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Europe’s climate obsession could prove deadly

Tudor Popescu chops fire wood he uses for heating in a storage room attached to his home in Chisinau, Moldova, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Europe’s energy crisis, triggered by Russia slashing natural gas flows amid its war against Ukraine, has forced some people to turn to cheaper heating sources like firewood as the weather gets colder. But as more people stock up and burn wood, prices have skyrocketed, shortages and thefts have been reported, and scams are emerging. (AP Photo/Aurel Obreja)

The wind has died down again in Europe. Unless you’re selling kites or umbrellas, you probably don’t care.

But if you’re a public official, responsible for making sure your citizens stay warm this winter, you may be panicking. In the climate-obsessed European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK), where a decades-long war against fossil fuels caused a radical shift to unstable power sources and enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s energy chokehold, a growing dependence on wind power is again a source of anxiety.

As the Wall Street Journal reported recently: “wind speeds in Hamburg fell to around 5 meters a second, or about 11 miles an hour, according to the weather forecasting site windy.com.” That wind velocity is apparently the “minimum speed required for electricity generation.”

The Journal explains, “Speeds of around 15 meters a second, or 33 mph, are needed to produce maximum power generation.” Come again? The U.S. weather service declares winds of 31 mph to 63 mph “gale force”; so, all those wind towers being built on the continent and in the U.S. require massive wind speeds to be fully productive? Who knew?

The sad fact is our politicians don’t know, and neither, it seems, do the people running Europe. Even as European countries rush to destroy their economies by pandering to unrealistic climate goals, the U.S. ignores the devastating results.  

EU countries have made every wrong turn imaginable in catering to their aggressive climate lobbies — making harmful decisions of exactly the kind being foisted onto Americans via the Biden White House. The climate zealots in the Biden administration, who have plugged global warming considerations into every policy plank of every federal agency, seem to have learned exactly nothing from Europe’s entirely self-inflicted woes.  

Europe decided some years ago to move away from fossil fuels, banking on renewables like wind and solar power to supply an increasing portion of their energy needs. Incredibly, today the most-consumed renewable fuel on the continent is wood, which one team of climate scientists says “emits more CO2 emissions than coal.”

Rather than produce its own natural gas, or invest in nuclear facilities, Germany adopted Energiewende, or “energy transition,” in 2010. That Green New Deal precursor led to excess reliance on renewable energy, causing increased burning of coal and even dirtier lignite to plug energy shortfalls. It also ultimately meant reliance on Russian gas imports via the Nordstream pipelines. We know how that turned out.

France wisely became the continent’s biggest energy exporter by investing in nuclear power plants after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, a decision that cut its emissions sharply while also producing stable energy to its citizens.

Unfortunately, unable to live with that success, President Macron’s environment minister in 2017, in the throes of a climate fit, banned new fossil fuel exploration, demanded a halt to all gas and diesel-powered vehicle sales by 2040 and also announced he would gradually shut down France’s ageing nuclear plants to pivot to renewables.

Consequently, investment in France’s nuclear industry waned and today the industry, which supplies 70 percent of the nation’s electricity, is in crisis. More than half the country’s reactors have been offline for repairs, and power production is the lowest since 1993. France is now importing energy, its nuclear output has hit a 30-year low and there may be power outages this winter as demand turns higher. The price of electricity has surged 10-fold.

The UK similarly fell under the spell of climate visionaries, abandoning its encouragement of North Sea oil and natural gas investment in favor of wind power. Some 23 percent of power production in the UK now comes from wind — wind that, as on the continent, has slowed down, cutting electricity output.

Meanwhile, North Sea oil and gas production, which has been slowly declining since the late 1990s, has endured not only hostile offshore elements but also hostile regulations and tax regimes. Most recently, the government slapped a 25 percent windfall profits tax on Britain’s North Sea producers, similar to a proposal lofted by the Biden administration in response to rising oil prices.

Natural gas accounts for over half of the UK’s electricity production; this extra tax will further reduce investment in the North Sea and likely lead to lower production. Electricity prices are 78 percent higher than a year ago.

None of this should come as a surprise to European lawmakers. In August 2021, the wind also died, causing a shortage of electricity production in Germany, England and other countries and driving prices through the roof.

The war in Ukraine has exacerbated Europe’s energy crisis, but the war on fossil fuels has arguably been more destructive. Europe faced shortages well before Putin invaded its western neighbor.

Someday, when the world has made great advancements in the ability to store electricity, wind and solar power will be reliable sources of energy. That is not the case today. To pretend otherwise is to jeopardize people’s health and indeed their lives.

That’s why the UK is rapidly setting up “warm banks” — places where citizens unable to pay their electricity bills can gather to survive winter’s frosty temperatures. Imagine: one of the wealthiest nations on Earth at risk of freezing.

If you’re an American living in New England, imagining such a development may not be necessary. Democratic senators from the region are pressing the Biden administration to protect northeasterners from suffering this winter as temperatures drop. The same lawmakers who have supported the irresponsible vetoing of natural gas pipelines and reckless reliance on renewable energy are suddenly worried that their policies may harm voters. 

This is wrong. Biden and his Democratic colleagues must wake up to the risks they run in pursuing an unrealistic climate agenda. If they don’t, voters will.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.

Tags energy costs Energy economics Energy prices European Union Renewable energy Russia Russia-Ukraine war United Kingdom United States Vladimir Putin
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