McKibben: There’s no time to wait on climate change

Author Bill McKibben. Photo by Jennifer Esperanza, courtesy of

Author Bill McKibben. Photo by Jennifer Esperanza, courtesy of

In hastily arranged testimony, Vermont-based climate-change activist Bill McKibben spoke at the Statehouse with the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday morning. McKibben, founder and chief spokesperson for the organization, told the committee that today’s climate is deteriorating faster than scientists had imagined possible when he first wrote on the issue 23 years ago, and that waiting to act only makes the problem exponentially worse.

That was apparently the message that committee chair Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier) was looking for. Klein opened the committee meeting by saying that he sought McKibben’s help. “I’m very concerned that we have created legislation and policy over the last 10 to 15 years that is meant to move us to a cleaner environment with less greenhouse emissions, and now that the policy is moving towards reality, we hear the cries, ‘I didn’t know it was going to be like that.’ A green community that has walked together, hopefully to a better world, now is fracturing, because I think we are losing sight of the big target. I asked you here to help us regroup and reground ourselves.”

Speaking without notes, and using few numbers, McKibben gave the committee a lucid, 20-minute overview of what’s known about global warming, how that is translating into both droughts and deluges today, what is needed to prevent runaway climate change, and why the need for action is more urgent than for other important issues like health care reform. He rooted some of the testimony in Vermont’s experiences with Tropical Storm Irene, as well as his town of Ripton’s catastrophic floods in 2008.

From the beginning to the end of his testimony, McKibben voiced his frustration with the lack of action out of Washington D.C., capital of the country that historically has contributed one third of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere. Because of national-level inaction in the U.S., it’s up to states like Vermont to lead in converting to renewable energy.

McKibben referred at the beginning of his testimony to his 1989 book “The End of Nature,” the first book-length popular treatment of climate change. We’ve known the basic science of what he now calls climate deterioration for decades — but that the consequences have exceeded climate scientists’ expectations. “The story of the last 20 years, and really of the last three or four years, is that it’s pinching much harder and faster than even the most dire predictions would have had it. Everything frozen on earth is melting, so Arctic Sea ice is reduced 40 percent from what it was when NASA was taking those first pictures.  The chemistry of sea water is changing very rapidly.

“Most remarkable, and certainly for Vermont most dangerous, are changes in hydrology. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. What that means is that with this one-degree increase in temperature [that has occurred so far], the atmosphere is about 4 percent wetter than it was 40 years ago. That is a staggeringly large change in a basic physical parameter, one that we assume has held basically steady for ten thousand years. What it does is load the dice for two things: drought and flood. We get more evaporation in arid areas. The flip side of this is that once that water vapor has evaporated into the atmosphere, it’s going to come down. This means that we load the dice again for deluge and downpour and flood, and we have seen it all over the world.”

McKibben, who commented afterwards that he works in 191 countries, reeled off lists of droughts, fires, and floods in recent years: the current drought in Mexico; the 2010 drought and fires in Russia that caused the world’s third-largest grain exporter to cancel exports; the Texas and Oklahoma droughts and firestorms in 2010; the Khyber Pass rainstorm that dumped 12 feet of rain in a week and flooded a quarter of Pakistan; 2011 floods in Queensland, along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, in Lake Champlain, and from Tropical Storm Irene.

The litany included human consequences of these natural disasters: Russia’s 2010 crop failures and subsequent crop failures around the world have jacked up corn and wheat prices by 60 percent and added a couple hundred million people to rolls of the malnourished and severely hungry; half a billion trees died in the Texas drought; and 20 million people were flooded out of their homes in Pakistan. A few weeks after Vermont’s Irene experience, flooding washed out so many roads and bridges in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua that the president of Honduras said the event wiped out 20 years of development progress.

Knowing the Legislature was looking for action to take, McKibben told them what to do: “Make as rapid a transition as possible off of fossil fuel and on to something else. There is no Plan B. Or the occasional Plan Bs that people try to describe are so crazy that we don’t even want to think about them. Filling the atmosphere with sulfur in an effort to block out incoming solar radiation and compensate for the greenhouse effect. These kinds of mad scientist chemistry experiments are not anything we want to undertake.”

Specifically, McKibben recommended taxing fossil fuels heavily and then distributing the revenues equally to everyone in the population. He said afterwards that such an approach would make 80 percent of people better off. Owners of Learjets would pay more, but that’s a good thing, he said. However, McKibben acknowledged that people in small states with heavy taxes on fossil fuels would purchase more in neighboring states, so this “tax and dividend” approach is more practicable on a national scale.

As legislators elsewhere in the Statehouse grappled with the next steps in creating a single-payer health care system, McKibben contrasted the urgency of a transition to renewable energy with the urgency of health care reform. “It’s almost unique among issues in that waiting is not really one of the options. It’s not like a problem like health insurance, where if you wait a decade, a lot of people have suffered in the meantime, but it hasn’t become exponentially harder to deal with than it was when you began. There’s a certain point past which if you don’t deal with climate change, then there’s no use in even trying, because you will have put enough carbon in the atmosphere and raised the temperature high enough that these changes begin to feed on themselves.”

McKibben dismissed the state’s size as an argument for not taking the lead in the transition to renewables. “Vermont obviously by itself cannot make this happen. By the same token, that argument is true of every single jurisdiction considering this stuff as well. If everyone takes that excuse, then nothing will happen. If some places are wise enough to take a leadership position, not only will they be setting themselves up more wisely for the century now dawning, they’ll also at least be running the possibility of providing the example to others.”

Vermont’s diminutive size is an advantage. “Thank heavens that at least in Vermont the discussion can go on with some kind of level playing field, where the fossil fuel industry doesn’t so dominate every discussion that it doesn’t get off the ground. If there’s any justification for small states and citizen government, this is one of those moments when we really need them to rise to the fore.”

Legislators asked a few questions, mostly about policy options, but mostly they listened quietly to McKibben’s sobering testimony. When Klein thanked McKibben for sharing what he joked was “everything I didn’t want to hear,” McKibben laughed and termed himself a “professional bummer outer.”

The committee is in the final stages of preparing a renewable portfolio standard, which would significantly ramp up the state’s amount of renewably generated electricity over the next decade and half.


Carl Etnier

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  • Brad Arnold

    McKibben is wrong, because he clearly doesn’t know about this emerging clean energy technology that everyone will switch to quick to save lots of money ( “electricity will be too cheap to meter” per Forbes):

    There is a new clean energy technology that is one tenth the cost of coal. LENR using nickel. Incredibly: Ni+H(heated under pressure)=Cu+lots of heat.

    This phenomenon (LENR) has been confirmed in hundreds of published scientific papers:

    “Over 2 decades with over 100 experiments worldwide indicate LENR is real, much greater than chemical…” –Dennis M. Bushnell, Chief Scientist, NASA Langley Research Center

    “Energy density many orders of magnitude over chemical.” Michael A. Nelson, NASA

    “Total replacement of fossil fuels for everything but synthetic organic chemistry.” –Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny, NASA

    According to Forbes, electricity will be “too cheap to meter” if Rossi’s Oct 28 demonstration succeeds:

    Here’s the latest, according to MSNBC it passed the test:

    By the way, here is a survey of all the companies that are bringing LENR to commercialization:

  • Stephen Saltonstall

    Obviously climate change is a huge environmental issue, but Prof. McKibben and his followers don’t seem to want to discuss the underlying problem: too many people on the planet. Climate change can’t be solved unless the population problem is dealt with. Malthus was right!

  • Guy Page

    I admit that I am baffled at the seeming inconsistency of those who believe climate change is an immiment global threat AND want to close Vermont Yankee and replace it, practically speaking, with fossil fuel-powered energy. Whatever one’s concerns about VY, it has no smokestacks nor CO2 emissions, and the real-life replacement does. I understand and appreciate the CO2 benefits of renewables and efficiency but find intermittent power of ANY kind counterproductive if it forces the grid operators to rely more heavily on gas and coal-fired plants. I understand that the goal of Mr. McKibben and his supporters is emission free power supply, but the road taken by our Legislature is not that road. Vermont will be in fact buying far more fossil fuel electricity – about 100 MW – after the VY contract expires in March. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the antipathy of some of our state’s leaders towards VY is sending us backwards on fossil fuel emissions including GHG, and nothing good can come of it.

    If there is a fact-based rebuttal to my assertion, I’d love to hear it. The best response I’ve heard so far is “we have no other GHG-free baseload options, so until something better comes along, it’s back to fossil fuels. Sorry.” In other words – “global warming is serious but it’s not really THAT serious, compared to our concerns about Vermont Yankee.”

    To which I respond, “if you really believe GHG are a serious threat, and that without VY fossil fuels are the only way to keep the lights on, you need to find a way to act locally and keep Vermont’s largest GHG-free power producer online.”

  • Geoprge Plumb

    And the Ehrlich’s were correct also. The population bomb is just going off more slowly than predicted. We must stabilize and then gradually reduce our population size if we are going to really solve not just global warming but all of the other environmental issues as well such as the Six Great Extinction. Adding three million people to the U.S. population each year makes this nearly impossible.

    However, of more direct concern is the need for all of us to accept our moral responsibility to future generations and all life on Earth. Government action, while important, is only part of the answer. The larger part of solving the problem is the result of our inedivideual decisions. How much we drive and fly, how we heat our homes, have we done everything we can do reduce electrical consumption such as hanging out our laundry, have we individually installed solar on our homes and businesses? We should think very consciously about every gallon of fuel we use because each gallon adds about 20 pounds of carbon diioxide. That should become a cultural norm. We are the ones who produce green house gas emissions and we need to take responsibiloity. The government can’t do it for us.

    Our leaders need to talk more about individual moral responsibility and walk the talk themselves.

  • Chuck Kletecka

    If the situation is so dire, and I believe it is, then we need ALL options on the table, including nuclear. There’s no way we can ramp up large renewable sources quick enough in the that scale we need. Using existing nuclear sources such as Yankee in the interim is responsible and necessary.

    Let’s be honest, the waste already produced will be housed there for decades to come. There’s no federal repository for the foreseeable future. And if there is, the operating plants would be the first priority. The additional waste from another 10-20 years of operation wouldn’t significantly change that fact.

    The heart of the problem on the national scale is nobody wants to make very difficult choices. Unfortunately, Vermont can’t do much about that given national politics. However, we can do what we can and that includes flexibility of thought and willingness to compromise some of our sacred cows for the greater good.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    Saying “Make as rapid a transition as possible off of fossil fuel and on to something else.” makes that sound easy. It’s like the old joke “How do you fit four elephants into a Volkswagon? Two in the front seat and two in the back.” Try to build a wind farm or nuclear plant and see how many protests you get. Solar panels would have to cover much of the American landscape to generate enough power to meet US energy needs. Solar panels also contain lead, arsenic and cadmium so that’s out.

  • Stan Shapiro

    Placing wind turbines on Vermont’s mountains will do nothing to address global warming.To claim that any renewable project is justified regardless of the environmental consequences is akin to saying that the Battle of Gallipoli helped the allies win World War I.If I may make a small change in a quote from T.S.Eliot;The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the “wrong” deed for the “right “reason.

  • It is always good to provide a reality check. Germany will serve as an example.
    Germany will be redirecting its economy towards renewable energy, because of the political decision to phase out its nuclear plants, triggered by the Fukushima event in Japan which increased public opposition to nuclear energy. Germany has 23 nuclear reactors (21.4 GW), 8 are permanently shut down (8.2 GW) and 15 (13.2 GW) will be phased out by 2022. 
    Siemens estimates the capital and subsidy costs at 1.7 trillion euros ($2.26 trillion) by 2030, or about $125 billion per year.
    If the US were to follow Germany’s course, the cost would be about ($14.5 trillion, US GDP)/($3.5 trillion, German GDP) x $2.26 trillion  = $9.36 trillion, $520 billion per year. It is 100% sure, the US will NOT follow on that course anytime soon, if ever, and almost all other nations will not either.
    This article describes wind and solar energy do not reduce CO2 anywhere near what is claimed by promotors. 
    This article describes the infrasound and low frequency noise of large wind turbines having adverse health impacts on people living within about 1 mile from the turbines.
    The surest way to reduce CO2 is by means of energy efficiency.
    It would be much wiser, and more economical, to shift subsidies away from expensive renewables, that produce just a little of expensive, variable, intermittent energy, towards increased EE. Those renewables would not be needed, if we use those funds for increased EE.
    EE is the low-hanging fruit, has not scratched the surface, is by far the best approach, because it provides the quickest and biggest “bang for the buck”, AND it is invisible, AND it does not make noise, AND it does not destroy pristine ridge lines/upset mountain water runoffs, AND it would reduce CO2, NOx, SOx and particulates more effectively than renewables, AND it would not require any distribution network buildouts, AND it would slow electric rate increases, AND it would slow fuel cost increases, AND it would slow depletion of fuel resources, AND it would create 3 times the jobs and reduce 3-5 times the Btus and CO2 per invested dollar than renewables, AND all the technologies are fully developed, AND it would end the subsidizing of renewables tax-shelters at the expense of rate payers, AND it would be more democratic/equitable, AND it would do all this without public resistance and controversy.

  • Klein: “A green community that has walked together, hopefully to a better world, now is fracturing, because I think we are losing sight of the big target. I asked you here to help us regroup and reground ourselves.”
    The reason for the fracture is because people were not told the truth. And those who did tell the truth were ignored/pushed aside by Vermont’s renewables oligarchy and their supporters in state government.
    As a result laws were passed during the past 10-15 years that APPEARED to do something, but in fact required significant capital to reduce a small quantity of CO2.
    Example: Under the Vermont SPEED program it will take about $230 million of scarce funds to build 50 MW of expensive renewables that produce just a little of variable, intermittent and expensive power that will make Vermont less efficient at exactly the time it needs to become more efficient.  
    The VT-DPS evaluated the program in 2009 and issued a white paper which stated about 35% of the $228.4 million would be supplied by Vermont sources, the rest, mostly equipment by non-Vermont sources, such as wind turbines from Denmark and Spain, PV panels from China, inverters from Germany
    There would be spike of job creation during the 1-3 year construction stage (good for vendors) which would flatten to a permanent net gain of 13 full-time jobs (jobs are lost in other sectors) during the operation and maintenance stage.
    That report accurately predicted the SPEED program was a folly, but it was shunted aside and now Reps. Cheney and Klein want to have their SPEED program expanded to make a bad situation worse.
    No wonder there is a fracture, but common sense eventually wins.
    Then there is the legislature authorizing the VT-PSB to basically set aside at least a decade of environmental rule making, and instead rule in favor of environmentally-destructive, health-damaging, 459-ft high wind turbines with 373-ft diameter rotors (a football field is 300 ft long.), on 2,500 ft high ridge lines to produce heavily-subsidized, expensive energy.
    First there was the appearance of Jochen Flasbarth from Germany during foliage season, just after the Irene flood, and now McKibben is being trotted out to warn us about the end of the world, because Klein’s committee is in the final stages of preparing a renewable portfolio standard, RPS, which would significantly ramp up the state’s amount of renewably generated electricity over the next decade and half. Implement the Blittersdorf Plane on 200 miles of ridge lines? Who will pay for this folly, now that federal subsidies will be decreasing.

  • Ryan Gillard

    Guy and Chuck and others who pose nuclear as our saving grace energy source, I have some questions: Is nuclear a clean, carbon-free source of energy when considering its whole life cycle? Where does the Uranium used at VY come from? What does the extraction process of uranium do to the land and who lives on that land? What carbon emission are embedded in the extraction process? Where will the radioactive waste be stored? Who lives on that land? What would happen to the land and people globally if there were one accident at VY causing a meltdown?

    Our perception of cleanliness, cost, reliability, and safety of an energy source, especially nuclear must stretch over space and time in order to be accurate. Let’s pour our money into first conservation and second efficiency and then have a discussion about where do get our power.

  • John Greenberg

    Guy Page avers that he’s “baffled at the seeming inconsistency of those who believe climate change is an imminent global threat AND want to close Vermont Yankee….” He goes on to say: “If there is a fact-based rebuttal to my assertion, I’d love to hear it.”

    Ok, Guy, here goes (not for the first time):

    1) It’s incredibly hard to say how much global warming impact continued operations of VY have, but it is clearly NOT zero. Much of the impact, of course, took place when the plant was built, so presumably Guy will argue that’s water over the dam. Much more will take place when the plant is decommissioned, but that too will need to happen whether the plant continues to operate or not. Let’s ignore both.

    So the impacts we’ll consider are these: to continue to operate, VY has to consume nuclear fuel, which must be mined, milled, enriched, fabricated into fuel and transported multiple times. All of this creates significant quantities of CO2. Similarly, the waste products (spent fuel and the much more voluminous “low-level” waste) will need to go somewhere, whether they’re stored temporarily in concrete or steel casks, or ultimately disposed of in a final repository. This too implies that carbon will be produced in the transportation, containerization, and (assuming geological disposal) in digging the repository.

    In addition, VY produces VAST quantities of waste heat, and the problem we’re concerned with is actually not just the production of CO2, it’s global WARMING. Producing enough heat to raise the temperature of a river the size of the CT is not something we can simply ignore.

    So, on the one hand, even ignoring its “sunk” CO2 costs, as it were, VY is NOT neutral when it comes to global warming.

    2) Guy’s assumption seems to be that all of the VY power now being purchased should be replaced. As a matter of public policy, I suggest that’s simply wrong: we should be using less, a LOT less, power and study after study shows we can do so. (Indeed, the studies indicate that Vermont and the US can cut consumption by roughly 20%, which is not very far from ALL of the power coming from VY into the state).

    Energy efficiency – using power less wastefully – is the cheapest available energy option, yet we continue to belittle it in these discussions. From a global warming perspective, the amount of greenhouse gases or actual warming it produces is sufficiently negligible to be considered as null. And its other environmental impacts are exceedingly minimal. Thus, ignoring efficiency makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, this should be the FIRST alternative considered, not the last.

    Moreover, we should also at least begin a dialogue about conservation: just using less. Turn off the lights when you don’t really need them. Unplug the power supply from the electronic devices when they’re not in use, rather than drawing reserve power. Consume less: most of the world does and most Americans, especially New England Yankees did, until relatively recently. From a climate change perspective, this is the only truly zero impact option. But since it implies a change in lifestyle, it’s rarely on the table. That needs to change.

    3) Renewables are considerably more available than Guy’s, and indeed most, of the arguments made around this issue, appear to presume. First, many of us who are concerned about climate change and VY are also highly supportive of the in-state energy projects – Sheffield, Lowell, Readsboro, etc. – that are springing up around the state. I for one want to see more of them, brought on faster.

    Meanwhile, however, Vermont is part of a regional power system, and Vermont utilities can and do buy renewable power not just from HQ but also, for example from wind farms in NH and other neighboring states. Remembering that VY’s total production is only 2% of the ISO-New England grid means that existing renewables can and will make up a significant portion of the remaining differences.

    The fact that Vermont has made poor policy decisions in the past does not mean that we should make major errors going forward. The VY decision – at least until there is a significant change – is about the next 20 years. While renewables may not be readily available to replace what’s needed for the first few of those years, there is no reason to think they would be unavailable for, say, the last 15. Given the massive federal subsidies in recent years and the extraordinary drop in the cost of solar power, there is every reason to believe that within the next 5 years, we can replace as much power as needed from a combination of renewable sources.

    Unfortunately, there is simply no way to intelligently “do the math,” to make these arguments as concrete and obvious as they could be: there are far too many unknown variables.

    I’ve never seen a well-done study of the amount of global warming impact of each portion of the nuclear fuel cycle which would be needed to give us the VY side of the equation. We don’t know how much efficiency policy makers will choose to invest in, let alone how much the public will undertake on its own. We don’t know whether Vermonters will choose to consume less, or how much state and federal incentives will provoke them into producing.

    We can’t predict the New England wide fate of renewables we do know about (offshore and onshore wind projects, etc.), let alone those only now coming to market. Finally, to the extent we DO know various of these things, it’s impossible to know WHEN each will happen, and thus to quantify how much power from fossil fuels MIGHT be required and for how long.

    It’s important to recognize that while the State of Vermont lacks authority to shut down VY for safety reasons, that does NOT imply that the remainder of us need to be deaf, dumb and blind to the safety concerns beyond global warming that the plant’s continued operations imply. Putting those considerations into the equation – especially the possibility, however remote we hope, of a catastrophic accident, tips the scale definitively, at least for me, in favor of a strategy involving shutting down this aging plant and replacing it as soon as possible with cleaner, better alternatives.

  • John,
    Thank you for the EE plug.
    I have on numerous occasions argued for increased EE, but the legislature finds it more profitable to pander to voters and the wind oligarchy to install heavily-subsidized, environmentally-destructive, health-damaging, 459-ft high wind turbines on ridge lines, instead of not having icicles hanging off roof eaves.
    Your quote: “Remembering that VY’s total production is only 2% of the ISO-New England grid means that existing renewables can and will make up a significant portion of the remaining differences.”
    If that renewable energy is variable and intermittent it is useless to grid operators, unless it is backed up by quick-ramping gas turbines.
    Vermont’s total use is about 5,600 GWh/yr
    Vermont Yankee production is about 4,800 GWh/yr,; low-cost, near-CO2-free, steady 24/7/365, not weather dependent.
    Lowell Mountain production is about 177 GWh/yr; high-cost, somewhat CO2-free, variable, intermittent, weather dependent.
    It would take 27 Lowell Mountains to equate VY; capital cost 27 x $160 million = $4.34 billion. Keeping VY in operation would cost Vermont nothing in capital cost.
    About 15-20 percent of the hours of the year wind speeds are too low (less than 7.5 mph) to turn the rotors, or too high for safety.
    This means almost all existing generators would be required to be kept in good operating condition and staffed 24/7/365 to provide energy when wind and solar energy are near zero.

  • Bill McKibben,
    Reps. Klein and Cheney want a renewables purchase standard, RPS, and have invited you to help out. You rightly state Vermont cannot do it alone, etc. Well, Germany cannot do it alone either. If the US were to disappear, its “CO2 hole” would be filled in about 7 years by others. Siemens estimated the cost of Germany’s efforts at 1.7 TRILLION euros, or $2.26 trillion, by 2030.
    If the US were to follow Germany’s course, the cost would be about ($14.5 trillion, US GDP)/($3.5 trillion, German GDP) x $2.26 trillion  = $9.36 trillion.
    It is 100% sure, the US will NOT follow on that course anytime soon, if ever, and almost all other nations, especially developing nations, do not have the resources, and/or the willingness, to follow Germany.
    The Energy Information Administration, EIA, is projecting the world’s energy consumption to increase by 53 percent, from 505 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 770 quadrillion Btu in 2035. See the figure 12 spreadsheet of the report. Worldwide, the renewables fraction of total consumption will increase from 10.6% in 2010 to 15.2% in 2035, the fossil fraction will decrease from 84.1% to 79.1%
    Note: 1,055 Btu = 1 Joule; a quadrillion = 10 to the power 15
    This means significantly greater quantities of CO2 will be emitted in 2035 than in 2010 and that any efforts made by Germany to reduce its CO2 emissions will be extremely insignificant regarding global warming. Even if all of Europe were to reduce its CO2 emissions to zero, the increase by other nations would be about twice as great as Europe’s decrease.
    World CO2 emissions (in 1,000 million metric tonnes) were 29.89, 31.63 and 33.51 in 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively, projected by the EIA at 33.51 x 1.5 = 50.27 in 2035.
    China, the US, Europe and Germany emitted (in 1,000 million metric tonnes) 7.46, 5.27, 4.3 and 0.79 in 2009, respectively.
    China, the US, Europe and Germany projected emissions are (in 1,000 million metric tonnes) 11.7, 6.4, 4.4 and 0.55* in 2030, respectively.
    *Germany’s CO2 emissions target for 2030 is 55% below the 1990 Kyoto base year, or (1 – 0.45) x 1.232 = 0.55.
    Conclusion: The above data indicates Germany’s (quixotic?, misguided?, irrational?) exuberance towards renewables will make no global warming and/or climate change difference, but will adversely affect Germany’s future economic well-being, because it will end up with an energy systems setup that will have at least 2 times the levelized (owning+O&M) cost of competitor nations that did not follow Germany.
    Germany is implementing renewables through subsidies more so than other nations, because it has the excess capital to do so, and because it claims to want to set an example to the world. A bit of chest beating; gorillas do it in the jungle.

  • John Greenberg

    Post: “If that renewable energy is variable and intermittent it is useless to grid operators, unless it is backed up by quick-ramping gas turbines.”

    ISO-NE, the grid operator: “… New England has significant potential for developing renewable sources of energy within the region—primarily from inland and offshore wind resources—and significant potential to expand energy trade with neighboring regions.” p. 47

  • John,
    New England has the potential to have solar and wind energy, but at what cost?
    Will the high cost of energy in New England be even higher due to renewables and make New England relatively less competitive?
    Here is my recent comment to Avram Patt.
    “So many homes served” is a PR feel-good term that has been discredited in Europe, because of its confusing implications; Europe has a much longer history of wind turbines.
    I agree ISO-NE gas turbines are currently ramping up and down, 24/7/365, to accommodate DEMAND variations during a day. Adding wind energy to the grid poses SUPPLY variations that, as more wind turbines are built, will exceed the demand variations, as has already happened in Colorado, Texas, and other states after they had about 3-5% wind energy on their grids; the percentage varies with the grid generation mix.
    I agree ISO-NE has ample quick-ramping gas turbine capacity to accommodate wind energy on the grid, because the grid’s current wind energy penetration is about 0.5%. When it reaches about 3%, the wind energy variations will be more noticeable, especially during rapidly changing wind speeds, such as during winter nights when demand is low.
    At those times quick-ramping gas turbines will ramp up and down at part-load much more so than at present. It is during the greater amplitude ramping periods that most of the extra fuel/kWh and extra CO2 emissions/kWh occur.
    Please read the two Udo studies of the Irish grid that are based on 1/4-hour, real-time operations data. The analysis shows island-wide EirGrid CO2 emission intensity, gram/kWh, is lowest with 0% wind energy on the grid; all units are efficiently operated.
    As wind energy % increases, the CO2 emissions intensity decreases just a little. At higher wind penetrations, say 25%, further addition of wind energy does not further decrease the CO2 emissions intensity.
    This means much of EirGrid’s gas turbine capacity is busy balancing the wind energy, i.e., operating inefficiently in part-load-ramping mode. This is especially the case when gusty winds, common in Ireland, occur.
    There are a number of US grid operators who, during hours with high wind speeds, actually have high wind energy percentages on their grids, so you may easily verify the 30% and how they cope with it. I think your 30% statement is very optimistic.

  • Fiske Sterling

    I know that many climate-kissers will insist that simply because 2 out of the past 3 Vermont winters have had almost no snow cover means there is something wrong with the planet. They blame “greenhouse gases” from vehicles and emissions from coal, gas, and biomass power plants–conveniently invisible, of course! Couldn’t be further from the truth!

    It’s like this: snow cover in Vermont is no different than a layer of fat lining the body of a couch potato. As the couch potato starts exercising and loses a few pounds, that’s a good thing, right? Same thing with our newly snow-less Vermont winters.

    Vermont is finally shedding its unsightly, unhealthy “baby fat” and emerging as sleek, svelte and super-toned!

  • Chelsea Sargent

    I think it becomes difficult to regroup. We are wary. If fossil fuels, which seemed so amazing, are slowly killing the planet, what guilt free energy source can we find?

    I think the goal in making fossil fuels less appealing is to make other renewable energy sources more competitive. Things that use fossil fuels have become more and more efficient over the years, perhaps another energy source will as well.

    But we are gun shy. I think that it is unreasonable to think that we can have our cake and eat it too. I really think that using less needs to be a larger part of the conversation, and not just by insulating more, but by truly using less.

    I agree – it is also difficult to regroup when one feels one is being marketed to. When large industries from halfway across the country are telling us we need wind on this mountain and to renew the life of this nuclear plant. Think small.

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