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Contra Stockton, Renewable Energy Is No Panacea

February 3, 2017

Contra Stockton, Renewable Energy Is No Panacea

On January 5, Wired magazine published a missive by Nick Stockton, “No Matter What Trump Does, Green Energy Will Prevail.” He claims the United States will lose out in the global economy if it does not continue to push green energy to the detriment of fossil fuels. A close examination of the facts shows Stockton’s post if full of half-truths - a piece of wishful thinking.

Ending government mandates and subsidies for renewable energy boondoggles, which our economic competitors continue to promote (though less than they used too), will cement our continued global economic leadership. Fossil fuels, which America has in abundance, are and will remain cheaper than any form of renewable energy likely through at least 2050, and probably beyond. And fossil fuels are also the most reliable source of energy. If energy remains relatively cheap in the United States, and the country opts out of the Paris climate agreement as promised by President Donald Trump, then expect more and more manufacturers to shift operations to the United States.

Europe is already cutting its support for renewable power. If America follows suit and reduces subsidies and mandates for wind and solar power, then the largest market for China’s renewable products will dry up. If China continues its renewable expansion, it alone will suffer the higher energy costs and down-time attached to those technologies, no longer subsidized by purchases abroad. China’s economy is already slowing. Without U.S. and European markets for its renewable wares, it will be interesting to see how long China “leads the world” in renewable power, if its increased use proves to be the drag on China’s economy it proved to be in Europe and to a lesser extent the United States.

While China has decided to reduce by more than 100 the number of coal-fired power plants it will build in the coming years, it still has more than 100 planned and is building them at a pace of about one every two weeks. Yes, India is building solar installations in the hinterlands, but it is also rapidly building coal-fired power plants as are countries throughout Asia and Africa – where nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants are in various stages of planning or construction.

Even Japan, the country that has in many respects led the fight to prevent purported dangerous human-caused climate change by pushing developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, has announced plans to build 45 new coal-fired power plants to offset the decline in operating nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima power plant failure.

But what about Google, Facebook, and Amazon? Aren’t they going fossil-fuel-free? Hardly. As my friends and colleagues Isaac Orr and Paul Driessen explain, and the evidence of our senses show, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, and when it doesn’t, Google will be using fossil fuels (or possibly in some places nuclear or hydroelectric power) just like everyone else. As Driessen writes, “no 24/7/365 company like Google can be 100 percent renewable, … 5 to 25 percent of the year is far more realistic. Electricity the rest of the time must come from ‘backup’ systems that are actually the primary energy sources, 75 to 85 percent of the year.” Orr rightly describes Google’s “100 percent renewable” announcement as a “gimmick” and goes on to explain:

According to Google’s own explanation of their plan, it comes down to [Google’s] purchase [of] Renewable Energy Certificates, which allows Google to buy renewable energy generated at wholesale cost, which is significantly lower than retail cost, and then sell that power back into the grid for the higher retail rate.

Google’s foray into renewable energy is not an altruistic endeavor to save the world, it is a cheap marketing gimmick to appear “green” that allows the company to make a profit by exploiting policies that subsidize renewable energy.

Google’s renewable energy certificates are valuable only as long as government policies support them. If the mandates and subsidies go away, the value of, and market for, Google’s renewable certificates will collapse. If this occurs, for taxpayers’ sake let’s hope the government doesn’t consider Google “too big to fail.”

-- H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Wired.com; Isaac Orr; Paul Driessen; and The Daily Caller


IN THIS ISSUE …

Crop yields decline under lower carbon dioxide levelsObama shifts another $500 million to Green Climate FundCurrent temperatures not record-breakingSeattle bike-share program dead


CROP YIELDS DECLINE UNDER LOWER CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS

A new study in Global Change Biology examines the effect of lower carbon dioxide levels on plant growth. The researchers grew one type of wheat, wild barley, and two types of millet from seed to harvest in a controlled environment under two carbon dioxide levels, 180 parts per million (ppm), the level of carbon dioxide during the last glacial maximum, and 270 ppm, corresponding to the levels carbon dioxide reached after the most recent ice age but before the industrial revolution.

The research showed grain production for every crop was significantly lower under 180 ppm of carbon dioxide than under 270 ppm. Wheat yields were 32 percent lower, barley yields 34 percent lower, broomcorn millet yields 9 percent lower, and foxtail millet yields 23 percent lower. The researchers also found the crops had “depressed values of light-saturated rates of photosynthesis, reduced seed germination rates, and a decline in water use efficiencies at the lower, as opposed to the higher, CO2 concentration.”

SOURCE: CO2 Science


OBAMA SHIFTS ANOTHER $500 MILLION TO GREEN CLIMATE FUND

Just before President Barack Obama left office, he shifted another $500 million from state department programs funded by Congress to the United Nations Green Climate Fund (GCF), which Congress had refused to fund.

In 2014, Obama committed the United States to making a down payment of $3 billion for the program by 2020, but congressional Republicans rejected such funding. In response, Obama began shifting money from other State Department programs to the GCF. Obama’s decision in early 2016 to shift $500 million to the GCF met with Congressional outrage. Under questioning by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) in a March 8 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, admitted to the committee Congress had not specifically authorized funding the GCF, saying, “Did Congress authorize the Green Climate Fund? No … We’ve reviewed the authority and the process under which we can do it, and our lawyers and we have determined that we have the ability to do it.”

Republicans on the committee said they would conduct a full legal analysis of the Obama administration’s actions and threatened to sue the administration if, as they suspected, it violated the 1982 Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the use of funds for programs not authorized by Congress. In addition, Obama’s GCF funding arguably violates a law forbidding any taxpayer dollars being sent to international organizations that recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, since the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which the GCC is established, accepted the “State of Palestine” as a signatory to the treaty.

Obama’s January 17 action means his administration has spent $1 billion on the GCF, a far cry from the $100 billion the U.N. hopes to raise annually.

New President Donald Trump has pledged to “stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” It’s unclear if Trump can claw back the $500 million parting gift Obama gave to the GCF, but if he cannot, and if the U.N. won’t give it back if he requests it, Trump can deduct $500 million from payments the U.S. gives for U.N. general operations or other U.N. programs.

SOURCES: The Hill; Environment & Climate News; and The Daily Signal


CURRENT TEMPERATURES NOT RECORD-BREAKING

A new study in the journal Climate Dynamics shows present temperatures in Scotland are not unique, having been as high as or higher than they are at present for multiple decades during the 1200s, 1300s, 1500s, and 1730s.

Using tree ring data from living and “sub-fossil” trees retrieved from lake sediments, the researchers found, relative to the 1961-1990 average commonly used as the point of comparison for climate anomalies, six of the ten warmest years and three of the five warmest decades occurred before 1900. The top five years with the highest temperatures above the 1961 to 1990 average were all from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Lest one think Scotland is some weird climate outlier, the researchers write the reconstructed temperature data from Scotland correlate strongly with reconstructed and instrumental temperatures across the British Isles and from Belgium, western France, and the Netherlands, and to a lesser degree temperature reconstructions from “central Spain, Portugal, parts of central Europe, western parts of the Baltics, southwest Finland, and central Sweden.” The research indicates the high and low temperature anomalies in Scotland are linked to extended high- and low-pressure anomalies in the North Sea driven by phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation.

SOURCE: Climate Dynamics


SEATTLE BIKE-SHARE PROGRAM DEAD

Seattle started a bike-share program in 2014 as part of an effort to “be green” by reducing traffic congestion and carbon dioxide emissions. The program is now dead.

Called Pronto, the program was launched as a nonprofit organization with sponsorship from Alaska Airlines. As the Seattle Times notes, “[t]he idea was for Pronto to start small, with 500 bikes and 50 stations mostly downtown, then to grow over time.” Within months, facing low ridership and high costs, the organization running Pronto asked the city to buy the program, which it did for $1.4 million in 2016. Factors in Pronto’s failure included Seattle’s bike helmet law, the city’s hilly terrain, and its regularly rainy weather.

The mayor had set aside $3 million to grow the program and buy electric-powered bikes in 2017. Those funds now will be shifted to spending on bike, pedestrian, and school transit safety projects. The Seattle Times reports City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a critic of the bike program, hailed its death, saying “Our experience with the Pronto … program has been a disaster.”

SOURCE: Seattle Times

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland research fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org

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