October 2012

Post image for Production Tax Credit: High Cost Subsidy for Low Value Power

In Wind Intermittency and the Production Tax Credit: A High Cost Subsidy for Low Value Power, economist Jonathan Lesser finds that “the vast majority of the Nation’s wind resources fail to produce any electricity when our customers need it most.” He also cautions that the wind energy production tax credit (PTC), which would add $12.2 billion to the federal deficit if Congress extends it for another year, adds billions of dollars in hidden costs to ratepayers “while undermining the reliability of the grid.”

Lesser’s analysis is based on nearly four years of data from three interconnection regions that account for over half of total U.S. installed wind capacity: Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT— over 10,000 MW of wind capacity), the Midwest ISO (MISO — almost 12,000 MW of wind capacity), and PJM Interconnection (PJM — over 5,000 MW of wind capacity).

In all three regions, over 84% of the installed wind generation infrastructure fails to produce electricity when electric demand is greatest.

In MISO, only 1.8% to 7.6% of wind infrastructure generated power during the peak hours on the highest demand days. In ERCOT, 6.0% to 15.9% of installed wind generated power, and in PJM, between 8.2% and 14.6% of wind produced power.

Demand for electricity is highest in the summer, especially during heat waves. But that is often when the wind stops blowing. The July 2012 heat wave is a case in point:

The July 2012 heat wave in Illinois, where temperatures soared to 103 degrees in Chicago, provides a compelling example of wind generation’s failure to perform when needed most. During this heat wave, Illinois wind generated less than 5% of its capacity during the record breaking heat, producing only an average of 120 MW of electricity from the over 2,700 MW installed. On July 6, 2012, when the demand for electricity in northern Illinois and Chicago averaged 22,000 MW, the average amount of wind power available during the day was a virtually nonexistent 4 MW.

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A new report published in Greenwatch by the Capital Research Center documents the significant financial backing that Canadian groups have received in order to garner opposition to development of the Canadian oil sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Brian Seasholes, an adjunct scholar at CEI, writes:

Media accounts and policy discussions of oil sands and Keystone XL usually portray the adversaries as David vs. Goliath: small, underfunded environmental pressure groups taking on big, wealthy corporations. In reality, the activists, especially in Canada, look less like grassroots groups than like subsidiaries of large U.S. institutional donors, many with billions of dollars of assets—organizations that have funneled colossal amounts of money to anti-oil sands groups over the past decade.

While the U.S. media have paid scant attention to this funding stream, a handful of Canadians have picked up the slack. The first to blow the whistle were left-wing Canadian activists, who feared funding from U.S. donors would make “green” pressure groups less confrontational and more likely to cut deals with governments and corporations. Then in the mid-2000s left-wing journalists in Canada blew the whistle, most notably Peter Cizek, Dru Oja Jay, and Macdonald Stainsby, with the Pew Charitable Trusts as their favorite target.

He includes this helpful table, documenting grants from 1999 to present:

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Post image for Sen. Inhofe Releases Report on EPA’s 2013 Regulatory Agenda

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee last week released a report that details all the EPA regulations that have been delayed until after the election or won’t take effect until after the election.  A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013 lists thirteen major regulations that “will strangle economic growth, destroy millions of jobs, and dramatically raise the price of goods, the cost of electricity, and the price of gas.”  Those are on top of the new regulations already implemented that are constricting energy supplies and raising energy prices.

“President Obama has spent the past year punting on a slew of job-killing EPA regulations that will destroy millions of American jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket even more.  From greenhouse gas regulations to water guidance to the tightening of the ozone standard, the Obama-EPA has delayed the implementation of rule after rule because they don’t want all those pink slips and price spikes to hit until after the election. But President Obama’s former climate czar Carol Browner was very clear about what’s in store for next year: she told several green groups not to worry because President Obama has a big green ‘to-do’ list for 2013….” Inhofe said in introducing the report.

Senator Inhofe told Caroline May of the Daily Caller that, “In all these [presidential] debates, the thing they overlook and don’t talk about that is just as important as servicing another $5 trillion of indebtedness, is all these rules and regulations.”  Read more here.

Post image for Anthropomorphized Environmental Movement = Sex and the City’s Libby Biyalick

In season one, episode six of the show “Sex and the City,” Carrie frets whether her new beau, Mr. Big, is keeping her from his social circle. Her worries were prompted by the plight of her friend Mike Singer, who had found an ideal lover in sales clerk Libby Biyalick, but who preferred to keep the affair secret because he was embarrassed to be seen with her in public.

In many ways, the association between the President and the environmental movement is a lot like that between Mike Singer and Libby Biyalick.

On the one hand, the greens and the President share an intimate relationship characterized by symbiotic back-scratching. Environmental special interest organizations increasingly are active in the business of political advertising on behalf the President and his party, which is the ultimate currency with any politician. And President Obama has shown much love for environmentalists, by waging an unprecedented war on their #1 enemy, the coal industry.

And yet, despite this cozy relationship, President Barack Obama clearly doesn’t want to be seen in public with the greens. In the course of three debates, President Obama never once mentioned “global warming,” nor did he tout any of his environmental policies (He mentioned CAFE standards and green energy, but that was in the context of “energy independence” and “all of the above”). Quite apart from bragging about his green bona fides, the President actually tried to appear more of a friend to fossil fuels than his opponent.

Ouch! Humiliation notwithstanding, environmentalists can take much solace in the fact that the President has delivered pretty much everything they could ask for in the way of anti-fossil fuel policies.

[Updated: 6:26 AM, 24 October 2012. I completely forgot to give an explanation for why President Obama wants to be private-not-public friends with environmentalists. At this point in a Presidential election, all of a candidate’s actions and words have been focus-grouped and polled, such that they are carefully calibrated to achieve maximum appeal among independent voters. With this in mind, the President’s debate performances  indicate that  the Obama campaign thinks independents give low priority to global warming.]

Post image for For the Second Time This Week, WaPo’s Wonkblog Goofs an Energy/Environment Story

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Washington Post Wonkblog contributor Brad Plumer misread a report on which he blogged. Today, his colleague Ezra Klein devoted another Wonkblog post to an erroneous thesis—namely, that opposition to climate policies like cap-and-trade is a strictly partisan matter.

The impetus for Klein’s mistake was a New York Times column by David Brooks, titled “A Sad Green Story.” In the piece, Brooks argues that the prospects for a policy to mitigate climate change have effectively died for two reasons: (1) Al Gore is a highly partisan figure; and (2) a few high-profile taxpayer investments in green energy that failed (Solyndra, A123, et al.). Most of Brooks’ op-ed is given to the latter point, as is evident by his conclusion:

Global warming is still real. Green technology is still important. Personally, I’d support a carbon tax to give it a boost. But he who lives by the subsidy dies by the subsidy. Government planners should not be betting on what technologies will develop fastest. They should certainly not be betting on individual companies.

This is a story of overreach, misjudgments and disappointment.

Klein, however, took issue with Brooks’ “passivity.” According to his Wonkblog post:

This isn’t a story of overreach, misjudgements [sic], and disappointment. It’s a story of Republicans putting raw partisanship and a dislike for Al Gore in front of the planet’s best interests. It’s a story, though Brooks doesn’t mention this, of conservatives building an alternative reality in which the science is unsettled, and no one really knows whether the planet is warming and, even if it is, whether humans have anything to do with it. It’s a story of Democrats being forced into a second and third-best policies that Republicans then use to press their political advantage.

It’s a story, to put it simply, of Democrats doing everything they can to address a problem Brooks says is real in the way Brooks says is best, and Republicans doing everything they can to stop them. And it’s a story that ends with Democrats and Republicans receiving roughly equal blame from Brooks.

Klein has it wrong. Quite contrary to what he would have readers believe, opposition to climate policy is one of the very few areas of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill. On the one hand, the issue breaks down along geographic lines, rather than partisan ones, such that politicians from areas dependent on the production or use of fossil fuels tend to oppose climate policies, whether they are Republican and Democrat. On the other hand, politicians from both parties are always reluctant to enact policies, like a cap-and-trade, that engender economic hardship for their constituents. As a result, global warming is a low priority across the partisan divide. Consider:

  • On June 6, 2008, in the immediate wake of the Senate’s rejection of the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade, which had been extensively reworked by Senator Barbara Boxer, 10 Senate Democrats—about 20 percent of the caucus at the time—sent Senator Boxer a letter explaining that they voted or would have voted against her cap-and-trade because it would cause “undue hardship” for their constituents.
  • On June 26, 2009, 40 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade bill.
  • During the 2010 summer, Senate Democrats held weekly caucus meetings to build support for a Senate companion bill to the American Clean Energy and Security Act. But the caucus never rallied behind the measure, and it was put on ice, without ever reaching the Senate floor for a vote.

If, as Klein believes, Democrats are “doing everything they can to address” climate change, then the 111th Congress would have enacted a cap-and-trade, at a time when Democrats held both Chambers and the Presidency. Instead, 40 House Democrats voted against the measure, which was subsequently shelved by Senate leadership.

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O…M…G! On energy policy, President Obama sounded better than Romney during the debate last night.

Of course, “sounded” is the operative word, as the President’s energy discourse wholly discounted reality. Here on planet earth, his administration is waging a war on energy. Oil and gas production is booming—but only on state and private lands unencumbered by the red tape and bureaucratic foot-dragging that has inhibited drilling on federal lands. In the last year, President Obama’s EPA promulgated two regulations that ban new coal-fired power plants (as if one wasn’t enough?). And when it’s not opposing energy that works, the Obama administration throws good money after bad trying to cultivate “green jobs” at companies that cannot compete without an everlasting inflow of taxpayer help.

That’s the real President Obama. Last night’s President Barack Obama was nothing like him. Debate Obama was an unabashed supporter of fossil fuel energy. ”Here’s a roundup of choice phrases:

On Oil, President Obama compared his record favorably to that of a Texas petroleum executive:

“We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my — the previous president was an oil man.”

On Natural Gas, President Obama can’t get enough!:

“We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas…

…. And natural gas isn’t just appearing magically. We’re encouraging it and working with the industry.”

On Coal, President Obama warned that his opponent was an enemy of coal (by comparison, presumably, Obama was a friend of coal):

“And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.”

Notably, last night’s President Obama never once mentioned “global warming.” I kinda liked last night’s Obama! I wish he were the Obama that actually exists. Alas, real-life Obama is a far cry from Debate Obama.

Romney, on the other hand, used his dialogue on energy policy to trumpet two harmful energy shibboleths: “energy independence” and “all of the above.” The problem with the latter (“all of the above”) is that it draws no line to leave out the inane. It’s an inherently imprudent slogan. “Energy independence” is equally terrible. We participate in international oil markets because that’s the cheapest way to meet our aggregate demand for products we want. This is not a problem and it doesn’t warrant a national energy policy.

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Post image for WaPo’s Wonkblog Mimics Mistake by Grist Blogger [Updated]

Last week, I blogged about how Grist’s David Roberts confused a recent study by the Brattle Group. This week, Washington Post Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer made the same mistake.

In the oft-misread study, Brattle Group analysts estimate how many coal-fired power plants will retire rather than install expensive-yet-pointless regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. A key determinant of how the market will respond to EPA regulations is the price of natural gas, a fuel that competes with coal. Simply put, the lower the price of gas, the more economical it would be for the owner of a coal-fired power plant to cease operations rather than pay for the EPA-mandated retrofits. Both Plumer and Roberts misunderstand the basic parameters of the study, such that they attribute coal power plant retirements solely to relatively low natural gas prices. In fact, these retirements are derivative of a decision faced by individual coal power plant operators across the country: Whether to install hundreds of millions–even billions–of unnecessary capital costs imposed by EPA, in an electricity market characterized by historically cheap gas.

Here’s Plumer:

Over the past few years, natural gas has become extraordinarily cheap, thanks to refined “fracking” techniques that allow companies to extract more gas from shale rock. What’s more, wind turbines have been sprouting up around the country and are getting steadily cheaper. The result? Both energy sources have been displacing coal. That would have occurred regardless of anything the EPA did.

And here’s Roberts:

The headline news: Brattle is substantially upping its projection of how many coal plants will retire, by about 25 GW. That’s huge. But it’s not happening because of EPA regulations.

I bolded and italicized the key sentences.

As I noted in my previous post, these power plant retirements likely would not have occurred absent EPA regulations. This is due to the simple fact that coal is less expensive than gas in most of the country, and it is projected to be significantly cheaper than gas in all regions. I know this because it says so on page 2 of the Brattle Group report.

[Update 3:14 P.M., 15 October 2012: Mr. Plumer has since rewritten the post. I can’t tell exactly how so, because he did not track changes, but the piece is completely different. In a nutshell, he reworked it such that the post no longer makes the error I note above. Because that error is a fundamental misreading of his subject matter, the edits were significant. I tried to engage him in the comments section, but he did not respond.]

CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner last week sat down with Media Research Center TV to discuss global warming alarmism. Below is video of the interview.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department levied tariffs from 18 percent to 240 percent on solar panels imported from China. At best, this silly policy will increase the price of electricity in America; at worst, it could be the first salvo in a harmful trade war.

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind power are expensive and unreliable, so they cannot compete with conventional energy sources in the electricity market. Instead, demand for green energy is established by Soviet-style production quotas, known as renewable energy standards. More than 30 states have enacted such standards, which force consumers to use increasing amounts of green energy.

The cheapest way to achieve these solar energy consumption mandates is to import Chinese solar panels, due to the simple fact that solar panels manufactured in China are cheaper than solar panels manufactured in America. By adding an import tax on Chinese solar panels, the Obama administration is making electricity more expensive for citizens subject to renewable energy quotas.

And that’s the best case! Invariably, trade tariffs are tit-for-tat measures. China is likely to respond in kind. This is the slippery slope to trade wars, the impact of which would be devastating to the fragile global economy.

Proponents of the import duties claim that they are necessary so that the U.S. can win a race with China to capture global market share for green energy manufacturing. This reasoning is ridiculous. As I explained above, the market for green energy is wholly a function of government favors. Unfortunately for the green energy industry, political winds are quick to change. As costs mount, politicians will rescind the government’s support, and markets will crash. It’s already happened elsewhere. Now, it’s happening here: The American wind industry claims that it will shed half its workforce if the Congress allows a single tax credit to expire.

Plainly, so-called “sustainable” energy is reliant on unsustainable government support. It should go without saying that this is a poor business model. When the renewable energy bubble bursts, the global industry leader will be the biggest loser. With that in mind, the supposed race with China for green technological supremacy is one the U.S. would be wise to forfeit.

[N.B. I made these points in an interview with Press TV, available below.]

Post image for U.S. Biofuel Expansion Cost Developing Countries $6.6 Billion: Tufts

U.S. biofuel expansion has cost developing countries $6.6 billion in higher food costs, estimates Tufts University economist Timothy A. Wise in Fueling the Food Crisis, a report published by ActionAid. A 10-minute video interview with Wise about his research is available here.

The 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), established by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), exerts long-term upward pressure on grain prices by diverting an ever-growing quantity of corn from food and feed to auto fuel. This is great for corn farmers but not good for U.S. consumers and harmful to millions of people in developing countries, many of whom live in extreme poverty.

“Commodity prices are a small percentage of the retail price of food in the US” because “we heavily process our food,” notes Wise. In contrast, in developing countries, “commodity prices are a bigger percentage of the retail price, in part because people buy whole foods more often than processed foods.” Even small commodity price increases “can have a big impact on local market prices in developing countries.”

As it happens, during the same period that U.S. ethanol production and corn prices increased, many developing countries became more dependent on grain imports to feed their people and livestock. The recent drought-induced spike in U.S. corn prices is “just the latest episode in a devastating, protracted global food crisis that has pushed millions into poverty and hunger around the globe over the past 6 years,” argues the ActionAid report.

To assess the impact of biofuel expansion on developing countries, Wise used a conservative estimate of ethanol’s contribution to corn prices and multiplied that by the quantity of U.S. corn imported by those countries. A summary of key findings follows:

  • Net Food Importing Developing Countries, among the most vulnerable to food price increases, incurred ethanol-related costs of $2.1 billion.
  • Thirteen developing countries incurred per-capita impacts greater than Mexico’s (where tortilla prices have risen 69% since 2005), and they include a wide spectrum of large and small countries from all regions of the developing world – Colombia, Malaysia, Botswana, Syria.
  • North African countries saw large impacts, with $1.4 billion in ethanol-related import costs, led by Egypt ($679 million). Other countries experiencing social unrest – Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen – also suffered high impacts, highlighting the link between rising food prices and political instability.
  • Central American countries felt impacts nearly those of Mexico, scaled to population. The region has seen its dependence on food imports rise over the last 20 years, and corn imports cost an extra $368 million from 2006-11 due to U.S. ethanol expansion. Guatemala saw the largest impacts, with $91 million in related costs. In 2010-11 alone, U.S. biofuel expansion cost Guatemalans $28 million — an amount nearly equivalent to U.S. food aid to Guatemala over the same period.
  • Latin American partners to trade agreements with the United States saw high costs, as import-dependence grows. The six-year ethanol-related cost of corn imports was $2.4 billion for Latin American nations involved in NAFTA, CAFTA-DR, and the bilateral agreements with Panama, Colombia, Peru, and Chile.