Toxic Interests: In Lead-up to Paris Summit, Conservative Politicians Around the World are Fighting to Kill Renewable Energy

We have seen the enemy and he is us.

‘He,’ in this case, is those among us now fighting an all-out war against government programs aimed at reducing the damage caused by human-forced climate change. And in this present time of ramping climate catastrophe, there is no excuse at all for this morally reprehensible activity. Yet, excuse or no, the foul actions of these shameless ignoramuses continue. For all around the world conservatives (called [neo] liberals in Australia) with ties to fossil fuel based industry continue to scuttle programs that would result in the more rapid adoption of renewable energy systems even as they undermine related initiatives to increase energy efficiency.

At a time when the world faces down a growing climate crisis — one that will have dramatically worsening impacts as the decades progress — these failed and corruption-born policies represent the most abhorrent of political activities. And as the world convenes to consider how best to lessen the danger posed by an unfolding global tragedy, there are many in power who are now actively working to increase that danger.

More than anything else, this corrupt group is fighting to enforce ramping dangers, an ever-broadening harm, and untold future tragedy.

Shutting Down Coal to Build Natural Gas in The UK

This week, the conservative government of the United Kingdom made what seemed to be an optimistic announcement. It now plans to phase out all coal generation by 2025. Because coal power generation is the worst of the worst among carbon polluters, this news was rather good. Good, that is, when one doesn’t take a look at the broader context of current UK energy policy. And taking that look, we find what could best be described as an utterly abysmal state of affairs.

wind_power

(Wind power, produced by these and many other majestic towers turning over the UK countryside, is a critical solution to human-based fossil fuel emissions and a target of conservative energy policies. Image source: British Wind Energy Association.)

Ever since coming to power this summer, the conservative government has consistently cut subsidies for renewable energy while providing subsidies for some of the worst polluting facilities imaginable. Recently, UK Energy Secretary Rudd received stark criticism for this move along with pointed words over related backward policies like the provision of subsidies for expensive and polluting diesel-electric generators. Pointed words that came from both politicians and scientists alike. One such scientist was chief of the UN’s environmental programme Jacqueline McGlade who recently stated in the Financial Times:

“What’s disappointing is when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going — we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced.”

So even as conservatives in the UK are phasing out coal, they are replacing it with oil and natural gas. Fossil fuel replacements for fossil fuels at the expense of both zero-carbon renewables and a climate capable of supporting human civilization. For both oil and gas are still major carbon emitters. Especially when one considers the UK conservatives’ intention of fracking the countryside in search of these dangerous fuels. A method of extraction that has proven to increase emissions of volatile methane gas. And each new gas or oil plant built will continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere for decades even as it risks having its production lifespan cut short as the damages caused by carbon pollution become ever more obvious.

From the Financial Times:

Ms Rudd told the Today programme she wanted to rewrite the rules of the scheme to encourage gas instead. She said: “We have a capacity market auction coming up. We are going to review it carefully afterwards and ensure we do get the new gas we need.”

Conservatives, in this case, who have ideologically (and ludicrously) campaigned against all subsidies have instead decided to subsidize the bad climate outcomes all while cutting funding for solutions.

Fighting Renewable Energy Subsidies, Clean Power Plan in the US

In the US, the situation is only slightly better. Slightly better in that conservatives do not currently hold the Presidency. That said, conservatives are still doing their damnedest to kill off practically every renewable energy program the United States has to offer.

In May, House Republicans presented a bill (HR 1901) that would completely kill off the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy in the US. This in contrast to a permanent wind Production Tax Credit proposed by Obama. Meanwhile, the same Republican clowns who bring snowballs into the halls of Congress as supposed proof that global warming isn’t happening repeatedly try to de-fund the PTC for both wind and solar at each and every new budget session.

And it’s primarily due these efforts on behalf of fossil fuel backers by Republicans that the PTC is set to expire again by 2017. A move that will inject volatility into the renewable energy markets and bite into what has been an amazing period of growth by both Wind and Solar energy across the US. Growth that has happened despite Republicans’ apparent best efforts to halt it (see Paul Krugman’s Enemies of the Sun).

US Solar Energy Adoption rate

(US Solar energy adoption rates continued to soar in 2015, jumping to 40 percent of all new installed energy capacity for the first half of the year. These great gains have occurred despite broad based assaults on public policies supporting the rapid adoption of this critical renewable energy source. Image source: US Solar Market Summary.)

Though the PTC represents the Federal Government’s big support program for wind and solar energy development, any program that would reduce carbon emissions falls under attack. Republicans, who have hypocritically spoken in favor of US energy independence, mount repeated attacks on increases in Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards. Republicans incessantly assault the EPA and its underlying Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But more recently, Republican attacks against EPA have focused on the underpinnings of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan, which sets modest goals to reduce US carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels through 2030, would also greatly increase the rate of US renewable energy adoption, force the early retirement of the worst polluting power plants, and push for further increases in energy efficiency. Exactly the kind of progress against human forced climate change and toward US energy independence that Republicans apparently abhor.

By contrast, there hasn’t been a bit of legislation supporting fossil fuels that Republicans haven’t loved. Republicans constantly call for ending the oil export ban — a move that would greatly benefit US-based oil corporations. They wholeheartedly support the polluting and groundwater destroying process that is fracking. They’ve repeatedly called for increased drilling of all kinds everywhere including offshore drilling, Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Drilling, and Arctic Ocean Drilling. And they continuously support the dirtiest, highest carbon emitting fuel sources imaginable such as Canada’s Tar Sands and Coal. In fact, Republicans support for coal extends to the point that they frequently pass bills like this one which would allow toxic fly ash the enter groundwater supplies.

At the State level conservative republicans have repeatedly attempted to ram through ALEC and Koch funded bills to roll back net metering laws and renewable energy targets (see Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy). All while attempting to open public lands and waters to every variety of drilling and coal mining.

But despite these broad based attacks, renewable energy in the United States continues to make major gains even as energy efficiency measures advance. Sadly, the pace of carbon emission reduction and related renewable energy adoption has been greatly slowed by these continuous attacks by conservative Republicans.

Australia — From Terrible to Not Much Better

In the Southern Hemisphere, recent years have seen a wholesale gutting of renewable energy based policies by the Tony Abbott government in Australia. Time and time again, Abbott (which like northern conservatives foists laizzez faire markets and supports destructive industries like fossil fuels) pushed for a roll back in Australia’s previously aggressive renewable energy adoption rate all while trying to breathe new life into a zombie coal mining, export and power industry.

By Summer of 2015 the situation had gotten so dire that solar energy industry leaders were calling Abbott’s actions a ‘vindictive crusade’ against the renewable energy industry. John Grimes, head of the Australian Solar Council, this July launched an attack on the Abbott government after Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation decided to stop funding new wind projects.

In a statement to the Saturday Paper, Grimes asserted:

“If Abbott continues this way, we’re [the solar industry] finished. We know that solar and other renewables are competing with coal, and Abbott is intent upon protecting that industry. So, this is our WorkChoices moment. We will be mobilising, and we’ll be campaigning in marginal seats. We’re starting to plan this now.”

RET cut

(During June of 2015, the Tony Abbott government cut Australia’s Renewable Energy Target [RET] from 41 gigawatts by 2020 to 33 gigawatts. Unfortunately, the new Prime Minister — Malcolm Turnbull — hasn’t moved to support previous, more aggressive targets. As such, Tony Abbott’s legacy of cutting renewable energy in favor of coal lives on. Image source: Renew Economy.)

By Fall, the Abbott government had fractured. This development likely in no small part due to campaigning by renewable energy supporters and those concerned about human caused climate change. The new head of the Australian Liberal Party (don’t let the name fool you, they’re just like conservatives everywhere else) Malcolm Turnbull, when considering past performance, might want to support cutting edge solar technology for Australia. However, in his first months as Prime Minister he appears to have done little but cowtow to his numerous coal industry supporting party colleagues.

As an example, Turnbull’s appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently stated:

“My vision is for a country, a society, or world, where we don’t use any coal, oil, or natural gas, because we have zero-emissions electricity in huge abundance”.

But Turnbull, who is now being pushed by his political colleagues to make it illegal for environmentalists to sue coal companies if they open up new land to mining, felt the need to defend coal on the same stage by making the following and highly fallacious statement:

“If Australia were to stop all of its coal exports … it would not reduce global emissions one iota.”

Due to renewable energy’s popularity in Australia, due to Turnbull’s own likely affinity for the development of cutting edge wind and solar ventures, but also due to the terrible and intransigent institutional legacy of coal support in his party, the Turnbull government has come across as schizophrenic on the issues of renewable energy and climate change. On the one hand, some within Turnbull’s administration make statements like that of Dr. Finkel above. But when it comes to actual policy, Turnbull has continued to support many of the disastrous initiatives set forward by Tony Abbott. Which makes the Turnbull government look like it’s attempting to greenwash a facade over a rather ugly coal-ash face.

If Leaders Can’t Support Renewable Energy and Work to Halt Fossil Fuel Burning, Then They Need To Go

Though the UK, the US and Australia do not make up the entirety of the western world, the conservative anti-renewable energy and pro-fossil fuel sentiment represented in these three countries is wide-ranging. Such sentiment is common to conservative governing groups around the world — from Canada to Europe to New Zealand and beyond. In the western democracies of the world this crippling ideology is preventing a necessarily rapid push to adopt non-carbon energy and prevent the worst impacts of global climate change.

As we approach the Paris Climate Summit, we should be very clear on this one political issue of key importance. If these people continue to hold political power, we will not act rapidly or decisively enough. We will find ourselves overwhelmed by consequences as their delaying actions stymie any effective response. It is therefore crucial that the supporters of the fossil fuel industries of the world are removed from office. They have shown themselves for their true colors — they’ll continue to support these harmful and wretched fuels regardless of consequences, regardless of any, even the most extreme, risks to their own nations and to the nations of the world.

Links:

Top UN Scientist Criticizes UK Cuts To Renewable Subsidy

UK Coal Fired Plants to be Phased Out

Ministers Accused of Trying to Sneak Through New Fracking Rules

Methane Leaks Wipe Out any Benefit of Fracking

Republicans Fight to Repeal PTC for Wind

House Panel Passes Extenders Package Without PTC

Enemies of the Sun

The GOP Assault on Environmental Laws

The Clean Power Plan

GOP Attacks on Clean Power Plan Going Nowhere

163 Republicans Push for More Offshore Drilling

Republicans Push for Renewed Drilling in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge

Republican House Passes Bill Forcing Keystone XL Approval for the 9th Time

Republican House Passes Bill That Would Allow Toxic Coal Ash to Enter Groundwater

Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy

US Solar Market Summary

Abbott’s Campaign to Kill the Renewable Energy Sector

Renew Economy

Australia Slashes its Renewable Energy Target by 20 Percent

 

 

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Solar Energy Costs in Free-Fall as World Climate Worsens; Opposition to Renewable Energy Now Mostly Political

 

The evidence just keeps flooding in. From 2005 to 2012 country after country reached solar grid parity until, at the end of this period, a total of 102 nations saw solar energy sources that were cost competitive with fossil fuels. Through 2013 prices kept falling. Now, an increasing number of regions have developed solar energy as least expensive new energy sources. Earlier this year First Solar opened a New Mexico plant in which solar energy produced electricity for 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour. These prices were 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of energy generated from a new coal fired plant. Now, a German Utility has opened a solar plant that produces electricity for less than 10 euro cents per kilowatt hour, also less than the cost of local new coal generation.

By 2020, total solar energy prices are, in the most conservative estimates, expected to fall by at least another 50% (in fact, the cost of new solar generation has fallen by 22% each year for the past five years!). More optimistic estimates show solar continuing to fall by between 4 and 15 percent each year through the next twenty years. These reductions will make solar energy the least expensive energy source in almost all cases within 4-20 years. What is absolutely astounding is that, should these reductions materialize, it will be less expensive to build a new solar facility than it will be to cover the operating costs of existing coal power plants.

A rough graph of the time horizon at which solar out-competes existing coal generation given various rates of price reduction from 4 to 15 percent per annum is available here:

Solar competitive time horizon

(Image source: Monetary Realism)

The various lines start on year 1 (2014) and continue all the way through 2034. In the most rapid cost reduction cases, new solar outcompetes existing coal from 2018 to 2022 and only the slowest advancement results in an outcompeting of existing coal generation by 2034. This graph doesn’t include likely increases in the costs for existing coal due to competition from wind and solar, depletion of the coal source, or requirements by governments to use costly carbon capture and storage technology.

To this point, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is little more than an oft trotted out fossil fuel dog and pony show. Not one CCS plant has been put into anything more than experimental operation. Not one has demonstrated any cost competitiveness with a broader energy market. And not one has advanced further than the pilot stage making any estimated cost for actual systems little more than vapor.

By comparison, solar energy just keeps chugging along, marking gains, new milestones, and greater cost cuts with each passing year. In the US alone, more than 10 gigawatts of solar energy have now been installed. That number is predicted to surge by 80% over the next 18 months to reach 17 gigawatts by end of 2014.

These are massive and optimistic gains. Yet they will have to continue for years to decades if they are to significantly reduce and eliminate US net carbon emissions from electricity generation. With severe weather impacts and sea level rise ramping up from human caused climate change in the present day, it appears we are in a race both against time and against our own worst enemy and the cause of the whole trouble in the first place: ourselves.

A Massive Political Juggernaut Opposes Renewable Energy Adoption and Solutions to Climate Change

If we were rational, our government and policy systems would be rapidly aligning to support a major transition away from fossil fuels. If we were rational, we’d be leveraging the increasingly cost-beneficial energy production systems that renewables provide to stabilize economies harmed by the ravages of petroleum dependency and related economic exploitation. We could bring light to the darkened, non-grid-tied regions of the world. And we could give human civilization a fighting chance against the terrible ravages of climate change caused by our enforced dependence on a dangerous set of fuels. Fuels that must go if we are to have much hope of overcoming what is setting up to be an existential climate crisis.

Yet it is clear, at this point, that we are not rational. At best, we see government gridlock. At worst, entrenched corporations are able to manipulate government in such a way that the dangerous development of dirty fuels continues.

In one example, the US State Department paid reporting agencies with close ties to BP, Exxon Mobile, and Koch Industries to draft a climate impact assessment report for the Keystone XL Pipeline. A report that contained a high level of oil industry fluff and misinformation. One that arguably misled both the public as well as members of public government who would be making decisions on this critical issue. Thankfully, public outrage over this report has caused some reassessment. But the validity of any new report may suffer from similar corruption and is equally in doubt.

In another example, the halls of Congress itself is packed to the gills with a non-representative number of ignorant individuals who out-right deny the existence of human caused climate change. A recent report from Think Progress found that 127 members of the House and 30 members of the Senate denied human-caused climate change. Not surprisingly, a significant majority of republicans in Congress deny climate change. Equally unsurprising is the fact that these members receive vast sums from fossil fuel related donors. House climate change deniers received 242,000 dollars on average from fossil fuel industry coffers. While Senate climate change deniers receive a largess of nearly 700,000 dollars each for their climate change denial efforts. Further, a majority of these members sat on key science and environment committees or held leadership positions in their respective parties.

In a horrid example of the damage this kind of corruption causes, a new bill advanced by Republicans called the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013 would cut NOAA funding for climate change research. Indirectly, these cuts would also likely impact weather satellite coverage and sensors critical to weather prediction. To this point, it is impossible to separate weather from climate. Any efforts to cut climate research also negatively impact our ability to predict the weather. In this instance, as in many others, climate change deniers in Congress are actively harming our resilience to the extreme weather that is almost certainly on its way.

Given this fossil fuel industry stacked US political system, is it any surprise that almost daily proposals to expand coal, gas, and oil dependence hit the floors of Congress? Or that House Republicans are doing their best to kill off critical energy efficiency standards?

Sadly, many utilities themselves are entangled in a dark web of fossil fuel influence. Cosied up to fossil fuel special interests for more than a century, utilities are now fighting net metering laws that have led to more rapid adoption of solar in states like Arizona. These net metering laws allow homeowners to sell any excess energy produced, which utilities must purchase at cost. This policy, put in place in Arizona in 2009, helped rocket the state to number 2 in total solar energy generation, behind California. But now, the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, is fighting to kill net metering. In an ironic change of fate, the son of Barry Goldwater is organizing political action to fight APS. Goldwater’s organization — Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed — is now involved in an epic political battle to keep solar energy alive for Arizona’s homeowners.

These are just a few highlights of a broad and ongoing war which fossil fuel special interests are fighting to deny citizens access to clean, alternative energy. It is a war, also, to preserve profits for some of the wealthiest corporations the world has ever seen. What this intensity of action on the part of fossil fuel companies, especially when viewed in light of an increasingly less expensive and competitive renewable energy source,  reveals is that barriers placed to renewable energy adoption are now entirely political and policy related from this point forward. Thus, we are in the midst of an ugly era in which the corporate fossil fuel special interests seem to use every dirty trick at their disposal to maintain their hold over markets, consumers, and governments.

It’s going to be tough, rough fight. But with climate change howling in the wings, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

 

 

Liberals and Conservatives Finally Agree: Volt Can End US Dependence on Middle East Oil

Image

Over the past year conservatives have engaged in brutal and ongoing attacks against one of the greatest American automotive innovations ever the hit the road — the Chevy Volt — but today, thankfully, these attacks appear to have stopped.

An American Innovative Marvel

The Chevy Volt is the world’s first successful plug-in gas electric hybrid. This revolutionary vehicle allows drivers to run their vehicles in all electric mode for up to 55 miles before recharging or switching to burning gasoline to extend the vehicle’s range to over 350 miles. Since most commutes are about 26 miles, Volt drivers can reap amazing gains in fuel efficiency. Reports back from Volt drivers show that they are driving, on average, 1,000 miles between fill-ups. This gives the vehicle an average fuel efficiency of over 130 miles per gallon.

In addition, the Volt is wildly popular among owners. In 2011, it ranked highest in customer satisfaction out of any vehicle sold.

Attacks against Volt harm sales

The fact that such a powerful technology is available on the road is a miracle of modern engineering. But despite these obvious benefits and the fact that this amazing vehicle was an all-American invention, conservatives engaged in a massive politically driven attack against it. Ignoring the fact that the Volt began development under the Bush administration, republicans called it an Obamamobile and went about doing everything they could to demonize it. These attacks resulted in some dealers refusing to sell the vehicle for political reasons.They also alienated would-be Volt buyers — patriotic Americans concerned about US imports of oil from places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

But, even from the start, there were a few defectors in the republican ranks. Bob Lutz, a prominent republican derided attacks against the Volt, saying that these attacks were misguided at best.

Conservative media about face

Now, the conservative media appears to have done an about face on the Chevy Volt, today airing a piece on Fox News that could be best described as a Volt promotion. Fox even posted an analysis showing that the US could be energy independent from the Middle East if we managed to sell 30 million Volts by 2020. Comparing it to the ipad, Fox then went on to state that so long as economies of scale were able to be reached the Volt could radically drop in price making it much more accessible to average Americans.

Work together for energy independence?

The admissions by Fox today represent a huge break in the conservative log-jam over alternative energy technologies that help to reduce oil prices. It is a welcome change, for a certainty. And perhaps, at least, conservatives and liberals can finally agree on the need for alternative fuel vehicles and plug in electric hybrids. If we work together, America could well become a leader in this critical new technology, serve to help reduce our own oil dependence and, through exports of revolutionary vehicles like the Volt, reduce world dependence on oil as well.

 

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