Archive for November, 2010

Unsustainable Cow Manure

Unsustainable Cow Manure

Paul Driessen

Seek a sustainable future! Wind, solar and biofuels will ensure an eco-friendly, climate-protecting, planet-saving, sustainable inheritance for our children. Or so we are told by activists and politicians intent on enacting new renewable energy standards, mandates and subsidies during a lame duck session.

It may be useful to address some basic issues, before going further down the road to Renewable Utopia.

First, when exactly is something not sustainable? When known deposits (proven reserves) may be depleted in ten years? 50? 100? What if looming depletion results from government policies that forbid access to lands that might contain new deposits – as with US onshore and offshore prospects for oil, gas, coal, uranium, rare earth minerals and other vital resources?

Rising prices and improved discovery and extraction technologies and techniques typically expand energy and mineral reserves – postponing depletion by years or decades, as in the case of oil and natural gas. But legislation, regulation, taxation and litigation prevent these processes from working properly, hasten depletion, and make “sustainability” an even more politicized, manipulated and meaningless concept.

Second, should the quest for mandated “sustainable” technologies be based on real, immediate threats – or will imaginary or exaggerated crises suffice? Dangerous manmade global cooling morphed into dangerous manmade global warming, then into “global climate disruption” – driven by computer models and disaster scenarios, doctored temperature data, manipulated peer reviews, and bogus claims about melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Shouldn’t policies that replace reliable, affordable energy with expensive, intermittent, land-intensive, subsidized sources be based on real science?

Third, shouldn’t inconvenient sustainability issues be resolved before we proceed any further, by applying the same guidelines to renewable energy as courts, regulators and eco-activists apply to fossil fuels?

Most oil, gas, coal and uranium operations impact limited acreage for limited times – and affected areas must be restored to natural conditions when production ends. Effects on air and water quality, habitats and protected species are addressed through regulations, lease restrictions and fines. The operations generate vast amounts of affordable, reliable energy from relatively small tracts of land, and substantial revenues.

Wind turbines generate small amounts of expensive, unreliable electricity from gargantuan installations on thousands of acres. Turbines and their associated transmission lines dominate scenic vistas, disrupt habitats and migratory routes, affect water drainage patterns, impede crop dusting and other activities, and kill bats, raptors and other birds, including endangered species that would bring major fines if the corporate killers were oil or mining companies. And yet, wind operators receive exemptions from environmental review, biodiversity and endangered species laws that traditional energy companies must follow – on the ground that such rules would raise costs and delay construction of “eco-friendly” projects.

Kentucky’s Cardinal coal mine alone produces 75% of the Btu energy generated by all the wind turbines and solar panels in the USA, Power Hungry author Robert Bryce calculates. Unspoiled vistas, rural and maritime tranquility, and bald eagles will all be endangered if 20% wind power mandates are enacted.

The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station near Phoenix generates nearly 900 times more electricity than Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base photovoltaic panels, on less land, for 1/15 the cost per kWh – and does it 90% of the time, versus 30% of the time for the Nellis array. Generating Palo Verde’s electrical output via Nellis technology would require solar arrays across an area ten times larger than Washington, DC.

Building enough photovoltaic arrays to power Los Angeles would mean blanketing thousands of square miles of desert habitat. Once built, solar and wind systems will be there just this side of forever, since there will be no energy production if we let them decay, after shutting down whatever fossil fuel operations aren’t needed to fuel backup generators that keep wind and solar facilities operational.

Wind and solar power also mean there is a sudden demand for tons of rare earth elements that weren’t terribly important a decade ago. They exist in very low concentrations, require mining and milling massive amounts of rock and ore to get the needed minerals, and thus impose huge ecological impacts.

If mountaintop removal to extract high quality coal at reduced risk to miners is unacceptable and unsustainable – how is it eco-friendly and sustainable to clear-cut mountain vistas for wind turbines? Blanket thousands of square miles with habitat-suffocating solar panels? Or remove mountains of rock to mine low-grade rare earth mineral deposits for solar panel films, hybrid batteries and turbine magnets?

Since any undiscovered US rare earth deposits are likely locked up in wilderness and other restricted land use areas, virtually no exploration or development will take place here. We will thus be dependent on foreign suppliers, like China, which are using them in their own manufacturing operations – and selling us finished wind turbines, solar panels and hybrid car batteries. The United States will thus be dependent on foreign suppliers for renewable energy, just as we rely on foreign countries for oil and uranium.

To claim any of this is ecologically or economically sustainable strains credulity.

Green jobs will mostly be overseas, subsidized by US tax and energy dollars – other people’s money (OPM). Indeed, Americans have already spent over $20 billion in stimulus money on “green” energy projects. However, 80% of the funding for some of them went to China, India, South Korea and Spain, and three-fourth of the turbines for eleven US wind projects were made overseas. This is intolerable, indefensible and unsustainable. But it gets worse.

Denver’s Nature and Science Museum used $720,000 in stimulus money to install photovoltaic panels and reduce its electricity bills by 20 percent. The panels may last 25 years, whereas it will take 110 years to save enough on those bills to pay for the panels – and by then four more sets of panels will be needed.

As to biofuels, the US Navy recently waxed ecstatic over its success with camellia-based eco-fuel in fighter jets. But the PC biofuel costs $67.50 per gallon, versus $5.00 per gallon for commercial jet fuel.

To meet the 36-billion-gallons-a-year-by-2022 federal ethanol diktat, we would have to grow corn on cropland and wildlife habitat the size of Georgia, to get 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol – plus switchgrass on farmlands and habitats the size of South Carolina, to produce 21 billion gallons of “advanced biofuel.” By contrast, we could produce 670 billion gallons of oil from frozen tundra equal to 1/20 of Washington, DC, if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge weren’t off limits.

OPM-subsidized ethanol also means a few corn growers and ethanol refiners make hefty profits. But chicken and beef producers, manufacturers that need corn syrup, and families of all stripes get pounded by soaring costs, to generate a fuel that gets one-third less mileage per tank than gasoline.

Hydrocarbons fueled the most amazing and sustained progress in human history. Rejecting further progress – in the name of sustainability or climate protection – requires solid evidence that we face catastrophes if we don’t switch to “sustainable” alternatives. Computer-generated disaster scenarios and bald assertions by Al Gore, Harry Reid, John Holdren and President Obama just don’t make the grade.

We need to improve energy efficiency and conserve resources. Science and technology will continue the great strides we have made in that regard. Politically motivated mandates will impose huge costs for few benefits. Sustainability claims will simply redistribute smaller shares of a shrinking economic pie.

“Renewable” energy subsidies may sustain the jobs of lobbyists, activists, politicians, bureaucrats and politically connected companies. But they will kill millions of other people’s jobs.

Let’s be sure to remind our elected officials of this along their campaign trails – and on November 2.

The left’s war on home appliances

EDITORIAL: The left’s war on home appliances

European nanny-state regulations are coming to America

The Washington Times

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If ever there were any doubt that the new environmental movement’s primary goal is reversing progress made since the Industrial Revolution, look no further than Europe, where bureaucrats systematically are targeting the conveniences of modern life. To fight the imaginary problem of global warming – sorry, “global climate disruption” – the European Commission has before it a proposal to reduce the electricity used by the humble family vacuum cleaner, the London Telegraph reported. It’s only a matter of time before the bureaucracy on our side of the Atlantic sucks up this bad idea.

According to the final report on the subject prepared for European Union regulators, vacuums have steadily increased in power from 500 watts for an average upright 50 years ago to 2,500 watts today. The study asserts that “more power does not necessarily equate to better cleaning” and recommends a scheme to cut the allowed power level for vacuums to just 500 watts by 2014. Forget modern Hoovers and Dysons; it’s time for something out of the 1960 Sears catalog.

As the EU report explains, “an energy label on its own will not be enough to effect real energy savings. We are firmly of the belief that limiting input power ratings whilst maintaining good cleaning performance is achievable through the design improvement options.” Governments don’t have a positive track record when it comes to retaining performance on redesigned consumer products. If vacuums have less suction, homeowners will need to spend more time vacuuming, and the supposed “energy savings” will never materialize. The same thing happened in 1992 when congressional plumbers decided to redesign America’s commodes. Government-mandated low-flow toilet models were so ineffective that they required multiple flushes on each use, resulting in no net savings in water use.

Modern technology has delivered a solution to this pesky problem of consumers not doing as they’re told. In last year’s $814 billion stimulus package, President Obama poured 3.4 billion tax dollars into subsidies for “smart grid” projects designed to centralize control over major appliances that use electricity. The program, of course, is marketed as an advance that will deliver new options and savings to the consumer. The two-way communication underlying the concept, however, eventually will make it possible for big-ticket electrical items to be controlled remotely. In 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter called on every American “to lower the thermostat settings in all homes and buildings to no more than 65 degrees during the daytime and to a much lower setting at night.” Now the smart grid enables Big Brother to turn it down for you.

Congress already has regulated light bulbs, toilets, shower heads and washing machines. It’s only a matter of time before it adopts Europe’s forthcoming ban on fully functional vacuum cleaners. Forcing the public to return to push brooms and washcloths is not going to save the polar bears any more than Mr. Carter‘s temperature austerity contributed to world peace. The new House and Senate should make repeal of these pointless appliance regulations a priority next year.

Never Green Enough

CHESSER: Never green enough

Lame-duck energy plan first step in job-killing agenda

By Paul Chesser

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The word on the Web-o-sphere is that a lame-duck Congress could enact a wind- and solar-subsidizing renewable electricity mandate between November and January.

That’s in addition to the billions of dollars in taxpayer “stimulus” that were dedicated to the creation of an alternative energy economy, which the Obama administration touted as a creator of “green” jobs.

But like every other big-spending initiative in which Washington tries to centrally plan the economy, a renewables mandate will fail, just like the stimulus.

The experience in Pennsylvania is instructive. When President Obama took office in January 2009, the state’s unemployment rate was 7 percent – up 2.3 percentage points from a year earlier. Today it stands at more than 9 percent.

But what we heard from the amateur economists in the Keystone State’s environmental movement was that so-called “green” jobs were going to save the day, thanks in part to the passage of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. The eco-activist group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (known as “PennFuture”), whose motto is “Every environmental victory grows the economy,” said as much in March 2008:

“Clean energy industries are attracted to Pennsylvania because of the work ethic of our people, and because the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act in 2004. The guarantee of a market for wind, solar and biomass power drew major solar and wind companies to locate here.

“But now, other states have upped the ante and are seriously competing for clean energy companies. New Jersey and California have hundreds of millions of dollars a year available for solar energy, for example.”

So similar to what President Obama has prescribed with the stimulus, the failure hasn’t been the policy; it’s been that the government hasn’t intervened enough! And fitting an environmentalist economist’s logic perfectly, PennFuture cites New Jersey (a 22.5 percent renewable energy mandate by 2021; 9.6 percent unemployment) and California (a 33 percent renewable energy mandate by 2020; 12.4 percent unemployment) as examples to be followed.

What other pains do alternative energy mandates inflict? According to Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission, the annual cost of ownership for solar energy per kilowatt-hour is over 700 percent more than the cost of coal, and wind energy is almost 23 percent more expensive than coal. Meanwhile, state government provides more than $20 million annually for grants to alternative energy projects, and in 2008, Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, signed into law another mandate for an additional $650 million to be given to “green” schemes. Try paying those higher utility and tax bills while fighting to keep your job.

Not surprisingly, those hefty sums for wind and solar still aren’t enough to keep the environmentalists happy, as groups like PennFuture have pushed for even greater mandates and subsidies this year. They won’t be happy until Pennsylvania hits double-digit unemployment as businesses’ electricity costs go through the roof.

Now pull back to the national scene. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, want a 15 percent national renewable electricity standard. Nearly half of America’s power comes from coal, with 20 percent each from natural gas and nuclear, and less than 3 percent combined from wind, solar and biomass. As the Heritage Foundation says, “and this is after decades of existing generous renewable subsidies.”

How much will be enough to make the “green” economy – sparked by renewables mandates – save us all? The answer is, it will never be enough. When it comes to the environmentalists’ agenda, their appetite for subsidies and intervention is insatiable.

Caves to Big Corn

EDITORIAL: Administration caves to Big Corn

EPA burns your money with ethanol

The Obama administration wants to boost the amount of corn shoved into the gas tank of newer cars by 50 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made this happen on Wednesday by giving partial approval to E15, an automotive fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol. This dirty deal will enrich the major ethanol producers represented by Growth Energy while impoverishing taxpayers and anyone else who cares about clean air.

Technically, the agency only approved a waiver allowing the sale of E15 for vehicles from model year 2007 and later, but don’t be fooled by this incremental approach. The EPA is expected by November to adjust down the allowance to cars built after 2000. The current “allowance” for a 10-percent-ethanol fuel blend, or E10, is no different from a mandate. Ninety percent of gasoline sold in the United States is E10, and in most areas of the country, real gasoline is simply not available. It’s not clear how multiple fuel pumps for older and newer cars would work in practice under this rule, but ethanol policy has never made sense.

Congress and the George W. Bush administration enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which, in addition to banning incandescent light bulbs, mandates the sale of 36 billion gallons of ethanol in 2022. That established a profitable market for producers by government fiat. The scheme also will drive up grain and corn prices, benefiting farm states at the expense of consumers.

Without government subsidies, controls and mandates, there would have been little if any demand for ethanol. Besides a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit, there is a 54-cent tariff on ethanol imports and a 10-cent credit for small ethanol producers that the industry is lobbying to extend beyond the end of next year. Because ethanol produces less energy than gasoline, it makes no sense to use it on the road. A car that gets 30 miles per gallon on gas would get just 20 miles per gallon on ethanol.

Corn-based fuel is not only an economic disaster, it’s an ecological nightmare as well. By the EPA’s own numbers, an across-the-board switch to E15 would “significantly impair the emissions control technology” if used in 74 million cars in America’s fleet. That’s because E15 burns 6 percent leaner than gasoline – often exceeding manufacturer design specifications – leading to higher exhaust temperatures, misfires and catalytic-converter damage. In addition to this problem, burning ethanol produces heightened levels of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and deadly carcinogens such as formaldehyde. The ultimate hypocrisy in the EPA’s position is that the agency lists nitrogen oxides among the emissions responsible for purported climate change. “It accumulates in the atmosphere with other greenhouse gases causing a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature,” an EPA document explains.

The Obama administration doesn’t care if its policies, by its own standards, will poison the air, kill polar bears and melt the ice caps. Ethanol always has been a fundamentally political game. This policy is about re-election. Perhaps next year, the new Congress will have what it takes to stand up to Big Corn and repeal the subsidies, tariffs and mandates propping up this corporate welfare scheme.