What are the US Federal subsidies for Wind and Solar? [Ray M.]

One of the biggest criticisms of the renewable-energy industry is that it has been propped up by government subsidies. There is no doubt that without government help, it would have been much harder for the nascent technology to mature. But what’s more important is whether there has been a decent return on taxpayers’ investment. 

Between 2007 and 2015, Quartz’s own analysis* finds that the US government likely spent between $50 billion and $80 billion on subsidies for those two industries. 

A new analysis in Nature Energy gives renewable-energy subsidies the thumbs-up. Dev Millstein of Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues find that the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015. Fossil fuels produce large amounts of pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, which are responsible for ill-health and negative climate effects. 

The researchers found that the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation. 


A September 2011 report from DBL Investors, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund specializing in renewable energy, backs up environmentalist calls for increased subsidies for renewables by showing how early subsidization of other energy keystone sources helped secure their respective dominant places in the energy marketplace. The report calculates that, in the U.S., nuclear subsidies accounted for more than one percent of the federal budget in their first 15 years, and that oil and gas subsidies made up one-half of one percent of the total federal budget in their first 15 years. Subsidies for renewables, in contrast, have constituted only about one-tenth of a percent, the report concludes.