Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wind fantasies are not new

Wind power is a medieval technology that most people visualize coming from Dutch windmills in the 1600’s and 1700′s. The 1600’s were also known for the Tulip Bulb Mania, which the Dutch fittingly called “windhandel” (“wind trade”) because no tulip bulbs were actually trading hands. Tulips were traded on the decentralized stock exchanges in the taverns of Dutch towns, typically using a slate board to post bid prices.

The famous Dutch artist Hendrik Gerritsz Pot’s 1640 painting “Flora’s Wagon of Fools” depicted Flora, the goddess of flowers, riding in a “wind powered car” with attached tulip bulb flag, a drunk openly drinking an alcoholic beverage, a monk or priest with tulips in his hood and carrying a money bag, a two-faced Goddess of Fortune, and followed by a horde of true believing weavers who had abandoned their trade to chase a get rich quick scheme.

The painting is eerily contemporary to our times. Replace tulips with wind power, and slate boards with “cap and trade exchange,” “feed-in-tariffs" and “green power tax credits,” and you have the makings of a modern day Wind Power Mania.

Larger copy of the painting here

Wind versus fracking

America is running out of natural gas. Prices will soar, making imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) and T Boone Pickens’ wind farm plan practical, affordable and inevitable. That was then.

Barely two years later, America (and the world) are tapping vast, previously undreamed-of energy riches – as drillers discover how to produce gas from shale, coal and tight sandstone formations, at reasonable cost. They do it by pumping a water, sand and proprietary chemical mixture into rocks under very high pressure, fracturing or “fracking” the formations, and keeping the cracks open, to yield trapped methane.

Within a year, US recoverable shale gas reserves alone rose from 340 trillion cubic feet to 823 trillion cubic feet, the Energy Department estimates. That’s 36 years’ worth, based on what the USA currently consumes from all gas sources, or the equivalent of 74 years’ of current annual US oil production. The reserves span the continent, from Barnett shale in Texas to Marcellus shale in Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states – to large deposits in western Canada, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and other states (and around the world).

Instead of importing gas, the United States could become an exporter. The gas can move seamlessly into existing pipeline systems, to fuel homes, factories and electrical generators, serve as a petrochemical feedstock, and replace oil in many applications. States, private citizens and the federal government could reap billions in lease bonuses, rents, royalties and taxes. Millions of high-paying jobs could be “created or saved.” Plentiful gas can also provide essential backup power for wind turbines.

Production of this much gas would reduce oil price shocks and dependence on oil imports from the likes of Gadhafi and Chavez, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about a game changer!

What’s not to like? Plenty, it turns out. The bountiful new supplies make environmentalist dogmas passé: the end of the hydrocarbon era, America as an energy pauper, immutable Club of Rome doctrines of sustainability and imminent resource depletion, the Pickens’ Plan and forests of wind turbines.

What to do? Environmentalists voiced alarm. HBO aired “Gasland,” a slick propaganda film about alleged impacts of fracking on groundwater. Its claims have been roundly debunked (for instance, methane igniting at a water faucet came from a gas deposit encountered by the homeowner’s water well – not from a fracking operation). A politically motivated Oscar was predicted, but didn’t happen.

The Environmental Protection Agency revealed a multiple personality disorder. Its Drinking Water Protection Division director told Congress there is not a single documented instance of polluted groundwater due to fracking. (Studies by Colorado and Texas regulators drew the same conclusion.)

EPA’s Texas office nevertheless insisted that Range Resources was “endangering” a public aquifer and ordered the company to stop drilling immediately and provide clean water to area homes. EPA officials then failed to show up at the hearing or submit a single page of testimony, to support their claims.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced plans to conduct a “life-cycle” or “cradle-to-grave” study of hydraulic fracturing drilling and gas production techniques, to assess possible impacts on groundwater and other ecological values. Depending on whether the study is scientific or politicized, it could lead to national, state-by-state or even city-by-city drilling delays, bans – or booms.

The industry and many states that have long experience with drilling and are confident the needed regulations, practices and testing procedures are already in place. They voice few worries, except over how long a life-cycle study could take or how political it might become. In fact, it’s a very useful tool.

But if a life-cycle study is warranted for hydraulic fracturing, because drilling might pass through subsurface formations containing fresh water, similar studies are certainly called for elsewhere: wind turbine manufacturing, installation and operation, for instance.

Turbines require enormous quantities of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and rare earth minerals – all of which involve substantial resource extraction, refining, smelting, manufacturing and shipping. Land and habitat impacts, rock removal and pulverizing, solid waste disposal, burning fossil fuels, air and water pollution, and carbon dioxide emissions occur on large scales during every step of the process.

Over 95% of global rare earth production occurs in China and Mongolia, using their technology, coal-fired electricity generation facilities and environmental rules. Extracting neodymium, praseodymium and other rare earths for wind turbine magnets and rotors involves pumping acid down boreholes, to dissolve and retrieve the minerals. Other acids, chemicals and high heat further process the materials. Millions of tons of toxic waste are generated annually and sent to enormous ponds, rimmed by earthen dams.

Leaks, seepage and noxious air emissions have killed trees, grasses, crops and cattle, polluted lakes and streams, and given thousands of people respiratory and intestinal problems, osteoporosis and cancer.

In 2009, China produced 150,000 tons of rare earth metals – and over 15,000,000 tons of waste. To double current global installed wind capacity, and produce rare earths for photovoltaic solar panels and hybrid and electric cars, China will have to increase those totals significantly – unless Molycorp and other companies can rejuvenate rare earth production in the US and elsewhere, using more modern methods.

Made in China turbines are shipped to the USA, trucked to their final destinations, and installed on huge concrete platforms; new backup gas generating plants are built; and hundreds of miles of new transmission lines are constructed. That means still more steel, copper, concrete, fuel and land. Moreover, the backup power plants generate more pollution and carbon dioxide than if they could simply run at full capacity, because as backups for turbines they must operate constantly but ramp up to full power, and back down, numerous times daily, in response to shifting wind speeds.

Wind farms require roads and 700-1000 ton concrete-and-rebar foundations, which affect water drainage patterns in farm country. The 300-500 foot tall turbines affect scenery, interfere with or prevent crop dusting over hundreds of acres, and kill countless birds and bats. Farmers who lease their land for wind turbines receive substantial royalty payments; neighbors are impacted, but receive no compensation.

Despite these ecological costs, wind farm projects are often fast-tracked through NEPA and other environmental review processes, and are exempted from endangered species and migratory bird laws that can result in multi-million-dollar fines for oil, gas and coal operators, for a fraction of the carnage.

Perhaps worst, all this is supported generously by renewable energy mandates, tax breaks, feed-in tariffs, “prioritized loading orders,” and other subsidies, courtesy of state and federal governments and taxpayers. In fact, wind power gets 90 times more in federal subsidies than do coal and natural gas, per megawatt-hour of electricity actually generated, according to US Energy Information Administration data. And wind-based electricity costs consumers several times more per kilowatt-hour than far more reliable electricity from coal, gas and nuclear power plants.
Simply put, the wind might be free, when it blows. But the rest of the “renewable, green, eco-friendly” wind energy system is anything but.

It might be far better all around to simply build the most efficient, lowest-polluting coal, gas and nuclear generating plants possible, let them run at full capacity 24/7/365 – and just skip the wind power.

Life-cycle studies would be a positive development – for all energy sources. In fact … “Think globally, act locally” might be a very good motto for EPA and wind energy advocates.


Australian scientist lectures The Institute of World Politics on climate and energy security

On Tuesday, February 22, 2011, David Archibald, an Australian scientist working in the fields of oil exploration, medical research, climate science and energy, spoke at IWP on "Climate and U.S. Energy Security."

He started his presentation by putting current climatic conditions within the context of recent and historic records, and asked the question, "Is the world warming?"

Through various graphs showing temperature trends up to millions of years ago, Mr. Archibald showed that there has not been a change in average temperature since 1976, when the Great Pacific Climate Shift triggered the normal thirty-year cycle of warmer weather from colder temperatures. In fact, he explained, it was much warmer 1000 years ago - so much so that the sea level was a meter higher than it is at present.

Mr. Archibald then posed the question, for which he is famed in the climate debate, of whether carbon dioxide was linked to global warming. While the carbon dioxide heating effect is real and related to warming, it is minuscule and logarithmic.

Mr. Archibald said the logical reason for temperature increase is the sun. Predicted solar activity is used to predict climate, and the current prediction is for a 24-year cold period similar to that experienced at the beginning of the 19th century. In turn, the agricultural consequences of that cold period will be significantly reduced Canadian and other high-latitude grain production, drought in East Africa and South America, and reduced monsoonal strength in Asia.

Simultaneously with this colder-climate stress on agricultural production, world oil supply will shrink with a dramatic price response. Mr. Archibald stated that we "have to leave oil before oil leaves us," as it is becoming scarcer and costlier to extract. China's oil consumption has increased dramatically, and by the end of the decade, their import demand will be roughly the same as that of the United States.

When the price of a barrel reaches $120, Archibald believes it would be worthwhile to switch to coal or other forms of fuel that are cheaper to produce. Price substitution effects will drive the building of coal-to-liquids plants to serve the transport fuels market, and nuclear power will supplant coal in the power market. Thorium in molten salt reactors is advocated as the optimum nuclear process, as it produces less than 1% of hazardous waste, is far less toxic, and there is no long-term waste.

Mr. Archibald concluded his presentation with the outline of a plan for U.S. energy independence by 2020, which predominantly involves switching to natural gas and adopting the correct science, rather than getting caught up in internal politics.


Warmist gloomy about all the snow

Lots of fun here. He starts out saying he admires The Union of Concerned Scientists. Presumably he knows that they would more accurately be termed The Union of Far-Left Scientists. He then says, with some logic, that warming should in theory lead to more precipitation. I have said the same for years. What he ignores is that the logic concerned seems to have evaded all Warmists up until now. They previously said repeatedly that warming led to drought! There is only one problem with their "communication": their tendency to lie. Liars generally get caught out eventually

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group I greatly admire, has held a press conference (with attendant media coverage) to air an argument that is already quite intuitive to me, but is probably precisely the opposite for others: Namely, that global warming could mean more mega-snowstorms, of the sort North America has seen in the past several years.

On a physical level, the case is sublimely simple. One of the fundamental aspects of global warming is that it increases the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, because warmer air holds more water vapor. From there, it’s a piece of cake—more snow can fall in snowstorms than before. In making this case, the UCS drew in part on the awesome weather blogger Jeff Masters:

“The old adage, ‘It’s too cold to snow,’ has some truth to it,” said Masters. “A colder atmosphere holds less moisture, limiting the snowfall that can occur.” He cited a study that found that a high percentage—as much as 80 percent—of all snowstorms in the United States of more than 6 inches during the 20th century occurred during winters with above average temperatures.

“If the climate continues to warm,” he added, “we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where it’s too warm for it to snow heavily.”

So the science makes sense--but on a psychological level, it seems to me that getting people to accept this most counter-intuitive of analyses is likely to be one of the biggest sticking points of all. Why’s that?

Well, first, people confuse climate and weather endlessly. We already know that. But that’s just the beginning of the problem.

Psychologists studying climate communication make two additional (and related) points about why the warming-snow link is going to be exceedingly difficult for much of the public to accept: 1) people’s confirmation biases lead them to pay skewed attention to weather events, in such a way as to confirm their preexisting beliefs about climate change (see p. 4 of this report); 2) people have mental models of “global warming” that tend to rule out wintry impacts.

“Perceptions of the implications of lots of snow for the existence of climate change are like the results from a Rorschach test,” writes Janet Swim, a psychologist at Penn State who headed up an American Psychological Association task force report on psychology and climate change.

Suggesting that he knows this well, Marc Morano is already blasting Jeff Masters and the Union of Concerned Scientists over the global warming-snow claim. Clearly, Morano feels he’s on strong ground here, tactically or otherwise.

I feel torn about this. On the one hand, winter snowstorms have drawn massive attention and have affected incredibly large numbers of people. They speak to everyone’s experience. Tying global warming to that would be incredibly powerful.

But at the same time, the hurdles presented are incredibly vast, and I’m not sure good scientific explanations, alone, can overcome them.

That doesn’t mean the UCS and Jeff Masters should leave this topic alone. Many people are open minded and want to know what’s going on with the climate system; and for the rest of the public, over time we may push them closer to a point where these ideas will go down more easily.


Deadly legionella bacteria threatens power-saving Greenies

HOUSEHOLDERS who turn down the heat on their hot-water systems risk the spread of deadly legionella bacteria. The bacteria was found in the tank-style hot-water systems of three of five legionnaires' disease victims, prompting SA Health to warn the only reason householders should set the temperature below 60C was if young children or the elderly lived in the house and could be scalded.

The suspected link to hot water systems was only revealed publicly in a report prepared for Parliament by the independent watchdog Public and Environmental Health Council.

When asked about the issue, SA Health told The Advertiser the legionella testing was done to identify the source of five Adelaide cases of the disease in a small area of north-eastern Adelaide in late 2009, with three of the five thought to be linked to bacteria found in hot water systems in the victims' houses.

In a written statement, Director of Public Health Protection Dr Chris Lease said: "SA Health continues to look at ways to further inform the community of the importance of safely using hot water storage tanks to avoid burns and scalds and also protect against legionella infection.

"Hot water storage tanks need to be set to store water at 60 degrees minimum to reduce the risk of legionella growth.

"All hot and mixed water sanitary outlets like shower, hand basin, bath taps, laundry sink that are not used on a daily basis should be flushed weekly with hot water at full flow for at least 15 seconds."

UnitingCare Wesley spokesman Mark Henley said there continued to be conflicting advice about the risks of legionella and scalding of children from health authorities.

"It is not surprising that low-income people do anything they can including adjusting the temperature of hot water systems because the cost of electricity is so high," he said.

A spokeswoman for SA Health denied there had been a cover-up and defended the fact that details of the link to hot water systems were never revealed. The spokeswoman said it was common practice in disease outbreaks not to reveal specific causes, and said warnings had been issued to councils and other health authorities.

Water heating contributes to about 40 per cent of household electricity bills, on average $600 each year, and hundreds of dollars could be saved by adjusting the temperature, depending on the age of the system.

The warning applies only to hot water systems that allow water to sit in a tank. Newer heaters which allow temperature adjustment from inside the home are not a danger.

Legionella infects up to 15 South Australians each year, with airconditioner cooling towers the major source.

Large increases in electricity and gas prices have caused many people to reduce the temperature down to as low as 40 degrees, but this can be a breeding ground for the legionella bacteria in heaters which have reservoirs of water which stand for a long time.

Instant hot water systems and newer systems which allow the temperature to be adjusted close to taps are not a risk.

Legionnaires' disease can occur if a person breathes in legionella-contaminated water vapour or dust. It cannot be spread from person to person. While the optimum temperature for it to thrive is 35 degrees it flourishes at between 25 and 45 degrees.

The use of warm water is common in nursing homes and other places where scalding is a threat and SA Health insists hot water systems which can store water at temperatures below 60 degrees must be:

INSPECTED once every month and recorded in a maintenance log book.

CLEANED once a month if impurities in the system are found.

DECONTAMINATED at least every six months.


No happy ending for carbon tax fairytale

Comment on the proposed Australian carbon tax

LIKE Goldilocks and the three bears, Australia's climate change response relies on believing that temperature changes (and their timing) are not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

It relies on believing the world can slow its production of carbon dioxide sufficiently to hold the temperature below a level at which catastrophic climate change can be avoided. The emissions forgone will come just at the right time, all going well.

There's not a lot of economics in it. Ross Garnaut, the government's climate change economic adviser, has thought about this a great deal. But his advice to government is to stick with an abatement strategy first and an adaptation strategy second.

In the update to his 2008 Climate Change Review, Garnaut argues: "There is still a chance of achieving strong mitigation objectives, and at worst we are headed towards materially less damage from climate change than would have been the case with no international mitigation effort at all."

The assumption of a reasonably direct relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the temperature level and damage arising from temperature change is a big call. To suggest that the world is heading towards materially less damage than would have been the case on the basis of present abatement is frankly heroic.

In 2008, Garnaut argued that "mitigation will come too late to avoid substantial damage from climate change". In his 2011 update he argues that "without in any way underplaying the importance of a large, well-designed and well-resourced adaptation effort, my own judgment is that there is no evidence at this time nor any danger of over-investment in mitigation at the expense of investment in adaptation".

There is, however, a strong connection between mitigation and adaptation. For droughts we build dams, for floods we build levees, for cyclones we rebuild stronger houses and replant crops. We have no option but to do these things. Indeed, when non-climate tragedies occur, such as earthquakes, we have no option but to rebuild. All of these things require energy. All of these things become more difficult if the price of energy rises.

Then there is the economics (and the politics).

Julia Gillard's bald-faced lying to the electorate that she would not introduce a carbon tax - as the central plank of an abatement policy - and then doing so is one thing. Her announcement that a carbon tax is an "essential economic reform" is quite another.

For the carbon tax to work, the price of carbon emissions will need to continue to rise, which means future governments will have to raise the tax. This is unlikely to occur. Certainty cannot be delivered under these circumstances.

I sympathise with economists that a price on carbon emissions would deliver the electricity industry and their customers secure power generation.

These things are not going to happen with a pricing mechanism that requires future governments to change the tax or the cap. Even with a carbon tax and a successful transition to a cap and trade system and future lowering of the cap, the likely medium-term changes to the Australian economy will be one or two power plants fired by gas and the de-commissioning of one or two coal-fired plants. Some reform, some abatement.

I sympathise entirely with economists that a price would work best, in lieu of subsidies for renewables. Linking solar and wind generation to the grid is proving a real headache. But a pricing mechanism will not solve the inadequacy of these technologies.

Australia's mitigation strategy has no hope of doing other than lining the pockets of gas and nonrenewable energy producers and risking any number of Australia's internationally competitive producers. The impact on global temperature will be nil.

There are no benefits in adopting low-emission energy production early, because we can easily pick up on what others do at a later time.

Australians buy television sets and computers, we do not invent them. We reap the rewards of adopting them. As we are unlikely to invent the low-emission, low-cost energy sources, we will not reap those benefits. Besides, inventors do not rely on the price of carbon for their reward. The patent alone will make them as rich as Croesus.

Tony Abbott's promise to overturn a carbon tax means a price mechanism is no longer an option. Of course, it never was an option because for the tax and-or the cap and trade to work effectively future governments would have to continue to raise the price of carbon emissions, which is a bit like asking them to raise the GST on a regular basis. It simply will not happen.

It is a brew that Goldilocks would find too hot to handle.



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Anonymous said...

ross garnaut is a director of Ok tedi gold and copper in PNG. and chairman of Lihir gold PNG.isnt it hypocritical of him to advocate a carbon dioxide tax in australia when both mines are releasing millions of tonnes of toxic sludge into the environment (rivers & ocean) or is it a case of do as i say not as i do

Kee Bird said...

All the HOT AIR comming from the mouths of AL GORE and the wackos from GREENPEACE and the various other eco-wacko groups of dedicated green nuts who need to be in a padded cell in a streight jacket