Whole New Lifestyle: Levels

by Kathleen Sgamma, President on October 18, 2017 - 10:35am

I wish, like James Joyce and Friedrich Nietzsche, I could draw ample literary references from ancient Greek and Roman poets and philosophers, but alas, when the need arises, my head goes to Seinfeld. The show just had a knack of succinctly summarizing common situations in a funny and memorable way.

So it was when reading this article about a zero energy district in Ft. Collins. The city, Colorado State University, and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster had garnered taxpayer money and private funds for the project to make a district that generated as much energy as it used. The focus was on energy efficiency and electricity distribution. Company partners included Spirae, which develops technologies for managing renewables on the grid, and our good friends at New Belgium Brewing Company.

Claiming the project was no longer needed, the initiative, called FortZED, was officially called off in September after 10 years. Halfway into the article, this scene from Seinfeld jumped into my head.

These grand energy schemes were very popular at the beginning of the Obama Administration and during the Ritter Administration in Colorado. The idea was that government-directed renewable energy and energy efficiency projects would fundamentally change energy in America, and we literally heard from many politicians and renewables advocates that fossil fuels could be completely replaced in 10 years’ time. In moments of frankness, when faced with the considerable economic, physical, and thermodynamic challenges to such a lofty goal, they would concede that natural gas could play a role as a bridge fuel, but the implication was that our industry was a dinosaur being relegated to the dustbin of history. I remember being treated like roadkill in the rearview mirror by many congressional offices at the heyday of this heady thinking.

Fast forward 10 years after the shale revolution and billions wasted in renewable energy subsidies, and this Ft. Collins project has fallen by the wayside. Its original backers are quoted as saying the project has been superseded by other things, like the city’s Climate Action Plan and CSU’s pledge to be 100% renewable by 2030. In other words, more grand schemes that sound good but like Kramer’s levels, are certain never to come to fruition.

As Jerry says in the episode, “We didn't bet on if you wanted to do it, but if it would be done.” As politicians and alternative energy advocates move on from one unrealistic project to the next, there’s no accountability for the failed effort nor wasted taxpayer money.

Which raises the question of why politicians perpetually treat energy as if it can be controlled by well-intentioned policies. The fact that energy markets work better than government fiat just never sinks in. As independent oil and natural gas producers have shown, delivering a reliable product at the best price while operating in a free market results in the best energy mix.

Politicians continue on, blind to the notion that if alternatives could actually provide affordable, reliable, 24/7 energy for all consumer demands they would be winning in the marketplace. There’s no acknowledgement of the inherent nonviability of these politically favored alternatives and expensive energy efficiency schemes. The Kramer-like avoidance of responsibility and quick diversion to the next best thing plagues the energy sector like no other. The latest is electric vehicles, with several European countries declaring a complete transition between 2030 and 2050.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing it from the Trump Administration as well. The worthwhile goal of reversing the “War on Coal” regulations that the Obama Administration used to close coal power plants is wisely culminating with the rulemaking to withdraw the overreaching Clean Power Plan. But rather than stop there, the Trump Administration is considering new subsidies for coal and nuclear. We wish governments of all stripes would get out of the business of picking winners and losers when it comes to energy.