State’s energy planning fails to consider energy investment

An oil rig at sunset in Midland, Texas. (Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle via AP)
An oil rig at sunset in Midland, Texas. (Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle via AP)

In 2012, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection developed its first Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), which provided an assessment and strategy for all residential, commercial, and industrial energy issues.

On July 26, 2017, DEEP published a draft updating of the 2012 CES. By statute, DEEP is required to periodically update the CES to assess and plan for all energy needs in the state, including, but not limited to, electricity, heating, cooling and transportation. The update is designed to advance the state’s goal to create a cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy future. It strives for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 with a focus on growing large-scale, renewable energy procurements that tend to produce electricity much more cheaply than small-scale renewables such as rooftop residential solar.

According to DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee, the CES recognizes that reducing carbon emissions from major sources is the key to both the health of our planet and sustainable economic success in Connecticut.

However, the updated CES is far from comprehensive and provides an unrealistic strategy for sustaining future generations with a comparable standard of living.

Klee, federal and state politicians, and the citizenry consistently ignore the 800-pound gorilla’s shadow in the room – the energy investment (input) that will be necessary to achieve the strategic goals described in the CES.

The energy that must be invested to develop anything — from an electric car to a solar panel — as compared to the energy that it produces or saves is known as the Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) or Payback Ratio. It recognizes that energy planning must include the reality we live in a world of finite and depleting natural resources.

An energy strategist must understand two unbreakable laws of the universe. The first is the law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy). The energy balance of a system, like the balance of a checkbook, is the sum of all deposits and withdrawals. The withdrawals cannot exceed the deposits. If you use more energy drilling to get at a deposit of oil than the energy that deposit will produce, don’t bother.

The second law of thermodynamics (entropy) distinguishes between two kinds of energy: useful energy that can perform work and useless energy that cannot. It holds that some fraction of useful energy irreversibly becomes useless energy every time energy is converted from one form to another. In other words, entropy is like an ATM fee that must be paid on all transactions. The bank of the universe deducts some percentage from every energy deposit, withdrawal, or conversion, reducing the customer’s spendable balance.

The deliberate failure to consider EROEI in the state’s energy assessments and strategies discounts the future energy supply for the state. Such omissions prevent achievement of a comprehensive energy strategy. It misleads the public into believing that the future energy supply for the state is secure when, in reality, it is just the opposite.

With about 3.5 million people, the state’s population is less than one-half of one percent of the planet’s population. As a result, Connecticut’s politicized energy strategy will have a negligible to infinitesimal effect on reducing Greenhouse Gases and climate change.

With over seven billion people growing to 10 billion by 2050 or earlier, the Earth is facing the beginning of the end to a short era that provided lifestyles dependent in all ways, directly or indirectly, on relatively cheap but finite fossil fuels.

The primary energy source for the production of all other energy systems, renewable or not, as well as nearly all modern transportation and food supplies, is fossil fuels. At the present rate of one billion barrels of oil extracted and consumed every 11 days, there cannot be more than 40 years left in the oil age.

The U.S. consumes one-fourth of the world’s oil with only 4 percent of the population. This egregious anomaly equates, per capita, to 22 barrels of oil for each American per year, versus the world average of four barrels per person per year.

Much of American gasoline consumption is for frivolous and inefficient travel while we quickly consume our most precious finite resource. The oil we use today will not be there for near-term future requirements for food, for our kids, or to support a smooth transition to other lower-energy sources.

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when acting would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history,” Winston Churchill observed.

The only rational assessment and strategy is the inclusion of cradle-to-grave energy investments in updating the state’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Otherwise, it is a feckless document, best set aside.

Robert Fromer is an environmental consultant and a former resident of New London.

 

 

 

 

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