Are Dutch Trains Really Running Completely on Renewable Power?

In an “anything goes” era of news and social media, it’s not often that a post jumps off the page. But a recent piece of news about electricity caught my attention. The headline: “Netherlands Trains Now Running on 100% Wind Power”.

Of course, we’ve seen headlines of this type before. For example, in 2015, Burlington, Vermont, became the first city to announce it was running totally on renewable power. That’s true, of course. Burlington’s biggest source of electricity is hydropower imported from across the region. The city also gets about a third of its power from a large biomass plant. The rest is supplied by wind and solar power, which contribute about a fifth of the city’s power. In other words, the two oldest sources of renewable power, water and wood, are carrying most of the burden for Burlington’s renewable achievement, not the sources that might come to mind when people read the headline.

Do the claims about Netherlands trains also require further explanation? You bet.

The claim by the Dutch railway network, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), is almost entirely a sleight of hand. In fact, an investigation by Energy Matters finds that the electrified portion of NS mainly runs on electricity derived from coal and natural gas.

“NS claims 100% wind power because it has a contract with various wind farms to produce enough energy to power its rail system, but this is just an accounting transaction,” writes author Roger Andrews. “Only a small fraction of the power delivered to its trains actually comes from wind.”

Read the Energy Matters Piece Here

What’s the trick? A little more than a tenth of all electricity consumed in the Netherlands comes from wind power, some of which is imported. But none of this wind power is directly connected to the NS rail system. Even the two Dutch wind farms with which NS contracts directly for wind power, Noordoostpolder and Luchterduinen, are tied generally to the Dutch grid and not tied directly into the NS rail system.

Plus, it turns out that about half the electricity NS uses to power its rail system comes from outside of the Netherlands. Some of the nations that supply power to NS such as Germany, Belgium, and Finland, do generate wind power, but only in modest amounts. That means electrons traveling across international borders to help power the NS railway system come in some amount from wind power, but in much larger amounts from non-wind sources.

“Putting these numbers together indicates that only 10-15% of the electricity consumed annually by NS’s electric trains will come from wind, with the rest a mixture that includes mostly Dutch gas and coal plus a small amount of Belgian and German coal, nuclear and lignite – and maybe even a little German solar,” Andrews explains.

When challenged on its claim, NS clarified that only the electrified portion of its system runs completely on wind power. This is about two-thirds of the system. But of course even two-thirds of the NS system doesn’t run “completely” on wind power. The electrons that run the electrified portion of the NS system come from many sources, including wind, but also from coal, natural gas, and nuclear. The truth is that it’s impossible to determine the source of electrons actually moving NS trains down the track. What is clear is that most of those electrons didn’t originate from wind turbines.

There are many reasons, of course, why NS would claim its trains run completely on wind power and even more reasons why many would celebrate this apparently breakthrough. Headlines like this make people feel good. It feels to many like progress. But let’s be real. The evidence speaks for itself. Claims that Dutch trains running entirely on wind power are way off track.


Navajo Generating Station Is Worth Protecting

Late last week, Amy Harder, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, announced on Twitter that the president of Navajo Nation had met with White House staff at least eight times in an effort to protect an important coal-fired power plant on Navajo land. The Navajo Generating Station has been a target of EPA rules and the subject of some degree of controversy. In fact, PACE has referenced the plant often when speaking to groups about the impacts of EPA rule making on jobs.

A comment on Harder’s tweet caught my attention. Erica Fick, editor of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange blog, wasn’t too concerned about the potential closure of Navajo Generating Station. Fick commented, “Solar employed 7k+ people in AZ last year. Why are we splitting hairs over 800 jobs lost to coal?”

My response to Fick was simple. The reason to be concerned over the loss of 800 jobs in an impoverished community should be obvious. Jobs are important. Jobs is an economically depressed area are even more important. Not to mention that the plant remains a source of baseload electricity in the region.

We’re not alone in our advocacy for the Navajo Generating Station, of course. The people who stand to lose the most from the plant’s potential closure have ramped up their efforts to preserve it. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have now joined forces to tell lawmakers that the plant is an important economic driver for the region and particularly for tribal members.

Without a change in EPA policy toward Navajo Generating Station, the plant will be forced to shut down one of its three 750 megawatt units by 2020. Even the units that would be allowed to remain running would have to be equipped with costly upgrades by 2030. In other words, the plant has found itself in the crosshairs of EPA policy. Without some intervention by the president or the legislative branch, Navajo Generating Station will soon find itself on the list of coal-fired power plants shuttered by federal rules.

The story is complicated even further by California energy mandates that are designed to reduce the import of fossil fuel electricity. California state law essentially forces public utilities to walk away from contracts with coal-fired power. This has real implications for the power plants in the region such as Navajo Generating Station, since California is a net importer of electricity and  often requires power from nearby states like Arizona. As recently as two years ago, southern California received as much as half of its electricity from three out-of-state coal-fired power plants.

Notwithstanding the major contributions of Navajo Generating Station to meeting the energy demand of the region, the plant is important for other reasons. It is an economic engine for one of the poorest places in America. It creates steady, high-paying jobs in an area where few are available. It symbolizes stability for a community that sorely needs it. Hopefully, the pleas of Navajo and Hopi leaders don’t go unnoticed by leaders in Washington, DC. The Environmental Defense Fund might nonchalantly turn a blind eye to the potential loss of 800 jobs, but our nation’s leaders shouldn’t.


Guest Blog: How States Are Taking the Lead to Save Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Christine Csizmadia, director of state government affairs and advocacy at NEI. Follow Christine on Twitter at @CCsizmadia

A big part of my job is working with members of state legislatures and their staffs. One the most important working relationships I have is with the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). State legislators from all over the country look to NCSL for policy analysis, leadership opportunities, state benchmarks and, most importantly, facts and information to help them shape policies on the issues that they face.

NCSL’s new report, “State Options for Keeping Nuclear in the Energy Mix,” has all the history, facts and figures to explain why state policies and the electricity markets have created unintended consequences for nuclear power. By introducing price competition and Renewable Portfolio Standards, which are meant to encourage new technologies, policymakers have inadvertently created a math problem that ends up subtracting nuclear.

It is hardly sensible to subsidize one form of zero-emissions energy in a way that pushes another form of zero-emissions energy out of the market.

In response to the alarming trend in nuclear plant closures, state policymakers have course corrected by starting their own trend: enacting new policies that will fully value the benefits that nuclear brings. The actions taken by Illinois and New York to preserve nuclear plants are explained in the NCSL report. Both states chose to take control of their energy infrastructure planning. Making electricity without emissions has always had a cost, but we have never had to pay separately for it. It’s kind of like how we always took for granted carry-on luggage space on airplanes until we were charged for it. Was it ever really free?

Although the NCSL report focuses on the preservation of today’s reactor fleet, other states are warming up to new nuclear energy projects. Wisconsin last year repealed a 33-year moratorium on new reactors. In 2016 in Kentucky, the State Senate voted to do the same, and the legislature will take up the question again this year. With almost a dozen other states with the same moratoriums, which state will be next?

There are many states that would like to be the leader of the pack and create incentives for advanced nuclear technologies. Take for instance New Mexico, which has commissioned a study on the feasibility of small modular reactors.

We have never had this amount of chatter around nuclear energy at the state level. This is thanks to the states that are taking the lead to keep nuclear energy in the mix for the benefit of their constituents. We look forward to the continued trend of state policies properly valuing nuclear power for providing emission-free, 24/7 electricity to tens of millions of households and businesses.