Let's assess Delaware's "renewable energy" program
Reader feedback at end.
A precursor of this proposal appeared in the Conservative Caucus of Delaware newsletter, April 2020.
Nearly a year ago, SAFE concluded that a plan to raise the renewable energy targets for Delaware had not been properly evaluated and would probably do more harm than good. We therefore wrote to Governor John Carney on 5/27/19, outlining a series of questions about the proposal.
Legislation has now been drafted to extend the phase-in period for the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and set an overall renewable energy target of 40% by 2035 versus the current target of 25% by 2025, with sub-targets for solar and a new community solar category. To our knowledge, none of the questions posed earlier were considered.
There is no immediate need for action on the RPS bill as its primary effects would kick in after 2025, and the General Assembly will have urgent legislative issues (such as rebooting the state economy) to address after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. This might be an opportune time, therefore, to initiate a systematic and rigorous review of the RPS expansion proposal versus alternative courses of action.
SAFE sent a second letter to the governor on 4/27/20, offering our suggestions for such a review and volunteering to help. The following memo provides a comprehensive explanation of the contemplated approach.
A. Background - Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was established by legislation enacted in 2005, starting with a 1% renewable energy target in 2010 that would be increased to 20% by 2019. Subsequent legislation modestly adjusted the RPS phase-in schedule, but extended it to a 25% target by 2025.
The basic rationale for the RPS is provided by the manmade global warming (aka climate change) theory, hereinafter referred to as the MMGWT, which attributes purportedly rising global temperatures over the past couple of centuries to the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas and CO2 levels have been increasing, so what other explanation could there be?
Note, however, that (a) global temperatures have fluctuated throughout the Earth’s history, driven by natural causes such as fluctuations in the level of solar activity, (b) the predominant greenhouse gas is water vapor (average of 2-3% of the atmosphere), and (c) although CO2 levels have risen, this gas still constitutes less than .05% of the atmosphere. Ergo, there’s no apparent proof that manmade carbon emissions have become the primary driver of global temperatures and threaten catastrophic consequences. Scientific investigation of this issue is far from complete, and projections of future global temperatures are basically a matter of guesswork.
Supporters of “renewable energy” (commonly understood to include wind & solar power, but not nuclear power) contend, however, that even if the MMGWT turns out to be invalid the state will still benefit from the RPS. First, wind and solar power can be produced very inexpensively because no fuel is required. Second, the operation and perfection of these facilities will support a lot of good-paying “green” jobs.
OK, creating a “renewable energy” category for Bloom Energy fuel cells (which are powered by the chemical oxidation of natural gas) was a bad idea – Delmarva Power ratepayers have already been charged over $240 million for the “Qualified Fuel Cells Provider” tariff to cover excess power costs and the cumulative total will keep rising until 2033 – but that doesn’t prove government support of wind and solar power is unwarranted.
If wind and solar power could be produced more economically than fossil fuel power, however, why would government intervention be required to persuade electric power utilities to distribute them? In a truly free market, electric utilities would simply acquire and distribute power from the most reliable/lowest cost source(s) available.
One key point is that wind and solar power are intermittent, meaning they can’t reliably drive the electric power grid and must be backed up by either dispatchable power sources (primarily fossil fuel & nuclear power) or expensive electric power storage facilities. If wind and solar power are used when available, with dispatchable power sources being turned off (or in the case of nuclear power grounded out), this will raise the cost of the dispatchable power and negate the supposed cost savings.
Also, both wind and solar power have environmental drawbacks that are often overlooked. A great deal of space is taken up that could be used for other purposes, e.g., farming or recreation – millions of birds and bats are killed by spinning wind turbines – specialized materials are required, e.g., rare earth minerals, which can’t be produced without creating environmental hazards somewhere in the world – wind turbine blades or solar cells must be replaced - the facilities (often in remote areas) must eventually be decommissioned.
Even if the MMGWT were assumed to be fully valid, meaning that fossil fuel power had to go – not just in the Delaware and the rest of the United States but also in every other country on Earth – it would still be necessary to consider whether nuclear power (which has a far smaller environmental footprint and is highly reliable) would represent the logical replacement versus wind and solar power.
B. DE General Assembly – SAFE members attended a public meeting on expanding the RPS, which was conducted at Legislative Hall on 5/10/19 with the general objective of soliciting input from stakeholders. Multiple attacks on use of fossil fuels, section D, 5/13/19.
The meeting had been convened pursuant to Senate Concurrent Resolution 10, passed by the House and Senate on 1/24/19.
Synopsis: This concurrent resolution applauds the success of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Act, recognizes the prospect that the standards might be raised to maintain currency in the today's energy climate, and authorizes the establishment of a working group of stakeholders to provide input into the process.
Sen. Harris McDowell gave all concerned (some 40-50 people) an opportunity to say their piece. The chair made clear, however, that the goal was to raise the RPS target – the only questions being how high (possibly to 100%) and over what period.
The primary rationale was that Delaware must support the growing use of renewable energy (primarily wind and solar) in the name of fighting global warming. But even if the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT) turns out to be invalid, said Sen. McDowell, raising the RPS target would still be beneficial because of the green jobs created.
This case made for expanding the RPS struck us as unconvincing, as was made clear in our remarks.
SAFE (Nichols and Greer) argued that Delaware’s policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels have little if any effect on global temperatures. True, carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced in recent years, but this was mainly due to switching from coal to natural gas (the fracking boom has lowered gas prices) for electric power generation. And the creation of “green” jobs has been more than offset by a loss of conventional jobs due to higher than necessary electric power costs in Delaware. Instead of raising the RPS target, therefore, the RPS should be abandoned.
Comment: Further re the “green jobs” claim, see The False Promise of Green Energy, Morriss, Bogart, et al., Cato Institute (2011).
Our comments notwithstanding, the prevailing sentiment at the meeting seemed to be that an RPS expansion was a foregone conclusion – leaving little reason to anticipate a thorough, fact-based analysis from the contemplated working group.
•Most of the speakers seemed to be concerned about details of the RPS legislation that they wanted to influence in one way or another. Net metering – the RPS cost cap (which is being litigated between two government agencies, DNREC and the Public Service Commission) –relative shares of wind and solar – power peak shifting - jockeying for position in future proceedings of the working group.
•Environmentalists were present from the Sierra Club and other groups. They stressed the urgency of fighting global warming, and were in favor of raising the RPS target to 100% as soon as possible to show that Delaware was doing its share to combat this threat. Also mentioned was the new UN study re the potential extinction of 1 million species.
C. SAFE follow-up – We subsequently wrote to Delaware Governor John Carney about the pending plans to expand the RPS, Our letter summarized what we had observed at the 5/10/19 meeting and suggested that this project needed to be thoroughly vetted. SAFE letter, 5/27/19.
Instead of assuming the conclusion before doing the study, why not begin by considering (a) what the RPS has accomplished to date, and (b) what results could be expected from expansion of the program? Here are some specific points that would need to be considered:
The letter went on to enumerate and explain seven specific questions, from (1) “What is the best current assessment of the MMGWT, considering scientific opinions on both sides of the issue?” to (7) “What effect would hiking the RPS target have on the cost and reliability of electric power in Delaware?”
The governor’s office acknowledged our letter several weeks later, with indications to the effect that it would be taken seriously.
Thank you for contacting our office regarding the RPS increase. Please be assured that the Governor takes your comments seriously. Please feel free to reach out to us again if you have any questions, or if we can be of assistance.
To date, however, it does not appear that any of the questions raised in our letter have been addressed by either state officials or other interested parties. See Sections D-H, infra.
D. Climate scientist Michael Mann – SAFE members attended an on-stage interview of Dr. Mann at the UD Star Center on 10/21/19. Climate alarmists stick to talking points, Section I, 11/4/19.
To stay abreast of the scientific evaluation of the MMGWT, one must follow both sides of the inquiry. Dr. Mann from Penn State is a noted proponent of the theory, and we were hoping for an update on his side of the debate.
The event began with a “meet and greet” reception in the lobby, featuring hors d’oeuvres and alcoholic beverages. (Hmm, wonder who picked up the tab.) The audience (several hundred people) then filed into an adjacent auditorium for the interview, which was conducted by a professor from the UD English Department.
During the interview and in the Q&A session that followed, Dr. Mann spent most of his time complaining about the tactics used by MMGWT skeptics and delivering conclusory talking points versus discussing scientific findings that support the theory.
“The numbers” show that time is short and the need for action urgent. To save the planet, the human race must become “carbon neutral” by 2050. That will be expensive, requiring massive political change in a “make or break election.” Simply reducing carbon emissions by switching from coal to natural gas won’t be nearly enough, especially after methane leakage from fracking operations is taken into account.
E. DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin – SAFE members attended a talk by Secretary Garvin of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on 10/28/19. Ibid, Section II.
Mr. Garvin offered more facts about global warming to UD engineering students than Dr. Mann had done in his talk a week earlier, e.g., statistics on the increase in average global temperatures, sea level rise data along the Delaware coast, etc.
OK, some scientists disagree with the MMGWT, but he would go with the 97% of scientists who support it. And yes, climate change does occur on a global basis, but Delaware still needs to show leadership by taking local action that will contribute to the solution.
Comment: Scientific inquiry is not based on tabulating opinions, but in any case the 97% claim is greatly exaggerated. Once again, the MMGWT is not simply that some warming has occurred but that the warming trend is dangerous and has been occurring primarily due to human activity.
In the course of his talk, Garvin mentioned plans to expand Delaware’s RPS to 40% by 2035. There was no discussion, however, of the basis for this target, what compliance would cost, or how the cost would be covered.
F. Governor John Carney – The planned RPS expansion that Secretary Garvin had mentioned earlier was confirmed in the governor’s State of the State address. There was no discussion of the reasons for this proposal. Transcript as prepared for delivery, 1/23/20.
Delaware has made great strides over the last decade to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and we should continue to be a leader on this issue. We plan to work with my friend Sen. McDowell to set a new Renewable Portfolio Standard. By 2035, we want 40 percent of Delaware’s energy to come from renewable sources.
G. Polling & public hearings – DNREC recently launched a campaign that seems intended to enlist public support for the RPS expansion. The first step was to publish the results of polling that suggested a majority of Delawareans were receptive. Survey: Most in Delaware believe in climate change, Dover Post staff reports, News Journal, 2/28/20.
The recap of the survey indicates that most Delawareans believe in climate change and sea level rise. Somewhat smaller majorities say (a) the state should take “immediate action” to address this purported problem, and (b) they have personally experienced it.
Public input sessions were to follow in the three counties, for the stated purpose of obtaining suggestions re possible solutions. With no mention of costs, according to the survey, the results were likely to be along the following lines.
More than four-fifths (83%) favor increasing conservation of forested and agricultural lands. Large majorities also support requiring stronger air pollution controls on business and industry (80%), requiring that an increasing percentage of electricity used in Delaware come from renewable sources (74%), and requiring stronger energy efficiency standards on household appliances (73%). Fewer Delawareans favor requiring that an increasing percentage of vehicles sold in Delaware be powered by electricity, but a majority still support this strategy (53%).
Our reading of the situation was that DNREC would seek to create the impression of a groundswell of support for the RPS expansion and whatever other proposals it might have in mind, i.e., the true intent of the effort was to shape public attitudes rather than to learn what people thought. Here are some supporting observations (SAFE, John Greer) from one of the sessions.
It was a big room with a bunch of rectangular tables holding about 8 people. Everyone was asked to sit down at 5:30. There were at least 100 people, maybe 150. The place was packed.
Susan Love of https://declimateplan.org gave a slide show introduction. This is the start of a year-long process to develop "DELAWARE'S Climate Action Plan".
Ms. Love introduced a lady - the head of the consultants, I didn't get her name. They did a poll of everyone using these cute little remotes that sent in your multiple choice responses. How well informed are you? What are your biggest concerns? Etc.
Discussion followed with a facilitator at each table. Everyone introduced themselves, where they lived, why they were there. The stated aim was to get ideas from everyone to add to their plan. No questions at all about whether we really needed a plan, whether it would do any good, or how much it would cost.
I tried to give our facilitator my own handout but she would not take it. She said I could send it in to the web site. I tried to explain it - how World emissions are very Large and increasing and Delaware's are very small and insignificant - but she wasn't interested.
H. Draft legislation – Although the Delaware General Assembly has been closed since March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic, work has apparently continued on a proposal to expand the RPS. Sen. Harris McDowell recently released a draft bill (dated 4/21/20) on the subject, which will reportedly be introduced with at least 14 co-sponsors when circumstances permit. Lawmakers want more solar power in Delaware, Sarah Gamard, News Journal, 4/23/20.
Current RPS targets would be followed until 2025, when they would reach a level of 25% for renewable energy (including solar) and at least 3.5% for solar. However, a new sub-target (includible in solar) would be established for community solar, e.g., 0.4% by 2025.
After 2025, the RPS targets would be raised in yearly increments to the 2035 targets for “renewable energy” (40% including solar), solar (at least 10% including community solar), and community solar (at least 3.5%).
The rationale for expanding the RPS in this manner is explained in very general terms.
•Sen. McDowell (who will retire at the end of the current legislative session) is quoted as follows: "This is pioneering legislation that brings the sun’s energy directly to the people. Best of all, under this act, all who opt in will pay lower electricity rates."
•Synopsis: This bill is intended to advance sustainable energy goals and initiatives in Delaware and to restore Delaware as a leader in renewable, sustainable energy. First, this Act builds on the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Act, which was first enacted into law in 2005, by setting new standards for the minimum percentage of electric energy sales from eligible energy resources and solar photovoltaics. Second, this bill contains the “Community Sustainable Energy Authorities Act,” which authorizes municipalities, towns, and counties and the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility to create authorities to develop, promote, and operate community sustainable energy projects.
H. A different approach - It appears that MMGWT fans want to adopt “virtue signaling” policies based on this theory without really thinking them through – which strikes us as a really bad idea. Is there some constructive way to straighten things out?
A recent book confirms our thoughts by noting that warnings of impending crises have often served to promote ideological or political ends. Here are some examples: (a) mass starvation (excessive population growth will outstrip food supplies), (b) peak oil (unsustainable consumption will exhaust global petroleum reserves), (c) manmade global warming (rising use of fossil fuels will result in excessive carbon emissions). The Power of Bad, Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, 2019.
The authors also suggest a possible solution, namely appointing panels to study particularly knotty problems instead of opting for immediate action based on obviously incomplete information. And instead of stacking the panels “with the usual experts from the crisis industry,” set up a competitive dynamic as has been done for a variety of other purposes, e.g., to devise and test military strategies. Here’s how it would work.
A “blue team” analyzes the problem (in this case what, if anything, should be done about the MMGWT at the Delaware level) and develops a proposed solution, which is then critiqued by a “red team” that’s looking for flaws. A panel of referees moderates the back-and-forth debate and eventually produces a well-scrutinized proposal for dealing with the crisis – assuming that by then anyone still cares about the problem.
Hmm, sounds like a better approach than politics as usual – and SAFE could offer some strong candidates for the Red Team: Climatologist or meteorologist – retired financial planner & civic activist – retired professional engineer - retired corporate financial planner (and Harvard Law graduate). Given that there is currently no pressing need to establish the RPS schedule after 2025, why not take the time now to thoroughly evaluate this proposal?
I. One more thing – SAFE members don’t offer ideas on energy policy based on what they heard on the Rush Limbaugh Show or saw on Fox News, they do their own research – read books, attend conferences, etc. – and make up their own minds. This activity is not for pay, or self-promotion, or pushing a political agenda. We would just like to make a difference in a complicated, fast-changing world.
For example, check out this book review written by the late Bill Morris (SAFE’s founder). Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End American’s Energy Odyssey, William Tucker, 2008. The book explained a lot about the deficiencies of wind and solar power to run the electric grid, and the much stronger case that could (should) have been made for nuclear power. But many policy makers weren’t listening, and here our country is – 12 years later – still headed down the wrong path.
Another book of comparable importance just came out, with a somewhat similar thrust and up-to-date facts. A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations, Robert Bryce, 2020.
Bryce’s book offers some gripping perspectives on life around the planet and why electric power production must be greatly increased to enrich the lives of billions of people. The myth about obtaining the electric power that the human race needs from wind and solar power is convincingly demolished, and notice that this is done irrespective of the manmade global warming theory.
Even if one assumes the MMGWT is valid, and at this point we consider it unproven at best, the replacement for fossil fuels would not be wind and solar – it would be nuclear power.
Oddly enough, a recently released film by leftist Michael Moore reaches somewhat similar conclusions – at least as to the inherent fallacies of wind and solar power. “Planet of the Humans” skewers renewables, delivers same old anti-human Malthusianism, Robert Bryce [!], forbes.com, 4/23/20.
If there’s a star in the film, it’s Ozzie Zehner, the author of the 2012 book Green Illusions, who accompanies [Jeff] Gibbs on a tour of power plants and explains that it is “an illusion” that renewables are “replacing coal or any fossil fuels.” Standing in front of the Ivanpah thermal solar project in California, Zehner explains that the sun is renewable, but “solar arrays are not.” The bottom line, says Zehner is “We are being fed a lie.”
#Thanks for your admirable & comprehensive reporting on these matters and thoughtful comments. It's impressive & greatly appreciated. – CRI contact
#See CRI analysis by David Stevenson.
# I'm not averse to a red-blue team discussion and will help in any way I can, but a similar approach was proposed (and ultimately abandoned) at the national level. Here in Delaware, the political establishment is preparing to enact a state-level version of the “Green New Deal” with the help of outgoing Sen. Harris McDowell. - UD professor