Practically for Free
Who could possibly be against free electricity from renewables, particularly wind and solar?
When I was growing up in the Chicagoland area in the 1950s, we got our gas from People’s Gas, Light and Coke Company and our electricity from Commonwealth Edison. Gas appliances were the norm. We had a gas furnace, hot water heater, dryer and of course, a gas range.
I was a child asthmatic. From several years of experience I learned what to avoid—dust, pollen, aerosol insecticides and exercising outside in very cold winter weather. Even though aerosol insecticides triggered attacks, for some reason running behind the spray trucks that dispensed mosquitocide (a.k.a. DDT) in the summer did not bother me. We breathed in the white fog aa if it was merely a cumulus cloud.
Something else that did not aggravate my allergies was living in a gas-powered house. Asthma attacks grew less frequent but the gas appliances lived in that house long after I was gone. I currently live in a townhouse that has a gas furnace, gas water heater and gas stove. The range was originally electric, but when we bought the condo, we had it replaced by a gas stove, running a new gas line to be able to do so. Real cooks cook with gas. The advantages are obvious. The dangers, barring a very rare gas leak, are practically nonexistent.
Another youthful memory is of Commonwealth Edison, Chicago’s electric utility of the time and to this day, and its ads featuring Little Bill, a cartoon bird: Electricity costs less today, you know…a little birdie told me so. Tweet, Tweet Little Bill. An example (of unfortunately poor quality) but you get the idea:
ComEd was also advertising the benefits of nuclear power in the Fifties. The ad below drives home the point of energy density, a term I had not heard until I discovered the works of Robert Bryce, @pwrhungry. The commercial shows a freight train carrying “over a hundred thousand tons of coal. That’s what it would take to equal the energy in just one ton of uranium…and the sixteen million gallons of oil it would take to match that ton of uranium.”
I don’t recall the transition to nuclear as causing much controversy back then. The deprivations of World War II were still fresh in our parents’ memories. Progress was welcomed. To me, a nuclear powered future was a given. Like many entitled young folks, I expected electricity to be there on demand. Just flip a switch. That blasé attitude lasted until Three Mile Island, the nuclear accident that occurred at the Pennsylvania nuclear plant, March 28, 1979. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and the media made the most of the opportunity to sow panic.
We were about 150 miles from the plant site, but the local news made it sound like a radiation cloud would descend upon us at any moment. We could become sterile or have six-toed children. As it turned out, nothing happened. However, a smidgen of doubt entered my mind in regard to the credibility of the press—not yet known as the media (or fake news).
Then came the hype over the movie The China Syndrome that was actually released before the accident at Three Mile Island on 6 March 1979. The two events almost coinciding reinforced the fear of nuclear in the public’s mind. I never saw the movie. The premise of a runaway nuclear reactor burning its way trough the earth’s core to emerge in China was a bit far-fetched for me. However, many of a similar mind to present day Climate Change Church goers believed it. Building a new nuke plant was DOA.
Around this time, I was walking through an airport and saw a special issue of National Review on nuclear power and bought a copy. The feature article was by someone I had never heard of, Bernard Cohen, physics professor at Pitt. The article was eye-opening. He dismantled every nuclear power myth in popular circulation. Up to that time, not one life had been lost in a nuclear power plant accident; coal mining deaths were stunningly common: "To understand how dangerous coal mining in the US used to be, consider that there were more than 1,000 US coal mining deaths in every year between 1900 and 1945 and more than 90,000 total coal-related deaths during that period, more than 2,000 deaths in the 24 years between 1905 and 1930, and more than 3,000 deaths in the year 1907." https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/chart-of-the-day-coal-mining-deaths-in-the-us-1900-2013/ The next doubt-creating crisis was Chernobyl. By that time, I was a media skeptic. I took the hysterical mainstream media accounts with a large grain of salt. Michael Crichton was a good source of factual information during this time. He was the first person I came across who took the media to task for poor science and technology coverage. In particular, he savaged the New York Times' Science Page which gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
I had already been what is now termed a climate change denier, but Crichton made me feel that I was in good company. After years of trying to discuss anthropogenic global warming/climate change with true believers of the congregation of the First Church of Climate Change, I gave up in frustration. I decided to cede my opponents the point. If they wanted to believe that the ice caps were about to evaporate and Manhattan would be under twenty feet of water by 2100, so be it. I no longer cared to argue.
In the first place, it is ridiculous to believe that our ingenious and adaptive civilization would not be able to adapt to the change. Holland was a living example of life below sea level that no one seemed to notice—or want to notice. But most important, I believed that the proposals that were being offered to cure the problem were worse than the disease.
Having walked the streets of the poorest barrios in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from 1967 to ‘69, I saw first hand what life was like without a reliable supply of electricity and potable water. (La Caudilla is my fictionalized account of my time in South America.) I decided to learn something about power generation and leave the climate science to the climate scientists.
I was disabused of the notion that fossil fuels were a problem by reading Robert Bryce (https://www.amazon.com/Question-Power-Electricity-Wealth-Nations/dp/1610397495) and later, listening and watching his podcasts. Alex Epstein became another source of factual information. His phrase human flourishing resonated with me because of my experience in Ecuador with humanity that was far from flourishing. (https://tinyurl.com/yc33f8k7)
Another book that influenced me was Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (https://tinyurl.com/ym2x9mfe). Shellenberger is particularly relevant because he is a convert from the renewable dogma. He speaks the language of the other and has been in the belly of the beast.
Most of us are ignorant of the basics of electricity production, transmission and the complex workings of the grid in general. We take power for granted and don’t realize its importance until it fails us. Since learning is life-long, I decided that I needed to learn more about the grid. I saw Meredith Angwin interviewed by Robert Bryce. The interview was fascinating. I had no idea how complicated and perilous the journey was for our dear friend electricity to get from power plant, across hundreds of miles of transmission lines and finally to our homes.
We would be wasting a lot less time and money if the average person, like me, understood more about the grid. To this end, there is no better source than Meredith Angwin. Her book Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid is a demanding but essential read to understand the delicate condition we find ourselves in in regard to our reliable power supply. We need to get serious—soon. ( https://tinyurl.com/39ffy4je )
Margaret Angwin’s latest interview with Robert Bryce: