For two years, I have attended the Kentucky Governor’s Conference on Energy and Environment. In 2017, I was slightly encouraged by signs of understanding that renewables must be part of the energy portfolio to improve the environment and the economy.
This year’s conference, held Oct. 11-12, was very different — a dead end, from an environmental point of view.
The conference was held just days after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that time is running out to avoid catastrophic consequences from climate change and urged dramatic reductions in heat-trapping emissions over the next decade.
If greenhouse-gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2040, a level scientists say will bring the worst effects of climate change, including food shortages and wildfires. To prevent that, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.
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Yet, we heard no clear-cut targets about how Kentucky plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, Gov. Matt Bevin’s breathtaking vision was to make coal the core energy to provide cheap electricity and more jobs. “I don’t care what your perspective on energy is, if we move away from coal, the less competitive we are.”
Kentucky is leading, but in the wrong direction. Eighty-three percent of electricity in Kentucky is generated from coal versus 31 percent for the United States as a whole, where natural gas and renewables are attracting the biggest investments.
The closest the governor came to mentioning “emissions” was a statement that the U.S. was the only country that had met the Kyoto Protocol. However, the U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and dropped out in 2001. Countries signing the protocol agreed to cut emissions by 2008-2012 to 5 percent below 1990 levels. European Union and other countries reached the goal. Emissions in the U.S. increased by 2.7 percent from 1990 to 2012.
Also, emissions peaked in 2005 in the U.S. Therefore, comparing emissions to that year will show decreasing emissions. The natural gas boom prevented emissions from climbing too much.
Bevin said, “Germany is building coal plants because they can’t make renewables work.”
Germany had to reopen some coal plants after shutting down all eight of its nuclear power plants before the infrastructure existed to bring surplus wind power from the north to the industrialized south. Germany reduced emissions by 25 percent between 1990 and 2016. In the same period, U.S. emissions rose by 2.5 percent.
The governor’s views on renewables were “renewables are all about subsidies, and all the windmills in North America will end as metal rubble. Wind doesn’t deliver real power.”
Long-term investors have put $200 billion to $300 billion a year into the renewable energy market across the globe over the past eight years, and are receiving some of the best returns. Developing countries are all investing in much cheaper renewables, mostly solar, because of the lower infrastructure costs.
In 2017, China invested $126.6 billion in renewables, the U.S., $40.5 billion; India, $10.9 billion; Germany, $ 10.4 billion, to mention a few.
The European Union now gets 17 percent of its total power and more than 30 percent of its electricity from renewables. This compares to U.S. 17 percent of total power and 20 percent of U.S. electricity.
In 2016 for electric power generation, the U.S. employed 373,807 in solar, 101,738 in wind, 5,768 in geothermal, 26,014 in bioenergy, 56,259 in hydropower. That compares to 86,035 in coal and 52,125 in natural gas.
In 2016, U.S. subsidies were divided as follows: geothermal, $209 million; solar, $533 million; wind, $2.038 billion; hydroelectric $2.482 billion; biomass, $4.963 billion. Compare that to coal, $14.807 billion, crude oil, $18.797 billion; natural gas, $32,652 billion.
The governor’s intentions might be good as he stated, “United we stand, divided we fall,” but he certainly didn’t offer any uniting words for renewables. If you believe in renewables and want to lower emissions you might feel “divided we stand, united we fall.”
Kris O’Daniel of Springfield is a scientist who raises beef cattle and trains horses. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.