Surprise! Renewable Energy Mandates Are Actually Fossil Fuel Mandates

By John A. Charles, Jr. and Lydia White

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are objecting to PGE’s plan for new, natural gas-powered generation to help replace the electrical output that will be lost when PGE shuts down the Boardman coal plant in 2020. What these groups should admit is that they are the ones responsible for that decision.

Last March, the Oregon legislature adopted the Oregon “Renewable Portfolio Standard” (RPS), which requires PGE to procure 50% of its retail load from designated renewable energy sources by 2040. This requirement, enacted with few public hearings in the rush of the one-month session, was demanded by environmental groups as a way to burnish the state’s mythical green power credentials.

The RPS is essentially a mandate for more utility-scale wind and solar power. These are known as “intermittent resources” because wind farms don’t generate any power about 68% of the time, while solar goes dead about 71% of the time. Being forced to rely on randomly-failing generators means that utilities must have back-up sources (known as “spinning reserve”) in order to preserve grid reliability.

Electricity cannot be stored like other commodities. As soon as electricity is fed into the grid, it travels at the speed of light through many pathways until it is consumed almost instantaneously by a household, factory, or some other end-user. Supply and demand have to be matched at all times in order to avoid grid failure, or “blackout.”

Right now, wind and solar only account for about 5.69% of Oregon’s electricity supply. As lawmakers keep ratcheting up RPS mandates towards 50%, the need for spinning reserve will go up as well. The only practical fuel is natural gas.

These new gas-fueled plants will be running even when not used, in order to be ready when the windmill blades stop turning or the sun goes down. This will result in wasted fuel and increased air pollution.

If utilities must have spinning reserve, can we predict the need for it? This question was the subject of a paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The researchers found that a 1.0 percentage point increase in the share of fast-reacting fossil generation capacity in a country is associated, on average, with a 0.88 percentage point increase in the long-run share of renewable energy.

In other words: more wind and solar = more fossil fuel use. Oregon legislators rushed through the RPS law so quickly that they forgot about the law of unintended consequences.

PGE and PacifiCorp will both be turning to increased natural gas generation over the next 20 years because they don’t have a choice. Customers want their electricity 100% of the time, not 30% of the time. If environmental groups are offended by the use of more natural gas, they should admit that the 50% RPS requirement was a mistake and ask legislators to repeal it.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade. This article originally appeared in the Portland Business Journal on January 12, 2017.

Money

Will the PUC Make Oregon’s Solar Energy Incentives Equitable?

By Lydia White

In accordance with House Bill 2941, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is making recommendations to the Oregon State Legislature to ensure Oregon’s solar energy incentives are equitable, efficient, and effective.

One recommendation is to modify the compensation method for solar energy, net metering. Under net metering, solar owners consume energy their panels produce. When energy produced is insufficient, solar owners purchase additional energy from traditional sources. When excess energy is produced, solar owners sell energy. Solar owners are compensated at above-market rates and are exempt from paying their portion of incurred costs. Such costs include operation and maintenance of the grid and “spinning reserves,” the alternative power source utility companies run continuously in case solar produces less energy than projected. The state’s incentive structure shifts costs from solar owners to non-solar ratepayers. As the number of solar owners increases, ratepayers bear higher costs. The PUC is recommending these costs instead be shifted to taxpayers. While the PUC proposal’s efforts to alleviate inequity are commendable, their proposed recommendations still constrain Oregonians.

Although solar owners are double-dipping into the taxpayer pot—once when receiving heavily subsidized (and therefore low-cost) solar systems and again when receiving above-market compensation—the solar community is vehemently protesting. Despite the outcries, the PUC should pursue its recommendation to transition from net metering while also rejecting subsidies from ratepayers and taxpayers alike. By doing so, the PUC’s recommendations could relieve Oregon’s ratepayers from substantial burden.


Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Portland Schools Schedule Book-Burning Party

The Portland Public School board recently voted to prohibit textbooks or classroom materials questioning the mainstream thinking about climate change.

The decision has sparked an outpouring of commentary, with many writers supportive of the School Board.

However, the wording of the Board resolution should greatly concern parents of Portland public school students. Resolution No. 5272 is two pages long, but the most chilling part is the final sentence:

“[Portland Public Schools] will abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

The primary purpose of education is to teach students how to be critical thinkers. Now that the School Board has declared that expressions of doubt about complex scientific topics will be banned, what is the point of going to school?

Regardless of the subject we should encourage students to be skeptical. The more questioning, the better. They will be poorly prepared for adult living if they spend their childhood years being spoon-fed in schools where skepticism is prohibited.

Public education already faces a growing challenge from private schools, online learning, and home-based education. If Resolution 5272 is upheld, Portland Public Schools will give parents one more reason to leave.

Get Ready for High-Cost Electricity

In the recently concluded session of the Oregon legislature, the big environmental “win” was Senate Bill 1547, a bill that was hatched in secret by two large utilities and a group of environmental activists. The bill promises to rid the Oregon electricity grid of coal-fired power and to double the required levels of “renewable energy” from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2040.

When the legislature was debating SB 1547, members were calmly assured by proponents that the cost of these requirements would be minimal. They were reminded that the existing standard of 25 percent (by 2025) had always included an “off-ramp” if the cost of compliance reached 4 percent of utility revenue—and the costs had never come close to 4 percent.

Indeed, compliance costs for PGE in 2014 were only 0.24 percent of revenue (or $4.2 million in dollar terms). Obviously, ratepayers had nothing to worry about.

This storyline was especially soothing when it was repeated by Sen. Lee Beyer, former member and chair of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. In his grandfatherly way, he told his colleagues that everything was under control.

The problem with this narrative was that it’s highly misleading. What the advocates didn’t say was that the reason the cost of compliance so far has been low is that utilities only needed to get 10 percent of their power from designated renewable energy sources through 2014. However, from 2015 to 2019, the requirement jumps to 15 percent, and rises steadily after 2020.

No one actually knows how much it will cost to get 50 percent of the power from “green energy” sources by 2040, but it’s going to be expensive.

We get a hint of this in the PGE forecast for 2017-2021. For those five years, PGE predicts that compliance costs will total $335 million, or 3.46 percent of revenue. Those costs will have to be paid for by ratepayers, and they will get nothing in return.

Under SB 1547, the highest costs are back-loaded. Advocates know that when the program blows up a decade from now, it will be someone else’s problem. Many of the legislators who voted for it will be sitting poolside collecting their PERS checks.

Senate Bill 1547 is a fraud. Virtually every claim made by proponents is false. Instead of increasing our “energy security” by making the Oregon grid “coal-free,” it will dramatically increase the risk of power failure by force-feeding huge amounts of intermittent sources like wind and solar into the grid. In engineering terms, the electrical distribution system requires stability; SB 1547 mandates volatility.

System costs have to rise because consumers will be paying twice for the same power—once for the subsidized wind farms and again for the adult power sources used to back up the wind farms that sit idle most of the time.

The advocates also claim that SB 1547 will get coal out of the system by 2030; but Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant will be shut down in 2020 anyway. The notion that this bill will affect coal used in other states is laughable.

In his floor speech, Rep. Cliff Bentz summarized his criticism of SB 1547 by saying it was “long on symbolism, short on results, and really expensive for ratepayers.” Nonetheless, a majority of legislators voted for it, and the governor signed it.

Ratepayers deserved so much better. In 2017, repealing SB 1547 should be at the top of the legislative “to-do” list.

Mayor Hales’s Environmental Vision Lacks Grounding in Reality

Recently, Mayor Charlie Hales gave a speech welcoming out-of-town dignitaries visiting Portland as part of “World Environment Day.” Speaking before an obviously friendly audience, Mayor Hales made a number of claims that show a lack of critical thinking about environmental issues. Four in particular deserve comment.

First, the Mayor said that the city “must urge” the Oregon State Treasurer to divest of all state holdings in fossil fuel. This might be a harmless gesture if the Mayor did that with his own personal portfolio, but forcing public investment managers to sell off holdings for strictly political reasons would be a violation of their fiduciary trust to those whose funds they manage. Arbitrarily selling assets would increase transaction fees and could reduce total returns to beneficiaries by disposing of securities at discounted prices (relative to true market values).

Moreover, divesting fossil fuel assets would have no effect on any measurable environmental problem.

The Mayor also invoked the tired “Peak Oil” argument that companies managing fossil fuel assets must inevitably fail because oil, gas, and coal are finite resources. But that prediction has been wrong for over 100 years and will continue to be wrong for the foreseeable future. Indeed, at least one international energy statistical agency has predicted that the United States likely will be energy-independent by 2020 due to technological innovations in oil and gas exploration that are causing large increases in production.

Mayor Hales further warned that we must act before the “carbon bubble bursts.” While it is true that we currently have a carbon bubble, it’s not the one he is thinking of. It is a government-created buying binge in carbon offsets, renewable energy credits, and green tags. These products, which exist primarily to satisfy regulatory mandates, have no underlying assets backing them and represent one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history. When the fraud is finally exposed, holders of these worthless securities will be forced to write off billions of dollars in losses.

If the Mayor is really concerned about avoiding the subprime carbon market, he should publicly instruct his staff to quit buying renewable energy credits.

Second, Mayor Hales pledged to begin implementation of the resolution passed last year requiring 100% of city electricity from politically correct “renewable sources.” Unfortunately, the Mayor is more than a decade late to this party, and the beer is stale. Back in 2001, the City Council pledged the very same thing, to be implemented by 2010. When that deadline passed, the city had managed to reach only about seven percent of the goal.

Not only is this goal unachievable for the city, it’s not even desirable. Since large-scale hydroelectric projects and nuclear power plants are typically excluded by green power advocates as “renewable” energy sources, the only way to achieve 100% renewable energy purchasing in the short term would be through massive expenditures for utility-scale wind energy. But since wind is guaranteed to fail randomly, it must be backed up at all times by base-load sources such as hydro, natural gas, and coal. If hydro steps in when wind fails, there is no net environmental gain. It’s one renewable substituting for another. If coal and gas are used, there is a net environmental loss, since these sources must be kept running even when not needed.

The Mayor’s vision is akin to forcing a rental car company to buy a large percentage of cars that randomly stop working, and then maintaining a back-up fleet that is kept idling 24 hours a day to rescue the stranded cars on a moment’s notice. Nobody would propose such a policy for an auto fleet; and environmentally conscious politicians should not advocate it for the electricity grid, either. Wind power is an expensive nuisance to the grid and should be discouraged, not mandated.

Third, the Mayor pledged that within 10 years, the bike “will be the preferred mode of transportation for all trips under three miles in Portland.” While politicians love to make outrageous predictions―since no one can disprove them―there is nothing in the recent past that suggests bicycling will come anywhere close to meeting this forecast. Bicycling has achieved a healthy market share for commuter trips into the central city, but over a 24-hour period for the entire city, cycling is minimal. Even in the South Waterfront district, a massively subsidized high-density neighborhood with a vibrant cycling population, 79% of all daily passenger-trips to and from the district are made in motorized vehicles.

Finally, Mayor Hales pledged that over the next 20 years, the Council will identify new revenues that will allow the city to turn every street in Portland into a “Complete Street” with pervious surfaces, street trees, and sidewalks. Given that the condition of Portland streets has been declining for years and been the subject of several scathing reports by the Portland City Auditor, I’d suggest a much more humble goal for the Mayor. He should stop the pork-barreling of massive amounts of tax dollars on streetcars, light rail, and “traffic calming” projects (the primary cause of our current road system embarrassment) and begin allocating most transportation dollars to fixing and maintaining what we have.

One of the great success stories of the last century has been the steady improvement in environmental quality due to market-driven technological change. The best way Portland politicians can help continue this trend is to focus on the fundamentals of making the city a great place for entrepreneurs.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Oops! Renewable Energy Costs Oregon Billions

In 2007, Oregon legislators decided they would force Oregonians to purchase renewable energy whether or not they wanted it or could afford it. Legislators proclaimed this would help the Oregon economy and make our energy system more affordable and reliable. They were wrong.

 

Last year, one in 30 Oregonians had their electricity cut off due to inability to pay, and enrollment in the low-income energy assistance program has increased significantly. On January 1, 2011, electricity rates increased significantly for Oregon households: Pacific Power rates increased by 14.5% and PGE rates by 4.2%. PGE also added a “Renewable Resource Adjustment” to ratepayers’ bills in January 2010. Currently, this rate is set at 0.22 cents per kWh, or approximately $2.13 extra per month, for an average household. Rate increases such as these will be the norm over the next fifteen years as utilities work to comply with restrictive energy policies on the state and the federal levels.

 

But legislators proclaimed that the 2007 renewable energy mandate would help “accelerate the transition to a more reliable and more affordable energy system.” What went wrong?

 

Unfortunately, renewable energy costs more than traditional energy sources and is often less reliable. Although generating energy from wind turbines and solar panels is essentially free, the costs of construction, maintenance and integrating inconsistent energy into the grid are prohibitively expensive. Thus, adding more renewable energy will increase costs and cause substantial economic hardships for Oregonians and Oregon businesses.

 

A Cascade Policy Institute report, The Economic Impact of Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, exposes the cost of renewable mandates on the Oregon economy. Over the period of 2015-2025, the average Oregonian household will pay an additional $1,706 in higher electricity costs. The average commercial business will spend an extra $9,641 and the average industrial business an extra $80,115. Over the same period, the mandate will cost Oregonians an additional $6.811 billion over conventional power, within a range of $4.009 billion and $9.310 billion.

 

Higher costs will lead to loss of jobs as well. By 2025 the Oregon economy will lose an average of 17,530 jobs, within a range of 10,025 jobs under the low-cost scenario and 24,630 jobs under the high-cost scenario.

 

Legislators may be able to justify higher electricity costs if environmental benefits, in terms of reduced emissions, outweigh the costs. However, it is unclear that the use of renewable energy resources, especially wind and solar, actually reduces emissions. Due to their intermittency, wind and solar require significant backup power sources that are cycled up and down to accommodate the variability in the production of wind and solar power. As a result, a recent study found that wind power actually increases pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Also, businesses and industries with high electricity usage likely will move their production, and emissions, out of Oregon to locations with lower electricity prices. Therefore, increasing renewable energy in the state will not reduce global emissions, but rather send jobs and capital investment outside the state.

 

In the end, renewable energy can and should expand according to voluntary purchases that reflect true demand. Government should not be mandating that citizens purchase a product they may not value or cannot afford.

 

It is time to face the truth. Legislators thought that by forcing Oregonians to purchase renewable energy they could make electricity more affordable and reliable. They were wrong. As a first step, legislators should repeal the renewable energy mandate and other restrictive energy policies before electricity costs spiral out of control. In addition, future energy policies need to be subject to a rigorous analysis of economic costs and environmental benefits.

Should We Be Worried, Very Worried?

By Gordon J. Fulks, Ph.D.

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From near record-high to near record-low temperatures last November in the Pacific Northwest, from relatively warm ocean conditions and “dead zones” to relatively cold ocean conditions and fabulous salmon runs off our Pacific Coast, from an unusually cold winter to an unusually hot summer in Russia, from near record-low Arctic sea ice to near record-high Antarctic sea ice, our climate displays wide variability. But an army of psychologists, journalists and even scientists make sure that the warm swings they deem alarming get the greatest attention. These propagandists know that the selling of Global Warming is all about perception, not reality.

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Cascade Report: Think Twice Why Wind Power Mandates Are Wrong for the Northwest

Todd Wynn

Cascade Report: Think Twice Why Wind Power Mandates Are Wrong for the Northwest

by Todd Wynn and Eric Lowe

New report by Todd Wynn and Eric Lowe highlights the problem with the legislature picking winners and losers in the energy market.

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Watch an Interview with Todd Wynn about the perils of forcing wind energy on the grid.

Click through for full report

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Worried About Climate Change? Promote Free Markets!

Todd Wynn
Cascade Commentary

Worried About Climate Change? Promote Free Markets!

by Todd Wynn

Every day more and more Americans are growing skeptical of the climate change doomsday claims and plans to ration energy through cap-and-trade type proposals. Despite this, many environmentalists still claim that far-reaching government intervention is needed to achieve greater energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the threat of global warming. Although there has been no statistically significant global warming since at least 1995, the same groups often claim economic growth and lack of comprehensive environmental regulations have created a society that wastes energy and pays no regard to greenhouse gas emissions. But what if less energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions are a byproduct of limited government and economic freedom? What if environmentalists’ goals can be reached by freer markets and prosperity? Recent Cascade Policy Institute research shows that very phenomenon.

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