Steamboat Institute: Rethinking energy, climate, freedom and prosperity
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
All the things we care about tie back to one simple question: Can you turn your lights on in the morning?
Whether it’s a ranching operation in Routt County, bitcoin mining in Iceland or a woman-owned business in Ethiopia, the need for affordable, reliable, abundant electricity is critical. But can we plug in every person on the planet without killing the planet? Can we save the planet without destroying societies?
Cities, states and nations are locked in a green energy arms race, competing to implement the strongest environmental policies to try to fight climate change. Even Routt County, population 26,000, has a “climate action plan.”
Yet policy makers largely overlook the losers of this emissions competition: ordinary Americans who face unreliable and expensive electricity as a result. These consequences must be included in energy and environmental policy discussions to help determine whether the benefits of green regulations outweigh the drawbacks.
Consider how hundreds of Texans died last winter after a storm caused the state’s windmills, which provide about one-quarter of the state’s electricity, to freeze and the power grid to collapse. And, in northern Colorado, Mountain Parks Electric sent an urgent alert informing its customers that “regional wind turbines iced up and are unable to generate electricity.” Residents were told to lower their thermostats and not wash dishes or clothes to prevent “interruption of electric service” during the frigid temperatures.
Even Erin Overturf, deputy director of the clean energy program at Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, admits we’re still “figuring out new technologies and new solutions that are going to overcome those (unreliable) characteristics of intermittent renewable resources.” That’s cold comfort for those who lose power or face artificially high energy bills now.
The most common consequence of green energy policies is rising electricity prices. As environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg, who will be speaking at Steamboat Institute’s Energy Policy Summit in March, explains: “Limiting the use of fossil fuels requires making them more expensive and pushing people toward green alternatives that remain pricier and less efficient.” Former president Barrack Obama admitted that if green energy policies he supports are enacted, “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
Victims of higher-priced energy costs include the Martinez family from Dotsero, who are among the roughly 30% of Coloradans who struggle to pay for electricity. According to one news account, the Martinez family resorted to putting pots on the stove and piling on sweaters to try to stay warm, yet still had to contend with constant sicknesses due to being unable to heat their home sufficiently.
Another family’s electric bills were so burdensome that they had to keep the thermostat at 63 degrees Fahrenheit, negatively impacting their daughter’s health and well-being. “We have a really high percentage of our participants who report that they went without food or medicine just to pay their energy bills and avoid being disconnected,” says Kim Shields, of Energy Outreach Colorado.
Especially in today’s era of high inflation, the costs of green energy initiatives, which disproportionately affect those who can least afford it, must be part of the policy debate. Mandate-induced higher energy costs won’t stop the Aspen Institute from having its annual climate change confab in Miami Beach. But they may force low-margin small businesses to lay off employees or close down. And they could prevent ordinary families from paying their electric bills or running their major appliances.
Supporters of energy mandates often present a false dichotomy between traditional energy and environmental progress. Yet, carbon dioxide levels are already plummeting under the current energy mix without the need for further mandates. Per-capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have fallen by nearly one-third since 2005. In Colorado, they’ve dropped by nearly 25%.
This CO2 reduction, which results from the free-market shale energy revolution that has displaced high-emission coal with low-emission natural gas, begs the question: Are we hurting our economy and reducing standards of living in the rush to zero emissions all in the name of solving a “crisis” that doesn’t exist?
The pain of new green energy regulations would produce little-to-no gain. The share of global CO2 produced by the U.S. has fallen by nearly half — from 24% to 13% — since the year 2000. Expensive policies that address this small share of global CO2 — while giving other big economies, like China and India, free rein to keep on emitting — will not meaningfully affect climate change but will have a big impact on Americans’ quality of life.
One analysis that used the same climate sensitivity model as the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that even if the U.S. eliminated all its emissions, the world would only be 0.137 of a degree Celsius cooler by 2100.
Unfortunately, such perspectives are often silenced by the muzzle of climate change doctrine. To provide space for this much-needed debate over energy and environment policy, Steamboat Institute is hosting a summit in Steamboat Springs on March 11-12 on “The Nexus of U.S. Energy Policy, Climate Science, Freedom and Prosperity.”
The conference features leading bipartisan policy experts, including Bjorn Lomborg, one of the world’s top environmentalist economists; Steven E. Koonin, undersecretary for science in the Obama administration; Aurelia Skipwith Giacometto, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director; and Patrick Moore, co-founder and past president of Greenpeace. It also includes a field trip to the nearby Trapper Mine and Craig Station power generating plant to give attendees a real-world lesson in how our lights turn on when we flick the switch.
Well-intended mandates that threaten this power are too consequential to be enacted as virtue signaling or to keep pace with other cities, states and nations. Real and robust debate is urgently needed to ensure that the impacts on freedom, prosperity and our standard of living are included in any discussion of energy policy and climate change.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is CEO, chairman and co-founder of Steamboat Institute.
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The coldest temperature this winter at the new home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio was 17 below. They live in Fraser, the Colorado town that used to get far, far colder.