Renewable energy, cornucopian dreaming and ‘anti-capitalism’

Energy futures delusion

(The above image is from a feature on renewable energy in the ‘National Geographic’ magazine)

These notes cover a range of topics raised in a debate on Facebook (March 2020: https://www.facebook.com/sandy.irvine.18/posts/1344237949096381 ). It was triggered by an article by Bill Rees (https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2019/11/11/Climate-Change-Realist-Face-Facts/?fbclid=IwAR3ggTgf-Urra0SE9OhNIXTdPkua4R3QuQYBGPdrfaStWLuniv-NEMAEiZ8).

Part of the debate was the intrinsic limitations of renewable energy technologies (regardless of their desirability on other grounds) and the wider issue of what a sustainable society might be like. However, part of the exchanges extended to calls for the “abolition of capitalism” and the issue of ‘reform’ v ‘revolution’. One contributor to the exchanges called for a planned economy and international ‘state control’.

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As a starting point, we collectively need to keep reminding ourselves of the fundamental reality of limits to growth as well as the extent of current ‘overshoot’ and the corresponding need for substantial degrowth in many sectors, not just obvious ones such as arms production. Specifically, Bill Rees is quite right to argue that ‘renewable energy’ could not sustainably power anything like current society, with its high (and still growing) population levels and high (and still growing) expectations in terms of physical per capita consumption.

As Rees explains, renewables are limited by their low power density and intermittency, while energy storage will also be limited in its capacities. To be sure there have been and, as seems likely, will continue to be improvements in efficiencies etc but there is not energy cornucopia awaiting us. This is a case backed up by many studies eg https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/06/the-path-to-clean-energy-will-be-very-dirty-climate-change-renewables/. A particularly interesting paper is this one from Australia: http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue87/TrainerAlexander87.pdf. It also looks at lifestyle implications, something avoided by those who glibly demand “system change” but do not explore what in detail that would mean in terms of diet, clothing, shelter, and so much more.

We do not, of course, live by energy supply alone but need land and water for many other things as well. That finite space is also needed by a myriad of other species for habitat (the scale of that latter requirement in terms of biodiversity conservation is suggested here: https://www.half-earthproject.org ). There are, then, unavoidable trade-offs between competing uses for what is a finite amount of physical space. In any case, only some of that land, river and sea is suitable for renewable energy devices such as wind turbines, thereby intensifying that inherent geophysical limitation. Abstract aggregations of theoretically possible output tell us little about those trade-offs and opportunity costs.

There are also side-effects of some renewable energy technologies such as the terrible impact of neodymium production (for magnets) that are also ignored. To date, the impact of large HEP dams has arguably been more destructive than that of the radioactive white elephant of nuclear power. Both local human communities and critical wildlife habitat have been destroyed by HEP schemes, which, in warmer parts of the world, also generate significant volumes of greenhouse gases (eg https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/nov/06/hydropower-hydroelectricity-methane-clean-climate-change-study) Large-scale biomass energy is another ruinous energy source, requiring vast chemically saturated monoculture to produce significant yields. It literally takes food out of the mouth of people and instead ‘feeds’ vehicles.

We have to look beyond carbon emissions and consider not just all greenhouse gases but also the sheer depth and breadth of the various ecological crises we face, from soil erosion and aquifer depletion to coming peaks in certain specific resources such as phosphorus and some rare earths. There is little to be gained ‘solving’ the energy crisis by making those other crises worse. Indeed, abundant energy probably would speed up the rate at which forests are being felled, wetlands drained, farmland overtilled, roads filled with vehicles and so on. The ‘rebound effect’ might also cancel out some gains in energy efficiency (to which there are ceilings anyway).

On a more specific  point, it is very ungreen thinking to perceive deserts as just wasteland, there to be exploited (cf https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/deserts/; see also the work of Gary Nabhan in particular eg https://uapress.arizona.edu/book/gathering-the-desert ). There are several critical studies of the dream that, say, the Saharan desert could power Europe with gigantic solar collectors and a gigantic grid, eg http://www.greens.org/s-r/60/60-09.html . It might be noted that dependence on solar energy from lands potentially ruled by the likes of Colonel Gaddafi might be as unwise as that on oil from the Middle East. [On the politics of the Sahara region, see, for example: https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/crisis-watch-2020-sahel-24705 ]. In any case, desert solar power towers are not unproblematic eg https://eu.desertsun.com/story/tech/science/energy/2016/08/17/how-many-birds-killed-solar-farms/88868372/

Of course, many attack the notion of degrowth to a steady-state economy as some kind of ‘miserabilism’, probably needing a Mao-style dictatorship. Let us be clear, then, it is quite possible to combine the necessary degrowth with a stable, convivial, much fairer and democratic society. On many fronts, from personal health to a reconstruction of local community bonds, there is much to be gained. Indeed, there is much empirical evidence eg http://www.fodorandassociates.com/book/bnb_info.htm . Organisations such as Simplicity Institute (Australia) and Post Carbon Institute (USA)have also compiled a compelling evidence base. Renewables could supply enough energy for civilised living providing we keep human numbers in check. Indeed, Bill Rees point out that the USA of 50 years ago managed reasonably well on far less energy. I once spent a few days in Amish country. People there seemed healthy and happy but used far less energy than their neighbours. The key point is that ‘mass consumerism’ and renewables cannot go together. The community on Eigg gives an idea of what a renewable energy budget might power (https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170329-the-extraordinary-electricity-of-the-scottish-island-of-eigg) and, to be honest, it does depend on a fair bit of tourist income (ie on people who have travelled there courtesy of fossil fuels).

But, to explore the transitional steps to get from here to there, we need to drop empty revolutionary rhetoric. The notion that all our problems could be solved by the “abolition of capitalism’ is simplistic, to say the least. Many anti-capitalists do not even agree on what actually is ‘capitalism’ (just look at the tiny Trotskyist movement to sample how definitions vary even in such small circles) so it is far from clear what is to be abolished. In any case, there are huge between countries and, within them, between provinces and councils at a policy level. It underlines how crude it is to think that there is one ‘system’ that dictates that things will be one way and no other.

Furthermore, it is false to pose ‘market tools’ versus ‘state control’. There is a place for both. As the fast and large-scale reduction in plastic bag usage shows, the price mechanism can sometimes work very well. In 1921, the ‘market; saved many Russians from starvation.

But we need to judge things on a case by case basis. As the ‘neo-Trotskyist’ theorist Tony Cliff argued, the distinctive nature of agriculture, as opposed to manufacturing, means that “the private farm (will have) a new lease of life under the socialist regime.” There is a case for public ownership of inherent ‘unities’ but many other economic activities could be conducted by other organisations, ranging from (regulated) for-profit enterprises to ‘benefits corporations’, producer and consumer cooperatives, land trusts and community banks. Often, the size of the enterprise, not its ownership, will be the critical parameter. We need in-depth debate about the best combinations, not empty sloganeering.

Demands to abolish capitalism actually leave begging all the key questions. How big would the overall economy be? What size of population would be sustainable, locally as well as nationally and globally? What levels of per capita consumption are durable? What technologies would it use and what ones would it reject? We cannot put off such questions until ‘after the revolution’ (a rather unlikely event in any case). All the evidence suggests that the only sustainable option is to ‘think shrink’ and the bigger the current economy the deeper the shrinkage will have to be if we are to avoid collective ruination (https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/country-overshoot-days/)

Substituting planned production for social use for private production for profit makes no difference in itself in terms of sustainability. Ambulances made in a state enterprise have the same ecological costs as armoured cars made in a private firm, regardless of their different social value. Nuclear power plants will still need uranium mines and dump radioactive waste on future generations, regardless of social control and usage.

In any case, the historical record of centralised planning is not a good one, as dissident economists in the Soviet Bloc such as Oscar Lange came to recognise. Indeed, the worst environmental and humanitarian disasters of the 20th century happened in planned economies, ones comparatively insulated from the world market (see, for example: http://www.frankdikotter.com )

‘International state control’ could be a bureaucratic nightmare and likely to degenerate an inefficient, unbending and unresponsive (http://duaneelgin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/the_limits_to_complexity.pdf) What we actually need is radical decentralisation, ideally along bioregional lines, with each local economy and society adapted to the patterns, capacities and limits of their ‘ecoregion’ (see: https://sandyirvineblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/regionalism-devolution-and-subsidiarity/

The posing of a reform v revolution dichotomy is false anyway. We need a transitional programme, with a myriad of changes, some big, others seemingly small but still significant in terms of cumulative impact. Berne Sanders, for example, is no revolutionary but a reformist. That does not mean he has no good ideas and ones that are quite practicable in the here and now (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/110915/review-bernie-sanders-economic-policies.asp ). Clement Attlee specifically denied being a socialist but his government did some very good things in what were very discouraging circumstances.

What the ‘Hard Left’ routinely dismisses as ‘reformism’ has delivered major improvements in the lives of ordinary people. The NHS as well as , before it, national insurance and pensions legislation reduced a lot of poverty, insecurity and sickness. Public housing took a lot of people out of slums as did private reformist initiatives such as Quaker ‘model village’ projects (Bournville etc). Accumulated health and safety legislation might not go far enough but we are better off with it than without it. Children benefited enormously from reforms on child labour. Much as I loathe Tony Blair, his government’s ‘Sure Start’ programme did help a lot of youngsters and their parents.

There are also plenty of examples of beneficial environmental reforms. Controls over CFCs for example, saved many people from skin cancer and worse. Sanitation reforms delivered huge public health benefits. Town and country planning did protect some beautiful environments while access legislations opened new recreational opportunities for ordinary people. A lot of successive reforms can, of course, create a huge overall change in the nature and functioning of society eg https://steadystate.org/discover/policies/

Now let us consider ‘revolution’ (in the sense of a dramatic ‘big bang’ transformation). I’ve just tried to skip through Wikipedia’s very long list of revolutions. What struck me was how many of the ‘successful’ ones led to dire consequences, often the opposite of the original goals of their leaders. Indeed, revolutions regularly do ‘eat’ both their children and their parents. A dynamic of escalating violence has routinely been present. By far the most numerous victims of the French Revolution, for example, were poor people, many of them children (eg the ‘noyades”). Even less bloodthirsty revolutions could threaten ‘innocent’ groups eg the bad consequences of the then newly independent USA, post-revolution, for both native Americans and slaves).

Indeed, the speed of degeneration across many revolutionary regimes surprised me. Thus, after only a few weeks of being in power, the Bolshevik regime created a secret police organisation, the Cheka, to suppress striking workers, ie well before the ‘White’ counter-revolution. Even the remarkable Haitian revolution involved some terrible crimes, including the massacres of mulattos. There was indiscriminate violence on all sides. Revolutions do, then, seem to have a way of brutalising those that made them

At the very least, it might pay to be more circumspect in calls for the revolutionary overthrow of this, that and the other. We need ‘wins’ in the here and now otherwise there will be little left to save. But we also need a realistic vision of what a sustainable society might be like. To return to the original post, it won’t resemble the imaginings of assorted cornucopians, be they ‘Left’ and ‘Right’.

Open cast coal mining at Druridge Bay

Below is a copy of the submission made by the Green Party regarding the application by Banks for an opencase coal mine at Druridge Bay in NE England.

2017 May 31 raly at Druridge Bay Inquiry

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Submission to Highthorn Inquiry from the NE Region of the Green Party

Planning Inspectorate Reference APP/P2935/V/16/3158266

The NE Region of the Green Party of England and Wales wishes to make the following objections to the proposal for open cast coal mining at Highthorn. The application embodies a quite unsustainable and irresponsible approach, both in terms of local impacts in the Druridge Bay area and wider consequences. Northumberland County Council made, we believe, a quite unsound decision in approving the application. The evidence actually indicates that current government policies and guidance ought to be interpreted as grounds for refusal.

We will focus on the first two items on the inspector’s list, though we also wish to make clear our endorsement of the arguments put forward by local residents via the Save Druridge Bay Campaign about other detrimental impacts such as noise, dust, road traffic and damage to the tourist economy.

We will argue that the proposal is unsound, contradicting the evidence about the urgent need to curtail all forms of coal mining. There is also compelling evidence that biodiversity across the country is at serious risk. Proposals threatening areas of particular wildlife significance cannot constitute the ‘sustainable development’ sought by the National Planning Policy Framework. Furthermore, this particular plan is ineffective, failing to deliver a plan for the long-term common good of the area. It is also not in accord with key national policies and international agreements.

First, however, we would ask the inquiry to reject a spurious argument that there is coal mining in other regions and countries and that it is therefore appropriate to mine coal at Highthorn. Such an argument has no legal validity. Indeed it is one that would justify all sorts of crime if accepted. In moral theory, one ‘wrong’ has ever legitimised another ‘wrong’.

Our main objections are as follows:

  1. There is now overwhelming evidence of the threat from climate change and the critical part played in that danger by the burning of coal.[i]This ‘climate emergency’ is the biggest issue of our lifetimes. Its resolution tops all other priorities. The priority now must be to leave all remaining coal in the ground, especially in richer countries such as the UK. It might be noted that when Peabody Coal, then the world’s largest private coal operator, went to court to challenge those calling for the rapid phase out of the coal industry, it lost.[ii]
  2. We note that, on November 4, 2016, the ‘Paris Agreement’ on climate change[iii]came into force, with legally binding commitments to act on rising global temperatures. This agreement has to be regarded as a minimum since the evidence now suggests that climate change and related warming is happening at an accelerating rate[iv]. UK government policy is founded, of course, on the 2008 Climate Change Act and the likelihood is the UK climate action will follow the Paris agreement.[v]
  3. We would further stress that there is no case for claiming that coal can be made clean’ via technological innovation.[vi]It is of course highly relevant that the DECC has stated that“he government is absolutely committed to phasing out power production from unabated coal by 2025 and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise”.[vii]The NPPF calls for “radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The Highthorn application clearly contradicts government intent, including recent planning guidance.[viii]
  4. The costs of ‘renewables’ and batteries continue to fall each year, as is well documented. Indeed so rapid are the advances that the argument about the ‘need’ for more coal production is undermined by those very developments alone. We are living through an energy revolution and it would be quite unsound to ignore its impacts on the current energy supply and demand.
  5. The overall ‘architecture’ of the energy system is changing too, partly due to digital technologies. The latter favour flexibility rather than volume, as in previous systems of high volume coal production and centralised power generation. Investment in developments such as that proposed for Highthorn are not only damaging but also retrograde.[ix]
  6. Remaining coal is now best left in the ground for the sake of containing carbon emissions and resulting temperature rises[x]. The coal market is heading for crisis. In particular, a so-called ‘carbon bubble’, with ‘stranded assets’,[xi]is dangerously building, as climate change policies further bite into coal consumption. Power generation from coal in the UK is falling by record amounts[xii]and many other countries are seeking cutbacks, including China.[xiii]This point raises questions about the capacity of operators such as Banks to deliver commitments to restore the site once mined. There is sound evidence to suggest that companies dependent on income from coal could face real financial difficulties in the near future.[xiv]
  7. With regard to ‘question 2’, it is widely recognised that the Druridge Bay area is of special landscape and wildlife significance. However, recent evidence has spotlighted the parlous state of biodiversity in the UK.[xv]It demonstrates that core biodiversity areas must be protected from disturbance. The impact from open cast coal mining cannot but be serious. In the case of Highthorn, coal mining would seriously contradict stated government policy in the field of biodiversity and ecosystems.[xvi]
  8. Regulation of open case coal mining has a poor history. There is no reason to make the gratuitous assumption that ‘Highthorn’ will be better, whatever the applicants may claim.[xvii]We would support the argument of the RSPB that there is evidence of systematic regulatory and market failure.[xviii]Debate in parliament last year spotlighted just how high the costs of restoration on existing sites have become.[xix]
  9. The very notion of ‘reclamation’ flows, of course, from the degradation of land caused by open cast coal mining. That, in turn, begs questions about the extent to which land can be fully restored. Elsewhere, we provide evidence about the capacity of open cast operators to honour whatever commitments they undertake in the light of both developments in the current coal market and the developing ‘carbon bubble’. ‘Non-restoration’ is a real possibility.[xx]
  10. We would naturally endorse the Government’s ‘Natural Choice’ White Paper of 2011[xxi]when it stated “we will take a strategic approach to planning for nature… We will retain the protection and improvement of the natural environment as core objectives of the planning system. …We will improve the quality and increase the value of the natural environment across England. “
  11. In conclusion the NE Green Party calls for the rejection of the Bank application. Its costs outweigh any benefits, the latter being, at best very short-term (the lifetime of the site working) and, more likely, uncertain in the context of rapidly changing energy markets. The legacy would be severe ad unnecessary damage to an area much cherished across the region and beyond, with better options for truly sustainable development foregone.
  12. We propose instead, following the spirit of the above white paper, a network of nature reserves expanded across the whole of Druridge Bay and its immediate hinterland, creating a world-class example of biodiversity action planning.[xxii]It could be coupled to ‘wildlife tourism’ and other compatible recreational opportunities all of which can feed money into the local economy on a lasting basis. At the same time, we support the expansion of renewable energy and energy conservation programmes in the area. These two goals can be harmonised for the sustainable common good of all.[xxiii]


References

[i]For an overview of why coal must be rapidly phased out, see:
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/decrease-coal-use#.WBy12XecaWYand http://oneworld.org/2016/09/26/global-warming-flashpoint-could-be-reached-by-2050-warn-scientists/.
Some key data sets are laid out here: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/5datasets_rahmstorf.pdf
Recent evidence is summarised here:
https://newrepublic.com/article/136987/recalculating-climate-math. ‘
See also:
http://responsiblescientists.org(statement by 375 leading scientists, including 30 Nobel Prize winners); https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306531229_Limiting_global_warming_to_2_C_What_do_the_latest_mitigation_studies_tell_us_about_costs_technologies_and_other_impacts;
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n6/full/nclimate2572.html;
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/why-are-we-waiting;

The WMO has produced a new study of global temperatures:
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/carbon-dioxide-levels-atmosphere-spike

[ii]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/may/11/coal-made-its-best-case-against-climate-change-and-lost

[iii]http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.phpand http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents

[iv]http://capacity4dev.ec.europa.eu/unep/document/emissions-gap-report-2016-unep-synthesis-report; http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/news/20161017/

[v]https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-action-following-paris/

[vi]Fixes’ such as carbon capture and storage are still not proven technologies. Assuming they work and can avoid attendant risks (carbon leakage, etc), their deployment could not come soon enough to make any material difference and in any case they fail to solve other problems inherent in the ‘coal cycle’. See: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/02/carbon-capture-and-storage-time-to-bury-the-myth/and https://www.technologyreview.com/s/516166/what-carbon-capture-cant-do/. Indeed some ‘clean coal’ projects have been rather a disaster eg https://www.cato.org/blog/admitting-futuregens-failureThe evidence suggests that ‘clean coal; is an oxymoron (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a4947/4339171/and http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2015/jun/10-reasons-clean-coal-is-a-marketing-myth)

[vii]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/03/government-denies-watering-down-coal-power-phase-out/

[viii]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/developing-a-strategy-for-renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/

[ix]Currently, peak demand for electricity in Britain is some 60GW for a very short time on the coldest day. Baseload demand is around 30GW. The total generating capacity available is some 85GW. Energy efficiency has reduced electricity demand by 25TWh since 2010. A McKinsey report for the Government estimates that by 2030 demand could be reduced by a further 23% while reducing consumer bills. For a DECC response to the possibilities, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/246125/government_response_edr_consultation.pdf.

Solar electricity from solar power is now cheaper than Hinkley having fallen by half in the last five years. Solar panels now provide about 1GW, half of which was delivered in 18 months. In cloudy Britain, solar exceeded coal over the last 6 months. Globally, renewables overtook coalas the world’s largest source of power capacity (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/renewables-have-overtaken-coal-the-iea-says-its-a-turning-point/; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/25/renewables-made-up-half-of-net-electricity-capacity-added-last-year;http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/iea-ups-renewable-forecast-13–hails-impressive-progress-of-pv-manufacturers_100026637/#axzz4P98hgmHb).

The data indicates that policies based on inflexible system (eg coal mining and centralised generating plant) are likely to be unproductive investments, regardless of other considerations. Investment in an integrated mix of renewables, and in efficiency and conservation programmes is truly ‘sustainable development’ (on efficiency, see: http://www.iea.org/eemr16/and http://www.climateworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ExecSummary_How-Energy-Efficiency-Cuts-Costs-For-A-2-Degree-Future.pdf.
For an overview of the renewables revolution from the International Energy Agencysee: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/october/medium-term-renewable-energy-market-report-2016.html
See also: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings1.pdf. This report from President Obama’s advisors demolishes one common myth about renewables and obstacles to their deployment: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160616_cea_renewables_electricgrid.pdf

[x]http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14016.html

[xi]Several references can be found here: http://www.carbontracker.org/?s=carbon+bubble
See also:
http://blog.ucsusa.org/tag/king-coals-stages-of-grief#.WBy1qXecaWYand http://www.carbontracker.org/report/stranded-assets-danger-zone/.
The ‘bubble’ is visualised here:
https://thinkprogress.org/infographic-the-22-trillion-carbon-bubble-d15a0837295f#.jpqb9dw0c

[xii]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/02/uk-coal-powered-electricity-projected-to-fall-by-record-amount

[xiii]http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/china-coal-power-stations-plants-electricity-supply-green-energy-greenpeace-a7134596.html

[xiv]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/worlds-largest-coal-producer-files-for-bankruptcy-protection;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-21/the-coal-miner-on-everybody-s-list-as-next-bankruptcy-victim; http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/13104332.Scottish_Coal_liquidation_leads_to_dispute_over_clean_ups/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/18/vattenfall-exits-german-coal-unit-as-it-seeks-sustainable-energy

https://www.ft.com/content/072b6e80-8469-11e5-8e80-1574112844fd

[xv]https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/

[xvi]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/delivering-sustainable-development/11-conserving-and-enhancing-the-natural-environment/and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems

[xvii]https://www.east-ayrshire.gov.uk/Resources/PDF/C/Coal-Independent-Review-of-the-Regulation-of-Opencast-Coal-Operations-in-East-Ayrshire—Redacted-report-by-the-Independent-Review-Team.pdf

[xviii]https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/briefing_coal_tcm9-365075.PDF

[xix]http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150129/debtext/150129-0004.htm
It adds up to over £469m and that total is probably an underestimate. The cost of restoring the Potland Burn site, for example, was put at £ 3.86m, the East Pit site £112.5m, and the Parc Slip site £52.5m.

[xx]http://gov.wales/topics/planning/planningresearch/publishedresearch/failure-to-restore-opencast-coal-sites-in-south-wales/?lang=en. Here are some examples:  http://stopopencast.org.uk/index.html%3Fp=382.html;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-30504447Part of the problem is the gap likely to emerge between monies set aside by coal companies for promised work and actual full costs for proper restoration eg http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13108170.Coal_firm_gives_just___1m_for_clean_up_of_disused_mines/and http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13135416.Councils_left_with___200m_shortfall_in_funds_to_clean_up_opencast_mines/

Some more cases are documented here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/big-coal-keep-it-in-the-ground-energy-opencast-mines

[xxi]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228842/8082.pdf

[xxii]The NPPF calls for “a plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale” (NPPF, 117, bullet point 1

[xxiii]This report explores the resolution of possible conflicts between biodiversity and renewable energy projects of the kind the Green Party would advocate on land and offshore in Northumberland: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/energy_vision_summary_report_tcm9-419580.pdf

/publication/306531229_Limiting_global_warming_to_2_C_What_do_the_latest_mitigation_studies_tell_us_about_costs_technologies_and_other_impacts;
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n6/full/nclimate2572.html;
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/why-are-we-waiting;

The WMO has produced a new study of global temperatures:
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/carbon-dioxide-levels-atmosphere-spike

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/may/11/coal-made-its-best-case-against-climate-change-and-lost

[1]http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.phpand http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents

[1]http://capacity4dev.ec.europa.eu/unep/document/emissions-gap-report-2016-unep-synthesis-report; http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/news/20161017/

[1]https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-action-following-paris/

[1]Fixes’ such as carbon capture and storage are still not proven technologies. Assuming they work and can avoid attendant risks (carbon leakage, etc), their deployment could not come soon enough to make any material difference and in any case they fail to solve other problems inherent in the ‘coal cycle’. See: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/02/carbon-capture-and-storage-time-to-bury-the-myth/and https://www.technologyreview.com/s/516166/what-carbon-capture-cant-do/. Indeed some ‘clean coal’ projects have been rather a disaster eg https://www.cato.org/blog/admitting-futuregens-failureThe evidence suggests that ‘clean coal; is an oxymoron (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a4947/4339171/and http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2015/jun/10-reasons-clean-coal-is-a-marketing-myth)

[1]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/03/government-denies-watering-down-coal-power-phase-out/

[1]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/developing-a-strategy-for-renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/

[1]Currently, peak demand for electricity in Britain is some 60GW for a very short time on the coldest day. Baseload demand is around 30GW. The total generating capacity available is some 85GW. Energy efficiency has reduced electricity demand by 25TWh since 2010. A McKinsey report for the Government estimates that by 2030 demand could be reduced by a further 23% while reducing consumer bills. For a DECC response to the possibilities, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/246125/government_response_edr_consultation.pdf.

Solar electricity from solar power is now cheaper than Hinkley having fallen by half in the last five years. Solar panels now provide about 1GW, half of which was delivered in 18 months. In cloudy Britain, solar exceeded coal over the last 6 months. Globally, renewables overtook coalas the world’s largest source of power capacity (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/renewables-have-overtaken-coal-the-iea-says-its-a-turning-point/; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/25/renewables-made-up-half-of-net-electricity-capacity-added-last-year;http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/iea-ups-renewable-forecast-13–hails-impressive-progress-of-pv-manufacturers_100026637/#axzz4P98hgmHb).

The data indicates that policies based on inflexible system (eg coal mining and centralised generating plant) are likely to be unproductive investments, regardless of other considerations. Investment in an integrated mix of renewables, and in efficiency and conservation programmes is truly ‘sustainable development’ (on efficiency, see: http://www.iea.org/eemr16/and http://www.climateworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ExecSummary_How-Energy-Efficiency-Cuts-Costs-For-A-2-Degree-Future.pdf.
For an overview of the renewables revolution from the International Energy Agencysee: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/october/medium-term-renewable-energy-market-report-2016.html
See also: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings1.pdf. This report from President Obama’s advisors demolishes one common myth about renewables and obstacles to their deployment: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160616_cea_renewables_electricgrid.pdf

[1]http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14016.html

[1]Several references can be found here: http://www.carbontracker.org/?s=carbon+bubble
See also:
http://blog.ucsusa.org/tag/king-coals-stages-of-grief#.WBy1qXecaWYand http://www.carbontracker.org/report/stranded-assets-danger-zone/.
The ‘bubble’ is visualised here:
https://thinkprogress.org/infographic-the-22-trillion-carbon-bubble-d15a0837295f#.jpqb9dw0c

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/02/uk-coal-powered-electricity-projected-to-fall-by-record-amount

[1]http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/china-coal-power-stations-plants-electricity-supply-green-energy-greenpeace-a7134596.html

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/worlds-largest-coal-producer-files-for-bankruptcy-protection;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-21/the-coal-miner-on-everybody-s-list-as-next-bankruptcy-victim; http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/13104332.Scottish_Coal_liquidation_leads_to_dispute_over_clean_ups/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/18/vattenfall-exits-german-coal-unit-as-it-seeks-sustainable-energy

https://www.ft.com/content/072b6e80-8469-11e5-8e80-1574112844fd

[1]https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/

[1]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/delivering-sustainable-development/11-conserving-and-enhancing-the-natural-environment/and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems

[1]https://www.east-ayrshire.gov.uk/Resources/PDF/C/Coal-Independent-Review-of-the-Regulation-of-Opencast-Coal-Operations-in-East-Ayrshire—Redacted-report-by-the-Independent-Review-Team.pdf

[1]https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/briefing_coal_tcm9-365075.PDF

[1]http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150129/debtext/150129-0004.htm
It adds up to over £469m and that total is probably an underestimate. The cost of restoring the Potland Burn site, for example, was put at £ 3.86m, the East Pit site £112.5m, and the Parc Slip site £52.5m.

[1]http://gov.wales/topics/planning/planningresearch/publishedresearch/failure-to-restore-opencast-coal-sites-in-south-wales/?lang=en. Here are some examples:  http://stopopencast.org.uk/index.html%3Fp=382.html;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-30504447Part of the problem is the gap likely to emerge between monies set aside by coal companies for promised work and actual full costs for proper restoration eg http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13108170.Coal_firm_gives_just___1m_for_clean_up_of_disused_mines/and http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13135416.Councils_left_with___200m_shortfall_in_funds_to_clean_up_opencast_mines/

Some more cases are documented here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/big-coal-keep-it-in-the-ground-energy-opencast-mines

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228842/8082.pdf

[1]The NPPF calls for “a plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale” (NPPF, 117, bullet point 1

[1]This report explores the resolution of possible conflicts between biodiversity and renewable energy projects of the kind the Green Party would advocate on land and offshore in Northumberland: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/energy_vision_summary_report_tcm9-419580.pdf

‘Peak oil’ all too true

This is a useful reminder of the significance and realities of ‘peak oil’, a phenomenon many short-sighted people foolishly deny, including some who ought to know better:

The Peak Oil Dilemma David Blittersdorf May 12, 2016 We live in a finite world. Fossil fuels–oil, coal, and natural gas–are our number one energy source. Oil, being the biggest, drives almost everything we do. And we’re rapidly reaching the limits of how…
POSTCARBON.ORG

Subsidising the fossil fools

Continued extraction, transportation and burning of fossil fuels is a dead-end in so many ways. Yet public monies are poured into the subsidising of this utterly unsustainable energy sector while far better alternatives cry out for support.

I just read NEF’s post, “The looking-glass world of fossil fuel subsidies.” You should too.
NEWECONOMICS.ORG

Energy – nuclear con of small modular reactors

David Toke has published a good rebuttal of the argument being pushed that small modular nuclear reactors are the way forward. The nuclear lobby is trying to hijack the ‘small is beautiful’ perspective for unsustainable ends.
—–

Take a large number of scientists who have grown up with the firm belief that nuclear power is the future of energy, face them with the fact that nuclear power is proving to be undeliverable in anything like the scale, time and cost that has been originally envisaged in UK Government plans, and what do you get? Wishful thinking about ‘small modular reactors’ or ‘smrs’!

You can see this in the article in the Times by Lady Judge at :
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/…/when-it-comes-to-nuclears-futur…

She says that:
‘The plan to focus on building large reactors was originally conceived before Fukushima, while I was chairwoman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and when fossil fuel prices were expected to keep going up. Large nuclear plants, however, are expensive and take a long time to build. In the interim, one answer is small modular nuclear reactors. Being small is useful because they can be built in one place and transported to another, such as the site of one of the coal plants that we are in the process of shutting down, or even an industrial park. Modular, in this context, means that more plants can be added easily on an existing site. The flexibility and lower cost of small reactors is a way of getting greater private sector involvement, without the more complex financing arrangements needed for a larger plant’

The impression you get from this is that the idea of large nuclear reactors is some sort of fairly recent deviation, and that somehow there was some golden era when (presumably) smrs were abandoned through some mistake. The advantages of smrs are stated as if there is evidence for this.
There is no evidence at all for this, and indeed the notion that smrs would ever be cheaper than large reactors flies in the face of engineering logic.

Nuclear reactors in the UK (and in the rest of the world) have been steadily scaled up from around 200 MWe in size to begin with, up to around 500 MWe in the 1960s, and then up to over 1000 MWe in the 1980s and 1990s. Contrary to the impression given in Lady Judge’s article, this was not a recent decision or trend. And there are sound engineering reasons for this, including one very simple one: for complex machines with moving parts and the need to ensure (safe) functioning of each unit each unit needs much the same input for design as a much larger unit. This fact is effectively taken for granted with other type of power sets, even those whose safety characteristics are not so much the centre of anxiety.

By way of comparison, if you want to build a gas fired power station to generate, say, 500MWe of power, people don’t lash together dozens of small gas turbines – that would be financial madness. You have smaller gas turbines when the circumstances demand it, you do not do it out of choice because they generate much cheaper power at much bigger scales. To minimise costs developers will prefer to build one large unit unit, and they can take several years to build, although of course there is much more certainty about the costs and timescale of building gas fired power stations compared to nuclear power plant. Given that nuclear reactor sets will need much more safety care compared to gas fired power plant, there is no way in this universe that the principles applied to gas turbines are suddenly going to be reversed in the case of nuclear reactors – indeed the reverse is likely to be the case – ie there is even more pressure to upscale nuclear reactors compared to gas-fired power plant..

Sometimes we hear talk about the nuclear powered submarines built by Rolls Royce. But these generate no more than a few MWe of power and whilst we don’t know how much they cost exactly, the submarines cost billions of pounds each. Rolls Royce may well be keen to get down to earning money through doing research in smrs, but will they be able to contribute to a project that is cheaper than Hinkley C? I think not.

There is of course no comparison to be made with solar pv cells. They are very small, passive items, with no unit specific design costs. They can be assembled along massive production lines where you can get very big supply chain economies of scale – on the basis of just 250-300 watts each. You can, and solar pv companies do, produce hundreds of thousands of units a year. This is simply on a different dimension to nuclear reactors.

The moral of this story maybe that it doesn’t matter how clever people are, they can still have unlikely beliefs. The fact that so many scientists appear to subscribe to the nonsense about smrs says something about how being clever doesn’t protect you from believing in rubbish, not that smrs are somehow a cost-effective prospect. Never in the history of humankind, (so far as I am aware) have so many clever people subscribed to such an inherently ludicrous concept before!

Energy – Burma goes for coal

Following the ‘democratic revolution’ in Myanmar, here comes a policy that will help to doom future generations. Truly, social justice and poverty reduction without ecological sustainability can only lead to the equality of the grave:

http://www.climatechangenews.com/…/for-myanmar-temptation-…/.

It is another example of how many people just do not get it, failing to see how climate change changes everything. ‘Sharing a smaller pie’ is the only sustainable way to link improvement in the lot of poorer peoples with the long-term common good of all peoples and all species.

[The phrase ‘Sharing Smaller Pies’ was, I think, first publicly used by radical architect Tom Bender in this essay, over 40 years old but even more relevant than ever: http://www.tombender.org/societyworthlivingforar…/SSP140.pdf]

NEWS: Big expansion of coal power on track as Aung San Suu Kyi forms first civilian-led government in over 50 years
CLIMATECHANGENEWS.COM

Energy – baseload supply issues

There is a good letter in the Financial Times from American energy ‘guru’ Amory Lovins. He refutes the common claim that large thermal (“baseload”) power stations are vital to keep the lights on. ‘Their’ argument is that varying wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) require unaffordably vast electrical storage. But, Lovins writes, that’s the dearest way to manage their variability.

He goes on:

“Cheaper ways include: efficient use; flexible loads (demand response); forecasting wind and PV output more accurately than demand; diversifying variable renewables by type and location; using renewables operable at will (virtually all other kinds — half the world’s modern renewable power — including night-time solar power, two-fifths cheaper in Chile than Hinkley Point C); integrating CHP (Combined Heat and Power); and distributed storage worth buying anyhow (for example storing heat in buildings and water heaters, ice-storage air conditioning, and smart charging and discharging of electric vehicles). These seven resources make largely or wholly renewable grids highly reliable and raise variable renewables’ price (about $30-$50/MWh unsubsidised) by just a few per cent. Grid integration of central thermal stations is typically dearer.

Four EU countries with no or modest hydropower met about half their 2014 electricity needs with renewables — Portugal 64 per cent, Denmark 59 per cent, Scotland 50 per cent, Spain 46 per cent — without adding bulk storage or degrading reliability. Former East Germany’s ultra-reliable utility was 46 per cent wind- and PV-powered last year. Operators learnt to run these low-carbon grids as a conductor leads a symphony orchestra: no instrument plays all the time, yet the ensemble continuously produces beautiful music.”

He also quotes Steve Holliday, of National Grid, who says: “It’s simplistic to only look at storage. We will have the intelligence available in the system to ensure power is consumed when it’s there and not when it’s not there.”

See also:
https://theconversation.com/baseload-power-is-a-myth-even-i…;
http://www.energypost.eu/dispelling-nuclear-baseload-myth-…/

The future of civilisation and much biodiversity hangs to a large degree on whether we can replace fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – with clean, safe and affordable energy…
THECONVERSATION.COM|BY MARK DIESENDORF