Oh no, I can feel it, another diatribe coming on. Like a developing migraine, there’s no point fighting it, the looming inevitability. My trigger is inadvertently stumbling on blistering displays of energy ignorance, which set me off, and out comes the Incredible Hulk.
Look, I don’t want to go there either. I’d rather write about secure and reliable energy supplies, birds chirping, sunshine and koala bears. I keep my nose clean; I stay away from the CBC and similar to avoid the obvious triggers, I steer clear of Twitter nut jobs, and I don’t even read comments sections to avoid the nasty ones, the venomous paradox of anonymous attention-seekers.
But you-all need to know how bad it is getting. The other day I was reading an industry trade publication, Natural Gas World, and was shocked to find that the climate-virus had popped up there too. Right there, on the front page, was an article by a climate activist from Belgium, claiming that “the environmental and economic case for LNG is eroding.” Had the story talked solely about natural gas supply costs, or relative emissions, and left the sermonizing alone, it might have been worth reading. But no, the author, as is standard operating procedure in the media these days, had to add a demonizing layer for no reason whatsoever other than to exacerbate the divisiveness between those who provide today’s energy to a welcoming population, and those who wish to reinvent the system with no clue as to what that truly entails.
More on this energy guru in a second, but first, the article. I could not care less what climate warmongers think about climate change, or their politics. But I repeat myself. Sincere concern for the environment has been left for dead in the ditch, political activists donning the cloak of environmentalism to pursue ideological advancement (as legendary activist/350.org founder Bill McKibben puts it, “…it has been a great pleasure to watch the climate movement, as it has grown, focus its attention ever less on the natural world and ever more on the injustice that is at the core of this strange moment in history.”). That is their game and they are very good at it, and their momentum is impossible to stop. What I do care about is profoundly ignorant commentary about energy that is so wrong as to be dangerous, particularly from an author representing an organization that claims to work with “government, politics, civil society, science, the media, public interest foundations and elsewhere.” They are free to go nuts down any one of those avenues, I can’t stop them, but their claim to “bring independence to an extremely polarised discussion” is where the wings fall off the airplane.
The author makes the following comments: “the economic case for natural gas [has] become increasingly tenuous. Renewably-generated electricity from wind and solar is now cheaper than electricity generated from new fossil fuel plants, which cannot survive on a competitive basis in an increasingly zero fuel cost world…Fossil fuel-fired generation is increasingly dependent on capacity market payments or other mechanisms that reward its potential rather than actual use. This is an extraordinary reversal – the fossil fuel plant is becoming a subsidy burden on a low carbon energy system.”
Ok, deep breaths before I turn green…First, the comparison of the cost of wind/solar with new fossil fuel plants is ridiculous. New fossil fuel plants provide round the clock service, every day. Wind/solar do not, and because there is no mass storage capability there needs to be a reliable source that is on call at all times if not producing. The public will not stand for zero energy output when wind/solar are not working. And fantasies about how soon batteries are coming to save the day are just that, fantasies (the Australian Tesla battery is excellent, expensive, and works for a few minutes here and there in extreme peaking situations due to an ability to switch from discharging power to recharging. But as a source of power for any period of time, it is insignificant).
That mistake – equating cost of wind/solar with fossil fuels – is often made by armchair quarterbacks because it is an easy mistake to make if one doesn’t understand the difference between productive capacity and a grid’s overall requirements for power stability. And few people do appreciate that not-small nuance. The cost of a power source is irrelevant if it produces electricity at the wrong time, and it can’t be stored. But that breach of power knowledge pales in comparison to the wild-eyed conclusions that are surmised promptly thereafter.
Where the author, Ms. Fischer, goes right off the rails is in attacking the capacity market payments that reward potential rather than actual use. That is, she thinks paying fossil fuel electricity providers anything at all to operate in standby mode is a subsidy. She has the point spectacularly backwards, like a child mistakes a credit card as a fountain of all material goods. Those capacity market payments are the only thing that makes renewable energy feasible at all. With no incentive payments to operate on standby, there is no power when needed. Ask Australia, who found that out the hard way that an overreliance on renewables can lead to a mass power outage that “brought Sydney traffic to its knees” and did not amuse people at all. (From the AUS report: “A key contributing factor to the need for uncontracted load interruption was limited primary frequency control from generators across the NEM, which had no obligation, and no commercial incentive, to provide an immediate response to the changed conditions…. This event demonstrates the extent of the decline in system resilience, and its correlation with the reduction of continuous primary frequency control over the past several years.” You can read the whole report, but the message is clear: too much reliance on solar caused an unstable grid, and fossil fuels were unable to come to the rescue because the system had been restructured so that there was no incentive to do so.)
To then make the statement that fossil fuel plants are becoming a burden on a low carbon system (“Fossil fuel-fired generation is increasingly dependent on capacity market payments or other mechanisms which reward its potential rather than actual use…”) is a comment so outrageous and dumb that it should be illegal, particularly from an organization that claims to advise governments. Without that fossil fuel-fired generation, there would be no grid. The grid is entirely dependent on that ff-fired generation, yet the author gets it precisely backwards.
How could that be, you wonder. Oh yes, back to the organization the author is employed by – let’s lift the lid on that compost bin. The author, Lisa Fischer, is a political economist (whose brief bio shows a complete absence of experience with natural gas, electrical grids, or any kind of energy except solar panels) who works for a group called E3G, the one that made the claims above about their very wide circle of influence. At the bottom of E3G’s website is a formidable rotating banner of sponsors that pay for their antics, including Greenpeace, WWF, Environmental Defense Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Climate Strategies, and many other players in the stupefyingly large network/industry of “policy advisors” that swarm like angry bees around any exposed politician and force them to join the chorus of extreme climate alarmism – or else.
This is not a group that deserves to be advising any industry on anything, and the cold hard realities of keeping the world fed, warm, and living in comfort via reliable energy supplies is a topic for which they are profoundly unfit to comment. They are specialists in disinformation, the politicization of legitimate environmental concerns, and dangerously ill-advised ideological advice that is not well suited to reality.
Ms. Fischer’s personal opinions (or that of E3G) on climate change and/or fossil fuels are of no consequence; she is free to promote climate change as she wishes, and free to quit using fossil fuels any time she chooses. If she chooses not to quit using them, that is her problem and not mine.
My concern is that such a resoundingly bad analysis is becoming part of the energy lexicon and that the sheer repetition of such nonsense has a way of becoming true in the eyes of the general public. Ask any ex-Soviet citizen and they’ll tell you the phenomenon is real. What is the danger, you might ask? Well, 7 billion people exist at the same time because of and only because of fossil fuels. Groups like E3G seek the demolition of the FF industry; you shouldn’t need any links to convince you of that, and they wish to do so by propagating ideas such as the one that fossil fuels are no match for renewables. As more governments believe them, the closer we come to a human-made catastrophe, such as if a region’s natural gas supplies become insufficient in a cold winter because no new supplies can make it to customers who want them (NYC, you should be on high alert).
We have a choice, at least until critiquing such gibberish becomes illegal (COP27 target, is my guess) – sit by quietly and let ignorance destroy the energy systems that keep us alive, or speak out even if in a state of extreme irritation. Silence is not really an option anymore; energy policies based on ignorance and wishful thinking have the potential to do more damage than another ten metres of sea level.
Time to stop disinformation in its tracks. Say no to the politicization of critical environmental issues, and yes to balanced discussions. Pick up a copy of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Indigo online. These Amazon reviews may be the wisest material you’ll find on the internet (except that one loser).