Evan Saugstad: And now, the rest of the story


Remember Paul Harvey and The Rest of the Story? The radio show began during Harvey's newscasts during the Second World War before premiering as its own series in 1976, and gave Harvey the chance to give us forgotten and obscure facts on a number of topics.

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The show ended in 2008 and Paul Harvey passed away in 2009, God bless his soul. I do miss his stories as they were always interesting, but that's not what I write about.

In March, columnist Don Pettit wrote an article giving a global snapshot of new clean energy developments. In somewhat the same spirit of what Paul Harvey used to do, I will fill in some of the blanks.

I can agree with Mr. Pettit that renewable power sources are needed, are growing in popularity, are becoming more mainstream around the world, and are becoming cheaper to install and operate. But — and there's always a but — that isn’t the complete story.

As new technologies come online, they usually have higher installation and operating costs than what they are replacing. As time goes on, efficiencies are found, and costs drop to where they eventually reach a bottom. Then, along with the cost of living, materials and labour, costs begin to rise.

This is nothing new or profound. It's the same story for renewable energy.

What gets lost in the zeal to convince us of all the great and wonderful things these new technologies bring, is the omission of some facts, the glossing over of others, or, sometimes, just incorrect statements, all in order to make things seem better than they are.

Mr. Pettit writes about falling costs resulting in cheaper power, which is true, to a point. He writes about how the carbon tax is funding projects which will result in cheaper power, which is only partially true.

Last summer I wrote on the fallacy of Hudson’s Hope claim of cheaper power from their solar power project. Yes, that's true, if you conveniently forget someone funded more than $1 million to build it and allowed the municipality to zero out their capital costs.

Now, quid pro quo. Our government could do the same thing with the Site C hydroelectric project. With a few billion of our tax dollars, they could zero the capital construction costs and we could then have the cheapest power available anywhere. Would love to hear the moans and groans if that occurred!

A few other points of contention from this article.

More wind energy being built around the world than any other energy source? 

Well, in June 2018, Bloomberg News reported that coal's share of the world's electricity mix stay pretty much the same between 1997 and 2017, at roughly 38%. Fossil fuels increased their share, marginally, from 63 to 65%.

And the idea that there will be fast-charging electricity stations along Canadian highways within the next two to three years is simply not happening anywhere near these timelines, and is more likely to take a few decades.

The average vehicle is built to last 10 or more years, and governments will not be buying them back so one can switch to an electric car. Perfectly functioning vehicles are not going to the junk yard.

Eventually, charging stations will need to show profits and governments will want to collect road taxes on the electricity used, which will lead to increased operating costs. Government subsidies for electrical car purchases will also begin to disappear as more people buy them, and the reduced efficiencies during cold weather will restrict where they can be used.

Combined, factors such as these will increase costs and slow conversions.

Meanwhile, in China, they may be leading the world in solar installations, but it is smoke and mirrors. China still leads the world in the construction of coal-fired electrical generating stations, both at home and around the world. According to Forbes, “…China actually now accounts for 45% of the coal-based electricity generated in the world, compared to 37% back in 2010."

Another quote from the Financial Times: “China financed more than a quarter of all coal plants announced outside the country (2017) last year according to a new report, putting its clean energy image at risk as Chinese institutions fund coal-fired projects in emerging markets.”

Whether you choose to believe it as truth or fiction, a stable electrical grid must have a constant source of power that doesn’t stop when there is no wind, no sun, or no water, and that limits many renewable options. When we see governments in the rush to be seen as "green", or eliminating the current use of or banning the future use of large-scale hydroelectric, coal, natural gas, or nuclear-powered generating stations, the alarm bells should go off.

Simply put, we need to have an orderly transition from our current electrical generation mix to something different. We cannot just destroy perfectly functioning electrical generating plants without a cost to someone or something in our economy. We may think that it is only those "bad" corporations that this applies to, but, sadly, those corporations are also us.

Same for government. We cannot rely on government to give handouts in perpetuity for the sake of change. That is not how our system is balanced or works.

What governments spend needs to be balanced with what they receive. And that is the rest of the story — well, almost.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John. 

© Copyright Alaska Highway News


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