Energy Security Brings Conservatives to Renewables

June 27, 2022

And increasingly, climate. But more on that another day.

New Hampshire Business Review:

In the past two weeks, New Hampshire residents learned that most of our electricity bills will skyrocket in August. For Eversource’s residential customers, the rate they pay kilowatt-hour will rise from 19 cents to more than 32 cents: 22 cents for the energy, and another 8 cents to deliver it. With this rate, New Hampshire customers will nearly have the highest electricity rates in the United States: higher than Alaska, where most customers pay about 22 cents, and lower only than Hawaii.

Needless to say, if your state is paying nearly as much for energy than a string of isolated atolls thousands of miles from shore, something has to change.

We are now reaping what we have sowed. Over the past 20 years, we have massively built out natural gas-fired power plants in New England, from 15 percent of generation in 2000 to 53 percent in 2021. Natural gas prices set our electricity prices, and pipeline gas in New England is currently two to three times more expensive than the same time last year.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. While it seems to us that prices have gone through the stratosphere, gas is currently fetching 10 times more in Europe. American producers are responding to this powerful price signal to send their product overseas. And with the European Union’s newfound resolve to wean themselves off Russian gas, ever more American gas will not be burned at home.

If you’re hoping that American production will rise again, don’t be so sure. From 2010 to 2018, the low price of gas in the U.S. meant that the American fracking industry lost a cumulative $181 billion, which led the former CEO of the nation’s largest gas producer to call the shale revolution “an unmitigated disaster” for investors.

USAToday via Yahoo:

During the Cold War, John Lehman served as Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. Later, he was appointed a Republican member of the 9/11 commission.

Those experiences led him to see U.S. reliance on “Persian Gulf oil” as a major vulnerability that kept America mired in Middle East conflicts.

Lehman became a champion for renewable energy — “an essential element of energy independence,” he said. He lobbied for it during Congressional hearings, and at his rural estate in Pennsylvania, where a peacock and guinea fowl run the grounds, he installed a 34-kilowatt solar array to provide most of the power he needs.

“It seemed to me, here I was arguing for renewable sources … and I’m not doing anything,” Lehman said. “So I ought to at least get a solar array.”

Lehman’s embrace of renewables makes him a figure often overlooked in American politics, where conventional wisdom suggests liberals are more supportive of solar and wind energy than their conservative counterparts.

Indeed, Democratic politicians have delivered the nation’s most significant climate policies to date. In 2014, the Obama administration introduced the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector; the Trump administration worked to rescind it. Under President Joe Biden, Democrats have sought to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into climate-focused projects; Republicans have largely opposed the spending.

And yet, national polling shows the majority of self-identified conservative Americans also want a future with less burning of fossil fuels, replaced by renewable energy. Conservative interest groups have started a state-by-state campaign to convince the party’s base and leadership of the virtues of solar energy.

And big money from both new start-ups and traditional oil and gas companies are lining up behind renewable energy development projects across the country, with enough planned to theoretically push U.S. energy generation to more than 80% renewable, according to Joe Rand, a senior engineering associate with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“There’s more capacity in the queue than we have existing power plants in the U.S.,” Rand said. “It’s an almost 100% transition of the electric system.”

But formidable obstacles remain. A bipartisan appetite for a swifter transition to renewable energy faces both bureaucratic and political bottlenecks, advocates say.

Lodged in the gears are traditional pet peeves for both parties. Aging infrastructure and understaffed regulatory agencies are hampering the development of renewable energy, Democrats say.

But a mishmash of regulatory and legal systems, often used by environmental advocates to stall and kill oil and gas proposals, can also now waylay renewable energy projects, conservative advocates counter. They argue that zoning restrictions and laws like the Endangered Species Act are being used to oppose renewable energy projects, when concerns are actually based on aesthetics or property values.

Even as a rapid drop in the cost of technologies like solar panels makes renewable energy financially enticing, such regulations are holding back how quickly they can be built, conservative advocates argue.

“There’s a great need for certainty,” said Ned Rauch-Mannino, an energy consultant and former deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Trump administration. “It threatens projects whether they’re traditional or renewable.”

Advocates worry about a closing window of opportunity. Democrats fear their chances to promote renewable energy legislation could be threatened by the midterm elections. In Republican circles, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and inflation appear to be increasing the appetite for further oil and gas development, risking a turn away from wind and solar.

And time is running out globally, as the planet pushes toward a warmer and more dangerous future. If there is a road to agreement on a swifter energy transition to stave off the worst possible outcomes, the time is now, said Joshua Busby, a public affairs researcher and energy policy expert at the University of Texas

“The situation is not going to get any easier in the next Congress,” Busby said. “Do we want to seize the future for the country’s benefit or not?”

The above is a much longer piece that goes into the obstacles to developing renewables at the pace really needed for climate mitigation, very much in line with my experience in the field. Recommended.


One Response to “Energy Security Brings Conservatives to Renewables”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    “For now, opponents are winning. Last year, the township passed a ban on solar arrays on farms that sell back to the grid.”

    And all that previous pretense of being pro-freedom and free market disappears into the dust.

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