September 22, 2021

Running Out of Green for Energy

Europe’s wind woes are a lesson for the United States about where to put our energy priorities.

It may be time to pray that Europe has a mild winter.

Perhaps the Europeans are victims of circumstance as much as anything else, but those living across the pond may be in line to freeze to death (or starve themselves trying to keep the heat on) because there’s a growing shortage of natural gas and the wind’s not blowing. Then again, starvation may be on the table anyway for millions of Britons whose natural gas crisis is now leading to a shortage of fertilizer that also affects the supply of carbon dioxide. Their bad luck has continued as a major electricity interconnect with French suppliers is offline until next March due to a recent fire. Ironically, Great Britain has reasonable supplies of oil in the adjacent parts of the North Sea but is trying to wean itself off fossil fuels.

The same shortages are occurring in other parts of Europe as well. The continent has been hit by a perfect storm of weather that’s too calm to make wind power reliable, local mandates to close coal and/or nuclear plants over the next few years, and a shortage of natural gas that’s been caused by Russian pressure on Germany to finalize approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. All these factors have contributed to the present energy crisis, but it’s made worse (and pricier) by a regulatory scheme called the European Trading System, where carbon allowances are bought and sold. The price of European Union Allowances, or EUAs, has surged nearly 50% this year after the chilly winter of 2020-21 and slow economic thaw from the pandemic.

Bear in mind, of course, that Europe is blessed with several more traditional sources of energy, such as the aforementioned North Sea oil and natural gas, deposits of coal, and (in some locations like France) abundant nuclear power — all of which the climate-enlightened nations are turning their back on to harness an unreliable caprice. (Solar power is also present in Europe, but provides less than 1/10 of the continent’s overall electricity, a far smaller share than wind.) Even hydroelectric power is suffering thanks to a dry spell in some regions.

That shortsightedness isn’t lost on some experts. As environmentalist and author Michael Shellenberger tweeted: “When I was in the in UK 2 years ago the country’s leading experts assured me that Britain didn’t need another 2 GW nuclear plant because wind energy was cheap and, in a pinch, they could just import power from France. Now, the wind’s barely blowing & the interconnect has failed.” Oops. But the EUA speculators, which include hedge funds, are living fat and happy.

Fortunately, Shellenberger also points out that there’s pressure in some quarters to maintain and even expand nuclear power, which environmentalists hate despite the fact that it doesn’t contribute to the carbon load.

Because it’s Europe that’s under the gun, all this bad news may not resonate in our day-to-day life here in America quite yet. But it’s worth pointing out that our federal and state policy isn’t unlike Europe’s; we’ve just had the buffer of huge natural gas supplies and a pre-virus booming economy to cushion the blow. Many of our readers (including this writer) live in states that have renewable energy portfolio mandates and a similar cap-and-trade scheme to Europe’s, meaning utility companies are forced to invest in unreliable energy sources and participate in a wealth transfer scheme with states as the beneficiary.

With Joe Biden’s bullheaded resumption of the Paris Agreement, one might think we’re trying to place ourselves in the same boat as Europe — and one would be right. But as The Wall Street Journal cautions: “Europe is showing the folly of trying to purge CO2 from the economy. No matter how heavily subsidized, renewables can’t replace fossil fuels in a modern economy. Households and businesses get stuck with higher energy bills even as CO2 emissions increase. Europe’s problems are a warning to the U.S., if only Democrats would heed it.”

We’re not counting on them doing so, but help may only be an election away.

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