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Posts from — January 2010

PR’ing Industrial Wind: Government and Media versus Common Sense

The New York Times dutifully featured this week two media events primed to gin up public—and Congressional—support for industrial wind technology.

The first was a “study” by the Department of Energy and authored primarily by David Corbus of the National Renewable Energy Lab. It claims that, for a startup cost of around $100 billion public dollars, “wind could displace coal and natural gas for 20 to 30 percent of the electricity used in the eastern two-thirds of the United States by 2024.” Corbus acknowledged that such an enterprise would require substantial grid modification but said the $100 billion was “really, really small compared to other costs,” which the Times failed to identify.

A few days later, the paper of record ballyhooed the annual report of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which touted the growth of wind last year and projected that the country would soon get 2 percent of its electricity from wind energy. The report fretted about the American wind gap with Europe, which AWEA alleged gets 5 percent of its electricity from wind, compared to only about 1 percent in the USA, while stating “Denmark has essentially achieved that goal already, and sometimes produces more wind power than it can use.”

AWEA’s stalking horse for this PR event, energy consultant Tim Stephure, said, “By 2020 wind’s installed capacity could be five times higher than it is today, reaching about 180,000 megawatts.”

To achieve this goal, from its present base of 35,000 wind turbines and an installed capacity of about 35,000 MW, the industry must build, in each of the next ten years, an installed capacity of 14,500 MW.  This is pure speculation and, more accurately, nonsense. [Read more →]

January 30, 2010   9 Comments

IPCC “Consensus”—Warning: Use at Your Own Risk

The findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are often held up as representing “the consensus of scientists”—a pretty grandiose and presumptuous claim. And one that in recent days, weeks, and months, has been unraveling. So too, therefore, must all of the secondary assessments that are based on the IPCC findings—the most notable of which is the EPA’s Endangerment Finding—that “greenhouse gases taken in combination endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations.”

Recent events have shown, rather embarrassingly, that the IPCC is not “the” consensus of scientists, but rather the opinions of a few scientists (in some cases as few as one) in various subject areas whose consensus among themselves is then kludged together by the designers of the IPCC final product who a priori know what they want the ultimate outcome to be (that greenhouse gases are leading to dangerous climate change and need to be restricted). So clearly you can see why the EPA (who has a similar objective) would decide to rely on the IPCC findings rather than have to conduct an independent assessment of the science with the same predetermined outcome. Why go through the extra effort to arrive at the same conclusion?

The EPA’s official justification for its reliance on the IPCC’s findings is that it has reviewed the IPCC’s “procedures” and found them to be exemplary.

Below is a look at some things, recently revealed, that the IPCC “procedures” have produced. These recent revelations indicate that the “procedures” are not infallible and that highly publicized IPCC results are either wrong or unjustified—which has the knock-on effect of rendering the IPCC an unreliable source of information. Unreliable doesn’t mean wrong in all cases, mind you, just that it is hard to know where and when errors are present, and as such, the justification that “the IPCC says so” is no longer sufficient (or acceptable). [Read more →]

January 29, 2010   15 Comments

Big Wind: How Many Households Served, What Emissions Reduction? (Part 2)

Press reports in the Financial Times and other news outlets describe a wind project in Oregon with 338 machines of 2.5 MW each, giving a total capacity of 845 MW. The project sponsors claim that they will provide enough energy to serve 235,000 households and reduce CO2 output by 1.5 million tonnes annually.

Part I demonstrated that the served-household claims is fanciful. In reality, no more than 49,000 households could be “supplied”, and these with only a minimal degree of assurance. Indeed, the wind project is more costly than a diesel backup scheme that would actually be capable of supplying reliable power to several hundred thousand households. The wind project is also three times more costly than a replacement of just 211 MW of older coal capacity with new technology that would provide a similar reduction in emissions, while supplying firm power to the NW Power Pool’s customers.

Opportunity-cost economics, anyone?

The key to wind’s providing some degree of fuel and emissions savings is its ability to deliver reliable electricity without shadowing or backup by hydrocarbon-using plants. These shadowing/backup requirements in the Northwest (NW) Power Pool may be able to take advantage of existing surplus hydro capacity in that region during off-peak periods (spring and fall), thereby permitting the proposed plant to reduce hydrocarbon consumption and emissions somewhat during those periods. It is not reasonable to expect to achieve the claimed emissions savings, but lower figures, less than half the publicized savings, may be possible.

In particular, the addition of wind generation, with shadowing/ backup provided by reservoir hydro, may be able to reduce overall CO2 emissions in California, the ultimate customer for the electricity produced by the GE project during Oregon’s two surplus seasons. But during the winter and summer peak demand periods, less hydro output is available, peak demand is greater and the shadowing backup will be provided by some combination of gas-fired and coal plants. What it is critical to keep in mind is that maintaining stability in the NW Power Pool requires the pool to shadow/backup not only the proposed new project, but the other 6.4 GW of existing wind as well.

Going further, our analysis shows there are less costly and more effective alternatives readily available that rival or exceed the claimed benefits of this wind project. [Read more →]

January 28, 2010   5 Comments

Big Wind: How Many Households Served, What Emissions Reduction? (A Case Study, Part 1 of 2)

In the midst of a bitter winter in North America and Europe, General Electric has announced a large wind project to be built in Oregon. Press reports in the Financial Times and USA Today describe a project of 338 machines of 2.5 MW each, giving a total capacity of 845 MW.

With power grids strained due to heating demand, increments to generating capacity are to be welcomed. But along with the usual hoopla about homes served and CO2 emissions savings, it is time for some “devil’s advocacy” by asking: – how much energy and capacity will this project really create? How much CO2 will be saved? And when the chips are down will consumers and grid operators be pleased that their funds have gone into wind rather than into some other generating source?

We strongly suspect that neither consumers nor grid operators will benefit greatly from this plant. Our brief analysis of this announcement shows that the claims for houses served and carbon saved are not supported, though some incremental, useful energy supply may be possible under some circumstances. All such claims depend on the system operator’s ability to use the wind farms’ output to offset hydro generation, the key generation resource in the Northwest United States (NW). [Read more →]

January 27, 2010   15 Comments

Dear U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Why Attempt to Resuscitate a Brain Dead Climate Bill?

“Politically oriented capitalism, whatever particular form it takes, involves the granting by the state of privileged opportunities for profit. Such openings are available only to those with connections or to those who can pay for influence.” 

-          Scott, James. Comparative Political Corruption. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972, p. 52.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress (Center for American Progress) is holding out hope against hope that a climate bill–just about any climate bill–will be passable in 2010. He regurgitates a Boston Globe piece under the headline, Graham, Kerry, Lieberman meet with Rahm Emanuel — and then Chamber of Commerce, whose VP of Gov’t Affairs said, “generally we were in synch”!

This brings up the question: why is the Chamber of Commerce negotiating with the enemies of true (consumer-driven) economic recovery?

This incident reminded me of a section from my book Capitalism at Work (chapter 6, pp. 172–74) that deals with the Chamber of Commerce in a historical sense. (There is a Ken Lay surprise–read on.)

A collection of speeches given in 1966/67 by the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was published by McGraw-Hill as The Business of Business: Private Enterprise and Public Affairs. M. A. “Mike” Wright, chairman of Humble Oil & Refining Company (now ExxonMobil), urged his fellow executives to be more proactive in public and government affairs to improve the business environment and better society. “Virtually every business decision today is affected by public laws, regulations, and policies,” he stated, yet industry leaders were often “indifferent” or “negative” rather than “creative” and “positive” toward lawmaking. [Read more →]

January 26, 2010   5 Comments

“The Great Climate Debate” at Rice University: The Science is NOT Settled (Richard Lindzen and Gerald North to Revisit the IPCC ‘Consensus’)

On Wednesday evening January 27th a discussion of the latest developments in climate change science will be held on the campus of Rice University (directions below for those nearby). This discussion/debate is cosponsored by the Shell Center for Sustainability and the Center for the Study of Environment and Society at Rice. Here is the flyer:

Public debate invitation Jan 27

Defending the IPCC consensus regarding natural-versus-anthropogenic climate change is Gerald R. North, Distinguished Professor of the Physical Section, Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Oceanography at Texas A&M University.

Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts of Technology, will challenge the IPCC consensus, arguing that real-world climate sensitivity lies below the iconic range of 2c–4.5C. Questions about ‘Climategate’ and the newly emerged  ‘Himalayangate’ (the latter exposed by Dr. North’s Texas A&M colleague, John Nielsen-Gammon) are expected to be covered in the question/answer period after the scientists’ formal 30-minute presentations.

[DIRECTIONS McMurtry Auditorium is located in Duncan Hall. Visitor parking is available to anyone with a credit card.  Visitor Parking “L” and Founder’s Court Visitor are the closest to Duncan Hall, in particular using the Rice main entrance on South Main Street at Sunset Blvd. Another parking lot is the North Lot, 5-8 min walk to Duncan Hall, on Rice blvd using entrance # 21 or 20.

Rice campus map: http://www.rice.edu/maps/maps.html]

Having this climate debate is very good news. The last climate science debate at Rice University was in the summer of 2000 at the James A. Baker Institute. Therein lies a story…. [Read more →]

January 25, 2010   5 Comments

Bootleggers and Baptists Tackle (Carbon) Prohibition

Editor note: This post from one year ago is reprinted for its continuing relevance to the climate-change debate. The “bootleggers” are hard at work in the post-Enron era with nearly 150 companies, lead by Exelon Corp., Entergy Corp., and Constellation Energy Group Inc., buying 30-second television spots running from today through President Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday. 

The climate-change public policy debate might be thought of as a straightforward morality play. In one corner, we have the good guys laboring mightily against all odds to save the planet from rampant consumerism, human short-sightedness, and corporate greed. In the other corner, we have the bad guys, laboring mightily to preserve their profits by stoking materialism, economic selfishness, and fear of big government. Behind the curtains of this morality play, however, is a fascinating dance between the “good guys” (the Baptists) and “bad guys” (the bootleggers) to pass some form of mutually beneficial prohibition.

The emergence of the bootlegger and Baptist coalition in climate change politics has never been more obvious than last week, when the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP – a coalition of big business and big environmental groups) put forward its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 through a mandatory, economy-wide cap-and-trade program. While this is somewhat less ambitious than President Obama’s proposal (an 80 percent reduction over that same time period relative to 1990 levels), the real give-away about what’s going on can be found in the proposed emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants. To wit:

• any such facility permitted after Jan. 1, 2015, could not emit more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions now considered normal for coal-fired power plants; and

• any newly permitted coal-fired power plant today would have to have the ability to be retrofitted to meet that standard.

This, dear readers, is little but a replay of the old-source/new-source standards incorporated in the Clean Air Act (CAA), which likewise established tough emissions standards for future power plants but much lighter rules for plants currently in operation. The best review of what happened then and why is the classic Clean Coal/Dirty Air, pointedly subtitled How the Clean Air Act Became a Multibillion-Dollar Bail-Out for High-Sulfur Coal Producers and What Should Be Done about It (Yale University Press, 1981). The authors, Bruce Ackerman and William Hassler, were environmentalists with sterling credentials who simply could not stomach the deal necessary to bring the business community into the pro-CAA camp. Alas, their whistle-blowing operation gained so little attention and had such little impact that, today, environmentalists cannot discuss the Clean Air Act without making the sign of the cross and whispering in awed reverence. [Read more →]

January 23, 2010   16 Comments

Climategate Is Still Relevant (Alarmism discredited in public policy debate)

Most everyone in science or politics is familiar with the scandal that erupted after hundreds of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were made public several months ago. The emails between climate scientists expose evidence of climate-data manipulation, conspiracies to silence scientists critical of man-made global-warming theory, and dodging of freedom-of-information requests.

Climategate became shorthand for bad behavior.  The climate-science community scrambled. The United Nations and myriad other groups trembled about the scandal’s implications for their own climate agendas. Investigations commenced into the actions of the CRU’s director, Phil Jones, and of Penn State’s Michael Mann, author of the infamous, debunked “hockey-stick” climate graph.

Yet today things have become relatively quiet. Though the media and much of the public have turned their attention to other stories, including the failure of climate politics in Copenhagen and the backlash against Obama’s Chicago-hard politics, a key lesson from Climategate remains: climate policy has not been and is not being guided by sound science.

Indeed, Climategate is further proof that climate science is not settled, yet politicians and regulators continue to use such science as their chief justification for legislation/regulation to control carbon. Look no further than the endangerment finding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticized by Marlo Lewis in a devastating two-part post here at MasterResource.

How can climate research that is in open dispute among climate scientists be sufficient to lead the charge for sweeping government regulation and global government? Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming has myriad areas of theoretical and empirical controversy, yet our political leaders warn of certain climate catastrophe. Genuine disagreement exists within the scientific community regarding the causes of climate change, but we’re told (for example, by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) that anyone who argues with the science is “kinda silly.”

Au contraire. Climate-model predictions do not square with reality yet serve as the foundation for the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global authority for climate science. Instead of diligently pursuing facts and hard data, sound science and prudence, too many political leaders rush foolhardily into a policy agenda laden with unknowns, misinformation, and, now, scandal. [Read more →]

January 22, 2010   5 Comments

Peter Lang on Australian Windpower: High Costs, Low Emission Reduction

The higher costs and inferior reliability of government-mandated wind power and solar power are well known to students of the electricity market. Many analyses on wind and solar have documented their real-world problems.

But another negative aspect of wind and solar technologies is their failure to live up to their raison d’être: emissions reduction. As I have explained in a four-part post, firming intermittent electric generation requires very inefficient fossil-fuel generation that creates incremental emissions compared to a situation where there is not wind or solar and fossil-fired generation can run more smoothly. This is a huge insight, a game changer, that could take the renewable energy debate in a new direction entirely.

A number of studies are emerging that quantify both the cost premium of politically-forced renewables and the minimal amounts of emissions reduction (and even notable emissions increase) resulting from their use. Country-specific studies (such as the one under review) present a methodology that is applicable to other jurisdictions (such as the U.S.) to better assess policy options and their consequences for all stakeholders, including taxpayers.

Peter Lang’s important new study, Emissions Cuts Realities – Electricity Generation, analyzes five options for the Australian electricity system for cutting CO2 emissions over the period 2010 to 2050 compared to business-as-usual (BAU) in terms of cost. The range of CO2 emissions reductions by 2050 compared to 2010 is from zero to 80%.

The conclusions that Lang draws include:

  1. The nuclear option provides the largest reduction in CO2 emissions – 80%.
  2. Any CO2 emissions reduction achieved with wind and solar thermal (there are arguably none and even increases) is “achieved” at a very high cost – 250-300% of 2010 costs.

Lang’s analysis is very conservative. The author’s preference seems to be to gain an unassailable beachhead in a very contentious debate. But in reviewing his data, I see confirmation that new wind or solar capacity provide marginal reduction in CO2 emissions at best. I would even argue that there are emission increases because any reductions due to new renewables are dependent upon solar thermal technology development by 2020 providing sufficient thermal storage to allow operation for 8,000 hours per year.

Other conclusions that can be reached are:

  1. The nuclear option provides an effective ‘bridge’ to future generation technologies.
  2. The extraordinarily large funding required for the implementation of new renewables in this period would be better spent on energy efficiency/conservation programs and in research and development for other technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear waste management, nuclear fusion and solar.

In summary, Lang’s study and other considerations provide another illustration of the failure of industrial-scale new renewables, particularly wind and in the near future, solar, to meet societies’ goals. They do not provide the impact that is needed in terms of energy independence, avoidance of fossil fuel use and reductions in CO2 emissions that conventional wisdom, with all its inadequacies, dictates.

My summary of Lang’s paper follows. [Read more →]

January 21, 2010   9 Comments

“Cap-and-Trade” Is Dead–Will the “Federal Renewables Mandate” Be Next? (An “environmental tea party” may be brewing against industrial windpower)

Temperature trends, Climategate, Copenhagen, IPCC falsification, and now the Massachusetts Revolution–cap-and-trade is dead, the political pundits say. So much for the  inevitability argument that I heard from my colleagues during the Enron years (“come on Rob, get out in front of it and shape it!”), as well as the science-is-settled that had been the Word.

But what about a scaled back energy/climate bill with the key provision of a federal renewables mandate? Has the ‘Massachusetts Revolution’ killed that too?

We will soon find out. But one thing can be certain: Americans from coast-to-coast and border-to-border are going to look more closely at wind power, and I do not believe they are going to like what they see. (Enron, anyone?) Witness the growing complaints from the grass roots–including in-the-trenches real environmentalists–that industrial wind is intrusive, costly, and unreliable.

As an indication of the grass roots revolution against wind, consider the summary I received today from Glenn Schleede on the activities of a group call the Industrial Wind Action. Schleede, a longtime voice in the wilderness on the problems of wind, said this in his note.

Ladies & Gentlemen:

Here’s a recent newsletter-summary of recent articles on wind energy.

Perhaps you, too, have noticed that the negative environmental, energy and economic impacts of wind energy are totally ignored by the people on the payroll of the US DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE), the DOE’s National “Laboratories” (particularly, NREL and LBNL), EPA, and Interior.

Since these folks are totally dependent on taxpayer dollars for their jobs, one might think they would be somewhat objective and responsive to the public interest — but perhaps they think that they have a higher calling.

Thank God for the tea party movement!!  May it grow and grow!!

Glenn Schleede

Here is the snapshot of action and analysis on the wind front from WindAction.

Is the Obama Administration watching and listening to this “Environmental Tea Party”? They had better. Energy is the master resource and second only to health care as a percentage of the national economy. The masses want and expect affordable, reliable energy for their homes, businesses, and vehicles. [Read more →]

January 20, 2010   9 Comments