John Locke Update / Research Brief

Gov. Cooper’s “Clean Energy Plan,” Part 1: Background strategy and expectations

posted on in Economics & Environment, Energy & Environment
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Gov. Roy Cooper published a “Clean Energy Plan” (CEP) for North Carolina last year and appears to be acting on it to the extent he can. This plan contains many of the same goals and aspirations as the “Green New Deal” pushed by hardcore leftists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al.

Cooper’s CEP has some components that address energy, but they appear to be more focused on social engineering than energy engineering. They would lead to higher electricity costs, cause electricity shortages, ignore viable strategies, and may well exacerbate global warming to the extent that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) play a role.

The preface in the draft CEP and the final CEP foreshadows some of the strategies advocated in the reports. Acknowledgement is made to both the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) for their technical help throughout the development of the report. Knowledge of those two groups sheds considerable light on the anti-humanist and political nature of the CEP. That said, the underlying motivation for the CEP appears to be Cooper’s commitments to the US Climate Alliance (USCA).

The USCA is a group of 25 governors, co-founded by California’s Jerry Brown, committed to implementing the Paris Accords despite Pres. Donald Trump having withdrawn the United States from the agreement. The governors are primarily Democrats except the Republican governors from Maryland, Vermont, and Massachusetts. As seen in an email obtained through a public record request, the alliance was excited about having North Carolina join the group, being the first state that Trump had won.

The USCA aggressively seeks carbon dioxide emissions reductions, which necessarily means advocating policies that would have severe adverse impacts on farmers. So Cooper’s communications team asked that the alliance soft-pedal their joining. A snippet from an organizational email explains:

What could be so wrong with the USCA? Why wouldn’t Cooper want his causing NC to join the alliance to be “major” news? The answer lies in the CEP, which follows the tenets of the USCA. While later briefs in this series will provide more detailed discussions, it is enlightening to understand who these groups are that provided “technical” support to the report.

An ideology that declares “cheap, clean, abundant energy” as just short of “disastrous”

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was co-founded by its chief scientist, Amory Lovins. Lovins is somewhat flamboyant and controversial neo-Malthusian who has constantly predicted that humans will outstrip the world’s energy supply. Lovins famously advocated the use of coal and other dirty fuels in certain boilers called “fluidized bed” boilers as a “bridge” technology to making renewables the dominant energy source.

Philosophically, Lovins is a major opponent of nuclear energy. He has stated a belief that “it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.”

The Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) is a fellow traveler of Lovins. Jim Lazar, a senior advisor for RAP, believes that natural gas use must be reduced to achieve the kind of GHG reductions in Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and, consequently, Cooper’s CEP.

Consistent with this position, Cooper recently rejected a water quality permit for the Mountain View Pipeline project even after NC’s only other new pipeline project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), was withdrawn by its owners. Cooper’s objection to additional gas use in North Carolina, which meanwhile continues to be one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S., will lead to future shortages.

Possible strategies: higher energy prices, shutting productive plants, and California-style rolling blackouts

So given that RMI and RAP are providing technical support to Cooper’s CEP reports, we can predict possible strategies that the CEP would seek to implement:

First, since they don’t consider higher energy prices necessarily a bad thing, expect an increase in electricity costs.

Second, expect nuclear energy to be completely ignored or worse.

Third, even though Duke Energy has moved to replace more coal-fired units with natural gas units, expect Cooper to discourage adding efficient natural gas units in favor of more intermittent sources like solar and wind. It’s the same strategy that has achieved rolling blackouts in California. We should not be surprised to see rolling blackouts in our future as well.

Expect more air pollution, too

Perhaps ironically, we will also see that Cooper’s strategy of replacing dispatchable energy sources with intermittent sources is a net harm to the environment. As we learned last year, Duke Energy is having to seek revisions to air quality permits around its power plants to better manage the air pollution caused by taking on additional solar power.

Prioritizing an intermittent energy source means either completely shutting down backup combustion turbines or idling them with low loads. The continued oversubsidization of renewables even threatens to force lower-cost nuclear plants to shut down, thereby dramatically increasing greenhouse gases from its substitute. Those outcomes all increase air pollution higher than it would be without the added “green energy.”

Dr. Donald van der Vaart is a Senior Fellow for the John Locke Foundation. Dr. van der Vaart earned a B.S. in Chemistry from UNC Chapel Hill, an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from N. C. State University, a Ph.D. in Chemical… ...

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