There is a well-understood difference between a liar and a bullshit artist. Liars lie and you can confront them with a lie. Bullshit artists just talk with no regard for the truth one way or the other. You can hardly confront them because they are simply not attached to the concept of truth. They will just keep talking about what they want to talk about and pay no attention to the bullshit. Lying is actually relatively rare. Bullshit artistry is epidemic. Environmentalism here in the United States appears to have become a continual string of bullshit.

Yesterday, Pacific Gas and Electric announced plans to close California’s last remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. Reading the announcement of this plan that came with the blessing and quotes from environmental organisations here, you could be forgiven for thinking this was good for clean energy.

whale diablo

As James Hansen is want to say, this is pure, unadulterated bullshit. There is no intellectual, numerical or evidentiary framework in which closing clean energy is good for clean energy. The amount of clean energy to be lost is slightly bigger (and far more reliable) than the ENTIRE wind and solar sector in the ENTIRE nation of Australia. If you want to build some renewables and strong-arm some energy efficiency from the utility, do it… while keeping the existing clean energy generators open. Not for the first time, I am ashamed and angry that organizations like this had so many years of donations from me, beginning when I was literally still a child.

They are bullshit artists. They just keep opening and shutting their mouths, with a ceaseless flow of bullshit, never stopping to be pinned down. They are self-serving organizations that no longer care about the environment in any real way. Their first priority is funding, their second priority is whatever will protect their funding. On Friday I persisted in asking David Jukubiak of Environmental Law and Policy Centre whether his organisation accepts money from corporates, including fossil fuel organsations, that benefit from the nuclear closure they advocate. Lest anyone fear I was hassling a low-level staffer David Jukubiak is their media relations manager.

He blocked me, but not only that. He deleted every single Tweet he had made on that topic to me, Michael Shellenberger, Cesar Peafiel and others and excised any mention of ELPC from his profile. When we chase them with their bullshit, they just run faster.

I will be protesting this decision this Friday in San Francisco at the start of the March for Environmental Hope. If you can make it please join me. Follow the previous link and sign up to help however you can. Now is the time to fight.

If you still have doubts about the shoddy nature of this deal, just read the fine print.

How do we know the anti-Diablo Canyon Proposal would increase emissions? We read the fine print.

by Michael Shellenberger

Diablo Canyon will be mostly replaced by natural gas and emissions will increase if theJoint Proposal by PG&E, IBEW 1245, and anti-nuclear groups is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and upheld by the courts.

Further, the percentage of electricity PG&E derives from low-carbon energy sources will decline from 58 to 55 percent.

The Proposal claims it will replace the 17,660 gigawatt-hours of low-carbon electricity produced by Diablo Canyon with an equal amount of low-carbon electricity, but the details of the Proposal make clear that will not happen. The Proposal’s specifics mandate:

1) 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of reduced energy consumption through energy efficiency by 2025;

2) Another 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of “GHG free energy resources or energy efficiency” to come on line by 2025;

3) There is no 3.

That’s it: 4,000 gigawatt-hours per year of (mostly) energy efficiency and (maybe) renewable power to replace 17,660 gigawatt-hours from Diablo Canyon.

Where will the remaining 13,660 gigawatt-hours come from? The Proposal doesn’t say, but the only source it can come from is natural gas.

And with all of that natural gas will come 5.4 million tons of extra carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Read More: Why Diablo Canyon Will Live — and the Corrupt Proposal to Kill It Will Fail

What about energy storage? The Proposal itself admits, “energy storage, by itself, is not a source of energy,” which may be why it doesn’t bother setting storage targets.

What about the 55 percent (of PG&E sales) Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2031 (to last through 2045)?

That sounds good, but it starts 6 years after Diablo Canyon would close, and it’s actually a stepdown from PG&E’s current GHG free share of generation, which was 58 percent last year.

So all the efficiency and renewables the Proposal mandates—or vaguely promises—would leave PG&E’s energy mix slightly dirtier in 2045 than it was in 2015—no progress at all for 30 years because of Diablo’s closure.

And while it might constitute a nominal replacement (almost) of Diablo Canyon, it would likely come by buying Renewable Energy Certificates from out-of-state renewable plants, leaving California’s in-state generation markedly dirtier. Under that RPS mechanism, California has met its nominal renewables targets even as the GHG free share of in-state electricity generation has fallen by 20 percent over the last decade.

The reason the Proposal doesn’t call for replacing Diablo with renewable energy is simple: California’s grid can’t handle it. The state is already struggling to integrate intermittent renewable power, and is having to curtail mid-day surges of solar to avoid destabilizing the grid.

The Proposal acknowledges that Diablo must be closed to make room for curtailed solar. (Of course, replacing clean nuclear power with clean solar power does nothing for the climate, although its great for the solar industry.)

But it also states that closure will “impact the efficient and reliable balancing of load,” which means blackout risk.  That’s why the Proposal is careful not to mandate any more destabilizing solar or wind—and leaves the door wide open for reliable gas generation.

Which leaves load reduction through energy efficiency as the main (though woefully inadequate) green component of both the Proposal and PG&E’s forecasts. But while energy efficiency is great, load reduction is plumb stupid as climate policy.

Grid electricity is the easiest part of the energy supply to decarbonize, so we should be using more electricity—for transport, heating and other purposes—not less; PG&E’s generation should grow mightily to accommodate all the Tesla’s and Volts Californian’s could be driving on electricity from Diablo Canyon. The Proposal’s prescription for grid austerity marks a disastrous wrong turn for California energy policy.

All of this fits a growing pattern. Despite green groups’ claims that nuclear power can be easily replaced by wind, solar and energy efficiency, recently closed plants from Vermont Yankee to California’s San Onofre have been replaced overwhelmingly with fossil-fueled power. With Diablo Canyon, at least they are admitting ahead of time that renewables can’t do the job.

 

19 comments

  1. I can hear the frustration in your writing and I feel it with you but I don’t understand why it has taken you this long to see the green movement for what it is. They are liars of the first order.

    1. No, “they” are not in the universal sense. There remains so much good work in the environmental sphere which is very broad. The leadership of these organizations, having embraced anti-nuclear as proxy for environmentalism, have embraced bullshit with both arms.

  2. See the time series graph of US Henry Hub gas prices
    https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/rngwhhdm.htm
    Notice that the 2006 price is about 5X higher than the 2016 price. In contrast the spot gas price here is nudging $A10/GJ per today’s AEMO homepage.

    The US may be unique at least among democratic countries in expecting gas prices to remain low. Operators of nuclear plants that close prematurely should be barred from rate price increases for 10 years. Either by regulation or a promise to the public.

    The other tool would be a carbon price either overt or implicit. At say $20 per tCO2 then combined cycle gas emitting 0.45t per Mwh would be hit an extra $9. Too bad if that carbon price happens one day and the nuclear plants are already closed. Then the knives will be out for those who allowed it to happen.

  3. When the climate arithmetic is so crystal clear, the deal on closing Diablo Canyon is nothing less than a litmus test.

    It clearly separates those who prioritise a reduction in emissions from those whose primary goal is No Nukes. For the latter, it is rarely clear whether technologies like wind and solar are sincerely supported, or rather merely useful tools to point at and distract with. As for efficiency, I think I have enough personal experience in that industry to confirm Ben’s diagnosis of Bullshit.

  4. What’s the difference between:

    An industrial board of directors listening to their shareholders over environmental scientists

    AND

    The board of directors of Greenpeace, NDRC, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute et al. listening to their donors over environmental scientists?

    Zip. Nada. Zilch. They have assimilated. Big green is big business.

    1. Anti-nuclear (ostensibly climate action) campaigners: “Well, we’re galvanising the thinking of every climate denier who sees our hypocrisy in continuing to reject the largest, most proven climate-friendly technology there is, but more importantly, we’re closing nuclear plants down.”

  5. Fortunately, it is a bit more complicated than PG&E just announcing an agreement to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP)…

    Following, is a portion of the text in an email request, which was sent today to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Staff. It is just one example of how we can all use the regulatory process and environmental review, allegedly supported by all environmental groups, to expose “lies” and bullshit!”

    “As you know, any “change in intensity of land use” is defined as “development” in the Coastal Act, and closure of DCPP will have a huge impact on the San Luis Obispo area economy and State energy production/transmission system, which should be discussed with your Board of Supervisors ASAP.

    Having over 4 decades of experience in Community Development, including drafting and securing Coastal Commission approval of the Humboldt County Coastal Zoning Regulations, I would love to discuss how your County could get out ahead of this enormous Long Range Planning effort: (which will be required to prepare the background studies, Program EIR, Local Coastal Plan Amendments and Coastal Development permit for PG&E’s proposed new “development”).

    I currently support several Ecomodernist organizations, working towards clean air and water, sustainable communities and prosperity. Their goal is to lift billions out of poverty, and stop the deaths of tens of millions each year, from air pollution and energy poverty.

    Closing DCPP moves California, (as the 8th largest economy in the world, ranked 20th for global CO2 emissions), in the opposite direction!

    We have to do better, and San Luis Obispo County has now been put in the challenging position of planning for a change, which will impact San Luis Obispo County and our entire state, in hugely negative ways, for decades…”

    Framing comments around what the law requires, and how comments help or hinder timely compliance with emission mandates, is our best response to “lies” and “bullshit.”

  6. Michael Shellenberger said:
    “Which leaves load reduction through energy efficiency as the main (though woefully inadequate) green component of both the Proposal and PG&E’s forecasts. But while energy efficiency is great, load reduction is plumb stupid as climate policy…”

    Here’s a brief summary of the contribution made by two U.S. Dept. of Energy laboratories to the U.S. Deep Decarbonization Project: http://www.edleaver.com/Archives/2015/11/usddp/usddp.php — see Table 7.

    The report modeled a 2050 scenario wherein U.S. population increases by 30% and total per-capita energy use decreases by 42% — chosen as the maximum they thought Americans could tolerate — for a total national energy reduction of 20%. Total ghg emissions would be off 80% from 1990 values, and personal ghg emissions down 89%.

    Five energy production scenarios were considered: BAU Reference, Mixed, HIgh Renewables, High-but-not-very Nuclear, and High CCS. Net emissions reduction were to be the same in each case, as would be the national GDP increase of 2.4 fold. To achieve these figures, even with a total 20% net energy reduction, the study calls for a near-even doubling over present (2012) electricity generation, whose emissions intensity would need drop from our current 511 kg CO2e/MWh down to 16 kg CO2e/MWh for the “High Renewable” scenario, and not quite so much — to only 23 kg CO2e/MWh — for Not Very High Nuclear.

    The seemingly contradictory NVHN electricity emissions intensity isn’t, really. The net national emissions intensity target is what counts, and is the same under all considered scenarios. But the Not Very High Nuclear scenario turns out to be about 3% more energy efficient overall, and the surplus gets used for a bit of fracked gas in electric generation. The considerably lower cost for NVHN’s reduced energy storage is partially offset by high npp capital cost, but only partially: the Not Very High Nuclear scenario still comes in least costly overall.

  7. In Tasmania’s recent energy crisis they thought a 10% usage cut was all the business sector would tolerate so they brought in $250/Mwh diesels to plug the gap. I think it was John Morgan who said 100% renewables was like religion so I see huge involuntary energy cuts as like the way medieval monks wore hair shirts. The public is slow to get this.

    1. Well, if there is evidence — credible evidence — it wouldn’t be bullshit, now would it?

      The problem with dry cask storage safety evidence is there is sooooooo much of it. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission ran a detailed Environmental Impact Statement on a 40,000 tonne storage site proposed for Skull Valley, Utah. That application has since been withdrawn, but its EIS is the basis for the NRC’s current Generic EIS issued September 2014 as part of its Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel rule. This thing has been subjected to extensive litigation in US courts, and is fairly well vetted.

      James Conca provides an Executive Summary: Confidence — What Does It Mean For Nuclear Waste?

      The NRC report is Generic Environmental
      Impact Statement for Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel

      In brief, dry casks are incredibly tough. As part of the transportation safety evaluation, they were subject to high-speed impact by a typical freight rail locomotive – United States freight locomotive. The casks handily survived, little worse for wear. The freight engine, not so well.

      The NRC also found little or no danger of casks leaking the first 60 years, so extended their study for an additional 100. Still good, but these things are statistical and a Dry Transfer System (DTS) is specified as part of the repository. The DTS enables safe re-casking of used fuel should its original container leak. The DTS provision allows a Dry Cask Storage Site to operate indefinitely, or until some better use is found for its the lightly used fuel, whichever comes first.

      As an aside, the United States has accumulated about 80,000 tonnes used fuel over the past fifty+ years commercial reactor operation, increasing by about 2,200 tonnes per year. Nuclear provides about 20% of our electric power, coal about 34%. Coal generates The American Coal Ash Association estimates 115 million tonnes of waste resulting from coal-burning factories and generators each year.

      115 million 20
      ————- * —- = 30,750 times more coal waste on a mass basis.
      2,200 34

      The relative per-mass toxicity of coal ash vs used nuclear fuel is largely irrelevant: used nuclear fuel is safely contained, while coal ash is not.

      None of which should be news to Prof Diesendorf.

  8. Thought I’d compare a metric for different solar thermal plants already built or proposed. The metric is capital cost divided by average electrical power output. I get
    California Topaz $2.4 bn/ 125 MW = $19/w rounded
    Pt Augusta molten salt $205 m/ 0.19 MW = $1056/w
    Pt Augusta graphite block $1.2 bn/ 170 MW = $7/w.
    The Sundrop Farm setup will combine desalination and greenhouse heating with 1700 Mwh a year of electricity so considerable allowance should be made for the heating benefit. There’s also supposed to be 175 jobs for tomato pickers so that changes perceptions. Expensive hardware combined with cheap labour… I think it would be better the other way round.

    John Hewson’s graphite block proposal implies level output 24/7/365 which may not be correct. Twin AP 1000s built in Australia might achieve $8 – $9 capex per average watt according to what Westinghouse told the RC. On other forums deep greens are ecstatic about the tomatoes. Surely we’re saved.

  9. I’ve just noticed some odd similarities between Pt Augusta solar thermal and the once fashionable solar updraft tower proposals
    1) go for height first to announce your arrival
    2) promise multiple outputs besides electricity
    The Sundrop Farms tower is now 127 metres tall while the rest is waiting to be built
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/solar-tower-goes-up-in-australian-desert-ready-to-power-sundrop-farms-99173
    The 195m tall solar updraft tower in Manzanares Spain was also very impressive before falling into disrepair
    http://www.solar-tower.org.uk/
    Solar updraft towers were going to do not only combined heat and power but also chemicals and synfuels if I recall the Mildura proposal. Sundrop Farms is supposed to do electricity, winter heating of greenhouses and seawater desalination.

    I suspect years will go by until the bugs are sorted out with Sundrop. That will probably dry up funding for John Hewson’s graphite block solar thermal north of Pt Augusta. Hopefully after Sundrop is officially opened someone will work out what those tomatoes really cost.

  10. How plausible is it that the output from an SA wind farm is dedicated to the ACT?
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/wind-project-gets-warm-welcome-in-south-australia-as-power-heads-to-act/news-story/e6000b0d13a924eea17b98d48fff46bc
    The wind farm is near Jamestown also known for the floating solar panels at the sewerage plant and I think about 1400 km by road from the ACT.

    The control room will be in Canberra. Presumably it will not be possible to control other dedicated power sources so if there is a local surplus then the distant wind turbines should be curtailed. Not only is that unlikely I think the ACT should overcompensate for line losses plus rest-of-system emissions. The Wheatley study suggests low penetration windpower is less than 80% effective at emissions displacement. Therefore ACT should command an extra 25% more wind power perhaps donating the extra Mwh to a charity. Or set up wind turbines next to Parliament House not half a continent away.

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