What are the real effects of climate policies?

The reaction of Minister Kamp on the report of the Central Planning Bureau (CPB) about the ineffectiveness climate wise of offshore wind farms, was quite fascinating. Here we have a situation in which a high placed official is eager to put a huge sum of tax payers money in offshore wind farms, even after being told in no uncertain terms that this will not save any emissions on the whole. The reactions on the news story that agreed on the problem, yet also were in favor of continuing the project notwithstanding it having no effect on reducing emissions, was equally mind boggling.

There was one thing in the news story that kept on resonating in my head. More specifically, the part in which the journalist said (translated from Dutch with my emphasis):

A lot of studies and reports on wind energy are published. But this report is important because, for the first time in ten years, the costs and benefits of wind on sea are listed and according to the investigators it are all costs and benefits.

I am not really sure about that last part, but what struck me as odd was that already ten years it was deemed not necessary to have a cost-benefit study on wind energy at sea! What brings a Minister of Economy wanting to throw a huge amount of money to something that has no gain in reducing emissions? All this in an economic crisis, for crying out load. This means something is considered so incredibly important that it calls for drastic measures.

It is of course a very attractive way of thinking. Wind mills are considered devices that combat climate change, therefor healing mother Earth and protecting our (grand)children. It is a very strong emotional message. So very strong that no cost is too high, even for measures of a symbolic nature. So very strong that checking whether the policy is effective is considered unimportant.

Extraordinary measures require extraordinary proof. Where is that hard evidence that CO2 will bring catastrophic weather events in the future? I have no problem believing that there is a “scientific consensus” that the earth is warming, but as far as I know there is no consensus on whether that warming will be catastrophic in nature.

Where is that hard evidence that wind energy is saving fossil fuels and therefor cutting emissions? We are all flooded with the “x number of mills will provide y number of people of electricity”-meme, based on average energy production and average consumption. But what if we take ALL elements into account, like production of materials, transport, construction, damage to birds and other wild live, contrary effects on people living in the neighborhood, laying of the necessary power lines to remote areas, changed land use, disposal after use, falling back to cheaper, more polluting technologies after pushing other energy sources out of the market, construction of devices that balance the load or the emissions of the backup fossil fuel power plants that are spinning into the background,… If we take all that into account, will the saving still be positive?

Wouldn’t that be an interesting study to make? Wouldn’t it be great to see the real effects of policies in stead of the one-sided, emotion driven way in which those measures are defended?

2 thoughts on “What are the real effects of climate policies?

  1. eSell

    Yes, those studies should be done! I want to see the numbers!

    If those wind farms are not going to save on emissions, then something is seriously wrong somewhere. It reminds me of a study in America on semi trucks–lorries, vrachtwagens. Some were saying it would be better to let the trucks go faster than 100kph b/c it would increase the amount of freight moved each year, which would be more profitable. However, those on the other side (keeping the trucks at 100kph) said there would be no gain–only more expense in fuel. The “problem” in this case was that those who said it would not help, but only waste fuel, had not adjusted the pick-up and delivery schedules to reflect the reality of faster trucks, so, of course, more freight was not being moved per year.

    If wind farms provide X number of kilowatt hours for Y number of people, then it should mean that the fossil fuel plants don’t have to run as hard, as part of the load is being taken away. But, again, if it *is* helping in the Netherlands, but through ETS that means that France is now “free” to burn more fossil fuels, thus making the overall CO2 emissions reduction zero…that’s different than “wind power cuts CO2”.

    So, yes, let us have cost/benefit analyses and see all the data!


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      In the past I also assumed that if the blades of wind mills were turning, then electricity is produced and fossil fuel plants have to work less hard, so saving fossil fuels. On the surface this seems straightforward, but it is only a part of the story. When thinking more about what it means to integrate intermittent sources into a continuous working grid, things become a bit more complex.

      It boils down to wind energy being intermittent, meaning that electricity is produced when there is wind, not necessarily when there is a need for it. Therefor for example the need for fossil fuel backup power. I have been there many times before.

      It has nothing to do with something being wrong, but with only focusing on one side of the story. It is very easy to look only at the gains, completely ignoring the amount of fuel that is used in all stages of the life of a windmill.

      The point was indeed that the ETS making overall CO2 emission reduction zero. The problems with the ETS is that if The Netherlands “reduces” their emissions, it makes it cheaper for other countries/companies to produce emissions, therefor favoring the production of electricity with fossil fuels over the expensive wind/solar energy.

      Although the ETS is making reduction of emission impossible on the whole at this moment, that is by no means the only problem. There are other issues not accounted for and it is not really a surprise that many have a rosy idea of the reduction of fuel/emission by wind energy. Been there, done that.



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