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23 November 2017 00:19 (South Africa)
South Africa

Renewable energy gets Rick-rolled by the US

  • Steve Kretzmann
    Steve Kretzmann
  • South Africa
Photo: US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry delivers a statement during the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 61st General Conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 18 September 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry is in town, shopping and selling at the 24th Africa Oil Week. By Steve Kretzmann of WEST CAPE NEWS.

America’s juggernaut economy has been ruling the GDP roost for almost 150 years and now it’s beginning to come under threat. China churns out $7-trillion less than the US’s $18-trillion (give or take a few hundred million), but has been growing at an alarming rate.

Energy is needed in order to stay ahead in the GDP game, and we can expect the US and China to be muscling in as best they can on the rest of the world’s oil, coal, and gas reserves.

Gas is particularly attractive, especially for the US, whose friends believe what thousands of scientists around the world say about global warming, and that the distressing temperature rise over the past two decades (and resultant extreme weather events) is attributed to human action such as burning fossil fuels and industrial livestock farming.

Gas burns clean and so they keep putting it in their engine, as it mollifies progressive voters and their international friends at the same time. Two birds, one stone.

Business as usual; thank God for gas. The US has got plenty of it, thanks to fracking saving the day, and Africa has a lot of it as well. Which is why US Energy Secretary Rick Perry is in town, shopping and selling at the 24th Africa Oil Week.

The United States hasn’t been at the Africa Oil Week conference for four years, which is odd for a gas-guzzling country like the USA, but that might have had something to do with Barack Obama’s administration being less keen on drilling and somewhat more concerned with the need to reduce carbon emissions and developing renewable energy sources as an alternative. The new republicans, it seems, are not that forward thinking, preferring to grab what’s at hand.

Secretary Perry is certainly fonder of fossil fuels than renewable energies, which is hardly surprising from someone who was Governor of the State of Texas for 14 years. His fondness for fossil fuels was one of the few things he was firm on during his press conference on the first floor of the Westin hotel in Cape Town on Tuesday. That, and that the benefits of fracking outweigh environmental concerns.

Beyond that, most of what he said existed in the ums, ahs and ellipses between the lines and evasions.

He says there’s been “some very good meetings” with his “counterparts” from the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. He then tried to think who else, and his lieutenant (literally his right-hand woman at the conference) reminded him what country he was visiting, so “very obviously the South Africa counterpart” as well.

He said they had “some really good back and forth”.

We talked about a lot of opportunities, LNG (Liquified Natural Gas), coal, um, but it all goes to the issue of power, and power being able to be delivered into places that don’t take electricity for granted.”

He then rambled on with some story about how he lived without electricity as a toddler in the early ‘50s in rural Texas, with his point being that with “the technology advancements that’s occurred and some of the projects that we’re working on here are going to able to bring that same power, that same transformative effect on some communities in this continent”.

That changes lives forever.” (Cue image of African village being lit up.)

When it comes to renewable energy, he’s left that up to Andrew Herscowitz, who is co-ordinator for Power Africa, a US government-led partnership under USAID, established by Barack Obama in 2013.

Clever of Perry, coming over to make coal and gas deals under the guise of helping to supply lights to Africans still in the dark while ensuring any renewable energy deals can be fobbed off to Trump voters as USAID work. This satisfies Republican Party big oil backers, spins some PR and covers his back all in one go.

Of course we can only assume this because in the carefully orchestrated press conference which the Americans appear to have refined to a suppressive art, there is no chance to ask what the Energy Secretary is doing wasting his time on a jaunt to Africa when Power Africa has been working to spread power supply on the continent since 2013. Perhaps that’s why Obama’s Energy Secretary didn’t waste money on the trip for the last four years?

Protected from interjections or questions by his status, Perry pressed on with his careful campaign delivered in his Texan drawl.

We’re an ‘all of the above’, I mean I you heard me mention, you know, a couple of, ah fossil fuels, um, you know, I’m a big fan of fossil fuels. In fact there was a really interesting yesterday um ... at a luncheon where a fellow spoke about uh, Alex Epstein, spoke about the moral case for fossil fuels. I happen to agree with that. I think it’s really important. That said, I’m an ‘all the above’ guy.”

All of the above” means he objectively considers all fuels and energy sources “from a practical standpoint”.

He used the phrase a number of times, its vagueness being particularly useful in evading responsibility for future failures while enabling victorious claims in hindsight. Given that an energy source’s practicality can be manipulated through a number of means a government has at its disposal, no questions on what constitutes practicality were allowed.

We need look no further than Eskom’s refusal to sign the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) contracts to see just how investment into renewables can be short-circuited.

Perry is politically sussed enough to know that he can’t come right out and say he doesn’t believe in global warming and its catastrophic consequences are caused by humans. But he can hedge, and hum and haw, just like he did in the press conference and in this NBC interview where he says global warming is real and caused by humans but it’s okay to be sceptical because that makes you wise and rational and we should have “a conversation” about climate change.

His pitch for Epstein is a good indicator. He can tout being “an all-of-the-above guy”, yet in Epstein he has a theorist who fits right into the Republican back pocket, placing the words moral and fossil fuel not only in one sentence, but in the title of a book. This is gold for someone who would like to hold back the advance of renewable energy and keep the snouts of his big oil buddies in the trough.

The pitch for Epstein’s book can be viewed here, and if the promo video doesn’t leave you somewhat agape with a host of questions, read a critique here. We’ll say no more, but Perry, just to make sure he’s sitting firmly on the fence, went on to mention how his home state of Texas – which is the 12th largest economy in the world – went from “almost zero wind energy to somewhere between 12 and 15,000 Megawatts”.

His contention that in the years from 2003 to 2013 Texas grew by seven million inhabitants – attracted by his competitive investment policies as Governor, which created more jobs for a period than the other 49 states combined, yet managed to decrease its emissions of nitrogen oxide by over 60%, its sulphur dioxide by about 50% and carbon dioxide by 20%, proving that you can have petrochemical industry growth without negatively impacting the environment – is nearly as contentious as Epstein’s book. Total carbon emissions in Texas, according to the US Energy Information Administration, decreased from 649.3-million metric tons to 631.1. That’s a decrease of 2.8%. Not bad, but in 2014 Texas remained the most polluting state in the US, emitting nearly double the next largest carbon emitter, California.

The reason for the drop in carbon emissions in a state that puts more carbon into the atmosphere each year than South Africa, could well be due to the massive jump in wind energy, and incentives to exchange old dirty diesel engines with cleaner ones. Economic growth and mitigating environmental effects are not mutually exclusive, but renewable energy plays a significant role, which Perry is careful to gloss over.

So for anyone concerned that the greenies might stymie fracking in the Karoo, Perry has your back, providing a firm “yes” to a question by Kim Cloete from Mining Weekly as to whether he believed the economic benefits of extracting shale gas outweigh environmental concerns.

Because, Perry believes, technology, particularly techonology related to the development of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling, can change the world. Whether or not that also applies to technological development in renewable energy and its ability to provide baseload power, we were unfortunately not given a chance to ask.

But his department of energy is involved in a lot of innovation, presumably in fracking and directional drilling. We can rest assured that they’re “throwing a lot of jello at the wall, and, um, some of it will stick and have the potential to change the world just as hydraulic fracturing has (sic)”.

Going on without mentioning environmentalists and anti-fracking lobbyists as such, he said: I know it’s always easy to scare people about things that they don’t know about. Um, children are scared of the dark until a light comes on. And um, that’s ... we, we have seen the public, um, scared by people who have political agendas, I understand that (sic).”

We’re also not to get confused about renewable energy’s status in the “we’re all-of-the-above” approach.

We’re all-of-the-above but it’s all-of-the-above from a practical standpoint. How is the power going to be delivered to the most people in the most expeditious way and the most economical way, and fossil fuels are going to play a very important role in that.”

Just so we’re clear. – DM

Photo: US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry delivers a statement during the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 61st General Conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, 18 September 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

* Rick-rolled – Wikipedia

  • Steve Kretzmann
    Steve Kretzmann
  • South Africa

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