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Posts from — September 2012

Challenging Bill McKibben and the Green Establishment: The Environmental Case for Fossil Fuels

I’m debating Bill McKibben this November on the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Here is a preview.

99.9% of discussion of fossil fuels and our environment ignores the single most important fact about fossil fuels and our environment: fossil fuels have made our environment amazingly good.

The difference between a healthy environment and an unhealthy environment can be summed up in one word, and it’s not “CO2” or “climate” or “temperature.” It’s “development.”

Every region of the world, in its undeveloped state, is full of deadly environmental hazards such as indoor air pollution, bacteria-filled water, excessive cold, excessive heat, lack of rainfall, too much rainfall, powerful storms, disease-carrying insects, lack of sanitation, disease-carrying crops and animals, etc.

And yet some nations, such as the US, have the best air, water, indoor temperature, crops, sanitation, water supplies, storm-protection, disease-prevention, sanitation, and overall environmental quality in human history–while others are plagued by heat waves, cold snaps, drought, storms, crop failures, malaria and dozens of other dread diseases, filth, dung-burning fires, lack of clean drinking water.

The reason for this is development–the improvement of nature to meet human needs. Development means water purification systems, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-improved crops, dams, sea walls, heating, air conditioning, sturdy homes, drained swamps, central power stations, vaccination, pharmaceuticals, and so on.

Every aspect of development has one common requirement: cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. And we would not have cheap, plentiful, reliable energy without the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuels have transformed hazardous natural environments the world over into healthy human environments–environments that include an unprecedented ability to explore and safely enjoy nature. [Read more →]

September 28, 2012   13 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part V – Other Considerations and Conclusions)

“The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy?”

As shown in Part I (Introduction & Summary), Part II (Analysis Approach & Implementation Costs), Part III (Total Costs), and Part IV  (Subsidies & Emissions), wind fails on the major considerations of cost and emissions. Yet unbelievably, it still enjoys general popularity and significant government support and subsidization. The answer must be in my response to question 1 in Part I: Wind is seen as a silver bullet – environmentally and politically.

On top of this, there are many other problems with wind that can cause serious, and needless, damage to society. I do not typically focus on most of these, and I cannot do justice to them, but they are worthy of attention. So I shall try, but I will only be scratching the surface. References cited for these are my selections only. Readers are invited to supply additional support with comments.

Anyone wishing to know more about these issues can start with the wealth of information that Lisa Linowes at Industrial Wind Action Group has compiled on wind matters. Also included in references below are examples of other excellent sources of general information on wind.

The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy? [Read more →]

September 27, 2012   9 Comments

Electric Car Verdict: Another Government-Subsidized Bust

When government tries to pick losers and winners, it typically picks losers. Why? Because in a free market, consumers pick winners to leave the losers for government.

The U.S. energy market is rich with examples. In the 1970s, synthetic fuel projects that went bust, and the Synthetics Fuel Corporation was terminated with much of its funds still unspent. In the same period, the California Energy Commission decided (see p.24) that methanol-powered (M-85) vehicles were the transportation future for their state. But advances in reformulated gasoline and onboard vehicle technology removed the benefits of converting natural gas, wood products, and coal into this transportation fuel. The methanol fad quietly went away.

EV Largesse: $2.2 billion

It seems like only yesterday that electric vehicles (EVs) were a pillar of Obama’s government-knows-best transportation strategy. “Seeking to put the nation back in the lead on an important technology,” Matthew Wald wrote in the New York Times in August 2009,” the Obama administration awarded more than $2 billion in grants on Wednesday for manufacturing advanced batteries and other components for electric cars.” Wald explained the thinking:

The money comes from the economic stimulus package and is intended to further several goals: cutting dependence on petroleum, reducing carbon emissions, creating jobs and giving the United States a better start on what is likely to be a competitive global industry as companies start bringing electric cars to market.

Ford ($30 million), Chrysler ($70 million), GM ($136 million), Compact Power ($151 million), Nissan ($100 million), Navistar International ($39 million), EnerG2 ($21 million), and Cascade Sierra Solutions ($22 million), among others, need to tell we-the-people what we has coem from our tax dollars.

Age-Old Mirage

Electric vehicles were in wide use before gasoline proved to be superior more than a century ago. In a famous exchange in 1896, none other than Thomas Edison gave confirmation to Henry Ford to go with his internal combustion engine. Edison to the budding engineer:

Young man, that’s the thing; you have it. Keep at it. Electric cars must keep near to power stations. The storage battery is too heavy. Steam cars won’t do, either, for they require a boiler and fire. Your car is self-contained—carries its own power plant—no fire, no boiler, no smoke and no steam. You have the thing. Keep at it.

Henry Ford remembered: [

September 26, 2012   9 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part IV – Subsidies and Emissions)

This post is part of a five-part series on the adverse consequences of imposing industrial-scale wind plants on electricity systems. The series shows that there is no valid reason to pursue the policy of implementing new renewable energy sources in electricity generation, especially wind.

This post provides more information on the subsidies and emissions considerations for the scenarios summarized in Part I. Parts II and III dealt with cost implications. Part V this Thursday will focus on a number of other issues providing a complete picture of wind’s undesirability and unfeasibility in all respects.

Part I also provides links to the rest of the series.


Because subsidy issues are often raised, comparing those for wind and other generation plants, it is appropriate to show their effect on a MWh basis, regardless of the absolute amounts. The subsidy related to producing a useful output is the important consideration, because this is how electricity is generated, used and paid for. Table IV-1 shows this, but at the level that the wind plant owner experiences, not the full costs of wind to society, that is including wind balancing plant and unique-to-wind grid investments. Note the very high wind subsidies, especially relative to this limited view of costs. [Read more →]

September 25, 2012   4 Comments

Unloading Hansen’s ‘Climate Dice’

“Today’s temperature ‘extremes’ are simply yesterday’s extremes warmed up a bit, partly from the heat-island effect. But they are not new events…. Hansen’s push on weather extremes is another case where the level of alarm is disproportionate to the level of impact.” 

Today’s temperature “extremes” are simply yesterday’s extremes warmed up a bit, partly from the heat-island effect. But they are not new events where none existed prior.

This distinction is neither subtle nor unimportant. When it comes to temperatures, yesterday’s extremes warmed up offer less of a surprise (and hence a greater ease of adaptability) than if a new crop of extreme events suddenly sprung up out of nowhere to catch us unprepared.

But such a distinction is not made prominently evident in the latest work by NASA’s James Hansen—and even less so in the accompanying media coverage (including that instigated by Hansen himself). Instead, the general audience is left with the distinct impression that anthropogenic global warming (as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-based energy production) is leading to the occurrence of new extreme weather events when and where such weather events would not otherwise have occurred. For instance, in a Washington Post op-ed written by Hansen to accompany the release of his paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Hansen writes:

Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

But this impression is untrue. These events and others like them, almost certainly would have occurred on their own (i.e., naturally). Climate change may have added a pinch of additional heat, but it almost certainly did not create these events out of thin air (see here for example). [Read more →]

September 24, 2012   17 Comments

“Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson” (Reassessing environmentalism’s fateful turn from science to advocacy)

“Carson made little effort to provide a balanced perspective and consistently ignored key evidence that would have contradicted her work. Thus, while the book provided a range of notable ideas, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance.”

- Roger Meiners, et. al (cover insert)

Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has had a profound impact on our society. While Carson was not the first to write about the dangers of pesticides or to sound environmental alarms, her writing style and ability to reach out to a broad audience allowed her to capture and retain the attention of the public.

Yet this iconic book, hardly scrutinized over the decades, substituted sensationalism for fact and apocalyptic pronouncements for genuine knowledge.

Our just released 11-author study, Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson, reexamines Carson’s historical context and science, as well as the policy consequences of Silent Spring‘s core ideas. We assembled scholars from different disciplines and asked them to evaluate Carson’s work given the state of knowledge at the time she was writing. What information was available that she ignored? Where did she deviate from accepted science of the day?

Our findings are unsettling. Carson made little effort to provide a balanced perspective and consistently ignored key evidence that would have contradicted her work. Thus, while the book provided a range of notable ideas, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance.

Despite her reputation as a careful science- and fact-based writer, Carson produced a best-seller full of significant errors and sins of omission. Three areas are particularly noteworthy:

· Carson vilified the use of DDT and other pest controls in agriculture but ignored their role in saving millions of lives worldwide from malaria, typhus, dysentery, among other diseases. Millions of deaths, and much greater human suffering, ultimately resulted from pesticide bans as part of disease-eradication campaigns. Carson knew of the beneficial effects of DDT, but never discussed it; her story was all negative. [Read more →]

September 21, 2012   14 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part III: Total Costs)

This post completes the determination of wind costs, and Part IV covers subsidization and emissions. Part I, Introduction and Summary, contains links to all the posts in this series.

Just about any analysis you see understates wind’s cost. In fact there can be no comparison between the costs for wind and reliable, dispatchable generation plants such as coal, nuclear and gas plants. Reliability is so important in electricity systems, and wind’s persistent erratic behavior is so problematic that any electricity it produces is not usable and is a threat to electricity system reliability.

Add capacity from reliable generation plants flexible enough to balance wind’s erratic output and a steady, reliable electrical energy flow can be provided. However there is a substantial cost associated with this. As shown in Part II, for wind to produce the same amount of useful, reliable electricity over 40 years, wind and associated balancing overnight plant capital costs are almost 3 times that for nuclear, the most expensive conventional generation plants reviewed.

Many of these considerable costs can be “hidden” within a new generation plant program and arguments that the grid must be improved anyway. See Part II for further discussion on the so-called “smart” grid considerations.

As wind penetration increases into high single digits, another approach becomes increasingly necessary. That is to dump wind production in excess of some minimal amount by curtailment, or by selling it to some customers or other jurisdictions at almost no cost, and who are sometimes paid to take it. The real, full costs will be borne by the jurisdiction hosting the wind plants through increased electricity rates or taxes. Further, depending on timing and other circumstances, it may not be possible to find such customers.

In this post we will see: (1) the impact of such measures when wind plants are present, and (2) in the Wind scenario, with wind penetration at 38%, that it is not supportable. [Read more →]

September 20, 2012   4 Comments

NRDC Wind Jobs Report Doesn’t Make the Grade (250 MW does not create 1,000+ jobs)

The carefully-crafted press release by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) presents their new wind-energy jobs report as thorough, objective, and academically sound. Although such an assessment would be very welcome, their “report” is no more than marketing propaganda. Their blatant bias here gives further credence to a piece by Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution, “Bad Faith and Bad Science at the NRDC,” which concluded that “NRDC continues to peddle junk science” for their own financial gain.

Energy specialists ordinarily don’t have the time to critique sales brochures, but here are some quick observations on this material:

1 – There is a strong implication given that a 250 MW wind energy facility creates “1,079 jobs.” That is not true. The vast majority of the jobs cited are for people already employed — e.g. lawyers, real estate professionals, acoustical consultants, etc. Put another way, these people would not be unemployed just because a 250 MW facility was not built.

2 – Contrary to the insinuations made by NRDC, “1,079 jobs for a 250 MW facility” are not full-time dedicated jobs. For instance an Iberdrola draftsman may work for one month designing part of some 250 MW project, and then move onto something else. He is apparently counted as “one job”. The proper way to deal with this situation is to show a more applicable metric: “job years” rather than “jobs.” [Read more →]

September 19, 2012   4 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part II: Analysis Approach and Implementation Costs)

Part I yesterday provided an introduction and summary of results; this post describes in more detail the analysis approach and implementation costs. Parts III and IV will cover the full costs and other results.

As will be seen, dealing with wind is not as easy as some would suggest.

Analysis Approach

This analysis looks at a 13 year period (years 0-12) in which the demand growth and plant retirement due to obsolescence/age will be each 2% per year compounded. Assuming year 0 is 2012, year 12 is 2025. Table II-1 shows the situation at year 12.

Table II-1 – Year 12 Situation for a Year 0 Demand Level of 1.0 TWh

Using demand of 1 TWh in year 0 allows easy scaling for a particular jurisdiction. For example in 2010 the total US electricity production was about 4,000 TWh.

The profile of the new generation capacity to meet the electricity production gap of 0.48 TWh would normally be a combination of plant types depending on a number of considerations. However in most cases, this analysis shows the effect of using one plant type only to meet the electricity production gap. This is done to illustrate the performance of the energy source involved.

When wind is present, another plant type must also be included to balance wind’s persistent erratic behavior. This is otherwise redundant new capacity, meaning over and above that which would normally be required. There are two “wind” scenarios. One is a combination of wind and natural gas to meet the electricity production gap. Given the belief, by some at least, that more extensive wind implementation is desirable, the second scenario addresses this, allowing wind to provide the full 0.48 TWh, which we will see is not feasible. [Read more →]

September 18, 2012   No Comments

Windpower Consequences (Part I: Introduction and Summary)

This post introduces a five-part series that summarizes some of the most important information about the present and future of industrial wind power in light of the growing backlash against the industry’s taxpayer dependence. Readers are invited to add anything that I have missed.

Continuing government support for windpower must confront two questions. First, why do so many people think that we have to revolutionize our energy systems right now to avoid the consequences of running out of fossil fuels (or suffering very high costs), climate change, or other possible challenges that we might face? Note the emphasis on “right now,” meaning starting now with substantial changes in energy system directions, especially electricity systems, involving massive implementation of grid-connected, industrial-scale wind and solar generation plants.

Second, what is required for wind-subsidy proponents to agree that forced energy transformation is not feasible? A notable and growing number of people have tried with some success to close the gap between reality and romance, but progress has been slow because of the size, power, and persistence of the pro-wind movement. Without enough knowledge on the subject, the general public and media naturally rely on this movement in government, some of the scientific community, and many environmental groups.

Later posts will show why industrial wind fails the feasibility test to constructively change our electricity systems. The implications for government/taxpayer policies are obvious. [Read more →]

September 17, 2012   9 Comments