EC To Be Sustainable, Green Energy Must Generate Adequate Taxable Revenue

What allows any type of energy to be sustainable? I would argue that one of the requirements for sustainability is adequate production of taxable revenue. Company managements depend upon taxable revenue for many purposes, including funding new investments and paying dividends to shareholders. Governments depend upon taxable income to collect enough taxes to provide infrastructure and programs for their growing populations.

Taxable income is a major way that “net energy” is transferred to future investment and to the rest of the economy. If this form of net energy is too low, governments will collapse from lack of funding. Energy production will fall from lack of reinvestment. This profitability needs to come from the characteristics of the energy products, allowing more goods and services to be produced efficiently. This profitability cannot be created simply by the creation of more government debt; the rise in the price of energy is tied to the affordability of goods, particularly the goods required by low-income people, such as food. This affordability issue tends to put a cap on prices that can be charged for energy products.

It seems to me that Green Energy sources are held to far too low a standard. Their financial results are published after subsidies, making them look profitable when they really are not. This is one of the things that makes many people from the financial community believe that Green Energy is the solution for the future.

In this post, I will discuss these ideas further. A related issue is, “Which type of oil production fell most in the 2018-2021 period?” Many people had expected that perhaps high-cost energy production that would fall. Strangely enough, the production that fell most was that of OPEC oil exporters. These oil exporters often have a very low cost of energy production. The production of US oil from shale also fell.

If the ratio of Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) is to be used as a measure of which type of energy best meets our needs, perhaps the list of items to be included in EROEI calculations needs to be broadened. Alternatively, more attention needs to be paid to unsubsidized taxable income as an indicator of net energy production.

[1] According to EIA data, world crude oil production hit a peak of 84.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the fourth quarter of 2018. Production fell as low as 72.3 million bpd in the third quarter of 2020. Production rebounded to 75.4 million barrels of oil a day, still 9.1 million bpd below peak production in the 4th quarter of 2018.

Figure 1. Quarterly crude and condensate production, based on international data of the US Energy Information Administration.

This drop in oil production was unprecedented. It far exceeded the drop in oil production at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. As of the first quarter of 2021, crude oil production was roughly at its level in 2011. It still has not rebounded very far.

[2] The biggest drop in crude oil production during this period was that of the cartel led by OPEC and Russia. United States’ oil production also fell during this period. Production of the Rest of the World, in total, was fairly flat.

Figure 2. Crude oil production through the first quarter of 2021 based on international data of the US Energy Information Administration.

The big concern of OPEC and Russia was that crude oil prices were too low to provide adequate tax revenue for the governments of these countries. This is especially an issue for countries with few other industries besides oil. These oil exporting countries tend to have large populations, with little employment besides government-sponsored projects. Nearly all food needs to be imported, so subsidies for food need to be provided if the many low-wage people are to be able to afford this food.

If oil prices are high, say $150 per barrel or higher in today’s dollars, it is generally fairly easy for governments to collect enough oil-related taxes. The actual cost of extraction is often very low for oil exporters, perhaps as little as $20 per barrel. The need for tax revenue greatly exceeds the direct expenses of extracting the oil. Companies can be asked to be pay as much as 90% of operating income (in this example, equal to $130 = $150 – $20 per barrel, probably only relating to exported oil) as taxes. The percentage varies greatly by country, with countries that have higher costs of production generally paying less in taxes.

Figure 3. Chart from 2013 showing “government take” as a percentage of operating income by Barry Rodgers Oil and Gas Consulting (website no longer available).

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