My mom loves to read, and she encouraged her kids to read as well. 1 tried-and-true method to promote reading was a trip to the public library during summer break. Our farmhouse was not airconditioned (AC), and the public library was. That fact alone made it a very popular place in my book — pun intended.
Money was always tight in our house, and buying a stack of books at the bookstore was out of the question. However, the public library lets you check out 10 books at a time, and I would max out every week. Memories of those hours exploring books and enjoying some ice-cold AC are some of my fondest.
One of the stories that made an early impression on me was Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The folktale was written in 1837, and the lesson within is still true today. The gist of the story is that 2 rouges pose as weavers and tell the emperor that they can weave clothes that would be invisible to anyone simple-minded or unworthy of his office.
Each trusted adviser the emperor sends to inspect the progress of his new clothes pretends to see them, even though there are no clothes at all. Why? Fear of failure or looking dumb. The weavers pretend to see them, and so do the advisers. This continues until the emperor dons his new “clothes.” During the procession, a child cries out that the emperor has nothing on at all — the emperor indeed has no clothes.
Does a story from 1837 still hold true today? I say yes. There are plenty of examples in modern society where a major scandal is breaking, and as the facts come out, we learn that it has evolved over many years. Many people knew about it, and ultimately 1 brave soul steps forward, and the dam breaks. We ask ourselves, “Why didn’t someone say something in the beginning?” We learn that peer pressure or fear of public humiliation or retaliation prevented them from speaking up; this is the life lesson Hans Christian Andersen taught nearly 100 years ago.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed new rules on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal and natural gas power plants, dubbed Clean Power Plan 2.0. These new rules will effectively make operation of coal plants and large, efficient natural gas plants impossible beyond 2030. These power plants are currently the backbone of America’s electric power supply and will be forced to either co-fire with large amounts of hydrogen or utilize carbon capture technology to continue operation. You might say that sounds reasonable, but ask these questions: Where will all this hydrogen come from, and what will it cost? What is carbon capture technology; where is it currently being deployed in the world; and what does it cost? You quickly realize that these are far from realistic alternatives in the timeframe needed to comply with EPA’s proposed rules and will result in premature plant closures.
The intent of the EPA’s proposed rules is for large coal and natural gas plants to be closed and replaced with wind and solar. Utilities and the American public have grown used to the war on coal, and during the last decade, utilities were encouraged to shift from using coal to investing in natural gas to reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, the federal government has provided billions of dollars in financial incentives to companies to install wind and solar generation for the same reason. However, the war has now expanded to not just coal but also natural gas, which will significantly impact the affordability and reliability of electricity. One need only look at the graph above to realize how much energy is provided by coal and natural gas in America today. With the proposed rules putting those resources at risk, what do you replace it with? Well, what is left that doesn’t emit carbon? Wind, solar, and nuclear are pretty much the only options today, with the promise of hydrogen in the future, but at unknown cost and availability. The expectation is that we will prematurely retire hundreds of coal and natural gas plants and replace them with wind and solar generation.
Here we come full circle to “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” We are told that we must do this to reduce carbon to prevent a climate crisis and that if we do, we will simultaneously lower the cost of energy with these low-cost, renewable energy sources. Clean, Cheap, Abundant, and Reliable energy for the taking — all we must do is believe. However, a child in the crowd might point out that this strategy has been tried in many places, and it has only yielded unreliable energy that is double or triple the cost with a very negative effect on a nation’s economy and security.
There is also the misunderstanding that the global climate crisis can be averted by actions taken in North America. In 2022, the Asian-Pacific region of the world emitted 17,955 million tons of CO2, compared to 5,851 million tons in North America. However, in 2007, the U.S. and China had essentially equal CO2 emissions. Since that time, the United States has lowered our CO2 emissions by 1 million tons, while China has increased by 6 million tons, with even more new coal plants under construction than the United States has in existence. When you add the impacts of other developing nations in Asia, you realize that their need for energy and the resulting CO2 emissions will trump anything we can possibly do here.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t continue to innovate and develop new technologies, including advanced nuclear, hydrogen, and the vaunted holy grail of fusion power. We should integrate low-carbon sources, including wind and solar, onto our electric grid. However, we must do so in a responsible manner that doesn’t risk our economic and national security. Prematurely retiring coal and natural gas plants with no national initiative to add nuclear power plants — which are reliable and have no CO2 emissions — while only adding intermittent, undependable low-carbon resources, reads a lot like the emperor has no clothes.
As we look to reduce carbon emissions, incorporating new, advanced nuclear plants into the power grid, which are always available and reliable and emit no carbon, as part of our national energy strategy makes a lot of sense to me. However, this requires national support like what has been provided for wind and solar to achieve critical mass.
I am in favor of a Balance of Power, where resources are not utilized based solely on a single characteristic — carbon — but based on the capabilities needed to implement a national strategy of energy independence, economic prosperity, affordability, reliability, and responsibility.