Emmet Penney is an essayist as well as the editor of Grid Brief, and host of the Nuclear Barbarians podcast. In his second appearance on the podcast (his first was July 13, 2021) Penney talks about the May 20 closure of the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan, his recent essay, “Who killed nuclear energy and how to revive it,” the effort by NGOs, policymakers, and climate activists to push “degrowth,” a move he calls “energy Lysenkoism,” and why we cannot take the electric grid for granted.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast, we talked about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I'm pleased to welcome back for his second appearance on the podcast, my friend, Emmitt Penny emit Welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Emmet Penney 0:18
Hey, happy to be here. Robert. Happy to be here. Another time.
Robert Bryce 0:21
Yes. It's was last July, I believe is when? July 13 of last year has it been that long? It has been time flies when you're having fun.
Emmet Penney 0:30
Such a great year in between?
Robert Bryce 0:32
Oh, yes. There's nothing happening. There's been everything's dry news cycle, there's not much to talk about. So look, I know you're the editor of grid brief. You're the host of the nuclear barbarians podcast. But you know, guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So you're familiar with that format. So if you don't mind, please give us give us a short explanation of who you is.
Emmet Penney 0:55
Yeah, so I am a humanities guy with two liberal arts degrees that ended up in energy world, still not quite sure how that happened. But I'm the editor in chief of a daily newsletter on energy and energy politics called Grid brief, sign up, grip roof.com/subscribe. To get that free in your inbox, I also host two podcasts one's called nuclear barbarians, which is about as you'd expect, nuclear, but from an almost anti establishment take. And then there is exhaust, which is sort of a big thick podcast that is on why nothing feels possible these days. And just recently, I have been added to I've received a contributing editor ship at compact magazine, a new american journal that is sort of a welding together of the populace. Right and the populist left.
Robert Bryce 1:45
Cool. Okay. Well, there's a ton to talk about. And joke when I'm giving presentations or whatever that I say, Oh, well, there's not much happening and in the energy world where there's a crazy amount of stuff that's happening. And you've written two recent essays, one in American Affairs, who killed nuclear energy and how to revive it. And then another one in compact where you talked about energy lysenkoism? So I want to talk about both of these essays. Because one, I thought they were really good. And I read them. And I thought, Damn, I wish I'd written that. But also, they apply very directly to something that is matters today, May 31 2022. This was the designated date for the closure of the Palisades power plant in Michigan, 811 megawatt nuclear plant. in southwestern Michigan, it's been known for years that that plant was going to close, especially going to close today and closed a few days early, a claim closed may 20, because of apparently some, some mechanical issue. But there's been no effort, no discussion since then, by the Department of Energy by Governor Whitmer and Michigan to reopen the planner to save it to prevent it from closing. At a time when the minute the Midcontinent Independent System Operator is saying we're short of electricity, we think they're going to be rolling blackouts. So it's a long introduction to the question here is, how are these what you've been writing about who killed nuclear and this energy? lysenkoism? They seem to me to be both applicable directly to what we're seeing with this what I think is just disastrous and damn near criminal closure, this nuclear plant. Am I Am I giving you too much tea up here? But no, no. How do you find these together?
Emmet Penney 3:19
Yeah, well, I think it's a I've got another long form thing coming up for American Affairs on like the grid and how it's been governed over time in America. And so I think if we can just talk about that just a little bit broadly, because I think it's what connects the downfall of nuclear with a fresh realisation of the grid. And this thing I'm calling energy lysenkoism, which is a sort of political pseudoscience that is extremely hostile to energy. So and
Robert Bryce 3:49
then the demand that we should just use less, everybody should be happy using less and we
Emmet Penney 3:53
should totally repattern society to be about using less energy,
Robert Bryce 3:57
right? 40 acres and a mule comes to the modern world again, right?
Emmet Penney 4:00
Well, it's sort of like it is like a lot of things like a Trojan horse of regime change. Like that's really what it's about. And I think if we take a look at what's happening to the grid, we can notice a lot of that. So the closure of Palisades is one, you know, nuclear really gets clobbered by a few things in the long form piece that I write about. Some of it is its own fault, not the technology's fault, but the people in charge of managing it. So that's the Atomic Energy Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the elites who ran utilities along with those who ran manufacturers so GE, Westinghouse, etc. Okay. And then it's the environmental movement, which didn't like nuclear in the post war era, because it didn't like energy abundance, because it saw energy abundance as exacerbating world population, which they thought was going to destroy the world. So that's the SparkNotes version. Sharing of that. So nuclear has been embattled for a long time. But one of the things that happens, it's very interesting in the 70s going into the 90s, is that there is this collaboration, let's say, between the sort of Lysenko, West greens who want less energy, and let's say a more free market oriented libertarianism, that is interested in taking apart the, frankly, corrupt and problematic monopoly utility system.
Robert Bryce 5:33
Right. The deregulate the deregulation is combining with the with the with the green left to climate activist, that was kind of convenient marriage of marriage of convenience. Is that a fair way to put it?
Emmet Penney 5:48
I think that's a that's a fair way to put it, but I actually Okay, so I want to complicate that a little bit, like we
Robert Bryce 5:56
did before. I'm sorry to interrupt. But I want to come back to that. But I'm going to talk about the grid now. Or if we can just just die. I want to hold on to that thought. Because I think that the issue now, it seems to me is what what is going to happen to the grid in the near term. And how does want to come back to that, but talk about Palisades first, because that's about grid management, right? That's in the right now term, why isn't someone stepping in right now to say, hold up?
Emmet Penney 6:21
Yeah, I'll tell you why. And it's because the grid is political. I'm gonna just gonna say that outright, there is no like neutral management of the grid, right? Because manager, the grid has to do with certain values, you have
Robert Bryce 6:35
the values and invest amounts of money in vast amounts
Emmet Penney 6:39
of money. So the values we have right now centered around the sort of energy lysenkoism and a sort of hostility to monopolies, and consolidated power that has been a part of the American political tradition since the founding. That's I think part of what happened to Palisades is that market conditions were created, were reliable generators, whether it be cold or nuclear, in this case, its nuclear, are slowly forced off the grid. You know, Marathon Quinn, who you've had on plenty of times could do a better job of describing how this happens to me. And they are seen as outmoded relics of a time when big not small was beautiful. Right. And the mutual interest that we see and I was about to hop into this historical point is the alleged, do doing away with market power, that's what this is like, that is a load bearing term. And all of this utility, big generators have market power over smaller generators, like wind and solar, and sometimes natural gas. And that is a big problem, because not all power plants are created equally. So if you have things that benefit these big plants, that creates both a market to these people and political problem of who benefits with the money from the grid, right? And who has power over how electricity gets generated? Right. Okay. And that's sort of where these things come together. There is this
Robert Bryce 8:13
almost this anti gigantism, anti monopolist, anti big business
Emmet Penney 8:18
has a very, very Jeffersonian flavor to it. Right. Gotcha. Yeah, like if we like so Hamilton, people should read J costs the price of greatness, by the way, fantastic book on the relationship between Hamilton, Jefferson, but mostly Madison, his protege. Because you start to see these themes play out over time, where I think Hamilton really wanted to spot weld a elite interest to the interests of the state to really bolster and solidify America. And when the war of 1812 happened, it really seemed that, like, Hamilton had the right ideas. And if we look at the post war, electric utility system, it really has all of the benefits and defects of Hamilton's vision, where it does help the national interests to have these monopolies. That right, as you've caught, you wrote in your book, you know, I quote you at length in the American Affairs piece on this really improved the American quality of life. Right, you know, it is hard to discount the impact that has has positively on the citizenry of this country. But at the same time, it has all of the elite self interest, laziness, you know, corruption problems that come with that. And I think a sympathetic I've been very, very hard on the green movement and very, very hard on the free market movement. I would like to be a little bit more sympathetic to them and say that their political concerns were legitimate and that the idea about who runs and who benefits from the grid is the real like sub Rosa debate that we are having without knowing that we're having
Robert Bryce 9:58
right, okay, go ahead.
Emmet Penney 10:00
So one of the main concerns that's going to come out of these movements are what to do about climate change. Now, their response to how to handle climate change seems to be to reduce human energy use, right? Perfectly American energy use, right? They don't care about the free rider problem of what happens in the developing world still uses coal. That's not what it's about, understandably, in a way because this is what they can have control over. Right, like they're acting where they're, this is a policy, but
Robert Bryce 10:27
they know they can push and potentially win at right. But they have chosen these battles. And I'm talking about the NGO activist groups, the climate activists, they know these are buttons that the policy buttons that they can push and find a sympathetic hearing in legislatures, whether it's state legislature in Congress, right, that will smaller is beautiful, and we're dispatchable and known as zero carbon, you know, renewable, all of these things are appealing to a policymaker Is that, am I following along?
Emmet Penney 10:55
Specific, like, basically, moral vision for the country? You know, and another set
Robert Bryce 11:00
of instead of the big monopolist utilities in the spirit of insole, and you know,
Emmet Penney 11:04
or, you know, as some of our mutual friends or people we know, in our same orbit, the guys that Jacob and Matt Huber and Fred Stafford and Edgardo in Canada would say, like a public governance thing, right? You know, that's in the run up to it doesn't really have a real political constituency here. In America, it's just not big enough. But like, that is another way we could do this. And I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm saying that that's, you know, if we start to look at these as competing visions of what America is supposed to be, how this country is supposed to be shaped, and what industrial makeup the nation is supposed to have, I think it becomes a little bit clearer what's going on and why something like Palisades closes, because it's not ultimately about union jobs. For them. It's not really about energy abundance, or whatever they don't care about that. It is really about, can I get my thing built and the other things to go offline in service of the vision that I have. And there are contradictions within that as we breathlessly point out all the talk earlier admits no carbon, it is incredibly energy dense. But again, there's this path dependency from the post war movement that is entirely hostile to a big energy abundance society. And at this point, it's sort of become like this negative feedback loop of constricting energy supply. So you just interviewed Alex Epstein. His book is fantastic on this. I'm making my way through it very slowly. And there's also a lot of money to be made, right for now. Right? Like that might be coming to an end, by the way, like a lot of the economics of this stuff are sort of blowing up in the face of harder realities or School of History
Robert Bryce 12:48
and the production tax. The production tax credits has expired. The investment tax credit is slated to mineral markets crazy the price of steel, the price of every kind of commodity into these into these machinery, these machines and solar panels is skyrocketing. I mean, the solar and wind industries are are in crisis. They're
Emmet Penney 13:03
shitting their pants Yeah. Oh, yeah. If you like a month ago, I covered some reporting on a conference that like Siemens, Gamesa, and like all these people had, and in the wind industry, and they were like, Yeah, we have no idea. Yeah, they're like this is really bleak. The solar people are freaking out because of the oxen tariff. And because of the mineral prices and the polysilicon problems in China, right. So they're going through the crisis that monopoly utilities went through in the 70s. Basically, I think that's my personal opinion.
Robert Bryce 13:32
So I'm back to Palisades then it's becomes this I mean, this critically important plant, 800 megawatts at 11 megawatts of baseload capacity, just goes off and there's no there's no hue and cry from the political class. There's no hidden there's no objections from the the most ardent of the climate activists, nothing. As I wrote in my piece in the hill on Sunday, nothing from John Kerry, who's called this repeatedly climate is an existential crisis. What the hell? I mean, is this, but it did go does it go back then to the concept of the grid, and no one is responsible for it then because, I mean, this is what you've written about a lot. And this idea of the grid is the Commons is this most democratic network that we have, and yet it's kind of it just like being fragile alized and no one gives a damn about the whole thing. I mean, it just is incredible to me.
Emmet Penney 14:23
So part of that, I think, is what we see with this sort of pastoral vision for soft energy that comes out of Amory Levin's, and with the sort of Paul jaw scow is sort of the titan of reregulation theory that comes out of the 80s. Right now he and Levin's hate each other, by the way, yes, like say there's, yeah, there's a fantastic series of op eds between them from I think the 80s or 90s, where cescau basically calls him a Lysenko. Estes like nobody knows what a negative one is. That's not a real thing. But, again, you can see that these become twin ambitions. ends because they have the same enemy. And because they have a similar instinct, which is to de politicize the grid from utilities having market power and political power because of that. Right, so that looks like that on the market end. And then from the centralized, I would say, like heavy industry of the early modern era, in the pastoral vision, and so it's like eating on the green side, right? We need to depoliticize it so that we can just have this harmonious relationship with nature, and then a very eerily similar, almost cybernetic idea of market equilibrium that comes out of the reregulation movement. And the consonants between these things shouldn't be too surprising when we remember that the early Silicon Valley and innovators who are all like ours libertarians, and I'm not, you know, shit talking libertarians here, I'm just making historical point, come out of literally the hippie movement. Like Whole Earth Catalog, right, Stuart has one of the first forums that ever exists on the internet, right? So I'm wondering, like, Oh, how did these things go together? That's how they've actually always been twins. But certain historical shifts have made it harder to see that today.
Robert Bryce 16:22
Well, so let me interrupt because there you talk about, and I forgot which one which of your essays, but you talk about this rejection of the man. And so there's this idea that what I'm hearing you say, and I'm rephrasing it a little bit is this consonance between the the hippie left, and the free market are saying, Oh, well, we're just going to stick it to big business, right? And we're gonna go that this, the free marketers are saying, Oh, we don't need it, but this was the Enron vision, right, we're gonna go asset light, we're only going to provide as many watt hours as you need. We don't have to build all this extra stuff. And we're going to deregulate the environment. And that's a faith based that we're going to deregulate the the grid, deregulate the electricity, and that's a faith based objective, right? Because the faith in the market is going to cure this. And then the other is the faith base, kind of, oh, well, we're gonna we're gonna heal our relationship with the earth. And somehow they come together, and then we're getting screwed with all these solar panels and wind turbines. Is that, is that a fair summary?
Emmet Penney 17:17
Absolutely. And we can put that in an even broader perspective, when we look at things like Kanban production styles just in time. So again, what is going on, which is just the you know, if we take a look at the rise of things like Toyota in the 80s, the Japanese were okay, yeah, okay, I got just in time, and that makes its way into American management stuff. Barry Lynn has a great book about this, called the end of the line that I read during COVID, I think people should go check it out. It's sort of like, he calls in 2008, or something like that all the problems that became huge during COVID, with supply chains, and sort of his just in time theory. And so if we put the grid in a broader context of what happens, it's clear, we can see that the shift in the Americans consensus from the post war era, which is very like top down, but also has some very nice benefits for everybody. After it collapses during the 70s. It gets reconstituted with different values. And one of the things that's interesting about right now is that that happened almost imperceptibly, you know, people always invoke the New Deal, or these things that have happened before in the post war era, and say, almost, why can't we go back? Why can't we do that, but the
Robert Bryce 18:32
50s, or the 60s, the high growth, incomes, growing demand, energy consumption is growing, electricity demand is growing double digits
Emmet Penney 18:39
clear. So many firms aren't even structured that way anymore. Nobody who runs our political bodies sees the state is something that should do that. You know, there has been a huge shedding of institutional knowledge for things like public governance or whatever would make that happen. It has been radically reworked over the last 40 years in the grid as a part of that story. And no one's responsible, and no one's responsible, right? Because that's the political evacuation. That is trying to like as soon as somebody's responsible, they have authority, right? Like if you're a parent, you are responsible for your child, right? You have authority over your child, your teacher, because the same way in the classroom, right? If you're a CEO, you have authority and responsibility over what happens in your company. You know, all like,
Robert Bryce 19:26
but without accountability, the thing just falls apart the kid the kid Exactly. Clothes the kid does always poops in the bed. But here we are. I mean, that was the takeaway for me after the Texas blackouts was everybody standing around saying, well, it's not my fault. Oh, well, it's not my fault. It's the market. Oh, well, you know, the buck doesn't stop anywhere. But that seems to me the same thing. What we're seeing with Palisades is well, you know, Entergy owned it and so Entergy wants to close it. Well, they'll just close it instead of a muscular government coming in and saying No, dammit. We need this for reliability for resilience and affordability. particularly at a time when we're short generation in across the entire Midwest and that's the part that's one of the I just find it so incredibly aggravating and disappointing and and inexplicable. Truly I mean, just and like quote Lily Tomlin no matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up. You're letting this happened now really, really happy now. I mean, it just incredible to me.
Emmet Penney 20:22
Well, I think you know, one of the deep ironies of the reregulation movement is that it basically hands the reins over to the federal government at the end of the day.
Robert Bryce 20:31
The reregulation movement, is that it will you brought this as we haven't talked about yet, where if so this is what
Emmet Penney 20:37
so this is like, you know, the reworking of the grid. I'm talking reregulation specifically.
Robert Bryce 20:42
Right. Yeah. Okay. What we need to have see happen, I think, is clear. But yes, that was when they
Emmet Penney 20:47
know, when they reregulate in the 90s. I said the fatal irony is that they handed over to the federal government. That's FERC. Right, you know, and FERC has its own weird mandates. And as I've covered in grid brief, I think really has. I don't not to be in a conspiratorial way. But they have their own political motivations that inform how they see grid government's governance that sometimes collaborates with and sometimes butts up against their mandate and abilities as a regulator, right. So what ended up is this dream of like no authority has instead become a jobs program for lawyers, and bureaucrats who work at the federal level to try to massage the rules in the favor of what they're doing. And right, right, or what they're doing as people you know, I said that Glick, who's getting re upped for the head of FERC by Biden used to work for Ebola. Now AVANGRID, you know, these giants. There was no mention of that.
Robert Bryce 21:49
The Spanish company that has been proposed many wind projects and is proposing offshore wind and was rejected roundly and numerous communities in the Eastern US, including I believe, Vermont, they had a referendum and they got spanked, I mean, it was 640 or something like that. But yeah, ever draw and grid haven't grid? Yeah. So anyway, I just wanted to clarify that, please. Go ahead. Yeah,
Emmet Penney 22:10
no, totally. So I think, you know, look, like somebody might say, well, when you get to regulation that big, you're going to have a little bit of a revolving door, because people need to be familiar with the industry. And I'd say like, fair enough. But one of the things that bothers me is the lip service paid to things like reliability, under the auspices of flux neutrality, while they undermine things like the Mopr program, and ISO New England, which they just did, right, in two years, they'll be done with it. You know, so they sort of say, on the one hand, like, you know, we really do need a reliability protocol, but it needs to respect state sovereignty so that people can do their renewables programs that I liked so much without any interruption. And we'll figure out what that means. But in the meantime, we're going to get rid of the one tool we have for maintaining certain levels of reliability. And that's how this game gets played bureaucratically, where it can appear like it has these neutral, higher noble aims. And then on the other hand, it is actually a Trojan horse saying like what is actually desired by
Robert Bryce 23:11
further reducing reliability. So just another side to use Mopr, the minimum offer price rule, that's where an ISO New England which was essentially saying that certain if you're an electricity generator, you can't bid in a price that's too low. If I'm if because it hurts, and it happens, it hurts the generators that have to have to be available to assure reliability, it's a complex thing, as I stated it pretty quick, pretty closely,
Emmet Penney 23:36
we just add one thing that happens in the Ford capacity market, okay? Rather than like the five minute bids, or whatever, and that's a renewables really crushed because they can go negative no problem and sort of force other plants out. Again, people can go consult Meritus work for that. But the Ford capacity market is supposed to be this thing that can guarantee reliability when you're going to need it most winter is summertime. Right? And that's how a lot of these traditional power plants make their money is they say, when it gets really picky in the hot hot summer in the cold, cold winter, which does happen New England, I've lived there a couple times, yes, right. You know,
Robert Bryce 24:10
you're gonna need this. But you got to guarantee Yeah, we can
Emmet Penney 24:14
guarantee this amount of capacity. And you can never do that nameplate, you can only do a proportion of that. But the thing about dispatchable power plants is that you can hit pretty close to what nameplate is going to be wind, even if you say like, well, on average, they're gonna hit like 15%. You know, it's not just that it's, you know, like intermittency doesn't just mean that sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn't, it also means that it's not dispatchable which means you can't call on it to work when you need it. Right. Right. And so that's how you can see where there's a reliability angle to it and exactly why people would say hey, that's market power tilted in these bigger guys favor, my wind, solar, whatever, should be able to bid in at whatever the hell I want. And it should the game shouldn't be shift it because that just seems like a handout to major utilities, right?
Robert Bryce 25:03
So the closure of Palisades is just another example of this degradation of the grid that's happening and it's happening tomorrow. You know, the other part that's remarkable is did exactly 13 months after the closure of the Indian Point. The final reactor didn't even point reactor three at Indian Point, which was also owned by Entergy, which was also in upstate New York where they were short generation and now they're even more now they haven't even downstate anyway, they're they're short generation, they're having they're already looking at incredibly big increases in electricity prices, because they became so much more reliant on natural gas. But it just is disheartening to see this because there just seems to be no awareness, no urgency and the political class to say what is clearly one of our most valuable assets and all of society, I say these plants are these reactors, or maybe the most valuable physical infrastructure assets that we own as, and I'm saying we the people we hear, but why was it all at this one corporation New Orleans is able to shut this down? And nobody said boo about it. I mean, it just truly is remarkable.
Emmet Penney 26:05
Yeah, so I'm gonna get weird for a second here. Weirder, weirder. Yeah. So when we look at what happens with sort of the huge uptick in energy density, energy capabilities that happen as overtime, yeah, yeah. And sort of the zenith of modernity in the 19th century, that sort of ends in around the 70s. You know, the rise of post modernity happens after that all of these technologies that we're talking about are very new. So the very attractive, and people want to take care of them. At a certain point, they mature, and they're a path dependencies put in place, that make them hard to change. But that also makes them let's say unsexy, and society just starts to assume that they exist. Now, one of the interesting facets of sort of the modern moment is that, in its huge energy on ramp, there is a huge revision, let's say, of what people think reality can give them. And there's this expectation that novelty will always be there. And that there is always tomorrow, there's something deeply hopeful about the modern moment, in that way. The problem is, is that we haven't really dispensed with that way of looking at it. But we have all of these modern technologies that need I would say, a sort of more low lowercase c conservative approach to public stewardship. That doesn't, that seems in short supply these days, right? It's almost like a victory defeats at moment, culturally and ideologically for this infrastructure that we've created. Because you're saying, Why isn't any politician caring about the grid? Well, because like most people, they've never had to think about it before because they just assume it exists, that it's like beans in the soup or German efficiency. It's just a round. Right? You know, and that's
Robert Bryce 28:06
so there's no sense of present, there's no sense of preservation before the oldest torn down. And that's the part that I think is yeah, that rhymes with what I what how I've thought about it is that, oh, we're tearing down all of this and destroying all of this critical infrastructure without something that's going to reliably replace it. No prudent, prudent company, prudent, businessman, prudent, prudent person, oh, no, well, we'll build the new house before we build the old way before we tear the old one down. But now we're tearing the old one down, the new one isn't built yet with this idea, we'll run it over and renewables will prove it to me first. And then we'll tear down the old system. But that's not what we're seeing. And instead, we're retiring these critically important assets on our most important energy network and with no sensibility about where this is going, and no one in charge, or even having a big vision to say, hold up here. This is wrong. And that's the part that I think is most worrisome. And I don't see a cure in the near term.
Emmet Penney 29:02
No, neither do I. So I just think about it this way. PJM is like 100 years old, right? starts as a powerful thing. And the early
Robert Bryce 29:12
the RTO for the most of the Eastern US.
Emmet Penney 29:15
Yeah, which I live in now. Because it dips into the northern part of Illinois where I met will be one of the only places by the way paying lower on bills because of Byron interesting, so shout out to all of our friends who helped save us plans and save me some time
Robert Bryce 29:29
now that the effort that Governor Pritzker made last last the legislature and signed into law a bill that essentially takes takes pay it has contract for difference payments to the nuclear operator Exelon in Illinois that keeps the nuclear plants in the state open that is now just a year later saving consumers a lot of money because they're not having to pay for gas fired generation.
Emmet Penney 29:52
And because there's sort of like something built into the bill was that they had to pass on the rewards to consume Merck consumers. And so I thought that was very smart. So pizza and was like 100 years old. that's older than both of us. Yeah. Yeah. And that means it's going to take a long time to change these things. Right, right. There's an interesting that sort of thing that sort of happened in the last, like 40 years, where it's like, we forget that 40 years has passed. Right? It seems strange to say that the Jazz Age and the beginnings of like punk were almost as far away from each other as we are from the dawn of punk now. Okay, right. That's surprising, right? There's so there's something that seems like just yesterday about the Sex Pistols in a certain way. Yeah. Right. Yeah. Right. Where it didn't necessarily, I think, feel that way between like Scotch Joplin, and Johnny Rotten. You know, and that's an interesting historical distortion. But I think once we can sort of take that long view, I would hope that it inspires people to dedicate themselves more seriously to trying to figure out how to affect better, more thoughtful governance of these things, while respecting how long it is going to take to change it.
Robert Bryce 31:20
And that's the hard part, isn't it? Because that's hard. We're just short termers, right to the politicians are elected every two years or three years, every four years. And it's like, well, what's gonna benefit me now? And, in fact, that was looking back at the deregulation here in Texas. And in 1999, George W. Bush had a press conference and said, Oh, yeah, we're gonna pass a bill. It's gonna make electricity cheaper. Right? Well, okay. Yeah, you did for a little while. And now look, where we are, we're back or whatever money might have been saved is all going to be paid back because of this massive failure of the grid and the failure of reliability. But let me let me talk about your essay that was just published in compact on energy lysenkoism. I want to read this whole part because I think it's really well written in it lays out what you're saying. You ask is the energy debate really about energy 40 years ago and energy engineer at General Electric Bertram Wolff asked the same question in the International Atomic Energy Agency bulletin, serving the American scene after the energy crises of the 1970s. He noticed that the debates around energy specifically whether to use nuclear energy, fossil fuels and or solar tended to quote obscure the underlying philosophical motivations which shaped the arguments of the leading participants. Wolf couldn't have known it but he had just identified what is now the dominant energy paradigm energy lysenkoism, which I believe is your term that you came up you've come up with,
Emmet Penney 32:41
named after about it from a purchase real quick. I bought it from a title of one of Christopher's podcast episodes. Okay. They're talking about batteries. I just supplied it with its content by borrowing very heavily from
Robert Bryce 32:53
you know, amateurs borrow professional steel, so steal away. That's right, Robert. They named after Trofim Lysenko. The Soviet scientist is idiot whose ideologically based rejection of modern genetics, fertilizers and pesticides led to crop failures and millions dead energy lysenkoism tries like its namesake to enforce politics and Videology through science Lysenko is distort the realities of energy to snuggle smuggle. degrowth any ideology into public policy, creating a paradigm of energy poverty that imperils the poor and working classes. You say energy like Lysenko ism rests on four major pillars pillars, three of which wolf identified back in the 1980s. The first is what we've been talking about a general distrust of a society with abundant energy supplies from the 1960s and 70s. Up to the present a parade of activists and elites have warned that a world with too much energy is dangerous for the planet and for humankind. Bill Bill McKibben and re Levin's etc. We should instead I'm continuing to quote from you adopt a romantic austerity and elegant frugality. As American energy theorist Amory Lovins has put it. This perspective works in tandem with what Alex Epstein calls the anti impact framework. In short, the anti anti impact framework assumes that any impact on the natural environment is too high a price to pay for an energy infrastructure project. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to sap the world's energy supply regardless of the consequences. There's a lot there. But the follow up on that What do you mean by SAP the world's energy supplies? And what does that mean for the common folks?
Emmet Penney 34:24
Right, so I think we could sort of see that now one of the things I bring up at the international level that really looks like something like ESG, right, where it is about sort of badgering major investment firms to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry and put it into something else. That is, of course, ironically dependent on fossil fuels being cheap, namely, renewables. So when you pull that investment money out, I think a lot of people thought and interestingly, Michael Shellenberger talks about this on an episode of The Power cast with Alex Epstein, how he thought that ESG was stupid because Eventually, that money would just be immediately reinvested, right? People were pulled out, other people would see opportunity, we that's not really what happened, a lot of people pulled money out. And that's your funding, no one really put a bunch of money back in. And now we're seeing what happens when fossil fuels become really expensive. And that is the effect, right? Because one of the things that I find profoundly interesting about the degrowth crowd is that they don't appreciate the variety of necessary products we get from refining fossil fuels. Right, they are strictly thinking in terms of electricity. They're almost like assume my conclusions, and then argue from there, which is that everything needs to be electrified. So we're only going to think about electricity, which totally creates an intentional blind spot around what's going to happen with plastics or all of these other things that we need for society. So ammonia fertilizer, exactly. So that's sort of what I'm saying, when they sat the world energy supply, really, in today, like at this stage of society, that really means trying to undermine people's ability to have access to fossil fuels, right. Nuclear is a very small player in this game. So it works for nuclear as well. But I mean, you know, I think we've all seen that our world in data chart that sort of like, you know, what, like energy consumption by type, and it's like, 84% fossil fuel?
Robert Bryce 36:21
Sure. Yeah. You go on in the in the same piece and compact, you say it is because of energy abundance through roads, fertilizer, electricity, plastics, and more than our world is as radically safe and wealthy as it is, to force us to do less with with or to force us to do with less is tyranny in its most basic form. Tyranny is a strong word. And one that I don't use very often. Why is it correct here?
Emmet Penney 36:47
Yeah, so I was actually thinking about a seminar I did, I think, early last year with online great books, where I sort of moonlight every once in a while, and we did a seminar to on some of the great works of Western civilization. And I had a very fascinating seminar with some students about
Robert Bryce 37:05
your big Plato fan, right? Am I remembering this? Right? I love reading the classics. Yeah.
Emmet Penney 37:08
Okay. And so this one was on
Robert Bryce 37:11
Plato, I don't read that stuff.
Emmet Penney 37:15
And one of the things that came up is we had somebody in the class who was very clearly like, I would say, like a progressive, social democrat. And then we have one person who was very clearly like, a Jeffersonian libertarian. And so they had very different views on property. And the closer I wanted to feature that tension between them, so they could better see each other's perspective, and so that we could better understand what Aristotle had to say about property and the regime. And I'm not going to go through what he says about it here, only to say that regimes tend to be structured around property, structured around the idea of physical goods that people can own and who, and who controls them, and who controls them. And that's why I said it's tyranny in its most basic form, right, who's a slave and who isn't? is a question of property.
Robert Bryce 38:06
Well, you know, when you say that, it's really interesting, because I see this, and I spend a lot of time as I've written, but I spent a lot of time in rural America. I mean, I meet farmers all the time, right? Because I'm talking to electric cooperatives. And you know, I'm, and they contact and a lot of people contact me they're doing, you know, they're fighting a wind or solar project. And they're farmers, and many of them women. But what I see is the same idea about who controls it, right? And what I see, when it comes to the wind and solar thing that follows on what you're talking about, about this idea of the pastoral in nature, and the rest of it. Is this a massive land grab by some incredibly powerful interests that are all in the big cities, and they're just going to stick it to the rural people right in the rural people are sitting out there saying, wait a minute, no, wait, we don't want this. But there's so much money and media interest and so much political power behind the big businesses coming to control rural land, that these people are at a huge disadvantage. I just adding that because it what you're talking about is this idea about control and tyranny, that around a concept, right of danger around climate or the right acting or religious fervor around renewable and just because it's renewables playing out in the physical world that I see all the time now myself.
Emmet Penney 39:19
Yeah. And I think that that's where we are like, I really hope one of my goals when I write pieces like this is to bring like a political, philosophical, and then maybe cultural valence to what are generally seen as technical policy problems right now. And I think that that, I would hope that if I do my job, right, it helps to enrich and historically deepen the discussion so that we can have a democratic debate about what we want as a society. And I point out in the piece, that it's not just a debate, it's also a political fight. democracies have a level of agonism in them about who gets to do what, and that is that The level of faction is ventilated by the Constitution and the ability to vote and be represented. So I really want there to be a better, more substantive debate that helps inform an actual physical, an actual political fight that is playing out, and is largely catering to one size victory. You know, and what's not. And what's sad is that, which is a lot of elite interest against everyday people.
Robert Bryce 40:30
Well, let me follow up on that, because one of the questions I wrote down, and it's because, well, you know, I'm a fan, right, and I quote, your work a lot and directly. So what motivates you in this? I mean, you've touched, you've touched on it, some there, but I mean, there's will anger and frustration motivates a lot of what I do what motivates you in this? Because you were clearly put your heart into it. Why do you care so much?
Emmet Penney 40:53
Yeah, well, I think, you know, I have always been interested in fairness. I think, you know, it's really funny, like, when we were moving my wife, and I found this journal my parents took of me from when I was a toddler, and it is so obvious
Robert Bryce 41:11
can interrupt you just, you've just moved from Los Angeles to Chicago. So yeah, we're giving the best here, register arrived in Chicago.
Emmet Penney 41:19
We just arrived in Chicago, and we're going through it, it's like pretty clear that I've always had some of the same core concerns, things like fairness, like, you know, trying to make sure that everybody gets a little bit of a share and things like that. And also some of the same defects, which I'm not going to get into publicly because I would like everybody see me as amazing. And
Robert Bryce 41:37
even your wife, my wife, especially, especially your wife, yeah,
Emmet Penney 41:43
exactly. And so I think part of is that I think it's part of just sort of like who I who I am. And I also think that that got really patterned by the institutions I grew up in, especially the Jesuit high school, I went to here in Chicago, St. Ignatius college prep, which was, you know, its slogan was, men and women, for others, and odd majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God. So everything you did you really they really drilled it into you that you wanted to be thinking of others and God before yourself. And I think that that's a big part of what informs my patriotism, I see what I'm doing as a contribution to civic life, which I take very, very seriously. That is one of the reasons why I love reading Plato, because the dialogues take civic life very seriously by the fact that they're in the dialogue form, about fundamental questions of the political regime. And I am very worried about the country that I live in and the direction that it's going. And I would hope that I could have some sort of small, but in the long run positive impact on what happens to it by bringing people who would otherwise not be interested or not even know about problems with great governance, into an understanding of what is at stake with our most important infrastructure here.
Robert Bryce 43:08
Rhymes with what I my motivation that you know that these things are too important to be ignored. And they're too important for me to just not say my piece and to point out with using as much math and physics as people can bear about saying, Well, what's really going on here. But let me shift and talk about your piece in who killed who it's called, who killed nuclear, and what we can do to save it if I think I've got the rest of it correctly. Correct. And this was actually published in American Affairs just in the last few days. When you talk about a recent meeting of the mesa the mid counted, independent system operator, the other RTO, which is like ERCOT, or like, we talked about ISO New England and also PJM. And you taught you quit one of the misos vice presidents who put the problem this way. We're seeing less predictable, dispatchable generation this is my so speaking, we're seeing retirements, we're seeing forced outage rates increase those as in those assets we depend on to manage that increasing variability and volatility. So while volatility is increasing, our ability to deal with it is decreasing simultaneously. And then you that's the end quote and then you say in other words, the all renewables decarbonisation plan adds volatility to energy portfolios, forces out reliable electricity generators, like Palisades, you didn't put this in your piece and destabilizes the grid and by making us more reliant on weather dependent Energy, the Environmental Movement has made us more vulnerable to the weather and weather patterns, they warn climate change creates. Moreover, renewables have reversed their decarbonisation aided by locking in natural gas and coal while making America more dependent on the cheap coal China uses to make solar panels. Our current energy and food crises can be directly linked to the West's pursuit of fashionable green policies. Many of these problems are features not bugs. And here's the concluding line the all renewables dream was never about reducing greenhouse gases, but about entrenching energy poverty to halt population growth so as to spare the environment This is similar to what you wrote in the energy lysenkoism piece. But still, it's about this idea, not just the romanticization of poverty, but the forced energy poverty that will come with these these myths, myths and dreams I get. I guess my question that I wrote here is why is energy entrenching poverty so attractive? I mean, what is it about that, that these people, I mean, Bill McKibben has said, well, we need to use 1/20 of the energy we're using. And I'm thinking, well, you first mister why?
Emmet Penney 45:31
That's so crazy. I don't even think people on it. Maybe he does really understand what that means, like, in a daily phenomenological level, like what that would mean for people? If he does, then he's basically, I don't use this term lightly Hitlerian in a certain sense, in his outlook of what should happen to other people, but
Robert Bryce 45:51
but these are, these are the commonalities between oh, we're just going to solve all this with efficiency, everyone's going to use less. And this everyone's going to be happier. Well know if what we're seeing is more extreme weather and more people coming out of poverty, we're gonna be a whole lot more energy, not less. And then just fundamental, fundamental misreading of where we are.
Emmet Penney 46:10
Yeah, I mean, sometimes he gets so lean, you're starving. You know? That's, that's part of what's happening here. So to answer your question, like, what is so attractive about this? I, you know, I'm very split, because of my interest in the ancients. I'm very much a believer in things like tradition. Christian, you know, I understand this longing for times before and wanting a greater communion with them than what seems readily available in a highly industrialized, highly digitalized society. You know, I think there's a deep longing there. So if we want to put sort of maybe a more emotionally relatable Kant, on what these people desire, if we want to be sympathetic to them at a political level, I think there is a fairly deep and important question about who controls what, at the heart of what they're saying, right. And then I think they sort of make the wrong conclusions from that based on a pastoral romanticism, that has more or less been a part of elite psychology for centuries, right? Yeah. And that's sort of what I think is happening here. Like, in a way, our times aren't so unique, that we have reached escape velocity from some of these older historical trends of people who have a lot saying, I wish we could go back,
Robert Bryce 47:38
right? Well, this is what this is the start of Silent Spring, right, where Rachel, Rachel Carson says, Oh, well, there was a time when humans lived in harmony with nature. Yeah. And, and it's in Thoreau as well. And you see it in in a lot of these other kind of canonical works right in American literature about this same idea of a will. If only we go back to the farm. Well, the farms hard work, and a lot of people don't want to live on the farm. And there's a reason why people moved off. And one of them was electrification. Right that once we made that hard work, we obviated the need for it with better power and energy networks, people moved away because they wanted there were other things they could do that were more fulfilling and when more more valuable to the society.
Emmet Penney 48:21
Yes, yeah. So let's let's add, like another element to this that can help illuminate why people might believe what they believe about returning. So if we really situate the post war, environmental movement in the Cold War, and the relationship between things like nuclear civilian tech and military tech, which is you really can't separate historically, in America. You just can't like I know a lot of people want to but that's I don't think that's really that's, I don't think that's honest. And you take a look at the type of command and control society that gets built during the Cold War, and the way in which it was very much an insider's game, and seem to almost conspire against the American people, a lot of them felt, you know, your varying degrees of truth of this, you can start to see and that's why I use the phrase, the man in the earpiece that these things sort of all come together around like one big managerial conspiracy against Democratic control. And I'm going to go out on a limb and go out on a limb here and say, that is not entirely incorrect. Right? If we if we take a look at, you know, I lived in New Mexico for a while, I can tell you that the relationship between southern New Mexico and the United States government and especially nuclear tech, is hostile and probably for a good reason, given the experience and all the testing and all the frankly, like irresponsible stuff that happened down there. Right, you know, and
Robert Bryce 49:57
I these days, this suspicion of gigantism, this suspicion of big government the suspicion of big business that all these things coalesce around this, this soft path that Amory Levin's has been touting now for 50 years, and that, oh, we're going to disaggregate all this but it also rhymes exactly with the disintermediation that was pushed by Enron. Oh, well, we're gonna flatten the whole thing. Right.
Emmet Penney 50:19
Exactly. And you know, Ralph Calvin Kavanaugh actually debated Paul Joe scow about what reregulation was supposed to look like. And he was like, Hey, man, literally do whatever you want, as long as I get to keep all my green demand response stuff. And all of my conservation stuff. I know, you can't technically put a price on those things. But that's sort of the point. They're priceless. And so if we can structure the California market to assume certain elements of the green ideology, then I'm fine with electric electricity spot market. And that is in a large way, what really happens in California and the 90s, which everybody uses as a template until it goes way south after 2000 2002. And it's only
Robert Bryce 51:01
getting worse. Exactly. We're generating more. I mean, the number of standby generators in the in the region has just skyrocketed.
Emmet Penney 51:10
Yeah. Oh, and I should clarify, by the way, Ralph Kavanaugh was a lawyer for the NRDC is still trying to close Diablo Canyon right? Help won the Supreme Court case for the NRDC that put in California's nuclear moratorium. Okay, I didn't realize that that's how he cut his teeth. Yeah, yeah. That was 1983. I want to believe
Robert Bryce 51:28
that he pulled that off for two years. Right. And he's been at NRDC since then.
Emmet Penney 51:32
And he's still publishing op eds like trying to dunk on TED Nordhaus, et cetera, et cetera
Robert Bryce 51:36
right and that and that the closure of Diablo Canyon claiming again that the closure of Diablo Canyon is the right move despite the fact that it supplies what six to 10% or something like that of California, the entire generation of, of electricity in California. It's quick station break. My guest is Emmett Penny. He's a friend of mine and proud to call him a friend of mine. We haven't met in person yet. And we're going to make that happen. Meyer is writing quite a lot. His newsletter is grid brief, you can find that at grid brief.com. He's also the host of the nuclear barbarians podcast and the exhaust. x.za xex.at ha ust podcast exhaust podcast hates it when we're both friends. We speak about you know, we're who are mutual, who we like and who we don't like. We both have a tremendous regard for Meredith Angwin. In her book, shorting the grid. I'm an unabashed fan. She's been on the podcast as much as anyone. Why does Why do you think I'm asking? Because I have my own ideas. Why is she had such traction? Why what is it that about Meredith and what she's brought to this debate has brought her at age now? 77, this kind of burst of I would call it fame and notoriety and a claim for which had what void? Did she fill? How did she Why is she had such a powerful impact on these debates?
Emmet Penney 53:01
Well, I think first of all, that it's timely, like nothing beats good timing. Yeah. You know what I mean? Like, you know, like, that is so much of everything. And so I think she published the book at the right time, because you know, you know, what happens to ERCOT. Like, really soon after she releases rap book,
Robert Bryce 53:22
she's probably 2020. And then February, we have the winter storm URI. And, and that's right, another people die. And 150 billion or so was lost, that we're going to be securitizing that debt now, and we're going to be paying for it for ever.
Emmet Penney 53:37
So I think the other part of it is that she is the the sunlight on the grid. We look, I do this for a living now this has become my life's work is trying to report on this stuff. I don't have a technical background, it is very difficult for me to learn these things. You know, I will never have the level of proficiency that someone like Mark Nelson Nelson or Meredith Angwin has, that's just never going to happen in my life right now. What she has done is provided people like me with an access point to figure out how to communicate about these things. Because if you read any of the trade publications, which I do now, every day, you know about how this works, is I feel like there's an episode of The Simpsons where somebody says something, and Lisa Simpson says, I know what those words mean, but not in that order. So a lot of this stuff makes me feel good. So it's a huge level of like, it takes 10 years to write that book. Right. You know, I mean, I'm rereading it now.
Robert Bryce 54:39
She published herself,
Emmet Penney 54:40
and she published it herself, right. So it's a pretty Herculean effort that she's pulled off. So I think that's part of it. You know, I think Meredith is also very fair in her responses to people often think she's not a doormat, which is very inspiring. And I think that she is the right combination of humble and skeptical that gives her an aura of integrity that I believe she's earned.
Robert Bryce 55:04
Yeah. Yeah, I that's how I put Yeah, she's earned her spot.
Emmet Penney 55:08
Right and totally,
Robert Bryce 55:10
and that that unimpeachable in terms of will Okay, yeah, she's a grandmother, she's 77. But she's just doing this because she cares. It's not because she's working for someone else. This is because this is what she's about. And that's the other part that I think is so you just can't, you can't acquire genuine, right? You can't get my genuine and you can't buy authentic. And that's something that matters to me a lot. I mean, when I think about what I publish what I do, is it authentic? Is it me? Is it my thing, right? And it's one reason why my you know, I'm not bragging but my newsletter, you know, I put it out every Friday people respond to the bird stuff as much as they do anything else, right? Because a lot of the bird stuff, I'm a burden, right? And yeah, but it just wasn't a lark, but it was part of what informs who I am, right, and has for 30 years. And so people respond to that, I think but so what you talk about the elites, and we talked about Meredith, we who we both admire, we but we've also taken shots, and rightly so at that what you talk about something we talked about last year on the phone, and I asked in our previous interview a year ago now, you said when a country's elites and financial institutions undermine the material structures that provide them their status, a country consent can be said to be in decline. I'm bullish on the US. I mean, it mixed all these problems that we have, and I don't like to think about American decline, but I can also see it, you know, the shooting and Uvalde these other things, these random act of just incredible mass violence and and you know, the people who are not just unemployed, but in many cases unemployable. And then they live on the fringe. And I see this and it's heart wrenching. But when I see this, this role of the elites and the rest in this decline of the grid, but you've talked about the financial institutions, we talked about BlackRock and so ESG what role the academics play here, because I think we both have tracked other, you know, elite academics who put out fancy spreadsheets, they testified before Congress, they have publicly published in the New York Times and elsewhere, we can all do this, if only we have the political will. What role of culpability to the elite academics have in this,
Emmet Penney 57:19
I think, a very big role. You know, I was thinking the other day, there's this fantastic interview between a British journalist and Noam Chomsky for I think, the 80s. And he's sort of going after Chomsky for his whole, like, conspiracy theory about Manufacturing Consent and things like that. He says, You know, I can publish what I want, like my editors, let me like, I'm allowed to disagree or whatever. And like, I believe everything that I'm telling you right now, in Trump's he says, I have no doubt that you believe everything you're telling me right now, I'm just saying that if you believe something different, you wouldn't be sitting where you're sitting. Right?
Robert Bryce 57:54
Where you stand depends on where you sit. That's the old axiom. Right? Yeah,
Emmet Penney 57:57
yeah, exactly. And so I think that that's sort of what's happening here. And
Robert Bryce 58:02
that it makes me that academics are rewarded for taking this this certain position around the all renewable Meraj and the rest of it that this gains them stature. Is that where you're going or Yes, exactly.
Emmet Penney 58:13
So I think that's part of it. Is there's also, I mean, I don't know what the money looks like. So I can't speculate on that. But I will say if we want to look at it as like a system, you know, you can learn a lot from Twitter. And you can learn a lot by
Robert Bryce 58:27
a lot of it bad.
Emmet Penney 58:30
Who follows who who retweets who and has certain conversations, and one of the things that I've realized is that there seems to be this network. Again, not conspiratorial, it's just people working on a common project is you and I, and our friends are working on our own common project together, not a conspiracy of academics, regulators, regulatory alumni, and NGOs, that all sort of train up the next generation of people who are going to fight for their idea of what the grid should look like. Right. And so I think that while there is I would say, sort of, you know, clearing the path ideologically for these goals that happens in for academics, and as part of their power. There is also I would say like this intergenerational patronage system that trains people up to continue forming these views in society.
Robert Bryce 59:27
The patronage system right in within academia and the NGOs right because and government because there is a policy yeah and policy right that my friend Chuck spent he called it the self licking ice cream cone right you know, the money flows around the people around the jobs that revolving door that there is a a system where it just perpetuates itself. That there's you call it Yeah, I think patronage system that that that that sounds right
Emmet Penney 59:52
to me. Yeah. There's this sort of dissident right wing thinker who I don't like a lot of the time but he has a great phrase for this called the cathedral. Hmm. And that is sort of the intellectual cultural edifice that creates the ideological prism through which a lot of us experience our society and
Robert Bryce 1:00:11
who's that who's the writer? And
Emmet Penney 1:00:12
so that's going to be academics, it's going to be I mean, I've just moved out of LA. So I can tell you that Hollywood is a big part of that, as well. You know,
Robert Bryce 1:00:21
so he coined who coined this term, the cathedral
Emmet Penney 1:00:24
Jarvan. Singer to sharpen Curtis Yarden. Okay. And I think what he really captures, is that it feels almost spontaneously generated, you know, Gore, if at all put it this way, there's no conspiracy of the elites, because there doesn't need to be.
Robert Bryce 1:00:40
Because they know what you're supposed to say.
Emmet Penney 1:00:43
Yeah, well, and they all know each other. They all come up in these institutions. Like, that's just the way it is. And I mean, hey, he would know that dude was wealthy as hell, right. You know, you had a nice, nice home off the coast.
Robert Bryce 1:00:55
I met him once the Texas Book Festival is a different story. But that's yeah. But there doesn't need to be one. You know, just what pops into mind as I'm going to interview but younger Sargon, who wrote a really interesting book called bad news. How woke culture in journalism is in media is corrupting America, something like that. But bad news. And her take was, you know, her fundamental point is that the media, the big media outlets are run by elites and that they don't need to be told what they're supposed to write, but they write for the other elites, alright. And their audiences. And she contrasts it very well, I think with the early days in the newspaper business, including Joseph Pulitzer, who made his fortune selling, you know, Penny broadsheets, right, that this was a massive journalism for the masses for the working class. And that that's not the case anymore.
Emmet Penney 1:01:41
No, I think the big moment on that is actually Watergate. I think that Watergate, this great moment of investigative journalism, it is also I think, what brings a lot of people who come from Ivy League pedigree into journalism that want to be the intrepid investigative hero, because it's not like everyone loved working class journalists, right, historically. Right. You know, that was not your job to be loved. And vontade the way you are if you're a certain type of journalists now, right, I think we can all remember sort of the insane valorization of the press that happens post 2016. Right, like far and beyond any, like earned merit, which isn't to say that the press isn't important, and there aren't good journalists.
Robert Bryce 1:02:25
Let me ask, you said post 2016. Yeah, yeah. valorization of journalism after what happened in 2016. I'm not following you there. Trump got elected. Oh, okay. Right. Yeah. Right, that this was the right then. And that the media, the big media outlets had to take down Trump because he wasn't part of that. Elite system. Is that what Yeah, exactly. Right. Exactly.
Emmet Penney 1:02:47
I mean, allegedly, like, I mean, yeah, who he actually is and stuff like that. But, you know, I'm not a fan. But I think that that's a huge cultural moment for the US. And I think that the press plays a huge, huge role. I mean, your experiences with what happens with NPR journalists, right, right. A state Oregon, you know, there's like, a really weird, like, that's like, energy. Like, that's like provde level,
Robert Bryce 1:03:14
right? But then trumpets, this trumpets, this anti Trump ism, right. Oh, and how all these stupid, you know, bumpkins out in the country. They just don't know what's good for them was the gist of that whole thing, which was written by a journalist from San Francisco, right? Never went to never went to work. County, Iowa never talked to this word supervisor in Madison County that wasn't Oh, well, no, that just doesn't fit the Fit doesn't fit the story that I'm planning to do, regardless of what the facts are.
Emmet Penney 1:03:42
Yeah, I mean, hey, look, I'm grateful every day of my life that my first few years out of college, I spent dead broke in Tallahassee, Florida. Like that was a huge education in my own uptight, northern liberal assumptions. That really helped me see another side and appreciate people that I just assumed, frankly, because I was like a daily show liberal, were stupid and didn't know what was good for them. Yeah. And I think once you go out there, and meet with people who come from those parts of the country and live and work with them, in my case, you I no longer see myself as like this person apart from them. You know, we have disagreements that's natural in a society. I mean, that's in Federalist 10. And the Federalist Papers, you know, faction is just going to arise because they're competing visions and interests. Right. But, you know,
Robert Bryce 1:04:38
the voters, the voters who live in the trailer park don't have the stroke that the ones that do on the Upper West Side, or that they need that they're not going or they're maybe they're not voting at all, but right but they're but their economic interests are. They're there every day thought. I mean, these are parts of how am I going to buy enough gasoline to get to work and these other things that are front and center for their daily budgets that don't be that aren't aren't what you consider what are not going to be the the front page topics in the New York Times because it doesn't fit that narrative.
Emmet Penney 1:05:08
No. And I should also say that a lot of times those topics don't make it out of Fox News either. Yeah, that's another important part. Like, I think I wanted to sort of do justice to both sides here. And like, This isn't me making this like, covert case for everybody vote Republican. What I'm really saying is that there is my socialist friends point this out all the time. A total atrophy of any sort of class perspective.
Robert Bryce 1:05:32
Yeah. Yeah. No. And I think that that's right on the money, right on the data, that there's a misunderstanding. And that's, I see it, you know, rural America, I mean, rural America tends to be poor, you know, and then urban America, that's just a fact. And that's what right. And it's strange
Emmet Penney 1:05:47
to me that, you know, one of the things that's interesting to me about our intellectual landscape today is that people like Mike Lin does seem so weird. Because when I hear him go on podcast, you know, I'm a fan of his work. I love the new class war. I think everyone should read it. But he's basically like, I'm a New Deal Democrat. Yeah. And still, you know, even if he gets published in New Republic, or whatever, like he's mostly thought of as this like, conservative populist thinker, right. I think that should tell us something about the assumptions that are more common today than it does tell us about someone like Mike land.
Robert Bryce 1:06:23
So that yesterday's New Dealer is now
Emmet Penney 1:06:26
what an average conservative
Robert Bryce 1:06:30
an arch conservative who wants
Emmet Penney 1:06:31
the like a nationalist like a right wing nationalist, like, that's how it's often seen.
Robert Bryce 1:06:36
Yeah. But let's bring this back to the grid. Because I think that it's it's critical to understand what that are the public utility Holding Company Act of 1935, the Rural Electrification act of 1936. Those were about diffusion of political and economic power, right. And it was a different vision for what the grid was or what the grid should be. But it was a democratization of the grid. Right? So I see that as a nationalism, but not necessarily as a concern, I guess conserving resources, right. But it was, I don't know how I think it's an interesting point that you make, but where would New Dealers like LBJ in the 30s, or Burton Wheeler, or George Norris or FDR, even where would they fit in today's political spectrum? I'm asking that I don't know. Yeah,
Emmet Penney 1:07:20
I mean, I think that the dark truth is that a lot of them would be seen as nationalists, like, look, I mean, a lot of these guys were, like, more culturally conservative than like, any standard Democrat. We have an office today. Right. Like, why are people pissed at Joe Manchin all the time? It's because he's, like, sort of a culturally conservative Democrat, also fiscally conservative, you know, what, like, you know, people really resent that. And,
Robert Bryce 1:07:48
and that he has so much power, and he's in a swing state. But you know, that is kind of a bellwether for the rest of the country. And it's
Emmet Penney 1:07:53
Yeah, exactly. Well, the other thing, too, is that it's a small rural state filled with, you know, ignorant yokels who don't know what's good for them. Right? That's the major resentment there is. That one guy that represents them can just like put up, he's just like plopping lemons and progressive milk all the time. You know, like, I think that probably drives them insane, that anybody from that part of the country can do that much to undermine the coastal agenda for certain things.
Robert Bryce 1:08:22
There was a letter there was a letter in the Wall Street Journal today. In fact, it said almost that very thing that mentioned, oh, that these elites on when it comes to the build back better, that they just don't get it, but that mansion who got a football scholarship to West Virginia University, he gets it right that they don't right that if they pass the build back better, it would have been incredibly inflationary, bad for the country, and mentioned understood that but the elites who are, you know, the pushing this, they didn't they didn't care, right. It wasn't going to be a problem for them.
Emmet Penney 1:08:48
No, no, absolutely not. That's not to say I agree with everything mentioned. Yeah, sure. And far from it, right? I just want to point out the dynamic. So, you know, one of the things one of the reasons why I was so thrilled to take on the contributing editor ship at compact was because compact to me. I mean, it is what it says in its title, it's a compact between a culturally conservative populace, right, and a class oriented socialist left. And it is understanding that there needs to be some sort of compact, some sort of relationship between these two dissident tendencies to restore, I would say, a class perspective that is more reflective of the diversity of the American way of life rather than what gets refracted through the cathedral.
Robert Bryce 1:09:34
Yeah, I like that. Because I think it's just fundamentally what I hear when you say that is that we need more attention on the working class and what are the things that matter to them and energy prices are one of the main ones
Emmet Penney 1:09:44
and that's part of why I got into this whole game. You know, like, I've been a fan of the New Deal and FDR since I was a little kid. You know, I remember at the Thomas Alva Edison elementary library, right checking out a big picture book. On FDR, right. You know, I was very interested in that sort of like, what about the little guy type of thing from a young age? And I just haven't let go of that. You know, and I think we need way more of that than we've got. Energy is a huge part of that.
Robert Bryce 1:10:15
Yeah. And that was what Sam Rayburn is famous line and what my people out of the dark and I want my people out of the mud. And I want I want powerlines and I want roads. And that's very fun when that was fundamental to this guy who was born on a cotton farm and Bonham, Texas A few miles from the Red River. So a couple of last things we've been talking about for more than an hour, my guess is him at Penny. My friend, Emmett Penny, I greatly admire his work. You can find more about him at grid brief.com or on his podcast, nuclear barbarians or exhaust podcast. So what are you reading now? I know you're a big, great books guy. But what's uh, you know, I'm looking at the different books on my Vox loves mills. This is one of them. It's making numbers count. I've gotten lots of smells new book here, what's on your top of your pile on your desk? Now I know you've just moved but what are you thinking about reading?
Emmet Penney 1:11:04
Yeah, so I'm reading Meritus book for research for this American Affairs piece. It's one of the last books I need to read, you know, to sort of really embarked on writing, I've already written parts of it. I've also been reading this fascinating book called the machine in the garden, by a historian, sort of cultural historian, Leo marks spaulders and Karl Marx, the machine in the garden, in the garden, yet gay takes a look at sort of the pastoral ideal, along with the industrial ideals as they played out in the mid 19th, early 20th centuries in America, don't even go so far back as the founding. And, you know, canonical writers like Emerson and Rousseau are never so thorough to sort of like, see how Americans have been thinking and talking about industrialism, and its relationship to nature. And, you know, Leo marks has some other essays I've read where I disagree with what he has to say. But he's always fascinating. And he always brings something to light, he reminds me of one of my favorite authors, which is Christopher lash, whose work I'm always just sort of consulting or thinking about in the background, because I think he poses the most diverse challenge to some of my assumptions, especially in writing about energy, and Industrialism in general. So those are the things I'm looking at, because one of the things I want to do with this piece coming up is, again, sort of give people the cultural and political and historical context to understand how the grid has changed over time, right. And part of that's because I can't do the policy, deep dive, I'm just never gonna have the acumen where I could actually write something that goes that far into the weeds about it. Right. The other thing is, because I think that's really needed in our conversation. As you and I on contest, that type, I really want to contextualize what's going on, because so many people just assume the grid and take it for granted that it needs to be cast in new light. Right? So that's what I'm reading. I'm also, you know, slowly, you know, sips here and there reading Alex Epstein's fossil future, which I'm greatly excited about. I learned a lot from Alex, he's always been generous to me. I appreciate that he has always takes the time to respond to me or talk to me, and take me seriously, despite whatever our political sure alignments are and where they differ. I really respect that in him. And I think he's a super effective communicator. Yeah, like reading something like fossil future is like downloading all sorts of new rhetorical techniques into your brain. And that feels empowering. It's nice to read something in the energy world that feels conversational and empowering. That's a rarity. Like, I admire smells work. I would not describe him as a conversational writer. No, nor would I like, That guy's not churning out airport books.
Robert Bryce 1:14:02
That's, that's it. That's a fair. That's a fair assessment. So last question, then Emmett. What gives you hope? What makes you optimistic?
Emmet Penney 1:14:11
What makes me optimistic is the work itself. I don't really actually think in terms of optimism, I try to think in terms of hope, and I try to think of hope in terms of action. So what am I doing today, to be a drop in the stream of the future I want to see flow. And that's how I approach writing my newsletter. That's how I approach my research is I try to cast every day again in the light where it's not necessarily just about me and my desires to intellectually know things are for notoriety. Certainly, as somebody who likes seeing my name is in a byline like every other journalist or writer out there. You know, that's part of it too. But to imagine that it, I am making a contribution on par with the sometimes forgotten historians and writers that I cite and the works that gets shared all over the place.
Robert Bryce 1:15:12
You know, the amount of work and being able to keep doing the work and doing work that matters.
Emmet Penney 1:15:17
Right, exactly. And, you know, the amount of out of print books I've read, like on the history of utilities or whatever, and the way that that has totally changed the way I think has about the grid has also changed the way I've thought about intellectual production, where you never know the way in which you're going to be effective. And that gives me hope for the work being done.
Robert Bryce 1:15:43
Well, that's a good place to stop it. Thanks again for being on the power hungry podcasts been great fun. And as I said, you can find great Emmett on grid brief.com or on his podcast. look him up I think you're gonna dig his work like I dig it, or I hope you do. So Emmet, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Emmet Penney 1:16:01
was absolute pleasure to be here. Robert. Thank you so much. And thanks
Robert Bryce 1:16:05
to all you in podcast land, tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. See you then.