energy

Post image for Ethanol Industry Continues to Deflect Blame on Food Prices

Instead, they blame those darned speculators (are they aware of the important role played by commodity markets?) again. The industry continues to find support in high places:

Speaking to farmers earlier this month, the Obama administration’s agriculture secretary said he found arguments from the like of Nestlé “irritating”. Mr Vilsack said: “The folks advancing this argument either do not understand or do not accept the notion that our farmers are as productive and smart and innovative and creative enough to meet the needs of food and fuel and feed and export.”

Well, the price of corn has almost doubled in the last 6 months. Now, its obviously unfair to blame this entirely on biofuels. Food crops are heavily dependent on a number of other important factors like the price of oil, the weather, crop yields, etc. However, with 35% of U.S. corn being turned into biofuels, it clearly has a major effect on the price, driving it upwards (and driving other commodities higher as well, as farmland becomes more scarce). Globally, U.S. exports provide about 60% of total corn supply.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Van Jones: Fracking is poisoning our water

The New York Times has a story on the front page of its business section headlined, “Natural Gas Now Viewed as Safer Bet.”  Politico’s Morning Energy reports that Van Jones tweeted a response: “At least until the public learns that fracking poisons H2O.”

Van Jones appears to be a serious person.  He is certainly highly respected in the liberal academic and political establishment.  He earned a law degree at Yale University, founded three leftist activist organizations, and wrote a book, the Green Collar Economy.  Time magazine named him a Hero of the Environment.

President Barack Obama appointed Jones in March 2009 to the new position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Jones resigned in September 2009 after controversies arose about several of his past statements and associations.

[click to continue…]

Post image for California Judge Halts Implementation of Climate Change Policies

Via the Los Angeles Times.

Ironically, the cap-and-trade program has been temporarily halted due to a lawsuit brought forth by other environmental groups, concerned that the CARB did not sufficiently consider alternatives to a C&T program such as a direct carbon tax:

The groups contend that a cap-and-trade program would allow refineries, power plants and other big facilities in poor neighborhoods to avoid cutting emissions of both greenhouse gases and traditional air pollutants.

“This decision is good for low-income communities like Wilmington, Carson and Richmond,” said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. “It means that oil refineries, which emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases and contribute to big health problems, cannot simply keep polluting by purchasing pollution credits, or doing out of state projects.”

This logic is odd, as even under a cap-and-trade program, oil refineries won’t simply disappear. It’s possible that they might be required to reduce their own pollution rather than buying permits, but this speaks mainly to the design of the cap-and-trade program. A small carbon tax would likely have the same effect, and if the design of the cap-and-trade program is any hint, it would be difficult to pass a significant carbon tax.

However, given that the program involves distributing initial permits to many companies for free (which, according to Wikipedia, will cover 90% of their emissions), a pure carbon tax would involve less corporatism.

Do recall the CARB press release touting the economic benefits of this program:

The economic analysis compares the recommendations in the draft Scoping Plan to doing nothing and shows that implementing the recommendations will result in:

  • Increased economic production of $27 billion
  • Increased overall gross state product of $4 billion
  • Increased overall personal income by $14 billion
  • Increased per capita income of $200
  • Increased jobs by more than 100,000

and subsequent commentary offered by peer review (many of whom support the program, none of whom buy into the free-lunch aspect):

Professor Robert Stavins, the Director of Harvard’s Environmental Economics Program:

I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the economic analysis is terribly deficient in critical ways and should not be used by the State government or the public for the purpose of assessing the likely costs of CARB’s plans. I say this with some sadness, because I was hopeful that CARB would produce sensible policy proposals analyzed with sound scientific and economic analysis.

 

Post image for EPA Reform Bill Clears First Hurdle

Yesterday morning, the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee met to mark up H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, but the results was a foregone conclusion. As they say in poker, Republicans had the “nuts.” The legislation, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, was co-written by Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI), and it enjoyed the support of all the Rs on the panel. Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (KY) didn’t even bother with a roll call, and the Democrats on the panel didn’t object, so the bill passed by a voice vote alone.

Indeed, the only mystery to yesterday’s vote was whether any of the Subcommittee Democrats would side with the majority party. Already, senior House Democrats Colin Peterson (MN) and Nick Rahall (WV) have sponsored H.R. 910. The most likely Democratic defection, heading into yesterday’s markup, was Utah Rep. Tim Matheson, but he stayed in lock step with his party.

[click to continue…]

The 112th Congress was sworn in on Wednesday, and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was elected Speaker of the House.  Nineteen Democrats voted against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), which is extraordinary when you consider that Pelosi as Minority Leader still controls committee assignments for her party’s members.  The House began Thursday by reading the Constitution (my thoughts on that may be found here), which surprised me by causing a lot of foaming at the mouth on the left.  Later that morning, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Marin County), who remains Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, held a press conference during which she vowed to block any attempt to prohibit or delay the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions using the Clean Air Act.

Boxer may be very busy.  The hottest item of the first week of the new Congress was introducing a bill to block EPA.  Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) along with 45 co-sponsors re-introduced her bill (H. R. 97) to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the list of things that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.  Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced a bill to delay EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions for two years.  This is similar to the bill that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced last year and announced this week that he would re-introduce in the 112th Congress.  And Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) introduced a bill to prohibit any funding to be spent on implementing or enforcing a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In an earlier post, I listed the top five worst governors on energy policy. Alas, four of the five were lame ducks, which means that my original list had a very limited shelf life. With that in mind, I made a new list. This one is limited to sitting governors and governors-elect, so it should remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

And so, without further ado, THE TOP FIVE WORST GOVERNORS ON ENERGY POLICY….[cue drum roll]…

5         Kansas Governor-elect Sam Brownback

Sam Brownback has yet to serve a day as Governor, but he earned a place on this list for a particularly egregious mistake he recently committed while representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate.  It happened late last July. At the time, with an election looming, Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided that to drop debate on a Soviet-style renewable energy production quota, known as a Renewable Electricity Standard. Cap-and-trade had already died in the Senate, and the Congressional calendar was nearing its end, so Reid’s decision to abandon a RES meant that the 111th Congress would avoid the worst ideas in energy policy. Then, Sen. Sam Brownback, in an apparent effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, announced that he would introduce aRES. Thankfully, Brownback’s proposal was ignored.

4.       New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Christie’s skepticism of global warming alarmism is great. What’s not so great is his continued participation in a regional cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme. For whatever reason, the climate skeptic sounding governor has yet to pull his state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the aforementioned energy tax.

3.       Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

For Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, climate policy is all about style over substance. In one sense, that’s a good thing, because Patrick (like me) has no interest in expensive energy policies.  In 2008, for example, Gov. Patrick championed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which, according to the Governor’s press release, requires emissions reductions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. That sounds like a big commitment, but when you read the fine print, it turns out that the legislation mandates emissions reductions of only 10% below 1990 levels. Moreover, the State’s business-as-usual future is projected to reduce emissions 3% below 1990 levels by 2020. And when you account for federal and state policies already in place, Massachusetts is on track to reduce emissions 18% below 1990 levels by 2020. The upshot is that the Governor’s climate plan is pointless, which is probably the reason why his website’s “key priorities” page makes no mention of global warming. While I appreciate the Massachusetts Governor’s aversion to expensive energy climate policies, by enacting  long term, legally binding emissions reductions targets, he created a powerful tool with which environmentalist lawyers can gum up economic activity.

2.       Maryland Governor Martin O Malley

Governor Martin O Malley wants his constituents to believe that they can have their cake and eat it, too, when it comes to climate change mitigation. In 2009, Governor O Malley sponsored the Greenhouse Gas Reductions Act, which requires emissions reductions 25% below 2006 levels by 2020. Yet the law requires that any emissions reductions strategy also, “produce a net economic benefit to the State’s economy and a net increase in jobs in the state.” Of course, these are mutually exclusive propositions. No matter how much politicians blather on about “green jobs,” the fact remains that the price of “doing something” about climate change is forsaken economic growth. To be sure, O Malley ensured that he wouldn’t be the one to square this circle. The law postpones any meaningful requirement until after the Governor is safely out of office.

1.       California Governor-elect Jerry Brown (the #1 worst by a landslide)

Californians will rue the day they elected Jerry Brown for a second stint in the Governor’s mansion. He is exactly the wrong person at the exact worst time. The start of Brown’s term coincides the implementation phase of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which grants the state executive virtually unlimited authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. Governor-elect Brown has given every indication he will use this unprecedented expansion of authority in an imprudent manner. In the 1970s, when he was last governor, Brown refused to allow new generation resources to be built in the State, claiming instead that energy efficiency regulations would so diminish energy demand that no new power plants would be needed. Of course, he was wrong, and the policies he put in place led directly to the California energy crisis in 2000/2001. During the Schwarzenegger Administration, Jerry Brown served as Attorney General, and in that capacity he sued California counties for failing to take climate change mitigation into account in their long term growth strategies. It is difficult to overstate what trouble lies ahead for California.

Lame Duck Session a Big Success So Far

The first week of Congress’s lame duck session has been a big success.  They haven’t done anything.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled a scheduled vote to invoke cloture and proceed to S. 3815, the “Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010,” because he did not have the 60 votes required.

S. 3815 is known around town as the Boone Pickens Payoff Bill.  Pickens told Bloomberg News this week that he thought there was a better than 50-50 chance that the bill would be enacted, so we can’t celebrate yet.

The bill would provide $4.5 billion in subsidies for natural gas vehicles and $3.5 billion in subsidies for electric vehicles plus $2 billion in loans to manufacturers of natural gas vehicles.  The subsidies to purchasers would range from $8,000 to $64,000.  The larger payments would be for purchasers of heavy trucks that run on natural gas.

But the Lame Ducks Will Be Back after Thanksgiving

Congress will be in recess next week for Thanksgiving and will return on November 29th.  There are enough big must-do items that it still seems unlikely to me that the Senate will be able to take up Pickens’s bill or the Renewable Electricity Standard (or RES) bill, S. 3813.  The RES bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and retiring Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.), who has just been elected Governor of Kansas.  It now has 31 co-sponsors, including three other Republicans.

The RES bill would raise electric rates in those States that haven’t yet followed the failed California model of raising rates to impoverish consumers and drive out energy-intensive industries.  My guess is that it will be blocked in the Senate by Republican and Democratic Senators from those States in the Mideast and Southeast that still depend on low-cost coal and therefore still have manufacturing.  On the other hand, there is an incentive for Senators from States that have already enacted their own renewable requirements to support a national standard in order to lower the competitiveness of the States that have not adopted renewable requirements.

It Could Happen Here

by William Yeatman on October 25, 2010

In 2007, the Spanish government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed a law that guaranteed solar power producers a price for power more than 10 times the 2007 average wholesale price paid to conventional energy suppliers. The generous subsidies sparked a rush to solar, and taxpayer costs mounted. Today, the government owes $172 billion to renewable energy investors, but it doesn’t have the means to meet its obligations in the face of rising budget deficits. As a result, more than 50,000 other Spanish solar entrepreneurs face financial disaster.

On GQ’s blog, there’s an interesting interview with two acclaimed sports writers, about the Bowl Championship Series. As millions of Americans know well, the BCS is the complicated system that chooses a national champion in the billion dollar college football industry. There are more than 100 schools vying for the crystal football awarded to the BCS champion, so it’s not surprising that every year, more than 100 schools are dissatisfied with a system didn’t crown them #1. That is, the BCS is universally reviled.

So we all know and hate the BCS, yet even college football enthusiasts like me don’t know how it works. Somewhat paradoxically, this might be the very reason it persists, according to these two sports reporters,

GQ: What was the thing your reporting that surprised you the most or caught you off guard?

2 Sports Reporters: How little even the people in college sports know how this [BCS] works. It’s less of a conspiracy as much as it’s people just too uninterested or incapable of figuring out what the real deal is.

No one likes the BCS, but it fumbles on, because it’s too arcane to be bothered with. I think this dynamic is represented well by Kaiser Soce’s famous admission in the Usual Suspects that the devil’s best trick is to make people think he doesn’t exist.

Something very similar is going on with President Barack Obama’s energy policies. Americans don’t like energy taxes-especially ones they didn’t vote for-but they can’t be unhappy when they are oblivious. After all, ignorance is bliss. Undoubtedly, Obama’s energy policies will make energy more expensive (see here, here, and here), yet it is achieved primarily through the impossibly convoluted procedures of the regulatory state with which virtually no one is familiar. Behind this cloak, the President proceeds apace with his anti-energy agenda, without engendering unwelcome scrutiny.

[originally published at the Independence Institute’s Energy Center]

When it comes to renewable energy, Colorado politicians are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. In February, the General Assembly passed HB 1001, a law requiring that Xcel use 30% renewable energy by 2020. To be sure, renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, but lawmakers promised that the costs would be held in check by a 2 % rate cap codified in the legislation. You see, Colorado politicians believed they could establish a Soviet-style renewable energy production quota AND Soviet-style price controls.

In early September, the Independence Institute‘s Amy Oliver Cooke and I took this silliness to task in a Denver Post oped. Specifically, we explained the regulatory machinations employed by the Ritter Administration to get around the rate cap.

Nearly a month later, Rep. Max Tyler, the lead sponsor of HB 1001, replied to our oped with a letter in the Post. Rep. Tyler’s missive ignored our arguments, and instead boasted of the ancillary benefits of government picking which energy sources Coloradans must use. Along these lines, he noted that wind power in Colorado:

  • Creates more than $2.5 million for farmers and ranchers who lease land for wind generation
  • Supports 1,700 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs in rural areas;
  • Generates $4.6 million in annual property tax revenue for local schools, roads, etc.

Of course, Rep. Tyler missed the point: These “benefits” aren’t a net positive for the State. Rather, they are paid for by Xcel consumers, in the form of higher energy bills, which means that Xcel ratepayers (primarily in Denver, Grand Junction, and Boulder) are subsidizing the rural development showcased by Rep. Tyler. This is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In his letter, Rep. Max Tyler stated that, “Colorado currently generates 1,244 megawatts of wind power.” That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Because the wind doesn’t always blow, Xcel can rely on only a fraction of its wind generation’s nameplate capacity. In practice, 1,244 MW of wind is only 124 MW of real power. That’s about half of the coal power capacity that Xcel agreed to shutter in its most recent electric resource plan.

The problem for Colorado is that this small amount of wind power costs a large amount of money. According to the Public Utilities Staff, Xcel “identified wind energy costs for 2009 of $147,431,000 and 2010 of $155,462,000.”[1] That’s about 5% of Xcel’s 2009 and 2010 sales-or more than double the 2 % rate cap that Rep. Tyler trumpets in his letter (he wrote, “Another important fact: When developing new energy resources, utilities have a 2 percent increase rate-cap on retail customer bills”).

By highlighting localized gains, Rep. Max Tyler missed the big picture. Forcing Xcel customers to pay more for less energy hurts the State’s economy. Period.


[1] February 4 2010, “Answer Testimony and Exhibits of William J Dalton, Staff of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission,” p 14-15, Docket No 9A-772E