Letter: We need economy based on renewables
Published 12:00 am, Wednesday, November 23, 2016
To the Editor:
Understandably, much of the passionate opposition from my fellow residents concerned the reasonable expectation of declining air quality and their property values.
Still, Mayor Gronbach’s concluding statement to the town implicitly raises the most significant issue at hand — one largely absent during the Panda presentations: “My hope is that they (Panda) will continue their work of building modern plants that allow coal and oil-fired plants to be decommissioned.”
In truth, this statement and the Panda proposal sidestep the emergency represented by global warming and the imperative to move very quickly to avert catastrophic climate change.
Clearly decommissioning coal and oil-fired plants has served the transition from much dirtier coal/oil to an energy economy based on renewables.
Nonetheless, gas-powered Panda power plants — admittedly cleaner than coal/oil plants — would still perpetuate the use of fossil fuels beyond the time scientists set for peak natural gas consumption.
For example, Panda implied its proposed combined-cycle natural gas plant would be a mostly benign “bridge” to a carbon emissions-free future.
But climate scientists disagree.
For example, in the July 20 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Amber Lin cogently challenges the value of combined-cycle natural gas power plants as transition fuel plants.
She quotes Michael Levi, special assistant to the president for energy and economic policy: “To limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels ... global gas consumption would have to peak around 2020 to 2030.”
Lin continues, “But for a combined-cycle natural gas plant to be economically feasible, it would typically need 15 to 20 years to make up for start-up costs . .. and even longer to become profitable. This means that a combined-cycle plant built in 2016 would break even no sooner than 2031, and would have to run for several more decades to be a worthwhile investment.
Levi’s 2030 limit for peak emissions translates to major fossil fuel reductions after 2030. Owners and backers, however, will not want to shut down gas plants that are just beginning to generate a profit.
Again, as an example, the proposed Panda plant for New Milford wouldn’t be approved and built until 2020 at the earliest, not recoup costs until 2035, and need a few more decades to become profitable — far beyond the peak gas consumption date of 2020-2030, that is, unless Panda agreed to shut it down by 2030? Unlikely.
In sum, building gas power plants now is going in the wrong direction.
Doing so diverts attention from the need to expand renewables (macro solar, e.g., solar farms), encourages the illusion that catastrophic climate change lies in the distant future and becomes a disincentive for us to conserve.
Our government has wisely joined another 194 countries in adopting the first universal, legally binding global climate deal at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015.
The U.S. and China — the biggest carbon polluters in the world — signed/ratified it in September.
As it states, “The Paris Agreement is a bridge between today’s policies and climate-neutrality before the end of the century. ... And agreement “on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible.”
Still, Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, worries: “Will we decarbonize the global economy quickly enough to stay out ahead of the physical impacts of climate change. ... There, the jury is out. We really are in a race with the physical climate system, and we’re seeing mounting impacts of climate change by the week.”
Clearly, the U.S. — Connecticut — needs to move quickly to develop an energy economy based on renewables.
I trust that in withdrawing the Panda proposal, Mayor Gronbach recognizes that the projected financial benefits to New Milford from a fossil-fueled power plant came with too much environmental and existential cost.