The St. Louis city council has unanimously passed a resolution decreeing that by 2035 the city will somehow, almost magically be powered by 100% “clean, renewable” electricity. Or at least by paper certificate, as St. Louis city council raises electricity costs for poor families
Guest essay by Paul Driessen
In 2016, Missouri generated 96.5% of its electricity with fossil fuel and nuclear power, 1.6% with hydroelectric, and just 1.5% with wind and solar. The St. Louis Metro Area did roughly the same.
But now, by royal decree, the St. Louis City Crown has made it clear, the climate must be perfect all year – and by 2035 the city will somehow, magically be powered by 100% “clean, sustainable” electricity.
The Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution calling for this to happen – via tougher energy efficiency measures and a transition to wind and solar power. The decision was supported by “environmental, advocacy and religious” organizations, which cited “sustainability and climate consciousness” as major concerns, an effusive article noted. The decision was simply “smart business,” they claim, because renewable energy is becoming “cheaper and cheaper,” and businesses want to move to cities that rely on renewable energy.
City officials have promised to launch an immediate “transparent and inclusive stakeholder process,” to develop a “plan of action” by December 2018. Who will actually be included in this “inclusive” process, and who will not be invited to participate, they did not say. However, recent marches, rants, dis-invitations, property destruction and physical assaults around cities and campuses offer helpful clues.
The following observations may help initiate the St. Louis review process – and similar discussions about renewable energy in other communities.
The local utility company (Ameren) already has a Pure Power program that lets St. Louis residents and businesses voluntarily purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). When a customer signs up for 100% renewable energy, Ameren charges an extra penny for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. That increases utility bills by 10-20% and on average adds about $150 to annual residential bills; $850 to commercial bills; and $20,000 to industrial electricity charges.
However, it does not mean customers are actually getting wind or solar energy. Each REC simply represents “environmental attributes associated with past renewable energy generation” and proof that “renewable energy was generated by an eligible renewable energy source.”
In other words, an REC merely means electricity was generated somewhere, sometime in the past, and sent somewhere, along a transmission line, whether or not it was really needed at the time. It simply pays wind developers for every kilowatt generated – transferring wealth from customers to developers.
All this raises intriguing questions. If wind and solar are getting cheaper, and more affordable than fossil fuels, why does Ameren charge a 1-cent-per-kWh premium for them? Why do they to be mandated? How many times might certain wind operators sell the same certificates? How many counterfeits will con artists sell? How many “certificate cops” will be needed to police the lucrative trade?
Once St. Louis makes renewables mandatory, the involuntary wealth transfers will become huge. Worse, the system will be enormously regressive – falling hardest on poor and working class families, small businesses operating on slim profit margins, and major energy users like hospitals and factories.
Missouri currently has relatively low electricity prices; St. Louis rates are even lower. Imposing renewable energy mandates will send city electricity rates into realms now “enjoyed” in California and Connecticut: 19 cents per kWh for families, 17 cents for businesses and 13 cents for industries. They could even reach the punitive rates now paid in Germany: 35 cents for families, 18 cents for all others!
How might that affect a vital energy-intensive customer like the 635,000-square-foot Barnes-Jewish Hospital Center for Advanced Medicine? At today’s rates, it pays around $1.4 million a year for electricity. A 13% Pure Power REC hike would increase that bill by $180,000. At CA-CT-German rates, that bill would skyrocket to $3.3 million annually – a massive, unsustainable $1.9 million increase.
How many employees would the hospital have to lay off, to make up for that spike? How many services would it have to eliminate or reduce in quality? How badly would patient care suffer?
How will poor and blue-collar families fare if their electricity rates nearly double? United Way recently found that 56% of St. Louis families are already unable to pay their basic living expenses: housing, food, clothing, transportation, taxes, healthcare and child care. How much worse will this situation become?
Then why are the city and its allies (especially religious groups) so intent on implementing these renewable energy mandates? Perhaps because that is easier than tackling real city problems. Missouri high school students as a whole have an 85% graduation rate; in St. Louis only 46% graduate. The city ranks #12 among “worst US cities to live in,” #4 for murders, and #2 for “most dangerous.”
Instead of trying to improve on this dismal record, the Aldermen & Allies want to be at the forefront on “disastrous manmade climate change” and “sustainability” (or at least “consciousness” about the issues).
Average global temperatures have dropped back to where they were before the 2015-16 El Niño. Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the US mainland in a record 12 years. Tornado, drought and storm frequency and intensity are on par with historic records. Where’s the disaster or human connection?
As to clean and sustainable, wind and solar are not. The enormous installations require vast amounts of land and raw materials, plus more for ultra-long transmission lines. (The wind installations Anheuser-Busch plans to use for its 100% renewable PR stunt are 350 miles away – in Oklahoma.) Still more land and materials are required for backup fossil fuel power plants or ginormous battery arrays – so that families, hospitals and businesses have electricity when they need it, instead of when it’s available.
For the wind option, just generating the 3.5 billion megawatt-hours of electricity the United States uses every year – and storing power in batteries for just seven windless days – would require some 14 million turbines! That’s because more turbines force us to go to lower and lower quality wind areas, which means instead of generating electricity 33% of the year at best wind sites, they’d only do so half of that time. Using Tesla-style 100-kWh battery packs would require something on the order of 600 billion units!
Have the Aldermen & Allies run those numbers – and costs – for the St. Louis share of all this? Will Gov. Greitens and the state legislature go along with all this – and help pay the costs?
More to the point, all of this would require unfathomable amounts of mining, processing, smelting, manufacturing and shipping: concrete, iron, copper, fiberglass, lithium, cadmium, rare earth metals and more. Since St. Louis and other environmentalist groups generally oppose mining (and foundries, refineries and factories) in the USA, most of those materials will come from someone else’s backyards:
Places like Baotou, Mongolia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where men, women and even children dig them out and process them under horrific environmental, health and safety conditions. Their risk of dying due to cave-ins or exposure to toxic, carcinogenic materials is intense and constant.
Some claim renewable energy is nevertheless sustainable, and moral. It must be an interesting group of religious leaders who’ve come to the fore in St. Louis (and elsewhere) to reach that conclusion, support major wind and solar energy programs – and denounce fossil fuels and investment in oil and mining companies.
People in impoverished and developing countries have little interest in wind and solar power, except as a stopgap for distant villages. They want abundant, reliable, affordable electricity. That’s why they have built hundreds of coal-fired power plants and have 1,600 more under construction or in planning.
One has to wonder if those who promoted and voted on the St. Louis program (and others like it) ever considered these hard realities. Too often, they seem content just to feel righteous, at least among their peers and certain stakeholders – even if most big renewable energy programs are really just pixie dust.