Looking out my window here in Vermont, I can see the storm clouds are gathering, and they are not pretty. There are two storms that I see, but they are are not weather. I hope they will not hit here too badly. I expect one will hit Washington D.C. pretty hard. And with it, I expect the Republican Party will be hurting.
The first is economic, and it relates to the energy industries. It is already well underway.
The CleanTechnica article, “Solar Leads The Way As Renewables Grow Faster Than Expected,” explains what is happening. Renewable power is being installed faster than everything else, and solar power is going in fastest. Wind power is being installed faster than the net gains of coal or gas. Worldwide, renewable energy is triumphant.
This trend is not something that just happened. The coal industry has been in steep decline since 2008. But one thing that has escaped may people watching the markets is that electric generation from natural gas is experiencing a bit of a recession in the United States. We can see this one in the Energy Information Administration’s Electric Power Monthly, on the page, “Net Generation by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors), 2007–July 2017.” While it shows a little bit of an unsteady growth of coal-burning generation over the last year, about 4%, what many people have missed is that generating from natural gas has fallen every month in the last year from what it was the year before. Overall, it is down about 13% so far this year.
Meanwhile, wind power, solar power, and batteries are still gaining momentum, worldwide. The overall effect has been described by analysis released by the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. The Executive Summary of the report, “Global Electricity Utilities in Transition,” begins with a simple statement that resonates like a death knell for the unwary utility company. It says, “Renewable energy is disrupting electricity markets worldwide.”
There have been numerous articles in the past few days whose authors seem stunned by the fall in the costs of solar power, wind power, and batteries. There are a few who saw this coming.
Wright’s Law implies that in an expanding market, the effects of efficiencies are proportionate to the market penetration. This means that as markets grow, the costs of things decline. Declining costs produce greater demand, and the market grows more. It appears to be an exponential system, a feedback loop, though this is not quite the case. Growth cannot go on forever.
The point is that, as wind and solar power and batteries grow in importance, their costs decline predictably along a trajectory that appears, for the present, to be exponential. And this is predictable along well understood economic lines.
So, storm number one has already begun to produce havoc among those organizations that have been unprepared to move to renewable power.
Storm number two is coming as surely as the dawn, and my guess is that it will be a memorable event. My hunch is that it will look, though in a much less bloody way, like the Reign of Terror. No, I am not predicting public executions. But at the same time, I am predicting the fall of certain enterprises and political policies that support them.
If we step back for a minute, we can see that the conservative movement in the United States, and particularly the Republican Party, can be divided into three groups of people.
The first of these is the traditional Republicans who espouse patriotism, family values, and apple pie. They include people like James Baker, Hank Paulson, and George Schultz. They are moved by the views of the Armed Forces, and they believe in climate change.
A second group is made up of people who believe in the “Free Market.” They are people who are famous for their position that the government should not be “picking winners and losers.” And this is where the intersection of energy, climate change, and conservative politics becomes interesting.
Historically, the Free Market thinkers have been very suspicious of the whole notion of climate change, just has they have been suspicious of anyone who would do such socialist things as push for public education or public utilities. They have believed that the notion of climate change is much more improbable than the goal of a socialist takeover of the world. In fact, they think it is so much more improbable that they could resonate to the idea that climate change was a Chinese hoax. Without giving much thought to probabilities, they take the idea that nearly all climate and weather scientists are climate change believers as an indication that just about all scientists are either intimidated or paid off.
Now, they have to reconcile their ideas to two things they can actually see happening in the present. One is that Rick Perry, appointed by a person who they thought supported the Free Market, is trying to use public money to subsidize coal and nuclear power. So much for the idea that the government should not be picking winners and losers. (See the CleanTechnica article, “Rick Perry’s Energy Department Plans To Prop Up Coal Plants With Direct Subsidies.”)
This is not the first time the current administration has betrayed the expectations of Free Market believers. It follows quickly on the heels of a $3.7 billion loan guarantee to save the efforts to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia, the only two under construction in the United States.
What is even more remarkable is that now, as renewable power gets into a position of strength relative to fossil fuels and nuclear, the renewable industry is starting to appeal to members of Congress who believe in the Free Market. The American Wind Energy Association has taken a market-oriented position on the support the Department of Energy is getting more inclined to give fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Those politicians who claim to be conservative Republicans and support the Free Market should now logically see the need for renewable energy, now that it is a market winner. What they need courage to do is to see that a number of the people who have contributed to their political campaigns have betrayed them ideologically.
If they are the real, patriotic American politicians they claim to be, they will see that the same people who betrayed them in trying to subsidize coal have pulled the wool over their eyes on climate and the weather. So perhaps it is time for people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz either to get real about climate change or admit that they are not the supporters of the Free Market they claimed to be.
And that brings us to the third group. I believe this group includes Donald Trump, Rick Perry, and a number of others. They are the people who say they are patriotic, want a Free Market, and wish to subsidize coal anyhow. I am not sure how to categorize them. Perhaps they are opportunistic liars. Perhaps they are toadies of the fossil fuels industries. Perhaps they are just fools. In any event, I think it is pretty clear that they should be removed from office.
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