Undermining science to undermine renewable energy


We’ve talked a little about energy transmission, especially in conjunction with renewable energy production, and the need to improve the electrical grid.  One thought seems to be that conservation interests are a barrier to that.  It turns out that the coal industry may be an even bigger barrier.  At least, here’s an example from the Trump Administration.

The Seams study demonstrated that stronger connections between the U.S. power system’s massive eastern and western power grids would accelerate the growth of wind and solar energy—hugely reducing American reliance on coal, the fuel contributing the most to climate change, and saving consumers billions.

But a study like Seams was politically dangerous territory for a federally funded lab while coal-industry advocates—and climate-change deniers—reign in the White House.

According to interviews with five current and former DOE and NREL sources, supported by more than 900 pages of documents and emails obtained by InvestigateWest through Freedom of Information Act requests and by additional documentation from industry sources, Trump officials would ultimately block Seams from seeing the light of day. And in doing so, they would set back America’s efforts to slow climate change.

The fallout was swift: The lab grounded Bloom and Novacheck (the lead researchers), prohibiting them from presenting the Seams results or even discussing the study outside NREL.  And the $1.6 million study itself disappeared. NREL yanked the completed findings from its website and deleted power-flow visualizations from its YouTube channel.

If NREL researchers are able to work unencumbered by political concerns and release Seams in its entirety, it could help point the U.S. toward a greener future, in which a robust economy runs on renewable energy. But for now, Seams is demonstrating an unintended finding—that when administrations stick their hands into scientific research, politically inconvenient truths are in peril.

The author indicated later that Congress had demanded that the study be released (and here it is).

This story is another example of political interference in science production and distribution.  I remain a strong skeptic that the pro-environment side can match this kind of interference by the coal lobby and “climate-change deniers” (as some have suggested here, including self-proclaimed climate-change “skeptics”).  It also seems obvious that this direct intervention is a lot more influential than any bias that exists in research funding.

24 thoughts on “Undermining science to undermine renewable energy”

  1. Dear Jon,

    How do you expect any constructive discussion when you frame the question with name-calling and ideological nonsense?

    You are not the scientist in these discussions and hence have little concept of what the science really is or what the pertinent arguments really are. Hence you take heavily political positions and pretend that they are “scientific.”

    When you imagine that a “robust economy runs on renewables,” you are living in fantasy land. Renewables may work a little better with a power grid that is interconnected nationwide. But they only work when backed up by reliable power, namely coal, natural gas, hydro, or nuclear.

    Even if you covered the USA with windmills, they will not work without the wind blowing. And they cannot produce the total power that this nation needs. Furthermore wind and solar are vastly more expensive than the reliables. The wind and solar installations have a much shorter life than typical reliables. And renewables do far more environmental damage to our landscapes and native animals than compact reliables.

    Yes, I know that the wind industry claims that the wind is free and therefore the power from windmills is practically free. But that is very dishonest. Renewables have to be backed up with reliables at greater cost than merely using the reliables 24/7. As a consequence, renewables have a larger carbon footprint than reliables because the quick start or continuous running of reliables for backup is very inefficient.

    Science and engineering needs to be done by those of us who actually understand these subjects. Amateurs should not pretend knowledge, where they have little to none.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

    • I didn’t say anything here about the merits of renewable energy, but feel free to point out specific flaws in this research. Or just keep repeating your response to previous comments here. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20161026-how-liars-create-the-illusion-of-truth

      “Science and engineering needs to be done by those of us who actually understand these subjects.” You’ll probably find a lot of foresters who would agree with you (and this attitude had a lot to do with the adoption of environmental laws to regulate forestry). But public policy needs to done by elected officials and the bureaucracy they oversee (based on what they can demonstrate is the best available science).

      • Dear Jon,

        Yes, I know that you consider all scientists who disagree with your understanding of science to be Nazis, per the BBC reference you give to Joseph Goebbels. Is that really the way you win arguments about science or even politics?

        While you do not realize it, there is a big difference between those of us who spent many years learning not only the science in our specialties, but most importantly how science works. I am a physicist. We study the very basic laws of the universe and decide matters of science based on experiments. That harks back to the Royal Society’s motto “Nulius in verba” or “Take no one’s word for it.”

        That was the beginning of real science in the 1600s. Scientists had to separate themselves from the ideology of the Dark Ages to create the miracle of modern science. You are now arguing for a return to the primacy of politics and a pseudo ‘green’ religion over objective inquiry.

        And you are remarkably supporting scientific ignorance as somehow noble, because it allows you to proceed without understanding anything about the real science or real engineering.

        “Best available science” comes from real scientists, not pretenders who lack the necessary education and operate as political attack dogs.

        Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
        Corbett, Oregon USA

        • Yet, you feel the need to reply to *anyone* who disagrees with your agenda driven viewpoint as a shoddy scientist, idiot, or worse. You talk down to everyone. Cite one sided shoddy papers. Use your “PhD”, that you feel the need to cite in every comment everywhere all the time, but shi*t all over anyone else with an advanced degree who disagrees with you. You could care less about forest management, the point of this blog, but seem to think you need to chime in, just cause a few months ago someone linked to a Cliff Mass blog writeup (let’s not get into that bag of thorns).
          So besides your PhD, and agenda, what gives you a right to b**** about everything under the sun that mentions carbon or CO2 in a way you don’t like, besides that it makes you feel good?

    • I guess I am – the political interference cited in this article suggests the anti-environmental lobby can influence any administration (and your article helps make my point that similar examples of pro-environment political intervention are harder to find):

      “In Florida, water-quality experts reported government interference with efforts to assess damage to the Everglades stemming from development projects.

      In the Pacific Northwest, federal scientists said they were pressured to minimize the effects they had documented of dams on struggling salmon populations.

      In several Western states, biologists reported being pushed to ignore the effects of overgrazing on federal land.”

      Except the Biden Administration has proposed doing what the Obama Administration was accused here of not doing: https://forestpolicypub.com/2023/03/22/a-framework-for-federal-scientific-integrity-policy-and-practice/

      • But how do you know when scientists are being “scientists” and being “advocates for their resource”?
        Do you think biologists are currently being pushed to ignore the effects of wind turbines on eagles? When are they being “pushed,” and when is there legitimate disagreement- over the science, or the policy? Every place, it seems to me, has an argument for “not here” and what kind of science can determine what can be sacrificed in the name of a greater good? While scientific info should be used, it sounds like a political question.

        From Robert Bryce:

        “That history helps put the Two Rivers project in proper context for the comments filed with the Bureau of Land Management by Mike Lockhart, a veteran wildlife biologist. Lockhart tracks Golden Eagles in Wyoming for the U.S. Geological Survey and Conservation Science Global. Lockhart’s December 23, 2022 comments about the Two Rivers project (see letter #18) are blistering and deserve extensive quotation. He wrote:

        Given the overriding importance of the Two Rivers wind project area to breeding Golden Eagles, and the unfortunate reality that no reasonably adequate protections would prevent impacts to possibly as many as six territorial pairs of Golden Eagles, I am opposed to this project in its entirety. Moreover, given the exceptional importance of the Shirley and Laramie Basins to both resident, migratory, and overwintering Golden Eagles, I am opposed to additional, future wind projects in Albany and Carbon Counties… My strong opposition stems from an informed belief that current levels of eagle losses from wind projects in these counties is far worse than expected, and is well on a trajectory to exceed the Service’s own Golden Eagle “preservation standard”. Moreover, the native grasslands, shrublands, foothills, ridgelines, and extensive white-tailed prairie dog complexes found in these counties represent perhaps some of the best resident, migrant, and over-wintering Golden Eagle habitat found in N. America, the long-term loss of which would be largely irreversible.

        Wind turbines are a profoundly dangerous, additive human threat to Golden Eagles on Wyoming landscapes. For unknown reasons, Golden Eagles are especially vulnerable to turbine collisions and until somewhat recently, large-scale wind projects were not part of Wyoming’s energy infrastructure. Existing wind development is undoubtedly now killing significant numbers of Golden Eagles in Wyoming. But the rapid expansion and massive footprint of proposed, new projects will exponentially impact Golden Eagles and other wildlife to increased levels of additive loss never experienced before. In contrast to documented, enormous Bald Eagle population increases across North America in the last decade, Golden Eagle populations are thought to be holding their own at best, or are locally declining – perhaps significantly – in some parts of their range.

        I also believe that existing and proposed turbine setbacks and other conservation strategies designed to mitigate on-site eagle losses at Two Rivers, and other area wind projects, are inadequate and will not reasonably arrest an inescapable, spiraling population sink for resident Golden Eagles, nor will these measures prevent increasing, long-term impacts to both migrant and over-wintering Golden Eagles. Simply put, there are specific, exceptional value Golden Eagle habitats and migration corridors where species population risks are too great to justify wind project siting. Although I am a strong renewable energy advocate, the anticipated extent and rate of growth of improperly sited wind projects in Albany and Carbon counties (and elsewhere in Wyoming) will have devastating effects on Golden Eagles and a host of other airborne wildlife… Moreover, a major justification…that this project is necessary to support climate action, is a false equivalency. While I do agree that climate change represents the greatest environmental threat the world faces today, and that extraordinary measures are needed immediately, the high cost to nationally important wildlife resources in Albany and Carbon counties do not justify additional wind development at this specific locale, not while other siting alternatives are available!”

        • I see a difference between politicians (or an agency beholden to politicians) accepting the science about effects and making a decision to cause those effects anyway – and politicians suppressing the science to minimize the stated effects of their decision. In your example, it would be interesting to see how the agency addresses these scientifically informed public comments.

          The good thing about NEPA is it puts all of this information out in the public forum, which makes political influence a little harder. But I could conjure up an example where these facts about eagles are known by an agency biologist rather than submitted by someone in the public, and that biologist is pressured to not mention it. I could imagine that pressure to ignore science coming from a competing industry easier than from an environmental lobbyist. Am I wrong?

          • Not exactly; not when ENGO’s seem to act as representatives of industries.. as some are doing with wind and solar. I’m not saying that they are influenced by funding.. they may actually believe that those industries are the lesser of two evils (re: climate change). But I resist the framing of “ignoring science” at all. Science tells us all kinds of things and any policy can have different policies lined up. I think Audubon is a good example of this.. “if we don’t stop climate change more birds will die so it’s OK for those birds to die.”

          • The idea that the public forum makes it less political seems to get the nature of “political” kind of wrong. It shifts where the “politics” is happening but it’s not somehow apolitical, any more than campaigns for public office are. This is of course a quibble, you’re not wrong overall.

            There is a countervailing pressure created by NEPA, though. Your example about an agency staffer pressured to ignore or downplay something is imaginable, of course. But “putting it all out there” in NEPA as creating a marketplace of competing claims that must be adjudicated by an objective agency is probably too idealistic, in my opinion.

            The process creates incentives to narrativize in a way that typically looks like “ScienceTM” framed against “ignoring science”. And that’s not always helpful. I suppose in an ideal world it would look like the marketplace / public record model (for lack of a better term) but as Sharon notes, the nature of the process is that it ends up creating competing advocacies (since “science” never speaks with one voice on complex issues, but instead in terms of inputs/outputs and then tradeoffs among outcomes based on assumptions and data).

    • Wow, Larry: That’s quite a claim! Not a shred of facts or truth, of course, but a real attention grabber! Maybe you could add some detail and maybe identify your own definition of the “worst of the worst” before naming a couple of examples. On the surface this looks like a claim made by an unstable person who has forgotten to take their meds, but certainly there must be some substance to your statement. Larry?

      • Try to keep up, Mr. Zybach since it’s all been posted here before.

        The CO2 Coalition, established by William Happer, a senior director with the White House National Security Council, has received more than $1 million from energy executives and conservative foundations that fight regulations since it was founded four years ago. The group is stacked with researchers who cast doubt on climate science. Other members have spent years fighting regulations that would reduce fossil fuel consumption. The largest donation — $170,000 — came from the Mercer Family Foundation, a top donor to President Trump. The Mercers have also contributed more than $7 million to the Heartland Institute, which attacks climate science. The Charles Koch Institute provided $33,283 to the CO2 Coalition, while the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation donated $50,000. The Sarah Scaife Foundation contributed $135,000, and the Florida-based Thomas W. Smith Foundation gave $75,000. EOG Resources Inc., an oil and gas company spun off from Enron Corp., gave $5,000. The Randolph Foundation in New York provided $40,000. [Trump adviser created group to defend CO2]

        • Oh, so you think these are the “worst of the worst of the Earth haters.” That explains it. Sometimes things can get a little weird down there in Mom’s basement. Good luck!

          • My parents both lived into their nineties and I sold their property over ten years ago so your asinine comment is simply wrong but that you’re likely still drawing a wage from the likes of those like Robert Mercer means you’re completely without honor.

  2. It seems there is nothing Xcel Energy won’t do to convince the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that it’s not a fly-by-night Earth hating gangster that exists solely to enrich its shareholders.

    Advocates for the Earth are concerned that the megacorp is doing little to offset its reliance on natural gas and that biomass is hardly a sustainable fuel. $5 billion of Xcel’s ‘clean energy’ goals means some 2.3% increases in customer costs for its 1.6 million subscribers but the other $10 billion will be borne by taxpayers.

    Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy screws customers in Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and New Mexico but the company gives twice as much campaign dough to Earth haters than to Democrats.

    Boulder, Colorado voted to keep Xcel in 2020 but in light of findings in the causes of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County seven lawsuits have been combined as a class action and filed against Earth hater Xcel in Colorado courts. Now, Boulder residents have had it with the monopoly that furnishes the city’s power and burns fossil fuels to generate 58% of the state’s electricity.

    On its website, Empower Our Future states that one of its goals is to create an “electrical system that is more democratic, decentralized, competitive and equitable than is currently provided by Xcel’s monopoly in Colorado.” When Boulder negotiated the franchise agreement with Xcel, it built in several off-ramps that would allow Boulder to leave before the established end of 2041. Under the agreement, Boulder can only null the agreement in certain years if Xcel fails to meet the laid-out emission requirements, like this year and 2025. But it also has specific years, with the first being 2026, it can leave for any reason. [<a href="https://boulderreportinglab.org/2023/10/06/climate-focused-boulder-mayoral-forum-puts-the-heat-on-xcel-energy/"Climate-focused Boulder mayoral forum puts the heat on Xcel Energy]

    In 2018 a majority of Pueblo, Colorado residents pushed the city to end its agreement with Black Hills Energy and create a municipal electric utility. But in 2020 despite acknowledging BHE is a predator residents voted to remain enslaved to the Rapid City, South Dakota-based monopoly yet Pueblo still endures crappy service.

  3. In 2012 when Bob Beck was Wyoming Public Media’s News Director he began an interview with Senator John Barrasso (Trump-WY) asking the question: “Senator, why do you hate the environment?”

    Actually, the GOP began hating the Earth around the year 1991 or about the time the Soviet Union fell. “’The conservative movement replaced the ‘Red Scare’ with a new ‘Green Scare’ and became increasingly hostile to environmental protection at that time,’” according to sociologist Aaron McCright of Michigan State University and two colleagues.

  4. The early 1990s saw a noticeable shift in the American conservative movement’s position on environmental issues, even though it had been critical of environmental regulations since the 1970s (Dunlap et al., 2001, Layzer, 2012, McCright and Dunlap, 2011). After the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the conservative movement replaced the “Red Scare” with a new “Green Scare” and became increasingly hostile toward environmental protection (Jacques et al., 2008). In response to the international environmental community successfully placing global environmental problems such as anthropogenic climate change, ozone depletion, and biodiversity loss on the international policy agenda (most notably via the 1992 Rio Earth Summit), and fearful of the Clinton-Gore Administration’s likely receptivity to that agenda, conservative foundations, think tanks, and leaders mobilized to challenge the legitimacy of these problems and thus undercut the need for government action to deal with them (Jacques et al., 2008).



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