Irina Slav, a freelance writer in Sofia, Bulgaria, writes about energy for and on Substack at Irina Slav on energy. In this episode, she explains why the “ideological drivel” around renewables is driving Europe’s energy policies, how the need for more minerals and metals will stymie the transition away from hydrocarbons, why the attacks on Vladimir Putin are misguided, Bulgaria’s membership in NATO, and lots more. 

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome my guest Irina Slav. She is an energy writer at oil And on substack. She is based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Irina, welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Irina Slav 0:23
Hi, Robert. It’s great to see.

Robert Bryce 0:26
So I’ve been following you for some time. And in fact, some friends of mine, Meredith Angwin. And Robert Hargraves had noticed your writing, and we talked about it via email and thought, well, this woman is really sharp and what you know, what’s her story? So I want to talk about your, your background and so on. But first, I’m very interested in as you are, I know you’ve been writing about it, what’s going on in Europe? What is Europe? Just as it seems on the on the precipice of total energy disaster? What how do you see it? What are the key issues now that you see in Europe broadly, in terms of energy supplies?

Irina Slav 1:02
Well, I think everybody knows the story that is in the media that there is too little natural gas, for the needs of European countries. So the prices are soaring, and people are beginning to feel a pinch. They haven’t failed for possibly decades, because energy supplies have been secured. But now this is changing. And the official narrative is that it’s all because of the gas prices. And it’s nothing to do with renewables. But now, I see that it’s starting to trickle in some facts, such as low wind speeds this year. Even two of the biggest wind turbine manufacturers said that their financial results will be affected by low wind speeds. And I don’t know if you follow a website called electricity map that shows you know, okay, it shows energy production in real time based on source and what percentage each source contributes to a country’s supply. And things are very clear there. A couple of weeks ago,

Robert Bryce 2:28
windspeeds are are culpable for a lot of this.

Irina Slav 2:32
I think so. And it’s not just me that I’m then there’s, I think, a lot of speculative trading going on in Europe. I don’t know if you saw but recently, even no way appears to be in in a shortage of electricity, which is really interesting, because no way generates almost all of its power from hydro. And it’s got quite a lot of natural gas. But now the Norwegian government is increasing the subsidies for households for electricity, which is weird, unless they are selling a lot of electricity abroad.

Robert Bryce 3:19
Sure, sure. So I started in the interview, but I neglected to do what I always do at the beginning of these podcasts, and I somehow overlooked it. You need to introduce yourself, there was a part that we skipped over here. I told you before we started recording that guests introduce themselves. So I gave your brief. I said you’re in Sofia, Bulgaria. But if you don’t mind, tell me imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone. You got to say a minute to introduce yourself, please introduce yourself.

Irina Slav 3:46
Absolutely. My pleasure. Well, I’m an energy journalist. And what this means is that I have been writing about oil, gas, renewables, electric cars for seven years steadily now. I started a while earlier, at my last corporate job. And I was covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, but then I left went the freelance way. And I haven’t regretted it. It’s an exciting view. It’s getting increasingly exciting by the day, it seems. And I love what I’m doing, and I hope I can keep doing it for as long as possible.

Robert Bryce 4:32
Well, that’s a good summary. So we’ve talked a bit about Europe. But I was intrigued by something that you wrote on substack. And this is why I contacted you to be on the podcast. It was just after Christmas. You were being Bulgarian you wrote about the fact that you grew up during I’m quoting here, you said I grew up during totalitarian times. I only witnessed the late years of the regime but I recently found a notebook from elementary school. Go where I’d written under the teacher’s instruction that, quote, the friendship between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union is like the Enter for every living creature. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So this was the question I wanted to put to you after I read that, how does being from Bulgaria and growing up behind what we call the iron curtain or in the Soviet? How does that shape your views on what you’re writing about? Now? How does this affect your journalism?

Irina Slav 5:25
It has actually proved to be really, really useful. And I’ll tell you why. I think it’s in some of my other posts, I mentioned planned blackouts that we had during the 80s. And the reason for these blackouts was electricity exports for hard currency. That’s just an example of a very different perspective, from the perspective of people in Western Europe, who have had decades of uninterrupted supplies of energy, a complete energy security, which we didn’t have, we had really cheap electricity and really cheap water, everything was very cheap, as long as it was available, and water and electricity were available. But we had blackouts, for example. And I think I really was young. I was born in 1978. So I didn’t get a lot of totalitarian regime. But I still remember that time. And I think we kind of grew up taking nothing for granted.

Robert Bryce 6:39
So you see, first 10 years, 12 years, then this was the this was the Berlin Wall fell 1990. If I were remembering your late 8919 89 Yeah. Right. So but you said something else. This was the part that I wanted to the part that I thought was particularly interesting that you wrote, and it was directly related to this issue about growing up in Bulgaria in a totalitarian regime. You wrote this. A net zero activists would laugh, perhaps at this. But the truth is, we’re being fed the same degree, excuse me, of ideological drivel right now. Yes, yes, yes, only it’s about wind and solar and hydrogen being our only hope in the war on emissions. What’s worse is worse is that the West won the Cold War, thanks in part to its superior propaganda. It is now setting itself up itself and everyone else for a spectacular failure. And we’re footing the bill for it. Wow. I mean, that’s, that’s powerful Idiot. Idiot, logical drivel around wind, solar and hydrogen, it expand on that, please?

Irina Slav 7:46
Oh, sure. Well, I was building on that, quote from my school notebook. Right. We were told that the Soviet Union and communism was the best way of life were much better than the West, the imperialist West. But I now know that the imperialist West was fent similar propaganda. You know, propaganda is never one sided. There is ideological messaging on both sides of a conflict, even when it’s a cold conflict. Sure, sure. And they were being fed. The Soviet Union wants to conquer all Europe. And take our convenience, right. And because of the higher and better standards of living in Western Europe and the US, they won the Cold War, because totalitarian messaging didn’t work, it was too far from reality. And I think there is a similarity between that to the retiree and messaging that communism was the best one, even when you were seeing the results. They kept on telling us this. And now we’re seeing the same thing or similar thing with renewables. With solar and wind power, being the only way forward did the only way to be

Robert Bryce 9:20
so that this is just propaganda.

Irina Slav 9:24
And no, no, no argument is allowed, because there is one truth, the right party line, we had the right party line in the 80s. And now we have another right one single right party line and that’s renewables. You are not allowed to question their merits. You’re not allowed to question the benefits of this energy transition. If you do. You’re labeled conspiracy theorist, even if you’re a scientist, and there are scientists questioning the narrative, but they’re being dismissed. Ask Good to see theorists.

Robert Bryce 10:02
But you made an interesting point about this divergence between from real, you know, between the reality and the propaganda. I mean, it seems to me that that’s already begun. I mean, I just this morning I was contacted by activists in Iowa here in the United States talking about land use conflicts and their pushback against wind turbines. And that the the facts on the ground in the US and Europe, it seems with particularly with regard to the encroachment of renewables is already limiting their growth. So that there’s this, again, to point to your point about this divergence between the reality and the propaganda. Do you see this? Is it? Am I onto something here? Am I seeing the same thing?

Irina Slav 10:42
What did this activist? Well, it was,

Robert Bryce 10:45
the My point is here that this divergence between reality and the spin or the reality and the propaganda is that renewables in Europe are already being bottled up because they can’t expand enough, right, because of the land use conflicts. People are saying we don’t want these turbines, we don’t want these solar panels, etc.

Irina Slav 11:02
Nobody says this, officially, they keep on talking about expanding wind and solar capacity further, this is a this is their number one priority, they keep talking about green hydrogen, even though it is still very much more expensive than all other forms of hydrogen. But again, this is being dismissed. This is being swept under the rug, nobody talks about it. They keep on repeating the same messages again and again. And if you look for details, such as my favorite question, how exactly are we going to fully switch to wind and solar and have reliable energy supply? There is no answer. Or, at best, the answer is a general energy storage, which also takes a lot of land. And it costs a lot energy storage, battery storage is no not cheap at all. But this is not being talked about. Very much like during totalitarian times in why a planned economy could not work. And it wasn’t working. But we were not being told this.

Robert Bryce 12:20
When you say that, in fact, a planned economy that rhymes with I mean, essentially, when you think about what this this endpoint that you’re referring to about a so all renewable system? Well, it’s going to have to be under some kind of planned and controlled, controlled economy. Right. The other is that the other overlap here,

Irina Slav 12:38
this is what I find really ironic, because the West, the Democratic West, as represented by Western Europe, and the United States, are moving towards a centralized planned economy, which we had. Some of us remember,

Robert Bryce 13:04
and it starts with energy being the because it’s the most important, most important sector, it’s going to start there. Yeah. Is that is that your fundamental point here? I mean, it was the point you’re making.

Irina Slav 13:14
That’s part of the point. But yes, when you start planning, for a transformation of your energy systems, you will need to start planning for everything else as well. I don’t think it will get to a point where everything like agricultural production will have five year targets or, or something like that. But even if it it only remains limited to energy systems. It’s bad enough. For me, even though actually the European Union at least, is very big on free markets, and spot markets for natural gas. And this is where we have got ourselves to, we have a very active sport market for natural gas. And what are we seeing we’re seeing soaring prices to households and for businesses.

Robert Bryce 14:09
And all of this, and who is going to pay the worker who’s gonna pay the most for this?

Irina Slav 14:15
Well, consumers, consumers, and then governments will pay too, because governments need to compensate businesses and households for these super high utility bills. They can just let poor people pay what they can’t pay. So that’s a lot of money for compensation, plus a lot of money for Evie, tax breaks and tax rates for renewable energy. So that that’s, to me, this looks like a lot of money being pulled into something that is not going to work.

Robert Bryce 14:55
So where does this end?

Irina Slav 15:00
So that’s a really good question. And I’m not sure how to answer it. I wish I had a, you know, crystal ball. I think but I’m a pessimist. I have a generally pessimistic view of the world. It might very well end in disaster, with all of us having to pay a lot more for electricity and not having reliable electricity supply. But I think it would stop. Or it will change, things will change before we get to this point, simply because if you if you have a population that cannot afford to spend on anything other than food and electricity, you don’t really have a working economy. Also, if you have businesses that cannot be competitive with, say, Asian businesses, because they can’t afford to be competitive, you really don’t have a working economy.

Robert Bryce 16:03
Well, are we seeing that already? Because it appears that there’s we’ve seen already the beginning of the deindustrialization of Europe, aluminum producers shutting down steel producers, fertilizer producers, I mean, the because of high prices, both for electricity and for natural gas. What you see here, is it intensifying?

Irina Slav 16:22
I hope it’s one get to intensify, but I’m afraid it will. I’m seeing the same thing. And this is really worrying because aluminum is used, you know, across a lot of industries. Not to mention fertilizers, this fertilizers helped grow our food. And if you don’t have enough food supply, then what are we doing? Europe is making itself increasingly dependent on imports in its attempts to become less dependent on imports. It’s trying to wean itself off Russian gas, which is absolutely respectable, as far as goals go. But it’s not doing this. It’s making itself dependent on in the in the longer term. I’m not I’m not really being coherent here. But over the longer run. With all the solar and wind capacity, it will need a lot of metals and minerals and it does not produce metals and minerals. Russia does. Which is amusing, kind of you know, there’s a there’s a funny, funny moment there.

Robert Bryce 17:43
can interrupt because you have written a lot about the metals and mining issue. And I’ve been a piece in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago talking about this very issue about rare earth elements in China. In I’ve had other guests on the on the podcast, Richard Harrington and included talking about this issue of mining. Is it is it even possible to produce you you you cited in several of your pieces, the report by the IMF, about some 3 billion tonnes of metal and stunning Yes, it’s just a staggering amount is this even possible in your view?

Irina Slav 18:21
It is possible, but as one one person whose name I’d rather not disclose at this point, but he knows about he’s an energy expert. And what he said was that with current mining technology, and with falling or grades, all the emission reduction gains that could be generated through the mining of more metals and minerals for wind and solar and EVS will be eliminated completely by the emissions generated through the process of mining these metals and minerals. So there will be no emission reduction gains. Effectively,

Robert Bryce 19:11
it seems to me that this talk is what we talked about earlier about this disparity between the reality and the spin. That’s maybe one of the most obvious ones, right? Because it’s it’s not just the land use. It’s about where are you going to get the steel, the copper, the neodymium, the praise, to demean the cobalt, all of these other things,

Irina Slav 19:30
and at what price as well. Exactly. Yeah, that’s because they will also be be getting more expensive because of this rising demand that everybody is forecasting and investing in the actually all these huge asset managers. carmakers, they’re spending billions on on this expected demand for metals, minerals, EVs, wind turbines, solar panels. all that.

Robert Bryce 20:02
So you sit on your substack you said, you identify your and by the way, again, my guest is Irina Slav, she you can find her on oil or subscribe to her on substack Irina slob on energy on substack on your ID on substack. You say, Oh, you write all things energy challenging dominant narratives because facts matter. Again, this seems to refer to your childhood that facts matter that this is there’s something in it. My my analysis and cost 10 cents or less maybe is that there’s something about what you’re doing is informed by your your childhood and that you you are you feel compelled about this is that not not

Irina Slav 20:45
so much actually, my childhood wasn’t in any way traumatic because of the totalitarian regime actually, quite a good comfortable childhood, unlike many other children. But when I grew up and started on the journalistic path, if I can call it this way. I’ll give you an example. In 2006, when I first started following the energy industry, I completely believe that Peak Oil is near. Remember the early? Sure, yeah, that was the time of the peak oil supply. And knowing next to nothing about the oil industry, I’ll show that those alarm raising writers were correct in saying we need to turn to another source of energy because we’re running out of oil. Now I know that we can not technically run out of oil, because technology develops etc, etc. But I think that the deeper I went into the coal huge energy topic, the more I read about it, the more people I talk to about energy. They began to, to become clear, especially in the last few years that there is a lot of spin and not enough facts. I mean, the facts are there is just that a lot of people choose to ignore them. Because they’re either not convenient, or they’re simply unpleasant. Yes, we depends on oil and gas for our very existence. It’s not pleasant, it’s the tea, especially oil. But we are dependent on it. We have to accept it.

Robert Bryce 22:50
And this is the reality and we have to come to grips with reality.

Irina Slav 22:53
Yes. And if you want to change things, there’s a better way of doing it, then let’s build more wind turbines and more solar panels.

Robert Bryce 23:06
Well, what is that? What is that best way? Then? What do you see the path forward? You know, I’ve had a lot of guests on the podcast talking about nuclear and others talking about coal and and I agree with your your outlook and that hydrocarbons are here to stay the way they are not, we’re not gonna quit using oil and gas or coal anytime soon. So what is the way forward in your view?

Irina Slav 23:28
Well, generally, I’m against revolutions. But I’m very much for evolution. By which I mean, not rushing into things, but taking the time to plan and plan for the long term. And yes, nuclear is a low carbon source of energy. Definitely. There is fuel efficiency gains yet to be made for fossil fuels. But I think the key and it’s it’s actually a really unpleasant fact the key is consuming less energy. I don’t think we can do anything about the planet or ourselves. If we don’t learn to simply consume less energy, it’s simple but it’s very difficult to do especially Yes, especially for people in wealthier societies, wealthier societies who are used to consuming all the energy they need, or want it’s difficult to bring your energy consumption down deliberately,

Robert Bryce 24:37
right right. And not a lot of people are gonna volunteer for this.

Irina Slav 24:40
Exactly, hence the bands

Robert Bryce 24:43
right? Hits the bands I’m sorry when bands

Irina Slav 24:46
Yes, yes. bands on internal combustion engine cars, bands on natural gas heating in newly newly built right. So the residential house In New York and things like that,

Robert Bryce 25:02
I’m glad you mentioned that because to me and we’ve talked about totalitarianism, there is part of this that am I making too much of it that these bans on internal combustion engines ban on natural gas bans on natural gas now they’re potentially not just New York City but the whole state of New York. It to me this smacks of totalitarianism that is my wrong.

Irina Slav 25:22
It is government intervention. Intervention. Yes. The highest order? Yes, it’s the government telling people what to do, and limiting their choices for their own goods, which is the the winning files of the propaganda message, I think.

Robert Bryce 25:43
Is it for their own good, as you said,

Irina Slav 25:45
yes, it’s for your own good and the good of the planet.

Robert Bryce 25:48
And this is the winning part of the propaganda message I

Irina Slav 25:51
like Well, I think that’s the call to action, in a way, because you have to tell them why they need to get off their gas guzzlers. And it’s for your own good, you will be healthier, you’ll probably live longer, questionable as this is and you will be saving the planet you know, people like to feel useful, people like to be told they are good. So there’s, it’s a powerful message you’re saving the planet, by consuming less by switching to an Eevee. Even though the metals for this Evie have caused the planet a lot.

Robert Bryce 26:33
Or that the Cobalt is being mined by slave labor children in China or in in in Congo, or silicon is coming from China. Well, let me let me ask you about the poly silicon because you had a piece recently in oil price about their efforts to ramp up poly silicon production in China, which is quite remarkable, because China’s now under the spotlight in terms of poly silicon from Jin Jang, and the use of slave labor there are is the or the Chinese trying to move that production out of shinjang into other regions, where specifically are they looking at producing it? Or do you know,

Irina Slav 27:06
I really have no idea. I haven’t looked into this in that much depth. But thanks for mentioning the ethical aspects. Because this is one more irony, I see, at least in European Union policies. So they are advertising wind solar as the solution to our problems. But they also want the materials for these renewable sources and for ad batteries to be mined responsibly. and ethically. And let’s face it, it’s just too much. Because if you want an ethical mining or responsible mining certificate, or any form of verification, this will only make this material more expensive. As is with everything, I think, obviously it’s much better if all our metals, minerals, oil gas are extracted responsibly. And without forced labor, child or other doesn’t matter. Ethics is important. But you can’t have it all. I think what the EU at least is trying to do is have its cake and eat it and it’s just not possible.

Robert Bryce 28:31
Well, so let’s talk about the broader issues around and frankly, you know, I’ll admit my, my, my geography is not so good. But Bulgaria is north of north of Greece, west of Turkey, South of Romania. So you’re in a very, you’re in a crossroads area, particularly in terms of energy transfer between the Mediterranean, the Aegean, or it’s the Black Sea. Forgive me. What do you think about Europe’s increasing dependence on Russia? Because I mean, that’s the ultimate that is continually being debated now in Europe and in the US about Russian gas supplies into the EU. And Gazprom has over the last several months to slow down or stop the flow of gas into Europe.

Irina Slav 29:12
No, that was just No, no, no, that was just one pipeline. Okay, they made too much of that. Yes. And I understand why, why you remember that? It’s because it was really, really, really covered excessively. No, that’s the Yamal pipeline just accounts for a 10th of Russia inflows into Europe. Now. Russia has long term contracts, and it’s fulfilling its long term contracts. You can ask for more.

Robert Bryce 29:43
We’ll show them. Okay, so the question I was going to get to is what I mean, what do you think of Putin and the EU’s reliance on gas? Is this just a big mistake on their part strategically, how do you see it?

Irina Slav 29:56
Well, they haven’t been able to come up with any viable alternatives to entirely replace Russian gas. And I think that whatever they think of Putin or his human rights record or anything, internally Russian, the market says that Russian gas is the cheapest for Europe, if it weren’t, if they really, if they really wanted to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, they would have worked a lot harder to bring in gas from Azerbaijan, or from Kazakhstan. Or there are alternatives, or they would have built a lot more LNG import capacity to take in gas from Qatar and from the United States now, but they’re not doing it because instead, they are betting on wind and solar. So basically, they painted themselves, we painted ourselves into a corner. I said there, because I’m not really on board with a lot of the decisions that Brussels makes, especially recently.

Robert Bryce 31:10
So painted themselves into a corner. I think that’s a that’s a pretty good description, but I mean, it, they can’t really start drilling. I mean, there’s apparently significant shale deposits in Britain and also in France, would this be smart for them to start drilling? I mean, wow.

Irina Slav 31:27
They will never, they will never do it, because there’s really a very strong activist lobby, and it wouldn’t allow it. But these they’re reaping what they sowed, basically,

Robert Bryce 31:44
that this disaster is the result of their just bad policy is that

Irina Slav 31:49
that’s bad planning bad policy and this insistence that the current crisis, I think it’s it’s closely linked. I’m sorry, there’s some renovation was going on in the in the clouds above ours. I thought they’d be done by six o’clock, but they’re not.

Robert Bryce 32:12
Yes, the crisis, the crisis has been years in the making. And now this is the result.

Irina Slav 32:16
It is He is in the making. Yes. Even though Bloomberg wrote about it, and Bloomberg is very much pro renewables. Yeah. They were objective enough to write about it that yes, it was years in the making. And then this insistence on developing spot markets for natural gas, instead of long term contracts, I completely understand if you don’t want to be dependent on Russia, in this case, for your long term, natural gas supply, you would look for alternatives. But betting big on the spot market was not the best alternative, as we have seen.

Robert Bryce 33:00
So we’ve talked about the the mining issues, but I just want to go back to Putin and Russia. I mean, is he a trustworthy partner for Europe? Or is this? I mean, there’s a lot of, I would say some of its propaganda, but also, you know, a lot of demonization of Putin in the West, and his trust, is that distrust merited?

Irina Slav 33:24
Well, I don’t believe so. Not, to the degree where saying, after all, the European Union has sanctioned Russia heavily. The assumption still in place, there’s a huge media and political pressure on Russian information sources, because they are labeled propaganda and all this. And yet, Russia continues to supply natural gas to Europe. I sometimes I joke that our Putin, I would shut off all the pipelines.

Robert Bryce 34:06
Say that. I didn’t follow you there.

Irina Slav 34:08
I sometimes joke that if it was me, if I were Putin out our to just shut down the pipelines. If you don’t want Russian gas, you won’t get Russian gas. It really is ridiculous, in a sense that just the joke, of course, but it’s ridiculous because you keep criticizing him attacking Russia for everything he does. And now the latest with the Ukraine crisis, because crisis is such a buzzword now. And yet, then they are complaining that they’re not getting as much Russian gas as they want.

Robert Bryce 34:50
So they can’t they can’t have it both ways. Well, yes.

Irina Slav 34:53
This is why I mentioned the long term contracts when you have a long term obligation to supply a commodity to people Clients, you either supplied or suffer consequences where the legal or whatever, but everybody says European, everybody says that there is no problem with volumes under long term contracts. So Gazprom is fulfilling its obligations under these contracts. They’re just not selling as much gas as Europe wants on the spot market. And these, I’m afraid, is the right of every seller. It’s true, however, that Gazprom apparently did not feel gas storage facilities in Europe during the summer. But again, if you want them to do it, you should tell them to do it. If they’re violating their contracts, there must be steps that you can take. If the steps were not taken, then maybe it wasn’t such a problem, then you’re asleep at the wheel, to put it simply and crudely

Robert Bryce 36:06
asleep at the wheel? Because they’re not they’re not understanding how high the stakes are. How do you mean

Irina Slav 36:12
they’re asleep at the wheel? Because they don’t have their priorities? Right. They prioritize renewable energy, they completely completely ignored the security of gas supply. And now when there is no security of gas supply, because they were not paying attention to it, it’s footings fault. It’s not installed. I’m sorry. I know it’s it’s the easiest explanation. Blame the Big Bad Wolf. But the simplest explanation is not always the correct one. If there are people hear, well, well, yeah, yeah. It’s always good to have a big bag. Well, to blame everything on. But it’s not so simple, especially when it comes to energy.

Robert Bryce 37:02
So let’s talk a little bit, if you don’t mind about I talked about Bulgaria and where you live. And you’ve seen I looked it up. So in Britannica between 1947 and 1989, Bulgarian foreign economic policy followed scrupulously the policies of the Soviet Union behind them. And then you became have thought I had it here, but it became part of NATO and then part of the EU, I mean, so in your lifetime, this remarkable amount of change is how do you think about that in terms of Bulgaria and being Bulgarian and what this you know, the the change in your country’s allegiance? Is that the right word are your alignment? Oh, yeah.

Irina Slav 37:47
Well, I could be polite about it. And I could be blunt about it. Let me see if I can

Robert Bryce 37:53
come up with you prefer blunt? So go out the blunt. Yes, yes. But

Irina Slav 37:58
I really don’t want to bad not my country. But I think like the European Union, Bulgaria to sense to rush into things rush into allegiances. Because for largely historical reasons, we have been sort of conditioned to always rely on somebody bigger than us. Whether it will be the big Russian brother, or the big European brother or the big American brother, we seem to be constantly looking for a big brother, to help us and save us from ourselves. And it’s really difficult for us to be independent in our policies and in our political thinking, which is a problem. Because I’ll give you an example about nuclear. We closed most of our reactors, we have one nuclear power plant, and with those most of our reactors, under pressure from Europe, then there were plans to build the old everything or the dangerous blah, blah. Then there were plans to build a new nuclear power plant. But the company that started building it was the Russian state nuclear company. And this was a problem with the EU. So the project got frozen in gold shelves and it still has not been completed. But now we’re talking about retiring our coal power plants because European Union requirements and we have nothing whatsoever to replace them with. It won’t happen next year, of course,

Robert Bryce 39:49
with we are rushing into things without a thoughtful analysis of

Irina Slav 39:55
what without a thoughtful analysis, and we seem to be a little too eager To please, the respective big brother of the day.

Robert Bryce 40:05
So not so rasa Tom was building a nuclear plant, and then that got suspended.

Irina Slav 40:12
I think that the good foundations I’m not sure I haven’t I haven’t studied this in detail. I’m just speaking from memory here. But yeah. And then there were arguments and suggestions that a US phone should build it. I think it was a see, but I maybe like so I’d rather not go into more detail because I’m not I’m not sure. But my memories, I remember there was an argument, and that the prevailing political climate was that Americans should build this second nuclear plant. But then something happened and it feels through. Basically, it’s bad planning. And it’s, again, to me wrong priorities, you prioritize pleasing whoever is your partner, at the moment, without thinking about the actual implications of your decisions. But that’s not something that’s unique to Bulgaria.

Robert Bryce 41:10
So let’s talk about that issue of energy security, because I think it’s one that’s now become very much key for Europe. And you mentioned the possibility of closing the coal plant in Bulgaria. But what’s obvious in today is that Europe is turning back to coal, that there’s a shortage in fact of coal, US coal consumption last year went up. 17%, which is on its own is remarkable that the United States would see such a big increase. But Germany, even France is now talking about using more coal. So suddenly, it seems that these, well, I’ll put it this way is the energy security argument, finally winning the day and that realizing we were rushing to close these coal plants too quickly?

Irina Slav 41:48
I’d say that reality is reasserting itself and facts are reasserting themselves. But as to whether this will have any effect on actual energy policy, I don’t think it will have the desired effect, even though the EU was kind enough to include natural gas, some natural gas projects in its green energy classification. But no, it seems like on both sides of the Atlantic politicians are so singularly focused on renewables, it’s, it’s become very difficult for them to consider any alternatives, or any facts such as the fact that coal consumption is rising when it shouldn’t be falling. Look, in Germany, the new German government just closed half of its remaining nuclear capacity is going to close the other half by the end of this year. But it’s generating more more electricity from coal. And somehow coal is suddenly greener than nuclear. It really doesn’t make sense.

Robert Bryce 43:06
But you don’t think I will I see where you’re going. Or what I think you’re saying is that there’s so much invested, there’s so much policy and momentum is renewable fiction, that it’s just going to continue. And even if it means driving over the cliff and into the industrialization, massive energy poverty, that this is just going to continue because the ideology is so strong. Is that what

Irina Slav 43:29
I think so especially when it comes to Germany, to me, to me, it looks like ideology winning over over common sense. I have no other explanations, no other explanation, because they cannot have already invested so much in future wind and solar supply, that they can’t afford to keep their nuclear power going for a while longer because, obviously, demand there is demand for electricity. Sure. But instead, they’re choosing to close their nuclear power plants shorten the deadline for closing the coal power plants, and they keep talking about wind and solar doesn’t make any sort of logical sense. So my only explanation is ideology, ideological considerations, baiting practical considerations.

Robert Bryce 44:33
But the price to be paid for this video is mean it’s staggering what the ultimate cost could be here in terms of human costs and industry lost etc. And and you said earlier you’re a pessimist I I call myself an incurable optimist, but I but isn’t that cute?

Irina Slav 44:58
No, no, it’s it’s it’s It’s a better a better way to be. Maybe being a pessimist is depressing. But if you’re an optimist, it’s good.

Robert Bryce 45:10
But, but I’ll tell you it. But what you’re saying though, it does make me more pessimistic because it seems that there, the reality is not winning the day is what I hear you say is that the reality of this energy crisis, this energy security crisis? And to me the most fundamental bit about it, I wrote it last year when I was hit with a blackout here in Austin, Texas. I mean, we’re one of the most energy rich provinces in the world, and we’re gonna freeze How can this possibly can this possibly happen? Well, I wrote energy security, the most fundamental bit about is making sure you don’t freeze to death in the winter. And now Europe is looking at the possibility of where if the gas runs out, you could have people freezing to death in the winter because of the lack of basic energy security, but so you don’t think McCrone and Boris Johnson are really getting the memo here that they’re understanding that they have to change course.

Irina Slav 46:05
Oh, McCrone is fine. France has a lot of nuclear energy, it was really unfortunate for them that they had to close these reactors now. But that was just an unfortunate circumstance. France has done its homework. France is a lot greener than the UK, right? Because of its nuclear energy. As for the UK, I’m afraid they’re on a collision course with with reality. Because they don’t really have the alternative, both of their biggest political parties are all about climate change emergency and this being the most important thing in the world ever. Even as more and more Britons are slipping below the poverty level. This is unbelievable. I was amazed when I read it in British media that the over a million children, I think living in poverty in one of the wealthiest European countries. One of the most developed economies in the world this is it’s a paradox. I’m not blaming wind power for this. I want to make this clear. Of course not blaming this on getting your priorities mixed up. Which is the case with much of Europe, if not most of Europe

Robert Bryce 47:36
arena, I noticed in doing a bit of research that you don’t just write about the energy business. He’s also you’ve also published a fiction book the dreamer, which is I gather as a sci fi thriller. So you it looks like you write all the time is that other part of your job is doing other fiction writing? Tell me about that?

Irina Slav 47:56
Yeah. Well, writing is the one thing I can do reasonably well. And I’m an avid reader, I have been all my life. And I just started writing at one point, it’s thrilling, nothing excited about it in terms of a story or something. I just had a lot of ideas and I started putting them on paper, figures.

Robert Bryce 48:26
One book or two books, whatever. Tell me about your fiction writing.

Irina Slav 48:30
Well, I’ve completed I think about four manuscripts. I have self published two books, and the dreamer is my first traditionally published novel. I’ve also got half a dozen short stories published in different anthologies. Horror, mostly. Yeah.

Robert Bryce 48:56
So I’m talking again with Irina Slav she is a energy writer, she right you can find her on oil And on substack on Rena sloth on energy on substack. So you said you read a lot? Whose work do you admire? When you’re looking at the energy business? Who do you follow that you think? Particularly given you’re largely you don’t just write about Europe, you write about the whole global energy sector? Whose work do you follow?

Irina Slav 49:22
In media? Well, there’ll be John came from Reuters. Julian Lee from Bloomberg. I’m Zambia, blah, blah. He’s still at Bloomberg, isn’t he? Yes. Yeah. Yeah, sure. Yeah. He’s he’s great as well. These are some of them.

Robert Bryce 49:45
Gotcha. And so what are you reading? You said, you read all the time and you’re writing fiction. Do you read fiction when you’re not working? Do you write nonfiction? What books do you

Irina Slav 49:55
I read fiction I need to read fiction because I spend my My days in nonfiction world well, I read pretty much anything. Most recently, I basically devoured the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay. I hadn’t read the books, which is interesting because I’m a great fan of the TV show. I read fantasy but not epic fantasy. That’s not not No Game of Thrones for me, that’s too epic. For me, but urban fantasy, I’m a devout follower, if I may say so Terry Pratchett, because I think he is, is unique in His rendering of the fantasy world and making it relevant to the real world and doing it in a really funny way.

Robert Bryce 50:52
And who is that? I’m sorry, say that name again?

Irina Slav 50:54
Every project is wretched. Okay, tissue all that? Yeah.

Robert Bryce 50:58
Yeah, I’m I read a lot. But I don’t you know, I skim a lot of books, but I’m not much not much of a fiction fiction reader. So last question, and this is one that I asked all my guests. So we we differ in some regards in terms of you know, I tend toward to be optimistic, you said you’re much more pessimistic. And maybe this isn’t a fair question, then that you’ve already admitted this. But what gives you hope?

Irina Slav 51:23
Oh, I don’t have hope. And people give me hope, not people in general, but the people I talk to, because they’re decent people, people with common sense. And my hope is that as long as there are people like this, as long as we’re not all zombified, by whatever dominant narrative we’re being fed, there is hope for all of us, as long as we retain our power of independence, relatively independent thinking instead of blindly following what, what social media or the news tells us, there is hope, things could get better. The reason I consider myself a pessimist actually is that I don’t get disappointed. It’s harder to get disappointed if you expect things to get voice.

Robert Bryce 52:25
Which of course reminds me of Lily Tomlin is great line, no matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up what is. Yeah, yeah. So if you start disappointed, then you might be surprised. Yeah. And you

Irina Slav 52:37
will be pleasantly surprised. Which is great.

Robert Bryce 52:43
I like that idea. Well, Irina, we’ve chatted a little less than an hour, but I think we’ve covered most of what I wanted to discuss any other thoughts you want to throw in about what we’ve covered so far? We pretty well get across it.

Irina Slav 52:56
I think we, we talked about it all. Great. And it was a pleasure.

Robert Bryce 53:02
No, very great to talk to you. So we’ll end it there. My guest is, has been arena Slav. She’s an energy writer at oil And on substack. You can find her on both of those outlets. Arena. Thanks again for being on the podcast. And thank you for having me. And thanks to all of you in podcast land. Tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. Until then, see ya.


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