What happens when you let environmentalists set your country’s energy policy? What happens when you rely on state-controlled energy companies rather than competitive markets?
The answer is on display in India, where half a billion people were without power over the last few days due to a shortfall in coal, which provides most of India’s electrical power. The New York Times’s Andy Revkin has a round-up of some of the coverage here.
The primary causes of the blackouts seem to be driven by green-thinking: A failure to build out nuclear power plants as planned, and a failure to issue permits for sufficient coal-mining by India’s state-owned coal company. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
More than half of India’s power-generation capacity of 205 gigawatts is coal-based, and Coal India Ltd., the world’s biggest coal producer, is unable to produce enough owing to delays in getting environmental clearances for mining. An ambitious program to build nuclear-power plants has faced public demonstrations, which took off in earnest after the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, last year.
Naturally, the government of India denies that the problem is the result of pandering to environmental organizations, and blames the coal producers for “dragging their feet,” but in this case the government IS the producer. Coal India, a government-owned company, produces virtually all of India’s coal.
What Revkin reports for India is true here as well:
It’d be great to think that renewable energy sources and distributed electricity generation could solve such problems, and they’re great where they work. But the reality is that grids and central power plants are a mainstay of increasingly urbanized economies.
Fossil fuels are going to be the mainstay of energy production for decades, and a refusal to understand that, and plan for the maintenance of generation and distribution, will put us at risk for blackouts as we’ve experienced before, and as India is grappling with now.