How to Fool Americans

When it comes to renewables and other clean energy issues, there is an effort to make things seem what they aren’t.

In media parlance, by using spin.

Three such “spins” come immediately to mind.

Unfortunately, they are from our government, where the Energy Information Agency (EIA) attempts to mislead Americans by spinning information pertaining to the cost of generating electricity based on each method’s Leveled Cost of Electricity (LCOE)(1).

The following explains how the EIA is misleading Americans with respect to:

  • Coal
  • Wind and Solar
  • Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)

Coal

While coal generates some of the least costly electricity, the EIA attempts to make it appear as though it is more expensive than wind.

The table accompanying the EIA website shows the LCOE of coal as 9.66 cents /kWh and wind as 8 cents /kWh.

Clearly, according to the EIA, it costs less to generate electricity with wind than with coal-fired power plants.

Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears
Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears

This is repeated by the media and by those who favor wind.

But the table is misleading, and it’s necessary to read the text accompanying the table to understand why.

Buried in the text, the EIA increases the cost of capital that’s equivalent to a $15 per metric ton of CO2 penalty to the LCOE calculation for coal-fired power plants.

The EIA arbitrarily increases the cost of coal generated electricity by adding a charge for CO2. Here is the actual EIA text.

“In LCOE terms, the impact of the cost of capital adder is similar to that of an emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).”

The EIA cooks the books to make it appear that wind is less costly than coal, when in fact, wind is at least twice as expensive as coal for generating electricity.

Wind and Solar

Another spin by the EIA is found in the same table referenced above.

It shows the cost of onshore wind at 8 cents /kWh, offshore wind at 20 cents /kWh, PV solar at 13 cents /kWh and thermal solar at 24 cents /kWh.

But these are for 2019, four years from now.

These are merely estimates and are not actual costs.

Obviously, the cost of these renewables is higher today, since the estimates are based on anticipated improvements in these renewables.

Again, the media and proponents of renewables use this data to spin the so-called benefits of renewables. They merely say, “As reported by the EIA, wind costs 8 cents /kWh.” But wind doesn’t cost 8 cents /kWh, it actually costs much more.

I have seen 8 cents /kWh quoted in several media articles, AND it is WRONG.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)

It’s not clear whether it was the EIA or Power Magazine that distorted the cost of CCS.

Power Magazine referred to EIA data and said, “The critical point is that coal with CCS is not economically disadvantaged when [compared with the cost of wind and solar after adding storage costs etc.]”

The article avoided comparing the cost of CCS with the cost of generating electricity by natural gas or coal without CCS, thereby distorting the truth about CCS.

Obviously, CCS is disadvantaged when compared with the least costly methods of generating electricity rather than with expensive alternatives. In fact, the cost of electricity using CCS is two to three times more expensive than when generated without CCS.

In essence: “CCS isn’t so terrible when compared with other terrible alternatives.”

Or, phrased differently: A skunk doesn’t smell badly when compared with other skunks.

The article also inferred that CCS will eventually be viable, when it’s clear that CCS won’t work. See, The Why and How of Carbon Capture and Sequestration.

Summary

These examples are clearly attempts to fool Americans about the cost and usefulness of clean energy, specifically wind, solar and CCS.

Here we have an agency of the U.S. government distorting information and undermining the confidence that Americans have in their government.

We also have a magazine whose readers expect it to provide factual information to the utility industry, but which seems to parrot the government’s line.

Americans deserve better from their government.

 

  1. Reference EIA web site: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

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