-scale wind farms and renewable-energy targets are springing up in many states. Home Depot is going to sell solar panels. Gas marketers in Seattle and elsewhere are blending ethanol with their gas to save money. FedEx is rolling out a fleet of hybrid trucks. It could be real this time! Really! We hope.

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