A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Energy Policy

Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. [Read more →]

September 20, 2010   40 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part V: Lessons]

Part 1 of this series explored the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. Part II and Part III looked at the failed Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects, respectively. Part IV reviewed the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure.  In this final post, we review the past failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

Reprocessing and Recycling in the U.S.

The reprocessing of nuclear fuel first began in the U.S. in January 1943. The Bismuth Phosphate Precipitation Process was used for recovering macroscopic quantities of plutonium. The REDuction-OXidation (REDOX) process was the first successful solvent extraction process to recover both uranium and plutonium; it was further refined into the Plutonium and URanium EXtraction (PUREX) process, which has become the most common and fully commercialized liquid-liquid extraction process for the treatment of spent nuclear fuel (SNF).

In order to support a self-sufficient commercial nuclear power industry in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, circa 1946 to 1974)—the predecessor regulatory agency to the NRC (1974 to present) and the Department of Energy (circa 1977 to present)—encouraged the transfer of nuclear fuel reprocessing from the federal government to private industry. The three privately owned reprocessing plants constructed were the Western New York Nuclear Service Center (West Valley, N.Y.), Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant (Morris, Ill.), and the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant (Barnwell, S.C.). [Read more →]

July 13, 2010   2 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part IV: Picking Up the Pieces]

Part I of this series reviewed the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. Part II and Part III historically reviewed the ill-fated Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects, respectively.  This post reviews the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure, and Part V tomorrow will explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

Ratepayers Pay to (Not) Play

1. View of the above-ground support structures and north and south portals at the now-defunct Yucca Mountain repository. Source: Department of Energy/Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (DOE/OCRWM)

The nuclear industry is unique among energy producers in its contractual commitment to cover the full costs for managing its waste. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 directed utilities to levy fees on electricity generated by nuclear power and to pay those fees into a federal Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) that was to be used to develop and operate a national repository. In return for the payment of fees, the NWPA directed the federal government to accept ownership and begin disposing of the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and other high-level waste (HLW) no later than January 31, 1998. Those fees included the cost of transporting SNF to the repository.

Since 1983, consumers of electricity from nuclear power plants have paid approximately $32 billion into the NWF. Consumers in Alabama and Georgia, for example, have sent more than $1 billion to the NWF and continue to contribute over $44 million a year. The current balance in the NWF exceeds approximately $22 billion, and consumers nationwide are contributing about an additional $750 million a year. The difference between total collections and the current balance is roughly equal to the approximately $9 billion already spent on preparing the Yucca Mountain site to date. [Read more →]

July 12, 2010   1 Comment

The U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part III: Yucca Mountain]

Part I explored the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy, while Part II reviewed the 1960s Salt Vault project.

This post looks at the legislative history of the ill-fated Yucca Mountain repository and the formation of a committee to explore alternative storage sites (again). In Part IV, we will look at some of the legal and political repercussions of Yucca Mountain’s failure.  Finally, in Part V, we explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

The Retrievable Surface Storage Facility

The AEC announced plans (circa May/June 1972) to construct an engineered, at-grade Retrievable Surface Storage Facility (RSSF) to be used until a permanent geological repository would be available. The plan was to locate the RSSF at an AEC or federal site in the western U.S. However, the environmental impact statement (EIS) issued by the AEC in support of the RSSF concept drew intense criticism from the public and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both criticized the plan because of the possibility that economic factors could later dictate using the facility as a permanent repository, contrary to the planned interim use of the RSSF. In this instance, it was unacceptable to proceed with an interim storage system unless there were unambiguous assurances that a permanent repository would be developed.

In 1975, Dr. Robert Seamans—in one of his first acts as administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA)—withdrew the EIS associated with the RSSF and decided that a permanent waste repository should be given budget priority. ERDA was created to assume the responsibilities of the then-dissolved AEC that were not covered by the newly formed NRC. [Read more →]

July 10, 2010   4 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part II: Project Salt Vault]

Part I in this series reviewed the history of nuclear waste storage policy in the United States. This post reviews Project Salt Vault, an early attempt to solve the dilemma of storing spent nuclear fuel.   Part III will cover the history of Yucca Mountain.

Project Salt Vault

The primary objective of Project Salt Vault was to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of handling and storing high level nuclear waste (HLW) solids from power reactors in salt formations. The engineering and scientific objectives were to:

· Demonstrate waste-handling equipment and techniques required to handle packages containing HLW solids from the point of production to the disposal location.

· Determine the stability of salt formations under the combined effects of heat and radiation (approximately 4,000,000 curies of radioactive material, yielding up to 109 rads).

· Collect information on creep and plastic flow of salt needed for the design of an actual disposal facility.

· Monitor the site for radiolytic chemical reactions, if such should occur.

The demonstration site selected was the inactive Lyons, Kansas mine of the Carey Salt Co. The 1,020-foot deep salt mine had operated from 1890 to 1948 and had been kept open for possible future use. Preparations for the demonstration began in 1963, and the first radioactive material was placed in the mine in November 1965. The tests involved the emplacement of actual irradiated fuel assemblies from the Engineering Test Reactor (ETR) in Idaho. The ETR assemblies were chosen because of their availability on a dependable schedule and their relatively high radioactivity levels. [Read more →]

July 9, 2010   9 Comments

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Policy: Road to Nowhere [Part I: Historical Context]

In addition to building nuclear power plants, a robust nuclear energy infrastructure requires a means to store and recycle spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and other high level nuclear waste (HLW) products.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and Amendments of 1987 established a national policy and schedule for developing geologic repositories for the disposal of SNF and HLW. Those deadlines have come and gone; the cancellation of Yucca Mountain was only the latest failed attempt to make this policy a reality.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing traces its roots to work started in 1943 but the development work was suspended in the mid-1970s after several failed projects. The task of finding a new long-term storage location has now been assigned to yet another committee and SNF reprocessing remains in limbo in the U.S. while other nations are building modern reprocessing facilities.

Are developing a coherent nuclear fuel policy and following through on the plan impossible tasks?

In Part I of this series, we examine the historical context of the U.S. nuclear waste storage policy. In Parts II and III, we will look at the history of the ill-fated Salt Vault and Yucca Mountain projects.  Part IV will look at the legal and political fallout from the Yucca Mountain failure, and Part V will explore failed attempts to reprocess nuclear fuel in the U.S. and examine the global state-of-the-art reprocessing plants now operating or under construction.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) two-paragraph March 3 press release describing its motion to withdraw its pending license application for Yucca Mountain was an indecent obituary for the disposal site’s brief 23-year life and $8 billion cost. The relatively short history of nuclear power in the U.S. reminds us that the Yucca Mountain project may have been doomed from the start. A number of permanent nuclear waste storage site projects have been cancelled over the past 45 years, although Yucca Mountain was exponentially the most expensive failure. History also tells us that political considerations will always trump technology when it comes to siting a nuclear waste repository. [Read more →]

July 8, 2010   3 Comments

Fraser Institute Survey: Where Is the Best Oil and Gas Investment Climate? (South Dakota #1; New York State #102)

South Dakota is the No. 1 place in the world for oil and gas investment, according to the Global Petroleum Survey 2010, an annual survey of international petroleum executives and managers conducted by the Fraser Institute, one of the world’s leading free-market think-tanks.

Results of the survey include:

· South Dakota, which was ranked seventh out of 143 jurisdictions in 2009, vaulted into the No. 1 spot out of 133 jurisdictions included in this year’s survey results.

· Along with South Dakota, American states claimed eight of the top 10 spots this year: Texas (second), Illinois (third), Wyoming (fourth), Mississippi (sixth), Utah (seventh), Oklahoma (ninth), and Alabama (10th).

· New York is the lowest ranked state at 102nd.

· Austria, ranked fifth, is the only jurisdiction outside North America to make the top 10.

· Manitoba is the highest ranked Canadian jurisdiction, placing eighth after ranking 21st in 2009.

· Among the remaining Canadian provinces, Saskatchewan is ranked 17th overall, Ontario ranked 28th, Newfoundland and Labrador ranked 50th, British Columbia 52nd, Nova Scotia 53rd and Alberta, considered the home of Canada’s energy sector, 60th. Quebec was the lowest ranked province at 77th.

· Globally, three Australian jurisdictions (South Australia, Northern Territory, and Victoria) ranked in the top 20, along with New Zealand.  

· The lowest ranked jurisdictions are: Bolivia, Venezuela, Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Turkmenistan, Ecuador, Nigeria, Iraq, and Kazakhstan.

Background [Read more →]

July 2, 2010   No Comments

Jimmy Carter Was Better than This! (Why can’t Democrats embrace a free energy market?)

As a Democract, I have asked myself how it is that the current administration could be so consistently wrong on energy policy. There was a time in the days of Bob Kerr, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Bennett Johnson that energy policy was bipartisan. In fact, those Democratic wheel horses from the great Southwest made sure that the policy–particularly as regarded oil and gas– was somewhat rational.

Carter Was Pro-Drilling Compared to Obama

The last Democratic President to acknowledge the need for exploration was Jimmy Carter, under whom I served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Gas. Carter pushed both an offshore 5-year leasing plan and production from the Naval Petroleum Reserves. I know–I was in charge of both.

So despite the Windfall Profits Tax and much hyperbolic rhetoric, President Carter had a foot, or at least a few toes, in the pro-production camp. And it was none other than Carter who set up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling (after adequate study) as one of his last acts in office.

The 39th President also initiated both the decontrol of gas dating from the 1950’s and the (phased) decontrol of crude oil and oil products that began with Richard Nixon in 1971 which Reagan simply accelerated with his famous decontrol executive order of January 1981.

Democrats vs. Drilling

But no more! Democrats today seem to want to fly in the face of reality by espousing phantom sources of energy and working at cross purposes with American interests:

Democrats today tend to:

  • Believe in Peak Oil and the imminent end of the hydrocarbon age
  • Accept Global Warming Alarmism unquestioningly
  • Exaggerate the decline in the state of the environment when it is actually improving
  • View hydrocarbons as a threat to modern civilization rather than its creator and preserver and to viscerally oppose oil and gas exploration
  • Exaggerate the environmental impact of oil drilling both on and offshore

All this leads Democrats to support and subsidize trendy new sources of power (e.g. switchgrass!) without acknowledging how limited or how environmentally damaging they are when implemented on a large scale.

This has only a little to do with “free market” ideology. I assert that a centrist–or if you like a moderate liberal–who believes in moderate government intervention (securities regulation, social security, Medicare, single payer health, etc.) can: [Read more →]

March 27, 2010   12 Comments

Joe (Romm), Where Art Thou? (my peak oil bet deserves an up or down)

In a post on his blog and then again on the Huffington Post, Joe Romm challenged me to a wager on oil prices, claiming prescience concerning the price rise in the past decade compared to my 1996 forecast of low prices for two decades.  He seems to be implying that that I have refused to wager him, having closed the webpage to any further comments.

I find myself taken aback, as my experience with the blogosphere is somewhat limited.  My experience is primarily as an academic, writing articles for refereed journals and books, as well as working papers, with an intention to make them carefully sourced and referenced.  A blog can consist of nothing more than a rant, and the comments appended to them often worse (and usually anonymous).  I will not however yield to the temptation to follow suit (even if our illustrious moderator would permit it, which he won’t).

Having put up approximately 20 posts on the subject of peak oil, it might be thought that Romm is an expert on the subject. But so far as I know, he has a grand total of one article on oil, his famed, “Mideast Oil Forever” Atlantic Monthly piece (co-authored with Charles Curtis), which is the source of his pride on the subject.

A careful reading of “Mideast Oil Forever” shows that his argument was not so much that prices would soar, but that global dependence on Middle East oil would soar, which has not happened.  My argument was that the forecast of rising Middle East market share was likely to be incorrect, and it was (see Figure), so that economic fundamentals would not imply ever rising prices.

Forecasts of OPEC Market Share from 1996/97

Which is a far cry from saying my forecast was wrong and Joe’s correct.  In my testimony, I specifically stated,

“The reality is that prices may go up in the future.  And Persian Gulf oil production and exports will rise.  However, the most likely scenario, given what we know about oil supply and demand and what we have learned about forecasting in the last 10 to 15 years, is that OPEC is going to be under continued pressure for at least the next 10 years, possibly for much longer, that they will be fighting with each other for market share.  And, it’s going to require some very substantial changes in the world to see prices rising.” (See my opening statement on pp. 127-128.)

Arguably, the price collapse leading to the rise of Hugo Chavez, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are those ‘substantial changes’.  Certainly, not the soaring Middle East market share predicted by Romm.  (Since he downloaded the transcript of the hearing, it’s not clear how he missed this.) [Read more →]

March 5, 2010   1 Comment

‘Green’ Wind, ‘Smart’ Grid–A Thought Experiment and a Policy Proposal for the Environmental Left

Suppose you began this morning by learning that some investors and developers had stepped forward with a reportedly new type of commercial grade electrical power called “Zephyr Integrated Power” (ZIP). Being clever, they are spending a LOT of time and money marketing ZIP, knowing that this is their chance to break into the grid in a BIG way.

Their message– ZIP is “FREE, CLEAN, AND GREEN”–sounds great! Oh yes, and for good measure, ZIP will create oodles of jobs.

So the basic question is this: exactly what do we do before we allow these people and their new product on the electric grid?

We wouldn’t be so gullible to just take their word for it, would we? Yet this is exactly what we are doing today!

And there is more: our politicians are so enamored with ZIP that they tell these promoters that we will not only allow them on the grid, we will FORCE utilities to use ZIP. (Hmmm. Wouldn’t utilities WANT to use ZIP if it was so great?) How are utilities going to be forced to use ZIP? Lobbyists have sold our politicians a clever tool called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to do just that.

Yet there is more. Despite the supposed benefits (which a free market would obviously jump on without government involvement), our wise government is going to offer the ZIP promoters billions of dollars of taxpayer money and ratepayer guarantees to support their product.

Remember, all this is without independent proof that ZIP has any real benefits…

Sadly, this astounding state of affairs is how our currently lobbyist-driven system operates.

Policy Proposal for the Environmental Left

The Left looks to government to do good things for the environment. My Pollyanna vision is that complex technical matters should be solved by science. So here is my (government-involved) proposal (with apologies to the libertarian bloggers and readers of MasterResource). It would go something like this… [Read more →]

February 6, 2010   9 Comments