Sunday, September 11, 2016

Driessen on Renewable Energy as Racism

Subtitle:  No Racism In Renewable Wind and Solar Power

Every week or so, I receive another article from Paul Driessen, Senior Policy Analyst for CFACT (Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow), and this week’s article has so many things wrong I take keyboard under fingers to respond.   Driessen exhorts recipients in his prelude to each article to post his article, quote from it, and forward it. 

This week’s article concludes, falsely, that renewable energy policies and increased renewable energy use are racist because they have, or will have, serious negative economic impacts on black people, who Driessen describes as poor people.   His statements are in quoted italics below, my responses in normal font. 

"Few if any developing nations will reduce their oil, natural gas or coal use anytime soon. That would be economic and political suicide."

This statement is about the Paris Agreement on climate change (see link), under which various nations strive to reduce their man-made carbon dioxide emissions to (they say) reduce global warming.    

What Driessen fails to grasp is that energy production and use world-wide is already undergoing a massive and permanent structural change.   This has precedent.   As but one example, oil use for power generation dropped dramatically in the late 1970s and 1980s after the oil price shocks and the Arab oil embargo.   Oil-burning power plants were replaced in many countries by nuclear power plants.  The US, Japan, France, and many other countries built nuclear and shut down the oil-fired plants.  

Developing nations, the subject of Driessen's article, almost always have severe limits on capital, the money needed for infrastructure and for on-going expenses.  Some of those on-going expenses include fuel for transportation, such as gasoline for cars and diesel for trucks, but also fuel for power generating plants.   With limited funds, it is crucial that developing nations obtain the best results for the money they do have.   That means smaller, more efficient cars.  It also means building the most cost-effective power plants.  

Driessen then says, 

"Meanwhile, the United States is shutting down its coal-fueled units. Under Obama’s treaty, the USA will be required to go even further, slashing its carbon dioxide emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. That will unleash energy, economic and environmental impacts far beyond what the Administration’s endless, baseless climate decrees are already imposing."

In this statement, it is false to call the Paris Agreement a treaty.  It is not, under US law.  A treaty must be ratified by the US Senate.   The Paris Agreement is a non-binding agreement among nations to try to do various things.   

It is true that the US is shutting down coal-fired power plants, however, the shutdowns are occurring because US pollution laws are finally imposed on such plants.   For decades, many coal-burning power plants in the US were exempted from air pollution regulations under the Clean Air Act.  No more.  Now, they must comply or shut down.   The plant owners are choosing to shut down.  (see link and this link to articles on SLB)

The power grids remain stable as coal-fired plants are closed, primarily because natural gas-fired plants are being built.  However, wind power and solar power are also being built in record numbers in the US.   These developments have important ramifications for developing nations.    

Burning natural gas for power produces far less carbon dioxide that does burning coal, for the same amount of electricity produced.  The ratio is approximately 2-to-1.  Having wind power and solar power in production, as their respective natural energy sources blow or shine, further reduces carbon dioxide emissions.  

The simple and orderly change-over from coal burning to natural gas with renewables will easily reduce carbon dioxide emissions by much more than 28 percent that Driessen mentions.   

The important point, though, is that electric power prices will not increase, indeed, they remain stable or decrease as coal-burning plants are closed. 

"Wind turbines, photovoltaic solar arrays and their interminable transmission lines already blanket millions of acres of farmland and wildlife habitats. They kill millions of birds and bats (but are exempt from endangered species laws), to provide expensive, subsidized, unreliable electricity. Expanding wind, solar and biofuel programs to reach the 28% CO2 reduction target would increase these impacts exponentially."

Here, Driessen shows his bias against wind power and solar PV plants.   This is the common cry of the anti-renewable crowd, the death of birds.  The fact is that many more millions of birds are killed each year by artificial structures than do wind turbines.  Solar PV plants do not kill any birds nor bats, to the best of my knowledge and research.   Yet, anti-renewable advocates refuse to admit what US Fish and Game experts report: renewable power plants have had zero impact on species populations.  

Driessen also seems unhappy over power transmission lines being added as renewable power plants are built.  One has to be happy that his mind-set did not prevail back when electricity was being expanded across the country, many decades ago.  

He then rants about expensive, subsidized, unreliable electricity.    Perhaps Driessen would like to point out any electricity rates that are outrageously priced in Iowa, Kansas, Texas, or even California that can be attributed to wind power or solar power.   The answer is, he cannot because there are no high prices due to renewables.    What is indisputable is that solar power and wind power allow utilities to run more efficient power plants, not the horribly expensive peaker power plants with simple cycle gas turbines.  

As to subsidized electricity from wind and solar, this is no different from almost every form of power generation in the US.  Subsidies, and in some cases almost full subsidies, exist for nuclear, coal, hydroelectric, and geothermal power production.   One must wonder why Driessen does not object to subsidies for those forms of power generation. 

The last claim is that electricity is unreliable when it is from renewable sources.   Again, Driessen cannot point to any grid in the US that has reliability issues due to wind power or solar power.   They simply do not exist.  Grid operators are well-aware of the wind conditions and sunshine conditions, and operate load-following power plants quite effectively to compensate for any changes in wind and sunshine. 

"This racism is the sneaky, subtle, green variety: of government policies that inflict their worst impacts on the poorest among us, huge numbers of them minorities."  

Here, Driessen equates renewable energy production and the policies that encourage it to racism.   That is despicable, playing the race card.  There are plenty of issues in which race is a valid issue, but this is not one of them.   For one thing, where utility prices are increased, and where any poor people are impacted, government in the US has subsidy programs for the poor, based on demonstrated need.   

For another, when coal runs out, as it certainly will at present consumption rates within 20 years in the US, there must be power plants installed and running to keep the lights on.  The alternative, to blindly keep burning coal until one day there is no more and the power grids fail, is simply not tenable.  There won't be just poor people impacted, everyone will be impacted.  

"In the Real World, soaring energy prices mean poor families cannot afford adequate heating and air conditioning, cannot save or afford proper nutrition, and must rely on schools, hospitals and businesses whose energy costs are also climbing – bringing higher prices, reduced services and lost jobs."

Here, Driessen finally gets something right, but it is not renewable energy that should be the target of his ire.   That same sentence, almost verbatim, is what I wrote about nuclear power plants, if they become a major supplier of world electricity.  see link to my article "Preposterous Power Pricing if Nuclear Power Proponents Prevail"

Renewable power from wind, and from solar, have negligible impacts on electricity prices in the US, even at penetrations of 30 percent as shown in Iowa.   The impacts on prices will be even smaller in the very near future, as low-cost grid-scale storage batteries are installed to allow utilities to stop running those horribly expensive simple-cycle peaker power plants mentioned just above. 


I agree with Driessen on one thing, and that is there is zero global warming due to carbon dioxide and no reason to curb fuel consumption to stop global warming.  That is a false issue.   

The real issue, though, is running out of coal world-wide in a couple of decades in the US, and within 50 years worldwide.  Coal provides 40 to 50 percent of all electric power worldwide, and that must be replaced long before the coal runs out.  Nuclear cannot do the job, and there is not enough hydroelectric power nor geothermal resources to replace coal.  The only viable option is natural gas with wind power and solar power where the wind and sunshine resources are sufficient.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved.

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