Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The False Promise of ‘Clean Solar Powered Utility Scale Energy’

The economic impact study released by PennEast Pipeline Company, which seeks to build a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, drew several critical comments from pipeline opponents. (See my last two post for my take on the report and comments.)

One commenter challenged the idea that the PennEast pipeline would impact natural gas prices in the region it serves favorably—meaning lower—for consumers: “I'm sorry, but when have your utility bills ever decreased as a result of modernization, upgrate [sic] of infrastructure? Mine? Never! Not buying this argument.” I simply left a link in reply: Northeast's Record Natural Gas Prices Due to Pipeline Dearth

Another correspondent calling himself Doodledeedle left a more substantive post, which I addressed in my reply, quoting the relevant passages from his post:

“By investing in natural gas infrastructure we choose to not use that same money to invest in clean energy.

“However they don't show the environmental costs of fracking, pipeline construction and further climate change over many years from burning the natural gas.

“You can show the same exact benefits from clean solar powered utility scale energy systems with much less environmental impact.

“You vote with your dollars every time you buy petroleum products that cause environmental damage. The companies like PennEast then take the profit from your purchase and turn around and use it against you to frack gas wells and run pipelines in your community.”

Whether the alleged threat of climate change turns out to have some validity or is much ado about nothing—and as of now, there is no consensus or evidence of anything even close to climate catastrophe—one thing is certain: Reliable, plentiful, economical energy is vital to all aspects of human survival and well-being, including our ability to protect ourselves against natural climate dangers. People implicitly understand this. That’s why people the world over readily “vote with their dollars” for life-enhancing benefits of fossil fuels. Life without energy is hell on Earth, climate change or no. That’s why fossil fuels provide 87% of the world’s energy.

Fossil fuels enable us to transform a danger-filled natural environment into a safer human environment. By every metric of human well-being—from access to clean water, to clean central heating and a/c, to protection from storms, to food production, to health and life expectancy—increased use of fossil fuels to generate energy has led to better living. You say that the PennEast report doesn’t “show the environmental costs of fracking, pipeline construction and further climate change over many years from burning the natural gas.” But those costs are considered, which is why we have anti-pollution laws that energy companies must adhere to. In fact, petroleum’s enemies are the one’s who are guilty of context-dropping: They never consider the human costs of not using petroleum products. Their narrow-minded focus fails to think of the big picture. If they did, they’d recognize that the benefits of fossil fuels—including the environmental benefits—vastly outweigh the negative side effects, which can be and are being ameliorated.

Any producer that wants to invest in so-called “clean energy” is free to do so by right. Fossil fuel companies should also have that freedom, because it is their right as well. It’s not and should not be either/or. No one’s trying to stop “clean energy” investment. It’s the anti-fossil fuel jihadists who are trying to stop fossil fuel development. This despite the fact that nowhere on Earth has wind or solar proven to be capable of being a dependable, stand-alone, primary utility scale energy source. “Renewables” are simply not scalable. No matter how much is invested in “clean energy”—which isn’t really clean—fossil fuels and hence pipelines would still be needed to provide the backbone energy when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. That’s why Germany, the acknowledged leader in wind and solar, has once again started building coal-fired power plants. That’s why, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, Japan—home of Kyoto—turned to fossil fuels rather than “green” energy to replace its shuttered nuclear industry. Even “clean” energy infrastructure can’t be built without fossil fuel-powered machines. Until and unless the technological breakthroughs that can make renewables as reliable as fossil fuels are invented, it is cruel and immoral to deny consumers access to the energy provided by companies like PennEast and the frackers—and cruel to make them feel guilty because of phony charges that fossil fuels are bad for the planet.

And consumers who want to can “vote with their dollars” against fossil fuels anytime they want. If you want to, why don’t you? Have the courage of your convictions. Rather than attacking pipelines, lead by example and persuasion: Lead a voluntary boycott of fossil fuels by publicly renouncing your personal purchase and use of fossil fueled energy. Show by your actions that fossil fuels are not needed to maintain your living standards. You won’t, because to do so you’d have to give up ready access to electricity, and food from the local supermarket, your car, your running water—pretty much anything that requires energy. I wonder how you’d like the damage your renunciation of fossil fuels would do to your environment. It would be quality-of-life suicide to give up fossil fuels. Yet that’s what you and your fellow anti-pipeline jihadists want to force on other people, even as you yourselves enjoy the benefits of existing pipelines. The same arguments used against PennEast’s pipeline could be used against the 305,000 miles of existing nat-gas transmission pipelines and the 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines that pass through communities across the country. Think of the “environmental damage” the shutdown of that pipeline network would cause; damage, that is, to the human environment—including to the communities of PennEast’s opponents.

We should be thankful that the fossil fuel companies are profitable, and that they use their profits to invest in still more fossil fuel development and still more pipelines. They don’t use their profits “against you”, but to your benefit. By choosing to invest in natural gas infrastructure—and the choice rightfully and morally belongs to each of us as producers and consumers—you choose to invest in life; yours and others’.


Doodledeedle’s assertion that “You can show the same exact benefits [lower energy bills, more disposable income and increased economic activity] from clean solar powered utility scale energy systems” as natural gas is a common claim of anti-fossil fuel ideologues. But their own activism for government intervention (aggressive legalized force) into the energy market is proof that this claim is hogwash. If it weren’t hogwash, all you’d need is a free energy market. If “renewables” really are that good, they will have no problem doing to fossil fuels what digital photography did to the once dominant Eastman Kodak; what modern communications technology did to the AT&T monopoly; what the personal computer did to mainframe computer king IBM; and what electrification did to John D. Rockefeller’s near-total dominance of kerosene-based nighttime illumination more than a century ago.

You can go to the article to read Doodledeedle’s comments in full. In his full comments, Doodledeedle posted a link to President Obama’s report THE COST OF DELAYING ACTION TO STEM CLIMATE CHANGE. A study commissioned by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, THE SOCIAL COSTS OF CARBON? NO, THE SOCIAL BENEFITS OF CARBON, presents a counter view. Michael Bastasch reviewed the coal industry report for The Daily Caller.

Bastasch, citing work done by Robert S. Pindyck in The Use and Misuse of Models for Climate Policy, also calls into question the models used to justify the economic cost claims of Obama’s report. According to Bastasch, a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds the models that the "integrated assessment models (IAMs) used to craft global warming policy 'have flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis' and trick government officials 'into thinking that the forecasts the models generate have some kind of scientific legitimacy.'”
Related Reading:

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

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