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When the “Affordable” Fashion Needs a Subsidy

Here’s a telling story, from Susan Cambell of WPRI:

Piette said the [electric] car was an affordable option because of rebates and tax credits. One of them he was banking on? A $2,500 rebate from Rhode Island’s DRIVE program. (DRIVE is short for Driving Rhode Island to Vehicle Electrification.)

“That $2,500 was going to help me put in a charging station at the house here,” Piette explained. “The car takes about 18 hours to charge on 110 [volts], but it takes four to five hours on the system I’d be putting in.”

Unfortunately, when Mr. Piette bought the car, he wasn’t aware that the funds for the subsidy had just dried up.  Now the car requires more than just an overnight-charge, and he apparently won’t spend his own money on what he was willing to force taxpayers to cover.

One wonders how pervasive this phenomenon will prove if ever our government finds it can’t continue to subsidize (by tax or by rate-payer mandate) everything from electric cars to home rooftop solar to offshore wind farms.  It may not seem like much in the grand scheme of the economy, but the $575,000 that went toward the program in which Piette missed his chance to participate would have gone to something else — something that the economy considered to be more important.

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Who Can Solve the Mysterious Energy Cost Increases?

Ian Opaluch, of WPRI, provides the latest forum for local politicians to go after National Grid for seeking a 53% increase in its energy rates.  Says Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee: “National Grid’s proposed 53-percent standard offer rate increase is unacceptable. Another rate hike is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to making Rhode Island a better place to live, work and own a business.”  Republican Senator Elaine Morgan calls the request “unconscionable.”  

But there’s a mystery:

… Laws in Rhode Island prohibit National Grid from making a profit on the energy supply itself, and the company said the price hike is necessary to deal with rising energy costs.

In addition, the price increase would not affect delivery fees, so the average bill would go up by about 19% if the rate hike is approved, according to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

In short, National Grid won’t profit from this increase, but rather is just passing increased costs along.  What could be driving the request, then?

Rhode Islanders should wonder how any reporters could cover this issue without noting the culpability of state governments.  Even with fracking holding down the price of energy worldwide, New England politicians are happy to cave to activists on actions like shutting down the Brayton Point energy plant, delaying and maybe stopping a new energy facility in Burrillville, forcing us all pay for expensive renewable energy mandates, imposing additional taxes on fossil fuels, and on and on.

Morgan is right; it is unconscionable for Rhode Islanders to be saddled with skyrocketing energy costs when our country is becoming a world leader in energy production.  But the people taking the unconscionable actions are those who work in the same building as Morgan and McKee.  Every year, they take many steps in the wrong direction, across a variety of issues.

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A More-Scientific Approach to Dealing with Climate Change

The suspicious assumption of climate-change hysteria is that if the proclaimed science is accurate, then the policies of the hysterics obviously follow.  We should question whether an economic system that restricts rights and consolidates power would be the solution at a time when the world especially needs ingenuity and progress if we rightly avoid such a system when we aren’t in desperate need of innovation.  (The inference of alarmists’ attitude, of course, is that freedom and inalienable rights are luxuries with which we must dispense once they’ve proven their science.)

In an op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, David Henderson and John Cochrane of the Hoover Institution suggest a different attitude:

… spread over a century, the costs of moving and adapting are not as imposing as they seem. Rotterdam’s dikes are expensive, but not prohibitively so. Most buildings are rebuilt about every 50 years. If we simply stopped building in flood-prone areas and started building on higher ground, even the costs of moving cities would be bearable. Migration is costly. But much of the world’s population moved from farms to cities in the 20th century. Allowing people to move to better climates in the 21st will be equally possible. Such investments in climate adaptation are small compared with the investments we will regularly make in houses, businesses, infrastructure and education.

And economics is the central question—unlike with other environmental problems such as chemical pollution. Carbon dioxide hurts nobody’s health. It’s good for plants. Climate change need not endanger anyone. If it did—and you do hear such claims—then living in hot Arizona rather than cool Maine, or living with Louisiana’s frequent floods, would be considered a health catastrophe today.

Some methods of conning people involve a manufactured sense of urgency to whisk the victim past the opportunity for reflection.  Henderson and Cochrane have it right:  “Strategic waiting is a rational response to a slow-moving, uncertain peril with fast-changing technology.”

Especially in sluggard Rhode Island, if time really is of the essence, we should stop binding our people with ideologically derived restrictions and allow dynamism to get us to a surer economic footing.

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“Collusion” Among Newspapers, Researchers, and “the Resistance”

This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media.  This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal.  The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:

The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.

Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means.  They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”

This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims.  Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented.  It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.

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Competing to Impose Expensive Energy on Residents

The whole notion of states’ competing to lead the nation in offshore wind, as reported in an AP article by Providence Journal alum Philip Marcelo, is strange.  This isn’t an attempt to woo companies to the state, whether through a mere personal touch or millions in taxpayer subsidies; it’s explicitly an effort to force electrical customers (i.e., everybody) to fund the industry:

A state law passed last year to boost Massachusetts’ use of renewable energy outlines the process for developing offshore wind power.

The law calls for generating at least 1,600 megawatts of power, roughly enough electricity to power 750,000 homes annually, from offshore wind by 2027.

To accomplish this, the utilities are required to secure long-term contracts with wind farm developers in at least two phases: a bid request this June and another in 2019.

Treating this as some sort of positive competition reveals a certain tint of ideological glasses.

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We Won’t Always Have Paris, Thank Goodness

In light of Dan Yorke’s surprising incredulity that Mike Stenhouse would be satisfied with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, I was happy to come across Roger Kimball’s shared glee over the withdrawal and the ensuing lunacy from the Left:

Hysteria on the Left was universal. But as many cooler-headed commentators observed, one of the really amusing things is that the Paris Accord means exactly nothing. Since it requires nothing of its signatories, it will yield nothing from them. As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “amid the outrage, the aggrieved still haven’t gotten around to resolving the central Paris contradiction, which is that it promises to be Earth-saving but fails on its own terms. It is a pledge of phony progress.”

Kimball offers two things that Paris does do, though.  First is offering people an opportunity for cheap-to-them virtue signaling.

The second reason for the hysteria follows from the one serious effect of the climate accord. It has nothing to do with saving the environment. Every candid observer understands that the real end of the accord is not helping “the environment” but handicapping the developed countries. At its core, the accord is intended as a mechanism to redistribute wealth by hampering countries like the United States from exploiting its energy resources and growing its economy. Hamstring the United States, but let countries like China and India—industrial strength polluters, both—do whatever they want.

Like many international agreements, the unspoken subtext of the Paris Climate Accord is “hamper America. Grab as much of its wealth as you can. Say it’s in the name of ‘fairness.’”

The irony is that the Left is throwing around terms like “traitorous” and “betrayal,” which makes me think of Indiana Jones.  Kimball quotes left-wing billionaire political activist Tom Steyer on the first term; I’ve noted our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s using the second, conspicuously just a few days after the mega-donor’s statement.  And yet, they’re using those words to describe an action that, from the perspective of many conservatives, puts working Americans’ interests first.

That’s a strange sort of betrayal, if your loyalty is to Americans.

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The Other Side in Battling Climates

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on Dan Yorke State of Mind this week to talk about the Center’s Family Prosperity Index (FPI) release, but inasmuch as he followed a segment criticizing President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords, he tied the two together thus:

The one thing that’s missing from all [your previous guests’] discussions you heard was how this impacts real people and real families.  There’s this mythical — I don’t think the professor can prove that there’s “catastrophic” climate change coming — there’s this mythical problem we’ve created of this catastrophe.  Maybe the temperatures are rising, but is it a catastrophe?

What we do know is that it drives all these crazy energy policies, like the carbon tax, like energy mandates, that are driving up energy rates on families and businesses, that are driving people out of this state.  Do you know that in those 12-year periods, we’ve lost the equivalent of 11 cities and towns worth of people to net migration loss.

The costs of energy and other taxes and regulations are so high on businesses and families that they’re fleeing our state.  Eighty thousand people.  That’s 11 of our smaller cities and towns gone.

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The New England-Based Energy Supply Shrinks

From an aesthetic and health point of view, Michael Holtzman’s Fall River Herald report certainly doesn’t bother me:

“The decision is irreversible,” a spokesman for Brayton Point Power Station, along 300 acres fronting Mount Hope Bay, told The Herald News in an hour-long phone interview.

It’s “the permanent retirement” of coal-powered Brayton Point, not “mothballing” the 1,488-megawatt plant, said David Onufer, external communications and media relations manager for Houston-based Dynegy Inc.

Still, we need energy.  Right now, thanks largely to fracking, we’re enjoying a period of relatively cheap energy, but that could change.  If it does, the effect will be analogous to the increase of interest rates after a household has put itself into a great deal of debt during a time of cheap credit.

As a society, we’ve let environmental concerns rise up on the scale relative to the production of energy and all of the uses to which we put it.  Some crisis may or may not shock us to the realization that we went too far, but clearing the landscape of existing energy sources while blocking anything that isn’t a fashionable, subsidized, “green” alternative seems reckless on its face.

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Regulating for Profit

Such stories as this, in the Providence Journal, should read less like celebrations of newfound revenue and more like lamentations of tyranny:

Volkswagen is paying more than $157 million to 10 states to settle environmental lawsuits over the company’s diesel emissions-cheating scandal. …

Volkswagen has admitted to programming its diesel engines to activate pollution controls during government treadmill tests and turning them off for roadway driving.

So some states imposed harsh restrictions on cars, and one company cheated.  (More specifically, one company has been caught cheating.)  As a results those states are getting windfall slush money to splash around.

What huge incentive for states to over-regulate everything!  Environmental policy is especially ripe for this sort of abuse, and one can see why governments want so badly for there to be a looming environmental catastrophe to justify its confiscation of money and assault on rights.

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Human Advancement Is the Greatest Material Benefit for Mankind and the Planet

Ronald Bailey notes in Reason that human ingenuity, more than draconian restrictions on our freedom, is advancing U.S. environmental health:

The International Energy Agency is reporting data showing that economic growth is being increasingly decoupled from carbon dioxide emissions. Basically, human beings are using less carbon dioxide intensive fuels to produce more goods and services. The IEA attributes the relatively steep drop in U.S. emissions largely to the ongoing switch by electric generating companies from coal to cheap natural gas produced using fracking from shale deposits. Renewals also contributed a bit to the decline.

Yes, you could argue that the pressure from environmentalists and regulators pushed the energy industry to make the investment in alternatives, although I’d be skeptical and also argue that radical environmentalism has been a net negative even then.  Even without that argument, though, we must acknowledge that, if safeguarding the planet really is our goal, allowing humanity to advance is a critical part of the strategy. And it keeps our lives improving, too. Win-win.

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Dismissing Factual Claims About the Atmosphere Isn’t Science

Jeff Jacoby has a great column in the Boston Globe about the reasonableness of doubt about extreme climate change claims:

Yet for all the hyperventilating, Pruitt’s answer to the question he was asked — whether carbon dioxide is the climate’s “primary control knob” — was entirely sound. “We don’t know that yet,” he said. We don’t. CO2 is certainly a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, but hardly the primary one: Water vapor accounts for about 95 percent of greenhouse gases. By contrast, carbon dioxide is only a trace component in the atmosphere: about 400 ppm (parts per million), or 0.04 percent. Moreover, its warming impact decreases sharply after the first 20 or 30 ppm. Adding more CO2 molecules to the atmosphere is like painting over a red wall with white paint — the first coat does most of the work of concealing the red. A second coat of paint has much less of an effect, while adding a third or fourth coat has almost no impact at all.

This paragraph reminds me of the time I spent my half hour lunch break from construction sitting in my van on a snowy day arguing back and forth with a PolitiFact journalist about his bogus rating for Republican Congressional Candidate John Loughlin related to global warming.  I forget the specifics, but key was the notion that 94% of greenhouse gases are natural, most of it water vapor.  It’s a notion I first encountered in this 2007 Anchor Rising post by Monique (which she raised as a reminder for years afterwards, as you can see by searching “6%” here).

The reporter took much the same rhetorical approach as those who’ve attacked Pruitt and (I’m sure) Jacoby: dismissal, mockery, and scorn.  As fun as DMS may be, it isn’t science, and it shouldn’t be a basis for public policy that affects people across the globe.

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Subsidized Wind Fights for No Taxes

Although it is unfortunately not online, a March 8 Newport Daily News story by Marcia Pobzeznik raises an interesting controversy involving a wind turbine in Tiverton.  Like all green energy installations, the turbine is heavily subsidized, and it is arguably more so, in this case, because it is part of the affordable housing development at Sandywoods Farm.  That hasn’t made the owners shy about wanting to skirt their tax bill.

According to Tiverton’s tax assessor, David Robert, the turbine is worth $395,000 and is taxed accordingly at $7,560 annually.  Church Community Housing Corp., the owner of the development, is arguing that the turbine should be exempt from taxation because the energy is sold at retail.  There, if I’m understanding the article correctly, is the rub:

The electricity generated by the turbine is sold to National Grid per an agreement signed on May 9, 2011. The 275-kilowatt turbine’s output would “offset some, but less than all of the projected on-site usage” of the housing development, according to the agreement that Sandywoods shared with the Tax Assessment Board of Review.

Because of the way the transaction is structured — with the turbine owner receiving a check from National Grid and being charged separately for its own energy — the lawyer for the development argues that it is, indeed, selling the energy.

One suspects that, even to the extent the general public pays attention to public policy, most people wouldn’t think it matters whether a turbine owner gets a reduction on his or her bill or just a check that offsets energy usage.  With green energy, affordable housing, and any government-subsidized activity, though, one must always assume there to be a scheme.

Just another reason to stop all subsidies.

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Against Being Fair in Foolishness on Energy

The snow coming down, leaving us inside with our heating systems and, for many, the comfort of generators should things get that heavy, creates an excellent atmosphere in which to read Stephen Moore’s thoughts on why “Europe’s Lesson Teaches Us: Don’t Go Green.” Moore also touches on the impetus to make the United States green, too:

So very quietly, Europe and other nations aren’t going so green anymore. The EU spent an estimated $750 billion on green energy handouts over the past decade and what it has bought for that is a doubling of its power costs.

This has given American steel, auto, light manufacturing, agriculture, and technology firms a big competitive edge in world markets.  This is why European nations and Australia are understandably desperate for the U.S. to move to the same green energy policies that they adopted years ago.

Just as it’s in Russia’s interests to bankroll an American anti-fracking movement, the elites of Europe, who have pushed their countries too far toward fashionable energy programs, have reason to pressure the United States to hobble its own economy.  If Europeans were to demand that their leaders put the well-being of workers and families first and loosen their regulations, many in the United States would cheer them on, but our own elites shouldn’t expect us to sacrifice our workers and our families to make us fair in foolishness.

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Another Way Activists Manipulate Government

Here’s a key part of a recent article by Kimberley Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal, profiling President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, Scott Pruit:

Speaking of lawsuits, Mr. Pruitt says he plans to end the practice known as “sue and settle.” That’s when a federal agency invites a lawsuit from an ideologically sympathetic group, with the intent to immediately settle. The goal is to hand the litigators a policy victory through the courts—thereby avoiding the rule-making process, transparency and public criticism. The Obama administration used lawsuits over carbon emissions as its pretext to create climate regulations.

“There is a time and place to sometimes resolve litigation,” Mr. Pruitt allows. “But don’t use the judicial process to bypass accountability.” Some conservatives have suggested the same tactic might be useful now that Republicans are in charge. “That’s not going to happen,” he insists. “Regulation through litigation is simply wrong.” Instead, Mr. Pruitt says, the EPA will return to a rule-making by the book. “We need to end this practice of issuing guidance, to get around the rule-making procedure. Or rushing things through, playing games on the timing.”

There are way too many ways for activists to slip changes into the law without the awareness of a voting public that can’t possibly keep track of it all or, even if we could track it, select candidates to correct specific problems on the vast field of government activity.  That’s why it’s entirely appropriate to elect executives who see themselves in opposition to the bureaucracy itself.

Don’t forget, by the way, that the activists moving policy through “sue and settle” also tend to take home a decent paycheck courtesy of the government, like the ACLU lawyers who sued Rhode Island over the UHIP debacle.

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Some Day, My Prince … Er, Cheap, Green Energy Will Come

You may have been keeping half an eye on the proposed power plant that a firm called Invenergy would like to build in Burrillville. Friday, the Providence Journal reported that

Invenergy has failed to sell the second half of the power output of its proposed fossil fuel-burning power plant in Burrillville to the regional electric grid.

Opponents of the proposed plant understandably view this development as good news. However, it is not a fatal blow for the proposed power plant, as the article notes.

Further along, the article also notes that New England has had 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity taken off line (my observation: this happened in large part due to out-of-control EPA regulations by the Obama administration), and another 6,000 megawatts are at risk of going off line. Accordingly, many of us are concerned about the cost and continued adequate supply of electricity.

Environmentalists believe they have the answer.

But opponents of the plant say that renewable sources can fill in any need for new power in New England.

Yikes. Sorry, no, that is simply not the case.

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