Marching to the wrong tune

Michael J Economides
Friday, August 17, 2012

During the last week of June in the US, anything that wasn’t ‘Obamacare’ didn’t get much news coverage. With that in mind, one had to wonder why ‘36 citizen organizations with more than 1.1 million combined members’ chose 27 June to release the results of a skewed survey and introduce a nine-point plan toward a ‘truly renewable, sustainable energy standard’.

Perhaps they realized the folly of their effort, but had to do the press release to show their donors what they’d done, while having virtually no impact. Maybe they wanted it buried – in which case, we are happy to expose it.

In the release, featured on PRNewswire, the organizations’ survey chose verbiage designed to elicit an affirmative response – even we agree with some of their statements! For example, we believe we should ‘retool federal loan guarantees’ and that ‘government incentives must benefit public health, economic well-being, and the environment’. We think we all ‘deserve clean air, access to clean water, safe, sustainable food and good health’. We heartily embrace the statement: ‘The use of taxpayer dollars for energy projects, whether in the form of subsidies, tax incentives or loan guarantees, currently runs counter to the public interest.’ Who would say ‘government incentives should hurt public health’ or ‘we all deserve dirty air, dirty water and bad health’?

The implication of the press release is that if you do not agree with their ‘American clean energy agenda’ you want dirty air and water, and bad health.

‘While wind and solar are advertised as being “clean” and “green”, they are really neither. To “sustain the electric grid” as the groups propose, wind and solar must be supported by fossil fuel-generated electricity.’

The nine-point plan is supposedly based on a national opinion poll they commissioned that proves ‘Americans are deeply dissatisfied’ with the ‘all of the above’ approach to energy (if only we truly had an ‘all of the above’ approach). The poll asked people to agree or disagree with statements which are designed to elicit an ‘agree’ response such as these two:
‘The energy industry’s extensive and well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to moving beyond business as usual when it comes to America’s energy policy.
The time is now for a new, grassroots-driven politics to realize a renewable energy future. Congress is debating large public investments in energy and we need to take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support renewable energy—one that protects public health, promotes energy independence and the economic well being of all Americans.’

Michael J Economides is a professor at the Cullen College of Engineering, University of Houston, and editor-in-chief of the Energy Tribune. Marita Noon is an energy writer based in New Mexico. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect OE’s position.

Most people would probably also agree with the following contrarian statements, crafted for us by an expert in polling and also designed to elicit an ‘agree’ response:
Opponents of America’s energy independence efforts and their well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to reducing our dependence on foreign oil imports. Their support of taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy companies that have gone bankrupt has cost hard-working taxpayers billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse.
The time is now for the US to free itself from overdependence on foreign oil imports. Congress should take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars do not support worthless investments in renewable energy companies which have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars under President Obama who has used many of these dollars as payoffs to campaign cronies.

Based on the results of their push polling the ‘coalition of 36 organizations representing more than 1.1 million Americans’ proposes the following in point one of their nine-point ‘American clean energy agenda’ that puts ideology and emotion ahead of fact and science.
‘Accelerating the phase-out of nuclear power, natural gas, coal and industrial biomass and driving a grand transition to efficient use of renewable, non-polluting resources.’

One has to ask, what do they think we are going to use to fuel America? The Sierra Club is celebrating the closure, or announced closure, of 100 coal-fueled power plants and is patting itself on the back for preventing 166 new coal-fueled power plants from being built. The organization’s agenda calls for ‘least cost to consumers and minimal risk’ and ‘energy independence’. If that is what their members want, they want coal! It is least cost – even in light of low natural gas prices, as the coal-fueled power plants are existing construction. Converting to natural gas will require expensive retrofits and/or the building of new plants – which will take years due to excessive environmental analysis and a burdensome permitting process. Coal-fueled electricity has already achieved ‘energy independence’, as we have enough coal in America to supply our power needs for hundreds of years while still selling to global markets. We do not need to import coal from countries that hate us.

Texas has the highest concentration of wind turbines in the country. They’ve also been hit hard with coal-fueled power plant closures. Early this year, a Texas power industry executive expressed concern over energy shortages in Texas: ‘If we have another hot summer like last year, Texas is going to have brownouts.’ Obviously, he knew what he was talking about. On 29 June, the Wall Street Journal reported: ‘Concerned about adequate electricity supplies, the Texas Public Utility Commission raised a price cap for wholesale electricity sales, already the highest in the nation, to $4500 a megawatt hour from $3000.’ Certainly these 36 groups cannot really have least cost as a priority.

They want to phase out nuclear power: Germany is trying this and it is not working out so well for that country. Following the tsunami in Japan last year, Germany announced the immediate closure of eight of its 17 nuclear power plants, with the remaining nine to be shut down over the next decade. Germany recently announced its power plan for the future. They are replacing the 17 nuclear plants with 84 power plants. Let those numbers soak in for a bit. It takes 84 power plants to replace 17! Of those 84, more than half are fossil fuel. Even über-green Germany is building new coal- and natural gas-fueled power plants. They realize they cannot fuel the country on renewables alone. Before the closure of the nuclear plants, Germany was a net-exporter of electricity. Now it has to buy nuclear-generated electricity from France. In the US we have 104 nuclear reactors, so using Germany’s ratios, to replace them we’d need more than 400 new power plants.

What about the non-polluting part? Obviously this group of 36 likes wind and solar power – though they do not specify. Not all environmental groups support wind and solar, as wind turbines kill birds and bats, and industrial solar uses too much land, often land with endangered species like the desert tortoise. While wind and solar are advertised as being ‘clean’ and ‘green’, they are really neither. To ‘sustain the electric grid’ as the groups propose, wind and solar must be supported by fossilfuel-generated electricity. Without the back-up power – usually natural gas – the renewables cause dangerous spikes to the grid. So the clean and green simply isn’t.

All of the above comments are only in response to point #1. For the sake of brevity, we will just address a couple more concepts from their press release.

Though not actually in the nine points, we can’t let slip by the line about ‘avoiding a future in which Americans suffer the consequences of mountain top mining for coal and fracking of shale gas that is then exported for use in other nations’.

There are three key points that need to be addressed: the consequences of mining for coal and fracking, and the importance of exports.

Fracking first. What are the consequences of horizontal drilling with multi-stage fracking? Low natural gas prices. This process of using high pressure to crack rock deep beneath the earth’s surface has unleashed an abundance of natural gas that has dropped the cost to the lowest price in decades. The bigger problem is the consequence of not fracking – which would stop the abundance of the clean, low-carbon fuel, kill thousands of jobs, and raise the price of natural gas, forcing the economically disadvantaged to freeze in the dark. Fracking has been used consistently for oil and natural gas extraction for more than 60 years. The EPA has repeatedly tried, and failed, to tie fracking to groundwater contamination – only to end up with egg on its face. Even the oft-viewed clip of flames coming out of a water faucet, supposedly due to fracking for natural gas extraction, in the movie Gasland has since been discredited.

Next, coal mining. Not mining for coal has much of the same consequence as not fracking: higher electricity rates and job loss – specifically loss of high-paying union jobs. Due to campaigns that have been waged against coal, like this new one from the 36 groups, the EPA is now requiring that the wastewater discharge from a coal mining operation be cleaner than what is naturally occurring in the area – even cleaner than what is found in many expensive plastic bottles of water.

Now, exporting. For years, American exports have declined – in part due to the rising energy costs for manufacturing. We’ve been sending our dollars to other countries and getting little back. America has a huge trade deficit. Exporting is good for our economy and we need it! Why would these 36 groups oppose exports?

As the revised push poll statement the polling expert crafted for us says: ‘The time is now for the US to free itself from overdependence on foreign oil imports. Congress should take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars do not support worthless investments in renewable energy companies which have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars under President Obama who has used many of these dollars as payoffs to campaign cronies.’

To do this, end the mindless pursuit of unreliable, inefficient, and uneconomical renewable energy at any cost. OE

Categories: North America Renewables

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