As if the continuing spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant and fears of being flooded by waves of Afghan refugees weren’t enough, Europe is facing another crisis: The wind isn’t blowing.
Steady, reliable northwesterly winds blowing in from the North Atlantic and the North Sea were supposed to be a key component of Europe’s low-carbon future. Private investment capital and lavish taxpayer subsidies poured into the wind energy industry. By the thousands, gigantic wind turbines – offshore and onshore – mushroomed into the skies. Western Europe’s picturesque coasts and charming countryside have been defaced by these monstrosities, but everyone was assured it’s for a good cause. Nothing less than the planet’s future is at stake. And besides, wind power, along with solar power, will produce reliable affordable electricity.
Or maybe not.
For weeks, the wind from the North Atlantic and the North Sea has been little more than a gentle breeze, and that has wreaked havoc in energy markets from the U.K. to Spain and Italy. Britain, which now relies on wind for a quarter of its power, has had to turn to coal and natural gas to make up for the shortfall. But natural gas is in short supply, with storage levels as low as they have been for years. And coal? Coal-fired power plants have been closing for years, and all such plants will be shuttered by the end of 2024.
The result has been a sudden and brutal energy shortage that has most of the continent in its grip, as households and businesses try to cope with soaring electricity prices. In the U.K., the price for natural gas rose 70% in August. The U.S. still has plenty of liquified natural gas (LNG) it could sell, but most of it goes to Asia, where it fetches a higher price. Russia could step in with its abundant natural gas. But Vladimir Putin is no fool; he’s withholding Russian natural gas in the hope that prices go even higher
Britain is paying the price for its government’s commitment to achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Its overreliance on intermittent wind has led to the current unpleasantness. With colder weather just a few weeks away, demand for power to heat homes, businesses, and schools will only increase; public officials are already warning the populace about the possibility of blackouts. Even if the prevailing northwesterly winds return – as they surely will – the damage will have been done in the form of lower disposable incomes and layoffs at businesses that don’t have enough power to stay open. The U.K is already preparing to bail out a host of energy companies that have gone belly up in the crusade to battle climate change.
At some point in the future, the winds will let up again, and the whole mindless exercise will repeat itself.
Electricity prices are also skyrocketing in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Poland. Poland has had the good sense to keep its coal mines and coal-fired plants open. But Poles are facing higher power prices thanks to the continent-wide natural gas shortage and thanks to the EU’s carbon-trading scheme. Because Poland’s coal emits higher levels of CO2, the country has to buy increasingly expensive permits under the EU’s carbon-trading scheme. Those prices are passed on to Polish consumers who are going to have to dig even deeper, because the EU plans to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
On to Scotland
Britain’s energy woes, along with those elsewhere in Europe, will provide a fitting backdrop for the next U.N. climate conference set to get underway in November in Glasgow, Scotland. In addition to the customary predictions od dire consequences unless “urgent action” is taken to rid the world of climate change, delegates from nearly 200 countries will solemnly pledge to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. With any luck, their commitments will not be kept. Delegates from poorer countries, most of them boundlessly corrupt, will be there looking for handouts.
Meanwhile, the policies the climate summit will endorse are already having a devastating effect on the people on whom they are being imposed.