White flag: EU to declare natural gas, nuclear power “green”

It’s no secret that most of Europe (and much of the world, really) has been struggling to meet the ambitious “green energy” goals that were demanded during the climate summit last year. Analysts in the energy industry had attempted to warn them that a full conversion to wind and solar, involving the total abandonment of fossil fuels, wouldn’t be able to produce enough energy to keep the grid at full power in the specified time frame. Those predictions proved true when Germany was forced to restart some of its coal-fired plants last April after the lights started going out at night.

This reality seems to be setting in at the European Union as the new year arrives. No longer able to make the math work, they unveiled a plan to modify their “green energy conversion” schedule this week. Rather than creating more wind and solar power, they’re just going to declare that natural gas and nuclear power qualify as being “green.” That echoing slapping sound you’re hearing is the rest of the world smacking itself on the forehead and saying, ‘how did we not think of this?‘ (Reuters)

The European Union has drawn up plans to label some natural gas and nuclear energy projects as “green” investments after a year-long battle between governments over which investments are truly climate-friendly.

The European Commission is expected to propose rules in January deciding whether gas and nuclear projects will be included in the EU “sustainable finance taxonomy”.

This is a list of economic activities and the environmental criteria they must meet to be labeled as green investments. By restricting the “green” label to truly climate-friendly projects, the system aims to make those investments more attractive to private capital, and stop “greenwashing”, where companies or investors overstate their eco-friendly credentials.

It’s easy enough to poke fun at the green energy warriors when silly headlines such as this one make the rounds, but under the covers, this is actually good news. The reality is that the energy industry has already deeply slashed emissions from natural gas extraction and delivery. It is far and away the “cleanest” of all fossil fuel sources, particularly when compared to coal or fuel oil. It’s also among the cheapest energy sources currently available thanks to bountiful supplies, particularly in North America. (Or at least it will be if the government doesn’t shut the industry down.)

Nuclear power is even “cleaner” than natural gas when it comes to carbon emissions. That’s because nuclear power plants don’t produce any carbon emissions. Their only outputs are some steam and warm water. Spent nuclear fuel rods in modern reactors are much less of an issue than they used to be thanks to new technologies in recycling and storage. Progressive environmentalists still oppose nuclear power despite the pristine safety record that the industry has racked up over the past several decades. And no, Fukushima doesn’t count. That reactor didn’t fail. It was hit by a tsunami. Perhaps we can continue to expand our wisdom in terms of not building reactors on coastlines or on top of active fault lines.

Speaking of opposing nuclear power, these EU discussions on redefining the meaning of “green energy” are taking place at the same time that Germany is shutting down three of its last six nuclear plants. Some people don’t seem to learn their lessons easily.

Germany has pulled the plug on three of its last six nuclear power stations as it moves towards completing its withdrawal from nuclear power as it turns its focus to renewables…

The reactors of Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C, run by utilities E.ON (EONGn.DE) and RWE (RWEG.DE), shut down late on Friday after three and half decades in operation.

This should prove interesting to watch. Idling a nuclear reactor is very different than taking a fossil fuel plant offline. It takes quite a while, and once you begin the process you can’t just turn around and bring it back online with the flip of a switch. It takes months, if not years. But as the Germans figured out last April when the grid started to collapse, they can always fire up their coal-fired plants again while patting themselves on the back for “going green” so successfully.

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