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Posts from — April 2012

‘Hard Facts: An Energy Primer’ (New IER educational effort launched)

Energy, the master resource, enables high living standards and promises future progress in virtually all areas of human betterment.

Energy heats our homes, lights the night, fuels our transportation, and powers our machines. Affordable energy improves economic efficiency and keeps the cost of goods and services down. All of us as consumers and as business people save money.

Low domestic energy prices create high-productivity jobs at home up. Energy made American great as a key input for a (relatively) free economy, and today’s home-grown energy boom can help keep America great.

Appreciated another way, energy plenty allows us to spend more time with our families and friends–and less time merely working to survive. Moreover, by making transportation less costly, affordable energy gives us greater freedom to live, work, and play how and where we want.

There are, however, a number of challenges to maintaining a sufficient supply of affordable energy. Seemingly every year there is a new energy bill in Congress that alleges to fix our energy problems. The flawed premises of these bills result in misplaced, repeated calls for a new national energy policy in place of greater reliance on free-market forces.

Energy policy would be greatly improved if policymakers took into account the actual energy landscape. Far too often, energy bills are based on incorrect assumptions, such as the notion that new, revolutionary technologies, such as affordable cellulosic ethanol, are just around the corner if only the federal government provides the energy industry sufficient mandates and subsidies. Time after time, experience has shown that the government cannot force new technologies to market.

Policymakers should take time to understand the facts about energy and the obstacles to making it affordable and reliable given its critical role in our lives and our economy. America is home to vast natural resources, but many of our energy policies are built on the notion that energy is scarce and becoming more scarce.

The reality is that we have more combined oil, coal, and natural gas resources than any other country on the planet. We have enough energy resources to provide reliable and affordable energy for decades, even centuries to come. The only real question is whether we will have access to our abundant energy resources, not whether sufficient resources exist.

What follows are many key facts , hard facts, that energy educators must stress to the citizenry, media, academics, and lawmakers. The fact list begins with fossil fuels, continues with renewables and nuclear energy, and then looks at energy efficiency and environmental issues. (For the full IER report, see here) [Read more →]

April 30, 2012   5 Comments

Progressive Energy vs. “Renewable” Energy

“Renewable energy” has two fundamental conceptual flaws. It’s not really renewable, and it’s not really energy.

What is “Renewable”?

“Renewable” in most definitions approximates to something like “naturally replenished” and it often contrasted with allegedly inferior, “finite” sources. It brings to mind the image of a pizza where a slice, once eaten, magically reappears.

There is no such phenomenon in nature, though. Everything is finite. The sun and the photons and wind currents it generates are not infinite; they are just all part of a very large nuclear fusion reaction. True, that nuclear fusion reaction will last billions of years, but so will the staggering amounts of untapped energy stored in every atom of our “finite” planet.

To obsess about whether a given potential energy source will last hundreds of years or billions of years is to neglect the key issue that matters to human life here and now: whether it can actually provide the usable energy that will maximize the quantity and quality of human life.

Usable vs. Unusable Energy

The key question about energy is not whether it is “finite”–everything is–but whether it is usable.

This is borne out by the history of energy production. For most of human history, our amount of usable energy was barely above the amount needed to power our muscles (and during famines, not even that). There was copious amounts of unusable energy–the chemical bonds in deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas, the mechanical energy of the wind, the photons of the sun, and, greatest of all, the energy stored in all the matter around us, whose proportions were quantified when Einstein identified that E=MC^2. [Read more →]

April 27, 2012   19 Comments

Strident Climate Alarmism: Zwick meets Gleick

“We know who the active [climate-change] denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies. Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay. Let’s let their houses burn. Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands. Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices….  They broke the climate.”

- Steve Zwick, Forbes, April 19, 2012.

As Chip Knappenberger chronicled earlier this week, there are a number of positive developments in climate science that contradict the doomism and negativity of many climate campaigners. There are benefits, not only costs, to greater carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere.

And so it came as a shock, a chill, to read the above quotation from Steve Zwick, the editor of the Ecosystem Marketplace and a contributor (as I am) to Forbes online.

Mr. Zwick has since backtracked in the face of criticism that his inflammatory (hate?) speech was hurting his cause (Mr. Zwick, meet Mr. Gleick).

But why does such raw emotionalism keep rearing its unsavory head–even to the point that the guilty damage their own sacred cause? Peter Gleick has certainly self-destructed for a moment of relief or joy.

The answer is that the public is not buying climate alarmism, and the window is closing to do anything about it (James Hansen’s 10-year clock is ticking louder and louder). And in the face of mounting evidence that the ‘uncertain science’ holds good news, some on the other side with so much vested emotional and intellectual baggage on the issue are not ‘sleeping on it’ as much as they should.

Hence bad decisions like the above op-ed by Mr. Zwick….

Crying Wolf Backfires

Back in 2007, a far-Left group published a warning from two climate scientists, urging ‘don’t cry Wolf on climate change issues.’ And more more recently at a climate-panel discussion at Imperial College (UK), James Randerson of The Guardian commented: [Read more →]

April 26, 2012   9 Comments

Windpower Reconsidered: Testimony before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee

This month, two subcommittees of the House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee [1] held a joint hearing,  “Impact of Tax Policies on the Commercial Application of Renewable Energy Technology.”

I was one of nine witnesses testifying. In addition to myself, the let-the-market-decide witnesses were Dr. Benjamin Zycher, Visiting Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Tax and Other Subsidies for Renewable Energy Should Be Abandoned; and Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council for Capital Formation (testimony here).

The subcommittee Republicans were prepared, well informed, and interested in drawing out the facts. The Democrats, on the defensive, complained that the hearing was happening, argued the subcommittees lacked the jurisdiction to hold the hearing, and claimed that renewables were being short-changed compared to oil and gas.

A summary of my testimony (full version here) follows:

Background and Purpose

Energy policy in the United States calls for the aggressive deployment of renewable generation which has led to an explosion of expensive renewable resources that are variable, operating largely off-peak, off-season and are located in rural areas with limited transmission. [Read more →]

April 25, 2012   12 Comments

The Folly of E15 Anti-hydrocarbon Policies

The Clinton Administration said back in 1999: “Biomass will be for the next century what petroleum was for this century.” [1] But with expensive experience with money and performance, we now know that U.S. EPA’s E-15 ethanol plan is bad for our pocketbooks, environment and energy policy.

The Obama Administration’s anti-hydrocarbon ideology and “renewable” energy mythology continues to subsidize crony capitalists and the politicians they help keep in office – on the backs of American taxpayers, ratepayers and motorists. The latest chapter in the sorry ethanol saga is a perfect example.

Bowing to pressure from ADM, Cargill, Growth Energy and other Big Ethanol lobbyists, Lisa Jackson’s Environmental Protection Agency has decided to allow ethanol manufacturers to register as suppliers of E15 gasoline. E15 contains 15% ethanol, rather than currently mandated 10% blends.

The next lobbying effort will focus on getting E15 registered as a fuel in individual states and persuading oil companies to offer it at service stations. But according to the Associated Press and Washington Post, Team Obama already plans to provide taxpayer-financed grants, loans and loan guarantees to “help station owners install 10,000 blender pumps over the next five years” and promote the use of biofuels.

Pummeled by Obama policies that have helped send regular gasoline prices skyrocketing from $1.85 a gallon when he took office to $4.00 today – many motorists will welcome any perceived “bargain gas.” E15 will likely reduce their obvious pump pain by several cents a gallon, thus persuading people to fill up their cars, trucks and maybe even boats, lawnmowers and other equipment with the new blends.

That would be a huge mistake. [Read more →]

April 24, 2012   5 Comments

Earth Day 2012: Top 10 Positive Climate Developments

The scientific findings of the human influence on the climate system have been, and perhaps will always be, a mixed bag. Assuming strong positive feedback effects, and thus a high climate sensitivity, it certainly can be argued that the bad outweighs the good. But if feedback effects are more neutral, the sign of the externality flips from negative to positive given that, on net, a moderately warmer, wetter, and CO2-fertilized world is quite arguably a better one.

Earth Day 2012 yesterday brought forth predictable cries of doom-and-gloom. But there are plenty of positives on closer inspection on the climate front, developments which have undoubtedly spilled over into making the earth a better place for humanity at large.

Here is my Top 10 list of positive climate developments based on the recent empirical data and the latest scientific literature:

10) The growing season across the Northern Hemisphere is expanding; [Read more →]

April 23, 2012   45 Comments

“Happy Earth Day” by Julian Simon

[Editor note: Julian Simon titled this silver-anniversary essay, "Earth Day: Spiritually Uplifting, Intellectually Debased." Posts about the ideas of Simon (1932–1997), an inspiration to this blog, can be found here.]

April 22 [1995] marks the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Now as then its message is spiritually uplifting. But all reasonable persons who look at the statistical evidence now available must agree that Earth Day’s scientific premises are entirely wrong.

During the first great Earth Week in 1970 there was panic. The public’s outlook for the planet was unrelievedly gloomy. The doomsaying environmentalists–of whom the dominant figure was Paul Ehrlich–raised the alarm: The oceans and the Great Lakes were dying; impending great famines would be seen on television starting in 1975; the death rate would quickly increase due to pollution; and rising prices of increasingly-scarce raw materials would lead to a reversal in the past centuries’ progress in the standard of living.

The media trumpeted the bad news in headlines and front-page stories. Professor Ehrlich was on the Johnny Carson show for an unprecedented full hour–twice. Classes were given by television to tens of thousands of university students.

It is hard for those who did not experience it to imagine the national excitement then. Even those who never read a newspaper joined in efforts to clean up streams, and the most unrepentant slobs refrained from littering for a few weeks. Population growth was the great bugaboo. [Read more →]

April 20, 2012   4 Comments

Health Effects of Windpower on Residences: Canadian Debate Update

Industrial wind turbines in human habitats are becoming increasingly controversial and subject to environmental laws and restrictions. To this end, a long, urgent letter was sent to the Attorney Generals of Canada, the Premiers, and to the Prime Minister of Canada with copies to every Parliamentarian in the country as well as the Senate.

The senseless and wasteful proliferation of industrial wind factories across North America impacts the Canadian and U.S. economy, the environment, the health of people including the disabled, the elderly, and children, who depend on the legal system for protection and redress. We have the opportunity to learn from the errors of Europe, and stop the carnage now.

Industrial wind turbines are not green. They do not produce electricity, less than half of one percent internationally, despite massive, thoughtless, energy sprawl. They harm humans, wildlife, and drive the economy into disarray. Witness the plight of Greece, Spain, Italy and many others.

With over 600 anti-wind groups in North American and Europe, and with 2,800 worldwide, the imperative nature for a moratorium call is clear and irrepressible.

An excerpt from the full letter concerning health issues of residents near wind turbines follows. [Read more →]

April 19, 2012   1 Comment

Obama’s Quiet Executive Order: Reaffirming and Expanding Federal Powers

“The authority of the President … to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders (other than contracts of employment) to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders, and to allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense, is delegated to the following agency heads … [including] the Secretary of Energy with respect to all forms of energy.”

In preparing a list for MasterResource of federal energy policy reforms to free Alaska, and thus bolster America’s economy, I came across an Executive Order (E.O.) signed by the President last month with little or no fanfare. His new authority empowers him, in certain circumstances, to assume control over the energy industry—along with the rest of the economy.

Such executive branch power puts Congress and the courts in an inferior position. It also creates a new anti-production risk in addition to current federal policy regarding lease sales; ocean policy; ANWR; OCS; and arbitrary and capricious application of the Endangered Species, Clean Water and Clean Air acts.

‘National Defense Resources Preparedness’

How many of our readers knew that on March 16, 2012, one month ago, the President signed an Executive Order (E.O.)– giving himself access to dictatorial powers — under the guise of ‘national defense’ under authority of Defense Production Act of 1950. These powers will potentially control the means of production–including energy production.

We are suspicious of White House motives because if this E.O. were necessary and its objectives noble, we would have been treated to a transparent, presidential announcement and/or press conference. Pardon us for being suspicious as well of main stream media complicity, due to a deafening silence coming from the Fourth Estate. [Read more →]

April 18, 2012   8 Comments

“Are the Merits of Wind Power Overblown?” (1997 op-ed: How does it read today?)

It was an opinion-page editorial that was not warmly received by my employer at the time, Enron Corp. “Wind power poses several major dilemmas,” my Washington Times piece read.

Among them, it remains uneconomical despite heavy subsidies from ratepayers and taxpayers over the last two decades—through 1995 the Department of Energy (DOE) had spent $900 million in wind energy subsidies. Second, wind farms are noisy, land intensive, unsightly, and hazardous to birds, including endangered species.

In response, Ken Karas, chairman & CEO of Enron Wind Corporation, wrote to Tom White, chairman & CEO of Enron Renewables Corporation:

Does Bradley still work for Enron? If so, I believe he should be terminated. This article is pure yellow journalism….

I was not terminated, but I reached a (fair) agreement with Enron CEO Ken Lay that I would stop writing about windpower given the obvious commercial interest and stockholder stake Enron had in this sector. My job was important to me, and I was able to advance my ideals in other ways by remaining an internal voice for free markets and climate realism (versus alarmism).

Here is the Washington Times article reprinted with slight revision by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. At the (almost) 15-year mark, and as an early windpower ‘expose’, how do the arguments hold up today? [Read more →]

April 17, 2012   6 Comments