Articles from 2013
A peek behind the German Energy Transformation Curtain
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 11 October 2013
Germany may or may not be the world capital of green growth via its famous Energiewende, an example held up by Greens all over the world.
Germany’s Energiewende is a bold, challenging, and complex experiment. Its inevitable imperfections need, and get, recognition and correction. On the whole, it has been highly successful so far and is on track for its seemingly ambitious goals
—renewable electricity rising to 35 percent of consumption by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, primary consumption falling respectively to 20 and 50 percent below 2008 levels, and CO2 emissions falling to 30 and 80 percent below 1990 levels. In fact, Germany could even surprise the world by going even further and faster.
But the reality shows us it as world capital of Green reality denial and breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of shale gas opposers. Germany’s shale gas resources may be the most abundant in Europe. But allegedly, they can never be accessed for the same reasons given all over Europe: The landscape impact is too high, the water use is too large and it’s just another carbon fuel. Just like Lignite:
The smokestacks from the five huge lignite-fired power plants along the edges of the gaping open-pit mines between Cologne, Mönchengladbach and Aachen can be seen for miles around. They generate enormous quantities of electricity, despite lignite coal being regarded as a major climate killer and cause of climate change. Burning lignite releases more carbon-dioxide than other fossil fuels, such as hard anthracite coal, natural gas, or oil. Still, Germany produces more than 15 percent of its energy by burning lignite coal. The advantage is that Germany has large deposits and it does not need to import´it. The disadvantages are that mining lignite gobbles up land, forcing the relocation of entire towns, while damaging the surrounding environment for many decades.
The relocation of entire towns? How can this be a better option than shale gas, which not only has the same advantage of not needing to be imported, is lower in carbon and uses huge amounts of water in both extraction and combustion? Quite apart from community disruption which wouldn't be countenanced anywhere in the UK, Tory Shire or desolate north alike:
Made up of gravel, sand and water, the ground is too soft to hold stakes and chutes, which makes underground mining impossible. To get at all the coal buried in the area some 30,000 people will have to be relocated by 2045, erasing 80 towns and entire strips of land from the map. Three of Germany's autobahns are being rerouted at a cost of some 180 million euros - nearly 44 percent of which RWE will pay, with taxpayers covering the rest.
And let's stop blaming shale gas for earthquakes, as we learn more on the earth shaking news about coal mining impact:
.......thousands of people have seen how difficult it can be to protest against energy companies after their houses, some up to 20 kilometers away from mining operations, were damaged by cracks in the interior and exterior walls as well as floor tiles. Courts said it was up to the people affected to prove the damage was a result of the mining.
But hyprocrisy also reigns across the Atlantic.The Sierra Club has been all over the place on natural gas as both a CO2 and air quality solution. They originally supported natural gas in their battle against coal, but the more nimby members of the base, along with a revelation about a massive donation from Chesapeake soon changed that.
The news of the gas industry donation—which had been kept anonymous until now, as many of Club’s gifts from individuals and corporations are—is particularly worrisome for the Sierra Club because its former executive director Carl Pope had been vocal in supporting natural gas as an alternative to coal. Pope—a lifelong Sierra Club staffer who served as executive director and then chairman before stepping down late last year—accompanied Chesapeake’s McClendon in 2009 on trips promoting the benefits of natural gas over coal, even as millions of dollars of McClendon’s money was flowing to Sierra Club anonymously.
What has happened lately means that perhaps shale is entering the water and causing amnesia. Today the Sierra Club paint great victories against coal not on the root causes of energy efficiency and natural gas, but on the hard work and determination of thie members. It would appear that they and they alone won the battle:
Sierra Club members, supporters, partners and allies have worked tirelessly to retire 150 coal-fired power plants since January 2010 -- a significant milestone in the campaign to move the country beyond dirty and outdated fossil fuels.Thousands of activists have come together to help save their communities from dangerous pollution from coal-firedpower plants. These plants not only hurt our air, our water, and our health but also our wallets. The retirement of thesecoal-fired power plants will help save lives, prevent asthma and heart attacks, and save billions in health costs. Whilethese antiquated coal plants are being retired, the U.S. is ramping up production of clean, renewable energy sources likewind and solar. This is a huge win for our communities and for future generations.
Don't mention previous supporters and allies like Cheasapeake. Although even one of the great victories, the closure of New Englands's largest coal plant, is open to an alternate explanation. Was this eyesore, easily visible to anyone driving their SUV up from Manhattan to the Nantucket Ferry each summer, a victory for plucky protestors or letter writing campaigns, or was it simply market forces:
Brayton Point Power Station, the coal-fired workhorse of the New England power grid for a half-century and one of the region’s biggest polluters, is set to close, its new owners announced this week.Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm that purchased the 1,500-megawatt power plant this month, said it will shut down the facility by 2017 because it failed to secure a new agreement with ISO-New England, the operator of the regional power grid.The New Jersey-based energy firm cited a host of issues in announcing its decision to close the plant, including low electricity prices because of the surplus of natural gas and the cost of meeting stricter environmental rules. The move comes just five weeks after it closed on the purchase of the facility from the Virginia-based energy conglomerate Dominion Resources.Energy analyst David Schlissel said “a perfect storm” of circumstances has created a bleak outlook for coal-fired power plants in the United States. The price of natural gas, coal’s chief competitor these days, is historically low. Overall demand for power is weak because the economy hasn’t fully recovered. And utilities are increasingly being required to purchase electricity from renewable sources, including wind and solar.
One has to have grudging admiration for a private equity firm who can buy and close a 1500MW power station in five weeks. But the point here is that despite the pretty picture, or in this case infographic, painted by the Sierra Club, the closure of coal was the alignment of several factors. Too bad the Sierra Club edit out the most important reason, but that would disrupt the self-congratulatory narrative.