What's New and Cool
Feb 19, 2018
The oceanographer Nils-Axel Morner challenges the IPCC and warnings about sinking islands

Basler Zeitung

Mr. Morner, you have recently visited the Fiji islands in South Pacific several times in order to research changes on the coasts and sea levels. Why Fiji?

Nils-Axel Morner: I knew there would be a science conference in New York in June 2017 that focused on sea level changes in Fiji. In addition, it was known that the island nation would chair the 23rd World Climate Conference, which took place last November in Bonn. Thus, Fiji moved into the focus of interest. It was said that the rising sea level had done a lot of damage there. I wanted to check with my own eyes if that is true.

What made you skeptical?

I have been researching sea-level changes my entire life, traveling to 59 countries. Hardly any other researcher has so much experience in this field. However, the IPCC has always misrepresented the facts on this topic. It exaggerates the risks of a sea level rise enormously. The IPCC relies in particular on questionable computer models rather than field research. However, I always want to know what is going on. That is why I went to Fiji.

However, according to ProClim, the Swiss climate research platform, there are a series of measurements in Fiji that show a sharp rise in sea level in recent decades. Specifically, the sea level has increased by 5.4 millimeters annually since 1990, which is twice as much as the global average.

Yes, I know these measurements. These are two series of tide heights, that is, water levels at low tide and high tide. We checked these data with the result that they are of very poor quality. One series has been influenced by the fact that port facilities were built on loose sediment soil near the measuring station, which could have changed tidal heights. For the other series, the measuring station was even moved. The researchers who rely on such data are office workers. They are not specialized in coastal dynamics processes and sea level changes. Many of them have no idea of ​​the real conditions.

How did you go about getting better data?

On the one hand, we have been following the given examples, where sea level rise is said to have led to coastal erosion. The result was that erosion has been caused by human intervention - such as new coastal structures altering water currents or increased harvests of sea cucumbers, which could have destabilized the seabed. To prove sea level changes over the past 500 years, we have dated sand deposits to see when they came into being. In addition, we have researched the spread of coral in recent centuries. Typically, coral reefs grow in height when sea levels rise and in width when they remain constant. If the level drops, corals die off. Corals do not lie; they are a reliable indicator - much more reliable than tidal measurements.

What was the result?

We were able to prove that the sea level in Fiji from 1550 to about 1700 was about seventy centimeters higher than it is today. Then it sank and was about fifty centimeters lower in the 18th century than it is today. Then it rose to about the current level. In the last 200 years, the level has not changed significantly. For the past 50 to 70 years, it has been stable.

Were you surprised?

Not really. It was not the first time that the claims of the IPCC turned out to be wrong.

Fiji is only a single archipelago. Maybe the situation is different in other places.

There are also data from many other places in the world. These by no means confirm the picture that the IPCC draws. In some places, the sea level is indeed rising, but in other places, it is stable, and elsewhere it is even dropping. For example, sea levels are constant in the Indian Ocean and on the Atlantic coast of South America. On South Pacific islands such as Tuvalu and Kiribati measurements do not confirm the constant warnings about the sinking of these archipelagos. The sea certainly erodes the shores here and there, but islands grow elsewhere as well. It has always been like this.

Why do many climate researchers warn then about sinking islands?

Because they have a political agenda. They are biased towards the interpretation that man is causing climate change, and that it is a threat. The IPCC was founded with the purpose of prove man-made climate change and to warn against it. His goal was thus fixed from the beginning. It sticks to it like a dogma - no matter what the facts are. As a specialist in sea level developments, I have consistently found in recent years that the IPCC team does not include a single expert on this issue.

Is there no problem with the rise of the sea level at all?

No.

No danger that islands could sink?

The doomsday scenarios usually refer to the year 2100. I estimate that the sea level will then rise by five centimeters on average, with an uncertainty of 15 centimeters. The change might go from plus 20 centimeters to minus 10 centimeters. This is not a threat. Anyone who claims that there will be a threat of an increase of one meter or so has no idea of ​​physics.

However, a lot of meltwater from glaciers and ice shields flows into the sea.

Much less than you think. In Antarctica, no ice melts in total. When ice melts in the Arctic, it does not change the sea level - because floating ice does not affect the water level when melting according to the laws of physics. In essence, only melting ice on Greenland contributes to a level increase. However, this amount is small.

Seawater heats up and expands, increasing sea level.

That is true, but only by a few centimeters, not by decimeters or even meters. There are much more important influences, which affect the sea level, especially solar activity. There are also significant horizontal water shifts, from one ocean to another. Like the data in Fiji, those of the Maldives also show that levels were clearly higher in the 17th century than they are today. Significantly, this was the time when it was cold on the northern hemisphere; this period is called the Little Ice Age. At that time solar activity was lower than today. It was the big solar minimum. It seems that low solar activity is associated with high sea levels in the tropics - and vice versa. The sea levels seem to depend mainly on the oscillation of solar cycles and hardly on melting ice.

You are among the most distinguished critics of the IPCC. Why have you distanced yourself from the warnings of manmade climate change?

In 1991, I gave a scientific presentation at a conference on sea level changes in the U.S. The representative of the IPCC present there responded with great anger to my point of view. This reaction surprised me. Because in science circles, it is usual that you listen to each other and debate about different points of view. Later, I noticed more and more that the IPCC was disseminating false information and adhered to obvious mistakes. I then published a paper on the influence of the sun on the sea level, which was supported by 19 recognized experts. However, the IPCC attacked the paper with outrageous claims and caused the scientific journal, in which it was published, to be discontinued.

So do they want to stop you?

They cannot stop me. I have published about 650 scientific papers to date. However, young colleagues, who think critically, have no chance given these kind of manipulations. In principle, most editors of science magazines no longer accept papers that are contrary to the IPCC’s claims, regardless of the quality of the papers.

However, 97 percent of climate researchers are convinced that global warming is man-made?

This is nonsense. This number is based on dubious polls. In fact, the majority of researchers reject the claims made by the IPCC, depending on the field between 50 and 80 percent. Only meteorologists agree almost 100 percent with the IPCC. However, these people are financially dependent on the IPCC.

However, doesn’t it make sense to reduce the CO2 in principle?

Why? It is obvious that CO2 is not the main driver of temperatures. It is noteworthy that the IPCC itself has repeatedly reduced the warming trend in recent years. If a temperature increase of only 1.5 degrees Celsius is to be expected, that is not important.

Why do we hear so many warnings about climate change then?

Some people have exposed themselves heavily with their claims and obviously cannot go back now. In addition, public research money flows almost exclusively to climate alarmists. We are dealing here with a quasi-religious movement that claims to protect the environment. The fight against global warming is now set against the fight to alleviate poverty.

Which would be the right priorities?

It would be important to protect people from natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. In addition, 25,000 people die every day because they have no access to clean drinking water. The food supply is often just as catastrophic. However, Nigeria, for example, is discouraged from using coal and thus from advancing economic development and prosperity that would reduce hunger and poverty. There are today efficient technologies to filter out air pollutants in coal use. Effectively, the fight against climate change harms people very much.

What will happen next?

Solar activity is expected to decrease over the next few decades and there will be cooling as a result. By then it will probably become clear how wrong the warnings of global warming are.


Feb 18, 2018
​Atmospheric science 50 years later

Anthony Sadar, American Thinker

The climate of the atmospheric science field has changed dramatically over the past few decades.  The “weather,” once considered a safe topic of conversation in polite company, has morphed into the subject of heated socio-political debate.  Besides scientists, there are celebrities, politicians, pundits, and pontiffs all contributing to the meteorological mayhem.

Fifty years ago, when the climate was not so controversial, I recorded my first weather observation.  On February 18, 1968, I noted winds from my homemade instrument perched in a tree outside my bedroom window.  I recorded weather conditions several times each day almost without fail from that time on when I was in eighth grade until I went off to college, getting my undergraduate degree in meteorology from Penn State in 1976.

From my first assignment in the profession as a weather observer at a remote site in Alaska, 160 miles above the Arctic Circle, to work as an air pollution meteorologist in private consulting and government service, a lot has changed since 1968.

Increasing computer power and computational rapidity, innovative satellite and radar technology, refinement and deployment of weather sensors, and the like tremendously expanded meteorological capabilities.  Understanding and concomitant forecasting of atmospheric conditions reached new heights to where confidence in our ability to accurately predict the future has quickly grown, perhaps too hastily.

Throughout the decades, experiencing the downs and ups of global temperatures and its enthusiastic publicists, I learned several important lessons.

- Good scientists operate in humility.  Arrogance leads to errors.

- A scientist must be free to explore any hypothesis, theory, or doubt.  Truth is not the winner of a “consensus” popularity contest.

- Science literacy means appreciating the difference between knowledge, on the one hand, and assumptions, guesses, and beliefs on the other.

- Political science pressure negatively influences natural science outcomes.  Scientific practice works to discover facts, not invent them.

- Crisis-mongering is particularly harmful to climate science.  Crisis-mongering tends to soak the middle class by trying to solve problems that don’t exist with solutions that don’t work, while depriving the world’s poor of a better tomorrow.

My guess is that substantial global climate changes from human activity will be limited to the small- and medium-range scales.  Whether these changes will be drastic or not depends on your perspective.  People living in cities that were once forests, with its attentive micro-scale climate change, are likely to be grateful for the change.  Others may see all those city-dwellers as the problem.  Potential mesoscale alterations of storm tracks will benefit some while dissing others.  Measured, long-term, global-scale impacts can just as likely be small and beneficial as large and catastrophic.

I don’t know what the atmosphere will be like fifty years from now.  But one thing that seems certain is that the climate of atmospheric science research and application will benefit enormously from constructive independent thinking, not from rigid conformity to groupthink and outcomes induced by politicized government largesse.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and the author of In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail (Stairway Press, 2016).

Feb 14, 2018
It’s weather, not climate change, Governor Brown

Robert W. Endlich

Weather, not human-caused CO2-fueled global warming, is responsible for California wildfires

Robert W. Endlich

2017 featured incredibly intense, damaging wildfires in California: first the Wine Country fires of October, and later the massive Thomas Fire in December. Each destroyed hundreds of homes, the latter in many of the affluent suburbs and enclaves northwest of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

The Thomas Fire is the largest in modern California history, with over 1000 structures destroyed. The fires and subsequent mudslides killed over 60 people and left many others severely burned or injured.

California Governor Jerry Brown almost predictably blamed human-caused, carbon dioxide-fueled global warming and climate change, specifically droughts, as the cause of these conflagrations. During a December 9 visit to Ventura County, he again insisted that the drought conditions were the “new normal.” While acknowledging that California has experienced “very long droughts” throughout its history, he claimed that the returning dry spells of recent decades were “very bad” and would be “returning more often” because of manmade climate change.

It’s a nice attempt to deflect blame from his state’s ultra-green policies and poor forest management practices. Moreover, Governor Brown is just wrong about the alleged role of manmade climate change, as an examination of meteorological and climate data demonstrates. NOAA’s rainfall records for California show rainfall slightly increasing in California over the 125-year period since rainfall records began.

Meteorological conditions, as they develop over the course of a year, and during the multi-year El-Nino to La Nina cycles known as ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation), result in conditions that favor wildfires in California. Fire is a part of nature, much to the consternation of those who blame manmade climate change, and much to the dismay of those whose lives are disrupted by wildfire events such as these.

Of course, they can be - and are - worsened and even made catastrophic by failures to manage forests properly, especially when hundreds of homes are built near forests, and when weather and climate cycles intersect with those failures and incidents that start a wildfire.

In the United States, the “Sun Belt” from California to Florida receives that name because a feature of global circulation causes descending air about 30 degrees north and south of the equator. At the surface, this “Hadley cell” is evident in high pressure monthly and annual means (or averages); it’s also called the subtropical high and subtropical ridge.

In the northern hemisphere, the position and strength of the subtropical ridge changes over the course of the year, getting stronger and moving further north in the summertime.

In California that poleward migration of the subtropical ridge diverts rain-producing storm systems poleward to the north, resulting in an almost complete loss of rainfall in the summer. The annual Los Angeles climatology illustrated in Figure 1 helps tell the story of the California wildfire season.

With this information, if we think critically, the usual situation is for vegetation to sprout in wet winter months, grow - and then dry out because of the lack of summer rainfall, causing vegetation to be driest in late summer and early fall.

This is exactly the situation described in a recent article that mentions October as the worst month for wildfires and quotes University of California fire expert Max Moritz, who says “By the time you get to this season, right when you’re starting to anticipate some rain, it’s actually the most fire prone part of the year.” Power line and other management failures increase the likelihood of disaster.

Yet another factor is the failure or refusal of government agencies to permit the removal of dead, diseased and desiccated trees and brush from these woodlands - especially in the broad vicinity of these communities. In fact, California forests have 129 million dead trees, according to the US Forest Service. Together, these factors all but ensure recurrent conflagrations and tragic losses of property and lives.

As autumn sets in, the first cold frontal passages and cold air masses build into Nevada and adjacent states, and a northeasterly pressure gradient develops over California. Because of atmospheric physics, a process called adiabatic compression causes hot, dry winds to develop, often quickly and dramatically.

The Wine country fires of 2017 began suddenly during the evening of October 8, with development of the first fierce Diablo Winds of the season. Contemporary news accounts link the onset of ten fires within ninety minutes to PG&E power poles falling, many into dry trees. In one account, a Sonoma County resident said “trees were on fire like torches.”

The Mercury News carried a story saying that Governor Brown had vetoed a unanimously - passed 2016 bill to fund power line safety measures. But the governor wants to spend still more money combating manmade climate change and compelling a major and rapid shift from fossil fuels to expensive, unreliable, weather-dependent wind and solar power for electricity generation

There was a significant cooling of Pacific Ocean temperatures from the peak of the 2015-16 El Nino to December 2017, such that La Nina conditions have developed in recent months. This distinct pattern shift brought distinctly drier conditions from southern California and Arizona to Florida and South Carolina.

This pattern shift is part of the evolution of temperature and precipitation change areas characteristic of the ENSO sequence of events. Contrary to Governor Brown’s politically inspired assertions, it clearly is not the result of human-caused, CO2-fueled global warming.

This brings us to the devastating Thomas Fire, which began on the evening of 4 December 2017, and was not completely contained by New Year’s Eve, 31 December. Behavior of this fire was controlled by a large-in-extent and long-in-duration Santa Ana Wind event, and like the previous Wine Country Fire, was dominated by high pressure over Nevada and persistent hot, dry, strong down-slope winds that commonly occur during such meteorological conditions.

In short, it is meteorological conditions which create the environment for the spread of such fires. This year’s changeover from wet El Nino to dry La Nina conditions played a significant part in the atmospheric set-up for the 2017 fires.

In Australia, it is widely accepted that fuel reduction actions are an accepted practice in fire management.

This is not the case in the USA, where considerable debate still rages over the issue, and where environmentalists, politicians, regulators and courts have united to block tree thinning, brush removal and harvesting of dead and dying trees. The resulting conditions are perfect for devastating wildfires, which denude hillsides and forest habitats, leaving barren soils that cannot absorb the heavy rains that frequently follow the fires - leading to equally devastating, equally deadly mudslides.

In fact, environmental regulations associated with ill-fated attempts to help the spotted owl have eliminated logging and clearing throughout California and most of the Mountain West - with catastrophic results. Special legislation has been drafted to begin to address this problem.

However, it is uncertain whether the legislation will be enacted and whether timber harvesting and/or fuel reduction strategies can be implemented in time to address the fuel excesses that exacerbate these dangerous conditions, setting the stage for yet another round of infernos and mudslides that wipe out wildlife habitats, destroy homes and communities, and leave hundreds of people dead, injured or burned horribly. When will the responsible parties be held accountable, and compelled to change their ways?

Robert W. Endlich has a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in meteorology and served as US Air Force Weather Officer for 21 Years. He has provided toxic corridor and laser propagation support to the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, published in the technical literature and worked as software test engineer at New Mexico State University.

Feb 06, 2018
Food Production Is A Modern Agricultural Miracle; Global Investment in Renewable Energy Has Stalled

By Steve Goreham

Agriculture is under attack. Environmentalists label modern farming as unsustainable, blaming farming for polluting the planet and destroying the climate. But today’s food is abundant and nutritious - a modern agricultural miracle.

From 1961 to 2013, world population more than doubled from 3.1 to 7.2 billion. But agricultural output more than tripled over the same period, according to data from the United Nations. We are slowly winning the battle against world hunger. The percentage of chronically undernourished people has fallen from 30 percent of world population in 1950 to about 11 percent today.

Not only the quantity, but the quality and variety of food are much better than in past ages. A 2015 study at Stockholm University compared modern food to recipes from the chef of King Richard II of England in the 1300s. The study concluded that people of today’s developed nations eat better than the kings of old.

In the 1300s, King Richard did not have pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, which came to Europe from the Far East in the 1400s. He did not have coffee, which was first brewed in Arabia in the 1400s. He did not have oranges, corn, or pineapple, which arrived in Europe from Asia and North America during the 1400s and 1500s. Today we enjoy dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables, and meats that were not available in past ages.

Today’s foods are a product of thousands of years of efforts to cultivate more abundant and more nutritious crops. Cross-pollination of plants, cross-breeding of animals, and now genetic engineering of plants and animals continues to deliver rising farm output with better food quality and variety. Grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and even seafood continue to improve due to advanced farming techniques.

But environmental groups attack modern farming methods as unsustainable, scorning the farmer’s use of water, land, pesticides and energy. A 2010 UN Environmental Programme document states:

Agricultural production accounts for a staggering 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use, and 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions...The use of agrochemicals is related to ecotoxicity, eutrophication and depletion of phosphorus stocks. Intensive agriculture is related to substantial energy use. The loss of soil and biomass carbon can contribute to climate change.

The attacks on agriculture are too numerous to address in a single article, but one aspect of modern agriculture is not well known. Farmers are now giving land back to nature.

According to UN data, land used for farming is now declining. Total world agricultural area, the sum of crop land and pasture land, peaked in 2000 at 4.95 billion hectares and declined about one-half percent through 2013. Over the same period, world agricultural production increased 37 percent. The recent decline in total farm land use occurred despite 41.3 million hectares added for biofuel production, an area larger than Germany.

An astounding improvement in agricultural yields provides rising output without the need for additional land.

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Corn Production and Acreage Graph courtesy of Steve Goreham

Gains in United States corn yield are a remarkable example. U.S. land employed to harvest corn peaked in 1918. Today, US farmers produce five times more corn on 11 percent less area than 100 years ago.

The world has passed the point of peak agricultural land use. Today, farmers are feeding the growing world population and providing us with the best food in history, while at the same time returning land to nature.

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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Global Investment in Renewable Energy Has Stalled

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Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced a decision to apply a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and panels. The Solar Industries Association denounced the measure, projecting job losses and cancellation of solar investments. But the solar tariff discussion hides a larger renewable energy issue. Global investment in renewables has stalled in the US, in Europe, and in many markets across the world.

Since the 1990s, sustainable advocates have called for investment in wind, solar, and biofuel energy as the solution to global warming, pollution, and feared resource depletion. National, state, and provincial governments responded, promoting green energy with feed-in tariffs, renewable portfolio standards laws, renewable grid priority, and other subsidies and mandates. Carbon trading markets and carbon taxes were enacted to impose costs on hydrocarbon fuels to favor renewable energy.

These efforts resulted in a rapid rise in renewable deployments across the world. From 2004 to 2011, global renewable energy investment grew at a 26.7 percent compounded annual rate. By the end of 2012, more than 200,000 wind turbines were operating worldwide. Germany alone boasted more than one million solar rooftop installations.

But since 2011, investment in renewables has stalled. From 2011 to 2017, global green energy investment grew at only 0.7 percent per year - essentially flat. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2017 investment in renewables grew only 1 percent in the US, but was down 16 percent in Japan, down 20 percent in India, down 26 percent in Germany, and down 56 percent in the United Kingdom. Investment in China was up 26 percent, supporting a meagre 3 percent global renewable investment growth in 2017.

European nations have the highest per person renewable investment in the world and extensive experience with renewables. Europe invested over $100 billion each year in renewable energy in 2010 and 2011. But last year, Europe’s renewable investment was only $57.4 billion, down 50 percent from the record years of 2010‒2011.

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So why is renewable investment faltering? One answer is that renewable projects are heavily dependent upon subsidies, and subsidies are being cut. The combination of rising electricity prices and budget-busting subsidy bills is forcing nations to cut back.

Europe invested $850 billion dollars in renewables from 2000 to 2014 and continues to pay a huge ongoing price. Residential electricity prices climbed to three times the US price in Spain and four times the US price in Denmark and Germany. German consumers pay an EEG levy in their electric bills, amounting to 25 billion Euros a year to subsidize renewable energy. Environment minister Peter Altmaier estimates that cumulative renewable subsidies paid by German consumers will total an astonishing one trillion euros by 2040.

Over the last five years, subsidies or mandates have been cut in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Retroactive cuts to feed-in tariffs were made in Bulgaria, Greece, and Spain. Germany cut feed-in tariff subsidies by 75 percent and levied grid fees on residential solar owners. In 2015, the UK government suspended all new subsidies for onshore wind farms and reduced subsidies for residential solar installations, causing a steep fall in investment in both 2016 and 2017.

US subsidy cuts are also in process. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 began a phased reduction of the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) from 2016‒2019. If not extended again, the PTC subsidy will expire after 2019. The Act also reduced investment tax credits for wind and solar.

Some claim that renewable energy can power modern society. A 2017 paper by Mark Jacobsen and others at Stanford University, calls for 100 percent renewables by 2050, with wind and solar providing 95 percent of the energy. But this wishful thinking is not supported by the trends.

Since 1965, global energy consumption more than tripled to 13.3 billion tons of oil equivalent, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In 2016, wind and solar provided about two percent of the total. Each year the world consumes an additional United Kingdom worth of energy. Wind and solar sources are unable to supply even the annual growth in world demand, let alone replace our traditional energy sources.

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Renewable energy investment has stagnated, buried by rising energy prices and unaffordable subsidies. The world is being forced to return to sensible energy policies based on cost, performance, and real environmental benefit.

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.

Feb 02, 2018
Cold winters are testing the limits of US energy grid

By Jordon McGillis, The Hill

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The arctic air that has frozen the northeastern U.S. over the first weeks of 2018 has prompted New Englanders to crank up the heat and New England’s utility companies to scramble for fuel.

This season’s above-average heating and electricity demand has tested grid reliability at a time when the topic has had particular political salience. Most reporting on the matter has lauded the resilience the grid has shown, but a fuel-security analysis performed by the group that oversees New England’s power system delivers a pessimistic chill. ISO New England’s analysis reveals that in winters to come fuel insecurity will plague the region.

Insecurity despite abundance

What makes ISO New England’s report so tragic is that the United States is now a veritable world energy superpower.

Ten years ago, concerns about energy prices and fuel security were a standard element of the national zeitgeist. But a decade removed from the oil price peak of $147 per barrel in July 2008, our national concern over resource depletion has been rendered moot. Spurred by the high prices of the mid-2000s, American companies embarked upon nothing less than a domestic energy renaissance. Since 2005, oil production in the United States has increased by 50 percent, oil exports have seen a tenfold increase, and oil imports have fallen by a quarter.

More critically for electricity, however, have been the gains made on the concomitant natural gas front. Natural gas production has soared over the past decade by 50 percent and in late 2017 the United States became a net-natural gas exporter - meaning that America now sells more to foreign countries than it buys from them.

Given the positive developments that have left markets awash with energy resources, one would expect American utility companies would be well-positioned to meet the needs of their customers. Instead we are now being warned by ISO New England that in future winters utilities will be unable to meet demand during bouts of frigid weather. The group’s projections in almost every future scenario forecast the implementation of rolling blackouts - the sequential disconnection of blocks of customers from power - to protect the grid from outright disaster.

Though the resources are close at hand, a combination of laws and regulations has made New England dependent upon natural gas, yet unable to access all that it needs. While the presence of natural gas in New England’s electricity fuel mix has grown from 18 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2017 to an anticipated 56 percent in 2025, New England’s ability to receive natural gas has not kept pace.

Pipeline paucity

On Jan. 23, ISO New England CEO Gordon van Welie testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that, “when it gets cold the region does not have sufficient gas infrastructure to meet demand for both home heating and power generation.” It is a theme van Welie has conveyed since at least 2013. The pipeline constraints to which he points have at times caused New England to have the most expensive spot natural gas prices in the world - including this January.

At the barricade preventing the transport of gas from the abundant reservoirs of Pennsylvania and West Virginia to New England is the state government of New York. Cursed by geographic happenstance, New England needs New York’s consent to receive gas from the Marcellus Shale. But New York politicians and regulators headed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo refuse to grant it whenever possible. In addition to a hydraulic fracturing ban, New York politicians have put the brakes on pipeline projects through their permitting power, blocking the Constitution and Northern Access pipelines outright.

New England, for its part, is not much better. In the summer of 2017 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court nixed a pipeline cost-sharing proposal that would have helped to reduce stress on the grid during a harsh winter like New England is experiencing now. The hostility to pipelines is so pervasive in the northeast that ISO New England takes that bleak view that “no new incremental gas infrastructure will be built to serve power generation.”

The Jones Act

With state governments blocking new pipeline construction to bring in affordable shale gas, New England buys liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by sea.

Since the United States is now an LNG exporter, New England would seem to have a reliable option. But domestic shipping of LNG is made impossible by the obtuse Merchant Marine Act of 1920 - commonly called the Jones Act. The Jones Act mandates that only American-built, -owned, -crewed and -flagged vessels can participate in maritime shipping between domestic ports.

The alleged purpose of the Jones Act is to improve national defense. While that may have made sense to lawmakers with the specter of German U-boats fresh in their memories, the Jones Act’s only effect today is that it drives up prices for consumers and protects a special interest group.

The Congressional Research Service has found that the Jones Act results in American vessels operating at twice the cost of comparable foreign ships. There are no Jones Act-compliant LNG ships at this time and New England therefore contracts with importers from around the Atlantic. While Trinidad and Tobago is the largest supplier, this month the Everett LNG import terminal is due to receive Russian gas produced by Yamal LNG, a facility subject to U.S. financial sanctions.

The cold truth

In 2013, van Welie sounded the alarm, informing the Senate that New England was becoming more reliant on natural gas for power generation without investing in natural gas supply infrastructure. Sadly, ISO New England’s message has gone unheeded and insidious laws and regulations continue to harm the region. The result is that despite unprecedented domestic energy production, New Englanders will soon find themselves out in the cold.

Jordan McGillis is a policy analyst at the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit focused on free-market energy and environmental research and policy.

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