Energy Question in Debate Was Wrong

Errol Lewis (not Unidentified Male) asked this question last night:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: — jobs are one thing, but with less than 6 percent of all U.S. energy coming from solar, wind and geothermal, and 20 percent of U.S. power coming from nuclear, if you phase out all of that, how do you make up…

  1. Renewable energy was 10% of U.S. consumption in 2014, the last full year we have statistics on, it was certainly greater in 2015, maybe significantly so.
  2. Nuclear power in 2014 was 8% of the overall national energy pie; however it was 20% of the primary fuel used to make electricity (a secondary fuel), which is a much smaller piece of a smaller pie.

It’s a shame nobody on the stage could have gotten those numbers right, but here’s the more important story.  Clinton’s incrementalism is the de facto accepted way of doing things for the very reasonable, very kool kids of the Beltway and the press corps that covers them.  Sanders answer was the right one for me.

SANDERS: If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war — you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three more years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now.

You have to keep reminding people that there are already more solar energy workers in the country than coal miners, even if coal still represents a rapidly shrinking 15-18% of the energy pie.  The fact is that coal is dying and it’s not Barack Obama doing it.

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately-owned coal company, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday — and it wasn’t because of President Barack Obama’s so-called war on coal

As The Huffington Post has reported, the entire domestic coal industry is now valued at only $22 billion — about $38 billion less than it was five years ago. And as The New York Times editorial board pointed out last month, coal has become a bad investment, period. Banks aren’t financing new coal projects, because it makes no business sense.

The economics of coal suck and are only getting worse, not even counting that people around the world get that every aspect of coal is unsustainable.  Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, just divested $2.3 billion of coal holdings in 52 companies.

Nuclear holds onto 8% of the total energy pie, all in the production of electricity.  The problem with nuclear isn’t just the age old question of what to do with the waste. No new nuclear has come online in 30 years and plans for new nuclear are murky because nobody wants to write insurance policies for nuclear plants.  Nuclear is on literally borrowed time as plants that were commissioned in the 50s and 60s were planned to be phased out by now, but are still in service despite safety concerns.  A huge number of nuclear power plants in the U.S. are no less antiquated than the 1950s cars on the streets of Havana. They’re on their way to being decommissioned and off the grid.  The good news is that that 8% will be replaced by solar and wind without breaking a sweat.

Whether the next president wants to phase out nuclear and coal or loves them enough to want to get them pregnant behind the middle school, they’re going away.  In the face of such inevitability, incrementalism in these matters may not matter, but it sure seems shortsighted.  Any government involvement in supporting the nuclear, coal, or oil industries is a complete waste of money and an exercise in misguided priorities in the face of the climate crisis.

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