Posts tagged ‘wind’

Provisions That Made the Bailout "Better"

Here are some of the provisions in the bailout that converted "no" votes to "yes." Unbelievable.

Andrew Leonard goes digging in the Senate's bailout package and finds a bunch of "sweeteners" added to lure in votes.  Among them:

* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems. * Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit. * Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. * Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration. * Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles. * Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax. * Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa. * Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility. * Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit. * Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.

are also tax credits for solar and wind power, and a very expensive
requirement that health insurance companies cover mental health the
same way they cover physical health.

When Government Tries to Pick Winners

Folks like Barack Obama have decided that wind power is the answer.  They haven't studied the numbers or really done much to investigate the technology, and god forbid that they have put any of their own money into it or run a company trying to make thoughtful investment decisions.  But he's just sure that such alternative energy technologies work and make sense because, uh, he wants them to.

But when government picks winners, disaster almost always follows.  Oh, sure, the programs themselves get a lot of positive attention in the press, and people are happy to line up to accept subsidies and tax rebates.  But the result is often this:  (ht: Tom Nelson)

According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the agency
that oversees the state's major alternative energy rebate programs, the
small wind initiative was canceled because the turbines it has funded
are producing far less energy than originally estimated.

An MTC-sponsored study released earlier this summer found that the
average energy production of 19 small turbines reviewed was only 27
percent of what the installers had projected. The actual production for
the 19 turbines, which received nearly $600,000 in public funding,
ranged between 2 and 59 percent of the estimates.

A $75,663 turbine at Falmouth Academy that received $47,500 in state
money, for example, has produced only 17 percent of the projected
energy in the year since its installation. Another, smaller device in
Bourne is producing only 15 percent of the originally estimated energy.

So the state government funds 2/3 of the project and the project still doesn't make sense

Mr. Storrs criticized the state for dropping the rebate program, which
over two years has covered upward of half the cost of several turbines
on Cape Cod and dozens of others throughout the state, saying, "It is
not what you would hope a progressive [state] like Massachusetts would
cancel. You would hope that they are supporting alternative sources of

Actually, he is correct.  Sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into faulty technology for terrible returns based solely on the fact that a certain technology is somehow politically correct is exactly what I too would expect of a progressive state like Massachusetts.

The state board complains that the technology choices and siting decisions were wrong.  Well, who would have imagined that investors in certain projects would be lax in their engineering and due diligence when the government was paying 2/3 of the freight, and when the main reason for the projects was likely PR rather than real returns?

If the bit about PR and political correctness seems exaggerated to you, check this out:

During the hearing on the proposal two months ago Mr. Storrs told the
planning board that the project was meant in part to help educate the
public about wind energy. Town Planner F. Thomas Fudala said it would
be informative to see whether the roof-mounted ones actually work.
"Even if this fails, it will be useful information," he said.

Mr. Storrs responded, "I know that sounds weird, Tom, but you are absolutely right."

Wow, I bet this kind of investment decision-making really give the local taxpayers a big warm fuzzy feeling.  By the way, this article also includes an example of why Al Gore and others proposing 10-year crash programs to change out the entire US power infrastructure are impossibly unrealistic, even forgetting about the cost:

Mr. Storrs said he first ordered
the Swift brand turbines last year as part of a bulk order along with
the Christy's gas station in West Yarmouth.

But the planning board had already adopted its new turbine regulation,
which, in part on the advice on Ms. Amsler, had prohibited the
roof-mounted machines.

"The town was just trying to be responsible in terms of looking out for
its residents, trying to make sure these things are not going to pop up
everywhere if they aren't going to work," said Thomas Mayo, the town's
alternative energy specialist.

At Mr. Storrs request, however, the planning board then went back and
reconsidered its regulation. After a public hearing featuring testimony
from Ms. Amsler as well as from a representative of Community Wind
Power who argued that the Swift turbines work well and as advertised,
the planning board decided to change the bylaw and allow Mashpee
Commons to move forward with its project.

The Mashpee bylaw requires a return on investment plan, a maintenance
plan, as well as proof that the proposal meets several safety and
aesthetic prerequisites.

Town Meeting adopted the new bylaw in May, Mashpee Commons quickly
filed its application, and received a special permit in early June.
During the comment period for the special permit, the state program was

After receiving the special permit, Mr. Storrs said he applied for
Federal Aviation Administration approval, which is required for any
structure over three stories in town. More than two months later, he
said he is still awaiting that approval.

Mr. Mayo said the town's application for FAA approval of a site under
consideration for a large municipal turbine took six months to approve.

Solar Concentrating Plants

For a while, I have been writing that traditional silicon/germanium based solar-electric panels are not yet economic as an electricity source.

I have hopes for other technologies eventually making direct solar conversion to electricity.  However, there seems to be some activity in solar concentrating plants, where solar energy is reflected onto tubes to boil water and drive traditional steam turbines to generate electricity.  Fortune has an article on one such plant opening recently:

The completed solar arrays will be trucked to California where Ausra
is building a 177-megawatt solar power station for utility PG&E (PCG)  on 640 acres of agricultural land in San Luis Obispo County. (To see a video of the robots in action, click here.)
The arrays focus sunlight on water-filled tubes to create steam to
drive a turbine. Ausra manufacturing exec David McKay points to where
standard-issue boiler pipe will be fed into a machine and treated with
a proprietary coating that transforms it into a solar receiver.

I would love for this to work, but the article goes on to say that this approach still requires federal tax subsidies to compete with other electricity sources.  I am not very familiar with the economics of such plants.  Does anyone have a link or source that delves into the economics.  I am increasingly frustrated of late with alternate energy articles that fail to give any of the relevent economic info.  For example, I read an article in the Arizona Republic (sorry, lost the link) about Arizona's first wind project, but I could not get a sense from the article if the power was being purchased at market rates or some special inflated rate.

I Would LOve to See This Happen

San Francisco has a ballot initiative this November to seize all PG&E transmission lines and assets in the city such that all city power comes from a new government owned utility.  Further, the initiative would require that this new entity get 100% of its power from renewables, particularly wind and solar, by 2040.  It is similar to a 2001 initiative.

All due respect to PG&E's private property, but I would love to see this happen.  If I were governor, I would be seriously tempted to encourage them to proceed, with the only proviso that no one else in California be allowed to sell electricity to San Francisco on the hugely unlikely possibility that there might be a day without sunshine in San Francisco.   (I find it hilarious that San Francisco's solar future is trumpeted in the "fog city journal.")  This might actually be a big enough disaster that even the media would have trouble ignoring its spectacular failure.  It would also do wonders for the Arizona and Nevada economy, as major industries would move our way.

I am sure San Francisco is well on their way to success.  After all, the city just completed its largest ever solar project

            The solar system is expected to generate 370,000 kilowatt hours of
electricity annually, enough to power 80 San Francisco homes.

Wow.  It can power 80 whole homes, as long as its not night time or winter (when it is seldom sunny in SF).

More on Wind Capacity

The other day I wrote to beware of rated capacity for wind and solar, because such plants tend to run way below their rated capacity on a 24-hour average.  MaxedOutMamma reads the wind report of the largest utility in Germany, which is as a country is among the largest adopters of wind power.  She finds this interesting bit:

wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms
determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever
increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional
power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed
capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall
continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means
that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW
(Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can
be replaced by these wind farms.

This is an even lower substitution factor than I mentioned previously, and is so because this report looks not just at the percent of time wind is blowing at full speed, but also at the peak load conventional power plants that must be kept running on standby due to the unreliability of wind.  At this 24:1 substitution ratio, folks like Al Gore and Boone Pickens will bankrupt us.  But of course, their investment portfolios, laden with alt-energy investments, will be paying off.

Rated Capacity

One needs to be a careful consumer of information when reading about the "rated capacity" of certain alternative energy plants. 

Take a 1MW nuclear plant, run it for 24 hours, and you get 24 MW-hours, or something fairly close to that, of electricity.

Leave 1MW worth of solar panels out in the sun for 24 hours, you get much less total electricity, depending on where you put it.  On an average day in New York City, you will get about 4 MW-hours.  In one of the best solar sites in the word, my home of Phoenix, you get about 6.5 MW-hours per day.  The key metric is peak sun-hours per day, and some example figures are here.  So, even in the best solar sites in the world, solar panels run at only about 25-30% of capacity.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that the same relationship holds for wind.

It's not like it's a secret that wind turbines are an unreliable source of electrical power. Bryce points out that, "In
July 2006, for example, wind turbines in California produced power at
only about 10 percent of their capacity; in Texas, one of the most
promising states for wind energy, the windmills produced electricity at
about 17 percent of their rated capacity."

That means
that there has to be nuclear, coal-fired or natural gas power plants
functioning fulltime as a backup to the pathetically unreliable and
inefficient wind farms. Moreover, what electricity they do generate
is lost to some degree in the process of transmitting it over long
distances to distribution facilities.

Now, this should not outright dissuade us from these technologies, but since no one has really licked the night-time / not-windy storage proble, it's certainly an issue.   I have looked at solar for my house a number of times, and the numbers just are not there (even with up to 50% government subsidies!) without a 2-5x decrease in panel costs.  Low yields can potentially be tolerated, but capital costs are going to have to be a lot lower before they make a ton of sense.

Oil at $140 is Still a Modern Miracle

Over the weekend, I was reading an article about T. Boone Pickens' energy plan, a thinly disguised strategy to grab government subsidies for his wind investments.  And I started to think how amazing it is that electricity from wind has to be subsidized to compete with electricity from fossil fuels.  Here's what I mean:

  • To get electricity from wind, one goes to a windy area, and puts up a big pole.  I presume that there are costs either in the land acquisition or in royalty payments to the land holder.  Either way, one then puts a generator on top of the pole, puts a big propeller on the generator, add some electrical widgets to get the right voltage and such, and hook it into the grid. 
  • To get electricity from petroleum is a bit more complex.  First, it's not immediately obvious where the oil is.  It's hidden under the ground, and sometimes under a lot of ocean as well.  It takes a lot of technology and investment just to find likely spots where it might exist.  One must then negotiate expensive deals with often insanely unpredictable foreign governments for the right to produce the oil, and deal day to day with annoyances up to and including rebel attacks on one's facilities and outright nationalization once the investments have been made.  Then one must drill, often miles into the ground.  Offshore, huge, staggeringly expensive platforms must be erected -- many of which today can be taller than the worlds largest skyscrapers.  Further, these oil fields, once found, do not pump forever, and wells must be constantly worked over and in some cases have additional recovery modes (such as water flood) added. 

    The oil, once separated from gas and water, is piped and/or shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles to a refinery.  Refineries are enormously complex facilities, each representing billions of dollars of investment.  The oil must be heated up to nearly 1000 degrees and separated into its fractions  (e.g. propane, kerosene, etc.).  Each fraction is then desulpherized, and is often further processed (including cracking and reforming to make better gasoline).  These finished products are in turn shipped hundreds or thousands of miles by pipeline, barge, and truck to various customers and retail outlets.

    To make electricity from the oil, one then needs to build a large power plant, again an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  The oil is burned in huge furnaces that boil water, with the steam driving huge turbines that produce electricity.  This electricity must then go through some electrical widgets to get to the right voltage, and then is sent into the grid.

Incredibly, despite all this effort and technology and investment required to generate electricity from fossil fuels, wind generators still need subsidies to compete economically with them.  In a very real sense, the fact that fossil fuels can come to us even at today's prices is a modern day business and technological miracle.

Of course, in the press, the wind guys begging at the government trough are heroes, and the oil companies are villains. 

Far Be It For Me To Disagree, But...

I love Arizona and the Phoenix area.  However, I thought the NY Times listing of Scottsdale as one of the #9 place to visit this summer to be a bit odd.  Next up will be the suggestion to visit Buffalo in February.  Yes, there are a lot of screaming deals at luxury hotels with great spas, so if want two days of spa treatments and proximity to lots of good restaurants, go for it.  But expect to find something like Paris in August (but with better attitudes).  You may be here but we'll all be gone, if we can afford it.  Typical summer temperatures every day are 108-112F, with occasional excursions higher into territory that is stupid-hot.  Yeah, its dry heat, and that is exactly what we tell our turkey every Thanksgiving.  And yeah, the wind blows a bit -- feels just like a hair dryer. 

Where the Subsidies Go

A week or so ago, I discussed federal energy subsidies and hypothesized, without a lot of facts, that a lot of them go to failing alternative energy projects rather than to oil company shareholders.  I asked readers if they had any more information, and the discussion is here.

But ask and ye shall receive, and the WSJ has an article today on federal energy subsidies and where they go.  The answer is:  in bulk dollars, a lot of them go nuclear, hydro, and traditional fossil fuel production.  However, it is interesting to look at them on an output basis:

For electricity generation, the EIA concludes that
solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour,
wind $23.37 and "clean coal" $29.81. By contrast, normal coal receives
44 cents, natural gas a mere quarter, hydroelectric about 67 cents and
nuclear power $1.59.

The wind and solar lobbies are currently moaning that
they don't get their fair share of the subsidy pie. They also argue
that subsidies per unit of energy are always higher at an early stage
of development, before innovation makes large-scale production
possible. But wind and solar have been on the subsidy take for years,
and they still account for less than 1% of total net electricity
generation. Would it make any difference if the federal subsidy for
wind were $50 per megawatt hour, or even $100? Almost certainly not
without a technological breakthrough.

By contrast, nuclear power provides 20% of U.S. base
electricity production, yet it is subsidized about 15 times less than
wind. We prefer an energy policy that lets markets determine which
energy source dominates. But if you believe in subsidies, then nuclear
power gets a lot more power for the buck than other "alternatives."

The same study also looked at federal subsidies for
non-electrical energy production, such as for fuel. It found that
ethanol and biofuels receive $5.72 per British thermal unit of energy
produced. That compares to $2.82 for solar and $1.35 for refined coal,
but only three cents per BTU for natural gas and other petroleum

I will repeat what I said in my earlier post, just so no one is confused about my position:

I personally don't care where [the subsidies go]. I am all for eliminating all
of this subsidy mess, equally, whether it's for oil exploration or
energy-from-donkey-poop or for CEO salary enhancement.

On Honest Engineering Discourse

TJIC links to this great story about the engineer for the Citicorp building who realized, after the building was erected and occupied, that he had made a mistake that could make the building unsafe in high wind loads.  He raised his hand, called a penalty stroke on himself, and got the thing fixed when many others might have rationalized away taking action.  Fortunately, he was respected for doing so:

Before the city officials left,
they commended LeMessurier for his courage and candor, and expressed a
desire to be kept informed as the repair work progressed. Given the urgency
of the situation, that was all they could reasonably do. "It wasn't a case
of 'We caught you, you skunk,'" Nusbaum says. "It started with a guy who
stood up and said, 'I got a problem, I made the problem, let's fix the
problem.' If you're gonna kill a guy like LeMessurier, why should anybody
ever talk?"

I continue to worry, though, that we are actively aligning incentives against having a quality, open engineering dialog.  In any engineering discussion, I don't think there has been a good safety dialog unless someone takes the position that the design (or drug, or whatever) is still unsafe.  Someone needs to advocate the position that the plan is unsafe even if that position is a straw man.  An open process encourages everyone to raise potential issues, even if these issues turn out not to be problems.

Unfortunately, in court, the very existance of such a discussion is used as evidence of liability.  Plaintiff's lawyers wave internal memos at juries showing them that concern existed about safety.  The very healthy definition of a good safety engineering process - a concern and discussion about safety - is turned into evidence of its lack.  More here.

Our Technology Is Not Economic -- Do We Invest in R&D, or Lobbying?

Lobbying of course!  Silly rabbit. 

The wind industry's trade group spent nearly $816,000 to lobby last
year as wind companies tried to persuade Congress to extend a key tax
credit and make power companies use more renewable sources.   

Despite the efforts of the American Wind Energy Association, neither desire found its way into legislation this past year.   

group, whose members include General Electric Co., BP PLC, AES Corp.
and FPL Group Inc., is still pushing for the tax-credit extension after
lawmakers failed to tuck into the economic stimulus plan. The industry
argues that 116,000 jobs and $19 billion in investments are at risk if
the 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour tax credit doesn't get a second wind.
It expires in 2008.

Here is the really, seriously amazing part:  In 2004, there were just over 400,000 people employed in the US power generation, transmission, and distribution business.  This means that, incredibly, this advocacy group is claiming nearly 30% of the electric utility industry owes their job to wind power, despite wind generating a bit less than 1% of all the power in the US.  If this is true, then here is a solution - forget the 1.9 cent subsidy, and cut some staff. 

Oh, you mean that job number probably isn't real, kind of like those municipal stadium and sports team subsidy studies.  Really?  Boy are you cynical.   

(HT Tom Nelson)

Arizona Politicians Pursue Protectionism -- Against New Mexico

Taking the economically illiterate but apparently politically powerful notion that it is important that commerce across arbitrarily selected geographic boundaries be minimized, some Arizona politicians are taking the argument to the next, ridiculous level:  Not content to blame perceived problems in the state economy (which has outperformed most other states) on NAFTA, Mexico, or Mexican immigrants, Arizona politicians are now blaming them on New Mexico.

An Arizona energy regulator is frustrated that Arizona Public Service
Co. is passing up in-state wind-energy for power from New Mexico and

The state's largest utility buys 90 megawatts of energy from the
Aragonne Mesa Wind Project near Santa Rosa, N.M., and officials have
informed Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes of plans to buy more
renewable energy from out of state, including from a Utah
geothermal-power plant.

"I am concerned that such out-of-state purchases hinder the development
of renewable energy here in Arizona, and potentially deprive our state
of much needed economic development," Mayes said in a letter to APS,
echoing concerns she raised at a regulatory meeting last week.

Of course, everyone knows that silly government energy mandates have much more growth potential than, say, low electrical rates.  So obviously the power company is just being treasonous in buying power from the cheapest sources:

When APS [one of our electric utilities] chose to buy power from the Aragonne project in New Mexico, it
rejected a similar proposal from a company that wanted to build a wind
farm in northern Arizona, which wasn't built because of the decision
from APS, Mayes said.

Brandt said the New Mexico project was better for customers.

"We put all these projects out with a competitive bid," Brandt said.
"Then we select the resource that comes out the best. It's not always
the cheapest. It's a combination of price, reliability and do-ability,
all the things a common businessperson would look at."

He said APS would rather support Arizona power projects, but so far those that have bid on power have not been competitive.

Of course, all of this, even taking the cheapest source, is more expensive than electricity would be without these mandates:

When the Corporation Commission approved the renewable-energy standard
in 2006, officials estimated it would raise an existing monthly tariff
on customer bills from less than 50 cents to $1.05 to help APS meet the
goal, but those projections have gone up. Regulators are expected to
set a new limit on the tariff in the next month, according to Mayes and
APS officials, with some proposals nearing $2.

The protectionist argument is summed up:

"This is Arizona ratepayer money that is currently going to other
states that ought to stay in Arizona," she said. "We are in an economic
downturn. It's a terrible time to be investing out of state."

Yes, yet another blow is struck against economic literacy and the concept of division of labor.  Just how arbitrarily small does a geographic area have to be before protectionists will accept that this area does not need to be self-sufficient of all products and services?


The Rent-Seekers Ball

From Steven Milloy:

The audience -- a sold-out crowd of hundreds who had to apply to be admitted and pay a $3,500 fee -- consisted of representatives of the myriad businesses that seek to make a financial killing from climate alarmism. There were representatives of the solar, wind, and biofuel industries that profit from taxpayer mandates and subsidies, representatives from financial services companies that want to trade permits to emit CO2, and public relations and strategic consultants to all of the above.
    We libertarians would call such an event a rent-seekers ball -- the vast majority of the audience was there to plot  how they could lock-in profits from government mandates on taxpayers and consumers.
    It was an amazing collection of pseudo-entrepreneurs who were absolutely impervious to the scientific and economic facts that ought to deflate the global warming bubble.

    In the interlude between presentations by the CEOs of Dow Chemical and Duke Energy, for example, the audience was shown a slide -- similar to this one -- of the diverging
    relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and average global temperature since 1998. That slide should have caused jaws to drop and audience members to ponder why anyone is considering regulating CO2 emissions in hopes of taming global climate.

    Instead, it was as if the audience did a collective blink and missed the slide entirely. When I tried to draw attention to the slide during my presentation, it was as if I was speaking in a foreign dialect.

    The only conclusion I could come to was that the audience is so steeped in anticipation of climate profiteering that there is no fact that will cause them to reconsider whether or not manmade global warming is a reality.

But of course we all know that it is the skeptics that are corrupted by money ;=)

Government is The Biggest Barrier to Alternative Energy

And by the title of this post, I don't mean because they are not throwing enough money and mandates at it.  Here is what I wrote about the alternative energy mandates in the most recent energy bill:

They want 15% of power generation from renewables by 2020.  I am not
sure if this includes hydro.  If it does, then a bunch of Pacific
Northwest utilities already have this in the bag.  But even if
"renewable" includes hydro, hydro power will do nothing to meet this
goal by 2020.  I am not sure, given environmental concerns, if any
major new hydro project will ever be permitted in the US again, and
certainly not in a 10 year time frame.  In fact, speaking of
permitting, there is absolutely no way utilities could finance, permit,
and construct 15% of the US electricity capacity by 2020 even if they
started today.  No.  Way.   By the way, as a sense of scale, after 35
years of subsidies and mandates, renewables (other than hydro) make up
... about .27% of US generation.

Here is an example of what I mean about the permitting process:  10-years a counting between proposal for a wind farm and having a chance to build it.  And I assure you that there is not way this thing will clear remaining regulatory hurdles to be in place even by 2011.

New Unified Field Theory

Albert Einstein's dream is now a reality.  We have a new unified field theory:  Global Warming causes everything bad.   Via Tom Nelson and American Thinker, comes this list by Dr. John Brignell of links to articles in the media attributing various bad things to Global Warming.  Currently, his list has over 600 items!  Some excerpts:

land increase
, Africa
aid threatened
, Africa
hit hardest,
pressure changes
, Alaska
, , Alps
, Amazon
a desert
, American
dream end
breeding earlier (or not)
forests dramatically changed
, animals
head for the hills,
grass flourishes
, anxiety,
, archaeological
sites threatened,
bogs melt
, Arctic
in bloom
, Arctic
lakes disappear
, asthma,
less salty
, Atlantic
more salty

itchier poison ivy
, jellyfish
, Kew
Gardens taxed
, kitten boom,
, lake
and stream productivity decline
, lake
shrinking and growing
, landslides, landslides
of ice at 140 mph
, lawsuits
, lawsuit successful,
income increased (surprise surprise!)
, lightning
related insurance claims
, little
response in the atmosphere
, lush
growth in rain forests
, Lyme
malnutrition,  mammoth
dung melt
, Maple syrup

yields crushed in Australia
, white
Christmas dream ends
, wildfires, wind
, wind

wine - harm
to Australian industry
, wine
industry damage (California)
wine industry disaster (US)
wine - more
, wine
-German boon
, wine
- no
more French
in Britain colder
, wolves
eat more moose
, wolves
eat less,
workers laid
, World
, World
in crisis
, World
in flames
, Yellow

All I can say is:


Prepare to Waste Some Time

Via Hit and Run, this is an incredible site for stat-geeks to fool around.  Top 101 city lists.

#1 Average Sunshine!  I have also lived in the 4th least sunny city.  Sunnier is better.   Seattle is not among the rainiest in terms of total inches, because it never rains very hard.  If you could measure rainy as "number of hours per month that rain is falling", Seattle would be right up there.  In places like Houston, you get a lot more volume of rain, but you get a whole years worth in just a couple of hours.

Other interesting ones:

I just wish they had a better explanation of the metric and the data source for each


Up until now, the retreat of Arctic ice to 30 year lows has been credited, without proof, to global warming.  This never made a lot of sense to me, since at the same time Antarctic sea ice was hitting an all-time high.  Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a new NASA study that proposes that Arctic sea ice melting over the last decade has been due mainly to shifting wind patterns that basically push the ice into warmer waters where it melts faster.

They Don't Want a Solution

Via Jane Galt:

The environmental movement has so far utterly failed to develop a
coherent approach to replacing carbon producing power sources. Wind and
solar are not such a coherent response without a massive breakthrough
in battery technology, because variable sources are inadequate to
provide base-load power. Also, they too have negative externalities:
wind kills birds and destroys views, and many solar panels are loaded
with gallium arsenide, a highly toxic substance that is apparently
rather tricky to dispose of.

All this wouldn't be so bothersome if the environmental movement
merely failed to provide realistic alternatives, but in fact, many
environmentalists actively move to block new wind installations (I'm
looking at you, Robert jr.) and nuclear power plants, spread hysteria
over nuclear waste, and otherwise actively work against the cause they
are trying to advance. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to demand
why they are blocking the only things that have any realistic chance of
replacing carbon-emitting power plants.

The answer, in my opinion, is that too many environmentalists flunk
basic and economic knowlege, which is why so many people believe it is
practical to replace a coal-fired turbine that pumps out 1,000
megawatts with a solar installation that will, in peak sun conditions,
produce about 1 kilowatt per 150 feet of space, twelve hours a day; or
wind farms, which average less than 1 megawatt per turbine in prime
spots. In addition, the core of the environmental movement are people
with a whole host of linked views about things like capitalism,
consumer culture, and so forth; they find solutions that support,
rather than changing, the existing system much less emotionally
interesting than radical conservation strategies. Unfortunately, the
latter are a thoroughgoing political failure, but the environmental
movement has strenuously resisted adjusting to this reality. (Some
leaders have, God bless them). As long as this attitude persists, the
environmental movement is blocking change that could and should happen;
it is perfectly legitimate, nay necessary, to tax them on this.

She only sortof answers her own question at the end.  The real answer is that many who currently lead the environmental movement don't want a technological fix that sustains economic growth without CO2 emissions.  The whole point of latching onto, and exaggerating, the theory of anthropomorphic global warming is to find a big new club to bash capitalism and wealth.  Just watch this segment of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! where film of environmental movements is shown.  All the rhetoric is not anti-polluter, it's anti-corprorate and anti-capitalism.  Many leading environmentalists want nothing less than to shut down the global economy, and if that means taking down every poor person in the world just to get at Exxon and General Motors, they are willing to do so.

TerraPass Business Model

I don't have any inside information on TerraPass, the company made famous by providing the $399.75 certificates that offset all your emissions for a year.  I do know that the numbers don't seem to add up, as I wrote here and Protein Wisdom similarly wrote here.

However, I thought about their business model some (since I have been on a role with new business models) and it strikes me that it is brilliant.  Because I am almost positive that they are (legally) reselling the same carbon credits at least three times!

Think of TerraPass not as a company that hands out little certificates, but as a business who makes money through energy projects.  These projects generate electricity without producing CO2 (e.g. wind), or in the case of their cow-poop projects they generate electricity by converting a very bad greenhouse gas (methane) to a less bad one (CO2).

So, for each Kw they generate, there is a certain number of tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided vs. if they had generated the same Kilowatts with fossil fuels.  (How many tons depends on what fuel you assume the power would have been made with -- my guess is they assume coal, since that gives them the biggest offset, though in fact the marginal fuel in most areas is natural gas in peaking turbines, which produces a lot less CO2).

Anyway, they can claim some number of tons of avoided CO2.  But I am pretty sure they are reselling these abated tons at least three times!  Here is how I think it works:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to consumers.  Since the
    electricity is often expensive, they sell it as "CO2-free"
    electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas, where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to
    electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets
    government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being
    "CO2-free".  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless
    investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass
    finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you
    saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people
    to whom they don't have to pay dividends or interest "”just the feel-good
    sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

All, by the way, entirely legal, though perhaps not wholly ethical if you really care about reducing CO2 emissions and not just being able to cover your ass to smugly deflect criticism.  This is actually a brilliant way to finance electricity projects, one that Enron wasn't even smart enough to dream up.

And there is nothing wrong with buying these certificates.  The International Star Registry has sold thousands (millions?) of people on the idea that they can have a star named after themselves.  Of course, no actual official body that names stars accepts these as real names, but that's OK, the certificate kind of makes a cool graduation gift (friends of ours did the ISF thing for my father-in-law after he died and my wife really liked it).

Postscript:  By the way, this ignores the ability of such a company to resell the same credits to multiple certificate holders, since the whole CO2 credit thing is pretty damn hard to audit and no one is even trying.  I don't think these guys are doing so, but someone will think of it.

Dead Cat Bounce

I don't usually report on the minutia of politics or polling, mainly because it bores me to tears, but I had to make this post because it lets me use one of my all-time favorite terms.  Bush's recent rise in the polls reminds me very much of that great investment term "dead cat bounce."  (If it falls far enough, even a dead cat will bounce).   I've always suspected that many of the technical analysis used on Wall Street to analyze stock trends could be applied to political polls, since they encompass some of the same group distributed consensus building.   I can see it now, Paul Kangas reporting that President Bush is experiencing a break-out to the upside...

By the way, are there really people who change their opinion about the war, about the president, about how they will vote on a weekly basis?  It sure seems like there are 5-10% of Americans who blow around with the wind.  I don't mean change your mind once, like changing your mind on the war.  I mean back and forth every week.  Otherwise, how does one explain the fluctuation in the polls, particularly when the amount of the fluctuation is outside the error range?

Would You Confirm Any of the Judicial Committee?

I had trouble getting going this morning on work -- I had to drop my son off at school at 5AM for a field trip, and I am sitting in my office refusing to address the pile of work in front of me.  So I skimmed over some of the transcripts from the Roberts confirmation hearings.  He seems like a pretty qualified guy, and since he is conservative I expect to agree with him some and disagree with him other times (which is different from my reaction to liberal judges, whom I disagree with some and agree with at other times).

But from reading the transcripts, I was left with one overriding impression:  While I might agree to confirm Roberts to the Supreme Court, I probably would not, if given the chance, confirm many of the Senators on the judiciary committee to their office.  What a bunch of posturing morons.  Many of them seemed like wind up toys reading questions from their staff that they didn't really understand, and all of them come from the Sean Hannity school of interviews, where in a 20 minute interview the questioner talks for 18 minutes.

Mens Underwear Recomendation

OK, this may be a bit bizarre, but believe me, when you live in a climate that routinely remains between 100-114 degrees for five months, comfortable underwear is a must.  I have tried nearly every type and brand, from briefs to boxers, and have recently discovered some new ones that are great.  They are made by Under Armour, which is an entirely familiar clothing line to everyone here in Phoenix because they handle heat and sweat so well.  My kids live in the Heatgear, though I opt for the Loosegear since I no longer have the body for form fitting clothing. 

The underwear is made of that silky under-armour fabric, but is very comfortable and seems to wick sweat away from your body.  The downside is that they are nearly $20 a pair, but they don't shrink and so far have held up well. 

PS- I know my friend Scott in San Francisco tried a pair as well - he may be able to give us a review in the comments of whether he liked them or not.

Final Note: To those of you who suggest "none", you haven't lived in a really hot climate.  "Freefalling" may be OK on a breezy day on the California coast, but in a Phoenix summer or in my birthplace of Houston, you are going to regret it.

Really Random Tangent: Someone sitting with me in my office this morning commented that "the only reason we think it is hot when it is 98 out is because of our clothes.  If we were naked, 98.6 would be the perfect temperature because that is our body heat."  This is actually a misconception and ignores several principals of thermodynamics.

The key fact is that the body generally is a net producer of heat.  To be comfortable and maintain body heat, the body must shed this heat, which humans do in two ways.  First, we transfer heat to the surrounding air from our skin - to do this well, the surrounding temperature needs to be less than our body heat.  The more differential, the more heat transfer.  Air motion (via wind) provides convective heat transfer, which accelerates this process.  Second, we sweat.  When sweat evaporates, it pulls heat from the surrounding air and adjacent body.  Sweating cools us therefore based on evaporation rates, which is one reason why drier climates are more comfortable -- sweat evaporates faster. 

In addition to shedding the body heat we produce, we also have to shed any heat we pick up by radiative transfer.  Radiative heating is the heat we feel on our skin when we are in direct sunlight, and is why one can be cooler in light than dark clothing (dark colors absorb more radiative heat). 

All this means that if we are naked, in the shade, in a dry climate like Phoenix on a breezy day, we are likely to be comfortable at a temperature closer to 98.6.  In the direct sun in a calm, humid climate, even naked, we are going to want a temperature much much less than 98 to be comfortable.

Revisiting Nuclear Power

The NY Times has an article on a growing but still small minority of environmentalists who are ready to revisit nuclear power:

Several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone
public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among
environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global

Their numbers are still small, but they
represent growing cracks in what had been a virtually solid wall of
opposition to nuclear power among most mainstream environmental groups.
In the past few months, articles in publications like Technology
Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and
Wired magazine have openly espoused nuclear power, angering other
environmental advocates...

In his article, Mr. Brand argued, "Everything must be done to increase
energy efficiency and decarbonize energy production." He ran down a
list of alternative technologies, like solar and wind energy, that emit
no heat-trapping gases. "But add them all up," he wrote, "and it's just
a fraction of enough." His conclusion: "The only technology ready to
fill the gap and stop the carbon-dioxide loading is nuclear power."

While I am more of a warming-skeptic than most (see here, among others), I made this same plea for reconsidering nuclear power a while back.  However, a different regulatory approach (not laxer, just different) will be required:

If aircraft construction was regulated like nuclear power plants,
there would be no aviation industry.  In the aircraft industry,
aircraft makers go through an extensive approval and testing process to
get a basic design (e.g. the 737-300) approved by the government as
safe.  Then, as long as they keep producing to this design, they can
keep making copies with minimal additional design scrutiny.  Instead,
the manufacturing process is carefully checked to make sure that it is
reliably producing aircraft to the design already deemed safe.  If
aircraft makers want to make a change to the aircraft, that change must
be approved with a fairly in-depth process.

Beyond the reduction in design cost for the 2nd airplane of a series
(and 3rd, etc.), this approach also yields strong regulatory benefits.
For example, if the
in a particular aircraft, then the government can issue a bulletin to
require a new approved design be retrofitted in all other aircraft of
this series.  This happens all the time in commercial aviation.

One can see how this might make nuclear power plant construction
viable again.  Urging major construction companies to come up with a
design that could be reused would greatly reduce the cost of design and
construction of plants.  There might still be several designs, since
competing companies would likely have  their own designs, but this same is true in aerospace with Boeing, Airbus and smaller jet manufacturers Embraer and Bombardier.