Big Fossil Trying to Hold Back Renewable Tide

April 24, 2018


If you saw my cat-scan of an anti-wind fake news release, here – you get it that the fossil industry will go to any lengths to hang on to it’s business for a few more fleeting years, even if it means killing our children’s hopes for a livable planet.

Sad thing is, they are investing in disinformation and lies that are further misinforming a lot of well meaning people, who are so far down the chain that they have no idea who is pulling their strings.
They are going down.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

Not that long ago, calls for a move to wind and solar power were widely perceived as impractical if not hippie-dippy silly. Some of that contempt lingers; my sense is that many politicians and some businesspeople still think of renewable energy as marginal, still imagine that real men burn stuff and serious people focus on good old-fashioned fossil fuels.

But the truth is nearly the opposite, certainly when it comes to electricity generation. Believers in the primacy of fossil fuels, coal in particular, are now technological dead-enders; they, not foolish leftists, are our modern Luddites. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage.


About the technology: As recently as 2010, it still consistently cost more to generate electricity from sun and wind than from fossil fuels. But that gap has already been eliminated, and this is just the beginning. Widespread use of renewable energy is still a new thing, which means that even without major technological breakthroughs we can expect to see big further cost reductions as industries move “down the learning curve” — that is, find better and cheaper ways to operate as they accumulate experience.

Recently David Roberts at offered a very good example: wind turbines. Windmills have been around for more than a thousand years, and they’ve been used to generate electricity since the late 19th century. But making turbines really efficient requires making them very big and tall — tall enough to exploit the faster, steadier winds that blow at higher altitudes.

And that’s what businesses are learning to do, via a series of incremental improvements — better design, better materials, better locations (offshore is where it’s at). So what we’ll be seeing in a few years will be 850-foot turbines that totally outcompete fossil fuels on cost.

To paraphrase the science-fiction writer William Gibson, the renewable energy future is already pretty much here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.

For now, however, the problem isn’t technology — it’s politics.

The fossil fuel sector may represent a technological dead end, but it still has a lot of money and power. Lately it has been putting almost all of that money and power behind Republicans. For example, in the 2016 election cycle the coal mining industry gave 97 percent (!) of its contributions to G.O.P. candidates.

What the industry got in return for that money wasn’t just a president who talks nonsense about bringing back coal jobs and an administration that rejects the science of climate change. It got an Environmental Protection Agency head who’s trying to suppress evidence on the damage pollution causes, and a secretary of energy who tried, unsuccessfully so far, to force natural gas and renewables to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.

In the long run, these tactics probably won’t stop the transition to renewable energy, and even the villains of this story probably realize that. Their goal is, instead, to slow things down, so they can extract as much profit as possible from their existing investments.

Unfortunately, this really is a case of “in the long run we are all dead.” Every year that we delay the clean-energy transition will sicken or kill thousands while increasing the risk of climate catastrophe.


Solar and wind power was responsible for a remarkable 98 percent of all new U.S. power generation capacity that came online in the first two months of 2018.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) latest “Energy Infrastructure Update,” the overwhelming majority of new power plants set up in January and February were renewable energy projects.

As FERC reports, during these two months, 1,568 Megawatts of wind and 565 MW of solar power capacity were put into service — along with just 40 MW of natural gas.

New U.S. generation capacity added in January, February. CREDIT: Renewables Now, FERC

While President Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have been promoting policies that favor fossil fuel generation over renewables, FERC reports that most of the big new renewable energy projects came online in states that voted for Trump.

These projects include the 170 MW Beaver Creek Wind Project in Iowa, the 168 MW Prairie Wind Project, also in Iowa, and the 81 MW Stuttgart Solar Project in Arkansas.

The stunning and ongoing price drops in solar and wind have shifted the economics  of new generation away from fossil fuels.


Dave Roberts in Vox:

I often return to this 2015 post by energy analyst Ramez Naam on the ultimate potential of wind power. “Wind at 60% capacity factor,” he wrote, “even at the same price per kwh of today, would be tremendously more valuable than it is now, with fewer limits to how much of it we could use.

Why is that? Several reasons.

  • The more variable a source is, the more backup is needed to firm it up and make it reliable. (Today, backup is most often provided by natural gas plants, though batteries are creeping up.) By making wind less variable and more reliable, higher capacity factors reduce backup costs.
  • Variable renewable energy (sun and wind) tends to “eat its own lunch.” Because it all produces energy at the same time (when the sun is shining or wind is blowing), the next increment of capacity added has the effect of lowering the clearing price for all the other increments. The more energy comes online at once, the lower the price. By spreading its energy out over a longer period — roughly twice the 32 percent of 2011-vintage turbines — a turbine with 60 percent capacity factor blunts and slows this price-suppressing effect.
  • By extending its hours of operation, a high-capacity-factor turbine is more likely to be producing during demand peaks, when power is most valuable.

A capacity factor of 60+ percent isn’t quite “baseload,” but it sure looks a lot less variable. So turbines like the Haliade-X would be more valuable even if the price of wind electricity stayed the same.

But of course it won’t stay the same; it has dropped 65 percent since 2009. A recent NREL report projected that innovations in wind power technology (of which bigger turbines is one of many) could drive it down another 50 percent by 2030. (Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a design for an offshore turbine that will tower, no lie, 1,640 feet, higher than the empire state building.)


27 Responses to “Big Fossil Trying to Hold Back Renewable Tide”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Not only do the oil companies (B.P in particular) put short term profits way above concern of our children’s future quality of life, they appear completely unconcerned with many of the people who have encountered severe health problems caused by cleaning up the oil companies mess.

    8 Years After BP Oil Spill, Sick Cleanup Workers Still Waiting for Day in Court

    “Guess who don’t have their life back? The people who did the cleanup, the people who have to go home and get public assistance to stay alive, and it’s had an impact on their family”

  2. redskylite Says:

    Fossil fuel powered electricity days are numbered in the U.S . . and the providers need to change or die.

    US Wind Power Achieves 30 Percent in Four States

    Wind power is now supplying more than 30 percent of the electricity in four states — Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — according to data recently released in the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report 2017.

    AWEA said that New Mexico added wind power capacity at a faster rate than any other state last year.

    According to the new report, the industry employs a record 105,500 people across all 50 states.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    The Trump administration is taking its time in deciding whether to grant FirstEnergy Solutions’ request for emergency measures to prop up the bankrupt company’s coal and nuclear power plants. There are disagreements within the administration about whether the situation warrants such a drastic response, Bloomberg reports.

    => U.S. Coal Bailout Review Slows After Trump Faces Pushback

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that four climate activists facing criminal charges may use an unusual “necessity defense” over their efforts to shut down a pair of tar sands pipelines owned by Enbridge Energy.

    “Valve turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein were charged after shutting off the emergency valves on the two pipelines in October 2016. Johnston and Klapstein, and the two defendants who filmed them, argue their actions to stop the flow of the polluting bitumen were justified due to the threat of climate change.

    The action was part of Climate Direct Action’s plan to shut down five pipelines across the U.S. that deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.

    => Activists May Argue Pipeline Shutdown Was Necessary Due to Climate Change, Court Rules

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    Pruitt promised polluters EPA will value their profits over American lives

    Pruitt is one of TIME’s 100 most influential people for his efforts to maximize polluters’ profits

  6. It may be wise to left the existing investments in fossil fuel intact. And give no new concessions to drill or mine. This will in time make the energy-transition inevatible. Nothing to worry about. Energy-transitions are nothing knew. First we had mainly wood to burn, then we turned to coal, then to oil and gas. Now we have to go to renewables. The economy never ever has crashed because of an energy-transition.

    • L RACINE Says:

      The transition from Fossil fuel, be it wood, coal or oil to renewable is very different. It is a substantial transition down on EROEI. Further the transitions have been to more “portable” forms of energy (think of the amount of BTU’s in a cord of wood compared to a gallon of gas).

      All of the transitions in the past have been to a “more dense” BTU energy source… not so with renewable.

      You also have to consider a concept called Energy Return on Energy Invested.

      This is an excellent well source article that will explain and provide values for EROEI on the various “energy sources”, I would encourage you to read it.

      Now with regards to your comment on the economy never has crashed because of a energy-transition…

      Historically a countries GDP is directly related to the consumption of energy/BTU/Fossil Fuel. Which is why in the past a countries economy has grown with the upward transition to a more dense, lower EROEI fuel.

      In the last 20 years GDP numbers have moved away from measuring manufacturing and “real production” to include “financing” aka the stock market and other “not real” (IMO) growth. When looking at current GDP numbers, you also have to look at the “financial stimulus aka national debt or Quantitative Easing, QE” the countries might be injecting into the economy a “weight the amount” against the GDP numbers. So their is an apparent small “decoupling” of energy use to GDP that has appeared in the US but I do not think it is “real”.

      I guess what I am trying to say way is that you need to do a little more home work before you make such “sage” comments like “Nothing to worry about”….

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        ” It is a substantial transition down on EROEI”

        What are you saying here – that the ROI on RE is less than FF’s. In the immortal words of John McEnroe “You can’t be serious!” Investments in RE have the best EROI in the history of the planet if we include the external costs of FF’s into account – which, of course, you don’t.

        “All of the transitions in the past have been to a “more dense” BTU energy source… not so with renewable.”

        Which is completely irrelevant.

        “This is an excellent well source article that will explain and provide values for EROEI on the various “energy sources”, I would encourage you to read it.

        Your link brings us to an article with no graphic, and that is all it refers to. It also uses data from 2011 and earlier – much from 2008. Who cares?

        Really, you should bring your “A” game next time.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        “All of the transitions in the past have been to a “more dense” BTU energy source… not so with renewable.”

        Fuel density matters for moving vehicles, but the transport costs of the molecules themselves has to be taken into account. Wind and solar take in energy at fixed sites and transport *electrons* to where they’re needed, while extraction requires extra technology to move fuels (via coal cars, tankers, pipelines) and to process them (scrubbing, fractionating, waste disposal) for use elsewhere.

        Rather than a gasoline tank, my car has a refillable electricity tank (battery) and doesn’t emit toxic gases passing playgrounds and hospitals (or while sitting at a stop light). No tailpipe, no muffler, no catalytic converter, no air filter, no oil filter, no oil changes, no alternator, no gas tank and no radiator.

  7. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    World to coal industry: “Drop dead already.”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      No “dropping dead” to coal in the world of Trump, Pruitt, and the turncoat Manchin. They are thinking of invoking the 1950 Defense Production Act to make “beautiful clean coal” a national defense/national security asset. (And Ex-con Murray running for Senate in W VA approves).

      There is apparently no depth to which the president of a minority of Americans will not stoop to advance his insane agenda. ITMFA!

      “…the administration would invoke sweeping authority in the 68-year-old Defense Production Act, which allows the president to effectively nationalize private industry to ensure the U.S. has resources that could be needed amid a war or after a disaster”.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      OOPS—-Don Blankenship is the ex-con running for Senate, not Murray.

      Murray says he now doesn’t need bailout help from Trump because he is going to sell a lot of coal to INDIA.

  8. L RACINE Says:

    If you want to solve a problem it is important to have a complete understanding of issues surrounding the problem as is humanly possible.

    The way our laws are written Corporations have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to maximize profit, I concur with Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs of the dangers of corporations…

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
    —U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
    (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

    Now, “follow the money”, the name of the game is “capital investment into existing infrastructure” and the expected on return of investment.

    So, stop and look at all of the money that has been invested into electrical generation, pipelines, transmission and distribution lines, facilities to support the operation of all of the above, supplier etc etc etc…

    The first step in this process for reducing Green House Gas emissions should be cutting out all unnecessary usage… but what happens when you get a 15 to 25% reduction in the consumption of electricity (which could be reasonably obtained)… well the utilities have a drop in their revenue.

    But I would argue that it is more insidious than that! The investment in to the infrastructure becomes “stranded” ie it is unused and become a liability… ok so let those companies that invested poorly go bankrupt…

    Hmmm think about that a bit, where did the money come from to build those stranded facilitates, who owns the shares of the companies that you want to let die? And don’t forget you have some state and federal agencies that will step in and protect the Utilities (ie, roll the right off of the stranded investments onto the backs of the rate payers, that is SOP), they are called the State Public Service Commission and FERC….My point is simple, it will have cascading effect in the economy. And I am not talking about renewable here, I am just taking about conservation which is were we need to start….

    Our economy relies on exponential growth… when something grows at 3% every year, that is exponential growth… we live on a finite world, this is not sustainable, when the growth stops the current global economy (as it is structured today) will crash.

    And that is why their has been such a push back on the realities of Green House Gas Emissions by TPTB…. (the powers that be).

    Crashing the structure of our current Global Economy may not be a bad thing….. but historically wars, both trade and the “bullet flying kind” tend to erupt when economies start to collapse.

    The process will be painful but hopefully something better and sustainable will take it’s place, so the question is how do we get their?

    Just for the record, I believe we will get there, but it is going to be a long and bitter process.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ” Corporations have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to maximize profit”

      False – they do not:

      “Our economy relies on exponential growth… when something grows at 3% every year, that is exponential growth…

      Nope. Not even close.

      “Crashing the structure of our current Global Economy may not be a bad thing….. ”

      RE is going to crash the economy!! With lower energy costs?!?Good grief, that silly argument has been disproved for years. Please refer to the outraged American businessmen who are already complaining about China’s “unfair” business advantage due to their lower costs of energy.

      Racine – you are a troll, and not even a very good troll.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      *** Now, “follow the money”, the name of the game is “capital investment into existing infrastructure” and the expected on return of investment. ***

      Transmission lines are needed independent of generation source.

      Maintenance on heavy industrial plants (refineries, steam-turbine power plants, etc.) is *expensive*, and they require a steady supply of physical inputs (gas or oil pipelines, coal cars, tankers, reliable cooling water), and waste stream management. Expansions and upgrades are capital-intensive and do not readily scale. Property footprints are long term and inflexible.

      PV solar and wind turbines go up relatively quickly, require much cheaper maintenance and inputs (no water), and have no waste streams.

      The parts of Puerto Rico with local solar have recovered much faster than those which depend on transmission from a distant central power plant run on fuel imported to the island.

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