The Environmental Protection Agency moved Tuesday to upend the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan with a proposed rule that would shift authority over greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to the states.
The Affordable Clean Energy Rule as proposed sets guidelines on emissions from coal-fired plants for states and replaces the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal,” which was frozen by the Supreme Court in 2016 and has never been implemented.
The EPA said the proposed rule “empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation.”
“The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,” said EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance.”
The agency estimated that the benefit of subbing out the Obama-era rule with the ACE Rule would result in $400 million in economic benefits by reducing the compliance burden, while potentially reducing 2030 carbon-dioxide emissions by 1.5 percent from projected levels, “the equivalent of taking 5.3 million cars off the road.”
The reaction to the ACE Rule was swift. Environmental groups denounced the proposal, dubbing it “the dirty power plan” and “Trump’s gift to coal barons,” while the coal industry and free-market groups cheered the administration’s long-anticipated move.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, from coal-rich Kentucky, hailed the move as the “first step” toward stopping the effort by Obama-era officials to “impose their radical agenda unilaterally.”
“The Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan offered a typical story from that era,” Mr. McConnell said. “An innocent-seeming name. A pleasant-sounding objective. But underneath, an intrusive regulatory regime — built not on effective policy, but on far-left ideology. That’s why I am so grateful that, today, the Trump administration is unveiling its plan to pare back this unfair, unworkable, and likely illegal policy.”
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said the replacement rule “respects the infrastructure and economic realities that are unique to each state, allowing for state-driven solutions, as intended by the Clean Air Act, rather than top-down mandates.”
“Advancing the nation’s environmental protections does not have to come at the expense of American families, risking the reliability of our grid and sidestepping the law,” Mr. Quinn said. “The EPA and the Trump administration should be applauded for articulating a clear, legal proposal that considers the interests of all Americans.”
Meanwhile, Andrea McGimsey, Environment America’s senior director of global warming solutions, said the proposed rule would increase greenhouse gas emissions by handing a lifeline to coal-fired plants and reducing incentives for clean energy.
“That’s why we oppose President Trump’s Dirty Power Plan, which will increase carbon pollution from the burning of dangerous fossil fuels, accelerating the warming of the planet and changes in our climate,” she said. “At a time when communities across the U.S. are threatened by scorching temperatures, historic wildfires and air pollution, this move is sheer reckless folly, and it could have profound consequences.”
David Arkush, Public Citizen’s climate program director, called the proposal Mr. Trump’s “most terrible crime against humanity.”
But Brent Gardner, Americans for Prosperity chief government affairs officer, pointed out that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions — including those from coal-burning plants — have been declining for years even without the Clean Power Plan.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the United States led the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions for the ninth time in 2017.
“The Clean Power Plan was all pain for American consumers and virtually no gain for the environment,” Mr. Gardner said. “Market-driven solutions are the most efficient and effective method of reducing emissions. The EPA’s revised Clean Power Plan will make energy more affordable to American consumers and is a welcome move from the Trump administration as part of their effort to reduce the massive regulatory footprint left by Obama’s EPA.”
Twenty-seven states sued the Trump administration to stop the Clean Power Plan after it was announced in 2015, arguing that the federal mandates on electricity generation usurped state authority.
The Clean Power Plan’s aim was to cut carbon pollution from the electricity grid by 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, although the Cato Institute found that the regulations, using the EPA’s climate model, would have reduced global temperatures by less than two-hundredths of one degree Celsius by 2100.
Foes also argued that the plan would have come at a steep price to consumers. A Heritage Foundation analysis concluded that the regulations would have increased electricity prices by 13-20 percent and killed 400,000 manufacturing jobs.
The EPA plans to take comments for 60 days as well as hold a public hearing on the proposed rule following its publication in the Federal Register.
In other energy news, the Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’.
You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong.
National Wind Watch reports its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of irrelevance.
Here’s a quiz; no conferring.
To the nearest whole number, what percentage of the world’s energy consumption was supplied by wind power in 2014, the last year for which there are reliable figures?
Was it 20 per cent, 10 per cent or 5 per cent? None of the above: it was 0 per cent. That is to say, to the nearest whole number, there is still no wind power on Earth.
Such numbers are not hard to find, but they don’t figure prominently in reports on energy derived from the unreliables lobby (solar and wind).
Their trick is to hide behind the statement that close to 14 per cent of the world’s energy is renewable, with the implication that this is wind and solar.
In fact the vast majority — three quarters — is biomass (mainly wood), and a very large part of that is ‘traditional biomass’; sticks and logs and dung burned by the poor in their homes to cook with. Those people need that energy, but they pay a big price in health problems caused by smoke inhalation.
Even in rich countries playing with subsidised wind and solar, a huge slug of their renewable energy comes from wood and hydro, the reliable renewables.
Meanwhile, world energy demand has been growing at about 2 per cent a year for nearly 40 years. Between 2013 and 2014, again using International Energy Agency data, it grew by just under 2,000 terawatt-hours.
If wind turbines were to supply all of that growth but no more, how many would need to be built each year?
The answer is nearly 350,000, since a two-megawatt turbine can produce about 0.005 terawatt-hours per annum. That’s one-and-a-half times as many as have been built in the world since governments started pouring consumer funds into this so-called industry in the early 2000s.
At a density of, very roughly, 50 acres per megawatt, typical for wind farms, that many turbines would require a land area greater than the British Isles, including Ireland. Every year.
If we kept this up for 50 years, we would have covered every square mile of a land area the size of Russia with wind farms.
Remember, this would be just to fulfill the new demand for energy, not to displace the vast existing supply of energy from fossil fuels, which currently supply 80 per cent of global energy needs.
Do not take refuge in the idea that wind turbines could become more efficient.
There is a limit to how much energy you can extract from a moving fluid, the Betz limit, and wind turbines are already close to it. Their effectiveness (the load factor, to use the engineering term) is determined by the wind that is available, and that varies at its own sweet will from second to second, day to day, year to year.
As machines, wind turbines are pretty good already; the problem is the wind resource itself, and we cannot change that. It’s a fluctuating stream of low–density energy. Mankind stopped using it for mission-critical transport and mechanical power long ago, for sound reasons. It’s just not very good.
As for resource consumption and environmental impacts, the direct effects of wind turbines — killing birds and bats, sinking concrete foundations deep into wild lands — is bad enough.
But out of sight and out of mind is the dirty pollution generated in Inner Mongolia by the mining of rare-earth metals for the magnets in the turbines. This generates toxic and radioactive waste on an epic scale, which is why the phrase ‘clean energy’ is such a sick joke and ministers should be ashamed every time it passes their lips.
It gets worse.
Wind turbines, apart from the fiberglass blades, are made mostly of steel, with concrete bases.
They need about 200 times as much material per unit of capacity as a modern combined cycle gas turbine. Steel is made with coal, not just to provide the heat for smelting ore, but to supply the carbon in the alloy. Cement is also often made using coal.
The machinery of ‘clean’ renewables is the output of the fossil fuel economy, and largely the coal economy.
A two-megawatt wind turbine weighs about 250 tonnes, including the tower, nacelle, rotor and blades. Globally, it takes about half a tonne of coal to make a tonne of steel. Add another 25 tonnes of coal for making the cement and you’re talking 150 tonnes of coal per turbine.
Now if we are to build 350,000 wind turbines a year (or a smaller number of bigger ones), just to keep up with increasing energy demand, that will require 50 million tonnes of coal a year. That’s about half the EU’s hard coal–mining output.
Forgive me if you have heard this before, but I have a commercial interest in coal. Now it appears that the black stuff also gives me a commercial interest in ‘clean’, green wind power.
The point of running through these numbers is to demonstrate that it is utterly futile, on a priori grounds, even to think that wind power can make any significant contribution to world energy supply, let alone to emissions reductions, without ruining the planet. As the late David MacKay pointed out years back, the arithmetic is against such unreliable renewables.
The truth is, if you want to power civilisation with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, then you should focus on shifting power generation, heat and transport to natural gas, the economically recoverable reserves of which — thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — are much more abundant than we dreamed they ever could be.
It is also the lowest-emitting of the fossil fuels, so the emissions intensity of our wealth creation can actually fall while our wealth continues to increase. Good.
And let’s put some of that burgeoning wealth in nuclear, fission and fusion, so that it can take over from gas in the second half of this century. That is an engineerable, clean future. Everything else is a political displacement activity, one that is actually counterproductive as a climate policy and, worst of all, shamefully robs the poor to make the rich even richer.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 21st, 2018