Who’s Behind Trump’s Claim the Green New Deal Will Cost $100 Trillion?

Lambert here: The usual suspects, but it’s always nice to see names named.

By Dave Anderson, Energy and Policy Institute. Cross-posted from DeSmog Blog.

President Trump’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost $100 trillion can be traced back to the Manhattan Institute, a think tank backed by fossil fuel investor Paul Singer and companies like ExxonMobil.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey made waves at a press conference in February when they rolled out a Green New Deal resolution that called for the nation to transition to 100 percent clean energy in ten years.

Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the New York-based Manhattan Institute, attempted to “cost out the Green New Deal” in a Twitter thread the next day. Riedl admitted he had “No idea” how much things like “Installing renewable energy everywhere” would cost.

Riedl nonetheless floated his own guesstimate that the cost of the Green New Deal “… must be heading towards $100 trillion.”

The claim reverberated across social media and right-wing media outlets like Townhall.com, and soon found its way onto President Trump’s bully pulpit.

They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion, which, by the way, there’s no such thing as $100 trillion,” President Trump said a few days later at a rally in El Paso, as he attacked the Green New Deal.

Marc Thiessen, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, then cited Riedl as the source of a slightly more conservative estimate that the Green New Deal would cost between $46 and $81 trillion.

The American Action Forum run by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Manhattan Institute fellow, later put out an “Initial Analysis” that Republicans have used to falsely claim the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion, a similarly massive number that was not quite big enough for some pundits.

We should make it an even $100 trillion,” wrote Allahpundit, an anonymous blogger for the conservative blog HotAir. “People love round numbers. We’ll find another $7 trillion in the couch cushions.”

President Trump stuck with the $100 trillion number during his speech at CPAC last week.

But perhaps nothing is more extreme than the Democrats’ plan to completely takeover American energy and completely destroy America’s economy through their new $100 trillion Green New Deal,” Trump said at CPAC.

The $100 trillion guesstimate that originated with a Manhattan Institute fellow’s Tweet remains a fixture of the debate over the Green New Deal. Charles Payne of Fox News used the figure during an interview last week with Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s EPA administrator.

Others like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have preferred to say that the Green New Deal will cost $93 trillion, a “bogus figure” according to an analysis by Politico reporter Zack Coleman.

The Green New Deal’s supporters have noted that the resolution is a series of ambitious goals to decarbonize the economy, not a detailed set of policy proposals, which are to be developed via “democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers,” according to the resolution itself.

Right now the focus really needs to be on what are the policies that allow us to decarbonize and also reduce inequity and inequality in our economy … the math will come once the policy is ready,” Green New Deal architect and New Consensus Policy Director Rhiana Gunn-Wright said this week on MSNBC.

The goals of the Green New Deal resolution and similar moves by states like California, Hawaii, and New Mexico to adopt 100 percent clean electricity standards represent a threat to the Manhattan Institute’s backers in the fossil fuel industry.

Paul Singer, the founder and CEO of Elliott Management, is the chairman of the Manhattan Institute’s board of trustees. His Paul E. Singer Foundation contributed $3.725 million to the Manhattan Institute from 2011 to 2017, according to annual reports the foundation filed with the IRS that can be found on GuideStar and Citizen Audit.

Elliott Management is now the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major producer of coal, with a 26 percent stake valued at more than $850 million. Elliott Management’s financial interest in Peabody Energy dates at last as far back as 2015 and the coal company’s bankruptcy.

In its latest annual report to Wall Street, Peabody Energy listed clean energy policies and competition from alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, as well as renewable energy “mandates and subsidies” among the factors impacting coal demand and pricing.

Elliott Management’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission also reveal current investments in fossil fuel producers like Devon Energy and ExxonMobil, and electric utilities like FirstEnergy Corp and Sempra Energy.

Singer is known in energy circles as an activist investor who has pushed utilities like NRG and Sempra Energy to divest from their renewable energy assets. In 2015, DeSmog revealed that the Paul E. Singer Foundation had contributed $200,000 to climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg’s think tank.

Singer was once a leader of the Never Trump movement within the Republican party, but more recently he was spotted talking “amicably” with Trump at a political fundraiser. Singer has also contributed money to the pro-Trump super PAC Future45.

ExxonMobil itself has contributed over $1 million to the Manhattan Institute since 1998, and its CEO Darren Woods has predicted that popular support for the Green New Deal will wane.

The Manhattan Institute has also draws support from the Koch donor network, which counts Singer among it members. Koch foundations have contributed over $1 million dollars to the Manhattan Institute over the years.

Much of the Manhattan Institute’s work on energy and environmental issues is geared to benefit its fossil fuel industry funders. The think tank has railed against the Martin Act, a securities law the New York attorney general has used to investigate the accuracy of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy’s statements to investors about climate change. The Manhattan Institute has also targeted climate science, electric vehicles, and renewable energy with disinformation.

The same day that Brian Riedl posted his “$100 trillion” tweet, the Manhattan Institute responded to the Green New Deal roll out in Congress with statements from senior fellows Robert Bryce and Jonathan A. Lesser.

In one op-ed titled, “The Green New Deal Is the Antithesis of Green,” Bryce argued that renewable energy projects like Lighthouse Wind in upstate New York are facing:

“… a growing rural backlash, and that backlash is already limiting the growth of renewable sources and in particular, the growth of wind. The obvious conclusion is that renewable energy alone cannot meet our economy’s enormous energy needs, and no amount of populist spin can change that fact.”

The Lighthouse Wind project just happens to be located nearby a struggling coal power plant located in Somerset, New York. Peabody Coal Sales supplied coal to the plant as recently as 2017, according to fuel receipts data published by the Energy Information Administration. Bryce has been criticizing that wind project for years.

Just last week, Bryce joined the echo chamber of climate skeptics and renewable energy opponents who have piled on to attack a 500-megawatt solar farm planned for Spotsylvania County in Virginia. Among the early opponents of that solar project was Arthur “Randy” G. Randol III, a former lobbyist for ExxonMobil and consultant for Peabody Energy, who has been involved in climate denial campaigns since the 1990s.

It’s an example of how local concerns about renewable energy projects are often exploited by political operatives and special interest groups tied to the as part of a broader war on clean energy technologies and policy ideas like the Green New Deal.

In reality, wind and solar are the largest source of new electricity capacity in the U.S., and more popular with the public than fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects are getting built, and communities that support them are reaping economic benefits.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Inode_buddha

    If sea levels rise enough, their headquarters will be underwater. I think there is a good possibility of this.

    1. JEHR

      If one counts only money in calculating the cost of going green, then any amount will be considered too much. But if the result is to prevent the future damage and eventual destruction of the planet, then it won’t be the cost that is considered but life itself. I do not think that any human beings are ready to calculate what it will really take to prevent the destruction of the environment and the environment will certainly tell us when we need to act and it won’t be about money only.

      1. Troutwaxer

        Exactly. To put what you said in a somewhat pithier manner. “The cost of a Green New Deal seems very high, until you compare it to the cost of doing nothing and letting the seas rise and the atmosphere burn.”

  2. Jim

    Glossing over the hyperbole and outright lies (they aren’t going to do away with airplanes). I wonder if someone asked him to cost out the complete cost of our current carbon economy what he’d come up with? Or the money we already spend mitigating it, or keeping it running. Or that these costs are investments that yield positive returns. Or that jobs would be created. Or who would lose out from that shift…that last one is the money question.

    Reidl’s name sounds hackingly familiar.

    1. Marshall Auerback

      Riedl is a total hack. One of the most conventional scaremongers on the “unsustainability” of entitlement spending. I saw him do this at a conference where I was presenting with Randy Wray. Intellectually dishonest in the extreme.

  3. Samuel Conner

    Adapting a framing that I believe Prof Kelton has suggested, replacing “cost the Treasury” with “create private sector income”, one would affirm that the GND would generate 100 $Tr in new economic activity and private sector income (ceteris paribus, which of course it is not).

  4. rob

    What wrong with the 100 trillion number? after all, the time scale for that could be a century…. that might mean an average of a trillion a year for the next 100 until the systems we live with are sustainable….
    It is just a meaningless number, in a meaningless context….
    Still the question remains….. what does the green new deal mean in particular.
    This is like one of those “life is not the destination, but the journey” ,kinda things.
    The green new deal will be like embarking on a journey; an adventure. Not buying a ticket for a destination of your choice, with an all inclusive meal and lodging package.

    1. jsn

      The framing of looking at the money cost of change rather than the environmental cost of the status quo tries to turn this into a checkbook issue.

      For the love of money we will destroy our habit.

      The world will continue to turn.

  5. Jim A.

    100% renewable electricity? Probably not in my lifetime. Doubling the current renewable percentage? Very likely. We can’t let the difficulty of perfection get in the way of progress. We NEED to work on this.

    1. polecat

      Ok, doubling the current renewable capacity would bring it up to what, maybe 2-4% ??
      Prepare for much lower expectations were western middleclass lifestyles are concerned.
      Ditto with regard to any industrial capacity.

  6. lyman alpha blob

    When a person decides to become a vegetarian, you never hear about the extraordinary costs of all the vegetables.

    When as a society we decide to replace one commodity with another and either would have to be paid for regardless, it’s pretty foolish to start talking about costs. Yes it might cost money to use new kinds of transportation, but then we wouldn’t be paying for the old kind anymore. This should not be a difficult concept to grasp.

  7. DSB

    If you come up with a program and don’t develop a cost for that program you leave it up to others.

    If you are looking for someone to blame about any of the numbers between $46 trillion and $100 trillion blame AOC.

    1. Grant

      If you haven’t caught on yet, they throw out large numbers all the time when the left has any program it wants to implement. Single payer is one such example. Many in the dominant media will throw out a huge number, single payer will cost THIS. They don’t, however, throw out the cost of the present system, which is a bigger number. Why? Because they aren’t having an honest discussion, they aren’t interested in presenting the idea or policy in a logical way. How many single payer systems actually exist? How many bills exist that would bring one version or another? Why are single payer systems more efficient? Well, there are studies on that. Do the people that throw those large numbers out care? No, because it isn’t about how things work and facts. The same is true here. The conversation should be, at this point, about what is coming for us, why it is coming for us, what within human societies and the economic system is causing this, and what changes are needed. From that, a discussion on how to deal with it in an economically efficient way makes sense.

      The GND is, to this point, a set of ideas, a systematic way of addressing what is a system issue. It has a long way to go to being an actual policy. But it is different than something like single payer because of the non-market nature of the environmental crisis. Lots of these things have no market values. So, we are trying to deal with these non-market impacts and we attaching prices to what is needed to deal with those non-market impacts. At this point, given the size of the crisis, it is difficult in the extreme. That too should be the focus of the conversation, the non-market nature of the crisis.

      Throwing a big number out there though would not be countered by AOC throwing out a smaller number. Arguing about that number, given the situation, is a bit absurd. It is relevant, but more relevant is the real world impacts of the environmental crisis. When it hits and it becomes obvious to all, we will not bother with pricing the thing. It will be all hands on deck, and if we don’t radically change soon, it will be too late.

  8. Svante Arrhenius

    If we’d begun, back when Carter gave his specious speech, we’d still be in deep doodoo, but flush and affluent from overseas sales of state-of-the-art PV, wind, nuke, fuel cell, geothermal, smart grid… probably, fusion as well? Now, the best we can hope for, is voting-out a bunch of geriatric kleptocrats, or maybe a mini-nuclear winter, if India and Pakistan start tossing atom bombs at each other… over water?


  9. Susan the other`

    The bigger the number the bigger the loot. It’s not as if some of the worst vultures (Singer) aren’t circling the old economy – they are. They virtually killed capitalism in 2008 by their blind obedience to neoliberal policies and now that their excesses have been exposed – gee, what’s another 100 million? They could spend that just raising all their beach front homes in Florida 12 feet. Mar-A-Lago will be an especially expensive renovation.

  10. Ptb

    Interesting that most of the items the tweeter actually assigns numbers to (wildly) are not the energy related items.

    The one that is, replacement cost of vehicles, is already is a recurring expense, is not like anyone is advocating throwing away recent model year cars/trucks. (Vs phase out when they are due to be replaced).

    Example: 20 yr phase in period, to make most all cars and light trucks hybrids, (e.g. the 15 mpg pickup becomes 40mpg). Say incremental cost of +$8k / vehicle at that scale x 250mm fleet size = $2T / 20 years (per generation of vehicles) = $100B/yr.

    Another way to think of it is that Americans spend that amount to supersize their F150’s for suburban vanity. And it’s not even getting into reducing vehicle miles traveled via increased veh. occupancy, which would be far more potent.

    Lastly, you actually do want such energy use to become more expensive! That’s the whole point. Otherwise consumption will not go down. This is where the social spending has to make up for it. That is precisely the offer you have to make to the working class voters trapped in a suburban gas guzzling lifestyle. You can’t ask an individual to drop out of this life (and lose their job etc), it has to be collective.

    1. Summer

      If it’s collective, the rentiers can’t take advantage of all the forced scarcity – or they will at least have a harder time doing it.

      And we have to admit….we are putting this in the hands of a government still over populated with Neoliberals.

  11. Summer

    Actually, it should be $100 trillion or more if it’s going to be more than “The New Gilded Green Austerity.”
    That’s what it is now. As far as I can tell, as long as you can afford it, you will be able to pollute to your heart’s content.

  12. Troutwaxer

    One thing I’d like to see is a Green branch of the military; that is, a quasi-military force dedicated to handling Green crisises. For example, we expect to lose Seal Beach, CA (a local low-lying community) by 2100 as sea levels rise. We’ll also be taking the environmental hit of having all of Seal Beach’s houses, buildings and roads, including paint, plastics, metals, adhesives, etc., including every chemical left behind in the garages, attics, and basements of Seal Beach being drawn into the sea off California… would you like to eat fish from those waters?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the “Marines” arrived and dug all that stuff up before it could be consumed by the waves? Other applications of such a force are easy to imagine, and they could offer similar help to our allies, particularly those without resources of their own.

    1. susan the other`

      very good idea – but first we have to admit we can’t really prevent ocean rise, that’s the hard part

  13. Oregoncharles

    Just a minor point: how many gas vehicles older than 10 years are there? What are they worth? (Granted, we have 3). They turn over about that fast, except for a few outliers that could be bought up cheap (hey, I’ll sell you mine). So the “cost” for replacing them is pure BS – they’ll be replaced regardless.

    Replacing them with low-carbon public transport is another matter, but similar economics.

    And the truth is, $100 trillion sounds impressive, but it’s cheap for survival.

    1. katiebird

      All of our cars are over 20 years old. And I don’t know what we’ll do if we can’t keep getting low-ish tech cars…..

  14. oaf

    replace 200K aircraft? If carbon penalties are appropriately fixed, we may soon reach Peak Air Travel; and the number of aircraft required may become a lot lower due to passengers’ sticker shock. Perhaps some of the less altruistic plane manufacturers have considered this; and are already *working on* alternatives.
    Conestogas; with sails??? Like the prarie schooners of yore??? Pedal trains?
    Hopefully they don’t re-kindle the US’s NB-36H, or the Soviet Tupolev TU-119…as the energy required is not something we would want lots of flying all around overhead. especially in light of several recent events.

  15. Adam Eran

    The latest trend (e.g. in Washington Post) is to say GND has some good recommendations about how to treat the planet better, but we can’t possibly afford things that treat other human beings better (e.g…Job Guarantee, single-payer health care).

    We must ignore any hint of social safety net! Why? a) There are too many such proposals! (see the aristocrat in Amadeus telling Mozart his music had too many notes), and b) we can’t possibly afford the absurd cost. OK, the single-payer is half as expensive as what we’re paying now…but ignore that.

    Says WaPo “If the market can redirect spending most efficiently, money should not be misallocated on vast new government spending or mandates.” See, the government is a misallocator. Whew! glad we spotted that!

    1. Grant

      “If the market can redirect spending most efficiently”

      It cannot, there is simply tons of information missing within markets and there are no reasonable ways in which that information could be encoded in prices. So, the argument cannot be made on that assumption. The idea that market information alone should guide our decisions on these things is insane, the problem with that logic should be obvious. Most of the worldwide environmental crisis is happening without any market values at all, and I would love to hear those people flesh their ideas out beyond bumper stickers. Assume that not everyone thinks as you (the person making that claim) do, flesh the idea and claim out. Talking about the efficiencies markets as we are going through a worldwide environmental crisis is akin to religion, it isn’t an issue of facts or any coherent logic.

      At this point, they have to make arguments and show that markets are efficient. When they cannot, they will then have to think critically about what to do with that missing information. They either are not aware of the problems there, or are and realize that talking about it leads to places they don’t want to go.

  16. Tony Wikrent

    This debate is painful, because in November 2009, Mark Z. Jacobson, at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucchi, at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis, had an article in Scientific American that surveyed what was required to end the era of burning fossil fuels. They calculated a cost of $100 trillion to build:
    3.8 million 5-Mega-Watt wind turbines;
    49,000 300-Mega-Watt concentrated solar plants;
    40,000 300-Mega-Watt solar power plants;
    1.7 billion 3-kilo-Watt rooftop photvoltaic (PV) systems;
    5,350 100-Mega-Watt geothermal power plants;
    270 new 1,300-Mega-Watt hydroelectric power plants;
    720,000 0.75-Mega-Watt wave devices; and
    490,000 1-Mega-Watt tidal turbines.

    Here is the original article.

    In 2011, they posted two pdf files providing heavily footnoted details of their 2009 Scientific American article; the pdfs provide all the details you could want, including discussion of critical material shortages, such as rare earth elements, for a mass, crash program.

    Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials

    Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies.

    Now, this does not include other things like getting all building to zero carbon footprint, high speed rail, and urban mass transit.

    I think rather than back away from a big price tag we embrace it, and talk about how the present banking and financial system has to be replaced in order to get the funding. We need to present the Green New Deal as an opportunity too big to miss to put hundreds of millions of people to work building a future our children and grandchildren will not curse us for.

    1. Yves Smith

      1. Costs for many of these technologies have fallen since 2009

      2. Many readers, including those on this thread, point out that wind and solar power aren’t reliable enough to serve as the mainstay of non-C02 emitting power, and there aren’t enough sources for hydro to be a mainstay either. I know a lot of readers oppose the idea, but nuclear has to be part of the mix, and GND types should push for speeding up the commercialization of thorium reactors.

      1. john c. halasz

        Umm… thorium reactors are just a theoretical/experimental idea. They don’t actually exist, so other potential problems with them aside, they can’t be commercialized. As for conventional nukes, everywhere (except, yes, for S. Korea), they have come in way over budget and way over schedule. They are simply uneconomic and far too slow to play any role in the required energy transformation. (The 2 canceled ones in S. Carolina, which will be resolved in a flurry of lawsuits as to who pays, tax payers, rate payers or bond holders, are a case in point. The 2 remaining new reactors in Georgia will probably never be built). The only remaining serious question is how soon do we retire the remaining fleet of aging reactors (and then the magic asterix question of what to do with the waste). Pilgrim, south of Boston, which is closing this year, has been rated level 4 by the NRC for years now without any improvement. (Level 5 is an immediate shut-down order). The dilemma is that replacing nukes with fossil fuels, with known risks and damages vs. the incalculable risks of catastrophic accidents involves an incommensurable comparison. However, the EROEI estimates for nukes that I’ve seen put then between 5 and 15 to 1 (without the magic asterix) with much higher ones only cited by industry shills. There are simply no purely technological fixes, regardless of what Bill Gates says.

        1. Isotope_C14

          On top of the fact that theoretical reactors don’t exist, the amount of concrete required to produce them, and the amount of ore that needs processing, hardly makes any type of reactor “green”.

          The fact is – Business attire needs to be torched, and the thermostat needs to be set at proper temperatures. We need to stop heating and cooling un-necessarily. We need to act if there is no such thing as air-conditioning.

          We need to stop having street-lights on for absolutely no reason, we need to “Reduce” energy consumption across the board.

      2. ambrit

        The optimal nuclear electric generating plant design so far is the pebble bed design. It covers a lot of ‘ground.’ It uses various fuels, is reliable, and has an excellent passive default safety design. I’ve mentioned it recently in comments. The German test bed model was tested at full mechanical breakdown and passed the safety test. China uses some reactors using this system.
        It is eminently doable and much safer than light water reactor designs.
        The wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble-bed_reactor
        The ‘basic’ type of reactor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-water_reactor

      3. Calpolitico

        Additionally, the authors of the original article (Jacobson & Delucci) published a 2017 article in Joule suggesting falling costs for existing technologies, generating net millions of jobs for transitioning out of fossil fuels on a global scale by 2050 (and w/out nuclear btw) while avoiding substantial human/social costs. Here is the abstract of their article:

        We develop roadmaps to transform the all-purpose energy infrastructures (electricity,
        transportation, heating/cooling, industry, agriculture/forestry/fishing)
        of 139 countries to ones powered by wind, water, and sunlight (WWS). The
        roadmaps envision 80% conversion by 2030 and 100% by 2050. WWS not
        only replaces business-as-usual (BAU) power, but also reduces it 42.5%
        because the work: energy ratio of WWS electricity exceeds that of combustion
        (23.0%), WWS requires no mining, transporting, or processing of fuels (12.6%),
        and WWS end-use efficiency is assumed to exceed that of BAU (6.9%). Converting
        may create 24.3 million more permanent, full-time jobs than jobs lost.
        It may avoid 4.6 million/year premature air-pollution deaths today and
        3.5 million/year in 2050; $22.8 trillion/year (12.7 ¢/kWh-BAU-all-energy) in
        2050 air-pollution costs; and $28.5 trillion/year (15.8 ¢/kWh-BAU-all-energy)
        in 2050 climate costs. Transitioning should also stabilize energy prices because
        fuel costs are zero, reduce power disruption and increase access to energy by
        decentralizing power, and avoid 1.5C global warming.

      4. Susan the other`

        Nuclear is a good solution only if it is failsafe. I think it can be done but we should be damn sure about it before we come to rely on any more bad technology. There is always something that goes wrong – I want to know what it will be. That’s like demanding a crystal ball… but nuclear is so potentially deadly, we need to be sure.

    2. ptb

      If you reduce it to a lump sum, a tens-of-trillions figure wouldn’t surprise me. As usual the devil is in the details, can’t be easy to estimate.

      I would rather think of it in terms of %GDP per year. If front-loaded, as would make sense from the cumulative nature of the effects of carbon emissions, I expect the annual %GDP number between 1% and 20%. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No. Politically acceptable? Good question – if not, what number is? You gotta start the conversation somewhere.

    3. Ignacio

      I think that there is a false idea that every kwh consumed now has to be replaced by renewables and nuclear. I suppose that the GND is also about energy efficiency. Demand has to be reduced in several ways: by improving intrinsic process efficiency (and there is a lot of room for that) by reducing or eliminating wasteful activities (private fligths etc.) and changing current standards or recurring to “sacrifices” (less tourism, less McMansion, dismantle Las Vegas etc.). When you increase efficiency, reduce demand or you bring production closer to consumption grid losses are also reduced greatly.

      Those numbers mean nothing

  17. Grant

    Say, what is the cost of the collapse in human civilization? A mass die off? How do we price such a thing? Ocean acidification? How do we price the methane waiting to boil up, and even if we could, what would the cost be? If all of these non-market impacts were included in the prices we pay for things, how much would everything cost? Pricing non-market impacts is not creating the costs, they exist, it is just us taking them into account within the economic system. So, what would a six pack of beer cost, lets say, if we took all of the ecological impacts into account, and priced in worst case scenarios? How about an iPhone? If, if, we could invest in something that could help to fend off societal collapse, what price would we attach to the cost avoidance? The argument, at its root, basically says that we can’t save the planet because it may cause lots of inflation, or it may require changes in lifestyle, production, consumption, how we distribute goods and resources, it will certainly result in using markets far less than we do now to guide our behavior. The rich would have to be brought down to Earth too.

    Anyone with actual leadership on this issue does as AOC has done, which is to provide some type of systematic response. If it isn’t the GND, fine, but it isn’t a solar tax credit or something, it is a systematic, structural change. We could argue about costs in the sense of whether or not we can achieve the same thing in a more efficient way. Throwing out some big number and then not bothering to a have a systematic response to the environmental crisis is an abdication of leadership. I would expect nothing less from Trump or those like him.

  18. Grumpy Engineer

    Tony Wikrent’s comment above points out that Mark Jacobson’s 100% WWS plan was estimated to cost $100 trillion back in 2009. Costs have fallen somewhat since then, so a repeated analysis today might yield a cost of only $50 trillion. However, that cost did not include energy storage. Jacobson’s original plan said that 540 TWh of storage would be required. Batteries for solar currently clock in around $500 per kWh of storage capability, which means a cost of $270 trillion for storage. The “holy grail” of the battery industry is to get to $100 per kWh, a stretch goal which is likely decades away. If that succeeds, it’ll “only” cost $54 trillion for the energy storage. Combined with $50 trillion for new generation and distribution assets, and it’s $104 trillion total. Whether we like Trump’s sources or not, his $100 trillion estimate appears to be fairly accurate.

    And MMT or not, cost matters.

    The reason for this is that there are limits on how much (and how quickly) we spend while achieving useful results. For example, if we keep with AOC’s goal of getting it done in 10 years, we need to spend $10 trillion per year on the energy portion of the GND alone. The current US GDP is $19.4 trillion per year, accomplished with 156 million people working. To usefully spend $10 trillion annually on green energy efforts, we’d need about 80 million people working in green energy jobs.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have 80 million people looking for work. We only have about 6 million people doing so. Where will the other 72 million come from? Well, there are probably a few million long-term unemployed who might rejoin the labor force, but the vast majority would have to come from the current workforce. This means that over 60 million teachers, nurses, cops, doctors, day-care workers, cooks, waiters, plumbers, carpenters, social workers, nursing home workers, etc. would have to quit their current jobs and start green energy jobs instead. If 40% of the US workforce is suddenly moved into new jobs, what happens to the economy? Can we get by with only 60% of our current teachers, nurses, cops, etc.? AOC has touted the jobs that the GND would create, but if we have to poach people away from the useful jobs they perform today to fill them, we wouldn’t necessarily come out ahead.

    That’s the sad reality of a giant price tag. If a program is going to be super expensive, that implies that will require a great number of people to work on it or that an enormous amount of energy/raw material be fed into it. Or both. [How many people will be willing to work in lithium or vanadium mines? The GND would likely require that 15 million people do so, which is a sharp rise from the 600 thousand people working in mining today. And how much CO2 would that mining and refining activity release?]

    Now if we could figure out how to build nuclear power stations as cheaply as the South Koreans did (they spent about $3000 per kW), we could completely decarbonize the US grid for about $3 trillion. And if we doubled the size of that grid to also charge plug-in hybrid vehicles and to replace oil- and gas-fired furnaces in northern regions with geothermal heat pumps, it’d cost $6 trillion. Throw in another trillion for the hybrid vehicle subsidies, heat pump subsidies, and weatherization efforts, we’d be at $7 trillion total to remove about 70% of CO2 emissions from the US economy. Spending $700 billion per year on a “nuclear new deal” (the NND?) is much more likely to succeed.


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