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Posts Tagged ‘carbon emissions’

Westar Energy's Rate Request: A Study in Short-Term Thinking

Sun ,23/08/2015

Many of America’s power companies have put their profits before the health of our citizens and the 6coalprotection of the environment. The American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school.  Yet, there are many coal burning power plants in the US which operate without scrubbers to remove particulates, because coal is cheap and  scrubbers are expensive.

Scientists have known since 1980 that our increasing CO2 levels were endangering our environment. All the world’s major scientific organizations are now saying that we must take immediate action to avoid environmental disasters.   There is really no effective way to remove carbon emissions from fossil fuel   plants, yet our power companies have fought a shift to renewable energy. Many power companies are now being required  to install costly upgrades to their coal-fired  plants, and  are trying to recoup the cost of their short-term thinking by raising their customer’s rates. Westar energy is a good example, and it is likely  that your electric company may  soon follow suit.

Westar Energy has requested a rate increase by $152 million a year, about 8% over its current rates. Most of the increase will go to upgrade its Wolf Creek nuclear plant, to install scrubbers at some of its coal-fired power plants, and to remove mercury from its La Cynge coal-fired power plant. Westar’s proposed rate design would shift more of its costs  from businesses to residential customers and increase the basic charge for residential service by $3 a month each year for the next five years. That means the cost to just keep the power on would increase from the current $12 a month to $27 a month. Customers who want to install their own solar or wind power would be required to pay a $50 customer charge or pay for power at the peak rate, effectively killing private investments in solar energy. Westar’s customers are understandably unhappy about this.

CEO pay and profits : As a Westar stockholder, I felt bad about the recent rate hearing in Wichita. Speaker after speaker, including several ministers and AARP representatives, testified about how the proposed increase in rates would affect the poor and elderly. The timing of the rate increase seems inappropriate. Morningstar moneyreported that last year the company’s top five executives received 23.5% in salary increases. Westar’s CEO now receives $3 million in compensation, more than 30 times that of our governor. A large portion of the compensation is in stock, which tends to encourage short-term decisions to increase stock value.

Many people also testified that the proposed rate structure would discourage private investments in energy efficiency, energy conservation, and solar panels. A poll by Magellan found that 76% of Westar’s customers oppose the tariff on solar panels, agreeing that Westar’s position was based on increasing its profit. Westar is also requesting a 10% return on investments which seems high for a company which has just invested several million dollars in executive raises.

A misleading process: Although Westar says it is committed to renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions,  their proposal would have just the opposite effect. There are number of red flags for investors evident in the rate proposal and in Westar’s actions over the last several years.  Many investors are now looking for long-term investments in environmentally and socially responsible companies. Westar may no longer fall into that category.  AARP ran a full-page ad in the local newspaper protesting the rate increase.  About 73% of Westar stock is held by  institutional investors and many of those are retirement funds.  If some of those retirement funds  decide to divest of  Westar’s stock,  the effect will certainly not be what the  CEO intended.

There was also concern about the integrity of the process, which was unnecessarily secretive and sometimes misleading. A local newspaper article pointed out that, ”Westar’s public notice fails to detail changes in billing, solar rates”.   And, the CEO’s letter to stockholders claimed that outside agitators were responsible for opposition to the solar fee – which was not what the Magellan study found.  His idea that solar customers were “free riders”  who didn’t  pay their fair share came from an ALEC meeting in Chicago.  Chicago?  It was propaganda created by power companies  worried about solar cutting into their market share.  His letter claimed that solar customers  who hooked to the  grid using net metering agreements were being subsidized by other ratepayers, though research has found just the opposite.  I would expect such a well-paid CEO to know about the research.

Solar Research: Studies in Vermont, New York, California, Texas, and Nevada concluded that net metering provided a net positive benefit for utility companies and their customers. A 2015 study done in Missouri is even more relevant to Kansas. A cost-benefit study of net metering in Missouri arrived at the same conclusion as the other studies, “ Net metering provides a net benefit. “ Missouri has 6000 net metering customers while Westar now has approximately 300. It is unlikely that a study done in Kansas would come up with a different result,  but the Westar executives claim differently.

Why should customers who cut their energy use in half by installing solar panels be charged an extra fee, while those who cut their use in half by installing extra insulation be considered differently? Westar claims they should be, but that seems unreasonable. Net metering customers are charged a fee to set up the system and for a safety inspection, but otherwise net energy metering customers should be treated just as any other customer when they use electricity and be reimbursed as any other supplier when they supply excess power. Charging solar customers an extra fee may actually cause an increase in electric rates.

Gaming the system: My son, who worked for a gas company, observed that in gas company rate cases they always asked for about twice what they wanted and settled for half of that.  Other than the money to have Wolf Creek comply with federal regulations, much of the other requests are unjustified. Residential customers are already paying a customer fee, an electricity fee, a fuel charge, a distribution fee, an environmental fee, an energy efficiency charge, and even Westar’s property taxes. Last June, our bill was $24.95 for electricity, but our total bill came out to be $53.27 after all those things were added in. The $12 customer charge is already greater than most other companies charge and Westar’s rates are second highest in our region. Westar has implied that residential customers are not paying their fair share of the cost. However, residential customers use about a third of the energy, but it seems they are being asked to pick up much more than a third of the cost of upgrades and pollution controls.

Westar owes a better accounting of the money it collects. There have been over 20 rate cases in the last six years. Too much time and resources have been devoted to rate cases designed to increase the company’s profits. The executive compensation seems excessive and much of it is in stock, which means a rise in profits will greatly benefit the executives. That tends to lead to short-term thinking, which is evident in this rate proposal. It does not take into account the increasing future regulations of carbon emissions and the need to reduce dependence on coal-fired power plants.

Settlement?  Just before the rate case was to go to the  Kansas Corporation Commission,  Westar cut  its rate request  in half. My  son said, ” See there”.   Westar also asked to postpone its request for a tariff  on solar panels to a later hearing.   Westar is now proposing a reduction in the subscription fee for wind energy customers, building its own solar plant, and selling solar power to customers. That is a big improvement, but Westar is  still relying too heavily on its coal-fired power plants. Three of its smaller plants have no scrubbers and they should be phased out as soon as possible.  Earlier,  $600 million was budgeted for upgrading the LaCynge plant.  I’m not sure how much of that has already been spent , but pouring more money into it to remove mercury may be a bad investment. It is expensive to remove mercury, but it is impossible to remove carbon emissions.

The Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the EPA to make a determination as to whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. The EPA found, based on the best scientific evidence, that CO2 is an endangerment to public health and has moved forward with regulations to reduce the carbon emissions from power plants. There will be future environmental regulations which will be costly to the coal plants. Why waste million of dollars in emission control equipment and spend millions importing coal from Wyoming when we could be transitioning to Kansas-based renewable energy?

The future: The Kansas Corporation Commission should approve upgrading the Wolf Creek plant, but carefully consider the amount of money requested. Moving forward with plans to provide customers with wind and solar energy subscriptions is in the right direction and should be encouraged. Other than that, there are better options for Kansas. The Kansas Corporation Commission should send the rest of Westar’s plan back to the drawing board.

(C)   2015 – J.C. Moore

 

The Citizens' Climate Lobby: A Better Way to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Fri ,21/08/2015

The article “Obama orders steeper cuts from power 6coalplants” described how the EPA’s proposed limits on carbon pollution could cost $8.4 billion annually by 2030. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) has a better way, a Carbon Fee and Dividend,  which would produce  deeper cuts in pollution in a shorter time.  CCL’s proposal would place a fee on carbon at the source, and market forces would then encourage reduced emissions, energy conservation and investments in renewable energy.  The carbon fee is not a tax and it would not raise taxes. The money collected would be distributed equally to every household as a monthly energy dividend.

CCL’s legislative proposal would set an initial fee on carbon at $15 per ton of CO2 or CO2 equivalent emissions.  The fee would increase by $10 each year until the CO2 emissions were reduced to 10% of the 1990 US levels. To protect American businesses and agriculture, adjustments at the  borders would be made on exports and imports by the US State Department to ensure fairness. The carbon fees would be collected by the US Treasury Department and rebated 100% to American households, with each adult receiving a dividend and each child one half dividend up to a limit of two children per household.

A similar Fee and Dividend policy is successfully working in Canadian British Columbia. In 2008, BC enacted a revenue neutral carbon tax which set an initial rate of $10 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent emissions, increasing by $5 per year until it reached $30, which it did in 2012. The revenue went straight back to taxpayers as tax reductions with a tax credit paid to low income households of $115.50 for each parent and $34.50 per child annually. The tax raised the price of gasoline by about $0.25 per gallon and the price of coal by about $60 per ton. Though there were winners and losers under the BC plan,  it’s GDP grew in relation to the rest of Canada’s.

bc

British Columbia gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric power, so it is difficult to estimate the effect it had on the price of electricity. There are now no coal-fired plants in British Columbia and the consumption of fuel there is now 19% below that of the rest of Canada.

In the US, all the money collected from the carbon fee would be distributed to US households as a dividend – which would effectively stimulate the economy. President Bush’s Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provided a $600 rebate to each household. A 2012 study by Christian Broda found the increase in disposable income was an effective stimulus to the economy. President Bush’s stimulus, however, was only for one year and the money came from taxes. CCL’s proposal does not come from taxes, and a $30 per metric ton fee on CO2 is estimated to provide about $876 annually per person in the US. Though the price of gasoline and fossil fuel generated electricity will certainly go up, it will be offset by the dividend. People who reduce their energy consumption, or choose lower cost renewables, will be able to  increase their disposable income by saving more of their dividend.

The CCL Fee and Dividend proposal has a wide range of supporters such as notable climate scientists James Hansen, Katharine Hayhoe, and Daniel Kammit.  It has the support of both conservative and liberal economists such as Gary Becker, Gregory Mankiw, Art Laffer, Nicholas Stern, and Shi-Ling Hsu. CCL’s advisory board is bipartisan as it includes George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, conservative former US Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), and RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris, who is an advocate for solutions to poverty.

A study by Regional Economic Models Inc. found CCL’s proposed carbon fee and dividend would achieve better pollution reduction than regulations while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy over 20 years. Ccl

What could be a better way to reduce carbon emissions?

 

(c) 2015  J.C.Moore                   

Credit: Darrel Hart, Wichita CCL leader, who helped greatly withthe editing.  

 

PowerPoint Presentation: The Science of Climate Change

Tue ,14/07/2015
This was taken from Apollo 11 as the Earth rose over the disc of the Moon.

This was taken from Apollo 11 as the Earth rose over the disc of the Moon.

 

 

 

2015x-(3) The-Science-of-Climate-Change with notes

Please click on the link above. You will need a PowerPoint program to view the slides – or you may  download a free viewer here. The slides will display as set in your viewer. Explanations of the slides are in the notes section.

Help Keep Electric Rates Low – No Extra Fees On Solar Energy

Thu ,19/03/2015

Article Photo

Many states are now seeing laws being introduced like Oklahoma SB 1456 , dubbed the Sun Tax. It is not a tax, but allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The end result will be higher electric rates as they reduce competition from renewable energy. Here is why.

ALEC: At the 2013 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Chicago, the Energy Committee, dominated by power and fossil fuel companies, decided one of  ALEC’s goals should be to discourage the spread of renewable energy. Their plan to do so was by weakening renewable portfolio standards (RPS), by claiming that renewable energy systems would make electric rates go up, and by promoting the idea that net energy metering (NEM) customers who install their own solar panels and use the grid for backup were “free riders” who did not pay their fair share of infrastructure costs. Legislation has since been introduced in a number of states intended to increase fees on NEM customers and to reduce the state’s RPS requirements.

SB 1456: Oklahoma passed SB 1456 the next year, which allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The law was designed to discourage the investment in renewable energy by private individuals, but it may have unintended consequences for the power companies pushing the fees. Under the law, both PSO and OG &E have filed a request with the Corporation Commission to assess additional fees on DG customers. Public hearings on the law will be held in Oklahoma City on March 31 at 1:30 on the third floor of the Corporation Commission Building. Studies (see below) have shown, when all things are considered, that DG customers provide a net benefit for all other customers. It is in the public’s best interest to request that not only should the fees be denied but, to be fair, the power companies should be required to compensate NEM customers for the extra power they produce.

Fairness: The rationale for SB 1456 was fairness, so the decision should be fair to NEM customers as well. First, NEM customers should be charged as any other customer for the electricity they use. DG  customers who use the grid for backup are required to have a net energy metering (NEM) contract with their power company which requires they pay for the installation and inspection of safety equipment. They also pay a customer fee which goes toward fixed costs and infrastructure, and they are currently not reimbursed for any extra power they produce, essentially providing free energy for the other customers, and they help to conserve energy. AEP/PSO’s states one of its mission is to “help customers use less energy and spend less for it”. Is it fair, then, that customers who cut their energy use in half by installing extra insulation are appreciated while those who cut their energy use in half by installing solar energy are charged an extra fee?

Second, NEM customers should be compensated fairly for the excess energy they provide. Research shows that states which encourage NEM customers have found they provide a small positive benefit both to other customers and to the power grid.  Why, then, should they be charged an extra fee?

Research: Studies have found that states which encourage net energy metering (NEM) experience a net benefit to all electric customers. A study by Crossborder Energy in 2014 found NEM allows utilities to avoid costs of generation and fuel, maintenance and upgrade of transmission and distribution infrastructure, transmission losses (which account to 7% of losses), capacity purchases, and compliance with renewable energy standards. The study concluded,” The cost which utilities avoid when they accept NEM power exported to their grid shows that NEM does not produce a cost to nonparticipating ratepayers; instead it creates a small net benefit on average across the residential markets.” While it does cause power companies to have to adjust their loads accordingly, NEM reduces peak loads, transmission losses, and the need for new power plants.  In California, the study found NEM “delivers more than $92 million in annual benefits to non-solar customers”.

Another important study was performed at the request of the Vermont Legislature who specifically charged the Vermont Department of Public Service with determining if there is a cross-subsidization with net metering and other retail customers. They were also asked to examine any benefits or cost of NEM customers to the distribution and transmission system.  The report found the specific ratepayer benefits, the statewide, and societal benefits of NEM as: “Avoided energy costs, including costs of line losses, capacity costs, and avoided internalized greenhouse gas emission costs; avoided regional transmission costs; avoided in-state transmission and distribution costs; solar’s coincidence with times of peak demand; and the additional benefit of the economic multiplier associated with the local investment and jobs created from the local manufacturing and installation of net metering systems. The report concludes, “ Even considering subsidies, solar net metering is a net-positive for the state of Vermont.”

These studies show that NEM customers provide a net benefit to ratepayers in states which encourage investments in solar and wind generation by private individuals. To be fair, NEM customers should be charged for the energy they use just as any other customer and they should be compensated for the extra energy they produce just as any other energy provider.

Unintended Consequences: Though SB 1456 was intended to discourage private investment in renewable energy, it may not turn out that way. Upon signing the bill, Gov. Mary Fallin attached a letter requiring “the Corporation commission to conduct a transparent evaluation of distributed generation consistent with the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. It also said, ” This evaluation mandates inclusion of all stakeholders including representatives of the solar distributed wind energy industries and utilities.” and “A proper and required examination of these other rate reforms will ensure an appropriate implementation of the Oklahoma first energy plan while protecting future distributed generation customers.”

The Oklahoma First Energy Policy encourages development of wind and solar energy, but it relies heavily on the increasing development of our natural gas resources. However, fracking and the associated disposal wells may be related to the increased incidences of earthquakes in Oklahoma.  If a definite link is established between fracking activities and earthquakes, it might greatly curtail Oklahoma’s production of natural gas. Oklahoma is now in the process of replacing some of its coal-fired power plants with natural gas plants. It would be prudent for Oklahoma to encourage the development of renewable energy systems. Recently, OG&E asked to increase its customer charges by $1.1 billion for federal environmental compliance and to replace an aging natural gas plant. Encouraging distributed generation customers to install extra capacity would not only help with the environmental compliance, but could eventually reduce the need to replace aging plants. Requiring that DG investors be compensated fairly for excess energy they provide would encourage them to install excess capacity to meet future demands.

A Model: Some electric co-ops , such as Oklahoma’s Indian Electric Cooperative, recognize the value of net energy metering. IEC allows net metering customers to accumulate credit for excess power and pays them at the end of the year for any excess credit at the wholesale rate, essentially treating them as any other power provider. If the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would adopt a similar model and require that NEM customers be compensated for the excess power they produce, it would greatly encourage private investments in renewable energy installations.

(C) 2015  J.C. Moore

Bits and Pieces: Oklahoma Must Increase the State Renewable Energy Standards

Sun ,01/06/2014

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as windmill4quickly as possible. Investing in clean energy helps fight climate change, reduces death and disease from air pollution and creates good, local jobs. Most states have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires that a certain percentage of the electricity generated in the state be from renewable resources.

Across the country, 30 states and the District of Columbia have renewable electricity standards in place that require a certain percentage, some as high as 33%, of all electricity to be generated from clean and renewable sources of energy. Oklahoma requires only 15% . It is 11.25% in actuality, because the legislature allows the utilities to meet a quarter of the renewable requirement by conservation. Oklahoma has the potential to be a leader in renewable energy but it is falling behind because the state is not being proactive in encouraging investment in renewable energy.

It is time for that to change. With the increased phase out of coal fired plants and the uncertainty in natural gas prices and supplies, Oklahoma must act to insure a supply of electricity for the future. We have a good supply of natural gas, but that could change if fracking and disposal wells are linked to water pollution and earthquakes.

Every state should adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard, and states which already have them should increase the percentage of electricity produced by renewables. It’s time for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to invest more in clean sources of energy. Click here and sign a Credo petition to the Oklahoma Legislature if you agree. You do not need to be a citizen of Oklahoma, as air pollution affects us all.

 

Bits and Pieces: Two Misguided Attacks on Wind Turbines and Electric Cars

Sun ,25/05/2014

There were two op-ed pieces in the May 25, 2014 Tulsa World which were misguided attacks on renewable energy and electric cars.

The first was titled “The Killing Fields”, with the subheading “Perverse federal energy incentive is a threat to birds, bats.” The article was written by Dr. George Fenwick who is the president of the American Bird Conservancy. The article was illustrated by an Associated Press photo which shows cattle standing in front of a windfarm in a drought prone area of Texas. It well illustrated flaws in Dr. Fenwick’s reasoning, he is more concerned about the wind turbines than about a much greater threat to bird populations.

While Dr. Fenwick had some good points in the article about the value of birds and our need to conserve them, the sensationalized article missed the greatest threat to birds. He complained about the federal production tax credit which encourages the development of wind energy, about allowing exception to the Endangered Species Act, and about siting of wind farms in sensitive areas. Wind developers are already avoiding sensitive areas and they have changed the design of wind turbines so they would be less of a threat to birds. He should have been more concerned about the bigger threats to bird populations, which are severe weather and the destruction of habitat, both made worse by global warming. Delaying the construction of wind turbines will certainly lead to more carbon emissions, making global warming more of a problem

Research shows that wind turbines are not among the top 10 human causes of bird mortality – and windfarms are likely saving HPIM2053amany more birds than they are killing. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality found that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. If Dr. Fenwick’s sensationalized articles about “The Killing Fields” keeps us from developing renewable energy as quickly as possible, then he is working against the birds, and his own, best interest.

The second article, “Driving greener cars won’t save the Earth” by Megan McArdle essentially says efforts are futile to reduce our carbon emissions. She belittles her friend for buying an electric car and goes on that Americans are likely to do nothing significant to reduce our carbon emissions. She well documents all the ways that we waste energy and claims we are unlikely to change. She also points out that getting other countries, particularly China, to to reduce their carbon emissions is also futile. She concluded that if we want to get serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we need to find cheap renewable resources to replace our energy needs, to find a way to take greenhouse gases out of the air, or to keep the planet from warming because of those gasses that we have already put their .

Her last two suggestions show she does not have a good grasp of the scientific issues, but she is certainly right that we need cheap renewable resources. We have already found those in wind and solar, but they are not yet cheaper than fossil fuels because fossil fuels do not pay their external costs. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal –  if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include those  costs, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage. If we wish to be serious, then we need to remove subsidies to fossil fuels, require fossil fuels to pay their external costs, and to  subsidize renewable energy sources at the same level for several decades.

This falls into a long list of defeatist articles, such as that by Robert Bryce, which says that we are not going to be able to do anything about global warming, so why try. Yes, driving greener cars alone won’t save the Earth, but conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources, changing the energy sources we subsidize, and having fossil fuels pay their external costs, will certainly help more than writing articles discouraging us from trying.

  (c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Legislating Away Climate Change

Mon ,17/03/2014

 

 “Any time a law discourages science, you can be sure  there is a special interest behind it.”

 The 113th United States Congress has been busy making sure that money is not spent on climate research and that the research is not used to make rational decisions. Here is a sampling of some of the recent bills.

 Flood Insurance Rates: The House passed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HR 3370) sponsored by Michael Grimm (R-NY) which would bar FEMA from increasing flood insurance premiums to reflect updated flood risk in certain areas or reducing subsidies for property that was insured.

You might wonder why Congress would wish to bar FEMA from doing its job. This is similar to a North Carolina law (HB 819) which imposed a four-year moratorium on any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for regulations while the issue is studied. “North   Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions,” Governor Bev Perdue said. And then she ignored science by refusing to veto HB 819. Research on rising sea levels would predict that more of the North Carolina coastal region would be in a floodplain. It’s a sweet deal, the North Carolina developers and builders profit by building homes in the floodplain, and the federal government picks up the tab when the homes flood. Apparently the legislature is not going to let a little science interfere with that sweet deal.

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The House passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (HR 3826), sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), which restricts the ability of the EPA to issue a rule under the clean air act to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel fired power plants.

Fossil fuel companies now get a competitive edge on sustainable energy sources, as they do not have to pay for the true cost of carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. This law makes sure that the competitive edge for fossil fuels remains intact.

Social Cost of Carbon Emissions: This amendment to HR 2641, sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV), would bar regulatory agencies from using the social cost of carbon emissions as a factor when conducting environmental reviews of proposed construction projects. West Virginia produces a large amount of coal.

This law is designed to head off  a new report on the social cost of carbon from being used in rulemaking. A special panel of scientists has just issued  a 1,146-page draft report that details  the social costs of carbon. The report describes how climate change is already disrupting the health, homes and other facets of daily American life. It warns that those disruptions will increase in the future and the social costs will grow unless we reduce our carbon emissions.

Defunding climate research: The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (HR 2413), sponsored by Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), is designed to shift much of the funding of climate change research to weather radar research.  Mr. Bridenstine apparently does not know or care that this would defund much of the climate and weather research  vital to our national interest. The reason for this bill is clear, what you don’t know can’t be used as a basis for regulation of CO2 emissions.

Many more laws like these are coming down the pipeline. Any time a law discourages the use of scientific research, you can be sure there is a special interest group behind it.

(c) 2014  J.C.Moore

The Beauty and Power of Wind Energy

Wed ,12/02/2014

Before fossil fuels, wind was man’s major source of power for sailing ships, grinding grain, and pumping water.  The beauty of ships and windmills were an endless source of inspiration for painters and photographers. Windmills were once the source of power for providing water in rural America, such as the one in the picture with the giant wind turbines towering over it. Though some criticize the wind turbines for being unsightly, they have a majestic beauty of their own. Their real beauty is in their utility as,  windmill4once built, there are no fuel costs or emissions. Much of the criticism of wind power has come from the fossil fuel industry, as it is hard to compete against a technology with no fuel costs and few  regulatory problems.

Fossil fuels now have a near monopoly on providing energy, and consumers would benefit from more competition in that market. Fossil fuels have served us well and we will certainly need them far into the future – even to develop sustainable energy sources.  But there is a trap if we wait too long, as the rising  price of traditional fuels will also increase the cost of  building the renewable sources,  possibly leading to an energy shortage before renewable sources can make up the difference.

Cost: As the cost of building new coal fired plants has increased prohibitively, a number of US power companies have taken advantage of wind energy to  increase the supply to their customers and lower their costs.  Recently, AEP/PSO  in Oklahoma was able to meet the demand caused by the heat wave in 2012 by bringing 200 megawatts (MW) of wind energy online. It recently planned to purchase 200 MW more, but took advantage of an opportunity to contract for an additional 600 MW of wind energy from facilities being developed in northwestern Oklahoma. AEP/PSO said the cost was now less than building new coal fired plants, and that the purchase will save an estimated $53 million in the first year and even more thereafter. The declining cost of wind energy is making it competitive to natural gas as well. Wind contracts in Texas, about one quarter of all US installations, are now regularly below $30/MWh. Even with a tax incentive, this still puts wind well below $50/MWh, while the comparable cost for a new gas plant is above $60 /MWh. New design and siting where there are good wind conditions allows Texas wind farms to get capacity factors around 50%. Nearly half of that occurs during peak load, defying characterizations of wind as essentially an off-peak power source.

Capacity: One criticism of wind energy is that it will not be able to supply enough power to replace the fossil fuel sources.  WindWind currently supplies about 3% of the worlds electricity and is growing 25% each year, meaning that it will double about every three years.The graph on the right shows the worldwide growth of wind power. Last year, wind farms in the U.S. generated 60,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 15 million homes, and provided 81,000 jobs nationwide. Another criticism, based on a misunderstanding, is that there is not enough available space. Each windmill requires about about 14 acres of air space to insure they do not interfere with each other but they  require much less land space,  about 0.3 acres per turbine. Landowners can use the area below the windmills for farming or livestock, and they are compensated by a 5% royalty, about $3000 to $5000, as  each turbine generates about $80,000 in electricity.

Startup costs: To compare the costs of building new plants, the levelized costs of primary energy sources have been estimated for different regions  of the country. CostLevelized costs include all the costs of building a new plant and running it for a 30-year cost recovery period, regardless of the expected lifetime of the plant. Wind turbines may have a much longer recovery period, as some windmills in Holland have been operating for two centuries, though some of the gears are made of wood.  Though the table show some types of gas fired plants to be less costly that wind energy, the levelized costs do not include external costs, i.e.,  the costs indirectly borne by society. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include the  costs of letting fossil fuel release  their waste products into the environment, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage.

Criticisms: The  intermittency of the wind is a problem, as is the lack of a way to store the energy. Putting wind electricity into the power grid solves some of the problem, as conventional sources can take up the slack. Each unit of wind energy put on the grid saves about three times as much in fuel energy, as conventional plants are only about 30% efficient. Better storage technology is under development , but conventional sources will be needed  as backup in the mean time.

Wind turbines are also criticized, somewhat unfairly, for their noise and for bird deaths. The noise underneath a well maintained turbine is not much louder than from the wind turning it. The turbines are responsible for bird deaths, but they are not among the top ten human causes of bird mortality. A peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality finds that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. The study concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

Subsidies: While once the problem was getting electricity to rural America, the problem now is getting wind electricity from rural areas to population centers. It will require a large investment in research and infrastructure to develop wind energy. As Washington struggles to balance the U.S. budget, possible cuts in subsidies has created an uncertainty hindering investments in wind energy. While it is the national interest to subsidize the development of sustainable energy resources, a much larger share of tax breaks go to well established and profitable fossil fuel companies. The United States’ yearly subsidies to the fossil fuel industries amounts to about $13.6 billion, while all renewable energy subsidies together amount to about one sixth as much.

Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources, and we should not let unfair criticisms or politics keep us from developing the alternate sources.

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore    

Global Warming: Misguided Comments about the Northwest Passage

Mon ,19/08/2013

There was recently an article about global warming  in the Tulsa World which took an interesting approach to the topic. It was an article from two Earth scientists which started , “As climate researchers from divergent political leanings we regularly hear misguided comments about global warming. To help move the dialogue forward we offer a brief response to the top 10. ”  They went on to agree that the Earth is warming, that carbon dioxide is the main cause, that we are causing undesirable changes in the environment, and that we should leave things as best we can for future generations.

Probably the most relevant quote in the article is, “As climate researchers from divergent political leanings we regularly hear misguided comments about global warming.” Many of those misguided quotes come from anti-science websites like those of Anthony Watts, Roy Spencer, or Steve McIntyre’s. They use a little information which may be true but they do not tell you the rest of the story which puts it into perspective.

For instance, many anti-science web sites make a lot of the fact that the Northwest Passage was navigated around 1936. Satellite pictures show that since 1979, the extent of the Arctic sea ice has declined by about 40%. The claim about the Northwest Passage being open in 1936 is an effort to discount that by trying to show that in 1936he Arctic Ocean was open water. That was certainly not true, as the few early passages made then were with the help of icebreakers. You can get a better idea of how the Arctic Ocean is changing by looking at the actual shipping records:

Commercial Shipping on the Northern Sea Route 5,Table 1

Year    Cargo,Thousands of Tons   Length of Season

1935                246                               93 days

1940                289                              93 days

1950                503                              122 days

1960                1013                            128 days

1970                2400                            140-150 days

1980                4951                            year round for western section

1987                6579                            year round for western section

 

Source: Derived from figures presented at the Conference of Nordic Navigation Institute, Tromsø, Norway, March, 1992.

The data certainly paints a different picture and it is interesting that none of the anti-science websites bothered to mention it.

You may have also heard one of the many versions of the story that, “the Earth hasn’t warmed in the last 15 years”. The anti-science sites got that from a BBC interview with Phil Jones, director of the British Climate Research Unit (CRU). The BBC interviewer asked Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?” Dr. Jones repliedYes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level.”  Dr. Jones went on to explain that the result was not “statistically significant” because of the short time period.

Dr. Jones is often quoted but somehow the “statistically significant part” is omitted. You can prove a lot of untrue things about the Earth’s temperature by using using carefully selected or short time periods. For instance, if I were to choose the 16 years from 1982 to 1998, I could show that global warming has gone up by a whopping 0.31°C per decade. That, of course, is not statistically significant either. It takes about 30 years to average out the effects of natural variations and, over the last 30 years, the Earth has warmed about 0.15°C per decade.

A Politically Viable Alternative to Cap and Trade

Thu ,15/08/2013

Global warming could be addressed by a carbon tax if the tax revenue was divided and each taxpayer given an equal share as a dividend.

Dr. Theda Skocpol , a Harvard University scholar and a former president of the American Political Science Association, recently addressed an audience at Tulsa University about the futility of pursuing a cap and trade policy to reduce carbon emissions. Cap and trade was once considered to be the free market solution to pollution as it was used successfully by Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush to reduce the sulfur emissions causing acid rain. To address carbon emissions by cap and trade legislation seemed to have the support of both businesses and politicians when it came up in Congress in 2008. However, it failed by a wide margin, even though Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Dr. Skocpol was commissioned to study why. She quickly decided the question was not why the legislation failed, but why anyone thought it could pass. “Anybody who thought any issue having to do with environmental regulation or global warming was not a partisan issue … wasn’t looking at the data,” she said.

 Research: Dr. Skocpol’s research was aimed at understanding why the legislation failed. The League of Conservation Voter’s scores on environmental issues showed that about 55 % of the Congressional Democrats and 30% of the Republicans had pro-environmental scores in 1970. However, those began diverging in the middle 1990’s and by 2008 the scores averaged about 85 % for the Democrats and about 20% the Republicans. Clearly Congress had become more polarized on the issue, with many Republicans changing their position and Democrats, particularly those from fossil fuel producing states, having little incentive to support regulating carbon emissions.

The reasons had to do with popular attitudes about the cost and the actual threat posed by climate change. Addressing climate change would raise energy prices in the near future, while the benefits would mostly be to future generations. A survey examining tolerance for costs found those in the lower income brackets would be willing to pay up to 20% more for electricity while those in the top brackets would be willing to pay 10% more. Beginning about 2005, there was a stepped up media campaign to spread  misinformation about the cost to taxpayers and doubt about the scientific evidence for climate change. One false claim was that cap and trade would cost each U.S. household $3,100 a year. However, John Reilly, the MIT economist who authored the study, said that talking point was a serious distortion of his work. The EPA estimated more realistically that it would cost on average about $140 per household annually.

The opponents of regulating carbon emissions followed the successful path used by the tobacco industry. Rather than trying to address the evidence compiled in thousands of scientific research papers, the fossil fuel companies use their vast resources to spread doubt about the conclusions of the research and the effect it would have on the Earth’s ecosystems, climate, and weather. They used the same network of foundations, Libertarian think tanks, front groups, and hired grassroot organizations used by the tobacco industry to spread doubt. And, it worked. Many people were unwilling to support environmental regulations that might raise energy prices, particularly if there might be doubt about the scientific evidence. When it came right down to it, the public did not understand cap and trade well, and distrusted a system created by big business and politicians.

Dr. Skocpol’s graph below shows how the change in voter attitudes correlated with the propaganda campaign to spread doubt.

skop

Clearly, the opinion of  voters , particularly Republican voters , had changed. Dr. Skocpol commented that data shows the question really was “not why cap and trade didn’t pass, but why anyone thought it would”, given the polarization that existed in Congress and in the population. It was her opinion that any attempts to revive a cap and trade agreement would be futile. Dr. Skocpol pointed out that her assessment comes not from a climate-change denier, but from someone who believes irreparable damage might already have been done to the atmosphere. But as a political scientist, she said the data is quite clear: “Congress has no  interest in or incentive to act. ” What then can be done?

The Energy Dividend: Certainly the problem needs to be addressed, and it was her opinion that progress could only be made if everyone was given a stake in the solution. Her proposal was that it could be addressed by a carbon tax if the tax revenue was divided and each taxpayer given an equal share as a dividend. The dividend would be $800 per year if the carbon tax was the same as Australia’s, $23 per ton of CO2 emitted. Alaska has used a similar system successfully by taxing oil produced on public land and dividing some of the revenue equally among all Alaskan citizens. Over the past 31 years, each man, woman, and child in Alaska has received on average $1100 per year from that tax revenue.

The energy dividend produced by a tax on carbon should also help the economy. In 2008, George W. Bush gave each taxpayer a one-time $300 (or greater) tax rebate to stimulate the economy. A several hundred dollar energy dividend each year would give each citizen a stake in reducing carbon emissions and make up for any increase in energy prices. The tax on carbon would also level the playing field for other energy sources, making investments in renewable energy more desirable.

Note added on 06/21/2014:  Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, says there’s really just one thing you need to do to solve the climate change problem: Tax carbon emissions. “If you let the economists write the legislation,” Jacoby says, “it could be quite simple.” He says he could fit the whole bill on one page. Click here for his article.

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore