Texas Energy Leadership, Boldly Marching in Place
When the Kyoto Protocols were signed to reduce carbon emissions, the fossil fuel industry decided, to quote Dean Wormer, "It's time for somebody to put his foot down. And that foot is me."
What do BP, Shell, Chevron, Total, Eni and Exxon have in common, outside of oil and gas? Well, let's see. They make unseemly amounts of money now that the pandemic is on the wane. Their executives all drive better cars than I do. Oh, yeah. And they are all investing in renewable energy. Granted, some of the investments are small for now, but growing. As the energy newsletter, NS Energy put it, "Some of the oil majors have invested heavily in renewables, such as wind and solar, as they look to transition towards cleaner energy sources."
This will come as a shock to our trogloditic (?) Head of the Texas Railroad Commission, Wayne Christian. You see, Wayne is still entranced with the industry disinformation campaign that began around 1998, as the Kyoto Protocols were signed wherein nations around the world signed on to reduce carbon emissions. That's when the fossil fuel industry decided, to quote Dean Wormer, "It's time for somebody to put his foot down. And that foot is me."
Thus began a push to use climate disinformation, and friendly researchers willing to put their reputations into a blind trust, to try to muddy the waters in the minds of the public. the Associated Press summed it up this week in their article on the new legislation President Biden is near to getting passed in Congress.
“Victory,” according to the American Petroleum Institute’s memo, “will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science... Unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue... there may be no moment when we can declare victory.”
The memo, later leaked to The New York Times that year, went on to outline how fossil fuel companies could manipulate journalists and the broader public by muddying the evidence, by playing up “both sides” of the debate and by portraying those seeking to reduce emissions as “out of touch with reality.”
And so it began. With the world's climate scientists beavering away in research, and ultimately reaching alarming conclusions that 97% of them agree with, the issue, like all others these days, became partisan. Nowhere is that better displayed than in an interview I heard recently with Commissioner Christian which played less like an energy discussion and more like a Trump rally rant. On the subject of climate change, he spouted the usual bromides, most of which are wrong, and blamed the controversy on those notoriously liberal (insert irony alert here) Wall Street bankers and "...a bunch of dope-smoking, draft-dodging college professors."
That last part I find curious as he, like me, spent the Viet Nam years sweating it out in a college classroom, facing the VC every night...on Walter Cronkite's newscast. Now, Wayne and I are about the same age, draft age in the 60's, but after college, unlike me, he did sign up. Well, OK, it was to lead a gospel singing group, but to be fair, they had a grueling schedule.
And Wayne is still pushing for more coal use, for crying out loud. While we still use some in Texas, about as much as green energy, that horse in the long run is in such bad shape, Gary Cooper is mercifully pulling out a gun. But Wayne keeps kicking the poor beast despite the lack of vital signs.
The Union of Concerned Scientists say that when coal is burned it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants. They include mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and various other heavy metals. Health impacts can range from asthma and breathing difficulties to brain damage, heart problems, cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death. Then there is the contribution it makes to a warming planet. Chemically, coal is mostly carbon, which, when burned, reacts with oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas. When released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide works like a blanket, warming the earth above normal limits.
It is hard and expensive to clean up in terms of just the air quality problems, and far too many plants simply don't have the technology to scrub the stuff. That's why is it going the way of the dodo. From that ivory tower liberal think tank at Forbes Magazine...
"The U.S. electric sector has been burning less coal every single year. So much so that carbon emissions from coal in the U.S. electricity sector are more than 50% lower today than just a decade ago. This is a result of the declining economics of coal power plants due to low natural gas prices, increasing numbers of low-cost renewable plants, and more stringent environmental regulations.
Despite this trajectory, coal still remains the largest fuel source of carbon emissions on the U.S. electricity grid, accounting for 60% of CO2 emissions."
Wayne continued to tout the effectiveness of oil and gas in powering our modern society. And in that he is absolutely right. We have plenty for now, and they work. But that was never the issue under discussion. The long term and existential question here is, at what cost?
For Wayne, who has either bought into the industry PR campaign or is spouting this because it is the party line, there is no climate change, and thus, no issue. There you go, Bob's your uncle. Problem solved.
His arguments go like this: Human-influenced climate change simply isn't real. Summer has always been hot. Carbon dioxide isn't a pollutant. The scientists are wrong or paid off or, worst of all, "woke." It's just the natural cycle of the climate, nothing to see here. Ice is actually forming in Antarctica. Warmer temperatures are good for us, farmers, ranchers, wildlife... everyone. How do you explain our severe winter in 2021? Green energy sources are the biggest reason for the Texas grid failure during that winter, by the way. And the boringly predictable list goes on.
Let me just say, for the sake of brevity, this is all, how do you say it in your country? Oh yeah, BS. For the latest on climate science, let me just refer you not to those draft dodgers at Harvard or Rice, but to our friends down I-45 at NASA. Surprisingly, they don't agree with Wayne though they won't call him a pinhead, which I think shows admirable restraint. Here is a link to the website.
As to green energy during the big winter storm of 2021? Our problems were mostly with fossil fuel plants. The woefully misnamed Energy Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT did a study of that winter and despite virtually every Texas Republican blaming on that damned green energy hoax, wind was a much smaller contributor to the disaster than natural gas. And in both cases, the biggest problem was that ERCOT and the energy companies it "regulates" did not prepare and winterize equipment. He says, by the way, wind was a failure during this summer's heatwave. It did underperform during one short stretch in July, but in June, renewables made the difference, especially solar. From Texas Monthly...
“We’ve got twice the solar we had last summer, and something like three times what we had eighteen months ago,” says energy consultant Doug Lewin. “We actually set another solar record today, and we set one yesterday. Renewables throughout most of May and June, as we’ve been experiencing extreme heat, really were the difference between [having] a whole lot of conservation calls and potential rolling outages and not having them.”
And, here is our situation in all its independent glory.
ERCOT is an absolute cluster-f*** of an organization managed by the Texas Public Utility Commission, all of whom were appointed by Governor Abbott. And, by the way, the grid that Wayne defended so vehemently, still isn't ready for a really harsh winter. That would cost too much money, and anyway, what are the odds of another one, right? Our grid is isolated from every other one in the country and can't tie into any of them, so we can't borrow power easily. It was set up that way in 1970 because, well, Texas, you know.
Meanwhile, in little old Maine, their Department of Environmental Protection says emissions reduction surpassed the state's goal of a 10% cut from 1990. They actually reduced it by 38%. I don't think folks in Maine are freezing in winter or breaking Amish the rest of the year.
Now, here's one thing our friend Wayne Christian is right about. It will take time. And he has it, for now. Wayne just finished a primary runoff election against lawyer Sarah Stogner, who went topless in a campaign ad. Yes, gloriously topless. And yet, to my personal surprise, he won anyway. Issues be damned, given her political assets, the woman had my vote.
He will no doubt win in November, and the litany of wrongheaded public comments will continue. Like his appearance at the North American Prospect Expo, or NAPE, to its friends. Christian talked about climate at the energy industry gasapallooza, and reached this well-researched conclusion...
"Rather than $78 trillion dollars in spending, shutting down the industries around the world, keeping third-world countries from having coal-generated electric power and all kinds of things—turn the damn air conditioner up. It’s that simple.”
But as I said, any power evolution will take awhile. Modern society is built on fossil fuels, and transitions take a long time. In this case, though, probably longer than necessary with state leaders whose collective eyes are fixed firmly and resolutely on the rearview mirror.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.