A Few Energy Links

by Brian McGraw on May 31, 2011

in Blog

Post image for A Few Energy Links

1. Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong, Michael Lind (Salon):

The arguments for converting the U.S. economy to wind, solar and biomass energy have collapsed. The date of depletion of fossil fuels has been pushed back into the future by centuries — or millennia. The abundance and geographic diversity of fossil fuels made possible by technology in time will reduce the dependence of the U.S. on particular foreign energy exporters, eliminating the national security argument for renewable energy. And if the worst-case scenarios for climate change were plausible, then the most effective way to avert catastrophic global warming would be the rapid expansion of nuclear power, not over-complicated schemes worthy of Rube Goldberg or Wile E. Coyote to carpet the world’s deserts and prairies with solar panels and wind farms that would provide only intermittent energy from weak and diffuse sources.

A healthy, optimistic look at future energy supplies.

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Post image for Fifty Dollar Light Bulbs

This week Philips Co. showcases its newest success at capturing rents produced by government mandates: it has produced a 17-watt LED bulb that functions as equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb. The catch: they will initially cost around $50.

The announcement contains the usual boilerplate about how in just a few more years these light bulbs will be the cat’s pajamas, and everyone will be buying them. Go get in line. Lynne Kiesling comments:

This week Philips is releasing a mass-market LED light bulb with a physical and lumens-delivering profile to mimic incandescents at a fraction of the energy use. But they’ll still be priced at $40-45, which is a bit steep for customers who are accustomed to cheap, short-lived bulbs, so their market success will require some education and adaptation of expectations. They will also have to overcome the hurdles of the failed expectations of compact fluorescent bulbs, which have not demonstrated the required longevity/price tradeoff to make them economical (in addition to their other shortcomings). I may buy one to test, but I don’t plan on fitting out my whole house in these LEDs any time soon, based on my CFL experience.

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Post image for An Assault on Coal Exports

Not content with destroying coal in the United States, there are ongoing assaults on allowing U.S. companies to export coal. It’s one thing to destroy coal in favor of more expensive energy in an advanced economy where consumers have more disposable income to absorb the blow of rising energy costs, but to deny developing countries access to electricity is an absurd form of “liberalism.” See a recent GW.org post on similar plans at the World Bank to discontinue funding coal-fired power plants.

China and other developing countries might be flirting with solar panels and windmills (mostly to sell them to the United States), but these renewables aren’t going to actually power any significant portion of their ever growing demand for energy anytime soon. And remember, despite the fact that you might want to protect the environment, you might not feel that way if you’ve never driven a car or turned on a light switch. As this report notes:

China, on the other hand, has emerged as a leader in developing clean, renewable energy, but its demand for coal is still staggering, and growing, and China is predicted to build 2,200 new coal-fired electric plants by 2030.

The report is full of suspicious economic analysis, like the idea that shutting down coal exports (economic activity) can somehow help our country reach long term prosperity because the funds could be used for investments to focus on diversifying our economy, whatever that means. Ending coal exports would somehow help our economy’s diversification. Note that coal exports would also help lower the trade deficit, which groups like CAP seem worried about.

It’s not completely clear to me that the port being used for exports is being subsidized by any governmental bodies (hopefully its not), but they don’t specifically mention any subsidies, so I suspect its mostly being completed with private sector money. Perhaps the authors think our omniscient government should confiscate those private dollars and pick their own pet project instead.

Finally, we get to the real question:

Though Washington state officials are considering the effects of climate-change-causing emissions stemming from shipping the coal across the western United States, there are no legal requirements to consider the carbon pollution from burning the coal half a world away.

Can we also control the climate policies of other sovereign nations? Liberals have proudly discussed the possibility of a carbon tax on imports from countries that have not adopted emission reductions strategies, but they have yet to publicly propose an export ban or tariff on coal. Perhaps its in the pipeline.

Finally, from a Washington-state based blog:

Certainly not least among our concerns should be the moral decision of whether to feed the growing coal addictions of other countries even as we combat climate change by gradually eliminating large-scale sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S

Breathe easy, Seattle. Coal exports will certainly be helping some of the 1.4 billion people on this earth who don’t have access to any electricity at all.

Post image for Will EPA Regulators Leave America In The Dark?

There’s no doubt that federal regulations lead to economic harm, but could the wave of Obama regulations affecting electric power plants lead to electricity shortages as well? A new study from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) finds reason for concern.

Resource Adequacy Impacts of Potential U.S. Environmental Regulations looks at four pending Environmental Protection Agency rules – the Cooling Tower Rule, the MACT Rule, the Clean Air Transport Rule, and the Coal Combustion Residuals Rule – that would impact coal-fired electric generating units. These power plants currently provide half of America’s electricity. It should be noted that there are several other proposed or recently finalized rules that also affect these units – including the EPA’s massive global warming regulatory agenda – that are not considered in this study. Nonetheless, NERC concludes that these four rules raise issues about electric reliability in the years ahead.

The study concedes considerable uncertainties regarding how strict the final version of these proposed rules will be as well as their ultimate compliance costs. For example, multiple rules with fairly urgent and overlapping timetables place great constraints on the existing supply of skilled labor and equipment needed to comply, while a more sequential rollout would be less onerous. In any event, NERC fears enough premature retirements of older coal-fired plants, along with significant downtime for units undergoing retrofits, to raise the possibility of reliability shortfalls.

This much is certain – the billions in compliance costs from EPA’s rules will boost electric bills. But whether there will be enough electricity to meet the nation’s growing demand while avoiding brownouts or blackouts is just one more piece of regulatory uncertainty to be piled onto the economy in the years ahead.

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