How often do we hear proponents of renewable energy claiming that wind and solar power are the lowest-cost power sources on offer? Hardly a day goes by without these ideological zealots offering one or another discredited argument that their favored sources are not only necessary to save the planet from some existential climate catastrophe, but also lower-cost than conventional power sources. These outlandish claims got a major boost when a freshman House of Representatives member unveiled her "Green New Deal," which absurdly claimed that the world would end in 12 years unless the U.S. made a crash effort to radically transform its economy in the next ten years. That transformation would entail, in addition to a lengthy list of inane ideas, complete elimination of beef and dairy cattle, elimination of air travel in favor of high-speed ground transport options, and complete conversion of all power generation to renewable sources like wind and solar power. The contention, born out of economic illiteracy, is that this transformation was not only necessary for planetary survival, but would be so affordable that we would struggle to know what to do with all the newfound prosperity.
We don't need to wait around for decades to learn how this program would work in practice. At least some of these wild claims are testable today by examining energy prices in places that have already deployed large measures of renewable energy. Currently, 29 states have enacted laws called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) requiring certain threshold levels of renewable energy to be used in the generation of electricity. Thus, it's a simple matter to compare the effect of high renewable energy penetration on system prices in those states that have integrated large amounts of renewable energy into their generation portfolios with those of adjacent places that have forgone this option.