Green Math

Few things fill me with more mirth than seeing a Greenie try to develop a cost-benefit argument in favour of their beloved fantasies. Take Paul Hanley, the StarPhoenix‘s answer to David Suzuki without the charm: in two successive columns, Hanley provides a pitch-perfect illustration of how eco-fascists overplay the detriments of our evil addition to fossil fuels while playing up the benefits of “sustainable” development.

Demonstration of environmentalist considering all sides of the energy debate

Green Math Problem #1

In Hanley’s “Special to the StarPhoenix” of May 15, he notes that someone said that someone reported that:

Firms that meet stringent environmental regulations tend to have higher rates of innovation and productivity than those that do not comply. That’s because pollution, inefficient energy systems and industrial waste all represent wasted profits. Firms that reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency are often more productive, innovative and competitive.

Reader, you’ll of course note that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. In other words, it could easily be that firms that are more productive, innovative and competitive are the only firms who can afford to reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency, while those who can’t are forced out of the game.

(Think of it this way: who would be better able to install a solar plant on the roof of his home — the multimillionnaire eco-nut, or Joe Schlub working two jobs at minimum wage just to pay the bills?)

Hanley then offers another gem, which is more to my point of contention:

[Scott Vaughan, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development] also cited a New York Academy of Sciences study that found the costs of environmental damage from coal-fired electricity in the United States were approximately $345 billion a year. The costs included the combined impacts of aerosolized, solid and water pollutants associated with the mining, processing, transport, and combustion of coal, and the impact of those pollutants on families and communities. Better regulation could prevent these costs to health and the environment, at a much lower cost.

Three hundred and forty-five billion dollars a year? Dreadful, right? But the question conveniently left unasked is, As compared to what?

I’ll tell you what. Let’s take Hanley and his sources at their word that coal-generated energy costs Americans $345 billion each year. If Obama suddenly banned all coal-fired plants in the United States tomorrow, what would the costs be to replace this source of energy with, say, wind power?

The United States Energy Information Administration helpfully provides a table within which the “average levelized cost” of new generation resources are summarized.  I’ve pasted the image of the table below.

From the EIA report:

Levelized cost represents the present value of the total cost of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle, converted to equal annual payments and expressed in terms of real dollars to remove the impact of inflation. Levelized cost reflects overnight capital cost, fuel cost, fixed and variable [operating and maintenance] cost, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant type.

Energy from a conventional coal plant constructed in 2016 is expected to cost the consumer $94.9 per megawatt hour (MWh) in 2009 dollars, while wind is (optimistically) set at a slightly higher yet still competitive $97.0/MWh. Not a bad deal, eh?

But what’s that? Conventional coal plants have a “capacity factor” of 85%, and wind plants are (optimistically) rated to be 34%? Does that mean what I think it means?

Actually, it’s worse. Conventional coal plants routinely shut down for routine maintenance, depending on the age and the condition of the plant. By routine, I mean, they are have planned maintenance outages based on routine schedules in order to maintain and upkeep the facility.

Wind farms, on the other hand, would have its own planned maintenance schedules, which would (optimistically) cut their overall availability to 90%. However, according to this table, wind turbine stations would have additional, non-routine downtime likely the result of either no wind, not enough wind, too much wind, too much cold, or the occasional explosion, and you’ll never know when any of these situations will occur. (It doesn’t help your electricity demands to have a steady gale at midnight before a calm, hot day, would it?)

If the levelized cost were normalized with the capacity factor, conventional coal would now cost the consumer $94.9 divided by 85%, or $111.65/MWh. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that these frequent and irregular wind outages somehow defy logic and natural law and are routinely planned by the ubiquitous wind electrical utility. In this case, the normalized levelized cost for wind power would be $97.0 divided by 34%, or an astounding $285/MWh.

Now, the same EIA tells us that in 2010, coal collectively made up 42% of the total net electricity supply, or 1,847,290,000 MWh. Based on the table above, that means the normalized levelized cost of this coal would be about $206 billion per year. Using the normalized levelized cost of wind power, that same amount of electricity would be $526 billion, or an additional cost of $320 billion.

Therefore, if the total costs of coal to the American economy is $345 billion, the initial costs of replacing coal with wind power would be $320 billion, which is a difference of $25 billion per year (or what the US government spends in two-and-a-half days).

Keep in mind, we are assuming that this additional wind power would bear no negative costs either, such as installing millions of miles of transmission lines across the countryside or the creation of thousands of pounds of condor kebabs. More important to note is that, although wind itself is free, the land available to trap wind is not, and the optimal locations for wind farms is rapidly decreasing, especially when you consider how much local residents want to be around them.

Aaaaaaand … this analysis doesn’t take into account the fact that doubling electricity costs just might have a small influence on whether firms wish to operate in the US or move to, shall we say, more amiable business climate. So there’s that.

But you see my point, right? Hanley likes to highlight the negative aspects of conventional energy supply, but he conveniently leaves out the costs of the alternative just to prove his ideological point of view. How convenient.

Math is hard.

Green Math Problem #2

This past week, Hanley goes on the offensive. He compares our situation today to that of the Allied Powers during World War II:

Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs,” according to a report from the International Energy Agency released in April. “Under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. This would likely send global temperatures at least 6 C higher. Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships – a legacy that I know none of us wishes to leave behind.”

Despite this dire prognosis from the world’s top energy organization, which includes Canada among its members, most countries, and especially Canada, appear to be retreating from any meaningful effort to mitigate climate change. It is almost as if nobody believes the world can make the kind of change needed, so governments have simply given up.

Then, in order to illustrate the potential of our national will, Hanley goes on to list some of the biggest benefits to Canada as a result of our war mobilization efforts during WWII:

  • “[T]he size of the Canadian armed forces increased 250 fold, with some 10 per cent of the total population [1.1 million–ed.] enlisting.”
  • “[T]he Canadian Merchant Navy had completed over 25,000 voyages across the Atlantic.”
  • “The country spent close to $22 billion from 1939-1950 on the war effort, a huge sum at the time and equivalent to about $330 billion in today’s dollars.”
  • “[Canada’s vehicle manufacturing] industry was revived to build war material, particularly wheeled vehicles, of which Canada became the second largest producer during the war, after the United States.”
  • “Half of allied aluminum and 90 per cent of allied nickel was supplied by Canadian sources during the war.”

Hanley concludes:

Environmental problems like climate change are even more insidious than the Nazi threat, but don’t threaten us immediately. We need visionary leaders to alert the population to the depth of this problem. When that happens, Canadians could and would mobilize the human and financial resources needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

So go sell those carbon bonds, would you?

In this column, instead of focusing solely on the costs and ignoring the benefits, Hanley focuses primarly on the benefits and only brushes over the costs (“More than 45,000 lost their lives and another 54,000 were wounded”).

Once again, we are left with an unasked question; this time, it’s “at what cost”?

Actually, scratch that — we are left with a number of questions.

First, if the threat of climate change is even more ominous than that of Nazi Germany, should we be prepared to expend a relatively proportional level of casualties — say, 300,000 souls — in Hanley’s war as we did in WWII?

Second, while Hanley encourages us to ration our resources to benefit the war effort, is he suggesting that we follow the Allied powers’ example and devote more than half of Canada’s gross national product toward meeting our Kyoto obligations?

Third, Hanley has already advocated the establishment of One World Government to help us be a more sustainable society, but would he also support our government if it proclaims the War Measures Act, which would suspend civil liberties, until the climate crisis is averted?

Fourth, does Hanley propose we place “climate change deniers” and other “enemy nationals” into internment camps and confiscate their property, just as our government did to Japanese-Canadians and other potential Fifth Columnists in the 1940s?

Proposed climate change debating forum

Now, you may feel that I am being facetious in tabling these questions, but I assure you, dear reader, I am not. Almost every week, I find his suggestions as to how we should mitigate climate change (as if that were possible) to be not only asinine, but potentially disasterous to our economy, our culture and our freedoms. What he advocates is nothing less than a subversion of our world order. He wants us to give up our freedom and our inalienable rights to fight a battle against a hypothetical enemy.

The threat of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) is absolutely nothing like the Nazi threat. By the time Canada declared war in September 1939, Hitler had already bullied himself to take over the German government, renounced the Treaty of Versailles through re-armament and re-militarizing the Rhineland, annexed Austria and the Sudentenland, threatened Britain and others to take over Czechoslovakia, destroyed all civil liberties under his authority, and invaded Poland.

Meanwhile, the climate models of the past 20 years haven’t been close to being accurate. The theory goes that with every doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we’ll see a rise of one degree Celsius. However, although CO2 levels have doubled since 1850, we haven’t seen temperatures change to that extent. Furthermore, the CAGW theory has it that feedback factors due to rising temperatures (such as the increase of water vapour levels) will amplify the effect of CO2, but real-world predictions have shown a negative feedback. In other words, not only is there no amplification of temperature, but it looks like the climate has responded by stabilizing the average global temperature.

Let me state this again: in order to fight a hypothetical threat of which there is no discernible evidence, Paul Hanley wants our nation to make the same sacrifices it made when fighting the biggest existential threat in our nation’s history.

I shit you not.

Conclusion

“If I draw conclusions just like this, they magically come true!”

Beware of false prophets bearing statistics. Unless they truthfully offer both the positives and negatives of a particular proposed course of action, treat them like the hypocritical fascists-in-waiting they are.

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