Article Share: The Green Unreality Show

From The Wall Street Journal

The Green Unreality Show

Politicians from 175 countries agree to keep doing whatever they intended to do anyway.

The climate deal negotiated in Paris and signed in New York Friday is not a treaty. It is not enforceable against the U.S. or anybody else. It waves vaguely at the idea of a $100 billion adjustment fund for poorer countries, to be filled in later by somebody else, maybe.

Like all such international agreements, it’s a giant PR exercise designed to put a global imprimatur on what domestic politicians want to do anyway. In China and India, that’s grow their energy output any way they can. In President Obama’s case, it’s continue to dish out green mandates and subsidies that please his entourage.

Economist Bruce Yandle coined the term bootleggers and Baptists for political coalitions of true believers and their more self-interested fellow travelers. The climate movement is the ultimate example.

Having ginned up a climate “crisis” in the first place, it’s almost as if the movement has ginned up a fake victory to keep the game going. This week’s signing was preceded by an outpouring of fishy studies in the press about how renewable energy is on the verge of solving the problem. The most paradoxical claim, regularly aired in the New York Times, is that the fate of the planet depends on how you vote in the U.S. presidential race because solar power is falling rapidly in cost and is now competitive with fossil fuels.

Well, then it doesn’t matter how you vote. Cheaper solar energy will displace fossil energy for purely economic reasons.

The fragment of truth here is that the cost of solar collectors has come down thanks to Chinese production, but this represents a small fraction of the actual cost of integrating solar into the power system.

Solar is free; the sun does not send us a bill. But solar is only competitive to the extent that fossil-fuel plants remain on hand to provide backup power when the sun is not shining. Unfortunately, fossil-fuel plant economics deteriorate rapidly when plants must stop and start to make up for fluctuating wind and solar.

This is why, for instance, Germany managed to increase its use of renewables and its output of carbon dioxide at the same time—because it resorted to cheap coal to keep the lights on at a price its people could afford.

This is why states like Iowa and Texas, which brag about their wind production, have more stubborn emissions output than do states that simply followed market signals to switch to gas from coal.

A giddy media is full of traps for the unwary. Widely touted earlier this month was a study by United Nations Environment Program claiming that renewables now represent 10% of global electricity production—never mind that more authoritative sources like the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration put the figure at 7%.

UNEP also claimed that $286 billion was invested in renewables last year, more than twice the investment in new coal and gas plants. This is the Soviet habit of measuring inputs rather than outputs. Consumers get far less power per dollar of renewable investment than they get from fossil-fuel investment.

In truth, the cost of backup power not only caps solar and wind growth, renewables may already have overshot. The International Renewable Energy Agency, in a discordantly sober report, predicts that wind and solar will start shrinking their share in the fast-growing developing economies in coming years.

Now you, dear reader, are properly backgrounded on a fight going on in many U.S. states. The fight concerns the exorbitant costs imposed on other ratepayers to subsidize backup power for solar adopters.

Nevada has been a recent ground zero. A battle there enlisted utility owner Warren Buffett and solar promoter Elon Musk on opposing sides. Eventually utility regulators trimmed back generous prices paid to solar-panel owners who sell excess power back to the local utility.

Curiously, solar fans didn’t applaud. When they can’t sell their excess back to the power company at inflated prices, solar adopters would have greater incentive to invest in a battery to store it for their own use. They no longer would need backup from coal or gas. Solar would become a real competitor with the grid, not just a sinkhole for handouts. And obviated would be any nasty political arguments over how much to pillage innocent ratepayers to make solar viable.

Of course, solar promoters don’t see it this way. They care about their stock prices, not the planet.

The good news is that battery technology will continue to improve, thanks to the proliferation of portable devices in our lives, and so will the economics of grid independence. True climate worrywarts should be grateful for small favors. Whatever the truth of man’s impact on global warming, the outcome will be shaped more by the unregulated evolution of technology than by any master plan from the bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the ecstatic burble accompanying the Paris deal is just another layer of fraudulence of the kind that has become too much mixed in with the climate cause.


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