By Ken Haapala
Brought to You by www.SEPP.org – The Science and Environmental Policy Project
Quote of the Week. “Were it not rational behaviour based on irrational government policy, this deliberate elimination of an essential service could only be described as a form of economic self-harm.” Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister of Australia
Challenging Green: On October 9, former prime minister of Australia Tony Abbott gave a noteworthy speech at the annual lecture of the Global Warming Policy Forum. Abbott is the former leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, classical liberal. In his speech, Abbott challenged the false “climate consensus” and false belief accompanying it that solar and wind power can replace fossil fuels for reliable electrical power generation. Abbott’s speech indicates he now understands the delicate balance required to keep the grid operating.
[As explained in previous TWTWs, the electrical grid can be looked upon as an energized system serving all on it, but owned by no one. Utilities may own lines, poles, etc.; but, not the energized system. To function, the grid requires stability, consumers require reliability on demand, and it is the responsibility of the grid operator to balance electrical generation with demand, within a narrow range of error.]
In his speech, Abbott brings up many of the weaknesses of the global warming “consensus” and states:
“The growing evidence that records have been adjusted, that the impact of urban heat islands has been downplayed, and that data sets have been slanted in order to fit the theory of dangerous anthropogenic global warming does not make it false; but it should produce much caution about basing drastic action upon it.
“Then there’s the evidence that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide (which is a plant food after all) are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields. In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heat waves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.
“In what might be described as Ridley’s paradox, after the distinguished British commentator: at least so far, it’s climate change policy that’s doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm.
“Australia, for instance, has the world’s largest readily available supplies of coal, gas and uranium, yet thanks to a decade of policy based more on green ideology than common sense, we can’t be sure of keeping the lights on this summer; and, in the policy-induced shift from having the world’s lowest power prices to amongst the highest, our manufacturing industry has lost its one, big comparative economic advantage.”
In discussing energy, he brings out how green thinking of limiting carbon dioxide emission gradually became a goal of public policy and his role of not opposing green demands without sufficient rigor. He states:
“Inevitably, our Paris agreement to a 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction was a compromise based on the advice that we could achieve it largely through efficiencies, without additional environmental imposts, using the highly successful emissions reduction fund; because, as I said at the time, ‘the last thing we want to do is strengthen the environment (but) damage our economy.’”
He no longer campaigned on power prices and lost. Also, the effort to replace fossil fuels with renewables is failing in the state of South Australia, and elsewhere.
“Throughout last summer, there were further blackouts and brownouts across eastern Australia requiring hundreds of millions in repairs to the plant of energy-intensive industries. Despite this, in a display of virtue signalling, to flaunt its environmental credentials (and to boost prices for its other coal-fired plants), last March the French-government part-owned multinational, Engie, closed down the giant Hazelwood coal-fired station that had supplied a quarter of Victoria’s power.
“The Australian Energy Market Operator is now sufficiently alarmed to have just issued an official warning of further blackouts this summer in Victoria and South Australia and severe medium term power shortfalls. But in yet more virtue-signaling, energy giant AGL is still threatening to close the massive Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW and replace it with a subsidised solar farm and a much smaller gas-fired power station relying on gas supplies that don’t currently exist.
“Were it not rational behaviour based on irrational government policy, this deliberate elimination of an essential service could only be described as a form of economic self-harm.”
After energy issues in more detail, Abbott concludes:
“A tendency to fear catastrophe is ingrained in the human psyche. Looking at the climate record over millions of years, one day it will probably come; whatever we do today won’t stop it, and when it comes, it will have little to do with the carbon dioxide emissions of mankind.”
For the speech and some commentary, see links under Challenging the Orthodoxy – Abbott.
California Duck Gets Cooked? In marked contrast to Tony Abbott’s appeal to reason and responsibility regarding alternative power generation, the State of California abrogated both. The California [Electrical] System Operator (CAISO) created an effective method of graphically representing the burdens placed on the grid operator with government mandates of adding more solar and wind. As the California government mandates a higher percentage of solar and wind generation, the duck gets fatter.
During the middle of the day, solar, particularly, replaces more traditional baseload power generation as mandates increase. But, starting about 3 pm more traditional generation is needed as solar power wanes. Peak power is needed about 8 pm, when there is little or no sun. No doubt, merchant power generators running natural gas turbines (basically jet engines) enjoy the situation. They can quickly ramp up generation to meet the increasing load, and profit therefrom. Of course, straight turbines use more gas and are less efficient than combined cycle gas generation, but respond much more quickly. Anyway, only the consumer pays.
Paraphrasing Abbott: Were it not rational behavior based on irrational government policy, this situation could only be described as a form of economic self-harm.
The government of California has responded to the CAISO duck: It passed a law mandating that the utilities solve the problem. Utilities have been working on the problem of electricity storage for over 100 years. The only commercial proven system is pumped-hydro storage, which is successful for excess electricity generation from nuclear and fossil fuels. The effort to use wind powered pumped-hydro storage in El Hierro Island failed because storage requirements of the upper reservoirs was greatly underestimated. Besides, the greens in California oppose existing dams, much less new ones.
Perhaps the California government will borrow a concept from Johnathan Swift and mandate that utilities extract sunbeams from cucumbers to keep solar power operating in the evening. Certainly, a large cucumber emitting powerful sunbeams would be a great logo for the California government. For a description of the CAISO duck and the new law see links under Energy Issues – US and California Dreaming.
Obama Power Plan: US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced that the Trump administration will repeal the Obama administration’s power plan, labeled the Clean Power Plan. The action is not surprising, and the public will have sixty days to comment once the notice of repeal is published in the Federal Register. No doubt, SEPP will be commenting.
We can expect the usual sounding of the climate chorus and the greens promising the end of the world. On his blog, The Reference Frame, Luboš Motl has fitting comments:
“But as many if not most of the laymen ceased to understand, the smog and acid rains have nothing to do with the CO2 emissions. Acid rains are caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Add smoke, soot, particulates, and ozone if you want to create smog. Most of these dirty components of the smoke from the chimneys were removed across the civilized world some two decades ago if not earlier. The remaining stuff is mostly carbon dioxide which is, when it comes to its environmental impact, extremely similar to water vapor. It’s natural and life-friendly. In fact, life needs CO2 and H2O to a very similar extent.”
“While coal may be saved and the civilization may enjoy very cheap energy in the future, I am also saddened by the fact that so many people – including people who consider themselves fans of science – have been deceived about so elementary things such as the difference between CO2 and pollutants. The uneducated and miseducated nations may end up being an even bigger problems for themselves than a more expensive energy that could result from the near bans on coal and similar isolated misguided policies.”
One may add that many once distinguished publications ran articles on CO2 with photos of condensing water vapor “blackening the skies” – taken under unusual lighting conditions or with special lenses.
This action is an important first step, but it is not sufficient. The endangerment finding needs to be revoked or drastically changed. As former EPA official Alan Carlin comments:
“One very unfortunate possibility is that EPA may take no action on reconsidering and revoking the Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding (EF) until the CPP legal issues are resolved by the courts. If so, it appears likely that the delay would be considerable since the CPP repeal issues are likely to go to the Supreme Court.”
For links see: Questioning the Orthodoxy, Change in US Administrations, and EPA and other Regulators on the March
Coal Country: With a possible reversal in the Obama power plan, there is considerable speculation about what will happen to coal-fired power plants that have closed or have announced closing. Also, are natural gas prices sufficiently low to promote conversion from coal to natural gas, including pipelines necessary to transport the gas? These are among the questions that will slowly be resolved if the regulations regarding coal fired power are relaxed. As Motl stated, many of the adverse effects on health from coal-fired power plants have been exaggerated or even made up. The tiny particle (PM 2.5) effect claimed by the EPA is under sharp questioning. There are also issues regarding ozone: nature is a major source of volatile organic compounds, which can develop into ozone.
Economist Roger Bezdek of MISI has begun a four-part series on the coal industry and the damage recent regulations caused to Appalachia, which, described in his map, is a hilly (mountainous) region in the East running roughly from western Pennsylvania south to flatter lands of Mississippi. The region is traditionally one of poorest in the country, and coal mining was an important source of income. In the second part he will address questions such as:
“Specifically, the question is how much coal will be produced and utilized in the future and what will be the likely impacts on U.S. electricity generation, the economy, and jobs? Has the death of coal been greatly exaggerated?”
See links under Energy Issues – US.
Wind Shear: Meteorologist Joe D’Aleo of WeatherBELL Analytics explains why 2017 was an active year for hurricanes and how the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affects hurricanes when it shifts from El Niño to La Niña conditions. The role of wind shear in inhibiting Atlantic hurricane development is important. See links under Changing Weather.
Need for Improved Terminology? Theoretical physicist and mathematician Christopher Essex commented that when TWTW uses the term “Empirical Science” it may not convey the meaning TWTW intends to all readers: the pursuit to better understanding nature through rigorous observation and experimentation. He has in important point. We have seen the term empirical used for activities that have little to do with observation and experimentation. “Model testing” used for estimating the change in results from a change of a variable, with nothing to do with observations from nature. This is an important issue to explore and comments are most welcome.
Number of the Week: $160 billion in losses. RBN Energy reports: “The 43 U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking racked up $160 billion in losses in 2015-16…” Much of the losses and jobs associated with the losses were due to OPEC deciding to allow oil prices to fall sharply to protect market share. Yet, where were no cries in Congress for subsidies and tax breaks needed to protect these non-green jobs? See link under Oil and Natural Gas – the Future or the Past?
1. Warren Buffett Bets on the Fossil-Fuel Highway
The sage of Omaha knows a policy bubble when he sees it—and electric vehicles are a prime case.
By Holman Jenkins, WSJ, Oct 6, 2017
[SEPP Comment: Buffett is not the flashiest investor, but among the most long-lasting.]
SUMMARY: The columnist writes:
“A sucker is born every minute, and Warren Buffett just proved it. He agreed to spend an undisclosed sum of his shareholders’ money to buy a controlling stake in Pilot Flying J, the truck-stop chain that sells food, coffee and diesel fuel to truckers. After all, aren’t truckers about to be replaced by robots, and diesel by battery power?
“The sucker in this scenario, we add, is anyone who believed such futuristic forecasts in the first place.
“Said Mr. Buffett this week on Bloomberg TV: “Who knows when driverless trucks are going to come along and what level of penetration they have?” He might have added that Bloomberg itself has been a key offender in overhyping vehicle advances. It won lots of play for its estimate in July that electric cars would overtake gasoline cars in affordability by 2025. Little mentioned was the fine print: Its forecast depends on regulators being willing to pile on enough taxes and mandates to cancel out the superior cost-effectiveness of gas-powered cars.
“A growing irony goes almost completely unnoticed. China, the U.K. and France now talk of banning the internal combustion engine as soon as 2030. Jerry Brown, California’s 79-year-old, term-limited governor, is pressing his state regulators to set a similarly aggressive date to burnish his green legacy.
“In the meantime, to prove they’re making progress, they’ve all adopted the same interim strategy: They mandate that car makers sell a set number of electric cars in return for being allowed to sell gasoline-powered cars. Fiat admits to losing $20,000 on every electric vehicle it sells in Europe. General Motors loses $9,000 on every Chevy Bolt. Even Tesla is partly sustained by selling zero-emissions credits to conventional car companies that actually make money (unlike Tesla).
“The implication is worth pausing over: In banning gasoline-powered cars, then, California and other jurisdictions would be banning the very product whose profits allow electric cars to exist in the marketplace today.”
After discussing management changes at Ford Motor Company, the columnist continues:
“China is at a different point in its policy cycle. It also has additional motives. It wants to shift air pollution from the vehicle tailpipe to the coal smokestack in hopes of making its cities more livable, and it wants to shift its dependence from imported oil to domestic coal.
“But the paradox remains: Electric cars in China will be “compliance vehicles” sustained by booming sales of gas-powered cars.
“What about robotic drivers, presumably the other flaw in Mr. Buffett’s Flying J purchase? Autonomous trucks are already used in ports and mines, and may be licensed eventually to operate on America’s limited-access, tightly-regulated interstate highways if the public and politicians will allow it.
“But such long-haul journeys (over 1,000 miles) account for only 21% of truck trips. If a wider array of goods can be profitably shipped long distances thanks to automation, it will mean more trucks and drivers navigating urban and suburban roads and regional highways, not to mention more workers to serve as warehouse hands, dispatchers, etc.
“The Journal, leaning against the wind, recently showed how Amazon and e-commerce were associated with increased overall employment. The panic about displaced truck drivers is likely to prove even more badly overstated. On present trends, robots in the U.S. won’t be putting people out of work. They will be making up for a labor shortage. Truck drivers have been in short supply for more than a decade.
“The world’s politicians are not stupid, but neither are they necessarily interested in sound, coherent long-term policy. There are other carrots and sticks operating on them. Electric cars certainly have their uses and will find a place in the world’s garages. Look at the expanding array of vehicle types—from SUVs to minivans to sports cars and crossovers and pickups—that Americans already own. Today’s average U.S household has more cars than licensed drivers.
“But put aside the dream of electric cars soon taking over, which has always depended on wizardly management by politicians who can’t manage anything. Gasoline- and diesel-powered cars will remain the vehicles of choice for many uses for decades to come. And Mr. Buffett (and his heirs) will be plying their drivers with pancakes, coffee and fill-ups.”