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Shifty(?) Climate Sands

By:
Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Oct 27, 2020 at 3:00 AM
Category
Energy Policy, Climate Change

The Biden/Harris position on climate change has been shifting (shifty?) as their political campaign has “progressed” toward election day. The Green New Deal is one of the key issues on which the campaign has shifted with regard to climate. The Biden campaign website states: “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Senator Harris is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal in the Senate and has previously supported it on the campaign trail. However, Biden has now stated that he does not support the Green New Deal. Climate change is only one aspect of the Green New Deal, which deals with air travel, high speed rail, building energy efficiency and electric vehicles. Virtually all other aspects of the Green New Deal are reflected in both the 2020 Democrat Party Platform and the Biden Platform.

One of the key factors in the reduction of US CO2 emissions has been the shift from coal to natural gas for electric power generation. This shift was largely made possible by hydraulic fracturing, which has made natural gas far more available. The Biden/Harris position on fracking has changed from “ban fracking” to “ban fracking on public lands” to “not ban fracking”. Biden has also stated that there would be no more fossil fueled power plants built under his administration. Biden/Harris are committed to eliminating CO2 emissions from power generation by 2035, five years later than the Green New Deal schedule.

Biden has committed to incentivizing installation of 500,000,000 solar modules and 16,000 wind turbines. While these are large numbers, they are relatively trivial in comparison with the numbers needed to replace all existing fossil fueled power generation facilities with intermittent renewable generators and storage systems. Solar and wind currently supply approximately 12% of US electricity. However, this capacity is currently backed up by fossil fueled generation; and, in general, is dispatched first under environmental dispatch orders. Combined solar and wind generation capacity would therefore have to be increased by roughly an order of magnitude to supply approximately all of US electricity consumption, even with continuing fossil fuel backup. Eliminating the fossil fuel backup would require installation of significant additional generating capacity plus long term, high draw storage capacity sufficient to supply power for several days. This storage technology is not currently commercially available.

While a Biden/Harris administration would incentivize solar and wind installations, the majority of the investment required to install these systems would be required to be provided by private sources, such as investor owned electric utilities, other businesses  and homeowners. In the process, the utilities would be forced to abandon existing, functioning fossil fueled generating capacity, at a loss of approximately $4 trillion.

The switch from fossil fueled generation to renewable generation would also strand huge quantities of coal, oil and natural gas, causing a dead weight loss of $50+ trillion, which would be borne by both private owners and the government. These costs are not considered when the Biden asserts that: “The Green New Deal will pay for itself as we move forward.”