On Friday, a well-respected energy industry observer posed an important question on Twitter.
Replying to @tder2012 @Daniel_W_See and 4 others
Answer. The. Question:
Why have you concluded that attacking cheap wind and solar is the best way to help nuclear?
Please explain, because from where I sit it’s pretty darn clear: the more you thorium boys attack renewables, the more you set back your cause. It’s absurd.
Aside: Despite all you might hear about Twitter, there is an active and serious set of users who engage in important, often open and informative discussions about energy technology and policy. It is a medium with great utility for helping achieve my communication goals. End Aside.
Michael Liebreich is the founder of New Energy Finance, which was acquired by Bloomberg in 2009 and renamed Bloomberg New Energy Finance. He continues serving as Chairman of the Advisory Board at BNEF.
I’ve had the opportunity to hear Liebreich speak about the future of energy at BNEF conferences; he is a thoughtful, provocative speaker who includes a major role for advanced nuclear energy systems in the long-term energy future. He is not as positive about the near term ability of conventional nuclear power plants to retain their current market share.
He’s not alone in supporting advanced nuclear research and development while challenging the viability of existing nuclear power plants. He’s also not alone in classifying wind and solar as cheap and renewable.
I took his question seriously, and put some thought into my replies. Twitter has a fairly tight limit on the length of its tweets, but it has a threading capability that many use to expand the available space when they have a lot of information to share or when they feel particularly passionate about a specific topic.
Those passionate threads are often known as “rants” to the frequent users. Some of the more pertinent and well-written rants get shared widely and achieve almost cult status.
I was aiming for that result with the following response – which required several separate, threaded posts. For brevity, I’ve eliminated header and footer information between each tweet.
The tweets are quoted, so some may be missing an article or two; that’s one of the ways to fit thoughts within the character limits of a tweet.
Replying to @MLiebreich @tder2012 and 5 others
I am opposed to continuing generous subsidies for “cheap” wind and solar projects. In many of the best production areas, there is so much opportunistic capacity that market prices drop to unsustainably low levels when the weather is favorable.
In a rational market, low price signals would slow or halt capacity additions until demand increases. However, 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour guaranteed plus the opportunity to collect higher amounts if lucky enough to be operating during high demand is incentive to keep building.
Because the incentive is based on production without any reference to need in particular locations, developers naturally choose high wind locations, even if there is no local demand. Then they demand preferential grid access & new transmission lines.
I’m not opposed to wind and solar. I’m a sailor and love wind driven transportation. I’m just angry with people who keep telling us how cheap wind and solar are getting all year long and then, at the last minute, engage in a shady deal with oil exporters to extend tax credits
Finally, analysts seem to agree that low priced natural gas is largely responsible for disinterest in nuclear. Low price is result of too much supply for demand. A major reason supply is currently too high is displacement by wind & solar. Adds to available gas supply
Liebreich’s question was posted on Friday and I had responded on Saturday morning. I diidn’t really expect any response from him during the weekend, but when the working day on Monday was nearly over, I decided to follow through to find out what he thought of my response.
That was when I learned that Liebreich had decided that I was not worth his attention.
I only unmuted you because someone I follow got lured into a thread with you. You persist in calling renewables “unreliables”, show no understanding of the economics of networks and storage, espouse a variety of conspiracy theories and don’t answer the question. So goodbye again.
I’d like some serious feedback and advice. Should I change my approach? Is it really a communications foul to call wind and solar “unreliable?”
Sure, it is meant as criticism, but isn’t “renewable” simply a brand meant to put a favorable spin on an industrial technology with known limitations and widespread environmental impact?
Does documenting historical examples showing coordinated efforts to slow nuclear energy development really amount to espousing “a variety of conspiracy theories?”
During the past few months, I’ve begun wondering if I am doing more harm than good. Should I withdraw from the serious discussion about energy supplies and policies and save myself the angst? Or should I listen more carefully and find less offensive ways of sharing what I have learned about how one of the world’s largest and most impactful industries operates?
Will being nicer make it easier for people to pay attention to my serious thoughts and observations?
Recently, I chose to stop writing for Forbes. Some of our differences stemmed from a mistake that I made and corrected with a public apology.
The decision to sever our professional relationship, though, came when the editors decided that it was unfair and inaccurate for me to use the term “antinuclear” to describe a specific group of organizations.
The organizations that I lumped together as “antinuclear groups” were the signatories of the agreement with PG&E to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
That agreement, known as the Joint Proposal, was signed by the following groups: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, California Energy Efficiency Industry Council and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
Initially, my Forbes editor replaced “antinuclear” with “environmental” and then published the post. I pointed out that there were several organizations on the list that did not even make a pretense of being an environmental group. I made the case that “antinuclear” was a more accurate description of groups that have joined together to close a power plant that produces one fifth of California’s clean electricity.
When they decided to respond to my challenge by using the collective term “environmental and labor groups” suggested by PG&E press releases, I decided it was time for me to focus my communications efforts in other venues where accuracy is more valued.
It used to baffle me to find people who claim to be focused on protecting the environment fighting a power source with such an excellent environmental record.
It no longer confuses me. I’ve learned that the antinuclear movement was branded as “environmental” by skilled propagandists. They cleverly took advantage of the popularity of environmental causes and purchased the favor of group leaders by providing resources to increase their reach and influence.
Non profit group leaders with national level aspirations spend almost as large a fraction of their time raising funds as politicians do.
Oops, there I go again. I suppose I should work on breaking that darned habit of exposing “conspiracy” when talking about a logical business move to paint a competitor in a negative light.