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Category — Energy Sources

Greens Going Gas (emissions data, economics speak for themselves)

The safety and importance of hydraulic fracturing are not just industry talking points. They are conclusions embraced by virtually everyone, outside of a narrow subset of political activists who refuse to let science and facts get in the way of their extreme agenda.

Background

For many years, environmental activists have pushed for bans, moratoria, or other restrictions on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), alleging the process is a threat to public health and the environment. But in recent months, increasing numbers of environmentalists have distanced themselves from the “ban fracking” agenda.

Many have even embraced shale gas on environmental grounds, revealing how extreme and marginalized the campaign to restrict hydraulic fracturing has become.

“Environmentalists who oppose the development of shale gas and fracking are making a tragic mistake,” wrote Richard Muller last year. Muller, a physicist and climate expert at the University of California-Berkeley, was viciously attacked by activist groups like Greenpeace, but Muller’s position may actually be more in line with a growing public understanding of the environmental benefits of shale gas.

Going for Gas

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency released data showing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions had fallen 10 percent since 2005, attributable in large part to increased use of natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked a 100-year supply of natural gas, making the fuel more affordable for power generation and household energy use. [Read more →]

May 16, 2014   No Comments

Bird Vaporization at Ivanpah: Solar Enters Wind Territory

“After several studies, the conclusion for why birds are drawn to the searing beams of the solar field goes like this: Insects are attracted to the bright light of the reflecting mirrors, much as moths are lured to a porch light. Small birds — insect eaters such as finches, swallows and warblers — go after the bugs. In turn, predators such as hawks and falcons pursue the smaller birds.

But once the birds enter the focal field of the mirrors, called the “solar flux,” injury or death can occur in a few seconds. The reflected light from the mirrors is 800 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Either the birds are incinerated in flight; their feathers are singed, causing them to fall to their deaths; or they are too injured to fly and are killed on the ground by predators, according to a report by the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory.”

- David Danelski, Solar: Ivanpah Solar Described as Deadly Trap for Wildlife,” Riverside-Press Enterprise, April 8, 2014.

The slaughter of birds caught in the revolving blades of wind energy turbines has grabbed national attention lately. But even more pernicious is the nearly invisible vaporizing of birds that fly into the new Ivanpah solar mirror project in California’s Mojave Desert seeking to feed on the insects that are drawn to the light of the reflecting mirrors.

Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal mirror project in the world encompassing 4,000 acres of land and 347,000 heliostat mirrors focused on three 450-foot high towers.  377 megawatts of electricity is generated by a conventional steam turbine from concentrated heat from the mirrors.  Solar thermal mirror energy plants are actually hybrid solar-natural gas power plants.

Counting bird deaths may be accurate for wind farms. But counting dead birds on the ground from solar mirror projects may be a highly inaccurate way to measure the impacts on the entire ecological food chain. That is because many birds are vaporized in mid air and often there is no trace left of them. Investigators call these “streamers,” referring to the momentary puffs of smoke as birds are vaporized. Here is how it is described: [Read more →]

May 7, 2014   3 Comments

“Advanced Energy for Life”: Peabody Energy Puts Coal on High Moral Ground (energy poverty must end, CEO Boyce argues)

We need to recognize the enormous health and environmental benefits in ending energy poverty, eliminating household air pollution, and increasing access to low-cost electricity. Everyone in the world deserves to live as well as those in developed nations. Let’s use more energy, more cleanly, every day.”

- Gregory Boyce, chairman and chief executive officer, Peabody Energy (February 26, 2014)

Bravo!This is by far the best coal-industry campaign since the Greening Earth Society made a powerful case for the positive externalities of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions back in the 1990s. The new effort, two months old, was announced with this headline:

Advanced Energy for Life Campaign Launched to Build Awareness and Support to End “World’s Number One Human and Environmental Crisis” of Global Energy Poverty

“Calling global energy poverty the world’s number one human and environmental crisis,” the press release read: “Peabody Energy today launched a comprehensive global campaign aimed at building awareness and support to eliminate energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions through advanced clean coal technologies.”

The release continues:

The “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign will work to educate and mobilize world leaders, multi-national organizations, a wide range of institutions and stakeholders, and the general public to:

1) End the crisis of global energy poverty, which affects half the world’s population and leads to crippling impacts to human health, standards of living and damage to the environment;

2) Drive policies and support actions that increase access to reliable, low-cost power – particularly today’s advanced coal technologies – that extends lives, builds economies and improves both natural and indoor environments; and [Read more →]

April 29, 2014   5 Comments

California Wineries Don’t Need Pricey ‘Green’ Power (1.6 or 7.1 cent/kWh?)

Bill Roberts, economist for the Bay Area Economic Forum, warned in a 2007 study on the municipalization of local power purchases and generation in California:

If Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) operates any retained generation and Sonoma Clean Power purchases 100% of its power supply in the competitive market, Sonoma cannot avoid higher average electricity rates than PG&E unless it subsidizes rates (or someone wins the gamble of ‘beating the market’). [page 13, paraphrased for clarity].

Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) officials and advocates were whooping it up with recent news that some 94 percent of its electricity customers had “chosen” to drop service from investor-owned utility Pacific Gas and Electric. Instead electricity customers would be transferred to its new municipal electric utility beginning in May (see Energy News Data, March 28). But Sonoma County electric ratepayers may want to think a second time about automatically “opting in” to the program.

Background

Sonoma County is located north of San Francisco Bay and enjoys frontage along the Pacific Ocean. Sonoma County is considered part of California’s wine country including Napa and Mendocino Counties.

Sonoma Clean Power is a new municipal electric utility created under the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) law in California. This allows cities to disconnect from having to buy power from PG&E and purchase their own power, or build their own new clean power plants. All customers are automatically transferred to the new city owned-utility unless they want to choose to opt out. PG&E would continue to handle billings, maintenance, and transmission and distribution of electricity.

The justification for creating Sonoma Clean Power is that it can deliver cheaper, cleaner power to customers than PG&E. [Read more →]

April 23, 2014   1 Comment

Solar Land Blues: The Eco Reality of Dilute Energy

“As citizens, we need to call on our leaders to make thoughtful choices about where to site industrial-scale development and renewable energy projects, and to create a legacy for our national parks and to public lands everywhere.” - Mark Butler, “Saving the Mojave from the Solar Threat,” Los Angeles Times , March 25, 2014. “‘Soft’ energy sources are horribly land intensive…. The greenest possible strategy is to mine and to bury, to fly and to tunnel, to search high and low, where the life mostly isn’t, and to leave the edge, the space in the middle, living and green.” - Peter Huber, Hard Green; Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 107–108.

Hard-green energies (fossil fuels, uranium) have a major ecological advantage over politically-correct soft energy (wind, solar): less infrastructure requirement, including land. This was recognized by the father of energy economics, William Stanley Jevons, in his 1865 tome, The Coal Question. Mainstream environmentalists are waking up to the problems of central-station solar now that they can physically see it and have operational results. California’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) is “the world’s largest gas-fired power plant (largest in physical size, not gas consumption),” said one eco-critic. And now Mark Butler in the Los Angeles Times has blown the whistle on the national showcase of Big Solar (full op-ed below). [Read more →]

April 7, 2014   No Comments

Big Solar: Big Gas (Ivanpah’s ‘dirty power’)

“It has been lauded as the world’s largest solar power plant, but the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) could also be called the world’s largest gas-fired power plant (largest in physical size, not gas consumption).”

Chris Clarke continues in his piece, “Ivanpah Solar Plant Owners Want to burn a Lot More Natural Gas” (KCET, March 27, 2014):

Each of the 4,000-acre facility’s three units has gas-fired boilers used to warm up the fluid in the turbines in the early morning, to keep that fluid at an optimum temperature during the night, and to boost production during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud…. Solar Partners says that in order for ISEGS (Ivanpah) to operate at full efficiency, the plant’s gas-fired auxiliary boilers will need to run an average of 4.5 hours a day, rather than the one hour a day originally expected. The plant’s total CO2 footprint from burning natural gas would rise to just above 92,200 tons per year, approximately equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas output of 16,500 average passenger cars.

The newly operational Ivanpah solar thermal electric power megaplant in California’s Mojave Desert was controversial before it was ever built for bird kills, desert tortoise impacts, and a 161% higher cost than coal-fired power plants. Now, with data coming in, it is becoming more controversial. Environmentalists, energy experts, and political decision-makers may soon ask how they were we sold a bad bill of goods.

One month after start up in February 2014, commercial airline pilots started filing complaints with the F.A.A. about the massive glare from Ivanpah’s 173,500 heliostat-mirrors used to radiate heat toward a central tower to drive a steam turbine.

Soon after the initial plant start-up it was also reportedly discovered the so-called clean power plant would emit 55% more greenhouse gases than it claimed in its original operating permit and environmental report, the equivalent of 16,500 cars. And this does not include all of the GHG emissions associated with the plant’s infrastructure and construction. [Read more →]

April 2, 2014   14 Comments

$5.4 Billion in Solar: California Goes All In

“The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.”

- Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss, “A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search,” New York Times, November 11, 2011.

A recent article by Pete Danko, “Solar Power Hitting New Records in California” (Earthechling.com) documents the dramatic growth of solar energy generation facilities in California. Three large-scale solar PV installations recently on-line or underway are: California Valley Solar Ranch; Antelope Valley Solar 1, and Topaz Solar Farm, together representing a nameplate capacity of over 1,000 megawatts (1 gigawatt).

Because of their size and cost, it is worthwhile to take a look at these three facilities in greater detail: [Read more →]

January 13, 2014   13 Comments

Micro-Hydro: The Regulatory Noose (Logan City vs. FERC)

“[A] complex regulatory nexus surrounds all hydropower projects, no matter how small. As far as regulatory requirements are concerned, it didn’t matter that the project would have little to no environmental impacts…. When it comes to renewable energy, federal policies are working at odds with one another.”

In 2008 Logan City, Utah decided to install a micro-hydro project in its culinary water system. The city’s assistant engineer recognized the opportunity to generate clean, low-cost electricity for the city by installing a turbine in the city’s culinary water pipeline.

Logan City’s project would power 185 homes, and would not require any new construction. At the same time, it would also help reduce excess water pressure in the system. Because the project was so small, and would not affect anything outside of an existing pipeline, city officials thought the permitting process would be a breeze.

What started as a simple plan to install a micro-hydro facility soon became really complex. As Logan City officials learned firsthand, the permitting process required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), proved to be so lengthy and expensive that the difficulties associated with the process far outweighed the benefits. [Read more →]

December 20, 2013   No Comments

Nuclear Power: Our High Costs Benefits! (Bastiat, call your office)

“It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.

- Frédéric Bastiat (1850)

Making the news last week was a new “economic impact” study funded by a trade association representing the nuclear industry. The study purports to show that the nuclear industry in North and South Carolina generates $25 billion dollars annually and supports 29,000 jobs. The study funded by the industry group Carolinas Nuclear Cluster would like to believe that such activity is a per se good, the marketplace notwithstanding.

So much for economics, which stresses that ends are greater than means and that good activities should be done at least cost. [Read more →]

December 4, 2013   3 Comments

California Valley Solar Ranch: What for $1.24 Taxpayer Billion?

“One acre or 1,500 acres? 88 percent capacity factor or 22 percent? Less than $1,500,000 per megawatt of capacity or $6,400,000 per megawatt? Location near the customer load or remote? Highly dispatchable electricity or non-dispatchable? Do we need to really ask these questions.”

The huge California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) central-station solar plant is apparently now at “full power” thanks to a loan guarantee from the U.S. taxpayers of $1,237,000,000. Information regarding this project has been published here by Earthtechling, and also here, by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In an earlier article by Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss in the New York Times entitled A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search, the full cost of the project was established as $1.6 billion. Lipton and Krauss indicate:

The project is also a marvel in another, less obvious way: Taxpayers and ratepayers are providing subsidies worth almost as much as the entire $1.6 billion cost of the project. Similar subsidy packages have been given to 15 other solar- and wind-power electric plants since 2009.

 The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.

A Critical Appraisal

In a realistic appraisal of the CVSR we should note the following: [Read more →]

November 7, 2013   19 Comments