Hollywood suffers from no lack of creativity when it comes to conjuring an imagined world devastated by fossil fuels. Perhaps some enterprising filmmaker will consider building a story around a recent event in rural Oregon that involved another form of energy. Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian reports:
In the early hours of Feb. 1, one of the spinning blades on a turbine at Portland General Electric’s Biglow Canyon wind farm in Sherman County launched into the night.
The 135-foot piece of fiberglass, wood and metal weighs more than seven tons.
It flew the full length of a football field.
Sounds like a compelling opening scene for a Netflix original. After the great flight of the blade on that cold Oregon night, Mr. Sickinger reports on the reaction of its operator:
After the winter incident, PGE shut down all 217 turbines at the wind farm while it launched a review... Oregon’s largest electricity provider has since resumed operations for most turbines at Biglow Canyon, saying they are safe.
“PGE is taking this matter very seriously as a safety incident, which is why we took swift action to shut down the turbines and are conducting a thorough and deliberate investigation, so that we can fully understand the cause of the blade failure and rectify it,” the company said in a statement. “The results of the investigation will help us determine if there are any adjustments needed to improve our operations.”
According to the Oregonian report, there are problems beyond last winter’s hurtling blade. Mr. Sickinger writes:
As recently as this spring and summer, dozens of the once pristine white turbines at the site were caked in oil and lubricants leaking from gearboxes and other controls housed in a box behind the rotor, suspended 265 feet in the air. That oil not only coats the machines, it is spitting into surrounding fields. Transformers have ruptured with drumbeat regularity, dumping thousands of gallons of mineral oil into the soil and causing two fires in the last 15 years.
Pieces of the turbines – hatch doors, metal disks and blade bolts – have routinely fallen off turbines and into the fields below.
Despite the large environmental footprint of wind power projects, the utility PGE appears committed to such low-intensity, intermittent energy sources. Its website proclaims:
Together with you, we’ve been leading the way to a clean energy future — starting with cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act will supercharge these efforts by making it easier and more affordable than ever. It’s going to take all of us. We’ll continue to do our part and help you do yours...
There is no greater imperative than to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change.
You’d probably say the same thing if you had to answer to Oregon regulators. But in the not-too-distant future Oregon consumers may be looking at the great flight of the blade as a 7-ton metaphor for the Biden climate plan.
As for the emissions forecast, it might be helpful to consider recent trends—and why they’ve occurred. Bjorn Lomborg writes in the Journal:
Unlike most other nations on the planet, the U.S. has substantially reduced its carbon emissions over the past 15 years. This is largely owing to the fracking revolution that replaced a lot of America’s coal with natural gas, which is cheaper and cleaner. Even without the new law, the U.S. was on track to cut emissions substantially by 2030, according to research by the Rhodium Group. Averaging their high and low emission predictions, the U.S. would drop emissions by almost 30% absent the new law. With the new law, emissions will decline instead by a little over 37%. The “most significant legislation in history” will actually cut emissions by less than eight percentage points.
While the administration talks up its emission reductions, it never seems to tout the law’s impact on temperature and sea level—for good reason. If you plug the predicted emissions decline into the climate model used for all major United Nations climate reports, it turns out the global temperature will be cut by only 0.0009 degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century...
The law will similarly have little effect on the sea level. A model that calculates changes in ocean levels predicts waters will be somewhere between 0.006 and 0.08 inch lower in 2100 than they would have been without the Inflation Reduction Act.
Over the next several years, millions of people will die from hunger-related diseases, cold temperatures, and air pollution as a direct result of natural gas shortages. All of those deaths have been going down over the last several decades. But shortages of natural gas, gas-derived fertilizers, and electricity will result in a reversal of those trends. And the higher-than-normal death toll will continue so long as the world fails to produce sufficient natural gas to meet global demand.
President Joe Biden could prevent a significant number of those deaths but his policies restricting natural gas production and exports will increase them.
Let’s pray that Mr. Shellenberger’s forecast turns out to be wrong and that we never have to watch that movie.