Examining the effects of electrification

February 21, 2018 By    

“Electrification” is the new buzzword touted by climate fighters and environmental groups.

Where electrification once meant providing electricity to people, today it often means elimination of traditional fuels. However, the only tangible result of green electrification policies will be higher energy prices.

Proponents of electrification intend to force transportation as well as heating and cooling systems to run on electricity, eliminating the use of hydrocarbon fuels. Electric cars, furnaces, water heaters and heat pumps must replace gasoline-powered products. Additionally wind or solar energy systems must supply the electricity, not power plants using coal or natural gas.

California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan calls for a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Goals call for 4.2 million plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid cars on California roads by 2030, up from about 300,000 today. The plan also calls for electrification of space and water heating.

Utility Southern California Edison (SCE) recommends an even more aggressive plan. The SCE “Clean Power and Electrification Pathway” plan calls for 7 million electric cars on California roads by 2030 and for one-third of state residents to replace their gas-fired furnaces and appliances by 2030.

Nine other states promote adoption of electric cars as part of a broad electrification program. New England states are exploring “strategic electrification” in order to meet tough emissions reduction goals. In many efforts, cost to consumers is rarely discussed.

Electrification will be expensive. Large subsidies from taxpayers and mandates on auto companies and consumers will be required to force adoption. Furnaces and appliances powered by heat pumps, solar and electricity are almost always more expensive than using natural gas or propane models.

A 2017 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority found that only 4 percent of the state’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning load could cost-effectively switch to heat pumps. The study recommended mandates to place an obligation on businesses and consumers to “source a certain portion of their heating and cooling load from renewable sources.”

According to proponents of electrification, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the sourced electricity must come from renewables. Therefore, all electrification programs promote wind and solar generation systems, backed up by battery storage.

Today, the U.S. has very low electricity costs. In 2016, the average wholesale electrical price ranged from only 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kW-hr) in the Pacific Northwest to 3.6 cents per kW-hr in New England. Coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric, our traditional sources of power, delivered more than 90 percent of this low-cost electricity. In 2016, only 6.4 percent of our electricity came from wind and solar.

Actual costs of wind and solar power can be hideously expensive. The California Solar Ranch, which began operation in 2014, delivers electricity at over 15-18 cents per kW-hr – more than four times the market price. The 2013 Massachusetts solar build-out was the result of a 25-cent-per-kW-hr subsidy paid to commercial solar generators, boosting the total solar price to almost 30 cents per kW-hr.

The Deepwater Wind Block Island project of Rhode Island takes first prize for outrageous renewable electricity cost. The five-turbine offshore system went into operation in 2016 at a contracted price of 23.6 cents per kW-hr, with an annual increase of 3.5 cents, placing the future price at over 40 cents per kW-hr.

According to the Energy Information Administration, on average U.S. electricity prices increased less than 5 percent from 2008 to 2016. But over the same period, prices in nine of the 12 top wind states climbed between 13 and 37 percent, significantly higher than the national average increase. Commercial wind and solar systems are typically built far from cities, requiring new transmission lines, with costs passed on to electric ratepayers.

If electrification is adopted across our nation, look for escalating electricity prices. There is no evidence that this transition will have any measurable effect on global temperatures. But electrification will produce substantially higher energy prices.

Steve Goreham is a speaker on the environment, business and public policy, and author of the new book “Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.”

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