In Britain, the Time Bell Rings

Observing the United Kingdom sailing headlong into a sea of troubles over energy and inflation, a cynic might well say: “Lucky Boris Johnson—he was forced out of power at exactly the right moment. Someone else will now have to carry the can.” It’s true that Britain’s economic troubles, which were already growing, have metastasized dramatically in the last few months, two in particular—a general rise in all-round inflation to 10 percent and a still sharper rise in regulated gas and electricity prices from $2,331 now to $4,237 in October and $5,026 in January.

Together they add up to a massive “cost of living crisis.” And because they grow out of deeply-rooted problems and self-destructive policies in the U.K.’s long-term economic strategy, it will take time and tough remedies to eradicate them.

As always, however, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of people lining up to carry the can. About a dozen senior Tories put forward their names to succeed Boris at the start of the Tory leadership election. They were whittled down to two of Boris’s ministers—former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss—who are fighting a battle of debates on economic policy across the country in front of Tory voters and activists. We’ll know the result by September 5, with Truss now the favorite.

Truss: ready to lead?

[My own snapshot take: she’s the better bet on supply-side and de-regulation policies to improve productivity and revive British industry; he’s the safer pair of hands on financial and budgetary policies to restore a stable financial framework that would help the economy to expand without overheating. But both should be more prepared to cut state spending and borrowing.]

Whoever wins the premiership then, however, will have to face a general election within about 28 months. Given the severity of Britain’s problems, the Tories will undoubtedly face an uphill battle. That means Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, must now be taken seriously as a potential prime minister.

And indeed Sir Keir, a progressive left-wing lawyer before entering politics, whose usual pained expression is that of a man who has just swallowed a live fish out of politeness at a diplomatic dinner, and who has been struggling to make an impact on the electorate, has been given a shot in the arm and buoyancy in his step by the crisis.

Labour is demanding the recall of Parliament to debate the “cost of living crisis.” That’s quite a shrewd demand since Johnson is now a “caretaker” Prime Minister who constitutionally has to leave all major decisions to September the 5th and his successor. Starmer's attack on the Tories as a “do nothing” government in the face of the cost of living crisis then carries more weight. By contrast, he was able to step up to the plate with his own remedies in a speech that was better received than any earlier efforts and proposed solutions that according to opinion polls are in tune with the popular mood.

Those solutions—an energy price “freeze” paid for by the $34 billion proceeds of a higher windfall tax on oil and gas producers— are not new. They have been kicking around the Labour party’s thinking on energy since two leaders ago. And when Rishi Sunak himself was chancellor only a few months back, he introduced a much milder $6 billion version of the same thing which he delicately called a “temporary, targeted energy profits levy” of 25 percent. (It came accompanied by a 90 percent tax relief for firms that invest in oil and gas extraction in the U.K.)

Starmer: I can see No. 10 from here.

The problem with such “concessions” to opposition attacks and the popular mood is that they concede the principle without satisfying the demand. Worse, they make Labour’s proposals look like common sense to which the Tories are offering only a miserly response.

Commonsense is a rare and valuable commodity in public life, but economics is one of the very few areas where it can’t be applied wholesale. Commonsense suggests that we should charge lower fares for railway journeys at rush hours when the trains are crowded and uncomfortable. Economists respond that we should charge higher fares then and lower fares at off-peak times to encourage people to travel in less crowded and more comfortable conditions at all times. If we ignore them, commonsense ensures that we end up strap-hanging for hours in cattle cars.

In the same way the economically sensible response to higher energy prices is to devote state assistance to cash subsidies to the consumer—with larger subsidies going to poorer people for whom energy is a bigger proportion of their total spending. People then get to decide whether to devote this increase in their income to energy, to food, or to their other household needs. They know those needs better than “the Man in Whitehall.”

Given this full responsibility over how to spend their total income, they would be free to change their behavior by, for instance, using less power than usual. Moreover, high electricity prices, for instance, would give them further encouragement to do so, thus reducing demand for electricity, oil, and making a gradual start to solving the energy crisis in general.

O, lucky man!

So much for the demand side. On the supply side, as long as prices remain high—and any decline would likely be gradual—energy companies would have the incentive of high profits to search for new oil and gas fields and to re-open old ones closed in response to regulation. (We already see that happening.) Even as demand was being moderated by high prices, supplies of energy would be encouraged and increased by them. The energy market would come into balance, and other things being equal, prices would fall.

Which is why a windfall-profits tax is both mistaken economically and unjust ethically. A bold claim, I hear you say. But as it happens, with help from an old friend and colleague, Philip Lawler, I wrote a classic article on the Case against a Windfall Profits Tax thirty-three years ago. Originally I “ghosted it” for the U.S. Treasury Secretary, William Simon, who a few years later gave me permission to publish it under my own name which I have now done in National Review and the Spectator Online.

Immediately on entering office in 1981, Ronald Reagan blew away a  ramshackle maze of overlapping agencies and bureaucratic bafflegab; de-controlled energy prices and production; and led the world into a sustained three-decade boom floating on a sea of cheap oil and gas. It looks as if the Brits have decided to go in the opposite direction—and if Labour wins in 2024, with their foot on the accelerator.

Piercing the Electric Car Fantasy

Electric cars are having a big moment right now, with the supercilious wonderboy of the Biden administration Pete Buttigieg proclaiming last week that we could escape the pain at the gas pump if more people could “access” electric cars (EVs). Very telling that he chose to say “access” rather than “afford” electric cars, because without the $7,500 tax credit, very few middle-class people can afford to buy an electric car. And very few middle-class people do: the lion’s share of “clean energy” subsidies are captured by high-income households.

But press beyond the typical economic illiteracy of leftists like Buttigieg who think having the government pay billions in subsidies makes something “cheaper,” and note that electrons aren’t printed out of thin air by the Federal Reserve like our fast-depreciating currency. With electricity rates rising fastest in those places that have overemphasized “renewable” energy such as California or Germany, it's not clear that consumers will save much by driving a more expensive electric car and paying higher utility rates. And that’s if you can still fill it up with electrons whenever you want to. During recent power crunches, which are threatening to become endemic in the U.S. under the current policies of the Biden apparatchiks, grid operators have asked EV owners not to charge their vehicles in the evening, when power demand is highest and the time of day when most working people will want to charge their cars.

The truth hurts.

Right now, electric vehicles make up about 1 percent of America’s car fleet. If they pose challenges for the electric grid already, what will the challenges look like if the EV fleet reaches 50 percent of the auto fleet as Biden proposes? No wonder Elon Musk says we’ll need to expand electric power generation by 30 percent or more to meet the demand of a larger EV fleet on the road. And yet it is supremely uncouth to point out that electrons for EV batteries are generated mostly from fossil fuels right now, and thus EVs may not deliver a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when a proper life-cycle analysis is done.

Economist Mark Perry notes that nearly two-thirds of current U.S. electricity is generated by coal and natural gas, and the figure rises to 86 percent if you include nuclear power, which environmentalists irrationally hate and are trying to eliminate. When you raise this problem, you are met with a hail of green indignation about how we’re starting on an “incredible transition” to a carbon-free energy future (a phrase Biden and energy secretary Jennifer Granholm have both used repeatedly with the unsettling grin of the chiliastic fanatic). “EVs are just an early step toward the carbon-free nirvana, which is just a few hundred thousand more windmills and square miles of solar power away!”

A recent little-noticed report from Volvo punctures this green myth, even though the very green Volvovians try very hard to obscure this conclusion. The report notes what a number of neutral analysts have pointed out for some time now: EVs are more material-intensive than old-fashioned gasoline-powered cars, requiring more steel, aluminum, copper, and other rare earth minerals and specialty products like magnets that must be mined (which environmentalists oppose) and require an energy-intensive process to manufacture into shiny EVs. And that’s before you get to the huge quantity of lithium needed for the batteries.

Where "clean energy" comes from: lithium mining in Zimbabwe.

Thus it is eye-popping when Volvo admits that the carbon footprint for the manufacturing of its C40 Recharge electric car is 70 percent higher than its comparable internal combustion version of the car (the XC40). But not to worry, says Volvo: you’ll make up the higher manufacturing emissions when you drive the emission-free EV far enough.

How far? Kudos to Volvo for calculating that: at the world’s average electricity sourcing today, a C40 driver would need to drive his car 68,000 miles to reach a break-even carbon footprint with a gasoline-powered model. The average American drives about 14,000 miles a year, and thus would need to drive his Volvo EV almost five years before reaching a lower carbon footprint. What if we had a grid that was 100 percent wind- or solar-powered? Volvo calculates that an EV driver would still need to drive 30,000 miles before reaching a carbon-footprint breakeven point with a gasoline car.

It is all a ruse anyway. If electric vehicles drop in price and effectiveness, which may be possible with enough brute-force engineering, you can expect environmentalists to turn against them, by noting the huge environmental footprint to make them and the human-rights problems of child labor in Africa mining all the cobalt EVs need. They did it before with natural gas, which environmentalists embraced back in the aughts (2000-2010) as a “bridge fuel” when they thought they could bash coal with gas, and turned on a dime when natural gas became cheap and plentiful. They’ll do the same with electric cars someday.

In Oz, No REST for the Greenies

Strictly speaking, an acronym must be a word, and pronounceable at that. Thus LGBTQ+ is not an acronym. If DEI is turned into DIE, and I don’t see why not, then it is an acronym. ESG and CRT are not acronyms and can’t be rearranged to make them so. WEF is not an acronym but could be rearranged as FEW; though this might not please the legion (apropos Mark 5:19) attending Davos. An advantage of acronyms is that they slide off the tongue. So it is that a new slick acronym has been introduce into Australia’s climate debate by Zali Steggall. Namely, REST; standing for "renewal energy storage target." This obviously complements the acronym RET, standing for renewable energy target. Incidentally, for the avoidance of doubt, RET is a word.

Ms Stegall is notable for depriving former prime minister Tony Abbott of his seat in the 2019 federal election. She’s a pathbreaker for six Stegall lookalikes (the so-called Teals) who defeated their putative right-of-centre opponents in well-heeled electorates in this year’s federal election. All ran, almost entirely, on the single policy of being greener than mere green; of proposing impossible-to-achieve renewable energy targets. I dare say they’ll all adopt REST as part of their sloganeering.

'REST is a crucial piece in Australia’s energy transition puzzle,' argues Steggall. Puzzle is a well-chosen word. Australia’s transition to intermittent, unreliable and costly energy from abundant coal and natural gas is a great puzzle. Matched by a mind-bending solution. The Australian market Operator (AEMO) issued its '2022 Integrated System Plan' on 30 June. The objective of the plan is to engineer “a true transformation of the NEM [National Electricity Market] from fossil fuels to firmed renewables.”

Does nuclear count as "renewable">

And what will the transformed electricity market look like? Far-flung wind and solar farms, connected to the grid by 10,000 kilometres of new transmission lines; pumped hydro and plain old hydro; super batteries; gas peeking stations; hydrogen, generated by electrolysis, fed by desalination plants, converted into ammonia for safer transport; so-called virtual power plants (see below); a nationwide network of charge points for EVs; and, lest we forget, demand management (aka, rationing).

I will have missed something. Doesn’t matter. I’m not alone in Oz in seeing it as a dead ringer for the instantaneously-ridiculed Knowledge Nation, ex-quiz champion and former science minister Barry Jones drew up on a whiteboard for the Australian Labor Party in 2001. Irreverently called ‘spaghetti and meatballs’ and, rather more cleverly, ‘noodle nation’; its shelf-life expired within the blink of an eye. If only that were predictive of the fate of the new-beaut electrical system that they (renewable-energy fantasists) intend foisting on the Australia population.

Storage, hence REST, is the last piece in the puzzle for fantasists. It completes the renewable-energy utopia in their delusional minds. But storage is a stock. Stocks run down. The supply of electricity is a continuous flow. Lapses require a compensating flow; for however long. Now those in the front line of keeping the lights on (prominently AEMO) are not complete dimwits. So, it’s not storage but firming which takes centre stage in bridging lapses. Words are important. Firming is a flow of power.

What can provide a flow of power for the extended periods when renewable energy is MIA? Not batteries, however super. The Australian Energy Council provided an unusually factual take on Victoria’s big battery (VBB). A battery twice the size again of the now doubled, much-vaunted, battery installed in Hornsdale in South Australia, courtesy of Elon Musk.

The VBB will not store huge quantities of surplus energy generated by renewables on sunny,windy days, and release this back into the grid for days and days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Its energy storage capacity is limited to at most a few hours’ worth of charging and release. Claims that such batteries will magically solve all the challenges of renewable generation variability and set us on a path to 100 per cent renewables tomorrow totally misconstrue the real roles that grid-scale batteries can effectively play.

Never mind, there’s always pumped hydro and virtual power plants to fill the breach. And do I have the Sydney Harbour bridge to sell you.

Australia’s only major pumped hydro project, Snowy 2.0, was originally slated to produce power by 2021; then 2026; now 2028, though no one would bet on that. And who would have ever guessed, it’s turning out to be far more expensive than envisaged. From $2 billion when announced by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017, to $5 billion, to now over $10 billion. And, when finally built, it will do no more than reproduce the power (2GW) of the Liddell coal-power station, due for premature closure in April 2023. For how long can it deliver such power? For as little as 20 hours perhaps, in some circumstances. Then it will take days to pump the water back up. Fingers crossed that the wind keeps blowing during these times. Might be better than a big battery? Still, has the history of energy generation ever seen so much expended for so little return?

As for virtual power plants, i.e., tapping into household and EV batteries? Pull the other one. A complex and expensive workaround offering an insignificant cache of power for the foreseeable future. In any event, it’s batteries again and they’ll run out long before wind droughts end. Tough toodles Teals & Co. Backing up unreliable renewable energy, requires gas-fired generators. There is no other practical way. But let’s do it with green hydrogen, they fantasise. Sure, mañana. One of these balmy days and nights.

According to AEMO, sans coal, the existing firming capacity in Australia’s national electricity market has to increase by more than six times. No doubt a model spat this out. Save the modelling. Apply simple logic for a world which often enough darkens and stills. As much power that can be got from wind and solar has to be backed kW for kW by another means. One hundred percent firming required. And by a means which can deliver a continuous and indefinite 24/7 flow.

What, a whole separate system backing up the primary system? Just imagine, analogously. Every utilitarian household appliance backed up. Two washing machines installed because one can be absolutely relied upon to regularly breakdown in mid-cycle. Why not throw that one out then, said a small child?

'Green' Monomaniacs in Pursuit of the Unattainable

With a nod to Jane Austen, it’s a truth which should be universally acknowledged that a country dependent on renewable energy must be in want of 100 percent backup power. No, not 50 percent nor even 95 percent. When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, we get a zero-power flow. Sadly, what should be universally acknowledged is studiously spurned by Climateers.

In my previous Pipeline post, I reported that the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), responsible for keeping the lights on, had capped the price of natural gas; it had spiked up to 800 times its former level at the end of May. In turn, this led some generators, squeezed between fuel costs and the cap, to withdraw supply. Who would have guessed? Maybe only those with an inkling of insight into the difficulties of turning a profit when costs exceed revenue. Alas, American president Joe Biden isn't one of them:

Here in Australia, politicians fiddled, AEMO temporarily suspended the market for wholesale electricity and ordered generators to supply power at a fixed price. Governments finally woke up. Without shame, federal and state governments called for more coal and gas to be brought online. The very same governments which demonise coal and assiduously prevent natural-gas projects from getting up.  For example, a large coal-seam gas project in Narrabri in New South Wales is now fourteen years in the making. Still no final approval. Victoria has a complete ban on onshore drilling, whether conventional or fracking. Crazy doesn’t describe it.

Lincoln Steffens: the future didn't work.

Meanwhile, circa mid-June, the lights were on the point of going out in Australia's most populated states; in NSW, Victoria, and in Queensland. Politicians lived up to our meagre expectations. A sample to savour: the federal minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen asked people to switch off unnecessary appliances. NSW’s green-tragic treasurer Matt Keane ordered Sydney hospital staff to conserve power in non-clinical settings. He further suggested that if people must run dishwashers they should do so late at night. This is not a spoof. To constructively misquote Lincoln Steffens, we Sydneysiders have glimpsed the future and it ain’t gonna work.

But despair not, the new Labor government under Anthony Albanese has a multifaceted plan called Powering Australia. Under the plan, greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 43 percent (on 2005 levels) by 2030. And, by same year, the share of renewables generating electricity will be 82 percent; from 27 percent (including hydro) in 2020-21. To boot, electricity prices for families and small businesses will fall. Really? Yes, by $275 per annum by 2025. That’s not all. Many jobs will be created; 604,000, in fact. Lots of precision in these numbers, you’ll notice. Forget the shambles of the past month or so. A non-transcendental energy miracle of precise proportions is in store for us Aussies.

How will the miracle be performed? That’s too complex for any mere mortal, such as me, to put into a definitive account. There are many verbose and opaque documents to peruse from AEMO and the Energy Security Board (ESB). If you want more, try other authorities like the Clean Energy Regulator, the Clean Energy Financial Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, the Australian Energy Regulator, and the Australian Energy Market Commission. And that’s just on a federal level. Umpteen state bodies to choose from too. They all tend to talk of pumped hydro, green hydrogen, as yet undiscovered technologies, sucking up unused power from electric cars and home batteries, banks of commercial super batteries and, of course, many more onshore and offshore wind turbines, plus solar panels galore, all housed in numbers of “REZs” (renewable energy zones).

The federal government also intends spending $20 billion to construct 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines to connect all far-flung wind and solar farms to the grid. And to think, it used to be just cheap coal power running the whole caboodle. Be glad those primitive bad old days are behind us.

A truth universally acknowledged?

Two mechanisms are to be bought into play to help achieve the miracle. Neither mechanism has yet been fleshed out. There’s the rub. Both will need the wisdom of Solomon to be gotten even halfway right.

In the meantime, fun to be had seeing greenies squirm as they contemplate coal and gas power stations being paid for standing idle. Sometimes cognitive dissonance results. Bear in mind, the need for the capacity mechanism is driven by the intermittency of renewable energy against the backdrop of the continuing forced closures of coal-power stations. Yet, bizarrely, the Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio wants fossil fuels excluded from the mechanism; and she is by no means alone among the green zealotry.

We have always been clear that a capacity market operating in Victoria would make payments to zero-emissions technologies and not fossil fuels.

Can’t fathom how that makes any sense? Paging Jane Austen, who knows a universally acknowledge truth when she hears one. But that might tax even her dramatic powers of explanation.

'At the Mercy of this Goddamn Spaceship'

The Wall Street Journal recently featured an amusing article entitled, "I Rented an Electric Car for a Four-Day Road Trip. I Spent More Time Charging It Than I Did Sleeping." The title more or less speaks for itself -- reporter Rachel Wolfe rented a brand-new Kia EV6, loaded her friend Mack into the car, and set off on a road trip from New Orleans to Chicago and back, a "2,000-mile trip in just under four days" so Mack could make it back in time for work.

She thought it would be a fun adventure, but in reality their desperate search for E.V. charging stations along the way, coupled with the extreme length of time it took to actually charge the car, undercut the thrill of the open road.

The main "pro" of her E.V. experience was cost. Though, Wolfe explains, "cost varies widely based on factors such as local electricity prices and charger brands," she estimates that her trip would have cost about $275 if she'd been driving a car with a gasoline powered engine, whereas she spent $175 total for her E.V. trip.

"Dear Diary..."

There are several reasons for this price disparity, including one Wolfe mentions herself -- "some businesses offer free juice as a perk to existing customers or to entice drivers to come inside while they wait." The cash spent on impulse buying as you wait for hours for your car to charge doesn't technically come out of your fuel budget, but it might as well.

The more important difference, though, is one of supply and demand. Fossil fuels are stretched particularly thin at the moment, and the tight supply has to both fuel the vast majority of vehicles on the road and generate most of the electricity fueling E.V.s (among other things). But the incongruity between the point-of-delivery price of gasoline and electricity isn't scalable. The more people owning and driving E.V.s, the more expensive it will become to charge them.

And then there is the main "con." Wolfe had "plotted a meticulous route" from one charging station to another, with their car's advertised range of 310 miles always in mind, planning to use thirty minute "fast chargers" twice per day and then eight-hour "Level 2" charges at their hotels overnight. The plan was straightforward, but the reality was not.

Right from the start they found that the car battery's charge was unpredictable -- on the first morning it "tick[ed] down 15 percent over 35 miles" and then the "quick charge" top up they wanted to do so that they would hit the road with a full battery ended up taking an hour instead of the estimated five minutes.

Eventually they make it to a Kia dealership in Meridian, Miss., where no one seems to know how to use the fast charger on site, and when they finally get it hooked up, the dashboard computer informs them that "a full charge, from 18 percent to 100 percent," will take them more than three hours. Wolfe explains:

It turns out not all “fast chargers” live up to the name. The biggest variable, according to State of Charge, is how many kilowatts a unit can churn out in an hour. To be considered “fast,” a charger must be capable of about 24 kW. The fastest chargers can pump out up to 350. Our charger in Meridian claims to meet that standard, but it has trouble cracking 20.

Are we there yet?

Once they make it to Chicago, Wolfe figures that they've mastered E.V.s and predicts that the return journey will be uneventful. “Don’t say that!” [Mack] says. “We’re at the mercy of this goddamn spaceship!” Boy was she ever right -- the drive back was, if anything, even more stressful, with continual “Charge, Urgently!” warnings as they power down everything in the car in the hopes of making it to the next charging station on "electric fumes." They discover, rather too late, that E.V. batteries do worse on the highways, since they're designed to draw some charge from the energy generated by slowing down.

Ultimately they make it home in time... barely. "The following week," says Wolfe, "I fill up my Jetta at a local Shell station. Gas is up to $4.08 a gallon. I inhale deeply. Fumes never smelled so sweet." Expect more and more people to come to that realization, sooner than you think.

Oxymorons and Morbid Attachments

It’s approaching breakfast time in Australia on 25 January. Avid wind-watcher Rafe Champion reporting:

Wind addicted South Australia is importing half of its power from Victoria and 94 percent of the local generation is gas. Wind turbines are running at 2 percent of capacity and providing 5 percent of demand. Victoria is generating a small excess of power [mainly from coal] but not enough to prop up South Australia without help from Tasmania and New South Wales. Across the national electricity network wind is delivering 3.7 percent of consumption, fossil fuels are delivering 83 percent (coal 75 percent).

Close your eyes and imagine the entire world without coal, gas and oil. If you imagine in their stead thousands of modular nuclear power stations dotted around the globe, relax. While you probably need counselling on the practicalities of supplying affordable and reliable energy in the immediate decades ahead, you don’t have acute symptoms of a novel psychological affliction. To wit, a morbid fear of cheap dispatchable power and, its mirror image, a morbid attachment to rude living.

We had it coming.

To the afflicted, cheap dispatchable power means travel and gadgets galore for humans to enjoy. This isn’t the world they envision. To them it’s a dystopian nightmare. Hence their understandable terror at the prospect of its metastasising. Correspondingly, it’s no wonder that they’re smitten by unaffordable and unreliable energy. Out of the resulting deprivation, they see the noble savage emerging ready to live parsimoniously in harmony with nature.

Ask almost anyone in the street. Ordinary people. Normal people. None will like the idea of living parsimoniously. Certainly, when it’s explained to them.

When I was a boy, me mum used to wash our clothes, bedsheets and towels by hand in the bath; mangle them, then hang them on the clothesline outside even in the deepest English winter. Electricity usage zero. Mind you, mum used hot water heated in a boiler next to our coal fire or by gas on the stove top. Carbon footprint there, I suppose. Vandalism. She should have used cold water to be absolutely green-minded and parsimonious.

Today all kinds of labour-saving, communication and entertainment gadgets abound. They will be prised only out of cold dead hands. And not just gnarled hands. Make no mistake, those jet-setting climate-warrior hypocrites and their handmaidens are not about to forsake a smidgeon of indulgence.

How in the world do they get away with it? That is the question. Why isn’t net-zero laughed off the stage? Smoke and mirrors. That’s why. The truth is hidden. It’s hidden by baseless claims of green nirvanas. Job creation is the poster child.

Angus Taylor is Australia’s federal government “minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.” His job description is a double-barrelled contradiction in terms. But all of those propagating the received wisdom are intent on the populace seeing them as oxymorons. Even among those who’ve never heard of Shakespeare’s sweet sorrow; who wouldn’t know an oxymoron from a contradiction in terms; and, incidentally, who might benefit from Danny DeVito’s masterly teaching.

Oxy this, you moron.

To expand. Juxtaposing both industry (the thriving thereof) and energy (the affordability and reliability thereof) with emissions reduction is meant to instill confidence that all is well with the world. Thus, effectively, we are meant to view "carbonless energy" and "carbonless industry" as oxymorons. That is to say, thunderous silence is more silent than plain silent. So, carbonless energy is cheaper and more abundant than just plain old energy. Carbonless industry is more competitive and job creating than just plain old industry. Grammar and propaganda working in sync to underpin the big sell.

Other countries have different set ups. But, within western governments these days; as, for example, in the U.K. and in the U.S., energy, industry and climate-change policy are caught under one broad umbrella, as though they are mutually supportive with no hint of conflict. And who’s to gainsay? No one of note at a political level. They’re predominantly likeminded.

It’s the real plague of our age. Political opposition has withered. Combatting climate change is a shared hysteria across the political aisles. It’s exactly the same thing with combatting the Wuhan virus. There’s no mainstream opposition. For the most part in Australia at a state and federal level, the usual charge against governments is that they’re not being hysterical enough. If you get the occasional reservation, it’s at the margin or from powerless mavericks.

Our system of government depends upon there being robustly opposing political forces. In Australia, Canada and the U.K., Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, puts the imperative into words. They’re not idle words.

Two things thrive in the absence of opposition. Foolishness and despotism. We are seeing both in full bloom in the response to Covid. So far climate policy is simply replete with foolishness. Watch out for despotism when people refuse to follow the parsimonious script, grids collapse and blackouts ensue.

Not hysterical enough.

Back to Angus Taylor. He recently took delight in a ship leaving port for Japan carrying hydrogen made using brown coal. Reportedly, the CO2 was captured and stored in a reservoir. No comment on the extent of capture, how leaky, how expensive, how scalable. What he said is that “clean hydrogen is a fuel of the future [and] the government is investing more than $1.3 billion to accelerate the development of our local hydrogen industry.” And did he promise jobs? Needless to ask, “over 16,000 jobs by 2050 plus a further 13,000 jobs from the construction of related renewable energy infrastructure.”

Notice something across jurisdictions. Renewable energy creates job galore. No mention of jobs lost. It’s all gain and no pain in the imaginary renewable energy world. This is the way hearts and minds are lulled. But real life is confronting and salutary. As my opening shows, unlike Esteban in Kill Bill II, wind is not susceptible to flattery. Neither will clean hydrogen become cheap and abundant on the wish and prayer of governments.

We are told by Taylor that “the government is determined to supercharge the [hydrogen] industry even further to support our plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.” There you have it. Nothing is impossible for a determined government armed with taxpayer dollars. Didn’t Barack Obama promise to quell the rise of the oceans among other wonderous feats and derring-dos? Job all done then, surely?

Dirty, Sooty, Black, and Indispensable

Australia like other countries individually, and collectively on the international stage, has seen a proliferation of government and non-government organisations dedicated to saving us from climate Armageddon. To name some under the auspices of just the federal government: the Clean Energy Regulator, the Clean Energy Financial Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, the Australian Energy Regulator, the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Energy Security Board. What these organisations and many others do is hard for me to say. I do read their blurbs but for the most part their roles soon slip from my mind. My brain is not set up to manage the verbiage – to which I will return.

Mind you, a plethora of organisations provides opportunities for those who might otherwise struggle to find gainful employment. Easily alarmed? Please apply here. Being suffused with emotion when interviewed is probably favoured. Looking at clips of Greta Thunberg beforehand might be advisable.

I’m too cynical. As from a stopped clock, sometimes a glimmer of sense emerges. And, when you think about it, having the moniker of Energy Security Board (ESB) suggests that it is the most likely of climate organisations to employ one or two fifth columnists; i.e., people interested in keeping the lights on. And, as you would expect, any such treachery earns the ire of true believers.

How many Australians does it take to screw up an electric lightbulb?

The ESB is charged with telling a council of federal and state energy minsters (total nine) how to move to renewables while keeping the power affordable and flowing. Of course, it is an impossible task which is the reason its reports are so prolix and vague. How to wrestle with the irresolvable?

Answer, write many thousands of meaningless words, gobbledegook, complex convoluted sentences. Here are two at random from many hundreds. “Reforms are underway to refine frequency control arrangements, addressing the need for enhanced arrangements for primary frequency control and a new market for fast frequency response. [And] The ESB recommends the detailed design for a capacity mechanism that ‘unbundles’ the value for capacity from energy be developed over the next 12-18 months.”

I counted 664 pages of ESB reports since March 2019, including the three-part “final” report provided to the council of energy ministers in August this year. Alas, by the way, describing the three-part report as final is a wind-up. Much more to come. And a difficulty for the ESB is that it might have to get precise.

The ESB is chaired by Kerry Schott. It must be difficult for her, armed as she is with a doctorate from Oxford in pure mathematics. Some intellectual airhead would have been better suited to the job. He or she could have more easily glossed over the need for coal. Not Schott. She knows that coal power has to ramp up when the wind lulls and the sun dims; and that this is a problem for the economics of running coal-power stations. Her solution: coal-power stations might have to be paid for their capacity to deliver power not just for power they deliver. Otherwise, no coal power and inevitable blackouts; at least until the dawning of la-la land, when renewables come of age.

Imagine the angst this solution - so-called “coalkeeper” subsidies – has caused true believers. See, for example, here, here and here. Subsidising coal! Heresy afoot. But real, not imaginary, life gave Schott no option. Coal is being driven out of business by the economics of providing power at a profitable rate only when the heavily subsidised wind turbines stop turning. And stop turning they often do.

My friend Rafe Champion, who keeps watch on these things, reported another failure at breakfast time on Sunday September 5 in the states of South Australia (SA) and Victoria (Vic). Wind was delivering only 25 percent of its capacity in SA and 30 percent in Vic. I mention this instance because wind delivers much less power than this at times, and demand on Sunday mornings is relatively subdued. Yet, both SA and Vic needed to import power from other states – sourced from hydro and coal. What about when coal is gone?

Don't worry, bro, it happens to everybody.

Reports from the U.K. and Europe in the first half of September tell the same tale. “Energy prices have spiked to a record high in Britain after calm weather shut down the country’s wind turbines… Wholesale power costs surged to more than four times their normal level, forcing officials to fire up coal-based plants to handle demand.” [And] “Energy prices in Europe hit records as the wind stops blowing.”

Those in the ESB and in like organisations in every western country know that wind won’t work. What to do? Ms Schott and her ilk can’t say it can’t be done or let’s go nuclear. They’d lose their gigs and be replaced with others of more compliant dispositions. So, in addition to being wordy, they separate the future into the short and longer term. In the short term; thank goodness for coal. In the longer term, technology turns up Micawberesque to save the day. To wit:

A successful transition would see the right mix of resources, on the demand side and supply side, incentivised into the energy market which maintains reliability while minimising consumer costs. That mix will likely include new and evolved technologies which may require refinements to market arrangements.

In the meantime, coal power is being driven out of any future, and our enjoyment of a ready and affordable supply of electricity, the indispensable staff of modern life, is being thrown to the tender mercies of the fickle forces of nature.

Heinrich's New Mexican Boondoggle

Earlier this summer Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), one of the most ardent environmentalists in national politics, wrote a typically brainless Op-Ed in the New York Times on electrification and the push for net-zero in the Democrats' multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill. Over at Capital Matters, Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation does us all a favor by thoroughly demolishing it.

Gessing opens with an important clarification --

Unfortunately, in Heinrich’s parlance, “electrification” does not mean bringing much-needed electricity to impoverished corners of our country, including the Navajo Reservation right here in New Mexico. No, the legislation he’s pushing in Congress — and the funding he’s advocating in the infrastructure bill, specifically — do nothing of the sort. By “electrification,” the senator means that he’d like federal, state, and local governments to phase out or completely ban your natural-gas stove, oven, and furnace, thus requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.

Which is partly to say that the bill itself is almost the antithesis of an infrastructure bill. Instead of putting government money towards what were once called "internal improvements" with the goal of raising the standard of living and improving economic conditions in neglected parts of the country, this bill ignores those forgotten places while seeking to lower standards of living and weigh down the economies across the board. This is what the Left calls "equity."

Gessing points out that, until a few years ago, environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club actually supported natural gas, due to its cleanliness compared to coal. He mentions that Barack Obama even touted its potential for reducing atmospheric CO2. But now major American cities like Sacramento, Seattle, and New York have begun the process of banning natural gas in new construction.

The environmentalists had it right the first time. As regular Pipeline readers know, the United States has led the world in carbon emissions reduction since the year 2000.  Senator Heinrich and his allies, meanwhile, imagine that it can be entirely replaced with electricity generated by so-called renewable resources. That would be quite the trick, considering the fact that only about "10 percent of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined" while this proposed transition "would increase U.S. electricity consumption by 40 percent." No surprise that Germany's attempted wind and solar transition has resulted in an increased reliance on coal, not to mention skyrocketing energy rates.

It's worth noting that the politicians pushing these policies are often working against the interests and preferences of the citizenry. The majority of people even in liberal cities want natural gas because it is "clean, affordable, and reliable energy," in Gessing's phrase. And Heinrich's home state of New Mexico is a major natural gas producer -- his own constituents would suffer if his preferred policies were fully enacted! In saner times, the residents of these communities would simply vote the bums out, but nowadays extreme partisanship protects activists masquerading as representatives.

It's quite the boondoggle. Just like Senator Heinrich's electrification proposals.

Hawaii Five-Oy!

In person and on a small scale I rather like Big Thinkers. My beloved maternal grandfather was one of them. He did things like build a large boat in his small backyard and then when completed realized he had no way to get it out of there until a kindly neighbor with the right equipment helped him tear down a fence and remove it. They towed the boat to Lake Michigan where it immediately sank, overloaded as it was grandpa’s  handmade metal framed pictures of his ten grandchildren.

But you don’t want people like that in the public sphere, deciding public policy. I’ve often made fun of the Big Thinkers in California whose grandiose plans to control the climate  are wildly impractical -- the name for them is “central planners." But California’s not the only state that's placed big thinkers in  public positions, and unless things change, the lovely islands of Hawaii will now soon face blackouts at their hands.

Unless an energy law there is changed Hawaiians may well be  be moving about by outrigger canoes instead of their electric vehicles, cooling themselves by hand-held fans  and working by sunlight and starlight. Hawaii was the first state to mandate a full transition to renewable energy when in 2015 its then-governor signed that mandate into law. By September of next year the law requires that 100 percent of electricity sales  must be from renewable energy.

On and on it rolls, for free and forever.

AES Hawaii, the state's last coal fired plant  -- it supplies 15 to 20 percent of the islands’ electricity -- is preparing to shut down to meet the law. Among the replacements planned was the Kapolei Energy Storage Facility, to be built by the state’s largest supplier of electricity, Hawaiian Electric. Like grandpa’s boat locked in his backyard, this plan has run into a number of obstacles, foremost among which is reality. “If there is not enough solar, wind, or battery storage energy to replace the AES plant, HECO would have to use oil instead to charge things like the upcoming 185-megawatt Kapolei Energy Storage Facility,” Pacific Business News reported.

It’s not a matter of “if,” however. The reality is there’s not enough wind, solar, or battery storage to replace the AES plant. Hawaiian Electric has made this quite clear in recent documents, noting that it would not be able to meet its year-two renewable target (75 percent) for “more than a decade.” This means that to replace its soon-to-be retired coal plant, Hawaii Electric will soon be charging its giant battery … with oil. In other words, Hawaiians will be trading one fossil fuel (coal) for another, albeit one far more expensive.

This revelation caused the chair of PUC, Jay Griffin, to complain that Hawaiians are “going from cigarettes to crack.” Said he: “Oil prices don’t have to be much higher for this to look like the highest increase people will have experienced. And it’s not acceptable. We have to do better."

How exactly can you do better, if I may be bold enough to ask?

Of course, it’s goofy to allow central planners to decide to switch from an efficient, reliable, less expensive way to generate electricity to a more expensive unreliable means by a near-specific date, but as certain as central planning is always a mistake is that in the view of central planners and their proponents the fault always lies elsewhere. Kind of like Stalinists blaming engineers for being unable to meet production quotas, ignoring that they had been denied the basic production supplies.

Lysenko's got nothing on Hawaii.

And so it is in Hawaii. In this case, those responsible are blaming Hawaiian Electric. As you might imagine, the switch from coal “depends on all of us working together--the utilities, project developers, local and state agencies, regulatory," according to a company spokesman.

Good luck on achieving that smooth and efficient interface.

Marco Mangelsdorf, a photoelectric panel supplier, was sympathetic to the power company's troubles. “Those of us in the solar energy development space have had projects painfully delayed with proposed interconnect studies, costs and requirements that effectively kill the project and cause the developer to walk away after sometimes having spent millions," he noted.

For its part, Hawaiian Electric says some project delays were attributable to “a slow permitting process of getting models and information from prospective developers, often outside of HECO’s control”.

Jay Griffin, chairman of the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission, points the finger at the company's lack of urgency and foresight, but conceded that “each of these projects must go through numerous steps, including government approvals/permitting and technical review of interconnection to the electrical grid before they are able to go online. These require coordination across numerous involved stakeholders, including the Commission.”

If you’ve ever worked in a government agency that has a permitting function, you might know that it’s always less risky to your career to raise obstacles than to quickly grant the permit. This reminds me of another Central Planning idea on Hawaii:

The dream was an elevated rail system to bypass what has been some of the country’s worst traffic, whisking commuters from the farmland and swelling suburbs of West Oahu into the heart of Honolulu. The 20-mile route parallels one of the world’s most glorious tropical shorelines.

More than a decade after inception, having spanned the tenures of three mayors and three governors and outlived its most powerful benefactor in Congress, the project is only half built. Hopes it might transform the crowded island city anytime soon are fading.

"They tried to force this as a major solution,” said Panos Prevedouros, civil and environmental engineering chairman at the University of Hawaii and a former mayoral candidate. “Now, we’re paying the dividends of all the lies, and we haven’t gotten any benefits.”

The expression live and learn seems to find no purchase in central planning on Hawaii.

The Texas Blame Game

The finger-pointing is well under way in Texas. And understandably so, as the situation on the ground is such a disaster. Millions of people are without power and heat, water pipes are bursting, and thus far thirty deaths have been blamed on the weather and the attendant outages. In a recent interview, Gov. Greg Abbott argued that Green energy is a big part of the problem:

This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Texas is blessed with multiple sources of energy such as natural gas and nuclear as well as solar and wind. Our wind and our solar got shut down and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the face of the Green New Deal, took to Twitter to hit back, saying that the governor has it exactly backwards:

The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you don’t pursue a Green New Deal. Weak on sweeping next-gen public infrastructure investments, little focus on equity so communities are left behind, climate deniers in leadership so they don’t long prep for disaster. We need to help people now. Long-term we must realize these are the consequences of inaction.

Which sounds vaguely inspiring, but it doesn't rebut Abbott's charge. He claims that the failure of so-called renewable energy, upon which Texas's power grid relies, led to the whole system being overwhelmed. Ocasio-Cortez replied that it'd be nice if Texas had updated its infrastructure. That's probably true, but that doesn't mean it is "quite literally what happens when you don’t pursue a Green New Deal." Why not update the existing infrastructure, reinforcing it against extreme weather, rather than replacing everything -- and with a less reliable power source -- as the GND mandates?

In response to the environmentalist fury at the suggestion that 'renewables' bear any responsibility for this disaster, the Wall Street Journal has a patient walk through of the part that they actually did play.

Last week wind generation plunged as demand surged. Fossil-fuel generation increased and covered the supply gap. Thus between the mornings of Feb. 7 and Feb. 11, wind as a share of the state’s electricity fell to 8 percent from 42 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Gas-fired plants produced 43,800 MW of power Sunday night and coal plants chipped in 10,800 MW—about two to three times what they usually generate at their peak on any given winter day—after wind power had largely vanished. In other words, gas and coal plants held up in the frosty conditions far better than wind turbines did.

By Monday the 15th, temperatures had dropped so low that conventional power plants (aided, yes, by infrastructure failures) began struggling to cover the surging demand. On Tuesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas put out a statement saying it "appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system." The WSJ observes that wind's apologists "are citing this statement as exoneration. But note he used the word “today.” Most wind power had already dropped offline last week.... Gas power nearly made up for the shortfall in wind, though it wasn’t enough to cover surging demand."

So, to the Greenies working overtime to assign blame for the disaster in Texas, maybe take a look in the mirror.