Kyoto = blackouts

I recently debated a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) activist on global warming and the future of the U.S. electricity supply. The activist made the “negawatts” argument that conservation should be our leading source of power. Utilities, she said, should not plan to build new capacity until they have exhausted every option to improve their energy efficiency and that of their customers.

The debate took place in the conference center of a hotel in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla. In the Q&A segment, a representative from the local utility noted that the population in their service area was projected to grow by 1 million people in the next three years. “Efficiency enhancements may help us manage demand in our existing customer base,” he said, “but there’s no way we can serve a million new customers without new capacity” (or words to that effect). Moreover, he noted, what was needed was new baseload capacity, which would have to be either coal or nuclear.

The NRDC activist was of course against nuclear power. So what was her solution? She said no new coal-fired power plants should be built unless they employ a technology called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), because of its compatibility with CO2 capture technology. But there are only two commercially-operating IGCC plants in the United States — in Tampa, Fla., and Wabash, Ind. — and the Department of Energy funded 50% of the capital costs. Moreover, there are no commercially operating IGCC plants with CO2 capture technology, and there won’t be for some time. According to the Energy Information Administration’s analysis of Senator Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade proposal, “power plants with carbon capture and storage technology are not projected to be commercially viable within the 2030 timeframe” even under a virtual carbon tax of $9 per ton of CO2.

In other words, if NRDC gets its way, electricity demand will surge far ahead of supply, creating an electric reliability crisis — a dim and dark future of blackouts, malaise, and economic decline.

Consider also this shocking item from Down Under:

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) has found that demand for electricity is considerably higher than predicted, taking its toll on the grid.

Last week power consumption hit record levels and in Victoria problems caused by bushfires led to widespread blackouts.

Council executive director Ric Brazzale says governments need to secure a reliable energy supply and wake up to the issue before it is too late.

“We’ve seen a greater increase in electricity consumption than the Government and other organisations had predicted,” he said.

“That’s putting pressure on our electricity networks unless we do something about it. “We’re just going to see rising greenhouse gas emissions and rising peak power demand which will put pressure on our infrastructure.”

The real surprise, though, is that Australia’s growing demand for electricity took anybody by surprise. Australia’s economy is one of the most robust in the world. Electricity demand is strongly correlated with economic growth.Recall that Australia is the only other industrial country besides the U.S. that has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Australia gets 92 percent of its electricity from coal. Imagine if the NRDC policy of no-new-coal-unless-IGCC were the law of the land in Australia. Lots of Aussies would have to shiver in the dark.