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At Senator Harry Reid’s seventh National Clean Energy Summit held in Las Vegas on Thursday, September 4, Hillary Clinton said: “This is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” She wasn’t talking about ISIS or the growing terrorist threat, but about climate change.
Her spot on the program has been referenced as: “her first energy and climate speech of a publicity tour that many believe is the springboard to a presidential campaign.”
In addition to the obvious misperception about “the challenges we face as a nation and a world,” her speech had several subtle, but instructive, misperceptions to explore.
For example, when addressing “unpredictable” subsidies for green energy projects, she claimed that $500 billion is spent every year subsidizing fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2012, global fossil fuel subsidies did, in fact, total $544 billion, however, citing that figure in the same breath as U.S. tax incentives and subsidies for renewable energy is deceptive at best.
Most global subsidies for fossil fuels are from oil rich countries that use low cost to keep the kingdom happy. A study from The Institute for Energy Research on global energy subsidies concludes: “Many Americans are confused by the large amount of global fossil fuel consumption subsidies that the IEA calculates, not realizing that these subsidies have nothing to do with tax policy, research and development or loan guarantees, where most U.S. programs are directed.”
Let’s look at those “incentives” for renewables and why they are “unpredictable.” Germany and Spain led the world in green energy subsidies but have since considerably dialed back on them.
In Germany, after more than a decade of green-energy subsidies, its electricity rates and carbon-dioxide emissions have gone up. According to a September 4 Reuter’s report, Germany’s reliance on coal has gone up each of the past four years. Germany is looking at levies for residential photo-voltaic system owners—something also being considered (and, in some cases, implemented) in the U.S.
After nearly100 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to green-energy projects, the stimulus-funded program has been plagued with failure, corruption, and illegal activity. Meanwhile—as has happened in Germany—utility bills have gone up and public support for subsidies has declined. After more than twenty years of taxpayer funding, theProduction Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy finally expired on December 31, 2013—though forces that benefit from it are still hoping to extend it retroactively. The PTC is “unpredictable” at best.
In her Q & A session, Clinton said: “One day last summer, Germany got 74 percent of its energy from renewables.” Like the comment about $500 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels, her speech writers did their homework—but they plucked data without looking deeper and as a result made her look foolish. The 74 percent figure is fact. But it represents a fraction of only one day, not recent history, or even a pattern. One month later, Germany got 50 percent of its electricity demand from solar—but six months earlier, in the January cold, it got only 0.1 percent. In his post in the Energy Collective, Robert Wilson, a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, calls Germany’s situation: “more of a coal lock-in than a solar revolution,” as the need for electricity, especially in the cold, grey days of January, requires the steady supply of coal-fueled electricity.
One other item to question: Clinton clearly collaborates with her former boss on his Clean Power Plan—which has a growing coalition of opponents.
The Clean Power Plan is about reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants. In her speech, Clinton repeated a falsehood Obama likes to reference: reducing CO2 emissions will improve children’s’ respiratory health.
“Hillary apparently doesn’t know the difference between soot and CO2,” quipped Jane Orient, MD, and president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. She continued: “And the American Lung Association pretends it doesn’t. No one can claim that the tiny increase in CO2 from coal-fueled generating stations increases asthma—just being indoors with other breathing humans increases CO2 much more and doesn’t cause asthma.”
Clinton took a couple risks for which she deserves some credit. She strayed from the safe turf, when she admitted that Obama’s trajectory on climate change policy hit “a brick wall of opposition” at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen.
She also acknowledged: “Energy is a major part of our foreign policy.” As such, she supports development of American natural gas and oil, calling it an example “of American innovation changing the game.”
Addressing the benefits of producing and exporting natural gas and oil, she said: “Assuming that our production stays at the levels, or even as some predict, goes higher, I do think there’s a play there.” Noting it could help Europe and Asia, she added: “This is a great economic advantage, a competitive advantage, for us. …We don’t want to give that up.”
America does have an energy advantage—and Clinton is correct: “We don’t want to give that up.” Why then, does she (and President Obama) support policies that would take that away—or at least, not encourage our energy growth?
That fact that Clinton chose to start her publicity tour, the perceived springboard to her presidential campaign, with a speech on energy should signal to all of America how important the topic truly is.