Sunday, October 04, 2020

Senate sets table laden with green pork

The US Senate is sitting on what could quickly become the biggest green pork giveaway in history, but it is almost impossible to see, let alone discuss or criticize. Untold billions for renewables and their kin. This would be funny if it were not so ridiculous, so a bit of scornful humor is called for.

It all began with an innocent little bill introduced in March by Energy Committee chair Murkowski. The bill would throw a bit of research money at geothermal power generation. You can still see S 2657 here. No big deal, right?

Then someone, probably not Murkowski, got the idea to make this little bill the vehicle for giving huge amounts of money and tax breaks to the whole realm of green technologies. Pure green pork.

John Droz does a great job of telling this story here. Droz is a leading critic of renewables. His website has what is likely the world̢۪s biggest collection of critical studies and commentaries and his weekly newsletter listing more is very useful. He blew the whistle on this high pile of pork.

What happened is that something like 221 proposed amendments to S 2657 were tabled, many all at once. I have not looked at them all, possibly no one has, but the ones I have looked at really push renewables.

The trick is that there was no notice of this avalanche of pork. The Senate bills website still just lists the original bill because while the amendments have all been tabled, none has been voted on and passed.

There is however an amendments button that will start you on your way. I say start because there is still some serious digging to do. It turns out that these proposed amendments only exist in the obscure pages of the Congressional Record for early March, 2020.

The endless porky amendments start here on March 3, 2020. There may well be some later as I have not tried to find them all. I do know that there is one amendment to which there are then many amendments. There may be amendments to amendments to amendments, etc.

Once you find them the obstacles do not end. Many are written in what I call “opaque context” which means they incorporate references to other laws in such a way that you need to look at the references in order to know what the proposed amendment says.


The Plague of Renewable Portfolio Standards

There are few commodities that are more perishable than electricity. If it is not consumed at the moment it is produced, there are not very good options. Yes, it is possible to store electricity via a reversible hydroelectric scheme called pumped storage. It can also be stored in rechargeable batteries. Both options are exorbitantly expensive. With eggs or milk, cold storage for a period is feasible, and if that doesn’t work, there are powdered eggs and cheese. Electricity is produced by generating plants that are capital-intensive.

At a modern natural gas generating plant, two thirds of the cost is capital, and one third is fuel. If you idle the plant because at a particular time there is no market for the electricity, two thirds of your costs keep on running. At a nuclear plant, fuel is extremely cheap. Nearly all the cost is capital or staffing, and nearly all the costs continue if the plant is idle. Idling a nuclear plant saves practically nothing. That gives a clue why nuclear plants generally run flat out, turned on more than 90% of the time. With a wind or solar generating plant, nearly all the cost is capital. If you turn off wind or solar generation, because there is no market, all your expenses turn into losses.

Wind or solar plants, usually, can be turned off on command, but they can’t be turned on unless the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. They are erratic generators. Not only can you not be sure of turning them on when needed, but they are liable to turn off by themselves because the wind died or a cloud moved in front of the sun. This is worse than producing milk or eggs. The cows and chickens can be counted on to produce at a fairly predictable rate. When a substantial part of the electricity in a particular area is being generated by wind or solar, there have to be enough quick-response backup plants ready to compensate for a drop off in generation from the wind or solar. Usually the backup plants are natural gas plants due to their agility.

Wind and solar are feasible only because the operators of the grid agree to do everything possible to accept whatever amount of wind or solar is coming their way at any time. They assume this posture toward wind and solar because that is required by various regulations and contracts. All the other sources of power are ordered to decrease or increase output as needed to balance the amount of wind or solar power flowing at any moment. If wind and solar are minor players, the burden of accommodating their erratic nature is small. If they become big players, the burden starts to be a serious problem. In some places, like California, it’s starting to get serious.

Wind and solar are impractical due to their erratic nature. Another big problem is that they are extremely expensive, even with government subsidies. The alternative to purchasing wind or solar electricity is to use the natural gas plants, already in existence, that back up the wind and solar. To use the natural gas plants, the only additional expense is the marginal cost of operation, almost entirely the cost of the fuel. That cost is about $15 per megawatt-hour. You don’t have to build new backup plants to substitute natural gas for the wind or solar, because there already has to be enough backup capacity to 100% replace the wind or solar. Electricity from either wind or solar costs around $80 per megawatt-hour; nearly all the cost is the cost of capital, and the cost is five times more than it costs to use the natural gas plants that are already there. (Wind and solar cost about the same.) Government subsidies exist that may lower the cost of wind or solar to around $30, still double the $15 cost of using the backup plants. Many of these subsidies are under political attack or are scheduled to sunset.

The wind and solar industries claim that their products are competitive with conventional generation. They do this by making a false comparison. The total cost of natural gas electricity is around $45 per megawatt hour, the $15 cost of the fuel, the $30 cost of amortizing the capital investment. The cost of wind or solar with current subsidies is around $30. So they claim that wind or solar is cheaper than conventional natural gas, $30 versus $45. Adding wind or solar cuts only the fuel cost, not the capital cost of natural gas plants. The capital cost of natural gas remains because the plants have to stay in place to back up the wind or solar. Further, the government subsidies are not a real cost reduction. The pubic just pays for the electricity via taxes rather than via their electric bill. If you add wind or solar to a grid, someone has to pay $80 to save $15.

This situation, where everyone else has to bend over backwards and pay high prices to accommodate wind and solar, is sold to the public on the grounds that it reduces CO2 emissions and thus saves the world from global warming. One objection to this is that the predictions of global warming are based on junky science, while adding CO2 to the atmosphere greens the Earth and increases agricultural production. If we ask the most qualified people who firmly believe in global warming from CO2, such as the scientist James Hansen, they say that using wind and solar to cut CO2 emissions is a big lie, a grotesque and fantastical solution that won’t work. See here, here, and here. They say that only CO2-free nuclear energy can save us from global warming. Most environmental organizations are still advocating wind and solar. They have a problem with nuclear because during the ’70s and ’80s, they worked very hard to destroy the nuclear industry in the U.S. They largely succeeded.

The biggest government policies that keep the wind and solar fraud in business are the thirty states that have renewable portfolio standards. These laws require that a certain percentage of the electricity must come from renewable sources. Renewable sources end up being wind or solar. Hydro and nuclear are generally not feasible alternatives to satisfy the standards. Nuclear is arbitrarily banned by almost every state. Hydro is allowed but killed by banning hydro that involves dams. The Sierra Club hates dams.

There are other niche sources of renewable electricity, but they are too minor and too expensive to be important.

The renewable standards mostly have an accelerating schedule. In Nevada, 50% of the electricity must be renewable by 2030. In California, it is 60% by 2030. The end consequence of the renewable portfolio standards are the regulations and contracts that provide all the special accommodations that wind and solar require to be even remotely feasible. When wind or solar cross a threshold of supplying about 20% of the electricity in a grid, it becomes necessary to add storage, usually batteries, doubling or tripling the cost.

The state legislatures have enacted renewable portfolio standards because they have accepted the lie that wind and solar are competitive and the lie that wind and solar are a good way of reducing CO2 emissions. They also have largely accepted the poorly substantiated notion that we face a global warming crisis.


Intermittent Renewables Are Nothing to Throw Money At

On July 18, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). It is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. This post looks at claims that using the green energy projects needed to meet the CLCPA goals will get the economy moving after the COVID pandemic.

I am following the implementation of the Climate Act closely because its implementation affects my future as a New Yorker. Given the cost impacts for other jurisdictions that have implemented renewable energy resources to meet targets at much less stringent levels, I am convinced that the costs in New York will be enormous and my analyses have supported that concern. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Intermittent Renewables

Salt Tanks that provide thermal energy storage for the 280 MW Solana Generating Station in Arizona so that output can be provided after the sun goes down and scheduled to meet demand requirements. But, it is only designed to provide six hours of energy storage and allows the plant to but generate about 38 percent of its rated capacity, which isn’t enough close to a combined-cycle natural gas plant. It’s a cruel joke and anything but green; sheer folly.

Problems with a Green Energy Kick-Start

Advocates for the CLCPA claim that we should use clean energy projects to get the economy moving again. For example, at the August 24, 2020 Climate Action Council meeting Co-Chair Doreen Harris said this summer’s large-scale renewable project solicitations will kick-start the economy. In this post I evaluate Gail Tverberg’s post “Why a Great Reset Based on Green Energy Isn’t Possible” at her blog Our Finite World with respect to those claims.

Ms. Tverberg gives ten reasons why re-starting the economy after the Covid pandemic is not simply like resetting your computer. She explains some of the misunderstandings that “lead people to believe that the world economy can move to a Green Energy future”. I encourage readers to read her post. Despite her emphasis on the world’s economy there are important lessons for New York.

Her first point is that the “The economy isn’t really like a computer that can be switched on and off; it is more comparable to a human body that is dead, once it is switched off.” Ms. Tverberg argues that the economy and energy system are inextricably interconnected. She explains that the economy is only able to “grow” because of energy consumption. As resources change businesses change. A key point is that as energy sources are taken away systems like the economy fail quickly. While in this instance the economic collapse was not because of energy input it still cannot simply be turned back on.

Tverberg’s blog originally explored how oil limits affect the economy but, in my opinion, oil is only a surrogate for energy. In the “Getting Started” section on her blog she explains how limits to minerals and energy sources should be incorporated into economic modeling. This is related to her second point “Economic growth has a definite pattern to it, rather than simply increasing without limit”. Of particular interest to New York is that one of the economic limits ignored by economic modelers is “an energy supply that becomes excessively expensive to produce”. We are still waiting for an estimate for the cost of the CLCPA but experience elsewhere does not bode well.

Her post addresses the world’s economy but her third issue “Commodity prices behave differently at different stages of the economic cycle. During the second half of the economic cycle, it becomes difficult to keep commodity prices high enough for producers”, should be a direct warning for New York. In particular, we are waiting for the Climate Action Council to develop their scoping plan that will include an energy plan for New York. We can only guess at how many wind turbines, solar panels, and energy storage systems will be needed when heating and transportation are electrified.

Given that energy storage is expensive, one cost minimization approach is to over-build wind and solar to minimize the periods when a lot of energy storage is needed. The peak demand periods occur rarely but they are also the most impactful – think the coldest and hottest periods. However, if you over-build, the electricity commodity price will be very low most of the time when solar and wind output is greater than the load needed. Tverberg explains that too low oil prices make it more difficult for oil producers to survive and this will also be a likely problem for New York’s energy producers.

Her next point specifically addresses coal and oil prices. She is concerned that the low prices since mid-2008 seem to be leading to both peak crude oil and peak coal. In both cases she claims that investments in new oil wells and unprofitable coal mines are not occurring. Consequently, there will be less energy available for the economy.

Tverberg believes that economic “modelers missed the fact that fossil fuel extraction would disappear because of low prices, leaving nearly all reserves and other resources in the ground”. Importantly she points out that these “modelers instead assumed that renewables would always be an extension of a fossil fuel-powered system”. The following quote is directly applicable to New York’s CLCPA:

“Thus, modelers looking at Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) for wind and for solar assumed that they would always be used inside of a fossil fuel powered system that could provide heavily subsidized balancing for their intermittent output. They made calculations as if intermittent electricity is equivalent to electricity that can be controlled to provide electricity when it is needed. Their calculations seemed to suggest that making wind and solar would be useful. The thing that was overlooked was that this was only possible within a system where other fuels would provide balancing at a very low cost.”

The CLCPA assumes that political will is sufficient to over-come this problem but no one has shown how they plan to do it.

Tverberg makes the same point that I have been making that her concerns apply to other aspects of the economy: “The same issue of low demand leading to low prices affects commodities of all kinds. As a result, many of the future resources that modelers count on, and that companies depend upon as the basis for borrowing, are unlikely to really be available.” If New York continues down this path, then our only hope is that jurisdictions outside of New York won’t, so that future resources will be available elsewhere.

The following two issues addressed by Tverberg reveal fundamental flaws in the CLCPA. First, she notes that “On a stand-alone basis, intermittent renewables have very limited usefulness. Their true value is close to zero.” Recall that the CLCPA plans to replace almost all fossil fuels with intermittent renewables. I am sure she would agree with me that the CLCPA will likely end badly.

I could not agree more with the second applicable issue: “The true cost of wind and solar has been hidden from everyone, using subsidies whose total cost is hard to determine.” A common trope is that wind and solar are cheaper but those comparisons always include the cost of construction and exclude the costs to make the intermittent and diffuse renewable power available when and where it is needed. When those costs are included wind and solar are far more expensive. If subsidies are needed to make intermittent renewables viable then how can New York afford to maintain the subsidies indefinitely? She notes that the “ability to subsidize a high cost, unreliable electricity system is disappearing.”

Tverberg points out that “Wind, solar, and hydroelectric today only comprise a little under 10% of the world’s energy supply” so we have a long way to go to reach a “green” energy system. According to the New York Independent System Operator wind, solar and hydroelectric in New York totaled 25.8% of New York’s energy supply mostly because New York is in the unique geographical position to get 22.4% from hydro primarily at Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River. In my opinion the hydro capability for New York is tapped out so future renewables will have to come from wind and solar. Additionally, she makes the point that “None of these three energy types is suited to producing food. Oil is currently used for tilling fields, making herbicides and pesticides, and transporting refrigerated crops to market.”

I also agree strongly with Tverberg’s final consideration: “Few people understand how important energy supply is for giving humans control over other species and pathogens.” She ends that section with“We are dealing with COVID-19 now. Today’s hospitals are only possible thanks to a modern mix of energy supply. Drugs are very often made using oil. Personal protective equipment is made in factories around the world and shipped to where it is used, generally using oil for transport.”

Tverberg concludes:

“We do indeed appear to be headed for a Great Reset. There is little chance that Green Energy can play more than a small role, however. Leaders are often confused because of the erroneous modeling that has been done. Given that the world’s oil and coal supply seem to be declining in the near term, the chance that fossil fuel production will ever rise as high as assumptions made in the IPCC reports seems very slim.”

I conclude that two of the concerns raised in her article are fundamental flaws in the CLCPA. She explains that intermittent renewables have a true value close to zero and that the total cost of the subsidies needed to support wind and solar are hidden and hard to determine. The CLCPA mandates reliance on intermittent renewables which will inevitably eventually cause problems. I also believe that those flaws undermine the concept that the technologies will kickstart the economy. That can only appear to work until the subsidy money runs out. At a time when there isn’t enough money for basic services throwing money away on intermittent renewables is sheer folly.


Reports of Reef’s demise greatly exaggerated

If we are to believe the Queensland Labor Government, sugarcane farmers are evil and are destroying the Reef in their pursuit of greater profits with their use of fertilisers.

To counter this, new regulations are going to be introduced.

These will have the handy effect of allowing the Government to trumpet its environmental credentials while at the same time pandering to the Greens, the latter being an article of faith held dear by Labor governments.

Given this, it was intriguing to hear the head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Paul Hardisty, concede under questioning before an ongoing Senate inquiry that only 3 per cent of the Reef, the inshore reef, was affected by farm pesticides and that even that 3 per cent was at “low to negligible risk”.

This in effect means that 97 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef, which lies 50km to 100km off the coast, is completely unaffected.

It is also worth noting that while scientists regularly shriek warnings that the Reef is dying and in so doing damage the tourism industry, no one has bothered to measure coral growth or the lack of it for the past 15 years.

Marine scientist Peter Ridd, who questioned the validity of claims made regarding the imminent death of the Reef by his peers, was sacked by James Cook University for his impertinence.

James Cook has since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of university funds pursuing him through the courts.

AgForce reef taskforce chairman Alex Stubbs says cane farmers have been persecuted by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science over the issue of water quality and the health of the Reef.

The proposed legislation, he said, had been cooked up by bureaucrats, was fundamentally flawed and would do untold damage to the sugar cane industry. Guess which political party cane farmers will be putting at the bottom of their ballot papers at the October 31 state election.

If sugarcane farmers are the bad guys, then coal miners are the devil incarnate which is why the State Government keeps stalling approval of a planned expansion of the New Acland mine near Oakey.

There is also the small matter of pandering to – you guessed it – the Greens.

Coal is bad, we are told. Coal kills. It causes climate change, bushfires and if it continues to be mined, will lead to the extinction of civilisation.

The world, we are lectured, is abandoning coal and it’s pointless for Australia to keep mining it because nobody wants the stuff.

Companies that do business with coalminers are threatened with consumer boycotts, and cowardly executives acquiesce in the face of the baying of the mob and divorce themselves from coal.

Driven by fear, not reason, they abandon their responsibilities to their shareholders in their desperate efforts to appear to be ”woke.”

The Chinese, who don’t care in the least about being woke, must be more than a little bemused by all this as they continue to build and approve coal-fired power stations at a record rate.

Germany recently commissioned a new coal-fired power plant, Japan has plans to build more than 20, India is increasing its coal-fired electricity generation by more than 20 per cent, while Indonesia, Mozambique, Malawi, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Vietnam and Serbia are all building coal-fired power plants.

The Age of Reason may be dead, but on the evidence it appears that coal is not.

The Reef also stubbornly refuses to fulfil the prophesies of its imminent demise, even when it is forecast by such towering intellectuals as Leonardo Di Caprio, who has never seen the Reef but pronounced it to be near death in 2016, as did then US president Barack Obama when he treated Australians to his ignorance in 2014.

This brings us to politicians. Is it true or false that a person like, let’s say Victorian Premier Andrews, would lie after swearing on the Bible to tell nothing but the truth?

Have a guess.



Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life — as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together — which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here

No comments: