Ukraine crisis should end rapid US decarbonization

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The Ukraine crisis has exposed NATO weakness and Russian disdain for the Biden administration. But, most importantly, it signals the beginning of the end of the precipitous decarbonization policies promoted by the White House and many states.  

For years, Russia has sought to use fossil fuels energy supplies as a lever to weaken NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “PhD thesis” was on this strategy. For over 20 years, he has worked to build a network of Russian pipelines into Europe to control the principal sources of energy to the major NATO nations. Currently, Europe gets well over one-third of its natural gas supplies from Russia, as well as a sizable portion of its crude oil imports.  

Russia has concentrated especially on Germany. Over the past few years, under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany shut down its nuclear power generation and has become fully dependent on natural gas, as well as oil, imports from Russia. It is counting on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline to supply its core residential and industrial energy needs. As part of Germany’s Russian strategic energy connection, Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, serves as chairman of the Russian energy company, Rosneft

Nord Stream 2 can also support an attack on Ukraine. It can divert gas from the southern pipeline that runs through Ukraine, reducing Ukraine’s annual gas transport fees by around $2 billion, undermining the Ukraine economy. Interestingly, to meet European Union (EU) guidelines and transport this diverted gas through Nord Stream 2, Russia is required to supplement Gazprom gas with Rosneft gas — the tangled German/Russian web. 

France and other NATO countries are also following the German path. And President Biden’s attacks on America’s oil and gas sectors reduce our ability to offset Russian energy blackmail of NATO with U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. 

Thus, faced with the prospect of Russian interference with their critical industrial and residential energy supplies, especially during the winter months, it is little wonder that our NATO allies have resisted any serious confrontation and sanctions on Russia’s likely invasion of Ukraine. If Biden were successful in imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2, it could drive a decisive political wedge between Germany and the United States. Oil and gas are more effective weapons than nuclear missiles.  

Russia has been playing the long game to use energy to weaken NATO and support Russian expansion. Putin plays chess well — Biden plays checkers badly.  

What does all this mean for American lurches toward decarbonization, the Paris Accords,  Biden’s disastrous Glasgow climate conference and follow-up video call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping? It means rapid decarbonization is dead. Only the U.S. federal government, several state governments, and some utility boards seem to ignore the obvious.  

California, for example, has been aggressive in rapidly shutting down nuclear power plants and fossil fuel generation. The result: very high utility prices to customers, regular outages from a poorly maintained grid, where maintenance may have been deferred to bring more “sustainable” energy (wind and solar) on-line, and wildfires ignited by these poorly maintained grids. In the end, Gov. Gavin Newsom was forced to import fossil fuel energy from other states (similar to the Germany/Russia situation) because of what he called the unreliability of California’s wind and solar power generation. 

Similarly, Biden’s surrender of America’s energy independence, discouraging oil, gas and coal exploration, production and usage, led to his begging Middle Eastern oil states to bail us out — at high cost and strategic risk to America. 

In a nutshell, by responding to climate change hysteria, America’s decarbonization policies completely ignore several inconvenient truths. 

Shutting down nuclear and fossil fuel energy production before there is sufficient wind or solar capacity to replace it is mindless. 

Next, American wind and solar cannot store energy and cannot consistently deliver needed power at night or windless periods. It requires battery storage capacity to support a transition to predominantly wind and solar that must be equal to the power generation of the discarded oil/gas/coal/nuclear power systems, i.e., 40-50 quads as compared to current American battery storage capacity of well below 10 quads. Policymakers seem to have not grasped that nuclear and fossil fuels are “nature’s batteries”; they store and deliver energy whenever you need it. Solar and wind cannot.  

Switching to solely electric power for industry, transportation and consumer use requires upgrading and expanding (more than doubling) America’s power grid and hardening it against sabotage. 

Finally, only utility-level solar can deliver energy at a (non-subsidized) price equivalent to (non-subsidized) fossil fuels. 

Sufficient and economic utility-level solar power generation, grid expansion and upgrades, and sufficient battery storage capacity are decades away. If we impulsively shut down America’s fossil fuel supplies and power generation, we’ll simply be forced to buy fossil fuels and energy from foreign sources. 

That is why our principal adversaries are not following us. China is massively expanding its coal-fired power generation. Russia and Middle Eastern countries are making a windfall selling us and Europe high-priced oil and gas. The Paris Accords and Glasgow climate conference now are simply tools to fool America into further self-destruction. 

The situation in Ukraine makes it clear: Biden’s crushing of U.S. energy independence represents a strategic surrender to Russia, China and Middle East autocrats.

Biden is losing NATO, does not have a workable or phased strategy for decarbonization, is destroying America’s economy and global strategic leverage, and, importantly, is doing nothing useful to address climate change.

Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.

Tags Climate change European Union Gavin Newsom Joe Biden Natural gas Nord Stream 2 Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin
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