Democrats are determined to deliver California’s renewable energy debacle to all and sundry. If Sleepy Joe Biden, AOC and her Squad get the keys to the White House this November, their New ‘Green’ Deal is guaranteed to deliver rocketing power prices and rolling blackouts across the USA.
While there’s been plenty of lip service paid to America’s ‘inevitable transition’ to wind and solar, the reality is that wind and solar obsessed California suffers the highest power prices in the US and, over the last month, a run of mass blackouts caused by collapses in wind and solar power output.
In a timely effort to bring Americans back to earth, Anthony Watts speaks with Alex Epstein about just what the Democrat’s delusional renewable energy plan would mean for the US economy, should the lunatics ever take over the asylum.
Biden’s Fantasy Land Climate-Energy plan would harm America
Watts Up With That?
Anthony Watts and Alex Epstein
7 August 2020
Anthony Watts speaks with Alex Epstein, founder and president of the Center for Industrial Progress and author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. We talk about Joe Biden’s energy plan, which calls for outlawing reliable fossil fuel electricity and mandating unreliable solar and wind electricity. This will not stop CO2 emissions from rising but it will destroy American industry, impoverish American consumers, and jeopardize American security.
- Energy schemes around the world based on “unreliables”—solar and wind—have been driving up electricity costs, harming economies, destroying domestic industries, and harming consumers. Germans pay 3X US electricity prices to get just 1/3 of their electricity from solar and wind.
- Instead of learning from the failures of unreliable energy schemes, the Biden Plan seeks to do far worse by outlawing reliable fossil fuel electricity and forcing Americans to pay over $4 trillion–$15,000 a household–for a solar and wind-based grid that can’t possibly work.
- Joe Biden says that forcing Americans to rely on unreliable solar and wind will create jobs. But making electricity unreliable and unaffordable doesn’t create jobs, it destroys them. Just ask the UK aluminum industry, which “green energy” schemes is driving out of business.
- Joe Biden says that forcing Americans to rely on unreliable solar and wind will help middle-class Americans. But the cost of energy drives the cost of everything. Skyrocketing energy costs will drive skyrocketing food, housing, healthcare, and transportation costs.
- America is already too reliant on unreliable solar and wind. That’s why utilities are already blacking out many of their industrial customers. And why grids in TX and the Northeast are warning of blackouts for everyone if policies don’t change. Biden’s Plan will guarantee blackouts.
- Joe Biden’s support of a ban on fracking, which is required to produce over 60% of American oil and 75% of American natural gas, would destroy millions of jobs and once again make us dangerously dependent on the Middle East and Russia. Do we want to be at the mercy of the likes of Vladimir Putin?
- Joe Biden’s plan to force Americans to use unreliable solar and wind won’t stop global CO2 levels from rising, because China and others won’t be stupid enough to follow suit. The only thing it will bring about is an economic and security crisis in America.
- If Joe Biden and other Democrats want to lower global CO2 emissions, they should stop demonizing and criminalizing reliable, non-carbon nuclear energy and lower-carbon natural gas. Instead, the Biden Plan continues the overregulation of nuclear and supports banning natural gas.
Anthony Watts: Welcome to the Heartland Daily Podcast. I’m Anthony Watts, senior fellow for environment and climate at the Heartland Institute. With me today is Alex Epstein, who is a author and founder of the Centre for Industrial Progress. He’s also written a book called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Today, he’s going to be talking about something he’s recently written regarding Joe Biden and his talking points, a climate plan that he’s come up with. Alex, thank you for being with us today.
Alex Epstein: Hey, good to talk to you, Anthony.
Anthony Watts: So Alex, to get our listeners familiar with you and your background, can you give us a little bit of an introduction about yourself and how you came to get involved with the environmental movement and energy and write this book called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels?
Alex Epstein: Sure. Certainly when I was growing up, it was the last thing I expected because I had no family connection to the industry. I grew up in a liberal place called Chevy Chase, Maryland, and I didn’t even know anyone in the fossil fuel industry when I started studying energy, let alone being funded by them or anything like that. My background is philosophy, which may seem unrelated to energy, but I think is very related, because philosophy teaches you good thinking methods. About 13 years ago, I realised that energy is really important because it’s the industry that powers every other industry, and I became very disenchanted with how illogical the thinking about energy is.
For example, when we think about something like a medication, you’re supposed to think about the benefits and the side effects of all the alternatives. What I noticed is when people were talking about fossil fuels or nuclear, they would only talk about negative side effects, and when they’re talking about solar and wind, they would only talk about benefits. This kind of bias I knew could not lead to good thinking and it made me very interested in what’s actually the truth if you really look carefully at the benefits and side effects of the different alternatives, what’s actually good for humanity now and in the future, and that led me to be much more positive on fossil fuels than I expected to be and that most people are.
Anthony Watts: So one of the things you said is that energy drives every other industry, and that’s really true. I mean, without energy, I remember John Christy, Dr. John Christy saying one time that without access to inexpensive energy, life is brutal and short. You look back to what life was like 200 years ago before energy was part of our makeup, our sociological makeup, just it was a grim existence. I mean, he was spending most of our lives just simply foraging for food and planting crops and so forth. It was very difficult to get along.
Alex Epstein: Yeah. I think it’s really valuable to think about exactly why that is. I think there are two basic reasons that really contradict the narrative we hear today, because the narrative we hear today is what I call the perfect planet premise, which is basically if humans don’t impact the planet, it’s this perfect state, that it’s stable and it’s safe and it’s sufficient, it gives us what we need, but if we impact it too much, then it’s going to inevitably get ruined and it’s going to bite us somehow, and so we really need to avoid impacting it. In reality, from a human perspective, the planet is very imperfect. It’s dynamic, it’s dangerous and it’s deficient. So that’s the first thing that’s going on with energy is we need to change the planet a lot if we’re going to survive, let alone live at a really high level, which I would call flourishing.
Then the second thing is we need to change the planet a lot, which really means we need to produce a lot of things. We need to produce the things that sustain us and the things that protect us from all the natural dangers. But human beings are naturally very weak. We have low power, which means that we can exert very little energy over time, and that’s why historically, people, they just couldn’t produce enough to really sustain themselves and to protect themselves from nature, and what they really needed was machines because a machine is a tool that’s powered by something other than a human, or at least mostly powered by something other than a human. So what a machine does is it enables you to multiply the amount of work you can do along with allowing you to do types of work that you couldn’t just do with your bare hands. Really, machine power-
Anthony Watts: Right. It used to be you can only maybe an acre, and now with machinery, you can do that a thousand fold.
Alex Epstein: Yeah, exactly. So if you think about it, how does energy fit in? Well, energy is machine food. So it’s the calories that the machines use. So in so far as we can produce those calories at low cost for a lot of people, then everyone can use machines to improve their lives, to be more productive. But if the machine calories become too expensive, it takes too much time and resources to produce them, then very few people can use machines to improve their lives. We need machines to overcome the deficient and dangerous nature of the planet, and we need energy to power those machines that at low cost. Ultimately, it’s not just the machines that we use directly. The whole society is a machine society. So every material thing that’s produced in the society is the product of multiple machines, sometimes dozens of machines and the cost of the food that goes into those machines drives the cost of everything. So I like to say the cost of energy drives the cost of everything.
Anthony Watts: Yeah, exactly. I would point out that in terms of human history, we’re in a golden age of human history. We have so many things that are going for us. We have improved health. We have improved the education, outlook on life. I mean, there’s all kinds of things that have been enabled by the industrial revolution that weren’t part of society 200 years ago. So we’re living in a golden age, and a lot of folks who are on the other side of the political aisle seem to think that that’s a bad thing for some reason. So one of the things you’ve recently written about, what I want to touch on today is you created an eight point analysis of Joe Biden’s climate plan. All of the different presidential candidates out there had some kind of a climate plan, it seems, and they all want to make changes to our society to reduce the amount of energy we’re using or change the way we use energy.
A lot of ways, these changes are going to cause energy to become much more expensive. Here in California, where I live, we have huge amounts of cost associated with gasoline and electricity that other states don’t have, and a lot of that’s due to policy. So one of the first points you talked about, you say that energy schemes around the world are based on what you term unreliables, solar and wind, and that’s been driving up electricity costs, particularly here in California. We have a lot of solar and wind, but we paid huge amounts of money for electricity compared to other states, for example, Idaho. Idaho’s cost of electricity is like a third of what we have here in California. So let’s talk about unreliables a little bit, solar and wind. Why do you call them that?
Alex Epstein: Well, the term is usually used to characterise them as renewables, which is a problem for numerous reasons, but including that, the people who advocate solar and wind tend to oppose large scale hydroelectricity. Now, hydroelectricity is a largely reliable form of energy. It’s not quite as reliable as coal and gas, because you can run out of water, but it’s quite reliable. It’s certainly much more reliable than solar and wind. What I think is going on is why are people calling renewable, why are they using renewable to refer to solar and wind and not hydro? It’s because renewable is really code for green, and what green is code for is natural or low impact. So there’s this idea that, well, solar and wind, they’re natural. Using them as in harmony with nature.
Alex Epstein: It’s that kind of focus and philosophy that’s driving us to say, “Oh, of course we should use the sun and the wind, but we shouldn’t use a big dam or we shouldn’t use coal or we shouldn’t use nuclear.” Nuclear is instructive to cause that doesn’t emit CO2, but there’s still huge opposition to it. So I don’t believe in having an ideal of renewable energy or green energy. I think we should have the ideal of the best energy. But if people are going to single out solar and wind, the thing that unites them is they’re unreliable. They’re flows of energy that do not come in reliably, and yet what we need is reliable electricity. So the problem you’re always going to have with those is you need some way of turning an unreliable input into a liable output.
To make a long story short, the way that always happens is by basically just putting it on life support from a reliable source of electricity, and it’s usually coal, gas, nuclear, or hydro. So these are not self-sufficient forms of energy. They’re parasitical forms of energy. It’s really important to think about that when you’re thinking about costs, because often people will say, “Oh, well, it’s so cheap. The solar panels’ so cheap.” But if you realise the solar panel is a parasite, it can’t exist on its own. When you’re thinking about the cost of solar, you have to think about the cost of the grid to support solar, and that’s why whenever you’re adding solar and wind to the grids, overall price is always going up because they don’t replace costs on the grid. They just add costs to the grid.
Anthony Watts: Right. You still have to have backup for solar and wind because the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing enough to make enough energy. So without those backups, without coal or oil or gas or nuclear or hydro, those things that are relatively constant, without those, we would have an intermittent power supply like a third world country. Is that pretty much the case?
Alex Epstein: Yeah. Just backup is accurate, but it’s a little bit too charitable. So just even imagine you’re running a McDonald’s and somebody says to you, “Hey, I want to work for you, but I’m not going to tell you when I’m going to come in, but I’ll work at a dollar an hour cheaper than the other employees.” Well, what’s going to happen? You can’t fire a reliable employee and replace it with an unreliable employee because you don’t know when the unreliable employee is going to go in. So what can you do? You still have to keep the reliable employee there. So he’s providing the basic service and then the unreliable employee is just providing a supplement, but an unpredictable supplement, and that’s the same way the grid works.
So what happens in practise is that it’s really a life support issue, and it’s really inefficient, because the way these things are rigged, when the sun shines and the wind blows, let’s say the natural gas plant has to go down and then when they don’t, it has to go up. But that’s like making your whole power plant system function as stop and go traffic, which is really inefficient. So why are we doing this? We’re just doing this because we have this idea that renewable is good or low impact is good. Again, if we really wanted to focus on CO2 emissions, which I don’t think should be the overriding focus at all, but if we did, it should be focused on hydro and in particular, nuclear, which are reliable, controllable sources. So those can actually replace a coal plant or a gas plant versus being this very wasteful supplement.
Anthony Watts: Right. Using that McDonald’s analogy. If you hire that person that who says they’re only come in when they feel like it and you have to keep the other person, you’re actually adding cost to your business as opposed to saving money.
Alex Epstein: Yes.
Anthony Watts: Even though the person is less expensive on an hour by hour basis. So yeah, that’s not good economics. So back to Joe Biden, he’s talking about… He’s saying that wind and solar will help middle class Americans and it’s going to basically allow them to get lower energy costs and so forth. But the bottom line is, as we’ve just illustrated, adding wind and solar actually drives cost up. California is a perfect example of that. So how do you think that he’s going to be able to sell this when in fact it’s going to end up costing more down the pike? How can he sell it when in fact it’s actually going to be more expensive?
Alex Epstein: Well, the simple answer is you could characterise it as lying deliberately or lying accidentally, and I can’t say which it is in his case, but it’s-
Anthony Watts: Maybe the word is prevaricating.
Alex Epstein: I like more direct words. I mean, basically you’re just saying, I’m going to add a whole bunch of infrastructure costs, but I can’t replace the reliable energy infrastructure so I’m going to make things more expensive, but I’m going to say that they’re cheaper. One thing I really emphasise in these talking points is we need to look at what’s actually happening when people try to get a lot of electricity from unreliables. So I talk about Germany pays three times our electricity prices just to get one third of their electricity from solar and wind. We already pay way higher electricity prices than we would had we not used these wasteful things. If you look at the costs of coal and particularly natural gas, those have gone down over time.
Natural gas dramatically down, and yet, why are electricity prices going up? Because there’s all of this wasteful spending on unreliable infrastructure, including these solar panels and wind turbines, including these massive transmission lines that are necessary to connect these things. So it’s not as if Biden’s plan is some clever plan and it’s just, oh, nobody’s ever tried this. Let’s give it a shot. Not that you want to do that with your economy. This is a tried and failed scheme that he’s basically saying, “Well, this is a failure. So let’s do something 10 times worse.” In fact he’s saying we’re going to have a net zero grid, which nobody has done, nobody has any idea how to do, certainly not without nuclear, which he’s still doing nothing to deregulate.
I mean, what’s actually going to happen, whatever he says, the fact is if you use more unreliables, your electricity becomes more expensive and less reliable. That’s what always happens. What that means is that the cost of everything goes up. If you want to talk about jobs, what that means is that the cost of using machines in the US will be higher than the cost of using machines in China or India. So what’s going to happen when people are making investments? They’re not going to want to go to places that have electricity costs because that’s going to kill… That’s going to make it impossible for them to profit so they’re going to go to places with low electricity costs.
You see this already in Europe, and for example, in the UK, you see a lot of destruction of their aluminium industry, which is very electricity intensive because they have these really jacked up green energy costs. Meanwhile, what’s happening? China, India, they’re building dozens and dozens of new coal plants because that for them is the lowest cost way of producing electricity. So we’re just going to keep offshoring our industry, which we do already. I’m not always against that at all, but we have to realise that when we make electricity artificially high and artificially unreliable here, it’s just kind of have us emit the CO2 to other places at the expense of Americans who could do the jobs if we weren’t crippled in terms of our electricity system.
Anthony Watts: Right. It used to be about outsourcing industry to other countries because there was lower employment cost. Now, we’d have not only lower employment costs, but lower electricity and other energy cost incentive. So it’s a double whammy to lose jobs for the United States.
Alex Epstein: Yes, definitely.
Anthony Watts: So why do you think that people like Biden and people on the green side demonise nuclear so much? I mean, there’s the China syndrome and so forth, but the bottom line is, is we haven’t had any really serious nuclear accidents in the United States. We had Three Mile Island, but that was contained, the safety things did their job, even though the reactor had a meltdown. It didn’t release huge amounts of dangerous radiation into the atmosphere like Chernobyl did. So there’s really a pretty good safety record for nuclear. Why do you think that they demonise nuclear so much? Why do you think they demonise our traditional sources of energy so much?
Alex Epstein: Yeah. Nuclear not only has a good safety record, it has by far the best safety record of any technology, energy technology. The reason, the core reason behind this is that the material that’s used in nuclear power plants that can’t explode. One of the biggest dangers of energy is just it can get out of control. So you think about, well, you have a gas plant or like an LNG facility. You can have a big explosion there are, or a gas line. You can have explosions with coal plants. You can have explosions with oil. With a hydroelectric dam, you can have huge release of water, which has a kind of an explosion. But with nuclear, you literally can’t explode the materials, so you hear about meltdowns, but that’s a much slower process that you have a lot of time to adapt to relatively speaking.
It doesn’t lead to the kind of instantaneous death that others do. So the question is why is it demonised? Well, I think you have to look at it on two levels. One is just that I think most people demonise it and are afraid of it because there’s been so much propaganda from the mainstream or from the environmental leaders that we’ve had for the last 50 years. Then there’s a question of why are those environmental leaders against not only the safest energy technology, but the only scalable, which means it can be produced all over the world for billions of people, the only scalable way of producing at least electricity, but without significant CO2 emissions.
I think the reason goes back to why are they so insistent on solar and wind and against hydro in the first place? It’s this idea that we need to be green or natural, which means we need to somehow minimise our impact. Now nuclear is interesting because it has in a sense the least actual impact on earth. But it involves impacting the earth in a very fundamental way by splitting the atom and we create a new kind of waste. I think even though that waste is quite safe to deal with, a lot of people religiously oppose the idea that, oh, we’re creating a new kind of material. That must be wrong. It’s going to be around a long time. So it’s really a religious kind of opposition of we shouldn’t be doing this, we’re playing God, versus the scientific analysis, which says, “Well, no. This is actually the cleanest and safest and lowest waste form of energy ever devised.”
But part of what needs to happen is that those of us who are pro-science and pro-human need to challenge the mainstream environmental leadership and say, “You are wrong about this.” An example of a guy who’s been doing this effectively is Michael Shellenberger, whom I… If you search YouTube, Michael Shellenberger, Alex Epstein, we did a pretty popular interview three or four weeks ago, and about a number of things and including nuclear and why the mainstream green movement demonises it. But it’s a very revealing thing that should show us that this is not a scientific movement, and if we know it’s not a scientific movement, that should also make us question some of its other conclusions like climate catastrophism, maybe those aren’t really based on science, maybe those are also religious kinds of conclusions.
Anthony Watts: Yeah. It’s funny. The left often says, “Follow the science, listen to the science, respect the science.” But the bottom line is, is that a lot of times they’re not really citing science. They’re citing opinion and a dogma that is based on some distortion of scientific facts, and that’s the real challenge there. I think Biden is woefully misinformed about energy. Interesting thing about nuclear energy a lot of people don’t know about is that some folks have the belief that nuclear plants could explode because they’re based on uranium and so forth. Uranium was in the atomic bomb. Well, it’s put together an entirely different way and just you can’t get the critical mass where everything’s compacted like you can in a bomb. You have to have Uranium-235 in a small dense sphere in order for it to explode in a nuclear fission explosion. That doesn’t happen a nuclear reactor. It’s separated.
But another interesting thing is the reason that we have so much uranium in nuclear power is because that was the component of the bomb, and that’s where all of the technology development went. There was a whole another type of nuclear fission that could be used for generating power based on Thorium, and it’s much safer. It doesn’t have the propensity to go into meltdown, it doesn’t have the propensity to be fissionable in an anatomic bomb kind of a thing. It’s much more benign in lots of ways. Yet, we threw away that technology essentially in the late forties in favour of uranium, because uranium was being mined because of the bomb and so we missed that opportunity. Yet, places like China are now exploring Thorium nuclear reactors. So in closing, do you have any final words of wisdom for us here on Biden’s climate action plan and energy in general?
Alex Epstein: Yeah. Well, let me give some of my motivation particularly for covering this issue. So these Biden talking points that I mentioned in my newsletter and I mentioned on Twitter, they’re part of a broader set of talking points, which I wanted to create for 2020, because I see this as a really decisive election in terms of energy. As I said, energy is the industry that powers every other industry and there is so much distortion with regard to it. What I found is that both candidates and citizens, but maybe candidates especially, are not equipped to deal with a lot of the anti-energy forces. So what I’ve been doing is creating talking points that candidates and citizens can use, and I’m starting to post them at energytalkingpoints.com. So I’m recording this on Monday, I guess the 3rd, and I only have one set up now about the so called climate crisis, but I’ll be adding a bunch more.
So if you’re a citizen who’s interested in these issues or you’re a candidate who’s interested in these issues, you can see these talking points. I have references for all of them, so you can see how they’re backed up and they’re all tweetable length, so you can share them really easily. What I’m hoping is that this empowers the pro-energy, pro-freedom candidates to really make a good case. So if you know anyone who’s running for anything who could use help, refer them to that website, and if they want help on anything in particular, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to help them out or refer them to the right place. But I think that this is just part of, it’s really important for people to know, to have the right words to say, because there’s so much propaganda and distortion by the anti-freedom side.
Anthony Watts: Okay. So your websites again are?
Alex Epstein: Well, this, this website is just energytalkingpoints.com. So it’s just some Google docs and stuff. If people are interested in my website, it’s industrialprogress.com, and if you’re not on our newsletter, I’d say check that out. We send out some valuable stuff every week.
Anthony Watts: Okay. Very good. Alex, thank you for joining us today on the Heartland Daily Podcast. I’ve been speaking with Alex Epstein, who is the founder for the Centre for Industrial Progress and also author of the book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Be sure to visit us on iTunes, and if you can, give us a positive review for our podcast. I’m Anthony Watts for the Heartland Institute. Thank you for joining us today.
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August 31, 2020 at 02:31AM