Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Trump calls for 'immediate action' to prevent coal, nuclear power plants from closing

In a rare move, the Trump administration confirmed Friday that it will take "immediate steps" to prevent coal and nuclear power facilities in the U.S. from closing.

A statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not say specifically what steps the administration would take but said that "keeping America’s energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security, public safety, and economy from intentional attacks and natural disasters."

"Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our Nation’s energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid," Sanders said in a statement.

So what could that look like?

The National Security Council reportedly discussed a draft memo on Friday, reported by Bloomberg News, that would direct electrical grid operators to purchase electricity from coal, nuclear, or oil-fueled facilities at risk of closing.

The draft memo laying out the directive doesn't give a specific amount operators would have to spend but says it will be enough to keep the facilities open for the next two years, saying that U.S. national security "relies on a robust U.S. domestic industrial base, of which the coal, nuclear, and oil and natural gas industries are critical strategic components."

The administration says the move will prevent coal and nuclear power plants critical to the electrical grid from closing, but opponents say the requirement is essentially a bailout for a dying industry that the president promised to save and will cause Americans' electricity bills to get more expensive.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, coal consumption has fallen about 20 percent compared to last year, from about 149,200,000 short tons in the first two months of 2017 to just under 119,600,000 short tons in the first two months of 2018.

The EIA also reports that nearly all power plants that retired between 2008 and 2017 were fossil fuel plants and that most plants that plan to close before 2020 use coal or natural gas. But the agency said that most of the coal powered plants that closed were "relatively old and small."

Several industry groups call federal intervention 'misguided'

Groups like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity have told the Energy Department that retiring coal facilities could threaten the electrical grid. The National Coal Council said in a statement Friday that existing coal facilities provide "direct economic benefits, energy and price stability, job-creating opportunities and environmental benefits."

Perry previously said the department was considering this approach in a hearing with the House Science Committee earlier this month.

"It's about the national security of our country. Of keeping our plants, all of them, online, being able to deliver energy, no matter whether it's a natural disaster that we might see from a polar vortex, or it's something more nefarious, as a cyber attack from a terrorist state or some entity with bad intent for the United States," Perry said in the hearing on May 9.

But some groups that study the U.S. electric grid say that it isn't at risk of breaking down in the way the directive describes. One independent group that manages the electricity grid that serves more than 65 million people said that it could be bad for consumers if the federal government intervenes in the market.

"Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers," that group PJM Interconnection said in a statement. "There is no need for any such drastic action."

Another coalition of energy industry groups representing the oil, natural gas, solar, and wind industries issued joint statements saying the administration's plan is "misguided," "unwarranted," and "an exercise in crony capitalism."

The American Council on Renewable Energy, a nonprofit that represents various groups that want to emphasize renewable energy sources, said in a statement that the administration is intervening to bail out coal and nuclear power plants "that are no longer competitive on their own."

"Arbitrary market interventions of this sort have no place in the electricity structure that has kept American electric power reliable and affordable," the group's President and CEO Gregory Wetstone said in a statement.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing campaigns to phase out coal as part of the U.S. energy grid and they say that even a "bailout" will not keep coal and nuclear plants open as the global market focuses more on natural gas and renewable energy sources.

“This is an outrageous ploy to force American taxpayers to bail out coal and nuclear executives who have made bad decisions by investing in dirty and dangerous energy resources, and it will be soundly defeated both in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Trump will clearly," Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club's campaign to close coal facilities, said in a statement.


Wind power INCREASES dependence on fossil fuel power plants

The advocates of alternative energy often cite wind turbines as a means of reducing dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. However, a new study has shown that wind power has not delivered the level of fossil fuel independence predicted in the European Union. Appearing in the academic journal Energy Policy, the study looked at data from 1990 to 2014. It found that installing more wind turbines has merely preserved dependence on fossil fuels because intermittent renewable sources (as opposed to hydro, which is far more dependable) means the energy infrastructure must maintain, and sometimes increase, the number of fossil-fuel power plants generating power when there is insufficient or too much wind.

The study found that increasing the number of power plants (whether wind or fossil-fuel) has also increased the idled power plant capacity, thus making the entire energy system less efficient and costly. This comes when wind turbines are idle because of insufficient wind speed or when fossil fuel plants are idle because the wind is blowing.

Some power companies in the U.S. appear undeterred by scientific data about the efficacy of wind turbines.  In Michigan's lower peninsula, in the area directly north of Detroit known as the "Thumb," Consumers Energy recently built another 19 wind turbines in Tuscola County. More are to come and add to the more than 100 wind turbines already in the area. The Cross Winds Energy Park, slated for completion in 2019 with a $345 million CMS Energy Corp. investment, will establish a total of 81 turbines providing electric power for 60,000 residents. Approximately 150 jobs were created by the project, which is garnering increasing opposition from local voters who object to the noise generated by the wind turbines.

The conclusion of the study states:

“In short, the results indicate that the European Union’s domestic electricity production systems have preserved fossil fuel generation, and include several economic inefficiencies and inefficiencies in resource allocation. On the one hand, as renewable energy sources (RES) deployment increases, the idle capacity of RES increases by the same amount. This generates idle capacity and electricity production systems have to maintain or increase the installed capacity of fossil fuels in order to back up the RES, thus generating installed overcapacity in fossil fuels too. On the other hand, both the electrification of the residential, industrial and services sectors and consumption peaks also require fossil fuels, because RES are unable to satisfy them without resorting to fossil fuels.”

“In fact, RES cannot satisfy electricity consumption without resorting to fossil fuel electricity generation. This has hindered the shift from fossil fuels to RES, and has cancelled out the advantage of the shift to electrification, because of the need to burn fossil fuels”

The paper is titled: “Have fossil fuels been substituted by renewables? An empirical assessment for 10 European countries.” António Cardoso Marques, José Alberto Fuinhas, Diogo André Pereira of the University of Beira Interior and NECE-UBI Management and Economics Department in Portugal are the authors.

The abstract of the study states:

“The electricity mix worldwide has become diversified mainly by exploiting endogenous and green resources. This trend has been spurred on so as to reduce both carbon dioxide emissions and external energy dependency. One would expect the larger penetration of renewable energies to provoke a substitution effect of fossil fuels by renewable sources, in the electricity generation mix. However, this effect is far from evident in the literature.

"This paper thus contributes to clarifying whether the effect exists and, if so, the characteristics of the effect by source. Three approaches, generation, capacity and demand, were analysed jointly to accomplish the main aim of this study. An autoregressive distributed lag model was estimated using the Driscoll and Kraay estimator with fixed effects, to analyse ten European countries in a time-span from 1990 until 2014. The paper provides evidence for the substitution effect in solar PV and hydropower, but not in wind power sources. Indeed, the generation approach highlights the necessity for flexible and controllable electricity production from natural gas and hydropower to back up renewable sources. Moreover, the results prove that peaks of electricity have been an obstacle to the accommodation of intermittent renewable sources."


Paul Ehrlich, a false prophet and people-hater but still an ecofascist hero

SPOTLIGHT: Whether the predictions in Paul Ehrlich’s 50-year-old bestseller, The Population Bomb, were right or wrong matters. Because scientists and environmentalists continue to follow in his footsteps.

BIG PICTURE: Ehrlich is an important case study. His conviction that humanity is a blight on the planet is shared by many ordinary people, as well as by many influential ones.

In Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway, journalist Dan Gardiner describes how Ehrlich became a “rock star” after his book appeared in 1968.

By 1970, thousands were being turned away from his speaking events. He “was invited to talk with [late-night television host] Johnny Carson and his millions of viewers more than twenty times.”

Let us be clear about one thing. If it had been within Ehrlich’s power to take the steps he insisted were necessary, the human rights abuses would have been horrendous.

I’ve explained that he advocated the deployment of US helicopters to forcibly sterilize Indian peasants. I’ve highlighted his declaration that “we can no longer tolerate” television shows that present large families in a positive light.

Coercion and censorship are the tools of fascism. They lead to mass murder. Ehrlich displayed enthusiasm for these tools.

His book urged political leaders to be “relentless,” to “take whatever steps are necessary.” He urged them to support “any program” and “any policies” that would reduce global population (pp. 138, 166, 210, 211).

A world in which Ehrlich was in charge would be neither democratic nor free. Instead, bureaucrats would decide how many children were allowed to be born.

Toward the end, he posed the question: “What if I’m wrong?” But this was mere lip-service, a cavalier dismissal:

If I’m right, we will save the world. If I’m wrong, people will still be better fed, better housed, and happier, thanks to our efforts. (p. 198)

How could this be remotely true when, 33 pages earlier, he admitted that stemming overpopulation in developing countries would require “many apparently brutal and heartless decisions” that would cause intense pain?

Gardiner labels Ehrlich’s above rationalization “glib nonsense.” Had the authorities taken his advice and denied food aid to nations that declined to pursue barbarous anti-population measures, famines would have been caused rather than averted. Many human beings would have died. Large numbers of them would have been children (see the front cover of Ehrlich’s book).

There’s a huge problem when scientists who advocate coercive, anti-democratic behavior are celebrated rather than shunned. Here’s Gardiner again:

It was clear by the 1990s that the dire forecasts Ehrlich had made in the 1970s had come to nothing but that didn’t slow the shower of awards Ehrlich enjoyed that decade.

There was the Gold Medal Award of the World Wildlife Fund International; the John Muir Award of the Sierra Club; the Volvo Environmental Prize; the Blue Planet Prize of the Asahi Glass Foundation; the Tyler Prize from the University of Southern California; the Heinz Award…the Sasakawa Prize from the United Nations; and the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “Genius Award.”

Ehrlich also won the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which is widely considered the Nobel of environmentalism.”

More recently, Ehrlich was honored with membership in the UK’s Royal Society, the world’s most prestigious science academy.

TOP TAKEAWAY: It’s OK to make wildly erroneous predictions about the future. It’s OK to embrace fascism by another name. The Paul Ehrlich case demonstrates that scientific bodies and environmental organizations will sing your praises anyway.


If all plastic were banned from supermarket offerings, food waste would skyrocket

IT SOUNDS great in theory, but getting rid of plastic bags comes with a “trade-off” — and Australian Woolworths’ boss says he didn’t realise “what a headache” it would be

SHOPPERS must be willing to sacrifice convenience for the environment in giving up harmful single-use plastic items such as plastic bags, but they should also be careful not to “demonise” plastic.

That was the message delivered by industry leaders and experts during sustainability event at the Woolworths Bella Vista headquarters on Monday, which came as the supermarket giant announced it would phase out the sale of plastic straws by the end of the year.

Woolworths group chief executive Brad Banducci said the four main issues customers cared about were food waste, reducing plastic, a sustainable supply chain and energy efficiency.

“Very important for us is the journey of taking plastic out of fruit and veg,” he said. “We know our customers don’t like it; we do however know that there’s a complex trade-off between keeping the product fresh and [reducing] plastic.

“If we end up throwing things away because we’ve taken plastic out, that is a very false economy given only 10 per cent of the energy to grow a fruit and veg product on average is plastic.

“It’s quite a complex balance but we are working on it, and we have taken plastic out of a number of products already. We’re working through it product by product.”

With supermarkets around the country preparing to phase out single-use plastic bags later this month, Mr Banducci said he didn’t know if he “would have been quite as brave” in making the decision last July had he known “what a headache” it was to take 3.4 billion plastic bags out of the business.

“One of the things that actually upset me a little bit at the time was there was sort of an innuendo that we will profiteer, because we will be charging for a 15c or 99c bag,” he said.

“Actually [with] the incremental amount of time in store to actually service the customer, certainly it is not a profit driver and we never did it as a profit driver. We did it to do the right thing.”

Harris Farm Markets CEO Angus Harris said now that most states and major retailers had banned plastic bags, it was time for the federal government to follow up with legislation.

“We went to paper bags, our consumers all really got behind it — sorry, most of our consumers got behind it,” he said.

“A lot of people now take boxes rather than bags. We’ve gone from using two-and-a-half plastic bags per customer to half a paper bag per customer.

“I still think paper bags is a bad idea. It’s one of those things you just don’t need. You can bring your own recycled bags. Consumers, they’re funny — they like convenience and we’re trying to tell them you’ve got to do something that’s less convenient.”

Peter Skelton from not-for-profit sustainability organisation Wrap UK said there was a complex dynamic between food waste and packaging.

In the UK, 50 per cent more food waste is thrown away than packaging, but 67 per cent of packaging is recycled or recovered, compared with less than 20 per cent of food waste.

“The environmental impact of food waste is far, far higher than the average carbon impact of a tonne of packaging,” Mr Skelton said.

“We need to get the balance right. We need less plastic. We need to make sure the plastic doesn’t go into the oceans, but actually what we mustn’t do is cause more food waste by the unintended consequences of maybe a knee-jerk reaction on plastic.”

Mr Skelton said the UK Plastics Pact, a pledge last month by businesses to ban single-use plastics, was “about saying, we need to tackle plastic but in a way that we don’t demonise it”.

“We need to prevent those unnecessary single-use items such as straws,” he said. “What are those items we actually don’t need? Let’s get rid of them, let’s find those alternatives.

“We want a world where plastic is valued, but doesn’t pollute the environment. Valued from a consumer’s point of view so they see why we use plastics, valued from an economic point of view so they’re seen as a resource, not just as a waste.”

Mr Skelton said for every two tonnes of food consumed, another tonne of food was wasted. In the UK, 53 per cent of all food waste occurs in households, compared with 19 per cent in the supply chain and 17 per cent in-store.

“This is actually more complex than the packaging challenge because the packaging issue is less about the consumer,” he said. “It’s down to millions and millions of small actions — planning your shopping trip, knowing how to store food properly.”

To that end, Woolworths has done a bit of in-house recycling of its own, repurposing Jamie Oliver — whose Created with Jamie range has shown signs of struggling — to be its food waste ambassador, offering tips on cooking up leftovers.

“We’re working a lot with our marketing team on food savers, teaching customers how to use leftovers,” Mr Banducci said. “In fact, you’ll see the repositioning we’ve done with Jamie Oliver on the topic of leftovers and it really does resonate with our customers.”

Meanwhile, billionaire Anthony Pratt, executive chairman of cardboard box giant Visy, said China’s so-called “Green Sword” ban on foreign waste could actually benefit Australia in the long run.

“We recently made a $2 billion pledge to invest in recycling infrastructure in Australia,” he said. “The China situation, whilst it’s very surprising and sudden, the short-term pain is probably a blessing in disguise. It will force people to use more of the recycled materials here. It’s not really recycling until you turn it back into something.”

Mr Pratt also called for landfill fees to increase. “The NSW government receives $700 million a year from landfill fees and they only spend about $200 million of it back into recycling infrastructure,” he said.


Australian gasoline servo condemned after banning reusable coffee cups over food safety concerns

ADELAIDE petrol station chain On the Run has come under fire on World Environment Day for banning environmentally friendly reusable coffee cups due to the “food safety risk”.

In an internal memo, On the Run told staff that if a customer brought a reusable cup they should “politely explain that we are required to use our disposable cups and disposable packaging for food safety reasons”.

“We cannot control contaminants (bacteria, mould, viruses, foreign objects, etc.) which might be present,” the memo said. “Foreign containers present a high risk of cross-contamination when they come into contact with food preparation areas and equipment.”

Environmental campaigner Jon Dee from the DoSomething Foundation said the Adelaide service station, which has more than 100 locations, was the first chain in the country to ban environmentally friendly coffee cups.

“Australians use an estimated 1.2 billion disposable coffee cups every year,” he said. “Most of those end up as litter or landfill. Reducing that problem is the key reason why On the Run should reverse their ban on refillable cups.”

He said the move was “surprising” as many service stations and cafes were moving away from disposable coffee cups. “They’re going strongly against the tide of what the rest of the industry is doing,” he said.

Many cafes now offer discounts of up to 50 cents to customers who bring their own cup, and Mr Dee said one coffee chain had reduced its use of disposable cups by 46 per cent as a result.

“SA Health has confirmed that it has no policy or regulation that impacts on reusable cups,” he said. “Plus there are no health authorities anywhere in Australia that have a policy or regulation that tells companies not to use reusable cups. OTR’s claim that they are doing this for food safety reasons does not stack up.”

Mr Dee said what made the decision “even more bizarre” was that OTR had been selling reusable cups until recently. “The question has to be asked whether the people who bought those refillable cups will be getting a refund from OTR,” he said.

“South Australia is the state that’s known for doing the right thing by the environment. With this ban, OTR are not just doing the wrong thing by the environment. They’re doing the wrong thing by South Australia as well.”

A spokesman for OTR said the company had been researched reusable cups “for many years”. “We’ve had entire projects searching for the best reusable coffee flasks, and have sold them in store,” he said. “As we — along with many of our customers — have become aware of the problem of disposable coffee cups on the environment.

“We care about this problem, so it was not easy to decide that our food-grade (but disposable) coffee cups were the only ones we feel sure about serving our coffee and tea in.

“We have had many incidents of customers bringing in dirty, unhygienic, contaminated cups, more recently we had an incident where a customer brought a cup in that was contaminated with a heavy metal.

“We realised that there are other more common potential health risks in us serving coffee into cups that we can’t guarantee are clean and ready to use.

“Some people are particularly sensitive to this kind of risk, and they are our customers too. It is difficult for us to accommodate washing cups. There are bound to be solutions to this, but for now we have decided to serve coffee in our cups only.

“It’s heartening that so many people feel strongly about this. We will continue investigating better solutions to a sustainable, high-quality offer.”




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


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