Wednesday, July 10, 2013
An undeserved rescue
Obama admin stealthily updates enviromental cost calculations, then announces new regs. Let’s connect the dots here
I realize that I’ve already written about this impressively insidious and sneaky little rule change a couple of times now, but especially in light of what I mentioned earlier today about the many new action items the EPA has on its agenda far and away beyond even President Obama’s carbon-emissions regulatory ambitions, I really can’t emphasize enough just how extravagantly underhanded this move was — as well as the pretty major impact it’s going to have.
Last month, the Obama administration (through the Office of Management and Budget, of all things) very quietly updated their system for calculating what they call the “social costs of carbon” (SCC), a tool they use to guesstimate the costs and benefits of their proposed environmental regulations, in a seemingly inconspicuous rule about microwave oven efficiency. The higher their price estimate, the easier it is for them for justify the economic costs of their regs — and how oddly timed is it that they just tried to sneak a change to an already highly controversial estimate system beneath anybody’s notice, and that they’re getting ready to introduce all kinds of new regulations on a whole bunch of types of emissions? Too odd, if you ask me.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) connected the change in the White House’s accounting method, called the “social cost” of carbon pollution, to the administration’s plans for new environmental rules.
“Connecting the dots, it’s clear the Administration updated the social cost of carbon, without much notice, in order to justify sprawling new regulations,” he said in a statement to The Hill on Monday.
Hunter added, “And not long after, the President pulls the curtain back on a new agenda that will lean heavily on rule making, and now there’s a clear line of sight into the Administration’s plans. There must be a more transparent process, allowing the public and industry to weigh-in on something so significant. That’s something everyone can support, including those who support putting a higher cost on carbon emissions.” …
After the OMB announcement, Hunter and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill requiring a 60-day public review period for new analyses of a rule’s impacts, costs and benefits. The legislation, the Cost-Benefit and Regulatory Transparency Enhancement Act, would also require agencies to publish a report on the methods used in studies of new rules.
The Obama administration were hardly what you’d call a bunch of slouches at introducing new and costly environmental regulations during the president’s first term, and their even bigger plans for the Round 2 are quickly becoming clear — as much as they’d obviously like to prevent them from becoming too clear. Move along, people, nothing to see here.
The news about fracking is getting out in Britain
The following article by Lord Lawson appeared in a "Red Top" (popular newspaper)
IN recent weeks it has become clear that we are sitting on mind-boggling reserves of gas on a scale never before suspected.
They are locked in black rock known as shale, from which the latest technology, developed and now widely in use in America, can extract the gas safely and cheaply.
According to the British Geological Survey, there is enough now known to lie under Lancashire and Yorkshire alone to satisfy all the UK’s needs at the present rate of consumption for between 50 and 100 years.
And that is without taking into account not merely the rest of the UK, so far largely unexplored, where shale gas is known to exist, but also our offshore shale reserves, which the British Geological Survey reckons could be up to ten times the size of our onshore reserves.
Nor is it just gas. There is oil in shale, too, which is now being extracted in the US using the “fracking” technology, in increasing quantities.
Having your own supplies of gas, in particular, is hugely advantageous since, unlike oil, gas is pretty expensive to transport from overseas, as it has to be liquefied first.
As a result, in the US – which has already overtaken Russia as the world’s biggest producer of gas (and which may in due course overtake Saudi Arabia in the production of oil) – gas prices have plummeted, giving the economy a massive and continuing boost.
So, with what seem to be the largest shale reserves in Europe – and maybe, who knows, in the world – we are a lucky people.
Or so you might suppose. But that is to reckon without the two ugly sisters who are determined that Cinderella shall not go to the ball. The first is an influential quango, the Environment Agency, headed by Labour peer Lord Smith, which (to some extent at the behest of the European Union) is busy inventing one phoney reason after another why the extraction of shale gas should not be given planning permission.
The second ugly sister is the Department of Energy and Climate Change, under its Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Ed Davey, and its Energy Bill now before Parliament.
It would give Mr Davey the power to sign very long-term contracts with inefficient wind power operators to provide so much electricity at between twice and three times the current price that there will be no market left for the cheap electricity that could be generated using shale gas.
And they are backed by well-funded Green pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth, who are preparing unending legal challenges for anyone seeking to provide us with cheap energy from shale.
They are all motivated by a quasi-religious obsession that carbon dioxide, essential for life on this planet and produced when gas or oil is burned, is somehow evil.
This is a belief without any serious scientific substance and one which our major competitors are rightly content to ignore.
Recognising that Brits have too much common sense to fall for this, they parade spurious environmental concerns, claiming that fracking will contaminate groundwater and lead to damaging earthquakes.
Both these objections are entirely unfounded. Despite the hundreds of thousands of shale wells drilled in the US, there is not a single, authenticated case of groundwater contamination. This is hardly surprising. Groundwater, as its name implies, is near the earth’s surface. Shale gas is drilled deep, deep, down.
There is usually at least a mile of solid rock between the groundwater and where the fracking occurs.
As for earthquakes, while there have been a few instances of minor tremors deep down where the fracking takes place, these have no effect whatsoever on the surface, where we all live.
At my age, it probably makes little practical difference whether fracking goes ahead in the UK or not. It will certainly go ahead elsewhere, as it does in the US to the great benefit of the American economy.
But I do still care about the future of this country. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country that is prosperous and confident, not one that is impoverished, fearful, and self-harming.
That is what is at stake.
Fracking phobia fails yet again
The pro-fracking conspiracy in the United States is so vast that it evidently encompasses the Environmental Protection Agency, famously a tool of the oil and gas industry.
The EPA just dropped its study of fracking allegedly contaminating the water in Pavillion, Wyo.The enviro Left had rejoiced at the news a few years ago that the EPA had for the first time implicated fracking as a threat to groundwater. Now, amid criticisms of its methodology, the EPA has backed down and won’t issue a final report. It’s handing the matter off to the state of Wyoming, which has been dubious of the EPA’s claims.
Not winning converts: Josh Fox with fellow anti-fracker Yoko Ono.
Not winning converts: Josh Fox with fellow anti-fracker Yoko Ono.
It’s one in a long series of disappointments for anti-fracking crusaders who expect at least the EPA, if no one else, to credit their crackpottery and paranoia.
According to ProPublica, “environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling.” It never occurs to them that perhaps the evidence doesn’t back up the anti-fracking hysteria.
Consider a celebrated case in Parker County, Texas. Resident Steven Lipsky had methane in his drinking water. The EPA fastened on the idea that Range Resources had contaminated his well through fracking, and hit the company with an endangerment finding and remediation order. But as Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation recounts, the EPA couldn’t actually defend any theory whereby the fracking had polluted the well.
Slowly, the agency retreatedin ignominy. It turned out that the well wasn’t contaminated at all, but contained levels of methane typical in the area and below levels that the federal government considers a threat to health.
“Area residents,” Loyola writes, “had found natural gas in their water wells years before any drilling for natural gas. Some water wells were even ‘flared’ for days after drilling, to release dangerous levels of methane. One area subdivision’s water tanks warn ‘Danger: Flammable Gas.’ ”
This naturally occurring methane explains the starkest evidence against fracking — a handful of flaming faucets in Colorado, supposedly rendered flammable by fracking. They were the stars of “Gasland,” the anti-fracking filmby propagandist Josh Fox, who seeks to be the Michael Moore of natural gas. The state’s oil-and-gas commission issued a careful rebuttal explaining that in the area in question “troublesome amounts of . . . methane” had been documentedin the aquifer since 1976.
None of this is to say that fracking never goes wrong. If there’s a mechanical failure in a well, there will be problems. But this is true of any kind of drilling. There’s nothing uniquely dangerous about the act of fracking, which involves blasting mostly water and sand into a shale formation to create tiny fractures that release gas. This often happens 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground and far beneath any aquifers.
Fracking is such an obvious boon that it is embraced almost everywhere it is feasible. Now, Josh Fox is returning to the well, so to speak, with “Gasland 2,” aired on HBO.He is officially a third of the way to as many sequels as Fast and Furious. Just wait for “Gasland 6: All Fracking Leads to This.”
He must feel like he’s made the equivalent of 1970s scare-mongering anti-nuclear movie “The China Syndrome” (twice), except the nuclear industry has continued to thrive.
On an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Fox had to plead that his anti-fracking cause isn’t a fizzle. He could cite the ban in New York, but most states aren’t so economically self-destructive.
Despite a case of methane contamination a few years ago that became a cause célèbre for anti-fracking activists, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, continued to green-light fracking. Even Gov. Jerry Brown in California is resistant to banning fracking in a state allergic to exploiting its natural resources.
Fracking is so self-evidently the future that, at times, even the EPA seems loath to try to stand in the way.
Shale is getting greener
Ask a green what he or she thinks about fracking, and you’re likely to get an earful of criticism about methane leaks, poisoned groundwater, and climate change disaster. But a new report from the ecologically minded Breakthrough Institute (BI) makes the case that shale gas actually has a net environmental benefit. Nevermind the boosts to our energy security, and economy that fracking provides; the controversial drilling process is worth embracing on green merits alone.
Natural gas’s biggest green qualification is the extent to which it displaces coal as an energy source. Burning coal emits roughly twice as much greenhouse gas into the air as natural gas. Thanks to the shale boom, we’re getting less of our electricity from coal-fired power plants and more from natural gas. The BI notes, “From 2008 to 2012, annual coal consumption for US electric power declined, on average, by 50 million tons.” That’s something greens should be cheering, and it’s mostly thanks to fracking.
But natural gas doesn’t just beat coal on carbon emissions. The BI explains why, at the local level, shale gas does less harm than coal:
"The environmental and community impacts of shale fracking are reliably far more modest than those created by coal mining and production. Whereas coal mining removes entire mountains and contaminates streams with hazardous waste, natural gas drill pads occupy only a few hundred square feet, and there are only a handful of cases of groundwater contamination by fracking chemicals. Whereas innovation in coal mining resulted in greater landscape degradation, innovation in gas fracking has resulted in less-toxic fracking chemicals, fewer drill pads, and better drilling practices."
It seems pretty straightforward at this point: the more natural gas we burn, the less coal we burn. That leads to lower carbon emissions and less harm to the environment and local communities.
Many greens have one final quibble: that the increased share of shale gas in our energy mix will come at the expense of the fledgling solar and wind industries.
Breakthrough has an answer for that as well. Gas plants are a lot cheaper to build than coal plants, and cheaper to scale up if needed. Surprisingly, this is actually good news for solar and wind energy. When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, we need other sources of energy. Coal plants have high capital costs: they’re generally much more expensive than natural gas plants, which means, once built, they’re going to stay online as long as possible to recoup that initial investment. Natural gas plants are cheaper to build, so there’s less of a need to keep them on when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. In that sense, natural gas makes our power supply more flexible and boosts the viability of renewable energy sources.
Despite all of this, the green camp is firmly entrenched in its opposition to shale gas. No matter that shale gas displaces dirty-burning coal; it’s still a fossil fuel, and its emissions aren’t zero. But the world isn’t black and white, and the fact that greens can’t see in shades of gray means that they will continue to be forced to sit out serious energy policy debates. In a perfect world, we would be able to harness the power of the wind and the sun cheaply, consistently, and efficiently, but the technology isn’t there yet. Shale gas is a viable option, and a relatively green one at that.
"Renewables" out of favor in Japan; nukes reviving
The shining light that was once Japan’s renewable energy industry is beginning to dim as reality sets in and it faces competition from a rejuvenated nuclear power industry.
The green energy industry was buoyed by the nation’s distrust and fear of nuclear power triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
According to a February nationwide survey by the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, 34 of the 79 solar energy producers who responded said they had given up on at least one solar power project. Roughly 45 percent of those respondents cited difficulties in land procurement, followed by 25 percent who said they had problems joining the power grid.
One such project in Hokkaido, located near the New Chitose Airport, called for a 100-hectare solar power generation facility. The site adjacent to the Abiragawa river remains covered in weeds to this day.
"We call it an April 17 crisis," said Hiroaki Fujii, the 43-year-old executive vice president at SB Energy Corp., a Tokyo-based company that designed the plans.
On that date this year, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said it would only purchase a total of 400 megawatts of electricity as part of the feed-in tariff system from the so-called mega-solar power plants, each with a generation capacity of 2 megawatts or more. That amounts to turning down as many as 70 percent of the 87 applications to sell it power, filed through March, with a combined output capacity of 1.568 gigawatts.
One Hokkaido Electric official justified the decision: "Our power grid has a limited capacity. Accepting too much power from solar plants, where output levels fluctuate wildly depending on the weather, compromises a stable supply of electricity."
One Sapporo-based real estate company lost money speculating. The company purchased two plots of land to host solar power plants that never materialized. "We were taken in by a renewable energy bubble," the company's president lamented.
Hokkaido is one of the prime choices for hosting renewable energy plants, with solar power in the south of the island and wind power in the north.
"No growth target for renewable energy would be feasible without Hokkaido," said Toru Suzuki, chairman of the nonprofit Hokkaido Green Fund.
The renewable energy feed-in tariff system was introduced in July 2012. It obligates utilities to purchase electricity generated by solar and wind plants at predetermined prices. The then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan initiated the system in a bid to bolster the nation’s renewable energy production, which accounted for less than 2 percent of the total power generation at the time, to 30 percent.
The regional utility's decision to limit its purchases of solar power cannot be assigned to grid capacity alone. The decision was taken in large part due to Hokkaido Electric's expectations that all three idled reactors at its Tomari nuclear power plant will eventually go back online.
Power demand in Hokkaido at its minimum is just 3 gigawatts. The three Tomari reactors have a combined power generation capacity of 2.07 gigawatts, leaving a difference of roughly 1 gigawatt if they are returned to service. But if utilities revert to relying on nuclear power to levels before the Fukushima disaster, that could leave very little room for the emerging renewable energy industries to grow.
Enter the savior of Japan’s nuclear energy sector: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy. The Abe administration is eager to export Japan’s nuclear technologies and expertise. Not only did his government help secure a contract to build nuclear reactors in Turkey, but Abe himself, acting as the country’s top salesman, visited Saudi Arabia, India and Central Europe to promote Japanese nuclear capabilities.
In late March, a group representing the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) also visited the Sizewell nuclear power plant 160 kilometers northeast of London. The forum’s constituent members include power utilities and manufacturers dealing in nuclear technologies.
There are plans to build two more nuclear reactors on the grounds of the Sizewell site.
"Expanding our nuclear operations overseas has come to play a larger role in our perspective since the Abe administration came to power," said Akihiro Matsuzaki, an official in the JAIF Department of International Affairs and a member of the mission to Sizewell. Foundation work is already under way there.
Hitachi Ltd., which acquired Britain's Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd., said it also hopes to boost the annual sales of its nuclear business division from the current 160 billion yen ($1.64 billion) to 360 billion yen by fiscal 2020.
"We will be part of Abenomics (Abe's economic policy)," Hitachi Senior Vice President Tatsuro Ishizuka told a briefing session for investors on June 13.
Madhouse rules: British Consumers ‘May Pay For Green Energy In Spain’ - To Help Britain Meet Green Targets
Britons could be forced to subsidise renewable energy schemes in other countries to help to meet the Government’s green targets, even though they would not generate any electricity or jobs for the UK.
Consumer groups have described the so-called “statistical transfer” renewable energy trading scheme as nonsense.
The coalition revealed its support for the plan at the end of last month, arguing that it could save consumers money if it was cheaper to build a wind farm or solar park overseas. By awarding subsidies funded by levies on consumer bills to foreign renewable projects, the electricity generated would count towards meeting Britain’s legally binding green target. Renewable energy developers have put forward renewable projects in Tunisia, Spain and Portugal that could sell power under the trading scheme.
Britain is struggling to meet a European Union target to generate about a third of its electricity from renewables and could face fines or legal action if it does not comply. Last year, 12.3 per cent of the country’s electricity came from renewables.
Ann Robinson, the director of consumer policy at uswitch.com, a price comparison website, said: “I don’t think consumers will understand this. Why should they have to pay through their bills for renewable projects built abroad? It is a nonsense. These EU targets have to be real targets; they should not be subject to these types of fixes.”
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Posted by JR at 4:36 PM