Energy Horror Part 3: Deep (Freeze) in the Heart of Texas

The third and final installment in the energy horror trilogy may leave viewers feeling like they’ve seen this movie before. It’s repetitive and follows the same formula of its predecessors: bad policy, hidden agendas, rigid ideology, and demotion of science. But the formula keeps producing new versions of energy horror.

Environmental ideology trumping science and engineering in energy policy may not be shocking when it manifests in California or Boston. But surely, such shenanigans would never happen in the energy soul of our nation, Texas. Well, history taught us that energy stupidity is replicable and scalable.

It is well known that Texas has the largest wind capacity in the nation, at over 28,000 MWs. The popular rationale as to why Texas has such a massive wind fleet is that the state is windy and windmills are now economically competitive. The first part of the rationale is certainly true, but the second part is tricky.

It depends on how one defines competitive.

Head-to-head, wind generation at scale is not competitive with natural gas generation. The reasons are many, but perhaps the two biggest drivers are low cost and prolific supplies of natural gas coupled with the problem of the wind not always blowing when you need it to. The intermittent, unreliable nature of wind generation requires backup, redundant generation that is, ironically, typically carbon-based. That makes wind generation costly.

Yet Texas saw its wind capacity grow by over 100% in five years while its solar capacity grew by an astounding 2,000% in the same period. Over those five years natural gas generation capacity grew a paltry 3.5%. With Texas bureaucrats and regulators betting the ranch on wind and solar, they managed to achieve the absurd: growing generation capacity while simultaneously killing grid reliability.

So, what drove Texas to install such a massive wind and solar generation footprint? The answer: subsidy. Government, from federal down to state and local levels, year after year shoveled billions of dollars in various subsidies, tax credits, and protective market incentives to allow corporations, private equity firms, and utilities to feed at the taxpayer trough. The numbers speak for themselves: over $9 billion in federal subsidy for renewables in Texas since 2006, over $7 billion in state subsidy for renewables through boondoggles like Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, over $1 billion in local subsidy since 2006 for renewables through county and school district tax abatements.

Wind turbines were not constructed to save the planet. Windmills weren’t installed to increase grid resiliency. No, this massive investment was to simply maximize profit under a rigged system. Texas experienced the same racket that governments the world over are imposing upon the citizenry. Sadly, much of the subsidy via local tax abatements is shouldered by the poorer, rural regions of Texas so that the affluent elite in Austin and other big cities can virtue signal and enjoy subsidy.

Letting government dictate capital allocation instead of the free market also ensured investment was reduced in equipment weatherization, pipeline infrastructure, and carbon-based generation. Texas didn’t just bet its grid future by incentivizing the addition of unreliable wind generation. It also did so by encouraging foregoing investment in these other critical areas of the grid.

When the state grid went from one built on a portfolio designed for reliability, cost competitiveness, and resiliency to one designed for sucking subsidy, it would only be a matter of time before bad things happened. That time came this winter when a cold front moved over the Lone Star State.

When it gets cold, equipment runs into issues. Especially equipment that is not properly weatherized for the elements. Or windmills placed hundreds of miles away from urban demand centers and linked by an exposed, extended, and vulnerable transmission line. Cold weather also increases demand for energy. So, when the windmills stopped spinning due to the cold and the demand for energy kept growing, Texas suffered a Texas-sized blackout (solar never showed up when it counted, contributing zero to the grid during the crisis).

You will hear the disingenuous blame natural gas or deregulation as the culprits of this failure. That’s a desperate attempt to shroud the true root causes: climate ideology superseding grid science, poor policy instituted by government, subsidy driving malinvestment in place of the free market capital allocation, and irrational reliance on unreliable wind and solar.

Let’s hope Texans have become wise to the game. Fool Texas once, shame on the elite. Fool Texas twice, shame on Texans.

Rumors of a Fourth?

As frightening as this energy horror trilogy is, there are rumors that policy makers and environmentalists are planning a fourth installment. Although we don’t know yet where the location will be or the specifics, we do know the tried and true plot lines. Expect them to keep going to the grid until it goes dark.

Here’s to hoping you are able to keep the lights on tonight.

Energy Horror Part 2: Boston Willingly Becomes a Putin Puppet

The second installment of the energy horror trilogy in many ways is the most disturbing.

Boston is one of the world’s great cities, both the cradle of the American Republic and a town of awesome people. But its political leadership has lost its collective mind, creating an Achilles’ heel in the form of energy insecurity. A strongman in Russia took note and is now in control.

The road to ruin began with a wider effort across the northeast, led by the dysfunctional mess known as New York. New York Governor Cuomo got things rolling when he inanely banned natural gas shale development and blocked new interstate natural gas pipelines in his state. Both moves were, of course, justified under the banner of the public good and cloaked with a faux wrapping of scientific study.

Not only did the duo of Cuomo moves create an economic dead zone in New York (while across the border, Pennsylvania’s energy industry thrived), it also cleared the path for similarly small-minded politicians and bureaucrats in other regional states and cities like Massachusetts and Boston to follow suit with policies that punished natural gas and ran to the false hopes of wind and solar.

The cumulative result of this regionally daft judgement was the eradication of infrastructure investment in pipelines and related assets needed to maintain and bolster grid and home heating reliability. The result was premeditated and desired, not accidental or unanticipated.

As the northeast and Boston were starving investment in their energy resiliency, the natural gas shale revolution in Pennsylvania and other states was rewriting the geopolitical map. The United States today sits as the largest natural gas producer in the world and probably the lowest cost producer of the product. One of the largest and lowest cost gas fields in the nation is the Marcellus and Utica formations close to Boston.

But Boston, of course, is not able to enjoy that domestic natural gas. Instead, Boston is importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia. That country is run by a man named Putin, who is not what one would consider to be woke or an eco-warrior.

Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts, New York, and the northeast are forcing their citizens and businesses to place their energy security in the hands of our adversary an ocean and two continents away. Instead of a simple pipeline linking Pennsylvania to Boston, the city’s elite chose to link the Russian Arctic to the Mystic River. Instead of relying on their neighbors in Pennsylvania to manufacture their energy, they place their faith in Putin.

Such stupidity has consequences.

One consequence will be much higher energy costs for homeowners, businesses, and consumers in Boston. Boston and New England experience natural gas prices that are more than double natural gas prices in nearby states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. High energy costs are one of the most regressive taxes known to bureaucrats, and Boston’s poor will suffer. Sad, considering the lowest cost natural gas in the world is a few states away in Pennsylvania.

A second consequence will be a less resilient grid and energy infrastructure for Beantown. That’s what happens whenever you decide to transition from a supply chain that was tight and domestic to one that is over 4,000 miles long and spans continents and oceans. And the new supply chain starts with someone who is not afraid to shut the gas valve in the dead of winter to prove a point or to exert leverage. Expect the lights and heat to go out at the worst possible times. Just ask Ukraine or Poland.

The third consequence is environmental harm. A logistics chain that spans over 4,000 miles will have a massive carbon footprint. The natural gas is sourced from a nation where the regulatory standards are largely a joke when compared to U.S. standards. Boston and Massachusetts running to wind and solar won’t help and will only exacerbate the environmental carnage, since both present massive life cycle carbon footprints at scale. Boston and the Bay State are guilty of a massive offshoring of global pollution via purchase of Russian natural gas that is extracted in ways that don’t follow anything close to best practices and subsidization of Chinese-mined and -manufactured solar and wind components that have massively harmful environmental footprints.

People outside of New England are surprised to learn that about 20% of New England households use heating oil to heat homes in winter. That’s about 85% of the U.S. households that do so. With the natural gas shale miracle in full swing in nearby Appalachia, Bostonians and New Englanders today heat their homes in a way more like Thoreau did with his cabin at Walden Pond in the 1800s than the rest of the country does in 2021.

What’s really scary is understanding that’s exactly what Boston’s anti-innovation leaders desired.

An Energy Horror Trilogy

Hollywood brought us epic trilogies through the years: Star Wars, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, and Clint Eastwood’s the-man-with-no-name trio of westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly), to name the best. Who doesn’t love debating which of the three films of these masterpieces is best (excluding Godfather III, of course)?

In the genre of horror, the most frightening modern trilogy does not come from Hollywood but is brought to us by politicians, environmentalists, and bureaucrats. Unfortunately, the stories are real, not fiction.

There are a trio of real-world energy disasters. The calamities and victims are the result of consciously embracing ill-advised policies pursued in the name of saving the planet.

Yet the true intentions of these policies are to impose environmental fundamentalism over the free market. The winners are subsidy-seekers feeding at the public trough. The losers are the innovators and anyone who uses energy (which is everyone).

Channeling Siskel and Ebert, let’s provide a critical review of each installment of this trilogy.

Part One: California’s Grid Goes From First-Rate to Third-World

The first installment of the trio has been under development the longest. California bureaucrats and politicians have prided themselves on being at the fore of environmental extremism for decades. Much attention concentrates on developing nonsensical policies to address climate change alarmism, despite everyone knowing the policies will have little impact on climate.

The Golden State’s power grid has suffered the most under this approach. California’s grid used to consist of a resilient portfolio of in-state nuclear, coal, natural gas, oil, wind, and solar generation sources as well as a similarly diversified portfolio of out of state suppliers. The bulk of the transportation fleet ran off gasoline. The state’s energy infrastructure was the resilient backbone that a powerful economy rested upon.

Once the Left assumed power in the Sacramento legislature, urban areas, and the governor’s mansion, the resilient grid and energy infrastructure built on sound science and engineering began to devolve via policy and edict.

The California Public Utility Commission (PUC) was stacked with those more interested in green virtue signaling than the nuts and bolts of maintaining a reliable grid. The PUC president’s bio focuses on prior achievements of “green government,” renewable energy promotion, and social responsibility. The bios of the other four commissioners of the PUC tout environmental justice, decarbonization, sustainable communities, and environmental equity.

These bios of the California PUC commissioners expose the ineptitude of California’s political leadership, starting with Governor Newsom. That’s because the politically-appointed PUC presided over the worst utility debacle in the nation’s history: the epic fail of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The PUC’s leadership then, like now, obsessed on the optics instead of the fundamentals. That led to tragedy and an ongoing crisis that has no end in sight.

For years, the California utility enjoyed its focus on optics and racked up accolades from self-proclaimed experts. The utility was designated as an ESG outperformer and ranked as the top utility in responsibility. The company boasted that over a third of its power came from renewables, which helped deliver a string of best-possible governance ratings from experts. PG&E had all the impressive, yet hollow, optics a utility could hope for to curry favor with the politically-correct.

But PG&E was a severely dysfunctional organization in the arenas of governance, safety performance, and environmental stewardship. The utility’s rap sheet over the past twenty years includes convictions for over 700 misdemeanors that took the court clerk over an hour to read aloud (1997) and felony convictions stemming from misleading regulators and the public about the state of a gas pipeline that ruptured and killed eight people (2010).

Erin Brockovich became a movie sensation when she represented clients who were eventually awarded over $600 million from PG&E in court cases stemming from contaminated drinking water. From 2012 to 2016 PG&E supervisors looked the other way as employees fabricated thousands of on-time results to hit internal targets for responding to excavation work around buried power and gas lines, accumulating over 170,000 violations of state law.

Then, in 2017 and 2018, wildfires raged across California and it was determined that over 1,500 fires, several of them catastrophic, were caused by PG&E’s poor maintenance practices, deferred safety upgrades, slow responsiveness, and obsolete equipment. The death toll exceeded 100; and, 22,000 buildings were destroyed across 350,000 scorched acres. A company audit months after the fires reported nearly 10,000 problems with power lines throughout its system.

Before you knew it, the utility was facing tens of billions of dollars in liability. PG&E filed for bankruptcy in early 2019, bringing home the reality of wiped-out investors despite all those hollow credentials.

PG&E customers today suffer the largest intentional blackouts in history, exemplified when two million Californians had power cut for days in October 2019, during fire-prone windy periods as the utility post-bankruptcy looks to pass on risk to the rate payers. The CEO went on record that same month lamenting that it might be a decade before the self-inflicted blackouts end.

Of course, the jettisoning of risk to those the utility exists to serve will be justified on the ever-accommodating excuse of addressing climate change and serving corporate greed; Governor Newsom’s assessment of the root cause of the intentional blackouts was found in his quip that, “It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change.”

What won’t be named are the true root causes of the crisis by the governor. First, for years government bureaucrats, environmental groups, and politicians forced the regulated utility to divert billions of dollars from necessary line maintenance and equipment upgrades to various climate change and renewable energy adventures. The consequences were dire: a failed 100-year old metal hook designed to suspend high voltage transmission lines started the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

A second root cause was those same bureaucrats and environmental groups prohibiting the utility and other businesses from practicing effective vegetation clearing practices, making the wildfires more intense and faster moving. The PUC may have set the stage for the catastrophes by prioritizing renewable energy and climate change mandates ahead of electricity grid safety and reliability oversight.

Intentional blackouts by a government-controlled utility have serious negative consequences, spanning from macro GDP to the individual. Each blackout event imposes $2.5 billion in costs for residents and businesses in the state. Intentional blackouts mean health risks for the elderly who won’t be able to use medical devices that require electricity as well as lost revenues and increased expenses for businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores when they can’t serve customers in the dark and lose refrigerated inventory.

Homeowners and businesses are now buying carbon-fueled generators in droves because everyone knows the utility cannot be trusted to supply safe, reliable electricity. Adding insult to injury is that intentionally turning California into a third world electricity grid does not prevent the inept utility’s decrepit infrastructure from starting more fires: PG&E disclosed in late 2019 that one of its transmission lines failed in the area of a Sonoma County fire that destroyed hundreds of buildings.

California’s political and bureaucratic ineptitude hits rock bottom and then digs deeper. Mandating electric vehicles is the latest malfeasance, which will stress grid capacity thinner and expose yet another vital link of the economy, transportation, to the same ills being experienced by the power generation link. While California residents and businesses will suffer more, the climate will not benefit by a single part-per-million of carbon dioxide reduction.

The energy nightmare continues for California residents.

Allen Ginsberg Back Then Sounds Like Nostradamus Today

Let me get something out of the way at the start. I am not a fan of Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet or the person.

Ginsberg the poet was pro-communist and a staunch anti-capitalist. I don’t understand how his style of poetry, that utilized a continuous rat-tat-tat delivery, is art. But as I’ve said many times, what do I know about art?

Ginsberg the person was not a good man. He was a heavy drug user. He was a member and supporter of an organization that worked to abolish age of consent laws and advocated for legalizing sexual relations between adults and children. Seriously. The organization is the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and it is believed to still be in existence today, in a clandestine form.

Until a few weeks ago, there was not a single thing I liked about Ginsberg and much of what he stood for I found repulsive. Every time I came across him or his work, my feelings only solidified. Ironically, it was another historical figure I admire greatly who provided an insight of Ginsberg’s that resonates in 2021.

That person was William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative thought leader. By chance, I came across an old 1968 Firing Line episode hosted by him where Allen Ginsberg was the featured guest. That’s one of the things I love about Buckley: he never hesitated to go head-to-head to match wits with the elite of the opposition in front of a live audience.

Much of the Firing Line episode is what you would expect, with Buckley Jr. and Ginsberg debating a range of issues in chaotic 1968 that they had very different views on. Ginsberg read some of his poetry to the audience, and Buckley Jr.’s facial expressions during the rendering of the prose were priceless.

But Ginsberg raised a subject that shot through the grainy 1968 video and hit me. The subject was free speech, particularly how the suppression of freedom of thought is censorship. Ginsberg, I have to say, scored major points with his views.

What got the topic rolling was Ginsberg pointing out that the Firing Line producers prior to the show asked Ginsberg to refrain from cursing during the live debate. Ginsberg felt that the request was censorship of his thoughts because artists like him used obscenities in the normal course of developing thought patterns. If you disrupt the vocabulary that constitutes the thought patterns, you disrupt speech as a result.

I listened to Ginsberg and immediately drew a parallel to the politically correct and language-matters police of today.

Instead of obscenities, campuses today prohibit use of pronouns such as ‘his’ and ‘she.’ Lewd words are acceptable across the spectrum of media today, but you better not utter ‘Christian’ unless you are ridiculing the faith. And crude references are fine in art displays funded by today’s foundations and museums, just don’t speak of ‘capitalism’ in those rooms unless you are promoting its demise.

Ginsberg continued with his theme, going beyond the Firing Line producers’ request. He posited that the “octopus of the state” was intruding on the “language consciousness” of society. Ginsberg would be shocked at how long that octopus’ arms have become in 2021 when it comes to controlling our consciousness, especially considering how government collaborates with media, tech, and academia to control speech, language, thought, and opinion.

He lamented to Buckley Jr. that America was becoming a police state, like Eastern Europe at the time. America today has become a police state run not by the Right, as Ginsberg feared, but instead by the Left. The Left’s high priests do not tolerate dissenting views on climate change, socialism, school choice, or even politics. Step in tune with the officially sanctioned views or face the career- and life-altering consequences.

Ginsberg was also predicting the future when he articulated how in the late 1960s more money in the arts was wasted on fighting the system than was invested into making art. To Ginsberg, that was an outrage.

A business owner toiling in today’s economy can certainly commiserate with the poet.

Our economy’s ‘doers’ must constantly throw more and more hard-earned dollars into fighting the administrative state: to keep their business open during the pandemic, to stop incessant regulatory creep, to keep taxes from ratcheting excruciatingly higher (while also paying to navigate the tax code), and to counter the system’s perpetually looping message of how business is the problem and not the solution.

Ginsberg exhibited the personal behaviors of a deviant. Much of his politics were wrong-headed. But one night over fifty years ago he articulated astute positions on free speech, censorship, and the dangers of the state. The poet’s words from the spring of 1968 on these subjects are instructive to all today.

You can view the Firing Line episode here on the Hoover Institute’s YouTube channel.

Ranking the Individual Beatles

The musical consensus for years has been that the Beatles were the greatest act in the history of rock. The group’s prominence and fame eclipsed the music industry and permeate global pop culture to this day. The Beatles’ presence is so wide and deep that its four members are instantly recognizable by just their first names. Paul, John, George, and Ringo: mention those four in succession and everyone knows exactly who you are talking about.

I’ve always enjoyed and respected the Beatles’ music, although they are not my all-time favorite band. What I always loved about them was their working-class roots.

The lads from Liverpool grew up with very little in a town that is more Detroit or Pittsburgh than glitzy Manhattan or LA. These were not the kids of privilege by any stretch of the imagination, with the only member who grew up middle class being John Lennon.

What I always found intriguing is how the perceptions differ from the reality of the Beatles and their chief contemporaries, the Rolling Stones.

Most rock fans view the Rolling Stones as the gritty tough band while the Beatles are perceived as the artsy band. But the reality is the Stones hailed from the art schools and universities in and around glamorous London while the Beatles came off the hard-knock streets of Liverpool.

The Rolling Stones embraced wearing the black hat in their marketed persona while the Beatles remained true to who they were through their journey. Image through effective marketing can supersede the reality. If we know it to be true for companies, individuals, and brands, then it is certainly true for the performing arts.

Ranking the Fab Four

So, when it comes to the four members of the most influential group in the history of rock, how would one rank them individually? Well first, you need to define the criteria.

First, let’s stick to the music. We won’t delve too deeply into the cultural, political, or social views and activities of the Fab Four. If nothing else, doing so saves us the torture of having to assess the impact of Yoko.

Second, the musical contributions of each member when in the Beatles as well as their solo work will be fair game. After all, it is amazing to consider the group was only in existence for ten short years, from 1960 to 1970. An amazing amount of music was created over that decade.

But the four continued to make music beyond the 1970 breakup, with the surviving members doing so to this day. Thus, we must include the solo catalogues in the ranking.

So, how do John, Ringo, George, and Paul sort out and why? Let’s have some fun.

#1: Paul

It is not difficult to determine which member deserves the top spot; it’s not even close. Paul McCartney is from another planet.

Consider some of his signature creations for the Beatles: Paperback Writer, Helter Skelter, Can’t Buy Me Love, Penny Lane, Let It Be, Hey Jude, and Yesterday to name just a few. One could argue that the Beatles would still be the most influential group in rock history if you removed any member’s contribution from the catalogue, except for Paul’s. He is the most indispensable ingredient of the Beatles.

Yet Paul’s solo work may be more impressive than his time with the Beatles. Who doesn’t love Wings? Every time someone too young to remember the Beatles but old enough to remember AM radio hears With a Little Luck, Silly Love Songs, or Listen to What the Man Said, they are transported back to those summers riding in the back seat of the lead-gasoline powered family car with the windows down (pre-air conditioning).

My personal favorite McCartney tunes are Coming Up and Beware My Love. Best McCartney live renditions are Jet and Maybe I’m Amazed. And the guy just keeps on creating great music to this day.

#2: George

George Harrison may have been the quiet Beatle when it comes to demeanor, but his music did plenty of bold talking. I love Taxman best, because of its political statement calling out government’s appropriation of citizens’ value by excessive tax. Amen to those lyrics in 2021.

George contributed three of the most beautiful songs in the Beatles portfolio with Something, Here Comes the Sun, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. And he was a driving force to keep the group’s horizons constantly expanding, by immersing into different cultures and musical genres.

Harrison also lays a claim to arguably the best solo album of the four members after the breakup with his eponymous All Things Must Pass. That album holds the classics of What Is Life and My Sweet Lord. It also includes my favorite George single, If Not For You.

George was also a great collaborator, with his most notable mark being the founding father of the Traveling Wilburys. Imagine the studio where Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison were putting together songs. Lightning in a bottle, captured by George and for the enjoyment of all.

#3 John

I probably rank John lower than the critics and musical experts, which only makes me more confident I got it right. Lennon was great, no doubt. But also overrated in my humble opinion.

With the Beatles, Come Together, Strawberry Fields, and Help! are probably his most widely recognizable contributions. Much of his acclaim ascribed by the music press are for his politically overt numbers. Which is fine, unless you happen to disagree with some of Lennon’s positions. And most of those critically acclaimed Beatles songs don’t have the lyrical and musical weight that stick with you once you hear them.

As a solo artist, John struck gold with Woman and my favorite, Watching the Wheels (the latter was released posthumously after his murder). But his two most heralded solo singles, Imagine and Instant Karma!, I find immensely overrated.

I particularly find Imagine ridiculous; the hypocrisy of John sitting in his Manhattan palace or English estate while crooning about hunger, war, and greed is striking. Listen to the lyrics and then compare them to the Communist Manifesto: there is a lot of overlap between the two. Yet Rolling Stone magazine declared Imagine was Lennon’s musical gift to the world and hundreds of artists covered the tune though the years. Ugh.

#4 Ringo

It is testament to the power of the Beatles that the member I rank fourth (there is no ‘last’ with the Beatles) is a damn impressive artist in his own right. Ringo did not write the Beatles songs he is most famous for; that honor went to McCartney and Lennon. But you have to love his vocals on Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help From My Friends.

Ringo’s solo work is exceptional and underrated. Photograph and It Don’t Come Easy are my favorites. And he was, like George, a master collaborator. Ringo’s All Starr Band was an embarrassment of talent riches, with a lineup boasting Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Billy Preston, the Band’s Levon Helm and Rick Danko, and Bruce Springsteen’s East Street Band’s Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons. Wish I could’ve seen that group live back in 1989.

Speaking of his All-Starr band, here is a little trivia for you: Ringo and Joe Walsh are brothers-in-laws, with each one married to a Bach sister. Wouldn’t it be fun to have Joe Walsh over for a Thanksgiving dinner?

They All Shine On

What’s so clutch about the Beatles is that no matter what your musical tastes or preferences, there is a wealth of options to enjoy. You want rock? Call up Helter Skelter or Live and Let Die on your music app. Want mellow? Give Something or If Not For You a spin on the turntable. And if you want to explore these four trailblazers in different environments, check out the Traveling Wilburys or the All-Starr Band live albums.