Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enough carbon-free power for 25 million homes?

Geothermal offers enormous potential, especially for baseload generation, with minimal downside. We already have 3000 megawatts of geothermal capacity, and we could have 30,000 megawatts (enough for the aforementioned 25 million homes). What's stopping us? Bad public energy policy, especially lots of indirect subsidies for coal and nuclear that renewable sources never seem to get (due to an underfunded lobby), plus the fact that utility profits are tied to the volume of electricity sold, which only encourages the construction of more coal plants (the cheapest source of electricity as long coal mines and power plants can pollute for free), and discourages efficiency improvements.

Here's an enlightening report on the state of geothermal electricity production:

Geothermal, the 'undervalued' resource, sees surging interest

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What if the "The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" isn't enacted?

Your electric bill (and the price of everything else that requires electricity to manufacture) will still go up. Probably more than if it does pass.

Why? Because instead of investing in efficiency -- which could create lots of jobs for wage-earners -- investment will be in new capacity: coal and nuclear power plants and grid expansion. New capacity from big, central plants costs more than efficiency improvements or distributed renewable sources so your bill will go up. In fact, electricity gained by through efficiency improvements cost around $0.04 a KW/hr, as opposed to at least $0.18 for nukes (not including security or waste disposal) and around $0.10 for coal.

If we care about global warming and foolishly choose nukes over renewables, we will also discover that we can't build nukes fast enough to mitigate global warming -- they're just too complicated. And if we build nukes, it will be with taxpayer dollars to guarantee construction loans for projects notorious for cost overruns and delays. Otherwise banks won’t finance them.

Renewables, on the other hand, can be constructed faster and cheaper, and with far less resistance from neighbors (no one wants a nuke in their backyard).

Also, building coal and nuke plants won’t create as many jobs, nor will they last as long. Big coal and nuke plants are capital intensive -- they require fewer, but much more expensive components than distributed, renewable power sources or efficiency improvements like better appliances, construction materials, manufactured homes, etc. which can be produced by American workers for years.

On the other hand, we can make efficiency improvements and build wind, photovoltaic, biogas, geothermal and micropower (cogeneration) sources fast enough (using American products and labor if we’re smart). And, remember: distributed power sources for efficient loads are cheaper and more reliable than big nukes and coal -- not even taking into account the waste disposal and security costs for nuclear, or the environmental cleanup and health costs associated with all that mercury, radioactive isotopes, and particulates rained down by coal plants.

You want some dollar numbers?

Here's some from this blog: "Cap & Trade: Doing Well While Doing Good"

Here are some from the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Clean Energy, Green Jobs (2009)"
Read the following from an unimpeachable source, the Rocky Mountain Institute:

Does a Big Economy Need Big Power Plants? A Guest Post

Mighty Mice (funny title, concise, enlightening information)

The Nuclear Illusion (longish, but convincing)

Rocky Mountain Institute: Top Federal Energy Policy Goals
(what we would do if we were really smart...includes some job creation numbers)

And, here's a good explanation of how Carbon Cap & Trade will work (from Greenwire):
Carbon allowances -- the glue in House energy package

Friday, May 15, 2009

Renewable Electricity Standard (RES)(S.433 & H.R.890):
A Modest Proposal
To Join The Rest of the Planet In The 21st Century

The members of Congress who found the courage to introduce landmark energy bills such as The Renewable Electricity Standard (RES)(S.433 in the Senate and H.R.890 in the House) should be cheered. These are honorable initiatives to move this country into the realm of 21st century electricity generation technology, and away from toxic coal, of which we burn about 2.85 million short tons per day. (If you don't think that's a lot, watch the Frontline program "Heat.")

This bill would bring U.S. electricity generation from renewable sources (primarily wind and biomass gas) up to 25% of consumption by 2025. Given the state of technology, and plentiful wind resources, this isn't much of challenge. And it will only reduce coal consumption by 8 to 11 percent (depending on whether or not states get various exemptions). Further, additional costs to power plant operators imposed by this bill are minimized when combined with the effects of greenhouse gas cap & trade provisions of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) and a proposed energy efficiency resource standard.

What this bill will do is reduce growth of coal consumption, and the toxic side effects of it: mercury and radioactive isotopes in the air, leaching fly ash on the ground, and decapitated mountains in our verdant Appalachians. It will create solid, unionized manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs that can't be outsourced. And, it will slow global warming -- not enough -- but it's a start.

And, it won't cost ratepayers much: somewhere between 2.7 and 2.9 percent tacked on to their monthly bills. (Yes, it's true, new power lines may need to be constructed from windy places to the consumers, but new coal plants, and the added power line capacity that goes with them will cost money, too. So, upgrading the grid is not an excuse for not doing this.)

Tell your representatives to support this bill (along with the American Clean Energy and Security Act), and tell your neighbors it's a good thing that won't cost 'em a bundle.

I got my numbers from the Energy Information Administration, in the Executive Summary of the report: Impacts of a 25-Percent Renewable Electricity Standard as Proposed in the American Clean Energy and Security Act Discussion Draft

Incidentally, you can search for any Congressional bill at the Thomas Library of Congress

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cap & Trade: Doing Well While Doing Good

Cap & Trade is good for the U.S. economy, good for U.S. wage earners, and good for the planet.

Phasing out dirty, expensive, energy sources will cost some people money in the short term, but the costs to consumers can be mitigated through efficiency improvements (which are part of "The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009") and rebates to low-income households.

The EPA estimates the following
"Average Household Energy Expenditures
(excluding gasoline)":

2015: $1,950
2020: $2,020
2030: $2,200
2040: $2,200
2050: $2,150


"Change in Average Household Energy Expenditures
(excluding gasoline)":

2020: 6.0%
2030: 8.5%
2040: 11.5%
2050: 15.0%

• In 2030 electricity prices increase by 22% in “scenario 2 – WM-Draft” and natural gas prices increase by 17%. In “scenario 3 – WM-Draft Energy Efficiency” electricity prices increase by 20% and natural gas prices (including allowance costs) increase by 13%.
• Actual household energy expenditures increase by a lesser amount due to reduced demand for energy. In 2030 the average household’s energy expenditures (excluding motor gasoline) increase by 9% in scenario 2 – WM-Draft” and by 8% in “scenario 3 – WM-Draft Energy Efficiency.”
• In ADAGE, energy expenditures represent approximately 2% of total consumption in 2020 falling to 1% by 2050 in all scenarios.
• The energy expenditures presented here do not include any potential increase in capital or maintenance cost associated with more energy efficient technologies.

These increased energy costs are not nothing, but they're not wildly unreasonable considering historical fuel price trends.(see: Household Energy Expenditures (pg. 31) section of the EPA's "EPA Preliminary Analysis of the Waxman-Markey Discussion Draft")

Delusional, socialist, redistribution of wealth? No, not really. We'll just be asking polluters to pay for the right to pollute. Something we've been asking other polluters to do for a long time, but usually after the fact through fines, which cost everyone a lot more when you factor in legal fees and reclamation costs, which also don't help consumers or create jobs. And remember, coal (and coal is primarily what we're talking about) dumps a lot more than C02 into the atmosphere -- there's mercury and radioactive isotopes, too. Not to mention all those heaps of fly ash leaching heavy metals into our groundwater, and mountaintop-removal wiping out vast tracts of cherished Appalachian hill country and the wildlife and people that live there.

Incidentally, we've been through this sort of thing before: pack mules gave way to the Erie Canal and riverboats, the Erie Canal gave way to railroads, clipper ships gave way to steamships, coal locomotives gave way to diesel, the horse and buggy gave way to the automobile and the train, the telegraph (and shouting) gave way to the telephone. All of these transitions hurt someone. And cap & trade will hurt someone, too. But there is a big upside with the potential for good union-protected manufacturing jobs -- the kind of jobs that created the middle class after the last depression.

Other countries recognize this, and they are profiting from being getting in early. They will be technology development and export leaders. These leaders include China, as well as the EU. Currently, the U.S. is lagging, even though we were the first to develop and adopt many "green" technologies on a small scale. We just haven't kept up with the investment, and that's sad because since the start of the industrial revolution, we have been technological leaders in energy distribution, manufacturing, transportation and health care.

Now we are slipping behind in all these categories. Something our grandparents, who worked and fought so hard for middle-class prosperity, would be dismayed by. Getting on board with this next industrial revolution will be a great opportunity for this country to restore itself to world-class status not only in technological terms, but in terms of new employment opportunities -- many of which can't be outsourced and don't require a college degree, which I think at least a few among us would be grateful for.

May 22, 2009:
The House Energy and Commerce Committe passed the The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, by a vote of 33 to 25. Well, the Dems gave away 85% of the emissions allowances, and that's a lot revenue squandered, but the bill still puts a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, strongly encourages the implementation of renewable energy sources, and will increase the energy efficiency of commercial and residential structures, and that's good. All these things will lead to new, well-paid (unionized, I hope) jobs manufacturing, installing and maintaining the components of a new economic sector of our economy.

A Washington Post article mentions the following:
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the overall impact would be too small to significantly dampen economic growth. But the conservative Heritage Foundation has said it might cost a family $4,300 per year in a few decades.

"The actual paperwork isn't done at the retail level," said David Kreutzer, a climate policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation. "But it's going to jack the cost up, and they will have to pass the costs on to consumers."

Mr. Kreutzer appears to be backing down from that wildly inflated $4,300/year assertion. Probably because it was based on an inflated estimate of costs for future emission allowances -- inflated by a factor of about ten.

Here's a good explanation of how Carbon Cap & Trade will work:
Carbon allowances -- the glue in House energy package

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word For: Car-Free
I must be nuts, but I think car-free living is a great idea. I'm tired of maintaining, feeding, and insuring my beast of burden so I can hop in and race off to sit in the fetid, poisonous atmosphere of a traffic jam.

I remember living in a city where transportation was a shared endeavor: I just walked down the block, waited a few minutes, and climbed on a bus or subway. On board, I could open a book, daydream, chat with strangers (not so often, but occasionally), and presto, I would arrive at my destination un-stressed and with my wallet not much lighter than when I started. And the collective energy on the bus or train always jazzed me up to get done whatever I needed to do.

Well, "car-free" is catching on. Here's a story from the venerable NY Times about a couple of towns in Germany that are going for it: "In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars"

If you think this sounds good, ignore the haters that cry that public transport impedes their freedom. Baloney! Public transport expands your freedom -- those narrow-minders have obviously never tried it. No traffic worries (for trains and busses with dedicated lanes at least), no parking worries, no breakdown worries, and best of all: no DWI worries. Ignore the haters and tell your congressional representatives to replace highway funding (currently 80%) with more funding for public transportation (currently 20%) in the 2009 Transportation Reauthorization Bill. This bill is reauthorized every six years, and this is the year, so as they say on TV: Act now!

You can find your representatives here:

And here's a website devoted to car-free living: CarFree City USA

Friday, May 8, 2009

Free Traders: Friends or Foes?

I'm astonished that otherwise reputable economists continue to promote free trade dogma.

Free-trader enthusiasts consistently decry the horrors of tariffs, yet throughout U.S. industrialization (early 1800's to WWII), in fact, until Ronald Reagan's administration in 1980, we had broad protective tariffs on manufactured products as high as 48% and frequently averaging in the 30% range. And during this stretch of 150 years or so we saw consistent, profitable expansion of U.S. manufacturing, despite depressions, recessions, and a civil war intermittently impeding growth.

Since Reagan's income tax and tariff cuts, we've liquidated our industrial base for quick profits, dismantled the middle class and the unions that fostered it, eroded wages for wage-earners, and cemented in place an uber-wealthy, capitalized oligarchy. Our post-manufacturing banker class continues to sell out un-capitalized, wage-earners for a quick buck importing cheap junk from overseas and outsourcing design, manufacturing and service jobs. (John Jacob Astor would have been proud.) What's left? Retail, tourism (hawking Chinese t-shirts, hotel hospitality, rental desk clerks, etc.), health care, food service, and...wait for it...landscaping and gardening at the expansive homes of affluent bankers.

If free trade were such a godsend, would we not be seeing some real benefits, aside from cheap imported junk and profitable job outsourcing, by now? Benefits such as sustained and broad prosperity? Appealing employment opportunities? Health care for everyone? Education for everyone? Something besides cheap junk and a proliferation of rich bankers propped up by tax dollars?

Here's a revealing and contradictory take on free trade:
Thom Hartmann's review of Ha-Joon Chang's 'Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism'

Here's a Senator from South Carolina who recognizes the flaws in free trade: The Failures of Free Trade

The sooner wage-earning Americans wise up to the baloney we're being fed by our caviar-nipping, banking brethren, the better.

Here's a bit longer thing I wrote in response to comments on this and another post: Domestic Manufacturing vs. Free Trade

Here's a bracing rundown of NAFTA's caustic effects from Robert E. Scott at the Economic Policy Institute ( The high price of ‘free’ trade

Former Senator Fritz Hollings seems to concur:
We Are in Real Trouble
Politics Like Cancer

Here's a nice roundup of NY Times articles on NAFTA:

If you don't read all of the above, read this at least:
Free Trade Accord at Age 10: The Growing Pains Are Clear

And here's a nice little Wiki history of tariffs in the United States: