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Green Energy Push Would Wreck Post-Coronavirus Economic Recovery

May 14, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #359

Emblematic of the environmental Left’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Time magazine published an ill-considered article by Justin Worland titled “What Coronavirus Means for the Possibility of a Carbon-Free Economy.” The author cites Democratic political hack Rahm Emmanuel’s pronouncement, “You never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste,” to push the idea now is the time to go big in an effort to avert a climate crisis.

“The key climate question raised by this response to coronavirus is whether the trillions of dollars countries will spend to stimulate their economies will help reduce emissions or drive them up,” writes Worland. “[T]here are a lot of reasons why governments might want to use this moment to double down on measures to address climate change,” Worland adds.

Worland approvingly cites the International Energy Agency as making the case the COVID-19 response represents a “historic opportunity” (in IEA’s words) to push a green energy revolution. The IEA was created to be a source of information and statistics about the international oil market and other energy sectors, but it has recently become a shill for green energy interests. In fairness, Worland could have cited any number press releases, statements, and articles from the myriad environmental special-interest groups and their green lapdogs in the media making the same argument.

Fortunately, conservatives, libertarians, and any others concerned about limiting COVID-19’s damage to the economy, government fiscal sanity, and personal freedom have a ready response to these claims: BUNK! We call BS. A big green energy push would retard the economic recovery and cause huge net harm.

The GOP is rightly pointing out the economic meltdown brought on by governments shutting down economic activity to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is directly comparable to the economic damage that would result if the country adopted the Green New Deal (GND)—policies the Democratic leadership are trying to sneak in through the back door as part of a massive new coronavirus stimulus package.

In separate articles, first myself, then later David Wojick, Ph.D., detailed the types of wholesale economic changes that would have to occur to impose the GND. Entire industries would have to be fundamentally transformed or written off in the space of just 10 years, squandering trillions of dollars of investment. In the part of the Green New Deal dealing just with construction, energy, and transportation, Wojick lists more than 27 sectors of the economy that would have to be replaced entirely or remade under the GND.

The GND’s mandates would create jobs in the same way as a hooligan breaking a home’s or business’s windows creates jobs for glass makers and installers. It is not productive on net.

Replacing good-paying jobs in the oil, gas, and coal fields—which commonly pay $25, $50, or more per hour—with $9 to $15 per hour solar installer jobs isn’t a good tradeoff for the workers. Having deliveries delayed as long-haul truckers have to pull over every few hours to charge their electric big-rigs (when and if they become available and economical) overnight instead of stopping for a quick meal or bathroom break and only fueling up after hundreds of miles of travel as is the norm, will slow deliveries and increase costs. And all of this will require redundant energy supplies—typically using fossil fuels—to back up intermittent wind and solar power.

Cheap fossil fuels are what dragged the economy out of the recession in 2009, and fossil fuels are even cheaper now. The recovery will be hastened if we take advantage of the least-expensive source of energy, and that is fossil fuels, far and away. Even if sufficient green technologies existed to underpin the economy in the here and now—they don’t—pushing -expensive, less-reliable green energy on to the system instead of using abundant, readily available, reliable fossil fuels to power the economy would only slow the recovery and delay significant job recreation.

From a government budgetary perspective, it would be foolish as well. Jobs in the fossil fuel industry pays taxes—lots of taxes. In addition to the income and corporate taxes paid by workers and companies refining, delivering, pumping, and selling fossil fuels, the leases, fees, and royalties paid for coal, oil, and gas produced on federal lands and offshore is the federal government’s second largest source of revenue—behind only income taxes.

By contrast, wind and solar power facilities do not pay for themselves. On the contrary, the factories, installations, and power provided are heavily subsidized by government, and as a result, green energy is almost certainly a net economic drain on federal and state budgets. This is why Democrat Party leaders are trying to tack green energy programs onto the stimulus package: wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable energy sources need government support because they can’t pay for themselves, and the more exotic the power source, such as offshore wind or batteries, the less competitive they are with traditional fuels and thus the more taxpayer money they need.

Economists and statisticians at several organizations have calculated how much the GND would cost the economy. The figures are troubling:

  • Citing an analysis from the group Power the Future, PJ Media says a conservative estimate finds GND’s costs would top $49.109 trillion through 2030  (enough to fund President Trump’s proposed border wall 8,616 times over) and trillions more through 2050.
  • The American Action Forum, one of the first organizations to attempt to calculate GND’s costs, estimated the law would cost between $52.6 trillion and $94.4 trillion dollars through 2029. That means it would cost the average American household between $367,000 and $681,000 over those 10 years.
  • According to the Heritage Foundation, the portions of GND directed at transforming the electric power and transportation sectors alone would result in “an overall average shortfall of over 1.1 million jobs; a peak employment shortfall of over 5.2 million jobs; a total income loss of more than $165,000 for a family of four; an aggregate gross domestic product loss of over $15 trillion; and increases in household electricity expenditures averaging 30 percent.”
  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute calculated the costs of the energy portion of GND to households in five states—Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania—concluding, “in four of the five states analyzed—Florida, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania—the GND would cost a typical household more than $70,000 in the first year of implementation, approximately $45,000 for each of the next four years, and more than $37,000 each year thereafter. In Alaska, estimated costs are much higher: more than $100,000 in year one, $73,000 in the subsequent four years, and more than $67,000 each year thereafter.”
  • Citing data from the American Enterprise Institute, economist and scientist Dr. Alan Carlin writes the GND would result in annual monetary inflation rates of 10 or 20 percent, imposing approximately $2 trillion to $4 trillion in losses on the national economy each year.

Adding to the bad news, for all the economic havoc wrought by the GND, it would have an unmeasurable effect on future temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated even if the United States were to completely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions it would avert less than 0.2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise by the end of the century, too little to measure accurately, and perhaps prevent three sheets of paper, or less than a millimeter, of sea-level rise.

That’s a lot of pain for no gain. When it comes to adding GND provisions to the next round of COVID-19 relief, the Republicans should understand no deal is better than the Green New Deal.

—    H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Time; New York Times; International Energy Agency; CFACT; Carlin Economics and Science; Competitive Enterprise Institute; The Heritage Foundation; PJ Media; American Action Forum; Climate Change Weekly 313


IN THIS ISSUE …

Climate scientists misusing extreme scenarios … Norway, China, boost fossil fuels in corona recovery


CLIMATE SCIENTISTS MISUSING EXTREME SCENARIOS

A recent paper by Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado-Boulder and Justin Ritchie of the University of British Columbia demonstrates that, for more than a decade, most climate science research, assessments, and projections have misused or relied on unrealistic, extreme scenarios, treating them as if they represented the most likely future for the planet absent sharp restrictions on the use of fossil fuels in the near term.

The authors note modern science has a problem with the integrity of research conducted in a variety of areas, with research being compromised as a result of a combination of “perverse incentives in academic research” and the politicized motivations of those pursuing and those funding scientific research. The authors write,

Stagge et al. (2019) find that less than seven percent of articles published in six hydrology and water resources journals in 2017 are reproducible. Similarly, Klein et al. (2018) found that just over half of 28 classic and contemporary studies in psychology could be replicated. Similar issues associated with reproducibility of published research have been found in economics (Cammerer et al. 2016), medicine (Begley and Ellis 2012), and in other fields (NAS, 2019).

Evidence of research malfeasance comes from the numerous papers withdrawn in recent years after having been found to have been based on fabricated research.

In climate science, politicization and perverse incentives are rife. Pielke and Ritchie list several reasons climate scientists routinely use inherently flawed or grossly exaggerated extreme scenarios when forecasting expected future climate conditions, including “the evolving role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which effectively extended its mandate from literature assessment to literature coordination, … and maintaining research practices that normalize careless use of scenarios in a vacuum of plausibility.”

Because scientific integrity and effective policies are important, Pielke and Ritchie suggest changes to improve the way climate research is undertaken and rewarded. Among their suggestions are acknowledging the misuse of extreme scenarios which don’t reflect real-world evidence, and taking steps to immediately address it, in the process correcting the growing credibility crisis; terminating or replacing the IPCC as the collector, organizer, and judge of climate science research; and expanding the view of relevant knowledge beyond the small coterie of scientists in a narrow range of fields who happen to benefit from the use of extreme scenarios and the perception that they represent what “science” has to say about the causes and consequences of climate change.

SOURCE: Social Science Research Network


CHINA, NORWAY BOOST FOSSIL FUELS IN CORONA RECOVERY

Even as the coronavirus killed thousands of people and shut down economic activity across the Wuhan province of China, the Chinese government approved 10 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fueled power plants in the first quarter of 2020. This came as State Grid, China’s electric network operator, governors of its 31 provinces, and the China Electricity Council, a government-approved industrial body, continued lobbying for even more fossil fuel power plants to be built to stimulate the country’s fading economy.

In 2019, 25 of the nation’s 31 provinces were given the green light to build more power plants, resulting in construction beginning on more than 34 GW of new coal power plants. That same year, China’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 2 percent and fossil fuels accounted for more than 65 percent of the nation’s growth in energy consumption.

“[T]he targets being pushed … imply a net increase of 150-250 GW. At least 100 GW of capacity built before 2000 can be expected to retire by 2030, putting the amount of new capacity being proposed at 250-350GW,” reports a story in Carbon Brief.

For China to begin reducing emissions in 2030, it would have to halt new coal plant approvals soon and shut down many of its existing and new coal power plants years before the end of their economically useful life. Coal power plants can operate economically for 30 to 50 years, and the average age of coal power plants in China is just 14 years.

Beyond China, Norway—one of the first countries to ratify the Paris climate agreement, under which it committed to cutting its emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—is offering tax breaks to help keep its fossil fuel industry afloat during the coronavirus pandemic and the hoped-for recovery from the economic decline resulting from governments’ responses to it.

Norway is an active member of Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform, an informal group of non-G20 countries working to build a consensus to end fossil fuel subsidies worldwide. Despite this, “The Norwegian government will offer a ‘major package’ of tax breaks creating up to 100 billion krone ($9.7 billion) of investments for its oil and gas industries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister announced [on April 30],” Law 360 reports.

SOURCES: Caixin Global (behind paywall); Carbon Brief; Law360

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