Indian Point closure: a sad day for nuclear, propane on the podcast &  Warblers!

Today’s foolish closure of Indian Point, $66B spent on solar and wind in TX, Perkins on  propane, Biden’s nuclear omission, Not In Our Backyard, and yes, more warblers   It’s been a busy week here in Austin. I’ve been writing a lot and managing some home improvement projects which were interrupted by several days of rain, which we badly need. Lots of items today:  My Forbes piece on the closure of Indian Point My RCE piece: $66B was spent on wind and solar in TX before the blackouts Tucker Perkins of the Propane Education and Research Council on the podcast Biden’s speech to Congress: no mention of nuclear energy Reminder about my new report: Not In Our Backyard Golden-cheeked Warblers at Emma Long Park     Today is a sad day for nuclear energy in America. Although I’ve known for several years that Indian Point Unit 3 was slated for closure today, the finality of this closure, the absolute idiocy of it, makes me mad, and yes, even more cynical about the politicians and “green” leaders who claim to care about climate change and conservation.

All week, I have struggled to come up with the words to describe my feelings about the closure of Indian Point, which I visited on May 10, 2018. Indian Point is featured in our new documentary, Juice. I also write about it in A Question of Power. The plant is (or rather, was) a quintessential example of the importance of power density. At full output, it produced 2,000 watts per square meter, which is 2,000 times greater than that of wind energy. But now, due to largely to rank fearmongering by the Natural Resources Defense Council and craven politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the plant is being permanently shuttered. Last night, I published a piece on Forbes which began: The actor and comedienne Lily Tomlin once said “no matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.” To my knowledge, Tomlin is not an expert on nuclear energy or the politics around climate change. But the premature closure of the Indian Point Energy Center — which will quit providing electricity to the New York electric grid on Friday – should make anyone who cares about climate change, electricity prices, or the security of the electric grid even more cynical about our politicians and the “green” groups who insist we must take urgent action to slash, or eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, cynicism, and lots of it, is the sensible response to the closure of Indian Point because it will result in dramatic increases in New York’s greenhouse gas emissions at roughly the same moment that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, climate activists, and top officials in the Biden administration are claiming that we need to quit using hydrocarbons. Just last week, Biden declared his intent to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in just nine years. My cynicism about climate policy in America can’t keep up because the climate catastrophists’ rhetoric about the potentially cataclysmic effects of climate change doesn’t match their actions. I went on to explain the many reasons why the closure of Indian Point makes me cynical about climate policy in America. I concluded the piece with this:  My cynicism can’t keep up because keeping Indian Point open and operating should have been an easy decision. If we are facing an “existential crisis” due to climate change, then keeping it operating was the equivalent of a layup in basketball or a 3-inch putt in golf. Instead, in soccer terms, the closure of Indian Point is an own goal. In football, it’s akin to Leon Lett fumbling the ball in the endzone. Lily Tomlin, wherever you are, stay away from the politics of nuclear energy and climate in America. No matter how hard you try, your cynicism will never be able to keep up. Here’s a link to the piece.       Don’t blame wind and solar for the blackouts?  
On Monday, I published a piece in Real Clear Energy on the Texas Blackouts. I wrote: In the aftermath of the Texas blackouts, one thing became clear: Big Wind and Big Solar have nearly every media outlet in the country on speed dial. Indeed, in the days after the blackouts, numerous media outlets carried stories proclaiming that the near-disastrous failure of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid should not be blamed on wind or solar energy. To cite just one example, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman declared that pointing the finger at renewables after the storm and blackouts that left nearly 200 people dead was “another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.” 
But the effort to absolve renewables ignores the oldest maxim in politics: follow the money. Doing so shows that wind and solar aren’t as blameless as you’ve been told. Indeed, about $66 billion was spent building wind and solar infrastructure in Texas in the years before the blackouts, yet all that spending was worth next to nothing when the grid was teetering on the edge of collapse during the early morning hours of February 15. For several hours, there was no solar production, and of the 31,000 megawatts of wind capacity installed in ERCOT, only about 5,400 megawatts, or roughly 17% of that capacity, was available when the grid operator was shedding load to prevent the state’s grid from going dark. As shown in the graphic above, the surge in spending on wind and solar resulted in a huge increase in wind generation. I wrote, “When combined with the shutdown of several gigawatts of coal-fired capacity, it’s apparent that the $66 billion spent on renewables before the blackouts didn’t make the Texas grid more robust – it made it more fragile.” I also discussed the amount of tax revenue that wind and solar contribute to Texas versus the amount of taxes paid by the oil and gas sector. The punchline: the oil and gas sector pays roughly 54 times as much in taxes as wind and solar.

I concluded the piece this way: Despite this enormous disparity in tax revenue – and the fact that the wind and solar industries spent $66 billion building generation capacity in Texas – we have been repeatedly told that wind and solar weren’t to blame for the blackouts. Why? Because they were “expected to make up only a fraction” of what the state needed during the winter. These excuses merely underscore the essence of the problem: If wind and solar can provide so little power during times of peak demand – and especially during moments when the electric grid is on the verge of collapse – why are we spending so much money on it?  Again, here’s a link.       Tucker Perkins of the Propane Education and Research Council on the Power Hungry Podcast  Since the Texas Blackouts, my views on grid reliability and energy security have changed. Being blacked out for 45 hours made me realize that I have been taking my energy security for granted. That’s why I was eager to talk with Tucker Perkins, the CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council, about fuel diversity and the “3-D” energy grid. 

To assure energy security, Perkins says we need all three of our energy grids: overhead power lines that carry electricity, the underground pipelines that move oil and natural gas, and the surface network, which includes propane tanks, diesel-fuel tanks, and even the fuel that sits in our vehicles. His idea about the 3-D grid is simple and compelling and I will be using it. (With attribution of course.) As I noted in the piece I published in Forbes in February during the Texas Blackouts, the push to  “electrify everything” will make our entire society more vulnerable to a failure of the electric grid due to extreme weather, human error, or malicious attacks.   

Tucker and I also talked about the size of the domestic propane industry ($20 billion per year in sales), how the distribution system works, and why the US is the “Saudi Arabia” of propane. It was a good conversation. Click here to tune in.     If Joe Biden is serious about climate change, why didn’t he mention nuclear energy in his speech on Wednesday night?  There’s a growing disconnect between the rhetoric about climate change and what politicians are actually doing about it. That was clear on Wednesday night, when President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress. I wrote a short piece for OPPBlog, the new blogging platform at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, where I’m a visiting fellow. I wrote:  In the debate about climate change and how the nations of the world should respond to it, one fact is clear: there is no way to slash global greenhouse gas emissions without dramatic increases in the use of nuclear energy. That truth is what makes President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress last night so disappointing. During his speech, which covered numerous topics including the economy, the pandemic, and his infrastructure plan, Biden, as expected, also talked about the need for action on climate change. According to a transcript of his remarks, Biden mentioned “climate” seven times. He used the phrase “climate crisis” three times. He gave a shoutout to the wind industry, saying “There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.” He talked about electric cars, saying “No reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.” Biden used the word “nuclear,” but only in the context of “nuclear proliferation,”  “nuclear arms,” and “Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs…” But in his speech of roughly 6,000 words, the president did not include a single mention of “nuclear energy.” It’s a short piece. You can read the entire thing here.      About 300 government entities have rejected or restricted wind projects Last week in this “news” letter, I mentioned my new report about land-use conflicts and renewables. “Not In Our Backyard,” was published on April 21 by the Center of the American Experiment. Along with the report, the center is also publishing the Renewable Energy Rejection Database, which includes details on the roughly 300 times that local or regional governments have rejected or restricted wind-energy projects.

To be sure, the facts in my report don’t square with the popular narrative that is endlessly repeated by big “green” groups, academics, and climate activists that wind energy is a benign form of energy production. Nevertheless, land-use conflicts are the binding constraint on the expansion of both wind and solar in the United States, Canada, and Europe. I’m very proud of the report and the data in it. In case you missed it last week, here are some of the key findings: Since 2015, nearly 300 government entities from Vermont to Hawaii have moved to reject or restrict wind projects.  Local governments are implementing a panoply of regulations to restrict the growth of wind projects including noise limits, height limits, minimum setback distances, and even seeking licenses for heliports. A thorough review of the studies that have documented the deleterious health impacts that can be caused by noise from wind turbines. That review includes a 2009 study done by the Minnesota Department of Health which found that the “most common complaint in various studies of wind turbine effects on people is annoyance or an impact on quality of life. Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints.” When measured by the amount of energy produced, in 2018,  the solar sector received about 250 times as much in federal tax incentives as the nuclear sector and wind energy got about 160 times as much as nuclear. The only way to bring sanity to the decisions being made by policymakers is to relentlessly pound the facts. Again, here’s a link to the full report. Please share it widely.     Golden-cheeked Warblers at Emma Long Park Seeing rare or endangered birds is always a thrill. And that thrill can be compounded when you are on the verge of giving up on seeing them. That’s what happened last Saturday morning when Lorin and I went out to Emma Long Park here in Austin. We have seen Golden-cheeked Warblers (Setophaga chrysoparia) several times over the last few years at that park. So we decided that we would take a short drive and try our luck again. When we arrived the trees and bushes were remarkably quiet. There was almost no bird activity. So we sat by Turkey Creek for about 20 minutes and then started a lazy hike back in the direction of our car. As we got closer to the parking lot, rather than stay on the hiking trail, we made our way out onto the park road. About two minutes later, just as has happened several times before, Lorin spotted a GCW, and just as has happened several times before, I didn’t quite believe her. But sure enough, there, flitting around the ashe junipers a few yards from the road, was a GCW. We also saw a few Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata). Further down the road, near the shores of Lake Austin, we saw numerous Western Kingbirds, which have the felicitous scientific name Tyrannus verticalis, as well as lots of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis.)

I found the above image of the GCWs on Wikipedia. It’s a print done by John Gerrard Keulemans, a Dutch bird illustrator, in 1890. Here’s a link. It’s a beautiful illustration, one that shows how paintings can represent the essence of a bird as well, or better than, a photo can.

Have a great weekend.       Want to help?   1. Share this email to your friends and colleagues! Or have them email me so I can add them to my distribution list.
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Thanks!    Reminder: You can watch Juice for free on Roku! If you haven’t seen our documentary yet, here’s a reminder: you can watch Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, on Roku, for free. Just click this link. If your friends haven’t seen it, send them a link. Or if you have a prime membership, you can watch it on Amazon Prime

Have a great weekend.   Copyright © Robert Bryce
2006 Homedale Drive, Austin, TX 78704
 

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