Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Britain's new nuclear power station will just be a very  expensive sop to the Warmists

On his visit to China this week, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, announced a £2 billion loan guarantee to Chinese companies to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Since the plant will be built by private firms taking on eye-watering amounts of debt that will be paid off over decades, the loan guarantees are essential in order to keep the interest rates on that debt down to a minimum. Otherwise, lenders would have to build in a substantial risk premium in order to justify doling out the cash.

Hinkley Point C should be good news for a variety of reasons. Nuclear power stations, despite accidents at badly built or elderly plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima, have an excellent safety record compared with other sources of power. They are reliable, providing ‘base load’ power for roughly 90 per cent of the time (compare that with 25 per cent of the time for wind turbines) and have low running costs because they need comparatively little fuel once they are up and running.

Moreover, after decades of nuclear being out of fashion, getting one plant built would hopefully open the door to many more. Having built and fired up the first UK nuclear plant since Sizewell B in 1995, the experience gained would enable future plants to be built more cheaply. Generating power from a number of different sources – coal, gas, nuclear, renewables – would provide greater security of supply, too.

But the deal the UK government has struck for Hinkley Point C looks very expensive. The operator, EDF, has been promised a guaranteed price for its power of £92.50 per megawatt hour. (Another station in the pipeline, Sizewell C, has been offered a guaranteed £89.50 per megawatt hour.) That made some sense when it was thought that prices for fossil-fuel generation of electricity would shoot up over the next decade. But prices have recently fallen for coal and gas, bringing the wholesale price for electricity down to around £44 per megawatt hour. That’s one hell of a premium, one that will be index-linked to inflation and guaranteed for 35 years – time enough to pay off the plant. As commentators have pointed out, a nuclear plant should be able to operate for 60 years. EDF will be raking it in for decades after that. One consultancy described the Hinkley Point deal as ‘economically insane’.

Nuclear power should be much cheaper than that, and currently, it is. The electricity from Sizewell B now costs around £60 per megawatt hour. But the layering of regulation upon regulation to make nuclear very, very, very safe has resulted in ballooning costs. The government wouldn’t be touching this deal with the proverbial barge pole were it not for the overriding concern of climate change. Ministers know that a low-carbon economy is impossible without nuclear, especially if we replace all our current gas heating and petrol cars with electric versions.

It’s a ‘price worth paying’, if you believe environmentalists. But that just seems like bad policy. Whatever damage climate change might cause, making energy much more expensive will definitely do quite a lot of damage, from making some kinds of industrial production uneconomic through to freezing poor pensioners to a hypothermic death in winter. Isn’t there a better way?

It would help nuclear’s cause if we started slashing some of the regulation required to build new plants, though that seems highly unlikely. It would also help if we started to factor in the hidden costs of renewable energy when discussing which path to take. Gas-fired power stations are required to make up for shortfalls in renewable energy supply. But turning such plants on and off constantly – or running them unconnected to the grid when renewables are supplying power – is extremely inefficient, bumping up the cost. That extra cost should be added to the price of renewable power when we make comparisons. We also know that whereas renewables take up a lot of space – cluttering every spare hill with more turbines – nuclear has a comparatively tiny ‘footprint’.

But maybe we should just admit that we can’t do all that much about a low-carbon economy right now. According to the International Energy Agency, even if we were fairly aggressive about introducing renewables, the world would still need fossil fuels for three quarters of our energy needs in 2035. For developing countries in particular, energy needs to be plentiful and cheap – and for now, that means coal and gas.

Instead, maybe we should be investing in developing better technology that is low carbon and economical to run. ‘Sceptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg has been banging on about this for years, and earlier this month David Attenborough fronted a call for an ‘Apollo-style’ programme to develop better renewables.

Focusing on research and development in the short term seems a much better bet than blowing a fortune on renewables and overpriced nuclear power stations. The costs in the long run would be much lower than rushing in now, and we could develop new power sources that would have benefits way beyond merely being low carbon.

As for Hinkley Point? It’s a crap deal, especially as the completion date keeps slipping back and the reactor design in question hasn’t actually worked in practice yet. For example, a similar reactor at Flamanville in France, due to come online in 2012, is now estimated to be up and running in 2018 – six years late and three times over budget. If Hinkley Point C could feasibly lead in the long run to a new generation of nuclear power stations at a much lower cost, it might be worth pressing ahead. But we can’t afford to keep cranking up energy bills for the sake of being seen to ‘do something’ about climate change.


Perp-walking the climate skeptics

It’ll be a sight to behold. A perp walk of PhDs.  A roundup of skeptical scientists who resisted joining the global-warming panic.

Picture it. White lab coats paddy-wagoned up to the courthouse and marched inside, single file, in leg chains, for a mass booking. Scrums of TV cameras jostling for position.

The perp walk of the “climate deniers” is a recommendation advanced with a straight face by 20 academics at Rutgers, Columbia and other institutions of purported higher learning.

These academic ayatollahs aren’t joking. (Ayatollahs never are.)

They have petitioned President Obama to collar climate-alarmism dissenters, along with their supposed corporate puppeteers, and prosecute them all under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.

Yes, seriously. Round ‘em up, lock ‘em up. It’s the would-be Beer Hall Putsch of the 20 Profs, 2015.

Let’s call them the Shameless 20. There’s depressingly little media or academia outcry over their essentially fascist agenda.

Maybe this reflects the low status to which smug, lockstep liberalism has sunk in the muck of its own ideological catechism.

To the 20 — and no doubt many sympathizers — global-warming skeptics are conspirators egged on and financed by diabolical corporate oligarchs. The oligarchs, like cartoonish villains in a Batman movie, are bent on crushing humanity under a Yeti-size carbon footprint. And all for money.

They must be “stopped as soon as possible,” say the Shameless 20, “so that the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways of stabilizing the Earth’s climate....”

Sinister pecuniary motives are automatically ascribed to the skeptics. But the most noble of motives are assumed for activist alarmists who divvy up tens of millions of dollars in government and foundation grants for churning out cataclysmic global-warming scenarios in the guise of objective scientific inquiry.

The Shameless 20 began their petition to President Obama with a shamelessly obsequious gesture, hailing his “aggressive and imaginative use of government.”

Now, said the 20, His Most Exalted High Excellency the Prez must go a hop, skip and jump further. Forget Hillary and her mishandling of classified information. Let’s address the greater threat of the Enemy Within — scientists who balk at signing off on the fashionable, politicized postulates and policy prescriptions of climate change.

Some brave souls — not many, some — have dared to question the authoritarian nature of the Shameless 20’s recommendation. Physicist Peter Webster, an MIT PhD and professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, pointed out to them: “You have signed a death warrant for science.”

Such words, though, no doubt are lost on the Shameless 20, who are also obviously the Clueless 20.

Beyond the ominous letter from the 20 is this ominous consideration:

President Obama may not need any goading to unkennel the doberman pinschers of the Department of Justice and other bureaucracies and turn them loose on scientists who question political orthodoxy on climate.

Obama has done more than any politician, excepting possibly Al Gore, to politicize a complex issue that’s still being researched and debated in scientific circles. Obama has falsely declared the issue of climate change “settled.”

He has perpetuated the urban myth that “97 percent” of scientists believe humans are the cause of global warming.

This “97 percent” myth traces back to a paper by activist academics at Queensland U., Australia. The academics said they read the summaries of 11,000 climate research reports to get an idea where science stands on the issue.

If Obama ever actually reads the paper he relies on to support his political agenda and shut off scientific inquiry, he’ll discover the following: 66.4 percent on the summaries cited in the Queensland U. paper took no position on the human role in global warming. The paper’s authors said so themselves.

It needs to be restated, over and over, that there aren’t really “climate deniers.”

There are skeptics. And some of them are among the world’s most brilliant scientists, such as Princeton’s Freeman Dyson, often identified as the successor to Albert Einstein.

Dr. Petr Chylek specializes in space and remote sensing sciences at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He’s a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. And a skeptic. He says:

“It seems that some of the most prominent leaders of the climate research community, like prophets of old Israel, believe they can see the future of humankind and that the only remaining task is to convince or force others to accept and follow....” He adds:

“Let us admit that our understanding of climate is less perfect than we have tried to make the public believe.”

The skeptics note that there has been climate change throughout the planet’s history. At the contentious core of the issue are these questions:

1. How much warming is attributable to human activity and how much to “natural variation” as a result of solar activity, atmospheric hydrological feedbacks and other known factors influencing climate? This is a question of intense, ongoing debate.

2. And in any case, what can realistically be done — if anything at all at this stage — to alter the course of climate without driving up electricity and gasoline prices and hobbling the economy, thereby drying up R&D funds for potential breakthroughs on clean energy alternatives?

In regard to No. 2, keep in mind that solar and wind, currently, are reckoned to come nowhere close to meeting future energy needs. Also, China is the world’s biggest producer of “global warming greenhouse emissions” and not subject to EPA rules and regs.

A Cal Tech-trained physicist now at NYU puts the climate issue in clarifying perspective. Human influences on climate are “physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole,” says Steven Koonin.

He notes that “human additions to carbon dioxide in the middle of the 21st Century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1 percent to 2 percent.”

Koonin goes on to say: “Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influence.”

Uh oh. Koonin had better watch what he says. This former science adviser to President Obama just might find himself among the chain gang of perp-walked PhD skeptics rounded up by his old boss on a RICO rap.


Pope Doesn't Say Much About Climate After All

"Global warming" or "climate change" not mentioned

Many observers feared (or hoped) that Pope Francis would pontificate on man-made global warming and the need for government solutions in Thursday’s address to Congress. But it wasn’t to be. Here’s the extent of his remarks on the topic:

"This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concerns and affects us all. In “Laudato Si,” I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States — and this Congress — have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."

At first hearing, there’s really not much for conservatives who are conservationists to disagree with there. But there are two key problems: the pope’s assertion that climate change is “caused by human activity,” and who he addressed his comments to — Congress. The science is far from settled on the cause or reach of climate change (humans do impact the environment, but how much is the question), and most proposals before Congress involve hampering economic activity — i.e., exacerbating and not “combating poverty” — to fight a supposed menace we don’t fully understand.


When Energy Efficiency Becomes Harmful

One of the benefits claimed by the environmental Left in regards to the Clean Power Plan is its impact on Americans' health. According to an EPA fact sheet, the regulations are expected to eradicate 3,600 pollution-related premature deaths annually once fully implemented — a finding mimicked by a supposedly independent study that wasn’t so independent after all.

The EPA fact sheet also asserts that 90,000 asthma attacks will be prevented each year. “Because these pollutants can create dangerous soot and smog, the historically low levels mean we will avoid thousands of premature deaths and have thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond,” the EPA website states. Of course, any effort to clean up the environment — albeit without unconstitutional government mandates — is praiseworthy. The danger comes when authority figures begin dictating rules in the name of “settled science.”

Which raises an interesting point about the EPA’s asthma claims, courtesy of our friends across the pond. A new study out of Great Britain, a nation that’s likewise in the process of slashing carbon emissions, suggests energy efficiency may actually be harmful to our health. The Guardian reports, “The number of Britons with asthma could almost double by 2050 because the air inside homes is becoming more polluted as they become more energy-efficient, a new report warns.”

How so? “Airborne pollutants created by cooking, cleaning and using aerosols such as hairsprays will increasingly stay indoors and affect people’s health as homes are made ever more leak-proof to help meet carbon reduction targets, a report by Professor Hazim Awbi claims.”

Ironic, isn’t it, that spending more time indoors — and expecting to be shielded from the elements thanks to “green” directives — can theoretically leave you worse off than enjoying the outdoors, where the atmosphere is designed to regulate fossil fuels naturally. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

There’s a reason human progress is best left to the free market. Life expectancy and wealth are remarkably higher today thanks to the fossil fuel industry. And the private sector has managed to increase efficiency and drastically decrease pollution through new technologies. Beware of leftists bearing gifts in the name of “settled science.”


The Cost of Regulation

Bad laws create bad behavior

Volkswagen is in hot water with the EPA, after revelations that 11 million of its vehicles employ covert software designed to trick emissions testers. While being tested, the cars switched to a more efficient mode in order to beat the regulations, afterwards switching back to a higher performance (and hence higher emissions) method of operation.

Of course, the company is being widely condemned as criminal, negligent, and downright evil. The charge is not wholly without merit; Volkswagen did break the law, and they did misrepresent their vehicles to consumers, none of which should be tolerated. But there’s a more interesting point here, which is the way regulations affect the behavior of companies, and the waste that results.

One of the mistakes regulators frequently make is assuming that they can simply control behavior by decree. When the EPA issues a ruling that emissions cannot exceed a certain level, it goes without saying that companies will abide by the rule, and that will be that.

In reality, people respond to incentives, and if you use the law to try to stop people from doing something that benefits them, you can bet that many, if not most, will try to find away around compliance. A great example of this is the tax code. The extreme complexity of the tax code has resulted in a huge industry of accountants and lawyers devoted to finding loopholes, deductions, and other ways to protect their clients’ money from the IRS. If taxes were low, flat, and fair, the immense amount of resources devoted to this industry could be employed in actually producing something, rather than in merely avoiding the tax collector. Environmental regulations work the same way.

Volkswagen had to spend time and money to develop and install the software used to beat emissions detectors in 11 million of their cars. They had to cover their tracks to ensure they weren’t caught, and now they are facing huge fines, legal fees, and plummeting stock prices as a result of the scandal. Innocent employees will lose their jobs, and perfectly good cars will be pulled off the market, reducing the supply of vehicles and therefore driving up the cost. The spillover effects are likely to damage the entire German auto industry for years to come.

All this represents a huge waste of resources, a waste that could have been avoided in the absence of strict emissions regulations in the first place. All of that time and money could have been spent producing better cars, or giving consumers a discount. All of those resources could have been used productively, instead of to the non-productive activity of evading regulations. You can argue that it’s Volkswagen’s fault for not playing by the rules, but economics recognizes that people will always be self-interested, and as long as there are regulations, there will be people trying to evade them. Volkswagen is certainly neither the first nor last company to spend money to get around environmental rules.

Instead of imposing mandates that invite unproductive cheating, why not allow consumers a choice? If Volkswagen’s cars are so bad, why not let consumers reject them? And if they are not all that bad, why not let people buy them? We never would have emerged from the grimy, soot-covered youth of the industrial revolution if factory owners had spent all their time dealing with regulations instead of coming up with new technologies. The same incentives apply today. So while we should rightly condemn Volkswagen for cheating, we owe it to ourselves to ask why it was necessary for them to cheat in the first place, and whether we are actually made better off by a system that diverts productive activity towards illicit, black market behavior.


Australian coal industry to benefit from China carbon trading, says MCA

Australia's struggling coal industry stands to gain from China's surprise move to adopt a carbon trading system that puts a price on emissions, says the Minerals Council of Australia.

MCA chief executive Brendan Pearson said Australia had "a big advantage in this new era" because its coal exports were ideally suited to the new-generation, coal-fired power plants China was rolling out to help cut emissions.

"Far from being a threat, there is a real opportunity for Australia's coal sector in China's efforts to reduce emissions at lowest cost," Mr Pearson told Fairfax Media.

"There is a huge misconception that lower emissions and coal use are incompatible. That is dead wrong."

"Over the last eight years China's embrace of new coal generation has achieved emissions reductions 10 times those achieved by the European Union's emissions trading scheme."

The MCA is confident China will continue its huge rollout of high-energy, low-emissions, coal-fired power plants.



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