July 2013

Post image for Department of Energy Claims Climate Change Threatens Energy Sector

The Department of Energy last week released a report on U. S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather. John Broder in the New York Times summarizes its findings:

“The blackouts and other energy disruptions of Hurricane Sandy were just a foretaste, the report says. Every corner of the country’s energy infrastructure — oil wells, hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants — will be stressed in coming years by more intense storms, rising seas, higher temperatures and more frequent droughts.”

Broder goes on to quote Jonathan Pershing, deputy assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology, who was in charge of producing the report: “We don’t have a robust energy system, and the costs are significant.  The cost today is measured in the billions.  Over the coming decades, it will be in the trillions.  You can’t just put your head in the sand anymore.”

Neither the Department of Energy’s report nor any of the news stories I’ve read consider the major reason why the energy sector is becoming less robust and resilient.  It’s largely because of all the regulations and mandates that require the energy sector to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in technologies that provide very little energy, which means that there is little capital available to invest in improving and enlarging the energy infrastructure.

In particular, the margin that provides electric reliability in times of stress to the system has been declining because electric utilities have been building lots of windmills and solar panels that provide small amounts of unreliable and expensive electricity while preparing to close conventional coal-fired power plants that produce large amounts of reliable and inexpensive electricity in order to comply with EPA regulations. It’s not climate change, but climate change policies that are harming the energy sector.

People who are unfamiliar with science — like President Obama — have erroneously blamed hurricanes on greenhouse gas emissions, even though they do not trigger more hurricanes.

Ironically, hurricanes may actually diminish due to greenhouse gases and aerosols, as the Washington Post and Daily Caller note. As the Washington Post points out, research suggests that “by the end of the 21st century, greenhouse gases will reduce tropical storm frequency.”  Right now, other emissions — aerosols — are already reducing the frequency of tropical storms such as hurricanes, notes the the Daily Caller:

Stricter pollution controls may lead to an increase in tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, according to an article published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The article, written by scientists from the Met Office Hadley Center in the United Kingdom, suggested that environmental protection laws will lead to more hurricanes for at least 20 years, reports the New Scientist.

Nick Dunstone of the Hadley Center explained that man-made aerosols lead to longer low-level clouds over the ocean. The clouds keep the water temperature cooler and therefore less likely to birth hurricanes.

Dunstone specifically said that pollution controls that reduce aerosols will produce ”record numbers of tropical storms for the next decade or two.”

There also appears to be a direct correlation between the economy and hurricanes. During economic boom times, there is more pollution in the atmosphere due to industrialization, leading to lower numbers of hurricanes. Recession periods mean less aerosols and therefore more hurricanes.

This pattern has been seen with fewer hurricanes in the 1960s to the mid-1990s, versus higher numbers during 1930s through 1950s. The number drastically increased however in 1995 when aerosol bans went into effect. There were 28 hurricanes reported in 2008 and 19 every year since then.

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