30 June 2010

We've brought our woes on ourselves

Many who think President Obama cannot do anything right are the same ones who either supported or ignored the trends starting with President Reagan. Decades of making government the enemy with slick, mindless slogans has come home to roost at every level.

Down-size government, privatize, push deregulation, get government out of the way of business (because business knows best?), blather about trickle-down economics, gut government agencies and regulations responsible for safety and the public interest, repeal whistle-blower protections and call critics "un-American."

Let big business stifle productive energy innovation, amuse the public with endless gadgets, neglect long-term problems and lull the electorate with promises the wasteful good life will last forever. So, how is that working for us, especially since 2000?

We enjoy casinos disguised as banks, obscene relations between businesses and their regulators, workplace safety disasters, foreclosures, jobs exported and the worst U.S. oil spill ever, all of which threaten national security. Why is anyone with a brain surprised when agencies no longer work very well when put to the test?

Seemingly, profit trumps the public interest, long-term solutions, worker safety, a secure food supply, reasonable growth and national security every time.

E.A. PAULL
AMHERST

29 June 2010

Drilling for only six days' worth of oil is absurd

As discussed in the May 28 article "Va.'s hopes for offshore drilling dashed," the disaster transpiring in the Gulf of Mexico has given pause to the pro-drilling fervor of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Unfortunately, McDonnell believes that investigation and temporary delay of proposed extraction off Virginia's coast is sufficient in addressing the failures of the oil companies like BP.

But as the spill in the Gulf enters its sixth week -- none of the efforts to contain the flow have succeeded -- it is clear that caution is not enough.

The Chesapeake Bay is especially vulnerable to the potential problems caused by offshore drilling. According to estimates, the oil contained off Virginia's coast would last for six days at the rate of U.S. consumption. The ecosystems and coastal economies must not be endangered nor sacrificed for less than a week's worth of energy.

I urge President Obama to take his actions further and ban offshore drilling in new areas such as the East Coast. Furthermore, the president should lead the charge for a clean energy economy and insist that Congress pass legislation to reduce America's unsustainable dependence on oil.

KATHRYN HARRIS
BLACKSBURG

28 June 2010

Solar Shortages Looming With Boom in Worldwide Demand

First Solar, the world’s cheapest solar panel maker, is reporting that they cannot meet this years demand for solar panels, and three more major manufacturers; Suntech, Yingli and Trina are also signaling that they are sold out, according to Reuters.

This is a huge turnabout. It is only a year ago that solar panels flooded the global market, driving down the cost of solar installations worldwide, after Spain suddenly eased off on its generous Feed-in Tariff, leading to a worldwide solar panel glut and a resulting 40% drop in panel prices.


The benefits of that suddenly cheap solar has had a huge impact. California alone installed as much solar in the first three months as it did in all of last year, at least in part due to cheap panels.

But now it appears that prices might rise again, due to ricocheting demand.

>> Interested in solar power? See if group discounts are available in your city
First Solar is having to postpone projects in the United States to meet demand in Europe, supplying growing markets in France, Spain and Italy, as well as in China and Australia.

As we enter the Peak Oil years and start the very bumpy slide down the other side of Hubbert’s Peak, this kind of increased competition for all sources of energy is increasingly likely.

If you have been on the fence about getting your own solar, whether you’ve been procrastinating on buying solar, or just signing up for power by the kilowatt-hour - it is clearly time to move fast before prices skyrocket… or lose out.

And when you do grab that forty-year supply of your own energy – don’t forget to include some additional electrons to charge that new electric vehicle that will keep you flying free on future freeways while others sputter along on the last drops of dangerous and dirty oil.

Solar estimators say for every 10,000 miles that you’ll drive annually, you should plan on including about 250 extra kilowatt-hours a month for charging an electric car. So, if you drive 5,000 miles annually, you’d need 125 kilowatt-hours a month to power that Volt, LEAF, TH!INK, or whatever, or about as much as to power a swimming pool pump.

27 June 2010

Convert Your Gas Mower to Solar




Written by Jaymi Heimbuch

hate my lawn. I’ve seriously considered ripping the whole thing out to expand my veggie garden. I hate it for a couple of reasons. First, it requires water, a lot of it, to keep it green. But in California where I haven't seen rain since February, that's not exactly practical...or cheap. And secondly, it requires mowing, which means cranking up my old gas-powered lawn mower, which wracks me with guilt every time I use it. So, for now, I give it neither. It’s a brown mess.

Thanks to Hacknmod tracking down three ways to convert gas lawn mowers to solar and electric, however, I can solve at least the lawn-mower issue. A tidy brown plot is in my future. It also solves another problem – I’m an early bird and can feel the glaring eyes from neighbors’ windows when I crank up my mower at 7 AM on a Sunday. Now, I can mow as soon as the sun comes up for all they care!

Convert your gas mower to a solar electric unit with an electric motor, battery, and solar unit.

Stick a solar panel on your electric mower for free energy.

Or charge your battery with a separate solar unit.

These could make for some fun summer projects! And if you’re the social type, you could even learn how to do this and hold a workshop in your neighborhood or community. Then your neighbors won’t feel the glare of your evil eye when they crank up their loud, gassy mowers.

Of course, if you aren't in to mods or DIY craftiness, then you can check out some pre-built electric mowers or, to please your tech-loving heart, go with a hover mower.

Oh, and don't forget - if you need to change the oil, there's always cow-fat motor oil.

26 June 2010

Here we go again

25 June 2010

Kill baby kill: BP's "energy mix" won't clean this bird


Beyond Petroleum?

by Heidi Siegelbaum

Beyond Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Beyond Pick up the Tab

Beyond Pigs Might Fly

BP, since its purchase of ARCO and Solarex in 1999, has poured millions of dollars into its now sullied green campaign, resulting in BP receiving PRWeek’s 2001 Campaign of the Year in the “product brand development” category. We owe a debt of gratitude to BP and its $200 million check to Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide — the PR firm that developed the campaign to differentiate the company from its bad-boy U.S. oil counterparts.

BP’s investments in renewable energy represent 1.3% of its overall investment compared to oil and gas exploration. Their lobbying and environmental records really speak to the depth of our “special relationship” with the English. BP’s site is replete with such color and happy stories, you would never know they were involved in the filthy business of oil production.

“Making a positive difference to the societies we work in brings mutual advantage” which apparently includes putting out of work shrimpers and fishermen on oil clean up duty. Their record belies their wish to have an environmental ethos:

Campaigning to Open Up the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Attempting to relax the guidelines for the World’s Protected Areas by nudging the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Lobbying against Texas’ attempt to strengthen environmental regulations (ok, well line up with all the others)
A culture of cost cutting (total maintenance spending reduced 41% between 1992 and 1999)
The results of their litigation fiesta: 2002 Prudhoe Bay spill in which they ignored safety warnings which resulted in 6 miles of pipeline corrosion ($12 million fine); the 2005 Texas City explosion, the malfeasance and incompetence of which is amply documented by the U. S. Chemical Safety Board assessment (felony charge of $50 million plus an OSHA $87 million fine for 270 safety violations); and the 2008 shared responsibility for MTBE contamination of over 100 public water supplies
Spurring investments in the Alberta oil sands, one the worst decisions on the planet, alive with wholesale environmental and Indigenous culture destruction, enormous climate change implications, as well as being a poor return on investment
2009 axing of 5,000 jobs which saved them $4 billion in operating costs.
It is clear that BP has a lousy safety record and that despite repeated counsel, it failed to take safety recommendations seriously. In a report associated with the Texas City explosion, an external assessor remarked that “[i]ncident reporting occurs for routine lagging indicators and such reports are having little visible impact on decisions and direction of safety management throughout the organization.”

What will certainly be a lifetime legacy of environmental and economic devastation, the Gulf Oil disaster is emblematic of other bads outside greenwashing: the drugs, gifts, environmental waivers, chumminess and other gifts bestowed by the Minerals Management Service (Inspector general report linked above) and the slick contributions made to Congress on a routine basis, including zesty support by Louisiana and a high rate of Democratic takes on contributions (more Rs take oil money but Senate Democrats take 2.1 times more oil money when they vote against clean energy proposals).

I say throw the bums out.

24 June 2010

Climate denial activists’ parallel to anti-relativity movement of 1920s

By Josh Garman

“This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.”

So wrote Albert Einstein in a letter to his one time collaborator, the mathematician Marcel Grossmann in 1920.

Jeroen van Dongen of the Institute for History and Foundations of Science at Utrecht University in Holland, writing in a recent edition of the journal, ‘Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics,’ describes the effectiveness of the movement that grew up to oppose Einstein’s theory. There are some striking parallels with today’s climate debate.

At a time when The Guardian just reported another poll showing a drop in concern about climate change, and a New York Times front page this week described Britons’ growing doubts about the science, its worth taking a look at that anti-science campaign, which was waged by Einstein’s critics because like today’s climate denial movement, the anti-relativity movement had some success too.

Van Dongen highlights:

“Anti-relativists… built up networks to act against Einstein’s theory in concert. This led to some success. For instance, the clamor about the theory in Germany contributed to the Nobel Committee’s delay in awarding its 1921 prize to Einstein and to the particular choice of subject for which he finally did receive it: his account of the photo-electric effect, instead of the controversial theory of relativity.”

He continues:

“Anti-relativists were convinced that their opinions were being suppressed. Indeed, many believed that conspiracies were at work that thwarted the promotion of their ideas. The fact that for them relativity was obviously wrong, yet still so very successful, strengthened the contention that a plot was at play.”

Van Dongen concludes:

“Conspiracies theories tend to do well in uncertain times: they create order in chaos….Just as there is no real point in debating conspiracy theorists, there was no point in explaining relativity to anti-relativists… Their strong opposition was not due to a lack of understanding, but rather the reaction to a perceived threat… Anti-relativists were convinced of their own ideas, and were really only interested in pushing through their own theories: any explanation of relativity would not likely have changed their minds.”

Despite the well-intentioned efforts of some climate scientists like Professor Rapley of the Science Museum, it’s not apparent that a repeated explanation of the basics of climate science is what will help in the face of the latest disinformation campaigns on global warming.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, prolific climate deniers such as Ian Plimer, James Delingpole and Christopher Booker who deliberately spread untruths on climate change can be wrong 99% of the time and right for less than 1% of the time and still ‘win the argument’ because the playing field simply isn’t level. Equally, the IPCC can be right 99% of the time and wrong less than 1% of the time, and they still ‘lose.’ As Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the NYT quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” told Climate Progress:

“It is well known in both sociology and communications that public opinion is largely shaped by media coverage. So the shift in public opinion about climate change is linked to the nature of mainstream media coverage of the so-called “climategate scandal.”

It is not a surprise that public concern about climate change should have been dented following such a fierce media and smear campaign by a coalition of fossil fuel industries (well documented in the case of Koch industries and Exxon) and conservative ‘think tanks’ (covered extensively by Desmogblog and Climateprogress in a US context, and exposed to a less extent in the UK) which have peddled disinformation for decades to deny this fact.

As the US blogger David Roberts wrote for Grist in response to separate polls on US public opinion in relation to global warming:

“Polls about climate science get treated like the results of some contest between two ideological interest groups. It becomes a horserace story –”Democrats/environmentalists are losing” — rather than a story about danger to public health. It’s about environmentalists’ failure to persuade rather than the anti-scientific obscurantism that’s completely overtaken the Republican party, with financial support from large corporate interests….If I can’t convince a guy standing in a downpour that it’s raining, seems to me the dumb ass in the rain is the story, not my poor messaging.”

Who can disagree with Roberts’ conclusion?

“It may be helpful to understand these affective responses of the public, but they are no substitute for science and pragmatism in policymaking. Ultimately leaders are going to have to acknowledge the problem and deal with it. Waiting until all the polls line up is a gutless dereliction of duty.”

23 June 2010

No Comment Needed

22 June 2010

No Comment Needed

21 June 2010

"Naked Credit Default Swaps" Should Be Banned

Posted by Ted McLaughlin

Don't let your eyes glaze over and stop reading this post because you don't know what a "naked credit default swap" is. This is very important and I'll try to make it easily understandable. It is important because these "naked credit default swaps" are one of the major reasons for the Wall Street troubles that kicked off this recession, and if nothing is done about them, we could easily see a repeat of these problems in the near future.

First, let us examine what a "credit default swap" (CDS) is, and then what a "naked credit default swap" (NCDS) is. Say a company needs to raise some money, so they create some bonds and sell them. A second company (or individual) buys those bonds, but gets to thinking that they'd like some protection in case of the bond-seller failing to redeem the bonds. They buy an insurance policy that protects them if the bond-seller defaults on the bonds. This insurance policy is called a CDS.

Now I don't really have a problem with CDSs, since the buyer of the bonds should have the right to protect their investment. The problem starts with the NCDSs. These are insurance policies on those bonds that are bought by someone who didn't buy any of the bonds. They would not lose a single penny if the seller defaulted (failed to redeem) the bonds, because they don't own any of the bonds.

Those who buy a NCDS are not trying to protect any investment they made (because they didn't make any investment). They are simply making a cheap bet that the bonds will default. If the bond-seller doesn't default, they are out a small fee, but if the default happens then they stand to make many millions of dollars. To put it bluntly, they are betting against the economy.

And this actually happened during the failure of the financial institutions on Wall Street. Many people who did not have an interest in those institutions made millions of dollars (sometimes hundreds of millions) because they had bet against the financial institutions (and our economy) by buying NCDSs. While these people got rich over other's misfortunes, the NCDSs just made the whole economic situation worse for everyone else (including the people on Main Street who had no interest in Wall Street).

Let me use an analogy. If you own a house, laws prevent me from buying insurance on your house. That's because I don't have a legitimate interest in your house. If your house burns down, I won't be out any money. You are the only person who will lose if your house burns down, and that is why you are the only person who can buy insurance on that house (to protect your investment). That's just common sense. I shouldn't have the right to get rich off your misfortune, while you just get reimbursed for your loss.

But the same rules that apply to you and me don't apply to Wall Street. Why? That's simple -- GREED! They have fixed the rules so they make money regardless of what happens to the economy. Even worse, they make money off the misery of others without any danger of losing their own money (as would happen if they actually had to make an investment). And the Wall Street financial gurus let this happen because they get fees on the sale of these NCDSs, which increases their own salaries and bonuses.

Why should you care about this? Because it is your tax dollars that bail-out the financial and insurance giants when it all comes crashing down (just like last time). Consider this. There is currently, according to Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), about $10 trillion (yes, I said trillion) worth of CDSs bet on the performance of Wall Street's giant banks, and the holdings of these banks are guaranteed by the taxpayers (just like your community bank).

The problem is that 80% of these CDSs are NCDSs -- people betting they can get rich off the failure of these banks (or at least the failure of their bonds). And if that happens, it is the taxpayers who will get stuck with the bill. And while the taxpayer is footing the bill to make these people rich, our economy takes another nosedive -- perhaps even worse than the one we are currently in. It cost us 12,000,000 jobs this time. Can we survive the next one?

This is a problem that has a simple solution. The solution is to simply outlaw NCDSs. Limit the "credit default swaps" to the people or companies that actually have an interest in protecting themselves from a default -- that is, the buyers who would be hurt by a default. But don't let those without a legitimate interest purchase a "naked credit default swap". Don't let them bet against our economy.

Sadly, the current financial reform bill being considered by the Senate does not ban the NCDSs. Senator Dorgan has proposed an amendment that would do this, but he cannot get the Senate to even consider his amendment. He is being ignored by both Democrats and Republicans. It looks like the $1 million a day that Wall Street has sunk into lobbying is paying off for them.

The financial reform bill does contain some good things, but it doesn't get down to the real reform that would keep the Wall Street disaster which caused our country's economic disaster from happening again. A good start on this would be to ban NCDSs. But at this point it doesn't look like that will happen.

It would be nice if our senators cared as much about Main Street as they do about Wall Street, but it doesn't look like that's a possibility either.

20 June 2010

No Comment Needed

19 June 2010

Palin Gets No Financial Support From Alaska


The mainstream media seems insistent on portraying Sarah Palin as a viable candidate for the 2012 campaign for the presidency. If you just read their reports, you might think Palin was a very popular person. After all, she makes six-figure amount speaking to groups around the country -- usually right-wing groups.

Palin is still the darling of the teabaggers, whose minimal understanding of politics is perfect for Palin's shallow and unworkable views. But the truth of the matter is that neither the teabaggers nor Palin have been able to get much more than 15-16% of popular backing. In every real poll or straw poll that has been conducted so far, Palin's support has been shown to be very small and in no way growing.

And even though Palin remains popular with the teabaggers, even they are not willing to fund her misadventures. She created a political action committee (PAC) that she called SarahPAC. It was supposedly to help other ultra-conservative and teabagger candidates. The PAC did fairly well initially, at least until it was know that it spent a lot of money purchasing thousands of copies of her book and paying for her travel expenses. Very little money went to the campaigns of other conservative candidates.

Now it seems that SaraPAC is having trouble getting a decent amount of donors. Although, the PAC raised about $1.4 million in 2009, it got the money from only about 2000 contributors according to the FEC (a paltry amount of contributors for any PAC). Making matters even worse, it seems that her financial support from her own home state of Alaska is almost nonexistent.

According to the FEC, only 29 Alaskans contributed to SarahPAC during the first half of 2009, and only 33 Alaskans contributed in the last half of that year. But it gets worse. In the first four months of 2010, not a single Alaskan has donated money to SarahPAC. It looks like the Alaskans know that Sarah Palin is yesterday's news and they've tired of her.

Now if we can only get the mainstream media to realize this, maybe we can finally be rid of this flash-in-the-pan. Palin will never have the support of anywhere near a majority of the American people. The American people have seen through her con game. Hopefully, the media will also someday soon.

18 June 2010

What Do BP Oil Spill & Offshore Drilling Jobs Have In Common?


By the green miles

Nobody can provide an accurate estimate for either one.

On the same day BP finally admitted its figure of 5,000 barrels per day lowballs the actual size of the spill, the Newport News Daily Press reported Gov. Bob McDonnell may be playing games with offshore drilling job creation estimates:
Even before the Defense Department made known its objections to offshore drilling in Virginia, Bob McDonnell raised eyebrows with a letter he sent to the Interior Department in December.

The letter cites a 5-year-old study that predicts offshore natural gas production alone would generate 2,578 jobs in 10 years. That the then governor-elect would quote the study surprised its author, former Old Dominion University President James Koch, who called the document a "flyover from 30,000 feet."

"I've told them they shouldn't make too much of something done over the weekend," Koch said. "I don't even put that on my [curriculum] vitae."
So how many jobs would offshore drilling create in Virginia? Let's ask Big Oil:
A 2009 [American Petroleum Institute] study found that Virginia would gain 130 drilling jobs, plus another 291 related to drilling, by 2020. The figures jump to 216 and 415, respectively, by 2030.
Only 415 jobs 20 years from now? At the cost of risking this off Virginia's coast?

Former Virginia governor & current Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine says the spill should prompt a fresh look at our energy priorities:

"You have to weigh environmental safety. You have to weigh the significant naval operations and NASA operations off Virginia's coast," he added. "I think a third thing you'd have to weigh in Virginia's case is opportunity cost -- would it be better to do offshore wind?

"The same place where you might want to do oil rigs off the coast of Virginia, there's actually pretty favorable wind conditions," Kaine said.

"So you would look at all the options and you would put them all on the table, including the environmental conditions. And certainly the need to be diligent about that has certainly been escalated dramatically by what we've seen in the gulf."
Tell Senators Mark Warner & Jim Webb it's time to stop letting Big Oil write our energy policies.

17 June 2010

No Comment Needed

16 June 2010

How Low Can Rand Paul Go ?


Posted by Ted McLaughlin

As I posted yesterday, Kentucky's Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate (Rand Paul) wasted no time in making sure everyone knew he was a racist and generally a mean person. He made it clear that he was opposed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. He believes that businesses and property owners should be able to discriminate against African-Americans if they want to do so.

He also thinks they should be able to discriminate against disabled Americans of any color, saying businesses shouldn't have to obey the Americans With Disabilities Act. He had already come out in the past as a supporter of anti-government and racist militias. Frankly, considering all of the above, I thought Rand Paul couldn't get any worse. But I was wrong. He found a way to do it.

With his willingness to discriminate against minorities and the disabled still ringing in the ears of voters, Paul has now decided that the United States government is picking on poor BP Oil. He seems to believe that business not only have the right to discriminate, but they also have the right to destroy the environment -- even foreign companies (BP is a British company). Paul told George Stephanopoulos:

"What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, you know, 'I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.' I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault. Instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen. I mean, we had a mining accident that was very tragic and I’ve met a lot of these miners and their families. They’re very brave people to do a dangerous job. But then we come in and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen."

BP may not have said they're not going to pay for the damages, but they have certainly been busy trying to minimize those damages. We're just now finding out that the 5,000 barrels a day that BP says is escaping into the Gulf is probably actually several times that amount. I personally think the president hasn't been hard enough on BP. It makes me wonder what the people of the Gulf States think about Paul and his defense of BP's right to contaminate.

As for the mine disaster, Paul seems to completely ignore the numerous violations the mining company had been given before the disaster. It is entirely possible that those miners would still be alive if the company had strictly followed federal safety regulations. But I guess he thinks businesses also have the right to ignore safety regulations and put their workers in unnecessary danger.

I honestly don't think Paul could get any lower on the Human scale than he already is, but somehow I think he'll probably find a way. Really Kentucky, are you guys seriously thinking of sending this sorry excuse for a human to the United States Senate?

15 June 2010

New Definition for Biofuels: Using Urine to Produce Hydrogen


Hydrogen seems like a logical choice for fuel - it's energy dense and emits only water upon combustion - but upon closer examination we see that it's extremely expensive to make from water, so all the hydrogen in production today is made from fossil fuels. But Gerardine Botte at Ohio University has figured out an easy and efficient way to break the bonds in urea to produce hydrogen. The process consumes roughly one quarter of the energy needed to electrolyze water. And, yes, the world has a fairly plentiful (and renewable) supply of urea. Maybe not enough to power all our cars, but it's a start.

Very simply, an inexpensive electrode oxidizes the urea creating two H2 molecules, nitrogen gas and potassium carbonate. Success! None of these chemicals are bad for the environment, and, indeed, are useful, saleable byproducts. The urea doesn't need to be pure or anything either, the process works with human urine, meaning that port-o-johns could someday become useful hydrogen-generation stations.

Of course, we don't have oceans or rivers or lakes of urea (good thing) so it is a more limited feedstock than water. The good news is, what we do have of it is a waste product, and (especially in the case of livestock) already needs to be managed more effectively for environmental reasons. So it certainly wouldn't hurt to have an extra source of hydrogen gas while giving the world a reason to more effectively manage its waste.

14 June 2010

Wind's latest problem: it . . . makes power too cheap

Posted by Jerome a Paris

Bloomberg has a somewhat confusing article about the newest complaint about wind power, but the gist of it is that wind power is an issue for the industry because it brings their revenues down:

After years of getting government incentives to install windmills, operators in Europe may have become their own worst enemy, reducing the total price paid for electricity in Germany, Europe’s biggest power market, by as much as 5 billion euros some years, according to a study this week by Poeyry, a Helsinki-based industry consultant.

Implicit in the article, and the headline (which focuses on lower revenues for RWE) is the worry that wind power will bring down the stock market value of the big utilities - which is what the readers of Bloomberg et al. care about.

But despite the generally negative tone of the article, it's actually a useful one, because it brings out in the open a key bit of information: wind power actually brings electricity prices down!

windmills (...) operators in Europe may have become their own worst enemy, reducing the total price paid for electricity in Germany, Europe’s biggest power market, by as much as 5 billion euros some years

The wind-energy boom in Europe and parts of Texas has begun to reduce bills for consumers.

Spanish power prices fell an annual 26 percent in the first quarter because of the surge in supplies from wind and hydroelectric production

This tidbit of information, which will hopefully begin to contradict the usual lies about the need for hefty subsidies for the wind sector, has been publicised by EWEA, the European Wind Energy Association in a report on the merit order effect (PDF). This is the name for what happens when you inject a lot of capital-intensive, low-marginal-cost supply into a marginalist price-setting market mechanism with low short term demand elasticity - or, in simpler words: when you have more wind, there is less need to pay to burn more gas to provide the requisite additional power at a given moment.

I've long argued that this was one of the strongest arguments for wind (see my article on The cost of wind, the price of wind, the value of wind from last year), and I've pushed the EWEA people to use it more - so this study (which I was not involved in) is most welcome.

The key thing here is that we are beginning to unveil what I've labelled the dirty secret of wind: utilities don't like wind not because it's not competitive, but because it brings prices down for their existing assets, thus lowering their revenues and their profits. Thus the permanent propaganda campaign against wind. But now that this "secret" is out in the open, it's hopefully going to make one of the traditional arguments against wind (the one about its supposed need subsidies) much more difficult to use... The argument remains true for solar, and to a lesser extent for offshore wind, but the utilities are going to complain much less about offshore wind given that they are investing so much capital in that sector right now. The reality is that wind power brings prices down for consumers, even taking into account the cost of feed-in tariffs or other regulatory support mechanisms, which means that these regulatory schemes are not subsidies, but rather smart corrections of market inefficiencies for the public good.

Ironically, wind provides "utility-like" returns to investors, that is low, stable single-digit returns, as befits a regulated strategic infrastructure activity required for the common good. Utilities and investors should love the sector; but they have been spoiled by market deregulation, which has allowed companies to seek higher returns by under-investing, building merchant gas-fired plants, going for M&A games, and playing on market price volatility and trading - in other words, by behaving as perfect clients for investment banks...

As I've noted many times, the energy sector is one of the best examples of how the financialisation of the economy has brought results that are bad for everybody except the investment bankers and top management; it's also, thankfully, one where reality can most objectively re-assert itself.

And the reality is that you get cheaper electricity with wind - and oh by the way, wind requires no imports of fast-depleting fuels from unstable countries, spews no carbon and provides lots more domestic jobs. And it's a perfect investment for our pension needs - safe, low risk, stable, decent long term returns...

13 June 2010

Clean Energy's Dirty Little Secret

By Lisa Margonelli
Re posted from: "The Atlantic"

THE UNINCORPORATED COMMUNITY of Mountain Pass, California, has little to recommend it to tourists. A scraggly outcrop of rocks and Joshua trees alongside Route 15, it has no kitschy landmarks like the 134-foot-tall thermometer that nearby Baker, California, installed in the Mojave Desert, and no casinos like Las Vegas has an hour up the road. But behind a Band-Aid-colored industrial gate lies an attraction of sorts: a 55-acre open-pit mine created by a 21st-century gold rush, one result of the effort to keep the world from getting hotter than it already is.

Mountain Pass’s mine contains a rare-earth ore that yields neodymium, the pixie dust of green tech—necessary for the lightweight permanent magnets that make Prius motors zoom and for the generators that give wind turbines their electrical buzz. In fact, if we are going to make even a few million of the hybrid and electric cars that are supposed to help rescue the planet from global warming, we will need to double production of neodymium in short order.

But in 2006, nearly all of the world’s roughly 137,000-ton supply of rare-earth oxides came from China. And over the past few years, China has cut exports to nurture its own permanent-magnet industry, sending the price of neodymium oxide to a high of $60 a kilo in 2007. This worries analysts like Irving Mintzer, a senior adviser to the Potomac Energy Fund who sees shortages stifling clean-tech industry, and worse. “If we don’t think this through, we could be trading a troubling dependence on Middle Eastern oil for a troubling dependence on Chinese neodymium.”

Rare earths are actually fairly common. What’s rare is finding deposits that can be mined profitably, in part because most contain radioactive thorium. Relatively speaking, Mountain Pass—whose rare-earth deposits were discovered in 1949—is not too radioactive, and through the 1950s the ore was mostly used to make flints for lighters. In the 1960s, the pit grew deeper as demand increased for the rare-earth element europium, which was used to create the red tones in color TVs. In fact, until 1989, the expanding pit at Mountain Pass supplied most of the world’s rare earths.

But in the early 1990s, cheaper Chinese rare earths began eating into the mine’s market share. Deng Xiaoping famously compared China’s abundance of rare earths to the Middle East’s huge oil reserves. As Chinese ore came onto the market, the price fell from $11,700 a ton in 1992 to $7,430 a ton by 1996 (in constant dollars). Amassing strategic supplies suddenly seemed old-fashioned, and the U.S. government began selling off its stocks of minerals.

Mountain Pass couldn’t compete on price alone—especially given the mine’s growing ecological costs. In 1998, chemical processing at the mine was stopped after a series of wastewater leaks. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water carrying radioactive waste spilled into and around Ivanpah Dry Lake.

Mark Smith, the CEO of Molycorp, which bought Mountain Pass in 2000, thinks that the environmental problems that have made the mine’s operation so difficult have largely been resolved, and believes the site can be fully revived. Standing on the edge of what is now a 500-foot-deep pit, he touts his successful negotiations with 18 California regulatory agencies to reopen the mine, and points out some of the company’s newfangled environmental safeguards. (One involves interlocked 18-sided plastic balls floating on standing wastewater pools to limit evaporation and prevent salts from building up after the mine eventually shuts down.) “We want to be environmentally superior, not just compliant. We want to be sustainable and be here for a long time,” he says expansively before talking about opening a permanent-magnet factory employing 900 nearby.

But Smith’s effort to turn Mountain Pass into an environmentally friendly producer—call it the Whole Foods of premium free-range sustainable neodymium—comes with costs his Chinese competitors don’t have to pay: for starters, $2.4 million a year on environmental monitoring and compliance. Will carmakers really be willing to pay more for local minerals and homegrown magnets? “Absolutely,” Smith says, noting that the mine’s historic customers in the U.S. and Japan have given their assurances.

Over the next 30 years, Molycorp is permitted to make its pit 300 feet deeper, which could increase the world’s supply of rare earths by 10 percent or more a year. But the consequences of the nascent green nationalism behind the mine’s revival—a weird amalgam of environmentalism, economics, and national security—will likely be less predictable. Consider the views of the industry analyst Jack Lifton—by no stretch your standard environmental activist (“I don’t give a rat’s ass about global warming”). To protect U.S. industry from supply shocks, he has called on the government to mandate the recycling of strategic minerals. A “bottle bill” for cars, long dismissed as an environmentalist’s dream, is just one possible outcome. Another could be a backlash of resource nationalism in supplier nations like China. As green nationalism’s potent mix of idealism and fear changes the kinds of cars we drive, it also promises to change the course of globalization.

12 June 2010

Vinalhaven, Maine Shows Us How We Can Help Store Wind Power


If you wish we had more wind energy on the grid, you no doubt have been frustrated by all the Nay Sayers who say; “Nah, wind will never work. And when it does blow in the wee hours of the mornings, nobody has any use for the power. You can’t store wind power.”
Not so fast. A very simple low-tech solution is being tested over the next few months on Vinalhaven Island in Maine, that last year installed its own 100% wind power and then discovered that they needed a way to store the extra power! Now they are testing a low tech “distributed” storage for that extra 3 AM wind power.
Even better, if it works, this very simple wind storage solution is one that WE can ALL help to supply. And it benefits us, by supplying clean, low-carbon heating.
You’ve heard of “distributed” energy, right.
If we supplied our electricity from solar spread out among all of our rooftops instead of coming from a centralized power station; that’s “distributed”.
This is a test of distributed storage:
Likewise distributed storage is also spread out among all of us, but instead of being on our roofs, wind power could be stored in boxes in our living rooms. We can use the “distributed storage” of wind power to make something else we need anyway: heating.
Using decades-old technology:
Thermal Electric Storage Heaters store enough electricity, in the form of heat, to warm a home for up to 24 hours by heating up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. When you want to warm up your house you flip a switch and they start to release slow-release heat stored in very dense ceramic bricks. These have been around for at least 20 years. Because they can tap electricity at night at low night time rates, it is the cheapest form of heating.
Why we need storage now
But now that many states have Renewable Energy Standards requiring utilities to add more wind power, that cheap night time coal power is increasingly being displaced by cheap (or even sometimes actually free!) night time wind power. Excess wind power on the grid at night is such a problem that utilities sometimes have had to shut down wind farms at night because because there’s been nowhere to send the electricity. Till now.
What Maine is pioneering this spring
A test starting this week on Vinalhaven Island, Maine could be the future of renewable energy storage for people needing heat in the windy states: “distributed” energy storage.
By adding smart technology to the electric heating units, researchers will test smart grid control of Steffes Thermal Electric Storage heaters, turning them on or off from a remote location, based on wind generator output, grid demand, and the spot price of power (that fluctuates with the demand on the grid).
They will replace the oil heaters in six of the Vinalhaven Island residents’ homes with wind powered electric heaters that can store and safely transform electricity in the form of heat in extremely dense ceramic bricks – and slowly release the heat, on demand, for up to 24 hours.
Each unit stores enough electricity to heat up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit
The way that these heaters work is that electricity heats coils that radiate heat to extremely dense adjacent ceramic bricks that store the heat in a supercharged thermal mass. Once they reach their maximum core temperature, they won’t charge anymore. At that point, the heaters controls won’t accept more power from the grid.
To supply 24 hours of warmth on demand:
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Of course, no homeowner wants a raging hot house at 3 AM in the wee hours while the wind is howling outside. That doesn’t happen. Space-age insulation keeps the exterior from heating above 160 degrees F, and enough is stored inside the units to provide 24 hours of gradual warmth on demand.
New use of old technology:
Until recently, nobody has thought to use these specifically as a form of distributed energy storage option for wind power, by adding sensors to detect and absorb excess grid power. But people are starting to realize that we will need more storage as we add more renewable energy.
Reduces the carbon footprint and helps utilities add more renewable energy
Some states are even passing laws that we must add more storage, now that we need it because we are adding more renewable power. Well, here’s a nice warm way we can do just that, and seriously reduce our national carbon footprint to allow for more electric power on the grid and to supply clean energy heating at the same time! This is one energy efficiency technology that should be included in Cash for Caulkers.

11 June 2010

No Comment Needed

10 June 2010

War on Drugs: $1 Trillion Wasted - Nothing Accomplished



by Ted McLaughlin

Back in 1970, President Richard Nixon was having a lot of trouble trying to get something (anything!) accomplished in Vietnam. So he decided to wage a war that he thought he could win, and most of the American populace would support -- a war on drugs. He signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. He said, "Public enemy no. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive."

Nixon budgeted $100 million, and the "war on drugs" was off and running. Unfortunately, this new "war on drugs" was as flawed and ill-conceived as his plan to burglarize the Watergate Building. President after president took up the same war, and each one upped the amount of money sunk into the program. Now it is 40 years later, and the only thing that has been accomplished is the spending of over a trillion dollars on this exercise in futility. That money has not slowed down the import of drugs into this country or the use of the illegal drugs.

The current United States Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, admits as much. He says, "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful. Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

His predecessor, John P. Walters, is more hard-headed. He claims, "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous. It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Well, yes. That's exactly what the last 40 years of the "war on drugs" has shown. Much of the work is misguided -- especially the money spent on interdiction, arrest, incarceration and forced drug programs. This approach simply does not work. How many more years and how much more money must we waste before we realize that?

It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat that history, and that is obviously true with prohibition. We should have learned from the first time it was tried in this country in the 1920s, when alcohol was outlawed. That did not prevent the use of alcohol. Anyone who really wanted it could still get it. All it did was create a huge black market that made underworld gangs rich and much more powerful. It also increased the violence of these underworld gangs as they struggled to control that black market, and many times that violence spilled over to affect innocent people.

Our second attempt at prohibition, the "war on drugs", has done exactly the same thing. It has not stopped or decreased drug use. Anyone who really wants to use drugs can easily get them. It has also enriched underworld gangs (we now call them "drug cartels") and made them very powerful. And it has increased the violence connected with those gangs, with much of that violence spilling over to affect innocent people. And it is all caused by the "war on drugs".

We had the chance to learn the horrors of prohibition the first time we tried it, but we didn't. And our failure to learn from past mistakes has been devastating both financially and socially. It does not matter whether the prohibited drug is alcohol, marijuana or some other drug, the effect of the prohibition is the same.

There were those opposed to legalizing alcohol again. They said it would be terrible for the country, because alcohol use would rise sharply. They were wrong. Education programs alerted people to the effects of alcohol overuse and abuse, and treatment programs did wonders for those who wanted treatment for that abuse. Meanwhile, millions continued to use alcohol recreationally, just as they had under prohibition, without ill effects.

It is just a regrettable fact of life that some will abuse any recreational substance. However, that can be controlled by education and treatment programs. In a free country, we should not punish the millions who use the substances in a controlled and recreational way. And we certainly shouldn't criminalize those hard-working and decent people (especially because of the use of harmless substances like marijuana). Legalizing drugs will not destroy our society any more than legalizing alcohol did. Those who want it will get it (just as they do now) and those who don't won't.

Instead of spending another trillion dollars trying to stop drug use and failing (while the drug cartels get richer and more violent), wouldn't it make more sense to legalize drugs and then tax the hell out of them? Let those drugs pay not only for treatment programs and education, but also many other government functions. It would not only mean less taxes of other kinds, but it would also create many legal jobs and income opportunities. Doesn't that make sense for a country in the middle of a recession?

Sadly, President Obama is following in the failed footsteps of his predecessors. He has budgeted $15.5 billion just for this year's "war on drugs" -- with $10 billion going to the futile interdiction and law enforcement efforts (and that doesn't count the billions that will be spent for the incarceration of nonviolent drug users in state facilities). This is just throwing good money after bad into a bottomless pit, and it will accomplish nothing -- just like the last 40 years. Frankly, that money could be better spent on food, housing and health care for needy Americans.

It is time for America to admit that the "war on drugs" has failed. Continuing this program will only result in more failure. The only thing that makes sense is to change our policy, and recognize that drug abuse is a medical problem -- not a criminal problem. Any money spent on drugs should go into education and treatment programs. And our law enforcement agencies should turn their attention to controlling real crimes -- like the violent criminals who attack innocent persons and their property. Meanwhile, recreational substance use should be legalized and taxed. A sensible policy like this will not harm our nation -- it will save it.

By using the Freedom of Information laws, the Associated Press has learned how some of our first trillion dollars in the failed "war on drugs" was spent. Here are the figures:

*$20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
*$33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
*$49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
*$121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
*$450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.
*At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

09 June 2010

No Comment Needed

08 June 2010

Electricity-Generating Shock Absorbers

Shock absorbers that generate electricity, which are being developed by Cambridge, MA-based Levant Power, can lower fuel consumption by 1.5 to 6 percent, depending on the vehicle and driving conditions. The system can also improve vehicle handling.
Levant has demonstrated the technology in road tests with a Humvee and will expand testing to trucks, buses, and other vehicles this summer. The shock absorbers look like conventional ones from the outside, except for a power cord coming out of one end, and they can be installed in ordinary vehicles by mechanics. They plug into a power management device that can also manage power from other sources, such as regenerative braking systems, thermoelectric devices that convert waste heat into electricity, or solar panels. The power is then fed into the car's electrical system to reduce the amount of load on the alternator.
As in a conventional shock absorber, the Levant technology uses a piston moving through oil to damp down movement. But Levant has developed a modified piston head that includes parts that spin as it moves through the oil, turning a small generator housed within the shock absorber. To improve vehicle handling, the power controller uses information from accelerometers and other sensors to change the resistance from the generators, which stiffens or softens the suspension. For example, if the sensors detect the car starting a turn, the power controller can increase the resistance from the shock absorbers on the outer wheels, improving cornering, says David Diamond, the vice president of business development at Levant.
The system performs best on heavy, off-road vehicles moving quickly over rough terrain, so the company is targeting military applications. The company has emphasized using off-the-shelf parts, where possible, to keep down costs. Diamond notes that active shock absorbers have failed commercially in the past because they were too expensive. What distinguishes the new system is its relatively low cost and ability to generate electricity, he says. The shock absorbers and control electronics will cost slightly more than conventional shock absorbers, he says, but in applications such as commercial trucking, the fuel savings are expected to pay for the extra costs within 18 months.
Lei Zuo, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stony Brook University, says researchers at Tufts University and General Motors have filed patents on their own electricity-generating shock-absorber designs. He is also developing systems of his own that use no fluids, only electromagnetic resistance. He says one of the biggest challenges in designing such systems is making them small enough to fit into existing vehicles, yet ensuring they are still capable of converting a useful amount of electricity.
Levant does not plan to manufacture the technology itself, but rather to license it to a manufacturer or create a joint venture.

06 June 2010

No Comment Needed

04 June 2010

No Comment Needed

03 June 2010

No Comment Needed

02 June 2010

'Bat-Guano Out-of-Their-Freakin' -Minds Crazy'

AUTHOR: Will Bunch at The Huffington Post
THESIS: "26 percent of America ... is totally bat-guano out-of-their-freakin'-minds crazy"
HOW MANY PEOPLE THAT IS: "one out of every four people you see walking down the street, plus someone else's right ankle"
EVIDENCE: 26% of respondents in a new poll believed that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Barack Obama
CURIOUS COINCIDENCE: 26% of respondants in another poll believe it is "never appropriate" for a president to bow to a foreign leader
AUTHOR'S CONCLUSION: These are the same people
OTHER PLACES THIS 26% APPEARS: Those saying they want no health care bill at all; those saying Palin "could be an effective president"; those opposing U.S. participation in the Kyoto treaty; and those, during the Bush years, approving of the president's job performance
WHAT THIS NUMBER REPRESENTS: "enough folks to fill 1,000 Citizen Bank Parks with roughly 6 or 7 million more people to spare. Enough to put on a fairly impressive rally on the Mall in Washington if just a tiny percentage of them turned out"
WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE: Folks who "might as well walk the earth in a bubble made of plastic and little speakers blaring Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh 24 hours a day"
WHAT THEY'RE LIKE: "Easily distracted" by "shiny object[s]"
THE LAST WORD:
But there's another way to express 26 percent, and that would be as "Not 74 Percent," the too-silent majority group in this country that's a bit more inclined towards real commonsense solutions, to use a term that's been misappropriated by a former Alaska governor ... It's true--as more and more conservatives started pointing out around, oh, around 2006 or so, that this nation is a republic and not a straight democracy. Legislators are elected to weigh what's most popular along with what is legal and also with what they think is morally right.
But when all is said and done, we need leaders who will fight like hell for the dreams of the 74 percent of America, not ones who kowtow to the sometimes paranoid fears of the 26 percent. That would be what I would call our 26 Percent Solution.

01 June 2010

New Survey by Former Bush Speechwriter Finds Tea Partiers Largely Ignorant about Taxes, Lots of Other Stuff


Noted left-wing activist* Bruce Bartlett read David Frum’s recent survey of a bunch of Teabaggers, and finds their grasp of the issues, erm, lacking.

…the Tea Party crowd appears to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.

Remember, taxes are the Teabaggers’ raison d’etre — the fact that they seem to know very little about them is noteworthy.

But it’s not only taxes where Teabaggers need help.

The survey also reveals some misperceptions about the status quo on healthcare and energy in the United States. The average Tea Partier placed the United States’ global rank in life expectancy at 11th, when in fact the CIA ranks the United States 49th.

Not surprising. This crowd hears Republicans talk about “the best health care system in the world” 24/7, and breaks out into chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at the slightest provocation.

Finally, there’s this.

In terms of energy policy, Tea Partiers estimated that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) holds about 70 years worth of oil, based on America’s present rates of consumption. Conventional estimates suggest that ANWR holds about a year’s supply of oil, based on the CIA’s estimate of oil consumption.

70 years, 1 year — what’s the difference?

Again, when you hear your leaders say “Drill, baby, drill!” over and over, this confusion is understandable.

The Teabaggers are just regurgitating years of programming by Rush and Sean and the GOP. Pesky things like “facts” and “data” are the stuff of weak-kneed libruls.

*For the snark impaired, Bartlett served in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations.