November 7, 2012
Montana, Opinions

Renewable theology trumps economic reality

Brad Molnar | Billings Outpost | 7 November 2012 |

Four years ago candidate Barack Obama promised cheering crowds that coloring America’s energy delivery system shades of green would be painful.

The promise was half kept. It has been painful.

No one discussed a green energy transformation on the campaign trail in other than a passing manner. In their race for the U.S. Senate, Denny Rehberg and Jon Tester both promised support for extension of the Production Tax Credit (each time a wind blade rotates, the national debt is increased) but other than that not much on the subject.

Sure, a few ads ran about Tester voting for Obama’s “job killing energy tax,” but no one knows it was the Cap and Trade Bill they are talking about so “job killing” is the operative part. In true Republican tradition, the effect on a family’s cost of living is ignored and anonymity on Renewable Theology is maintained.

The rest of the world has moved on. This spring in Quebec, during the World Forum of Energy Regulators, Christopher Frei, secretary general of the World Energy Council, boldly opened with, “The honeymoon with renewables is over.”

Three years before, when the same forum was held in Greece, such a pronouncement would have been cause to “get a rope.” The Athens gathering was a runner-up to the climate talks in Copenhagen to renew and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol. The Denmark talks failed to find support for a Kyoto II.

Secretary Frei pointed out that in Spain 31 percent of a utility bill was from the inclusion of solar into the system though solar contributes only 3 percent of the power. Frei and multiple other speakers noted that the promise of lower solar cost through development of cost effective storage had not materialized and perhaps the European Union should have relied on realities instead of techie promises.

His preference was to put the money into the reduction of electricity consumption as opposed to renewable energy development. Frei argued that measuring success by how many megawatts of solar or wind have been installed, as opposed to how many useable megawatts were needed and supplied, was a deviation from economic realities. And a deviation from the social realities of a world in which 1.3 billion people have zero electricity, and developing nations want to keep developing, which means more energy consumption.

Secretary Frei calculated that if all economic and physical resources were brought to bear developing renewables between now and 2050, the ambient temperature of the earth would not change by a measurable amount. Frei admitted that his conclusions were not held universally.

For instance, the EU as a body politic still holds to the correctness of their buy-in to the Kyoto concept. This despite their insistence on the implementation of the carbon taxes that helped cause the economic ruin of Greece and Spain when the resultant sky-high energy rates killed their exporting industries.

Portugal, and to a lesser extent Ireland and Italy, also earned honorable mention. Listed deniers of the new reality were the United States, California as a standalone entity bent on self destruction, Canada (because Canadians want to export hydro power to the United States) and small nations wanting subsidized “renewable” projects.

During Q&A none challenged his conclusions. But an obviously agitated regulator from Arizona charged that his missive sounded more like a divorce than an end to the honeymoon. Secretary Frei responded that the global future of renewables was a maturing relationship in which the world used renewable not “because it is our policy” but rather where renewables make sense, i.e., island nations, desert countries, countries without carbon resources and areas with zero electricity, so even intermittent generation is a giant step forward.

Frei held steadfast that the needs of peace and commerce mandate energy needs be met by affordable, reliable energy production. A Jamaican regulator offered that instead of lead-in tariffs (hiding the true cost of energy production in the tax bill instead of showing it on the utility bill) should be replaced by a “no spin admission” of costs and benefits.

Perhaps instead of Rehberg and Tester running ads stating that both supported/opposed the corporate bailouts, both supported/opposed the “death tax” and both are independent of party influence, they should have had a televised debate titled “Proper Energy Policy for the United States in a Global Economy.” Then we could have cast a knowledgeable vote on a real issue (as opposed to whatever the purpose of those ads is).

I happen to know an underemployed, pragmatic Jamaican regulator who would make a great moderator.

Brad Molnar is the senior member of the Montana Public Service Commission and serves on the International Energy Committee on the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

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