CRI News

New Cold War to Change Energy Policy Trajectory
By David T. Stevenson (pictured)
Center for Energy & Environmental Policy
February 27, 2022
Putin's invasion of Ukraine has ignited a new Cold War. An immediate causality will likely be the luxury of adopting energy policies targeting early decarbonization of our energy supply chain. Europe was already reeling from high energy costs, and its reliance on Russian fuel now under sanction has turned this into a full-blown crisis. American energy prices will also be dragged higher as we export more natural gas and maybe coal to Europe. Goodbye climate change crisis, hello meeting an immediate energy crisis.
Decarbonization in this decade was always destined to double the cost of power for transportation and electricity. Proponents have attempted to hide the inevitable price increase by slowly phasing in emission reduction regulations. Shifting emissions to less-regulated states and countries has also delayed price increases. For example, eleven coastal states adopted carbon taxes on coal and natural gas electric generation, which they passed onto electric customers. The result has been the loss of energy-intensive industry in those states and increased imports of electricity that simply shifted emissions elsewhere. Those price pressure relief valves disappear when similar policies are adopted federally.
Germany is the poster child for adopting decarbonization policies. The German public is already suffering from doubled energy prices. Without Russian natural gas used to generate 40% of electric power, prices could explode, and blackouts could occur. The most likely new source of natural gas is the United States. We can ship a lot of liquefied natural gas; however, Germany does not have the infrastructure to receive it, and it may take several years to build it.
How long will it take public pressure in Germany to force the delay of the closure of three nuclear electric generating power plants scheduled for this year, and maybe even re-opening three plants that closed last year? Coal-fired electric generation was already increasing and is likely to accelerate. The European Union has already adopted natural gas and nuclear as "green" solutions. Clearly, the pressure for decarbonization has to fade in the face of a real and present energy crisis.
Natural gas prices in the US have already doubled and could double again. One result has been a roughly 20% shift back to coal generation as coal prices remain fairly stable. High gasoline prices have shocked us, and it looks like electricity price shocks will follow.
President Biden and blue states need to change our energy policy trajectory now. Stop the early closing of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Put a hold on the new EPA's "Effluent Limitation Guidelines" that is already impacting coal plant closings. Stop the efforts to ban new oil and gas drilling and pipeline construction. Open the spigots to our vast energy resources. 
Real ultimate solutions to decarbonization that will be driven by free-market forces, not the regulatory state, are a decade away. Federal policy could accelerate development.
Slightly used fuel rods stacked up at existing nuclear power plants are actually an amazing resource. Only 4% of the fuel in those rods has been used. All the technical pieces to build fourth-generation nuclear reactors that can use those rods are understood. There is enough useable power in those rods to provide electric power for the country for 200 years while reducing nuclear waste by 95%. No uranium mining is needed. We need to use the nuclear waste fund to pay for a race to turn that waste into clean electricity.
Similarly, promising technology is developing to capture carbon dioxide from concentrated emission streams from existing coal and natural gas power plants. In the late 1800s, gasoline was dumped into rivers as waste until the internal combustion engine was invented. Carbon dioxide has the potential to be a widely used commodity. It is already used in certain chemical processes, in carbonated beverages, and is pumped permanently underground to pressure higher oil and gas flows from existing wells. It can also be used to strengthen concrete, and new research at Stanford University has turned up catalysts to potentially efficiently create a range of hydrocarbons, including gasoline from waste carbon dioxide. 
Let's remember how to roll up our sleeves in an emergency and get to work. Fear can take a back seat.


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