Going Dutch: How Not to Cut Emissions

Everyone knows the Dutch are serious and determined people.  Their saying: “God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.”  A relative of mine had some run-ins with Dutch neighbors, and his saying about them:  “Wooden shoes, wooden heads, wouldn’t listen.”  Well, now the Dutch have another saying:  “Whatever you do, don’t try to cut carbon emissions the way we did.”

You see, being Dutch they took on the challenge of “fighting climate change,” and are now living to regret their actions.  Karel Beckman writes in Natural Gas World  The Flaws in Dutch Climate Policy Mar 20, 2019.  H/T GWPF  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Why should the wisdom of Dutch climate policy be of concern to anyone besides Dutch taxpayers? At this moment all developed countries are entering a new phase in their climate policies. They are moving beyond broad reduction targets and temperature goals to the nitty-gritty of real climate measures and tough choices. The debate is not anymore about whether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or even by how much, but how.

From this point on there are still many different roads into the future. The Dutch example is instructive because we are talking about a wealthy, urban, industrialised country – a self-proclaimed climate leader within the European Union. A country moreover that has decided to phase out the use of “unabated” natural gas for the sake of the climate. Yet its climate policies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions are full of flaws.

The Climate Accord, the result of months of negotiations between labour unions, non-governmental organisations, business associations, local authorities and other civil society groups, which will serve as the basis for the Dutch National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) that all EU member states have to submit to the European Commission at the end of this year, contains a large number of more or less concrete proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

PBL and CPB have analysed the effect these proposals are likely to have on emission reductions and at what likely cost. The PBL report and the CPB report are therefore key inputs in the political decision-making process, turning the Climate Accord into law.

What the two reports show – even though their authors don’t say so explicitly and even if the general media did not notice anything amiss – is that Dutch climate policies are full of contradictions, inefficiencies and question-marks that should serve as a warning to energy policy-makers and stakeholders everywhere.

Here are my own seven Troubling Takeaways from the PBL and CPB reports.

1. The cost of climate policies: anyone’s guess

Robert Koelemeijer, researcher at PBL and one of the authors of the new report, says in a telephone interview: “It has proved to be very difficult to distinguish between the costs of the energy system as such, and the additional costs as a result of past climate and energy policies. But it is a question we get more often and one that we do want to take a look at this year.”

Earlier this year, a group of critics – Theo Wolters, Stijn Santen, Hans Keuken, Evert van der Pol and Marcel Crok – published a report, “De kosten van het Energieakkoord” (“The costs of the Energy Accord”), which attempts to calculate the costs of the measures decided on in an earlier piece of climate legislation, called the Energy Accord, in 2013.

Wolters, one of the authors, tells me it is reasonable to assume that this Energy Accord, which was actually adopted by the government and is being implemented, represents the major part of the “reference scenario” that PBL refers to.

According to Wolters et al., the Energy Accord will cost Dutch society over €100bn, measured over a period of 35 years, to which the costs of the Climate Accord must now be added. Their report has been criticised by various experts. Koelemeijer says: “There are some aspects about it that we don’t agree with. We are planning to analyse it in more detail.”

On the other hand, €100bn, over 35 years, does not seem so incredible. Thus, for example, the Dutch General Accounting Office (“Algemene Rekenkamer”), again an official government institution, calculated in April 2015 that the costs of renewable energy subsidies alone could amount to some €80bn by 2030. (You can find the GAO report by following this link, click on the download, see page 15-16. Again, all in Dutch, I’m afraid.)

Renewable energy subsidies are of course only part of the total costs of climate policy – according to the critics roughly half of the total.

2. The poor will pay

More important perhaps is that CPB concludes that lower income groups (especially lower middle income groups) have to pay relatively more as a result of current climate policies than higher income groups. Welfare recipients and pensioners, says CPB, are hit hardest of all.

On average, households will see their income reduced by 1.3% as a result of all climate measures together, notes CPB, ranging from 0.8% for the highest income groups to 1.8% for the lowest income groups. To this should be added another 0.4% income loss on average as a result of climate policies in other EU countries and of companies charging their climate costs to consumers.

3. The built environment: minimal results

One of the most complex and controversial elements in Dutch climate policy is the goal to disconnect all houses and buildings from the gas grid by 2050. Currently 98% of all buildings are connected to the gas grid. . . Of the more than 7mn buildings that will be affected, 1.5mn should be “off gas” by 2030, according to the Climate Accord. As noted above, CPB does not calculate the costs of this gigantic operation. PBL does this however and concludes (on p. 67) that with the measures in the Climate Accord some 250,000 to 1,070,000 buildings could be made “gas-free” (rather than 1.5mn). The net “national costs” of this operation would only be €75mn to €90mn, according to PB.

Theo Wolters, one of the authors of the critical report, notes that according to a 2018 study of the independent think tank EIB (“Economisch Instituut voor de Bouw” – Economic Institute for the Building Sector), the average cost of going off gas will be €32,638/house. This will save on average €623/yr in gas use. That adds up to much higher national costs.

Troubling me much more, the PBL study shows that the measures taken in the built environment do only very little to reduce CO2 emissions. The Climate Accord is split up into five sectors: electricity generation, industry, transport, agriculture and environment. If it is carried out, PBL calculates, total emissions will go down between 31 and 52 megatons (Mt). Of this total, the electricity sector will contribute 18.3-21.0 Mt, industry between 6 and 13.9 Mt, mobility 4.2-8.0 Mt, agriculture 1.8-4.6 Mt and the built environment a paltry 0.8-3.7 Mt.

In other words, the Netherlands is contemplating a complete overhaul of the existing building stock with only a modest effect on its greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Waterbed effects: cutting carbon emissions in one place means they can rise elsewhere, unless the cap comes down.

Wolters and his co-authors, in their critical report, provide a withering analysis of the waterbed effects of Dutch climate policy. They calculate that of 32 Mt of emission reductions which the Netherlands wants to achieve by 2020, 79% fall under the ETS system. The non-ETS part is almost all based on the use of biomass, a questionable method (see below). Just 0.6 Mt of the 32 Mt falls outside of the ETS and is not related to biomass.

Wolters notes that CPB and the University of Groningen have long ago warned about the waterbed effect of the ETS, with the recommendation to “put off building expensive offshore wind parks in the North Sea” as long as their emission reductions would benefit coal power producers in Poland and elsewhere. “The same ton of CO2 that we don’t emit and which costs us on average €88, can be bought by a coal power producer in eastern Europe for €5 to €25”, they write.The ETS carbon price is now much higher but nowhere near €88/mt.

5. Biomass: what is it good for?

This table shows that biomass is the single most expensive measure – yet as PBL itself notes, its effectiveness is surrounded by “many uncertainties”.

By the way, in the Netherlands burning wood in wood stoves and fireplaces also counts as “renewable energy”. The Netherlands has a 14% renewable energy target for 2020, of which almost 1 percentage point will be reached by people using their wood stoves and fireplaces!

6. Jobs: no effect

Renewable energy is often credited for providing jobs – a questionable defence in itself, since “providing jobs” is not the same thing as “contributing to economic growth”. On the contrary, if switching to renewable energy leads to many more people being employed in energy generation, this is a net economic loss to society, not a gain.

But not to worry: CPB concludes (on p. 11) that climate and energy policy in the Netherlands has “transition effects”, but “in the longer term the net effects on employment are marginal”. The renewable energy job machine simply does not exist.

7. In the end: coming up short

After all is said and done, and ignoring waterbed effects, biomass doubts and the like, what is also striking is that the measures in the Climate Accord don’t even deliver the official target of 48.7 Mt of reductions in 2030. PBL concludes (p. 9) that if all the proposed measures are carried out, emissions will be reduced by between 31 Mt and 52 Mt, adding that “the target of 48.7 Mt will most likely not be met”.

Indeed, there are other “uncertainties” which could even result in emission reductions outside of the 31-52 Mt range, notes PBL, for example, unexpected deviations in “economic growth, energy prices, technology developments and developments in other countries.”

Conclusions

The most important one I think is that climate policy – any climate policy – is not a done deal. On the contrary, the real hard choices have only just arrived on our doorstep. There are many questions, such as, what are the most cost-effective and efficient measures. Not only in the Netherlands – other countries will face the same issues.

Two key issues that need to receive a lot more attention are the effects of EU climate policy, which right now are an afterthought in the Netherlands and in other EU member states, whereas they clearly should be a starting point; and the wisdom of using renewable energy targets alongside CO2-targets. Wolters and the other critics of Dutch climate policy observe that the Dutch government initially wisely focused on CO2-targets, but then enthusiastically endorsed a new renewable energy target agreed upon by the EU of 32% in 2030. This, they say, means that CO2-reduction will be achieved “through relatively expensive options”.

The climate policy debate? It has only just started.

The Dutch also invented a word: Poppycock, (ˈpäpēˌkäk/) informal noun meaning nonsense.
Synonyms: nonsense, rubbish, claptrap, balderdash, blather, moonshine, garbage;
Origin: mid 19th century: from Dutch dialect pappekak, from pap ‘soft’ + kak ‘dung.’

Reprinted below is a previous post Green Electrical Shocks providing a Dutch analysis with a dash of humor.

One year ago, a weekly Sunday news program aired in the Netherlands on the titled subject. H/T Climate Scepticism. The video clip is below with English subtitles. For those who prefer reading, I provide the substantial excerpts from the program with my bolds.

How many of you have Green Electricity? I will estimate 69%
And how much nationally? Oh, 69%!
So we are very average, and in a good way, because the climate is very important.

Let me ask: Green electricity comes from . . .?
Yes, electricity produced from windmills and solar panels.
Nearly 2/3 of the Dutch are using it. That’s the image.

Well I have green news and bad news.
The green news: Well done!
The bad news: It is all one big lie.
Time for the Green Electrical Shocks.

Shock #1: The green electricity from your socket is not green.
When I switched to green electricity I was very proud.
I thought, Yes, well done! The climate is getting warmer, but not any more thanks to me.

Well, that turned out to be untrue.
All producers deliver to one communal grid. Green and grey electricity all mix.
The electricity you use is always a mix of various sources.
OK. It actually makes sense not to have separate green and grey cables for every house.
So it means that of all electricity, 69% is produced in a sustainable way. But then:

Shock #2: Green Electricity is mostly fake.
Most of the green electricity we think we use comes from abroad.
You may think: So what. Green is green.

But that electricity doesn’t come from abroad, it stays abroad.
If you have green electricity at home, it may mean nothing more than that your supplier has bought “green electricity certificates”.

In Europe green electricity gets an official certificate,
Instead of selling on the electricity, they sell on those certificates.
Norway, with its hydro power, has a surplus of certificates.
Dutch suppliers buy them on a massive scale, while the electricity stays in Norway.

The idea was: if countries can sell those certificates, they can make money by producing more green electricity.
But the Norwegians don’t produce more green electricity.
But they do sell certificates.

The Dutch suppliers wave with those certificates, and say Look! Our grey electricity is green.
Only one country has produced green electricity: Norway.
But two countries take the credit.
Norway, because they produce green electricity, and the Netherlands because, on paper, we have green electricity. Get it? That’s a nice deal.

More and more countries sell those certificates. Italy is now the top supplier.
We buy fake green electricity from Italy, like some kind of Karma ham.

Now, let’s look again at the green electricity we all think we use.
So the real picture isn’t 69%. If you cancel the certificates, only 21% of electricity is really green.
Nowadays you can even order it separately if you don’t want to be part of that Norway certificates scam.
You may think: 21% green is still quite a lot. But it is time for:

Shock #3: Not all energy is electricity.
If you talk about the climate, you shouldn’t just consider electricity but all energy.
When you look at all energy, like factories, cars, trains, gas fires, then the share of consumer electricity is virtually nothing.
If you include everything in your calculation, it turns out that only 6% of all the energy we use in the Netherlands is green. It is a comedy, but wait:

Trees converted into pellets by means of petroleum powered machinery.

Shock #4: Most green energy doesn’t come from sun or wind, like you might think.
Even the 6%, our last green hope, is fake. According to the CBS we are using more sun and wind energy, but most of the green energy is produced by the burning of biomass.
Ah, more than half of the 6% green energy is biomass.

Ridiculous. What is biomass really? It is organic materials that we encounter every day.
Like the content of a compost heap. How about maize leaves or hay?
The idea behind burning organic materials is that it will grow up again.
So CO2 is released when you burn it, but it will be absorbed again by new trees.

However, there is one problem. The forest grows very slowly and our power plants burn very fast.
This is the fatal flaw in the thinking about biomass. Power plants burn trees too fast, so my solution: slow fire. Disadvantage: it doesn’t exist. So this is our next shock.

Shock#5: Biomass isn’t all that sustainable.
It’s getting worse. There aren’t enough trees in the Netherlands for biomass.
We can’t do it on our own. We don’t have enough wood, so we get it from America.

In the USA forests are cut at a high rate, Trees are shredded and compressed into pellets.
These are shipped to the Netherlands and end up in the ovens of the coal plants.
It’s a disaster for the American forests, according to environmental groups.

So we transport American forests on diesel ships to Europe.
Then throw them in the oven because it officially counts as green energy.
Only because the CO2 released this way doesn’t count for our total emissions.

In reality biomass emits more CO2 than natural gas and coal.
These are laws of nature, no matter what European laws say.
At the bottom line, how much sustainable energy do we really have in the Netherlands?
Well, the only real green energy from windmills, solar panels etc. Is only 2.2%. of all the energy we use.

In Conclusion
So the fact that 2/3 of the audience and of all Dutch people use green electricity means absolutely nothing. It’s only 2.2%, and crazier still, the government says it should be at 14% by 2020.
They promised: to us, to Europe, to planet Earth: 14 instead of 2.2.

Instead of making a serious attempt to save the climate, they are only working on accounting tricks, like buying pieces of paper in Norway and burning American forests.
They are only saving the climate on paper.

Summary Comment

As the stool above shows, the climate change package sits on three premises. The first is the science bit, consisting of an unproven claim that observed warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part rests on impact studies from billions of research dollars spent uncovering any and all possible negatives from warming. And the third leg is climate policies showing how governments can “fight climate change.”

It is refreshing to see more and more articles by people reasoning about climate change/global warming and expressing rational positions. Increasingly, analysts are unbundling the package and questioning not only the science, but also pointing out positives from CO2 and warming.  And as the Dutch telecast shows, ineffective government policies are also fair game.

More on flawed climate policies at Reasoning About Climate

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3 comments

  1. Hifast · March 23

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

    Like

  2. hunterson7 · March 23

    So a huge expense to make small changes in emissions at a huge opportunity cost and loss of reliability.
    Like basically everything the climate consensus pushes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. friso sikkema · April 15

    There is one clean, freely expandable, long term, highly energy dense solution, which is nuclear power in whatever form (for now, water cooled reactors such as we have, and more advanced Fast Breeder Reactors are promising, but thorium may be the real long term (50 years+) solution). Luckily, more and more serious parties are recognizing this.

    This is actually excellent news; we have a realistic, economic way out! Let’s stop greenwashing, and think about the future.

    Like

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