Monday, July 25, 2016

How can a candidate say they are serious about climate while supporting fracking?

Clinton, and now Kaine along with her, listen to climate scientists and understand climate change is dire, or so they say. Kaine has said it on the Senate floor, Clinton has said it there and, as Secretary of State, made it a constant part of her agenda.
But how, how could two people SAY they understand climate is dire, but still support fracking? Yes, they say we need to regulate it heavily, but no amount of regulation can truly stop fugitive emissions, seismic activity and despoiled water.
That is a fair question.
The answer is complicated, and certainly open to interpretation.
Here is my answer.
Everyone, other than the Koch brothers, loves solar and wind. Great stuff. Even the obstructionist Republican Congress renewed subsidies for solar in December. It is a winner politically. With good reason. My own Congressman, Chris Gibson, has described it as “democratizing energy.” Add the near zero carbon emissions, and we are talking about a solution that has broad appeal.
Wind and solar are intermittent. The sun isn’t always shining everywhere and at all times that electricity is needed, nor is the wind always blowing. There are several potential solutions to this problem. (1) Use electricity only intermittently, (2) store the energy for later use, (3) move the energy from one place to another-transmission or (4) have another energy source that can be turned on and off to complement the solar and wind.
(1) Intermittent electricity usage is NOT an option, politically or economically. Anyone suggesting this will never get into power long enough to implement such a policy. Nor would any of us really want this if we stop to consider things like refrigeration and hospital needs. We can shift usage around throughout the day to better coordinate with production and it is easy to imagine an app for that. However, we certainly cannot shift all usage to coincide with production. (2) Storage is building. Tesla came out with its powerwall, electric vehicles may be able to be used for storage to then use later for our homes, water can be pumped upstream. Lots of different storage possibilities. None of which are yet fully developed and ready to complement hundreds of thousands of solar panels or wind turbines. We are getting there, but we are not there yet. (3) Transmission would be fantastic. Moving solar produced electricity from Arizona to Wisconsin would solve a lot of the challenges. However, our current grid is AC, which is inefficient and the electricity just would not get across country efficiently enough. A DC grid could be built, and that would work well. We don’t have that now.
(4) Another energy source that can be turned on and off easily is called dispatchable energy. The primary source of dispatchable energy we have available now is gas.
Because choices (1), (2) and (3) are currently limited, we have been relying on number (4). Gas. At the moment, and until we have fully ramped up (1), (2) and (3), we will rely on gas if we want to build renewables. Now let’s be clear. Gas sucks. Fugitive methane emissions, seismic activity and destruction of our fresh water sources is not a good thing.
What are our options? Well, we could (1) continue to complement renewables with gas until we have a grid and storage and shifting usage fully in place, (2) ditch renewables and build nuclear, or (3) continue to sort of do both.
If I were queen, I would build renewables with complementary storage/transmission/usage shifting as quickly as possible. I would end all gas, coal and oil for electricity production. But because we don’t have enough renewables or the necessary complementary storage/transmission/usage shifting in place to end all fossil fuels immediately, I would also build nuclear. Nuclear is baseload, which means it can go 24-7 without needed complementary gas or storage/transmission/usage shifting. It, too, has near zero carbon emissions.
But I am not queen. And most people on the left don’t like nuclear. And people on the right don’t like the cost of nuclear.
The next president isn’t going to be queen either. She will be president. Now, what has she proposed, given the realities we are facing, both physical and political?
She is proposing to build up (1) usage shifting, (2) storage and (3) transmission as much as possible. She is proposing building out solar and wind. But she knows that without building up nuclear, while ending coal, we are left with a real possibility that we can’t get the complementary grid, storage and usage shifting in place as quickly as we need. And the only way to ensure the lights and heat and refrigerators and hospital equipment stays on then…is gas.
I don’t like it. But when the political reality is that you cannot say the word “nuclear” aloud, and the voters do not appreciate the value of “national grid,” “innovative energy storage” and “smart grid,” you cannot ignore gas if you are going to build up solar and wind.
Thankfully, Hillary has not just accepted gas’ inevitability as a complement to renewables. Her policies push for heavily regulating fracking. That will drive up the cost of gas… and, perhaps, hopefully, make nuclear a little more likely to stay competitive, giving us more time to build up that grid, that storage and the usage shifting that will make solar and wind possible. Many climate activists are approaching Clinton-Kaine as “well, they aren’t Trump.” But the truth is that Hillary Clinton has been listening very very carefully to those with expertise. And she is crafting policies to move us as quickly as possible off of fossil fuels, while also recognizing that there are political limitations. Not the least of which is failure of even climate activists to fully appreciate the challenges of our transition. I am grateful that Hillary has plans for a national grid. I am grateful that she has plans for building out renewables. I am grateful that she has resisted calling for closure of nuclear plants. I am grateful that she is calling for heavy regulation of fracking. I am grateful she is navigating this in a way that will keep the lights on for us all, and most especially those who are most at risk of being left behind. And I am grateful she is listening to those who understand the complexities of energy policy and those who understand climate science. I wouldn’t do it the same as she is doing...but then, I am not as skilled as she is at navigating the world of politics and policy.

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