Seen Any Conventional Electric Generating Plants Retired Lately?

One would think with the thousands of wind towers that have been erected in the Great Plains and elsewhere the last few years and all of the solar installations, we would be seeing conventional power plants decommissioned with all that new electricity, right?

Not a single U.S. power plant has been replaced by all of the recent wind and solar construction due to excess alternative energy. Because the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, the plants are needed for backup with their generators still spinning (“spinning reserve” as it is called in the industry). 

There has been a fair amount of news pertaining to the end of the U.S. government’s subsidy for wind power expiring the end of the month.  

Turns out we are not the only nation losing its enthusiasm for “alternative energy.”

In the words of the German Association of Physicists, “solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants.” On short, overcast winter days, Germany’s 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic.

Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3 percent of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.

So, Germany is ending its subsidies. As environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg (author of the above piece) concludes:

In the meantime, Germans have paid about $130 billion for a climate-change policy that has no impact on global warming. They have subsidized Chinese jobs and other European countries’ reliance on dirty energy sources. And they have needlessly burdened their economy. As even many German officials would probably attest, governments elsewhere cannot afford to repeat the same mistake.

It isn’t just the U.S. and Germany. Spain is phasing out its alternative energy subsidies.

I’m in favor of stripping out all the subsidies for all types of energy and allowing the best technology and energy density (high with oil, very low with wind) win.  

The Al Gore Award for Environmental Hypocrisy

I try not to get into personalities on this blog. I make one exception and that for is the wealthy environmentalists who tell ordinary people they need to make sacrifices that they themselves are unwilling to make. These include Al Gore, Laurie David, Michael Moore, and Thomas Friedman who preach you and I have to sacrifice and cut back while they fly around on private jets and/or live ostentatious lifestyles with giant carbon footprints.
It is with sadness I add another to this list: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, an actress whose work I enjoy. Watch her plea to stop the extension of an existing oil pipeline. 
In the video you’ll see her talk about people being “greedy” and wanting to make “very big bucks” because they want to build the extension to the Keystone XL Pipeline. She says she wants to end the “tyranny of oil.”

To an extent, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus got her wish yesterday as the Obama Administration decided to delay its decision until after the 2012 election. Regardless of what you might think of the pipeline itself, lots of good-paying jobs will be delayed as a result of the postponement. Roger Pielke, Jr. has an interesting perspective here

The lack of jobs and economic opportunity doesn’t affect Julia. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ family is incredibly wealthy (billionaires). What made them that way? In part, oil and pipelines!
From “Forbes” in 2005, click to enlarge
and, that isn’t the half of it. Her family owns an energy company 
and, here is information on their oil interests:
At the bare minimum, she should explain the apparent conflict-of-interest in her video (i.e., why it is OK for her family to be in this business but others should not). Otherwise, it isn’t hard to speculate why she is against the pipeline: Her family’s company may not want the competition!

So, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is the latest winner of my Al Gore Award for Environmental Hypocrisy. 

What the Pipeline Looks Like

Earlier this week, I wrote about the White House protests pertaining to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Part of that pipeline is already in use and cuts across Kansas. I had forgotten that I had taken a photo of it several months ago as it was being laid. So, I thought blog readers might want to see the pipeline that is the object of the protests.

ADDITION: 3pm Sunday.  I had not planned to get into the pipeline debate simply because I posted a photo of the Keystone pipeline. I don’t understand why photo of a pipeline should be controversial to anyone. It is what it is. 
That said, I was sent a link to this graphic this afternoon by a person that opposes the pipeline. The “facts” contained on graphic are so inaccurate at first I thought it was a satire.  Among the misstatements of fact,
  • The pipeline route is inaccurate. 
  • The Ogallala is not the largest source of freshwater in the U.S. That distinction belongs to the Great Lakes
  • The fact that a two gallon “spill” can be detected and corrected is a testament to the quality of the pipeline. 
  • The graphic overstates the amount of oil spilled in the largest spill. Here is a newspaper story on the spill.
Sincere suggestion: If environmentalists wish to win people over to their point of view, they cannot be sloppy with facts (as above) and leave plastic water bottles strewn over an area. As a person who is concerned about the environment, I suggest that environmentalists clean up their act. 

Information About Using Gas Instead of Oil

While Boone Pickens is hardly a neutral observer, I found this information from Forbes to be very interesting, so I’m bringing it to you:

– Global demand for oil is 86-88 million barrels per day. It will be 90 million by the end of the year, due to global growth.

– Global production is 84 million barrels per day. Since production falls short of demand, prices have risen.
– America consumes 20 million barrels of oil per day. We produce 7 million barrels domestically and import the other 13 million barrels. Of the 13 million barrels of imported oil, 5 million come from OPEC – “nations that hate us,” says Pickens.
– The true cost of Middle Eastern oil is over $300 a barrel if you account for U.S. military presence in the Middle East, according to Pickens.
– “Drill baby, drill” – the conservative mantra to drill more oil from the Gulf of Mexico, off the East and West Coast shelves, and the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would produce an extra 2 million barrels a day at best, says Pickens. The would raise America’s domestic production from 7 million to 9 million barrels but still leave America 11 million barrels short each day.
– In ANWR, the bottleneck is the pipeline from Alaska’s north shore. “It would take 30 years to build another pipeline,” says Pickens.

Keeping in mind that Pickens is in the natural gas business, he makes these points when he contends that America’s commercial trucks should be converted to natural gas rather than diesel fuel:

Pickens claims the U.S. has natural gas reserves equivalent to three times that of Saudi Arabia’s known 260 billion-barrel oil reserve when you use a Barrel of Oil Equivalent (BOE) comparison.

– Using BOE, natural gas, at its current price, would be about $1.50 per gallon cheaper than diesel fuel.
– Using BOE, natural gas emits 30% less carbon
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Environmentalist on Nuclear Power

Those who are familiar with George Monbiot know he is a tireless crusader for environmental causes. While I believe he sometimes goes too far espousing the cause of global warming, I have always given him credit for sincerity.

Given his passion for environmental protection, I pleased recommend his new column on the often deceptive and sometimes downright false claims of those against nuclear power.  His column concludes:

We have a duty to base our judgments on the best available information. This is not only because we owe it to other people to represent the issues fairly, but also because we owe it to ourselves not to squander our lives on fairytales. A great wrong has been done by this [anti-nuclear] movement. We must put it right.

There is little doubt in my mind that current nuclear power is sufficiently safe. Next generation nuclear power is VERY safe and much less expensive. America, and the world, need to be moving forward with the new versions of nuclear power as quickly as possible, regardless of where we stand on the global warming issue.

Faster, Please

Unlimited oil from bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide (that’s right, good old CO2). Details here.

And, yes, we would pull the CO2 out of the atmosphere to make the oil.  Everyone wins!

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat

An Important Essay

You cannot champion the poor, but support anti-energy policies that perpetuate poverty.”

This posting is from WattsUpWithThat and was written by Paul Driessen. Please read the whole essay. 

When an electrical line finally reached the area, they installed lights, power saws and drills. Their productivity increased fourfold, and they hired local workers to make, sell and ship far more tables and chairs of much higher quality, thereby also commanding higher prices.
Living standards soared, and local families were able to buy and enjoy lights, refrigerators, televisions, computers and other technologies that Americans and Europeans often take for granted. The area was propelled into the modern era, entrepreneurial spirits were unleashed, new businesses opened, and hundreds of newly employed workers joined the global economy…
Thousands of other African communities want the same opportunities. But for now they must continue to live without electricity, or have it only sporadically and unpredictably a few hours each week. Over 700 million Africans – and some two billion people worldwide – still lack regular, reliable electricity and must rely on toxic wood and dung fires for most or all of their heating and cooking needs…
I have long been concerned about the morality of the ‘global warming’ movement that seeks to block building reliable and (relatively) inexpensive electrical infrastructure. As I have stated before on this blog: That effectively condemns the poor to a low standard of living for the indefinite future. 

An ‘Earth Hour’ Dissent

UPDATE:  Apparently, the novelty of ‘earth hour’ has worn off. Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat


Apparently, something called “Earth Hour” is occurring this evening at 7:30pm Central. It is sponsored by the “big environment” group, the World Wildlife Fund, last seen on this blog distorting the science pertaining to Arctic ice and polar bears.

Anyway, we are supposed to turn out our lights to ‘honor’ the planet or something like that. According to Wikipedia, the Cartoon Network will “go dark” (i.e., go off the air) during Earth Hour. That seems about right: To me, it is a Mickey Mouse event.

I love this retort from Dr. Ross McKitrick who is an economist from Canada’s University of Guelph.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity…
Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.
Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.
Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.
Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity… The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.
Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. 
The entire essay is here. Please read it in its entirety.

Really, Chernobyl Was Not As Bad As You Believe

Rarely has one of my postings generated so many negative comments (email and in-person) as my contention that only* 50-60 deaths can be attributed to Chernobyl as of 2005.  So, I am revisiting the issue briefly. Here are the exact words of the United Nations’ report:

As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

That is the source of my contention. The report also says,

A total of up to 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded.

“Up to” and “could eventually” almost certainly overstates the case because, if you read further, these are all cancer deaths and there is no provision for people who would have contracted cancer “naturally” (i.e., without Chernobyl).

The report goes on to say,

Dr. Repacholi concludes that “the health effects of the accident were potentially horrific, but when you add them up using validated conclusions from good science, the public health effects were not nearly as substantial as had at first been feared”.

All forms of energy have risk. My point is that if Chernobyl is the worst that could occur (and it is because there was no containment structure), then nuclear power — even with the current technology — is “safe enough.” So, lets move on with the next generation — even safer and more economical — of nuclear power as quickly as possible.

* “Only” in comparison to the hundreds of thousands predicted. Every death is tragic.

UPDATE: A related post here.

Outstanding Article About Disaster Response

Photo of the Three Mile Island cooling towers taken
by me about a half hour ago.

If you read just one article about disaster response (and, as individuals and citizens, we should all know something about the subject) read this one.

Two quick excerpts:

A society’s resilience increases with its wealth. When an earthquake shook Haiti last year, an estimated 316,000 people were killed and 1.5 million left homeless. The Japanese quake was far more powerful; it was followed by a tremendous tsunami; and the affected area had a bigger population. But the death toll is expected to be closer to 10,000, and the number of people left without homes is estimated at 500,000. We don’t know what the long-term effects will be of the radiation leaks from Japan’s power plants. But no matter how bad those might get, I would be deeply surprised if they’re as damaging as the long-term effects when the Haitian quake contaminated the country’s already-fragile water supply. Last October, for example, the country saw its first cholera outbreak in decades.
Obviously, there are many differences between Japan and Haiti. One of the most important is that Japan is much richer.

and, why you cannot depend on FEMA,

Traditionally, emergency management in America was relatively decentralized. That didn’t change much after FEMA was founded in 1979, and it’s a good thing it didn’t; the agency had a well-deserved reputation for cronyism and incompetence, though its performance improved somewhat in the ’90s. After 9/11, though, it was absorbed by the gigantic new Department of Homeland Security, and the country’s emergency response system grew more centralized, militarized, and dysfunctional. The disaster researcher Kathleen Tierney—one of the scholars whose report from the Kobe quake is quoted above—wrote a withering account of the results in 2006. Traditional emergency management, she noted, takes an “all hazards” approach, in which institutions “assess their vulnerabilities, focus generically on tasks that must be performed regardless of event type, and then plan for specific contingencies, guided by risk-based assessments of what could happen.” But DHS was oriented toward more specific threats, and it had the authority to impose its obsessions. Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8, communities that once had assessed their own risks and vulnerabilities were “required to develop plans and programs for dealing with fifteen different scenarios, thirteen of which involve terrorism, WMD, and epidemics.” 
In other words, DHS ignored approaches that had evolved over time in state and local governments, volunteer groups, and the private sector. When it cooked up its new ideas, such as the much-mocked color-coded threat levels, “almost no one representing either academic social science or professional emergency management was at the table.” Worse still, “as we saw so vividly in Hurricane Katrina, the government’s stance is that the public in disaster-ravaged communities mainly represents a problem to be managed—by force, if necessary—and a danger to uniformed responders…
I took the photo of Three Mile Island a little while ago. I’m at the Harrisburg Airport awaiting my flight back to Wichita and the airport is nearly in the shadow of TMI. I bring this up because I have been accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid of the nuclear industry.” Not at all, but let me clarify in case my position is not clear.
I believe TMI and other U.S. nuclear plants are safe. That said, there is a bit of a Rube Goldberg aspect to them that makes them complex and expensive. I do not support building any more of those. I do — strongly — support the new generation thorium reactors. I have read quite a bit about them and I believe they offer numerous advantages.  From Wikipedia,

Thorium as a nuclear fuel

Thorium, as well as uranium and plutonium, can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. A thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle including much greater abundance on Earth, superior physical and nuclear properties of the fuel, enhanced proliferationresistance, and reduced nuclear waste production. Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), has worked on developing the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors. Rubbia states that a tonne of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal.[14] One of the early pioneers of the technology was U.S. physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who helped develop a working nuclear plant using liquid fuel in the 1960s…

[edit]Key benefits

According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, “thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy – and a way to burn up old radioactive waste.”[16] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[16] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Telegraph daily, suggests that “Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium,” and could put “an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.”[14]

Let me emphasize: They burn up existing nuclear waste as well as offering relatively inexpensive, abundant fuel. There are no ‘greenhouse gasses.’ 

As I indicate in the “Amen” posting below, I do not understand why the environment movement doesn’t get strongly behind this. 

Amen! Amen! Amen!

From RealClearScience:

It was only a matter of time before environmentalists would point toward Japan, say, “We told you so,” and then declare a moral victory for anti-nuclear activism.  Merely for the sake of argument, let’s pretend they are right.
Eliminating nuclear power might be a nice experiment.  But there is one big problem:  Environmentalists are trying to eliminate all the other alternatives, as well…
…All sources of energy pose some sort of risk or cost.  Risk-free, cost-free energy is a complete myth and simply does not, and will not, exist.
Groups that never propose realistic solutions are simply not worth taking seriously.  Unfortunately, this characterizes the arguments put forth by some environmentalists.  They should not be given a seat at the adults’ table until they demonstrate an ability to propose a serious solution to the most serious of problems.

Thank you to author Alex Berezow for these wise words.

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat

Scientific Discussion of the Radiation Situation in Japan

If you would like to follow along as an engineer discusses, in a calm rational, manner the radiation situation in Japan, click here.

I especially like this comment:

“The important lesson from Japan is that we took obsolete reactors with old designs and safety features, and subjected them to a 9.0 quake and a very large tsunami, and the damage to the planet is an unfortunate but hardly decisive event. It is now time to stop worrying about this mess until things settle and we can see precisely what we have learned, and factor that into the next generation designs. Note that almost everywhere in the world we are building reactors with much better design and far better safety features than those being destroyed now. Concentration on how awful is the nuclear mess takes our attention off the economic and human disasters from the earthquake and tsunami.”

Bad Advice

While not a doctor, I can confidently state there is no reason for residents of the U.S. to purchase iodide tablets unless you live in the immediate area of a nuclear facility, the U.S. Surgeon General’s comments today not withstanding. There are people who are allergic to iodine (and most don’t know it) so there is very much a downside to taking them when it is not necessary. If you live near a nuclear facility (within ten miles), it might not be a bad idea to keep them in case of an emergency but they are not needed now.

I cannot conceive of a situation where sufficient radiation from Japan could cause a problem in the contiguous United States.

I Agree With President Obama

WASHINGTON—Obama administration officials Monday brushed aside calls for a freeze on new U.S. nuclear power development, and sought to reassure the public the nation’s nuclear facilities are safe and the threat of harmful radiation reaching U.S. soil from Japan is minimal.

More reporting from The Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required).

Nuclear Power in Perspective

There is no question that the events in Japan are ongoing and serious. That said, I believe a lot of people are being misled by much of the news coverage.  Take a look at these headlines from the Christian Science Monitor and from Channel News Asia, respectively,


“Three Mile Island” and “Chernobyl” sounds scary, right?

Let me ask a couple of questions?  How many were killed by the Three Mile Island incident?




Answer? None.  None of the plant workers were killed and no one in the surrounding area.

But, Chernobyl? We all saw the photos of the burning nuclear plant and the open reactor and the workers in radiation suits. “Experts” predicted numerous cancer deaths from “fallout.” Lots of people were killed in that, right? OK, let me ask again, how many do you think?




The answer, after 20 years, (i.e., time for cancers to develop) the total number of people killed is 56. To put that twenty-year death toll in perspective, it was less than half of the number of people killed by tornadoes in the United States in 2008.

The situation in Japan still has to play out. We don’t know what the casualty numbers might be. But, please keep in mind that if it is “as bad as Three Mile Island” that is pretty good result. Take the ongoing news coverage with a huge grain of salt.

I do believe we should not build additional “old style” nuclear plants but new nuclear technology (i.e., thorium reactors) are extremely promising: Safer, less expensive, little or nothing that would be a problem in the hands of bad guys.

UPDATE: Reader Jim Johnson pointed out the recent tragic deaths associated with natural gas. Five killed in a pipeline explosion in Allentown, PA (not far from Three Mile Island) last month and eight killed six months ago in San Bruno, CA.

There is no source of energy that is without some risk. The challenge is to properly balance the risks.

ADDITION: Welcome WattsUpWithThat readers, glad to have you. Please look around the blog for anything else that might be of interest. This blog is brought to you by Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC.

Big Environment Butts In

Here in Kansas, Sunflower Electric has been trying to build a coal-fired power plant for about five years. They finally got a permit for a scaled-down version in autumn 2010 and now Big Environment (motto: “Don’t do anything, anytime, anywhere to make our lives better!”) has injected itself into the process yet again.

Some group called Earthjustice, which doesn’t even have an office in Kansas, has according to the Associated Press, “demanded more aggressive action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency … telling a regional administrator on Tuesday that he’s legally obligated to object to a state permit allowing the project.” They have joined the Sierra Club in objecting to the plant.

The Obama Administration has been ruled in contempt of court (ruling here) for not allowing U.S. companies to drill for oil in the Gulf (Chinese and Cuban drilling continues). Big Environment is against a pipeline bringing Canadian oil into the U.S. And, now, they don’t want new power, wind or coal, to be built in Kansas.

Dow Jones’ Industrial Average last ten days from WSJ online
Do these people read the papers? There is huge turmoil in the Middle East. Seen the price of gasoline lately? How about the unemployment rate? Or, the stock market decline in synch with the rapid rise in oil prices?
Price of oil the last ten days from Wall Street Journal online
I wish these groups cared as much about the welfare of human beings as much as they claim to care about the prairie chickens.

ADDITION: Steve Forbes adds his thoughts