Fossil Fuel at the “Socialist” Trough

March 11, 2019

Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming):

Let me explain. The energy market has changed and no one person or legislature can change it back. Energy markets are telling us that coal is no longer king when it comes to being the cost-minimizing source of energy. In Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado, electric utilities have calculated that retiring coal plants will save customers money. Here in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Power has compared the costs to operate its coal units to see how they compare to other available energy sources. Rocky Mountain Power’s analysis suggests that retiring the Naughton plant in Kemmerer by 2022 and replacing its output with cheaper market purchases, including Wyoming wind power, could save customers $175 million. Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp, has also stressed that over 60 percent of its coal units are now more expensive to run than alternatives.

This coal bailout bill would make Rocky Mountain Power find an outside buyer to operate uneconomic coal plants, and then require the utility to buy back high-cost power from the new owner. Bill proponents claim that any such coal contract would need to be less expensive than other sources to be approved. But Rocky Mountain Power has already done the math! Unless a new owner intends to cut corners on environmental cleanup or slash worker benefits, it’s hard to see how someone else could run these aging coal plants more cheaply and effectively than Rocky Mountain Power.

The electricity industry is undergoing fundamental and permanent changes, and Wyoming’s coal communities need and deserve help. That means embracing our state’s immense potential to generate wind and solar power, finding ways to use coal for profitable materials, and providing transition funding for displaced workers But a bill that claims to “save coal” by charging energy customers more, slashing worker benefits, and preventing cleanup of Wyoming’s land and water is not the answer.

The market is talking and it is telling us that this bill will not reverse the decline of the coal industry, and that it will only delay critical conversations we all need to be having about how to help Wyoming’s coal-dependent communities benefit from the inevitable transition to a cleaner energy future.


Republicans claim the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion — a number that would dwarf the economic output of every nation on Earth.

The figure is bogus.

But that isn’t stopping the eye-popping total from turning up on the Senate floor, the Conservative Political Action Conference and even “Saturday Night Live” as the progressive Democrats’ sweeping-yet-vague vision statement amps up the political conversation around climate change.

The number originated with a report by a conservative think tank, American Action Forum, that made huge assumptions about how exactly Democrats would go about implementing their plan. But the $93 trillion figure does not appear anywhere in the think tank’s report — and AAF President Douglas Holtz-Eakin confessed he has no idea how much exactly the Green New Deal would cost.

“Is it billions or trillions?” asked Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “Any precision past that is illusory.”

The Green New Deal isn’t even a plan yet — at the moment it’s a non-binding resolution that calls for major action to stop greenhouse gas pollution while reducing income inequality and creating “millions of good, high-wage jobs.” But top Republicans have embraced the $93 trillion price tag, using it to argue that the climate plan would bankrupt the United States.

Democrats say Republicans are using the number to try to dodge responsibility for decades of denying climate science, while the White House continues to disregard the evidence linking human activity to rising temperatures and extreme weather.

To come up with the $93 million total, Republicans added together the cost estimates that the AAF report’s authors had placed on various aspects of a Green New Deal platform. Most of those were based on assumptions about universal healthcare and jobs programs rather than the costs of transitioning to carbon-free electricity and transportation.

“There’s a race for think-tankers, analysts and academia to be the first to come up with a number, and you can see why — look at how many people latched onto that $93 trillion number,” said Nick Loris, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “A lot of times you just see the number and you don’t get a lot of the backstory behind the number.”

Holtz-Eakin told POLITICO that he was interested only in “ballparks,” adding that the study is best viewed as “a sincere but a heroic estimate of a not very well-specified proposal.” When asked whether he had a problem with the way Republicans had characterized his study and the $93 trillion figure, Holtz-Eakin said: “We did try to play it straight here. We never added it up.”

Green New Deal supporters acknowledge that their preferred polices won’t be free, but they say Republicans are acting in bad faith by trying to paint the resolution with a specific brush so early and refusing to acknowledge that unchecked climate change poses its own economic risks. For instance, a United Nations report last fall estimated a global cost of as much as $69 trillion from even a modest rise in global temperatures.

“We all knew this vacuum was here, but you can’t put a price on it until you have a piece of legislation that you can score,” said Greg Carlock, Green New Deal research director with the progressive think tank Data for Progress. He said the AAF study “was an attempt to fill that vacuum, but it does it in a mean-spirited way.”

Yet the figure is already a fixture of GOP talking points about the Green New Deal — echoing attacks the party has made on environmental regulations going back decades.

8 Responses to “Fossil Fuel at the “Socialist” Trough”

  1. John Says:

    Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  2. A Thorpe Says:

    The market has nothing to do with it. It is government policy. It is impossible for a consumer to buy electricity only generated from coal. The market is about the consumer.

  3. Thomas Stacy Says:

    This reporter has it grievously wrong. Maybe he is smart enough to understand the real mechanisms at play, but if he is (and does) then that makes him an agent of deception in mass media. So lets first assume the Mi Staken NBC reporter does not understand the real mechanisms driving economic efficiency in the electricity sector. First, what he (along with many conservatives) believe are free market forces in the wholesale electricity “markets” are A) already crippled and heavily polluted with distortions by SUBSIDIES FOR INFERIOR SOURCES and UNDERVALUATION OF FIRM CAPACITY (to name just two) that drive costs up and reliability down, and B) are ill-conceived to push the blend of electricity sources in our long-term best interest. Joseph Bowring was correct in testifying before the Ohio Task Force on Renewable Electricity Mandates that (paraphrase): “When you subsidize (incompetent) forms of electricity generation, you must subsidize all of the (competent) forms, as well, in order to maintain system integrity.” #PJM #FERC #NERC #Ohio #legislature #congress #freemarket Monitoring Analytics

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    A reminder of the arithmetic:

    Jacobson and Delucchi have published numerous peer-reviewed studies on what new machines we need to build, and their approximate costs.
    They estimated it would cost $1.0 trillion to convert California to RE. California uses 1/6th of all U.S. energy.

    So, $9.3 trillion seems a good estimate for the whole country.

    If that seems like a lot of money, remember that we Americans spend $1.5 trillion every year just for fossil fuels. Add the billions if not trillions of dollars too pay for the costs of fossil fuel infrastructure; billions of tax and other subsidies every year, billions in additional health care costs due to fossil fuel pollution, hundreds of billion for future climate change adaptation costs.

    So, simply redirecting just a few years of fossil fuel expenses toward RE will reap economic ROI profits for decade after decade. It’s not expensive – it’s a bargain.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      “Unless a new owner intends to cut corners on environmental cleanup or slash worker benefits, it’s hard to see how someone else could run these aging coal plants more cheaply and effectively than Rocky Mountain Power.”

      Of course that’s exactly what Republicans plan. In fact it’s what they’re doing already, with hundreds of cuts to science, and ecological, worker and public protections, like the drastic increase in mercury contamination the administration has instituted. Perry and trump have tried to push through plans to bail out failing coal and nuke burners numerous times nationally and they got laughed out of the room by experts every time; this is and similar state programs all over (to allow corporations to self-insure, walk away from toxic mines, etc.) small-potato corruption in comparison.

      Realistically, including only part of the full costs, (not veterans’ care or the cost to society of returning vets for example*) we spent more than $10 trillion on oil wars since 2001. We would have been better off just burning that money, for all the good vs. harm it did our economy, culture and politics. For less than that we can invest in a livable future and make money doing it. The same with the New Deal parts of the GND; it’s money well spent ensuring health and productivity for most of the population of the US for the foreseeable future. Even if we weren’t comparing it to you know, the total destruction of all life on Earth, it would be the only sensible way to go.

      *A small part of the extra is shown here, more than $100 billion for direct care alone: www[DOT]watson.brown[DOT]edu/costsofwar/costs/economic/budget/veterans

  5. Tax the .01%, make corporations pay their fair share of federal taxes and punish them severely if they move overseas (extremely high tariffs on their products and voiding their IP in country), eliminate the tax loopholes only the wealthy can use, cut military spending, close most overseas bases, tax CO2 producing energy at the source – make those who produce it equally liable financially for the CO2 created when that coal/oil/gas is burned. These are just a few of the ways the money could be raised without it being an undue burden on the poor and middle class.

  6. Terry Donte Says:

    There are several hundred coal plants being built around the world, mostly in Africa and Asia as coal is the cheapest source of power. The cost of coal in the USA is higher than gas thanks to fracking which is why coals use is going down rapidly. When you add the cost of pollution control to the cost of coal it simply costs more so the coal plants get shut down. Trying to pretend this applies to the world is not simply silly, it is delusional thinking which harms our planet.

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