Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Powering the world’s economy with wind, water and solar, and perhaps a little wood sounds like a good idea until a person looks at the details. The economy can use small amounts of wind, water and solar, but adding these types of energy in large quantities is not necessarily beneficial to the system.

While a change to renewables may, in theory, help save world ecosystems, it will also tend to make the electric grid increasingly unstable. To prevent grid failure, electrical systems will need to pay substantial subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear electricity providers that can offer backup generation when intermittent generation is not available. Modelers have tended to overlook these difficulties. As a result, the models they provide offer an unrealistically favorable view of the benefit (energy payback) of wind and solar.

If the approach of mandating wind, water, and solar were carried far enough, it might have the unfortunate effect of saving the world’s ecosystem by wiping out most of the people living within the ecosystem. It is almost certain that this was not the intended impact when legislators initially passed the mandates.

[1] History suggests that in the past, wind and water never provided a very large percentage of total energy supply.

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per person (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley, Cambridge University.

Figure 1 shows that before and during the Industrial Revolution, wind and water energy provided 1% to 3% of total energy consumption.

For an energy source to work well, it needs to be able to produce an adequate “return” for the effort that is put into gathering it and putting it to use. Wind and water seemed to produce an adequate return for a few specialized tasks that could be done intermittently and that didn’t require heat energy.

When I visited Holland a few years ago, I saw windmills from the 17th and 18th centuries. These windmills pumped water out of low areas in Holland, when needed. A family would live inside each windmill. The family would regulate the level of pumping desired by adding or removing cloths over the blades of the windmill. To earn much of their income, they would also till a nearby plot of land.

This overall arrangement seems to have provided adequate income for the family. We might conclude, from the inability of wind and water energy to spread farther than 1% -3% of total energy consumption, that the energy return from the windmills was not very high. It was adequate for the arrangement I described, but it didn’t provide enough extra energy to encourage greatly expanded use of the devices.

[2] At the time of the Industrial Revolution, coal worked vastly better for most tasks of the economy than did wind or water.

Economic historian Tony Wrigley, in his book Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, discusses the differences between an organic economy (one whose energy sources are human labor, energy from draft animals such as oxen and horses, and wind and water energy) and an energy-rich economy (one that also has the benefit of coal and perhaps other energy sources). Wrigley notes the following benefits of a coal-based energy-rich economy during the period shown in Figure 1:

  • Deforestation could be reduced. Before coal was added, there was huge demand for wood for heating homes and businesses, cooking food, and for making charcoal, with which metals could be smelted. When coal became available, it was inexpensive enough that it reduced the use of wood, benefiting the environment.
  • The quantity of metals and tools was greatly increased using coal. As long as the source of heat for making metals was charcoal from trees, the total quantity of metals that could be produced was capped at a very low level.
  • Roads to mines were greatly improved, to accommodate coal movement. These better roads benefitted the rest of the economy as well.
  • Farming became a much more productive endeavor. The crop yield from cereal crops, net of the amount fed to draft animals, nearly tripled between 1600 and 1800.
  • The Malthusian limit on population could be avoided. England’s population grew from 4.2 million to 16.7 million between 1600 and 1850. Without the addition of coal to make the economy energy-rich, the population would have been capped by the low food output from the organic economy.

[3] Today’s wind, water, and solar are not part of what Wrigley called the organic economy. Instead, they are utterly dependent on the fossil fuel system.

The name renewables reflects the fact that wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams do not burn fossil fuels in their capture of energy from the environment.

Modern hydroelectric dams are constructed with concrete and steel. They are built and repaired using fossil fuels. Wind turbines and solar panels use somewhat different materials, but these too are available only thanks to the use of fossil fuels. If we have difficulty with the fossil fuel system, we will not be able to maintain and repair any of these devices or the electricity transmission system used for distributing the energy that they capture.

[4] With the 7.7 billion people in the world today, adequate energy supplies are an absolute requirement if we do not want population to fall to a very low level. 

There is a myth that the world can get along without fossil fuels. Wrigley writes that in a purely organic economy, the vast majority of roads were deeply rutted dirt roads that could not be traversed by wheeled vehicles. This made overland transport very difficult. Canals were used to provide water transport at that time, but we have virtually no canals available today that would serve the same purpose.

It is true that buildings for homes and businesses can be built with wood, but such buildings tend to burn down frequently. Buildings of stone or brick can also be used. But with only the use of human and animal labor, and having few roads that would accommodate wheeled carts, brick or stone homes tend to be very labor-intensive. So, except for the very wealthy, most homes will be made of wood or of other locally available materials such as sod.

Wrigley’s analysis shows that before coal was added to the economy, human labor productivity was very low. If, today, we were to try to operate the world economy using only human labor, draft animals, and wind and water energy, we likely could not grow food for very many people. World population in 1650 was only about 550 million, or about 7% of today’s population. It would not be possible to provide for the basic needs of today’s population with an organic economy as described by Wrigley.

(Note that organic here has a different meaning than in “organic agriculture.” Today’s organic agriculture is also powered by fossil fuel energy. Organic agriculture brings soil amendments by truck, irrigates land and makes “organic sprays” for fruit, all using fossil fuels.)

[5] Wind, water and solar only provided about 11% of the world’s total energy consumption for the year 2018. Trying to ramp up the 11% production to come anywhere close to 100% of total energy consumption seems like an impossible task.

Figure 2. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Let’s look at what it would take to ramp up the current renewables percentage from 11% to 100%. The average growth rate over the past five years of the combined group that might be considered renewable (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar) has been 5.8%. Maintaining such a high growth rate in the future is likely to be difficult because new locations for hydroelectric dams are hard to find and because biomass supply is limited. Let’s suppose that despite these difficulties, this 5.8% growth rate can be maintained going forward.

To increase the quantity from 2018’s low level of renewable supply to the 2018 total energy supply at a 5.8% growth rate would take 39 years. If population grows between 2018 and 2057, even more energy supply would likely be required. Based on this analysis, increasing the use of renewables from a 11% base to close to a 100% level does not look like an approach that has any reasonable chance of fixing our energy problems in a timeframe shorter than “generations.”

The situation is not quite as bad if we look at the task of producing an amount of electricity equal to the world’s current total electricity generation with renewables (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar); renewables in this case provided 26% of the world’s electricity supply in 2018.

Figure 3. World electricity production by type, based on data from 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The catch with replacing electricity (Figure 3) but not energy supplies is the fact that electricity is only a portion of the world’s energy supply. Different calculations give different percentages, with electricity varying between 19% and 43% of total energy consumption.1 Either way, substituting wind, water and solar in electricity production alone does not seem to be sufficient to make the desired reduction in carbon emissions.

[6] A major drawback of wind and solar energy is its variability from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Water energy has season-to-season variability as well, with spring or wet seasons providing the most electricity.

Back when modelers first looked at the variability of electricity produced by wind, solar and water, they hoped that as an increasing quantity of these electricity sources were added, the variability would tend to offset. This happens a little, but not nearly as much as one would like. Instead, the variability becomes an increasing problem as more is added to the electric grid.

When an area first adds a small percentage of wind and/or solar electricity to the electric grid (perhaps 10%), the electrical system’s usual operating reserves are able to handle the variability. These were put in place to handle small fluctuations in supply or demand, such as a major coal plant needing to be taken off line for repairs, or a major industrial client reducing its demand.

But once the quantity of wind and/or solar increases materially, different strategies are needed. At times, production of wind and/or solar may need to be curtailed, to prevent overburdening the electric grid. Batteries are likely to be needed to help ease the abrupt transition that occurs when the sun goes down at the end of the day while electricity demand is still high. These same batteries can also help ease abrupt transitions in wind supply during wind storms.

Apart from brief intermittencies, there is an even more serious problem with seasonal fluctuations in supply that do not match up with seasonal fluctuations in demand. For example, in winter, electricity from solar panels is likely to be low. This may not be a problem in a warm country, but if a country is cold and using electricity for heat, it could be a major issue.

The only real way of handling seasonal intermittencies is by having fossil fuel or nuclear plants available for backup. (Battery backup does not seem to be feasible for such huge quantities for such long periods.) These back-up plants cannot sit idle all year to provide these services. They need trained staff who are willing and able to work all year. Unfortunately, the pricing system does not provide enough funds to adequately compensate these backup systems for those times when their services are not specifically required by the grid. Somehow, they need to be paid for the service of standing by, to offset the inevitable seasonal variability of wind, solar and water.

[7] The pricing system for electricity tends to produce rates that are too low for those electricity providers offering backup services to the electric grid.

As a little background, the economy is a self-organizing system that operates through the laws of physics. Under normal conditions (without mandates or subsidies) it sends signals through prices and profitability regarding which types of energy supply will “work” in the economy and which kinds will simply produce too much distortion or create problems for the system.

If legislators mandate that intermittent wind and solar will be allowed to “go first,” this mandate is by itself a substantial subsidy. Allowing wind and solar to go first tends to send prices too low for other producers because it tends to reduce prices below what those producers with high fixed costs require.2

If energy officials decide to add wind and solar to the electric grid when the grid does not really need these supplies, this action will also tend to push other suppliers off the grid through low rates. Nuclear power plants, which have already been built and are adding zero CO2 to the atmosphere, are particularly at risk because of the low rates. The Ohio legislature recently passed a $1.1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants because of this issue.

If a mandate produces a market distortion, it is quite possible (in fact, likely) that the distortion will get worse and worse, as more wind and solar is added to the grid. With more mandated (inefficient) electricity, customers will find themselves needing to subsidize essentially all electricity providers if they want to continue to have electricity.

The physics-based economic system without mandates and subsidies provides incentives to efficient electricity providers and disincentives to inefficient electricity suppliers. But once legislators start tinkering with the system, they are likely to find a system dominated by very inefficient production. As the costs of handling intermittency explode and the pricing system gets increasingly distorted, customers are likely to become more and more unhappy.

[8] Modelers of how the system might work did not understand how a system with significant wind and solar would work. Instead, they modeled the most benign initial situation, in which the operating reserves would handle variability, and curtailment of supply would not be an issue. 

Various modelers attempted to figure out whether the return from wind and solar would be adequate, to justify all of the costs of supporting it. Their models were very simple: Energy Out compared to Energy In, over the lifetime of a device. Or, they would calculate Energy Payback Periods. But the situation they modeled did not correspond well to the real world. They tended to model a situation that was close to the best possible situation, one in which variability, batteries and backup electricity providers were not considerations. Thus, these models tended to give a far too optimistic estimates of the expected benefit of intermittent wind and solar devices.

Furthermore, another type of model, the Levelized Cost of Electricity model, also provides distorted results because it does not consider the subsidies needed for backup providers if the system is to work. The modelers likely also leave out the need for backup batteries.

In the engineering world, I am told that computer models of expected costs and income are not considered to be nearly enough. Real-world tests of proposed new designs are first tested on a small scale and then at progressively larger scales, to see whether they will work in practice. The idea of pushing “renewables” sounded so good that no one thought about the idea of testing the plan before it was put into practice.

Unfortunately, the real-world tests that Germany and other countries have tried have shown that intermittent renewables are a very expensive way to produce electricity when all costs are considered. Neighboring countries become unhappy when excess electricity is simply dumped on the grid. Total CO2 emissions don’t necessarily go down either.

[9] Long distance transmission lines are part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Early models suggested that long-distance transmission lines might be used to smooth out variability, but this has not worked well in practice. This happens partly because wind conditions tend to be similar over wide areas, and partly because a broad East-West mixture is needed to even-out the rapid ramp-down problem in the evening, when families are still cooking dinner and the sun goes down.

Also, long distance transmission lines tend to take many years to permit and install, partly because many landowners do not want them crossing their property. In some cases, the lines need to be buried underground. Reports indicate that an underground 230 kV line costs 10 to 15 times what a comparable overhead line costs. The life expectancy of underground cables seems to be shorter, as well.

Once long-distance transmission lines are in place, maintenance is very fossil fuel dependent. If storms are in the area, repairs are often needed. If roads are not available in the area, helicopters may need to be used to help make the repairs.

An issue that most people are not aware of is the fact that above ground long-distance transmission lines often cause fires, especially when they pass through hot, dry areas. The Northern California utility PG&E filed for bankruptcy because of fires caused by its transmission lines. Furthermore, at least one of Venezuela’s major outages seems to have been related to sparks from transmission lines from its largest hydroelectric plant causing fires. These fire costs should also be part of any analysis of whether a transition to renewables makes sense, in terms of either cost or energy returns.

[10] If wind turbines and solar panels are truly providing a major net benefit to the economy, they should not need subsidies, even the subsidy of going first.

To make wind and solar electricity producers able to compete with other electricity providers without the subsidy of going first, these providers need a substantial amount of battery backup. For example, wind turbines and solar panels might be required to provide enough backup batteries (perhaps 8 to 12 hours’ worth) so that they can compete with other grid members, without the subsidy of going first. If it really makes sense to use such intermittent energy, these providers should be able to still make a profit even with battery usage. They should also be able to pay taxes on the income they receive, to pay for the government services that they are receiving and hopefully pay some extra taxes to help out the rest of the system.

In Item [2] above, I mentioned that when coal mines were added in England, roads to the mines were substantially improved, befitting the economy as a whole. A true source of energy (one whose investment cost is not too high relative to its output) is supposed to be generating “surplus energy” that assists the economy as a whole. We can observe an impact of this type in the improved roads that benefited England’s economy as a whole. Any so-called energy provider that cannot even pay its own fair share of taxes acts more like a leech, sucking energy and resources from others, than a provider of surplus energy to the rest of the economy.

Recommendations

In my opinion, it is time to eliminate renewable energy mandates. There will be some instances where renewable energy will make sense, but this will be obvious to everyone involved. For example, an island with its electricity generation from oil may want to use some wind or solar generation to try to reduce its total costs. This cost saving occurs because of the high price of oil as fuel to make electricity.

Regulators, in locations where substantial wind and/or solar has already been installed, need to be aware of the likely need to provide subsidies to backup providers, in order to keep the electrical system operating. Otherwise, the grid will likely fail from lack of adequate backup electricity supply.

Intermittent electricity, because of its tendency to drive other providers to bankruptcy, will tend to make the grid fail more quickly than it would otherwise. The big danger ahead seems to be bankruptcy of electricity providers and of fossil fuel producers, rather than running out of a fuel such as oil or natural gas. For this reason, I see little reason for the belief by many that electricity will “last longer” than oil. It is a question of which group is most affected by bankruptcies first.

I do not see any real reason to use subsidies to encourage the use of electric cars. The problem we have today with oil prices is that they are too low for oil producers. If we want to keep oil production from collapsing, we need to keep oil demand up. We do this by encouraging the production of cars that are as inexpensive as possible. Generally, this will mean producing cars that operate using petroleum products.

(I recognize that my view is the opposite one from what many Peak Oilers have. But I see the limit ahead as being one of too low prices for producers, rather than too high prices for consumers. The CO2 issue tends to disappear as parts of the system collapse.)

Notes:

[1] BP bases its count on the equivalent fossil fuel energy needed to create the electricity; IEA counts the heat energy of the resulting electrical output. Using BP’s way of counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to 43% of total energy consumption. Using the International Energy Agency’s approach to counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to only about 19% of world energy consumption.

[2] In some locations, “utility pricing” is used. In these cases, pricing is set in a way needed to provide a fair return to all providers. With utility pricing, intermittent renewables would not be expected to cause low prices for backup producers.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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1,461 Responses to Rethinking Renewable Mandates

  1. Tim Groves says:

    When BAU ends, I expect it will go out with a bang or a loud thump, not a whimper, and with very little advanced warning, once the plunge protection team can no longer stop the plunge. A bit like this guy.

    Spanish extreme sports YouTuber Ruben Carbonell tragically died last Wednesday after his parachute failed to open while attempting a daredevil 150ft jump. The 29-year-old sneaked into a cement factory in Alicante, Spain, intending to jump from the factory’s giant chimney, but his risky stunt turned out to be fatal when his parachute failed to open.

    Spoiler alert: The splat isn’t shown in this video.

    • It's different this time....No says:

      Parachutisme Adrénaline in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
      A Canadian woman survived a 5,000-foot fall from a skydiving plane after her parachute failed to open in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, on Saturday.
      The 30-year-old woman hit trees as she landed in a wooded area and is now recovering in a hospital with several fractures, including a broken vertebrae, CBC News reported. Police said her life is not in danger.
      It’s a miracle,” bystander Denis Demers said. “I don’t know how a person can survive a fall from an airplane like that.
      Skydivers freefall at a speed of 110 mph, which is approximately 1,000 feet every six seconds, according to the United States Parachute Association.
      In 2018, the association recorded 13 fatal skydiving accidents in the U.S. out of around 3.3 million jumps, which is the lowest number in the sport’s history. It equals one fatality for every 243,669 jumps.
      https://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/ny-canadian-woman-survives-5000-foot-fall-plane-parachute-fails-open-20190816-u7pzg7pbajfwzn6r52h66sss4e-story.html

      RIP Ruben Carbonell

    • doomphd says:

      there are no old bold base jumpers.

    • Chrome Mags says:

      When you watch parachutists, you’ll notice once they pull the rip cord it deploys but doesn’t slow the person’s descent until suddenly it fills with air, making an audible sound, slowing the fall. Essentially it becomes a question of; will or will it make that sound on shorter falls? In this case it didn’t. But at 29 years old? Why would someone take that chance? Oh, because it was such an adrenaline rush!

  2. Jan says:

    I’d like to put attention to the EU modellings of future energy use https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/data-analysis/energy-modelling/eu-reference-scenario-2016
    They assume an uncoupling of GDP and energy use due to technological development and ecodesign regulations. From my point of view they ignore that energy intensive industry is more and more outsourced to China and mistake that for efficiency gains. But that’s hard to prove.

    • Duncan Idaho says:

      “The #US Gross National #debt has jumped by $363 billion in the two weeks since President Trump signed the law that suspended the debt ceiling. That’s up by $1.01 trillion from 12 months ago. ”
      A trillion? Why not?
      I guess it doesn’t matter.
      Party on!

      • denial says:

        Can you provide a link to that?

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        I guess it hasn’t mattered for many years…

        under Obama, the national debt went up $8 trillion in his 8 years…

        do the math…

        party on!!

        BAU tonight, baby!!!

    • The devil is always in the details.

      If a person sets out to prove something as true, there is a pretty good chance he/she can reach the desired conclusion, especially if there is a funding agency who wants a particular result. After being around a while, a person gets a little cynical. I learned a sort of actuarial word very early: “uncalculate” What is the desired result, and how does a person work backward to get it? For example, when working with detail data, there is always a lot of variability. So if someone is wanting a rate increase of, say 10%, there is very often a way to get to that result by the correct choice of number of years in the experience period, how much “credibility” to an individual territory’s data vs. state data, and the trend factor. If you don’t really know the answer, there is usually a tendency to select factors that will give what appears to reasonable indications.

      Obviously, when a person puts together a report, a similar approach works. This is especially the case, when someone is being paid for the report.

      • Rufus says:

        I work in an insurance company in the IT department. Someone told me this joke :

        You ask “how much makes 1 + 1 ?” to an IT engineer, an accountant, and an actuary”

        The IT guy answers : “1 + 1 equals 1.99999999999”

        The accountant (not sure about the translation in English) : “Notwithstanding any errors or omissions, 1 +1 makes 2”

        The actuary answers : “How much do you want it to be ?”

        • I once saw an actuarial article that started with the humorous statement, “One plus one equals three, for sufficiently large values of 1.”

          There is a lot of judgment that goes into actuarial assumptions. It is hard for what the employer or client wants not to at least somewhat affect selections. It is nearly always possible to give quite high weight to “selected last time,” so as to not move the indications too far.

          I think also that there is also the issue of how self-organizing systems work. Suppose that all of the pension actuaries around the early 1980s were forecasting a combined real GDP and inflation growth rate of 10%, and because of this, rates of returns on invested assets of about 10%. They also looked at the recent past, and saw bonds with 10%+ interest rates. Even home mortgage rates were up in this range. (I am not a pension actuary, and I don’t know the real values.)

          Suppose, too, that some actuarial firm had the foresight to see that these high interest rates could never last. Suppose that instead, it was advising its clients that the interest rate they should assume on investments needed to be a whole lot lower, say 6% or 5%. This would mean that pension funding indications would need to be a whole lot higher. It would also mean that pricing of long term care policies (one of the things GE is having trouble with) would need to be a whole lot higher. If this were an independent actuarial firm, how many clients would that firm have, once it radically lowered its interest rate assumptions, relative to what other actuarial firms were showing? I would guess that the clients would all move to the firms that gave more acceptable indications. And peer pressure within a company would act the same way. So the high interest rate assumptions would tend to win out over the low interest rate assumptions.

    • Well, that personal aggregate consumption could be slashed down profoundly is obvious, e.g. electric bicycles used to consume ~1:10 vs electric cars, now it’s thanks to low cost hightech more like ~1:25 ratio.. if large segment of population uses it as the “last mile” transport solution the savings or extending fossil fuel endowment potential is remarkable.

      Now, completely different question and usually not modeled as Gail mentions is sudden change in aggregate demand from such disruption, the old dying industries (employers, employees, suppliers, and financing angle of it, ..) can’t just vanish into the night without nasty feedback loops..

      • Our problem is inadequate demand to keep prices up.

        Slashing personal consumption doesn’t help. In fact, it works the wrong direction.

        Even the so-called renewables need the fossil fuels, if they are to be available. Collapsing fossil fuel prices cause the whole system to collapse, including renewables.

  3. It's different this time....No says:

    President Trump states we have no choice to re-elect him to a second term to save our 401k plans and retirement….I beg your pardon, Donnie…
    Trump on 401ks: Vote for Me or It’s ‘Down the Tubes’
    President tells New Hampshire campaign rally crowd Thursday, “you have no choice but to vote for me” or your 401k will crash along with the stock market

  4. It's different this time....No says:

    Doomers and preppers here is your plan….3 car batteries and generator powered by makeshift bicycle power and a couple of solar panels and items found in the local town dump.
    Police: Fugitive hiding out in wooded bunker for 3 years

    https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/08/16/fugitive-suspect-bunker-woods-hide-out-wisconsin-mxp-vpx.wsaw

    You can run and hide, but eventually you will be found!

    Nice video and a good plan for those in the woods of Wisconsin bioregion.

  5. It's different this time....No says:

    Fox News proclaims…

    The health of Europe’s largest economy is in trouble as Germany teeters on the edge of a recession.

    A decline in exports dampened the German economy, which shrunk by 0.1 percent in the second quarter of 2019.
    “Germany is in terrible shape with negative GDP this week and with their expectations looking for another negative GDP in the third quarter, the Germans are going to be forced to open up their pockets and do fiscal stimulus,” NatAlliance global fixed income head Andy Brenner told FOX Business’ Liz Claman on Friday.
    “In Europe, its crisis mode.”
    NatAlliance global fixed income head Andy Brenner
    Concerns over a recession have the German government reportedly under pressure to ditch its self-imposed balance budget, or Black Zero rule, and finance more fiscal stimulus with new debt. The country’s 10-year Bund yield, which hit an all-time record low earlier in the day, responded to the stimulus, bouncing up slightly
    https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/germany-economy-europe-global-recession-andy-brenner.amp

    It’s got to be true

  6. Dennis L. says:

    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-08-15/americas-chernobyl-three-mile-island-set-finally-close-its-doors

    Assuming the useful accounting life of the plant was the additional 15 years of license time, the previous lifetime of the plant should have been expensed at a greater periodic rate which means there was less return on investment than originally reported.

    Apparently this plant is being closed secondary to cheap natural gas which is secondary to shale drilling which appears to be unprofitable at current prices. Exc stock is down which is not consistent with other utilities as it pays a dividend so here is a possible source of some shale drilling funds. The wealth exists in the form of the power plant, the cash flow to support the investment is not there. It is possible we are sacrificing wealth for current cash flow, bringing the future cash into the present at the expense of installed wealth. The actions of a prodigal child as it were.

    If this is correct, it leaves our children with even less than assumed. A guess is most of the cash is going into pensions which require close to a 7 percent return to even operate, the old are literally taking from the young which one could hypothesize is the real reason for the progressives being resentful for want of a better word. In an earlier time, the old never got mature as our current population and worked until they passed; I am old, bummer.

    Interesting connections Gail has pointed out between finance and energy – it seems to be more in the rate of extraction than the absolute amount of energy available.

    Dennis L.

    • I imagine the pricing of intermittent wind and solar is playing a role as well. This pricing drives nuclear out of business, even when the plant is producing much better quality electricity.

  7. Grant says:

    In the UK there is an organisation called “Extinction Rebellion” that believes only totally and immediately (within 5 years) abandoning the current BAU and Carbon based economy will ‘save’ humanity and the planet.

    Here is one of it’s founders (I think) being interviewed.

    Who would agree with him?

    • Tim Groves says:

      I for one, wouldn’t agree with him.

      Firstly, I think we should be totally unconcerned about what he refers to as “our carbon emissions”. Indeed, we should rejoice in them because “our carbon emissions” are benign.

      Secondly, I think a lot of people are either willfully not telling the truth on this globbly wobbly issue and many others are badly misinformed, absolutely clueless, and/or taken in by the propaganda.

      Thirdly, I think people who deliberately break the law of the land should suffer the legal consequences of their actions. There are millions and millions of people who are passionate about all sorts of things. Imagine if they all went around selectively breaking the laws they didn’t like while claiming they were serving some higher moral calling. There would be anarchy, social chaos, and sooner or later—within a couple of months probably—”we” would have to start guillotining “them” by the cartload or “they” would have to start guillotining “us”. It would be worse than Chicago or Detroit on a Saturday night. It would be more like Bosnia or Rwanda in the early 1990s—or if “they” got power, it would be a replay of Cambodia in the 1970s.

      So no, I wouldn’t agree with him. I think we should all BURN MORE COAL!

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        ah…

        nostalgia…

        BURN MORE COAL…

        brings back fond memories of Fast Eddy and 2018…

        • It's different this time....No says:

          Dr. Guy McPherson agrees to burn more coal because of the areosol effect that produces a cooling in the atmosphere. He claims we are in a Catch 22 predicament….burn more coal and heat up or stop and spike the
          His new book, “Only Love Remains…Dancing at the Edge of Extinction” is a read that I can identify with as far as personal experience. At least I know how there was another (others) that reacted as such! Poor us…LOL

        • Lizzie says:

          Come back, FE…

    • yes that’s the guy—and I thought I was doom merchant!!!

      basic if we all stop what we’re doing, we can pull back from the brink, unlike wile coyote.

      of course, we won’t stop what we’re doing.

      that’s the problem, because we all like our jobs and wages and food, as well as everything else, lights, transport heating and so on. Hallam says we can stop all that nonsense and still have a viable civilised existence.

      Maybe I’ve missed something, and we can, but so far my observation of human nature would indicate otherwise.

      The planet doesn’t need ‘saving’–it managed perfectly well before we arrived, and will get on without us after we’ve departed, we’ve only been around in our present form for about 1m years (ie fire using), which in earthtime is the blink of an eye.

      Our problem is we invented gods to tell us we were here forever.

      • Chrome Mags says:

        “of course, we won’t stop what we’re doing that’s the problem, because we all like our jobs and wages and food, as well as everything else, lights, transport heating and so on.”

        Exactly, and the corporations are geared for production and the investors set up for an income stream and so on. Civilization as it stands is so colossal it’s mind bending to even begin to imagine trying to change it very much. We’ve all accepted our reality and don’t for a moment want to lose any of our current luxuries.

        Which means of course we can’t stop anymore than a chimp can stop taking in cocaine until it dies. (tests on chimps showed they could not resist cocaine and stopped eating food, so they died). We are no different as we are hooked on the high brought on from high tech living. Sure there are side effects to the environment but we ignore those for the most part at our own peril because we simply cannot stop.

        So in this case LOSS has to be FORCED upon us by limits that cannot be breached. As we speak we ignoring feedbacks, rushing headlong towards those limits. Will be fascinating, stressful and dangerous. Beyond that is the interesting question; What tech and people survive the inflection point.

        • Yorchichan says:

          “tests on chimps showed they could not resist cocaine and stopped eating food, so they died”

          This might be correct, but I very much doubt it. Links please.

        • Xabier says:

          Also, refineries, factories, processing plants, power systems, distribution networks, etc, can only actually function at a certain level, constantly maintained.

          It’s all or nothing, at this level of complexity.

      • I don’t think gods tell us we are here forever. Gods tell us we are somewhere else forever, although I suppose there are a few that thing that somewhere else is on earth.

        It is pretty clear that the current system is unsustainable.

        • I think if you told Pence and his chums that humankind’s time on earth, as a species, was imminently finite, he would find some bit of scripture that said it isn’t.

          admittedly it might involve bending the laws of physics out of shape, but it would bring him a comforting certainty that the rest of us don’t have

          Trump, of course, remains convinced that money will buy him immortality. Any volunteers to freeze his head?

          • Tim Groves says:

            You need some churchin’, Norman. There’s lots of Pence-approved scripture that states unequivocally that humanity’s time on earth is finite. Read your Bible all the way to the end and I’m sure it will be a Revelation to you! 🙂

            Pence undoubtedly knows and agrees with this verse from the Epistle of Peter that predicts globbly wobbly on steroids:

            But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

            And this one from the Gospel According to Matthew:

            “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

            And Peter again, prophesying the appearance of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris and friends:

            Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

            And lastly, here’s one from TImothy, a man before my own name. Doesn’t this sum up the view of Sodom you get through your Internet window on today’s world?

            But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

            • I am afraid that it is the politicians of today (the liberal ones at that) and the economists who are saying that people can live forever on earth. They are claiming that we could even have power over the climate, if we would just change our evil ways.

            • I genuflect to your holy knowledge Tim, a part of my upbringing that was missed out on obviously. It wasn’t till much later that I figured out why mom and dad packed me off to sunday school regularly to have free sunday mornings without me around. And ignored my protests against it.

              A new church has opened 1/4 m from me, in what used to be a car sales building. A sign of the times maybe?—I think I should get myself over there.

              I have read the prophesies. I think those old guys were just very good seers. I’ve seen that in RL, and there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for it. Which I suppose is why the god-tag was attached to it.
              Really scary when you have politicians who want to hasten all this stuff, while at the same time remain convinced that they will have eternal life somehow. (which is what I meant about the forever thing. I didn’t put it over very well)

            • I find it interesting that the book of Revelation talks about the collapse of ancient Babylon, with its falling prices, even for slaves, which were the energy products of the day. Seems to do better than today’s economists. Revelation 18:11-15

              11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

              14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn . . .

              I find the Bible interesting just from the point of view of how a self-organized religion changes over time, as more energy consumption per capita comes along.

              Too many people read this stuff as a one time for all, declaration of how God says we should live. Instead, it really represents the collective wisdom of the people of the day as to the best way to live, given the available energy supplies per capita, the need to keep population from falling, and a need to sort of get along peaceably with each other. These collective insights change over time, as the Old Testament unfolds and the New Testament is added and as conditions change. At the same time, insights from other religions around the world intermix with Judaism and vice versa.

              Of course, an issue that seems to get people upset is that as the world changes, cultural practices need to change. So blindly following prior religion/cultural practice misses turning points. For example, any group that allows multiple wives per husband is likely to have a very high birth rate because rich men can marry multiple wives, and the children of these wives have a reasonable chance of living to maturity. Poor men can never afford a family. This seems to be why world population growth continues to rise.

              I never remember seeing any Biblical directive that says, “OK now stop having so many wives.” Without any directive stopping the practice of multiple wives per husband, Moslems (who probably lived where a higher birth rate was needed) could continue to allow multiple wives per husband. Muslims also seem to encourage large families.

            • Harry McGibbs says:

              Re Sodom, I was amused to see in July that it was the location of Israel’s new national record for heat:

              “The heat wave that swept Israel on Wednesday reached its peak at Sodom, near the Dead Sea, where the mercury hit 49.9 degrees Celsius (almost 122 degrees Fahrenheit). This is the highest temperature ever recorded since Israel was founded in 1948.”

              https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-hot-as-hell-temperature-in-sodom-broke-israeli-record-1.7538092

    • Xabier says:

      He has the face of a fanatic. Such types will only proliferate, unfortunately. Rising tide of irrationality and violence.

    • Tim Groves says:

      We have to ask, why is this guy on TV? Why is the BBC giving him the oxygen of publicity and the stamp of respectability?

      After all, they wouldn’t give this degree of airtime to sensible realists such as Gail or to Norman, for instance, whose views, while deserving of a wide audience, simply don’t fit with the narrative the Beeb is pushing.

      And if we rummage around a bit, we find that Extinction Rebellion are funded from high up in the globalist firmament by billionaires out of their small change—including some Big Oil money, which is just what I would have expected.

      A group of wealthy US philanthropists and investors have donated almost half a million pounds to support the grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion and school strike groups – with the promise of tens of millions more in the months ahead.

      Trevor Neilson, an investor and philanthropist who has worked with some of the world’s richest families, has teamed up with Rory Kennedy – daughter of Robert Kennedy – and Aileen Getty, whose family wealth comes from the oil industry, to launch the Climate Emergency Fund.

      Neilson, who has worked with figures such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, said the fund was inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion protesters in the UK in April.

      Neilson said the three founders were using their contacts among the global mega-rich to get “a hundred times” more in the weeks and months ahead. “This might be the single best chance we have to stop the greatest emergency we have ever faced,” he told the Guardian.

      The new fund has the author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who set up 350.org, and David Wallace Wells, who wrote international best seller Uninhabitable Earth, on its advisory board.

      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/12/us-philanthropists-vow-to-raise-millions-for-climate-activists

      Now that ER have declared themselves set on criminality, perhaps Attorney General William Barr will launch an investigation, seize the assets of the funding “philanthropists”, and send these enemy combatants to Gitmo.

      • Xabier says:

        Will they become Maoist action groups of vigilantees?

        Best get away as far as possible from the mad, sick, apes of the cities…….

      • thanks for your nice words Tim.

        while Hallam may be wild and wacky in his outlook, he does make statements that are broadly, if loosely, based on unpleasant reality.

        He quotes Gandhi’s salt march, and the civil rights marches, as if they were somehow compatible with what we face right now, and if we take imminent action of collective disobedience, things will change as they changed in the past.

        Gandhi’s salt march, in the grand scheme of things, was of no consequence to the rest of the world. The British left India to get on with life. They split the country who now threaten war with each other. Both nuclear armed, overpopulated and running out of water.
        So much for the importance of salt.
        That might be said to be the final consequence of the salt march. Hallam doesn’t go there.

        The British did bring in a certain rule of law based on common sense.

        Climate change, on the other hand, is of deadly consequence to the rest of the world. It’s in our collective face, up close and personal.

        We MUST do something. Hallam rants that governments are lying to us, so we must protest violently. Change our government. But governments have no more idea what to do than we do.

        Governments are not lying to us, we are lying to ourselves and to each other, constantly. Babies keep getting born.

        Why?

        Because humankind cannot resist the urge to reproduce. Moms and Dads might read about global warming and stuff, but the face of a healthy baby overrules everything.
        It will be OK….2100 can’t be as bad as all that, it will be the same as now but a bit warmer maybe.
        Famines happen to other people 000s of miles away.
        I’m witness to that–my Grandkids ignore what I write, and enjoy life.

        As to big time spending—the need to do that can be equated to restoring Notre Dame—$100m in a week. Sinners consciences have always been a cash cow.

        Billionaires are as terrified as the rest of us, so support ER as a way of ‘doing something’. though they know not what. They know that bunkers are ultimately useless.

        Extinction rebels go home and cook food, switch lights on like everyone else. What else is there?

        $billions won’t change that

        This isn’t a problem that can be solved with money, because money is just a token of energy exchange, the stuff that got us into this mess in the first place. Neither can it be solved with votes. Trump is your mark of desperation, symptomatic of our predicament.

        I read today that Singapore is spending $70bn on flood defenses—what they are really doing is spending $70bn worth of fossil fuels in order to counteract the effect of——fossil fuels.
        genius or what? And Singapore is just a dot on the planet.

        But if we cease, as Hallam says we must, there will not be a bit of pain like the salt marchers got, but total breakdown of civil society as we know and live in it.

        Even Hallam refuses to acknowledge that, even though he is aware of it–he seems to be calling it a bit of pain and discomfort.

        • Are you volunteering to go to Africa and explain to these folks the problem with having so many children? How about the Moslem countries that are having a lot of children? For instance, Iraq. I don’t think the problem is fixable.

          Education of mothers doesn’t seem to help. I think it mostly teaches the mother how to help her children survive to adulthood.

        • Tim Groves says:

          Norman, I agree with so much of what you say about the inevitable as laid out in The End of More (which is on my bookshelf right next to Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population and a short 1997 book called Standing Room Only—Our Overcrowded Planet by Douglas Ashmead), which is one of the reason’s I like to poke you in the ribs from time to time. My feeling is the ideological divide between us is but a fishpond beside the village green and that we both sit back and laugh or at least smile at a lot of the same people on the other side of the Grand Canyon.

          One of the areas you and I do disagree on is whether fossil fuel burning is causing sea level to rise. There are a lot of links in the chain of logic that claims they do. I think some of those links are broken. I don’t deny sea level is rising and that lots of coastal cities are going to need better defenses if people are going to continue living there.

          However, I am going to gently poke you in the ribs again now by suggesting that it is interesting that even as the sea level is rising overall, on the average, in many places sea level is or has been falling. I don’t know if the link to the map below will be reproduced, but it shows sea level has fallen along almost the entire Pacific coast from southern California to northern Chile. This is absolutely not what we would expect to see if sea level was rising at a ferocious rate.

          It’s a NASA map, and the caption says was satellite data of changes in sea level rise from 1998 to 2003. The yellow and red colors indicate areas of rising sea level and the green and blue colors show areas of falling sea level. This shows how in some areas sea level will fall, although the majority of regions are facing rising seas.

          https://ocean.si.edu/sites/default/files/styles/article_full_width/public/ssh_trend_map1.gif?itok=4Er9GDJ-

          • as far as a poking is concerned–always feel free. I only pretend to know everything, when pressed I readily confess that I don’t. There are just so many variables in everything that gets discussed, rib poking punctures my dogma balloon which can easily get over inflated if you don’t do that.

            As to sea level rise, warming water increases in volume.

            the seas are all interconnected, so one might expect, in a 24000m circuit that there would be slight anomalies of a few cm in certain regions. Why I don’t know. Different gravitational forces in the earth’s crust maybe?
            The only other explanation would be that the American landmass acts as a dam, counteracting the spin of the earth, thus forcing water to ‘pile up’ from time to time, then level out again. On the earth scale this would take decades probably.

            Certainly, the California-chile line coincides with known earth movements along exactly the same line. Too much so to be mere coincidence I would have thought.

            So that’s 2 explanations, offhand I cant think of another one.

  8. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Despite outrage from the banks, president Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Credit Amendment Bill this week.

    “While the details of how it will be implemented still need to be finalised, it is estimated that some 9.5 million South Africans may have their debts written off completely.”

    https://www.businessinsider.co.za/how-to-write-off-debt-2019-8

    • The devil is in the details. If the write-off can be done in a way that leaves the banks “whole” (a new form of QE, perhaps), perhaps it will be helpful. Or the level of South Africa’s currency could fall further.

  9. Harry McGibbs says:

    So, Trump does know a global recession is underway:

    ““I don’t see a [US] recession,” Trump said, preparing to fly to Washington. “We’re doing tremendously well. Our consumers are tremendously rich. They’re loaded up with money. Walmart is through the roof. We’re not going to have a recession – the world is in a recession right now.””

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/18/us-economy-2020-trump-advisers-navarro-kudlow-recession

  10. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The problem is, central bank policy isn’t what’s holding back the global economy, and more monetary stimulus won’t help, according to Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “The Fed doesn’t have the cure for what ails us, just as the [European Central Bank] and the [Bank of Japan] don’t at this point,” he told me.

    “Cheap borrowing really isn’t the problem.

    “”There’s no business investment that’s being held back because of where rates are,” Boockvar said.”

    https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/18/investing/stocks-week-ahead/index.html

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