A View From the Cheap Seats

September 7, 2009

Lights Out

Filed under: Environment,Global Warming — trzupek @ 8:46 pm


By Rich Trzupek

Meanwhile, back in the day job, your humble correspondent has been spending an awful lot of time lately with all of the greenhouse gas nonsense that is all the rage in the new, vastly improved United Socialist State of America. No topic is hotter in the enviro community.

People often tell me that I should be thrilled about this development, since it surely means more business for me, as my clients struggle to address to the new reality. Perhaps I should be thrilled, but the gnawing worry is that while I might have many more business opportunities, I can not help but wonder if there will be anyone left to pay me when the dust settles.

The President, as you may recall, promised to reverse the rise of the oceans and greenhouse gas regulation is the cudgel he will use to beat the waters back into their proper place. It is possible, of course, that this promise will be forgotten like other inconvenient promises he made. Reducing the deficit, pulling out of Iraq in 18 months and governing from the center spring immediately to mind.

Yet, should we actually attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, I have come to the conclusion that we will utterly destroy whatever is left of the manufacturing sector in this country and plunge this nation into an economic depression so profound that it will make the last year look like a picnic. The costs, my friends, are absolutely staggering.

There are plenty of ways that people – mostly people with no understanding of how the power grid actually works – imagine that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power would be nice, were it not ruinously expensive, unavailable on a consistent basis and not able to provide but a fraction of our energy needs. Wind turbines go up by the thousands, but there too there is the expense, the consistency issue and the fact that one can only generate so much power with wind. Nukes would be the sensible options, were it not for the fact that we live in a Chicken Little society.

So, for the immediate future and well beyond, we will still depend on fossil fuels, and, to put a point on it, that most abundant and cheap fossil fuel: coal. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in this country depends, therefore, on controlling the carbon dioxide emissions generated by burning coal, and therein lies the rub.

Installing the technology to control carbon dioxide emissions from an average sized power plant (about 500 megawatts) will cost about one billion dollars per plant. That’s billion, with a “b”. If you boil that number down to the “what does this mean to me” part of the equation, USEPA estimates that your electric bill will double if greenhouse gas regulations go into effect.

That’s USEPA’s estimate of course, which history tells us is usually rather low. Still, let’s accept that for the sake of argument. How well will households be able to handle it when their electric rates double? Sure, rich folk living in sprawling mansions – Al Gore comes to mind – will be able to pony up the extra dinero without too much of a problem, but how about the poorer segments of our society?

And what about industry? American industry suffers from a plethora of competitive disadvantages: high labor rates, blood-sucking workman’s compensation costs, the need to pay to negotiate a maze of regulatory obstacles put in a place by our bloated bureaucracy and liability issues that few other nations have to deal with, just to name a few. Pile on energy costs times two, or more, and we will effectively pull out the last Jenga stick that makes the whole tottering tower crash to the ground. Good-bye American industry. Good-bye American jobs.

The power industry has a particularly descriptive phrase for what will happen if greenhouse gas regulation comes into being. That phrase is: “lights out”.

Still, there is hope. Cap and trade legislation (the Waxman-Markey bill) passed the House, but nobody believes that it has a chance in the Senate in its present form. The Supreme Court directed USEPA to develop greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, but that’s not going to happen either. Doing so would force USEPA to try to regulate a universe of sources that is so huge they couldn’t hope to begin to do so. The Agency will waste a lot of time and money attempting to comply with the court’s wishes, but no one – not even the green-weenies – believe that USEPA can actually accomplish that under the constraints of the Clean Air Act.

At best, we might – emphasize “might” – see some sort of greenhouse gas legislation circa 2011 or 2012. A lot could happen between now and then. The nation could wake up to the fact that human-induced climate change is a scam of Madhoff-like proportions. The political winds could change, indeed they might change substantially if the President’s sagging approval ratings are any indication. Or, and this seems the most likely scenario, the economic turmoil created by a nation printing money like there’s no tomorrow will drive any talk about “climate change” far onto the back burner.

We can only cross our fingers and hope that the nation comes to its senses. Reversing the rise of the oceans would be an impressive feat, but I rather like having the lights on too.


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