Thursday, May 21, 2020

Trump issues executive order to protect power grid from attack

President Trump on Friday issued an executive order declaring a national emergency over threats to the U.S. power system, taking steps to defend the grid against cyberattacks and foreign interference.

The executive order bans the use of equipment for the power grid that was manufactured by a company under the control of a foreign adversary, or the buying of any equipment that poses a national security threat.

“Additional steps are required to protect the security, integrity, and reliability of bulk-power system electric equipment used in the United States,” Trump wrote. “In light of these findings, I hereby declare a national emergency with respect to the threat to the United States bulk-power system.”

The order also established a task force to protect the power grid from attacks and share risk management information to prevent interference. Members of the task force will include the secretaries of Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the Director of National Intelligence. 

Trump noted in the order that the power system is a target for those “seeking to commit malicious acts” against the U.S., pointing to concerns around cyberattacks in particular.

“A successful attack on our bulk-power system would present significant risks to our economy, human health and safety, and would render the United States less capable of acting in defense of itself and its allies,” Trump wrote.

Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette applauded the executive order, saying in a statement that it would “greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.”

“Today, President Trump demonstrated bold leadership to protect America’s bulk-power system and ensure the safety and prosperity of all Americans,” Brouillette said. “It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats.”

The order establishes the secretary of Energy as the official tasked with identifying equipment currently in use in the bulk power system that poses a risk, and working to take out and replace that equipment. The secretary is also in charge of creating a list of “pre-qualified” vendors that are deemed safe to work with.

The Department of Energy has stepped up its focus on protecting the grid from attacks in recent years. Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry established the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) in 2018 to help prepare and respond to threats.

The official CESER account tweeted Friday that the agency “stands ready” to help defend the bulk power system, adding that “malicious actors” have targeted the power system for the past decade.


Wind farm taxpayer subsidies come with a now controversial beneficiary: China

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley says he backs taxpayer subsidies of wind farms because they are good for his home state of Iowa.

But today, some 30 years after Grassley conceived the federal wind tax credit program, which birthed rows of turbines across the country’s emptiest spaces, he has another, somewhat improbable cheerleader: China.

China’s curious role in support of taxpayer wind energy subsidies in the U.S. is now raising suspicion, as Grassley tries to convince Trump Administration officials that their COVID-19 stimulus measures should include a boost to his beleaguered wind program.

The U.S. Treasury Department released a letter to Grassley last week suggesting it plans to “modify the relevant rules,” allowing wind farm developers facing a Dec. 2020 deadline four more years to finish their taxpayer subsidized projects.
The wind subsidy program was supposed to make wind energy makers self-sufficient within a decade— or by 2002. However, it is currently in year 29.

According to an analysis last year by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), which goes to “corporations who either erect new wind turbines or refurbish turbines.” has cost U.S. taxpayers $65.1 billion.

A huge chunk of that taxpayer money has gone directly to companies in which the largest shareholder is the Communist Party of China (CCP).

Grassley’s Senate colleague, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said Sunday that many Chinese companies operating in the U.S. are doing so for the sole purpose of spying on our country.

Americans “need to have their guard up against Chinese espionage,” Cotton said.

He is proposing legislation that would ban taxpayer-funded researchers from also accepting funding from Chinese-affiliated firms.

A University of Arkansas electrical engineering professor was arrested Monday and charged with secretly accepting $500,000 from the CCP.

“Steadfast in our approach”

The Chinese were minor, inconsequential players in wind energy when Grassley, 86, started arguing for U.S. taxpayer support of the industry in 1992. Now, they dominate the space, controlling five of the world’s ten largest wind turbine manufacturers.

According to a 2016 Navigant Research report, Chinese companies controlled 28.2 percent of the wind turbine manufacturing market, versus 9.2 percent for U.S.-controlled companies. It reported that China had five times as many workers employed making turbines (509,000) as did the U.S. (102,500).

Chinese-owned Goldwind is the second-largest wind turbine producer in the world, having installed more than 19,000 turbines in 17 countries. It controls 25 percent of the Chinese market— more than twice its next largest competitor.

Goldwind Chairman Wu Gang has worked in wind power since the late 1980’s. He previously served as the Chinese Communist “Party Committee” secretary at Goldwind’s parent company, Xinjiang New Energy.

In 2010, Goldwind opened a U.S. subsidiary, headquartered in Chicago, with an eye towards exploiting Grassley’s tax credit program here.

It has since purchased wind farms in Montana and partnered with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway on a wind farm project in West Texas.

“At Goldwind, we are steadfast in our approach to the United States and broader North American wind markets,” said David Sale, Chief Executive Officer of Goldwind Americas.

Buffett, whose Des Moines-based Mid-American Energy owns 2,600 wind turbines in Iowa, is a longtime backer of Grassley’s subsidy program, which he has used to reduce his company’s tax bill.

 "I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire's tax rate," Buffet said in 2014. "For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit."

Wind subsidies started phasing out in 2017 and were supposed to finally expire at the end of 2019.

There are 58,000 wind turbines in the U.S.

In 1983, Iowa became the first state to mandate its utilities derive a percentage of their power from wind or solar. The state reports that 42 percent of its generated electricity came from wind in 2019, versus 35 percent from coal and 13 percent from natural gas.

That’s six times the national average for wind power generation of seven percent.

Nationwide, 38 percent of electricity is derived from natural gas, 24 percent from coal and 20 percent from nuclear.


Wind and solar add zero value to the grid

Why is wind power and solar power, not making significant gains in providing a substantial amount of renewable electricity? The US has utilized, in its energy mix, about eight percent of wind and two percent solar for more than a decade. The reason it is not growing requires an understanding of the fundamental elements, of an electrical grid.

The grid is the electrical industry’s term for all of the hardware and software needed to convert fuel into electricity. The electricity is distributed by wires, transformers, sub-stations, etc. to all of us. The system must ensure our safety from malfunctions, security to customers, and safety for the community.

For a simple example, let’s assume we are a local electric utility in Smallville, USA. It’s a town with a population of 50,000 and another 25,000 people in the surrounding farms, along with small factories, professional offices, shops, a hospital, bakeries, etc. Everyone in the area needs reliable and affordable electricity. Over the years, Smallville set up a modern grid to assure a 99.98 percent reliability. In order to guarantee that reliable availability, the community’s grid must have at least a 75 percent excess capability above the everyday norm. Twenty-five percent of the excess must be in the “spinning reserve mode,” another 25 percent must be in the “peaking mode,” and 25 percent in the “back-up mode.” Let’s examine each of these portions of the necessary reserves.

Spinning Reserve. If some malfunction happens at any time and shuts down a generating plant, a back-up plant needs to kick-in and pick up 100 percent of the lost power in seconds. If it’s a few seconds too late, the electrical demand will overwhelm the grid, causing a “brown-out,” or worse, a “blackout.” It’s as if all the customers of a bank show up at the same time, demanding to take out all their money immediately. It’s a disaster.

The only way to ensure that this blackout doesn’t happen is to have a back-up fossil fuel power plant already running at about 90-95 percent of rated power. It burns fuel but creates no electricity. They will burn almost the same amount of fuel as they would if there was no solar or wind plants connected to the grid because solar and wind can not serve as backup power. The backup power must be 100% reliable. All existing solar and wind power must have fossil fuel back up, while solar and wind power can not be used to back up fossil fuel power as a result of its unreliability. (The wind may not blow adequately and the sun may not shine). As a result, electric utilities are wasting capital, fuel, and operating costs thinking wind and solar can contribute a significant portion of their available energy. It just increases the cost of community power.

Peak mode: This is the extra electrical power that’s needed twice a day, typically for two to three hours each. First is the morning peak demand, from six to nine AM to cook breakfast, get ready to go to school and work. The other high demand period is usually from about five to seven PM. That’s when the extra power is needed to cook dinner, fire up the AC or central heat, etc.  But solar plants can’t fill either of these peak demands. That’s because solar produces electricity near mid-day when it’s needed the least. Wind turbines might be put to work a few hours in the morning or evenings. In all cases, however they still need the spinning reserve fossil-fuel back-up plant running at about 90 percent of rated power, 100 percent of the time.

Back-up Reserve: These power plants are like a spare tire in the trunk of a car; they sit there until called to duty. But unlike the spinning reserve, these reserves don’t need to be up and on-line in seconds. So, they only operate when they are started, typically for scheduled maintenance on other plants. Depending on the type of plant, it may take several hours or more for them to come online, and then they may run for days, weeks, or a year non-stop.  Having a power plant just sitting there, doing nothing most of the time is very expensive, but is a valuable insurance policy against failure.

Let’s examine the real-life experience of Germany that made the bold decision to go all-in on being green. It is now the number one producer of wind and solar electrical power in the world on a per capita basis. In 2004 Germany launched an aggressive plan to replace many of their coal and nuclear plants with wind and solar. By 2018 Germany had an installed electrical base of about 210 gigawatts. Of that, 28 percent was wind power, 26 percent solar, and the remaining 46 percent was their remaining fossil fuel and nuclear power plants along with a little hydro. At least that is the nameplate rating of the power capability of these solar and wind installations when operating under the best conditions. However, the real production is startlingly different.

While these solar and wind plants could theoretically produce 46 percent of Germany’s needs, in actuality, they only produce about 12 percent of Germany’s total electrical output. Who knew that one of the world’s most prosperous and industrialized nations could not figure out how to produce enough electricity to meet the needs of its own people and industry from wind and solar power?

To relieve this national shortage, Germany has been importing vast amounts of electrical power, mostly from France, and are paying exorbitant rates for it.  The average cost of electricity in Germany is now almost three times the cost in the United States.

Germany is now launching a major program to rebuild dozens of fossil-fueled power plants. They have also signed a contract with Russia to build a natural gas pipeline from Siberia to fuel their electrical demand and to back up its unreliable wind and solar plants.Wind and solar add zero value to the grid

Sweden has a funny but sad story that needs to be told. They launched a vast wind program a decade ago, which is proving to be a problem in their challenging environment. In their northern latitudes, solar was out of the question. Wind also has some issues. This photo is from a recent article in the online service, “”  Here we see a picture of a Swedish helicopter trying to de-ice a wind turbine like an airport tanker truck de-ices an airplane’s wings and fuselage . Only the windmill is about four to five times bigger than a Boeing 747’s. A helicopter can only carry 10-20 percent of what a truck can. So, by the time they’ve finished one or two-blades, they need to start all over again.  Now imagine a wind farm with hundreds of these turbines.  This picture is worth thousands of words and a few giggles. But it’s not funny for Sweden.

Note: Portions of this article were excerpted from the 2020 book A Hitchhikers Journey Through Climate Change with permission of the author Terigi Ciccone. The book is the best possible source for parents and grandparents to explain reality to their children.


Minister says it is not Australia’s policy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, despite signing up to the Paris agreement, because the Morrison government will not adopt a mid-century target in advance of a plan to achieve it.

The energy minister said on Tuesday that signatories to the Paris agreement, including Australia, had agreed to hit net zero “in the second half of the century”. But scientists say in order to meet the central Paris goal of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C – a commitment Australia adopted in 2015 – signatories need to hit net zero by 2050.

A new review of the government’s climate policies headed by former Business Council of Australia president Grant King notes that “like other signatories to the Paris agreement, Australia has agreed to adopt progressively more ambitious targets beyond 2030 and has endorsed the agreement’s overarching long-term goals, namely to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2C – and if possible below 1.5C – by achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible in the second half of the century”.

Major business groups, including the Business Council of Australia and the Ai Group, say Australia should adopt the net zero by 2050 target. Earlier this month the Ai Group called for the two biggest economic challenges in memory – recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and cutting greenhouse gas emissions – to be addressed together, saying it would boost growth and put the country on a firm long-term footing.

Every Australian state has signed up to net zero emissions by 2050, and these commitments are expressed either as targets or aspirational goals.

But asked on Tuesday whether net zero by 2050 was the federal government’s policy, Taylor said: “No.”

“Our approach is not to have a target without a plan,” Taylor told the ABC. He said technology improvements would drive significant reductions in emissions “and we’d love to be able to achieve net zero by 2050, but ultimately that will depend on the pathways of technology to deliver that without damaging the economy”.

The King review has recommended new approaches to reducing pollution including paying big emitters to keep their emissions below an agreed limit, and allowing businesses to bid for funding from the government’s climate policy – the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund – for projects that capture emissions and either use them or store them underground.

The King review proposal to pay emitters to remain below their baseline looks like a voluntary carbon trading mechanism. The review says the idea “could be achieved by crediting emissions reductions below baselines and providing for the sale and purchase of … safeguard mechanism credits by the federal, state or territory governments or through voluntary transactions in carbon markets”.

Despite that clear description in the review, Taylor contended initially on Tuesday the proposal was not a form of voluntary carbon trading. He said the review proposed a “carrot” to give companies an incentive to overachieve on their pollution reduction commitments.

The Coalition has spent a decade opposing carbon pricing, and it abolished the emissions trading scheme legislated during the Gillard government. Rightwingers in the Liberal party also moved against Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in part because he pursued a policy to reduce emissions in the electricity sector.

But after first saying the King proposal was not a form of carbon trading, the energy minister then argued that principle was “nothing new”. “You can trade Australian carbon credit units now. There is nothing new with that, that’s a pre-existing system we have through the emissions reduction fund.”

It is unclear whether some of the proposals in the review would garner majority parliamentary support, but Taylor said some of the proposals might be able to be achieved without changing legislation.



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