Dumb Energy

Wind and solar electricity are renewable energy.  How nice to pluck energy out of the air and the sky.

It's a scam.  Big money men and screwball dreamers, otherwise called environmentalists, are behind the scam.

Apparently, it has not dawned on the believers in the scam that solar does not work at night, and wind works only when the wind is blowing.  The core characteristic of wind and solar is that they are erratic sources of electricity.  The supply is randomly intermittent.  Who in Hell thinks this dumb energy is a good way to supply electricity?

The wind and solar promoters, in order to accommodate their dumb energy, demand that the electric grid be re-engineered to become a "smart" grid.  Perhaps the idea is that if the grid is smart enough, the dumb energy will be canceled by the smart grid.  That's actually what the smart grid people have in mind.  The smart grid is supposed to be agile enough to fill in the gaps when the wind or solar is playing hooky.

The intellectual mind values an elegant theory over a messy reality.  The result is tension between ivory tower thinkers and practical men working in the trenches of the economy.  The practical men easily see the weaknesses in abstract theories, weaknesses that are invisible to the ivory tower thinkers.  But the practical men are not equipped to assert or defend their reality in political, media, or academic circles.  If they try, they are patronized and ignored.  A seductive theory trumps pedestrian and annoying facts in the intellectual mind.  For this reason, ridiculously impracticable renewable energy finds wide support in academic, environmental, and government circles – circles populated by thinkers accustomed to mobilizing the power of the state to promote impractical ideas with the taxpayers' money.  For these thinkers, evidence that contradicts their beliefs must be bad evidence.

In the supposedly hard-headed Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold writes that "global investment in wind and solar energy is outshining fossil fuels."  He claims that Alberta is getting subsidy-free wind electricity for $37 a megawatt-hour.  That's $28 U.S.  Since real subsidy-free wind electricity costs about $10 Canadian, something is wrong here.  What's wrong is that the media have lost their minds.  Five minutes with Google is enough to discover that Albertan electricity is indeed subsidized.  What we have here is a mania and a suspension of critical judgment.  No lie about renewable energy is too big to be believed, even by the Wall Street Journal.  There are 600 comments to the Journal article.  The commentators, evidently practical men, point out the errors and fallacies in the article.

In the U.S., it is hard to keep track of all the subsidies for renewable energy.  I'd be surprised if it is very different in Canada.  Some subsidies are blatant, like a $24-per-megawatt-hour payment from the federal treasury for the production of wind electricity, or a 30% tax credit for the construction of a solar energy farm.  Some subsidies are buried in accounting complexities like rapid depreciation that allows for complicated tax gimmicks that effectively take money from the federal treasury and give it to renewable energy investors.  Then there are renewable portfolio laws in 30 states setting goals for renewable energy.  The result is that wind and solar installations get long-term guaranteed markets at high prices for their electricity.  Grid operators are required to accept all wind and solar electricity offered unless they, more or less, declare an emergency.

Assuming a windy or a sunny place, wind or solar electricity costs around $70 a megawatt-hour to produce.  Even though no fuel is used, the capital cost spread over the electricity produced makes the renewable energy more expensive than using fossil fuel.  With natural gas, you can produce electricity for around $50 per megawatt-hour.  Those numbers are the cost at the plant fence – not a fair comparison.  It's not a fair comparison because when you build a wind or solar plant, you don't get to take away the natural gas plant.  It's still there to back up the wind or solar.  Wind or solar is an add-on to the grid, not a real part of the grid.  All the wind or solar does that is useful is to save some fuel at the backup plant, usually a natural gas plant, during moments when the wind or solar is actually generating electricity.  That fuel for a gas plant costs about $20 per megawatt-hour.  So wind or solar costs $70 per megawatt-hour in order to save $20's worth of fuel per megawatt-hour.  The net loss to the economy is $70 minus $20, or $50 for every megawatt-hour of wind or solar electricity produced.  That $50 has to come from someplace.  That loss to the economy is a subsidy.  Someone has to pay for it.  It comes from blatant subsidies, sneaky subsidies, and higher prices for electricity.

Some advocates of renewable energy claim that the extra cost is worth it, because wind and solar don't emit CO2, thus helping in the fight against global warming.  There are numerous holes in that argument.  The bulk of the CO2 emissions are from Asia, where they burn an ever increasing amount of carbon-rich coal to generate electricity.  U.S. CO2 emissions have been declining due to the substitution of natural gas for coal.  Spending fantastic sums to decrease U.S. emissions will have a very minor effect unless something is done about Asia.  The bigger picture is that there has been little global warming during the last 20 years in the face of rapidly increasing CO2 emissions.  The obvious conclusion is that the global warming scare is more propaganda than substance.  Of course, the scientific organizations with huge budgets based on the scary prospect of global warming can't let it go because they would lose the justification for their big budgets.  Did you ever hear of a scientific organization shrinking because the problem it was formed to solve does not, after all, exist?  If you really want to seriously reduce CO2 emissions, the solution is nuclear power.  The sincerest believers in global warming, like James Hansen and Stewart Brand, are advocating nuclear power.

Environmental groups, particularly the Sierra Club, run scare campaigns against fossil fuels.  Everything they don't like either causes cancer or does something bad to children.  They don't like coal; they don't like nuclear.  They even don't like hydro if a dam is involved.  The environmental outfits relentlessly spread scare propaganda.  They promote the basically useless wind and solar.  They pretend and perhaps actually believe that wind and solar represent some sort of energy salvation.  They are modern-day crackpots and snake oil salesmen.

Norman Rogers writes often about energy and environmental issues.  He has websites climateviews.com and dumbenergy.com.

Wind and solar electricity are renewable energy.  How nice to pluck energy out of the air and the sky.

It's a scam.  Big money men and screwball dreamers, otherwise called environmentalists, are behind the scam.

Apparently, it has not dawned on the believers in the scam that solar does not work at night, and wind works only when the wind is blowing.  The core characteristic of wind and solar is that they are erratic sources of electricity.  The supply is randomly intermittent.  Who in Hell thinks this dumb energy is a good way to supply electricity?

The wind and solar promoters, in order to accommodate their dumb energy, demand that the electric grid be re-engineered to become a "smart" grid.  Perhaps the idea is that if the grid is smart enough, the dumb energy will be canceled by the smart grid.  That's actually what the smart grid people have in mind.  The smart grid is supposed to be agile enough to fill in the gaps when the wind or solar is playing hooky.

The intellectual mind values an elegant theory over a messy reality.  The result is tension between ivory tower thinkers and practical men working in the trenches of the economy.  The practical men easily see the weaknesses in abstract theories, weaknesses that are invisible to the ivory tower thinkers.  But the practical men are not equipped to assert or defend their reality in political, media, or academic circles.  If they try, they are patronized and ignored.  A seductive theory trumps pedestrian and annoying facts in the intellectual mind.  For this reason, ridiculously impracticable renewable energy finds wide support in academic, environmental, and government circles – circles populated by thinkers accustomed to mobilizing the power of the state to promote impractical ideas with the taxpayers' money.  For these thinkers, evidence that contradicts their beliefs must be bad evidence.

In the supposedly hard-headed Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold writes that "global investment in wind and solar energy is outshining fossil fuels."  He claims that Alberta is getting subsidy-free wind electricity for $37 a megawatt-hour.  That's $28 U.S.  Since real subsidy-free wind electricity costs about $10 Canadian, something is wrong here.  What's wrong is that the media have lost their minds.  Five minutes with Google is enough to discover that Albertan electricity is indeed subsidized.  What we have here is a mania and a suspension of critical judgment.  No lie about renewable energy is too big to be believed, even by the Wall Street Journal.  There are 600 comments to the Journal article.  The commentators, evidently practical men, point out the errors and fallacies in the article.

In the U.S., it is hard to keep track of all the subsidies for renewable energy.  I'd be surprised if it is very different in Canada.  Some subsidies are blatant, like a $24-per-megawatt-hour payment from the federal treasury for the production of wind electricity, or a 30% tax credit for the construction of a solar energy farm.  Some subsidies are buried in accounting complexities like rapid depreciation that allows for complicated tax gimmicks that effectively take money from the federal treasury and give it to renewable energy investors.  Then there are renewable portfolio laws in 30 states setting goals for renewable energy.  The result is that wind and solar installations get long-term guaranteed markets at high prices for their electricity.  Grid operators are required to accept all wind and solar electricity offered unless they, more or less, declare an emergency.

Assuming a windy or a sunny place, wind or solar electricity costs around $70 a megawatt-hour to produce.  Even though no fuel is used, the capital cost spread over the electricity produced makes the renewable energy more expensive than using fossil fuel.  With natural gas, you can produce electricity for around $50 per megawatt-hour.  Those numbers are the cost at the plant fence – not a fair comparison.  It's not a fair comparison because when you build a wind or solar plant, you don't get to take away the natural gas plant.  It's still there to back up the wind or solar.  Wind or solar is an add-on to the grid, not a real part of the grid.  All the wind or solar does that is useful is to save some fuel at the backup plant, usually a natural gas plant, during moments when the wind or solar is actually generating electricity.  That fuel for a gas plant costs about $20 per megawatt-hour.  So wind or solar costs $70 per megawatt-hour in order to save $20's worth of fuel per megawatt-hour.  The net loss to the economy is $70 minus $20, or $50 for every megawatt-hour of wind or solar electricity produced.  That $50 has to come from someplace.  That loss to the economy is a subsidy.  Someone has to pay for it.  It comes from blatant subsidies, sneaky subsidies, and higher prices for electricity.

Some advocates of renewable energy claim that the extra cost is worth it, because wind and solar don't emit CO2, thus helping in the fight against global warming.  There are numerous holes in that argument.  The bulk of the CO2 emissions are from Asia, where they burn an ever increasing amount of carbon-rich coal to generate electricity.  U.S. CO2 emissions have been declining due to the substitution of natural gas for coal.  Spending fantastic sums to decrease U.S. emissions will have a very minor effect unless something is done about Asia.  The bigger picture is that there has been little global warming during the last 20 years in the face of rapidly increasing CO2 emissions.  The obvious conclusion is that the global warming scare is more propaganda than substance.  Of course, the scientific organizations with huge budgets based on the scary prospect of global warming can't let it go because they would lose the justification for their big budgets.  Did you ever hear of a scientific organization shrinking because the problem it was formed to solve does not, after all, exist?  If you really want to seriously reduce CO2 emissions, the solution is nuclear power.  The sincerest believers in global warming, like James Hansen and Stewart Brand, are advocating nuclear power.

Environmental groups, particularly the Sierra Club, run scare campaigns against fossil fuels.  Everything they don't like either causes cancer or does something bad to children.  They don't like coal; they don't like nuclear.  They even don't like hydro if a dam is involved.  The environmental outfits relentlessly spread scare propaganda.  They promote the basically useless wind and solar.  They pretend and perhaps actually believe that wind and solar represent some sort of energy salvation.  They are modern-day crackpots and snake oil salesmen.

Norman Rogers writes often about energy and environmental issues.  He has websites climateviews.com and dumbenergy.com.