Robert Letovsky: Looking at the big picture in energy options

This commentary is by Dr. Robert Letovsky, the David LaMarche Professor of Business Administration & Accounting at Saint Michael’s College and a member of the board of directors of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Back in the mid-2000’s when I was co-teaching environmental science courses, I discovered “Will You Join Us?” (WYJU) an online game developed by Chevron, where players had to power up a simulated city drawing on a variety of energy sources. The game’s scoring system required players to evaluate each energy source on three distinct criteria: “Affordability,” “Security” and “Environment.”

Dr. Robert Letovsky

I was always impressed by how quickly my students grasped the simulation and made their cities thrive. However, as I follow the current debates about climate change and energy going on here in Vermont and the US, I can’t help but ask: If college students can grasp the idea that energy choices should be evaluated using multiple criteria, why can’t legislators do the same? Instead, we see too many policies and initiatives driven by a simplistic, single-minded focus on one factor — namely GHG emissions.

Political leaders can’t approach the energy issue like the five-year-old who insists on ice cream for dinner. Just as an adult must tell the child that taste cannot be the only deciding factor for dinner, so must political leaders stop pretending that reducing GHG emissions is the only factor when making decisions about energy. These choices always involve accepting less than perfect outcomes in some areas in return for acceptable or even superior outcomes in others.

Looking at the three evaluation criteria built into WYJU, it’s depressingly clear that one or more is often given short shrift.

“Affordability” is a key consideration for households and businesses when considering long-term living and working situations. When companies unable to afford energy leave Vermont in favor of lower-energy price areas, they take their jobs with them, broadening the affordability crisis. Can we really say that “economy” as in “affordability” was given adequate attention in the debates over the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) or the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI-P)?

An economy that is powered entirely by renewables will always fail the “Security” standard simply because it’s not sunny or windy all the time. My students quickly learned this when they would try to power a hospital with renewables. WYJU would appropriately ding their score after they left patients at risk. If politicians can’t stomach reliable energy from fossil fuels, shouldn’t they at least consider nuclear energy, which was never mentioned in the 273-page Climate Action Plan?

For a real-world example, look no further than Western Europe’s recent experience.  In 2021, as the continent grappled with soaring natural gas prices, it also had to contend with a year of unusually mild winds resulting in a 20% drop in wind-generated electricity production. This has forced European utilities to burn even more costly natural gas and coal, creating an expensive feedback loop: Households and businesses now face continuously increasing electricity rates as utilities rush to replace “free” but in this case non-existent wind power with ever more expensive “real” fuels, resulting in still more price hikes.

“Security” of energy also means protection from events such as terrorist attacks  and supply cutoffs driven by geopolitics. Regarding the latter, Europe’s spiraling energy crisis following  cuts in deliveries of Russian natural gas due to the Ukraine war can be traced directly to the disastrous decision by numerous governments over the past decade to shut down both coal and nuclear electrical facilities.. When these decisions were being made, Russian natural gas was touted as not only “green” but cheaper than other energy options. Alas, ignoring one of the three WYJU   criteria has left millions of Europeans facing a cold – and dark – winter.

Finally, “Environment” does not only mean hyper-focusing on climate change, but also on equally important challenges such as air quality and biodiversity. Have our legislators done this in their deliberations over energy? Apparently not. Renewables, do generate fewer GHG’s in generating electricity than fossil fuels. However, if we’re serious about reducing GHG’s, we need to consider the “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO).

The TCO framework looks not only at the sticker price of an acquisition but also at its cost of operation in terms of maintenance, prices for replacement parts, fuel consumption and insurance rates. TCO thinking applied to energy and emissions would require factoring in the reality that both solar panels and wind turbines require rare earth minerals to produce, requiring extensive mining which generates tremendous amounts of GHG’s.

Worse,  limiting one’s focus to only one part of the “Environment” criteria while ignoring other aspects of it  could lead to a range of unforeseen problems.  For example, some energy experts say that moving this country to a totally solar-power based economy would require deforesting most if not all of the continental United States! What would that do to biodiversity in this country? Here in Vermont, wind farms have run into serious opposition from outdoors groups fearful of the impact industrial scale wind farms have on animal migration patterns.

Looping back to the “Security” lens, renewables’ reliance on rare earth minerals is even more problematic since 90-95% of such minerals are produced in the China. Has anyone considered the risk of some type of supply cutoff imposed by the Chinese regime in light of ongoing geopolitical tensions with the United States?

Sadly, Chevron took down the WYJU site after several years of being pummeled in the twitter sphere by critics who couldn’t imagine an oil company having anything worthwhile to say about climate change. The good news is that there is an online game — Energy Island Corp. — which offers the same experience to users, with energy options and challenges similar to those found in WYJU. However, unlike WYJU, players must pay $6 for access.  Why not have Vermonters collectively kick in to buy access to this simulation for all of our state legislators? This sounds way cheaper than the costs which will continue to be inflicted on all of us by simplistic energy choices being made by those who should know better.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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9 thoughts on “Robert Letovsky: Looking at the big picture in energy options

  1. Thank you Robert Letovsky…for this very informative article
    now, can we get this to every damn legislator, senator (state/fed), congress person, and white house
    lets not let them get away with swaying this to fit their pockets/accounts anymore…….

  2. The big lies of climate change: Where are solar panels made: China. Where are the batteries made: China. What country is buying coal from the West to burn without restrictions: China. What substance is used in wind turbines to operate: fossil fuel. Where does lithium come from: Strip mining. Where do wind turbine blades end up: buried in the ground. The evil dogs pushing the lies will soon face judgement that will put an end to all of this madness. Until then, shout them down and speak the Truth.

  3. Regarding increasing natural gas prices in Europe:

    EU bureaucrats ordered members not to sign long-term natural gas contracts with Russia, because it would look bad regarding Europe being serious about the wind/solar/battery, etc., parade

    That meant much more natural gas was bought on the SPOT markets AT MUCH HIGHER PRICES

    Then came the Ukraine events, due to NATO advancing its infrastructures and manpower to the border of Russia (after promising Gorbachev not to expand beyond East Germany in 1991), and turning Ukraine into a highly-armed, proxy warrior nation to “weaken Russia”, with the major benefit of having not a single NATO casualty

    Russia’s response to EU sanctions was to reduce natural gas flows to “unfriendly countries”, which caused the European prices to increase to $70/million Btu, vs the U.S. at $10/ million Btu.

    Europe having a major drought, with little wind power, is an additional major downdraft for the entire economy.

    However, in 1540, Europe had a far worse drought, and much higher temperatures, while at the same time CO2 in the atmosphere was THIRTY PERCENT LOWER

  4. It’s astonishing to me that when it comes to climate science, we believe one paradigm of catastrophe and ignore all criticisms. A rational society would look at book sides of the arguments for-and-against catastrophic warming and weigh the evidence. Instead, what we do is say: the science is settled! There’s no debate. But this is absurd to say with a system as complex as our climate, with so many unknowns and so many scientists arguing strenuously against the theory, with many calling it the greatest pseudoscience ever foisted on humanity. Why would they say this? To say they’re ‘paid off’ is a cheap, non-scientific, ad hominem argument that’s a cop-out and easy dismissal for those unwilling to engage their brains.

    With any hypothesis, there must be a test of it; otherwise it’s simply speculation and assumption with no proof. At one point climate scientists told us that we’d see a tropical tropospheric ‘hot-spot’ based on line-by-line radiative calculations, and this signal would be a confirmation of the theory. Alas, this predicted hot-spot is nowhere to be seen.

    They tell us that CO2 will back-radiate and warm the earth, but a colder atmosphere can’t warm a warmer surface; if it could, we’d use 25-degree heaters to warm a 32-degree room.

    There’s supposed to be some sort of infrared congestion in our atmosphere but it’s nowhere to be seen: balloon data from all around the world gives no indication of this. Balloon data– real evidence!– is an overlooked factor in testing the theory of CO2 catastrophe.

    They tell us that CO2 raises the emissions height and then we ‘count down’ using the lapse rate to get a warmer surface temperature. This is actually the mechanics of CO2 catastrophe, although I doubt many who believe in this theory can state how this works and what the lapse rate is. But this ‘count down’ theory is absurd, and moreover, there’s simply no way to verify if this is happening: the emissions height constantly changes–we can see this in balloon data– and so do the lapse rates. There’s no fixed emissions height or lapse rate, and in fact the earth emits infrared from the surface through the IR atmospheric window.

    Balloon data tells us that the surface is cooling naturally according to the lapse rate equations which have no terms for radiative effects. There’s no sign of IR congestion. It’s not happening. We can see this in balloon data. One would think that if the theory of CO2 catastrophe were correct, scientists would be pointing to balloon data and telling us how our actual atmospheric data is confirming the theory. They don’t do this for a very simple reason: they can’t. Literally nothing is happening.

    Floods, bad weather, drought– none of this constitutes scientific proof of causation of anything. To say these types of things prove anything is simply speculation and assumption, not confirmation of theory. I wonder if alarmist climate scientists know the first thing about the scientific method, or have instead wandered off into the land of Unreason fueled by mere speculations and reinforced by GIGO models? It appears they have.

    Are we really a rational society?

    Jim1

    • Right on. But to complete this near $1 trillion Liberal slush fund fraud…they needed one more thing. And that was for weather service and NOAA to cement the fraud. They removed as many as possible temp monitor stations in RURAL and SEMI RURAL areas…and now over 60% of alll temp monitoring stations are in urban &g city areas. They are HEAT SINKS for temps – usually 1-2 degrees hotter. The MOST USED temp stations are where the most advanced equipment is available, in place, 24 hrs a day and FREE…. GUESS WHERE? Every single airport in the USA from small to large are temp gathering stations for global warming…Airports are massive heat sinks of blacktop runways….in EVERY state they us this temp data to prove “global warming” (fraud)!. They measure in cities & sidewalks & parking lots too.. But the temp gather stationss in a deep, dark, cool forests, are gone…because that data does not fit the scam. Fraud complete and every Liberal is suckered in. If you subtracted 2 degrees from EVERY station 9especially AIRPORT RUNWAYS!), that is a heat sink…you will find that temps have not risen at all….and many are actually LOWER 🙂

  5. Dr. Robert Letovsky states,
    If college students can grasp the idea that energy choices should be evaluated using
    multiple criteria, why can’t legislators do the same ??

    Well that’s pretty simple, our legislators are working for lobbyists and their agenda, and
    that relates to money, big money……………….. so follow the money !!

    Also, most legislators only know what they are told, chewing gum and walking seems to
    be a challenge, especially those running under the liberal Democrat banner, just go and
    read their current proposed legislation, pretty pathetic but you have a voice in November.

  6. Climate Chager, re: Global Warming …is the biggest fraud in human history…and fo mostly hoisted by politics, money and Liberal, Democrats. s Always follow the MONEY and where hundreds and hundreds of billion, even into trillions…is wasted & pilfered on a lie.

    A new world group has fomed in the Netherlands, called “Climate Intelligence”…(Clintel). Thsy have a paper signed by over 1,100 respected scientists stating it is all….fraud. Read the link, but they give a one page summary.

    “The geological archive reveals that Earth’s climate has varied as long as the planet has existed, with natural cold and warm phases. The Little Ice Age ended as recently as 1850. Therefore, it is no surprise that we now are expe­ riencing a period of warming.

    Natural as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming
    The world has warmed significantly less than predicted by IPCC on the basis of modeled anthropogenic forcing. The gap between the real world and the modeled world tells us that we are far from understanding climate change.

    Warming is far slower than predicted
    Climate models have many shortcomings and are not remotely plausible as policy tools. They do not only exaggerate the effect of greenhouse gases, they also ignore the fact that enriching the atmosphere with CO2 is beneficial.

    Climate policy relies on inadequate models
    CO2 is not a pollutant. It is essential to all life on Earth. More CO2 is favorable for nature, greening our planet. Additional CO2 in the air has promoted growth in global plant biomass. It is also profitable for agriculture, increasing the yields of crops worldwide.
    CO2 is plant food, the basis of all life on Earth

    There is no statistical evidence that global warming is intensifying hurricanes, floods, droughts and suchlike natural disasters, or making them more frequent. However, there is ample evidence that CO2­ mitigation measures are as damag­ing as they are costly.
    Global warming has not increased natural disasters

    There is no climate emergency. Therefore, there is no cause for panic and alarm. We strongly oppose the harmful and unrealistic net-zero CO2 policy proposed for 2050. Go for adaptation instead of mitigation; adaptation works.

    https://clintel.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/WCD-version-06272215121.pdf

  7. Re: “If college students can grasp the idea that energy choices should be evaluated using multiple criteria, why can’t legislators do the same?”

    Because there’s no money in it for the legislators. Campaign finances, political operating expenses, you name it. And then there’s the so-called ‘revolving door’. A couple of VPIRG board members lobby for legislation subsidizing solar power, they go out and start SunCommon, then sell it for $40 Million. Utility pricing algorithms, that set the price of various Carbon Credits and Offsets, are controlled by the utility companies trading these credits. Why not pay 20 cents per kwh for power from solar, wind, and methane digesters when the utility profit margins are higher for those commodities than they are for, let’s say, Hydro Quebec power at less than half that cost. The conflict of interest is palatable. Consider Senate candidate Peter Welch and his wife, Public Utilities Commissioner Margaret Cheney.

    As long as free markets are over-ridden by government subsidies, this cronyism, graft, corruption, and inefficiency will prevail.

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