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When ought ain't is

12 Jun 2024 | OP ED Watch

Inherent in climate zealotry is the tendency to see what people think ought to be rather than what they have good reason to believe actually is, thus substituting aspiration for experience. Like this Globe & Mail invitation to “an exclusive afternoon of networking and discussion with Canadian business leaders on their climate progress and priorities on the path to net zero.” But there is no such path, and while we’d rather be with rogues who know it than fools who don’t, frankly we’d rather be with neither.

Those who say natural gas plants, nuclear plants or coal plants provide reliable power at affordable rates are speaking from a massive amount of experience. Those who say non-nuclear alternatives can also do so are speaking from a very small amount (and much of it not encouraging). Even about the footprint; as Heatmap recently emailed (but did not apparently post online):

“Picture two doors. Behind one lie protections for some of the last remaining undeveloped wilderness in America; behind the other is the build-out of the clean-energy infrastructure needed to slow climate change. Which do you go through?”

With conventional energy, the downsides like the upsides are pretty clear by now. With renewables, who knows?

Thus as Parker Gallant recently showed, the effort to obtain enough BESS or Battery Energy Storage Systems to let Ontario ditch its natural gas plants carries a mind-boggling price tag and engineering challenge, the former being around $6.1 billion a year in extra costs and the latter being to increase the province’s storage capacity 18-fold. It may be possible. But we just don’t know.

The consequences of getting it wrong are ominous. Heatmap actually recently claimed that Alaska’s spring 2024 elections including for various utility boards (Canadians can only wish we had any input into such bodies) will be about alternatives not because of climate concerns but because the state is somehow experiencing a natural gas shortage despite being rich in fossil fuels. And evidently the solution isn’t more drilling or better pipelines. It’s stuff you only guess might work.

According to Heatmap, the problem with getting more natural gas is that it would be too expensive and Alaska “is dark and cold for half the year”. Whereas renewables work perfectly and are a bargain:

“One independent analysis Herz cites found that the 80% renewable portfolio standard proposed by the state’s Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy would save $6.7 billion in fuel costs over the next 35 years compared to an estimated $3.2 billion investment in the projects. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s latest assessment likewise found that a large clean-energy build-out would be ‘more affordable than relying on imported natural gas.’”

Well, as the ad said, “Yer about to fahnd out.”

Here’s something else odd. The Washington Times claims that wind speeds dropped considerably in the United States in 2023. It seems a bit hard to believe, but then again weather is infamously variable. What if it does happen fairly often? And what if a state, let’s call it “Vermont”, gambles big on wind and the associated batteries to store power generated at the wrong time of day, only to find that some years, it’s not generated at any time of day? It might not happen. But it might, and we don’t know.

Normally untried technologies are adopted on a small scale by zealots on the supply and demand end, and we gain experience from those that crash and burn and those that unexpectedly take flight, and scale up the latter by the same trial-and-error process. But this time we’re doing it the other way around, with error first and trial later, and it’s not safe. Indeed the “Electric Grandma”, aka Meredith Angwin, crunches a bunch of what numbers are available on New England offshore wind generation and concludes that:

“people who believe that wind and solar will be able to replace nuclear in fifteen years are not being dishonest. They believe what they are saying. They think wind and solar will be enough, with a little help from batteries. Wind supporters are not deliberately lying. However, wind plus solar plus some batteries cannot replace steady power. A grid cannot run on just solar, wind and batteries. It is impossible to run a steady grid with no fossil, no nuclear, no hydro.”

But the kind of people who thought John Lennon’s “Imagine” was practical advice are undeterred.

Interestingly, Canary Media also saw, or hallucinated, that “Batteries are taking on gas plants to power California’s nights/ California’s record 10 gigawatts of grid batteries are finally pushing solar generation into post-sunset hours at a meaningful scale, new data shows” and within weeks the New York Times was singing the same song: “Giant Batteries Are Transforming the Way the U.S. Uses Electricity/ They’re delivering solar power after dark in California and helping to stabilize grids in other states. And the technology is expanding rapidly.”

But there’s something we do know about such forms of energy. They cannot yet flourish without massive subsidies. And we have a lot of experience with government subsidies over many centuries and around the globe: they reward the wrong things.

Recently the Manhattan Contrarian wrote that charges of “misinformation” are excessively common as are examples of it. But:

“of those, which is the very worst, the very most pernicious? Here is my candidate: the assertion that the cheapest way to generate electricity today is with wind and solar generators.”

And he gives three main reasons for picking it from this crowded and ugly field:

“(1) the assertion is repeated endlessly and ubiquitously, (2) it is the basis for the misallocation of trillions of dollars of resources and for great impoverishment of billions of people around the world, and (3) it is false to the point of being preposterous, an insult to everyone’s intelligence, yet rarely challenged.”

After pointing out that a Google search will yield page after page of variants on that claim and concedes that:

“In the face of hundreds of different journalism outlets endlessly repeating in unison the mantra of cheap ‘renewable’ electricity, it becomes difficult to blame the voters or the politicians for just nodding along with the crowd.”

But, he adds, if you look at the “ancillary costs” of these alternatives, the backup systems for days where the sun don’t shine or the wind don’t blow, the transmission facilities, the storage and so on, you realize “the idea that wind and solar generation of electricity are the ‘cheapest’ is classic misinformation, the endless repetition of an assertion that is clearly false and known to be false.” And he heckles “the people incapable of seeing through the fog of misinformation on this subject” including U.S. President Biden and the New York and California governors that:

“they throw tens of billions of dollars of handouts and subsidies to develop wind and solar facilities (hundreds of billions of dollars in the case of the feds), never having the presence of mind to realize that none of that would be necessary if this method of generation were actually cheaper as claimed.”


5 comments on “When ought ain't is”

  1. One problem not covered here or by Electric Grandma in a wind/solar/battery system is battery recharging after a prolonged lack of wind and sun. Imagine a scenario in New England where wind and solar outputs are minimal for one week (not uncommon in a New England winter). Presumably without fossil or nuclear the supply will come entirely from batteries. The battery capacity to do this for a whole week will be enormous, but let's assume this is available. At the end of the week the wind and sun appear again, but now they have not only to provide what the batteries had provided in the previous week, they also have to recharge the batteries in case the following week is also windless and sunless. This will necessitate that the wind & solar installations be capable of providing at least twice what is required for normal day-to-day operations. And if you realistically need to recharge those batteries in less than a week, in case the wind and sun disappear again in less than a week, it gets a whole lot worse.

  2. I was just reading the above claim by heatmap about renewables being cheaper than fossil, about how it "would save $6.7 billion in fuel costs over the next 35 years compared to an estimated $3.2 billion investment in the projects."
    Two things struck me about this claim:
    1. Who in their right mind would compare two amounts like that. They both omit maintenance and operating costs as wll as decommissioning costs. Anyone with experience in building, owning and operating technical installations knows these factors are crucial for an honest comparison.
    2. That '35 years' is an odd figure, normally one would consider something like 3, 5, 10, 30 or even 50 years. It seems like the authors have deliberately calculated towards the two amounts, just to be able to claim that renewable is 'more than twice as cheap'... Working the numbers to get the desired result...

    "on a long enough timeline, everyone's survival rate drops to zero"

  3. One more time for those who don't know,or who have forgotten...there is NO PLACE on earth where renewables have resulted in cheaper energy costs
    for the general population.Quite the opposite.I'm not talking about individuals who tout about their energy savings from such small scale scenarios such as a house or small farm.Usually with solar panels.If renewables are getting "cheaper all the time" howcum they need taxpayer subsidies?
    Has anyone in Ontario forgotten how the Ontario Liberals nearly doubled the end cost of electrity with their Green Energy Plan 2009?

  4. Alan Stewart … that’s a great clip of Peterson, and it brings to mind the time former minister of the environment and climate change, Catherine McKenna, was caught channeling Joseph Goebbel’s in a pub by saying she had learned from her time in Parliament that if you say a thing loud enough and often enough it becomes the truth. I think Trudeau and his ministers have fallen prey to the very phenomenon that Peterson is describing. It’s not that they believe their own lies. It’s that their lies have become their truth. The can no longer see them as lies any more than a fish can see the water it lives in.

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