Climate & Energy

Another one bites the dust

Coal plant application rejected in Washington

Another coal plant application denied. This one was stiffed because of a law Washington passed this year requiring that coal plant proposals include plans for carbon sequestration or, if that’s not possible, plans to purchase offsets in a commensurate amount. But you gotta start with the sequestration plan, and the application from Energy Northwest didn’t have one. Said the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC): "The principal flaw in the (Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan) is its failure to present a plan to achieve geological sequestration. It does not detail specific actions (Energy Northwest) will take … (Energy Northwest’s) GGRP fails …

How not to make an energy policy

A strong and realistic energy policy is not dependent on any one fuel, technology, or supplier

First a caveat: When it comes to electricity generation, I (Jason) am an agnostic. In other words, I try to evaluate energy sources on their own merits, from cradle to grave, and I try my best to keep ideology out of the analysis. When we're talking about our energy future, it is essential to look at the big picture. We should evaluate each fuel source -- its pros, cons, and its potential for the future -- in light of all the geopolitical, economic, and environmental challenges we face. We should develop a comprehensive plan that maximizes energy potential, minimizes risk, and makes room for new technological developments. There are two things we absolutely must not do: turn reactionary decisions based on short-term situations into long-term policy, and base our energy future on wishful thinking. Speaking of coal and CO2 sequestration ... Reactionary decision-making In the early 1970s, this country had about 12 percent of its generating capacity in natural gas-fired power stations. Then the OPEC embargoes hit, and we legislated against using natural gas in power stations (the Fuel Use Act of 1979). The gas share of electric generating capability dropped to around 7 percent. Then, after the Fuel Use Act was repealed in 1986, we went on a gas-fired power construction binge in the late 1990s. Today, we have more gas-fired generating capacity than we have coal-fired! However, because the price of gas is so high, those plants only account for about 12 percent of actual kilowatts generated. Hmmm ... 1970: 12 percent. 2007: 12 percent. Also in the '70s, we were on a path to replace a significant amount of coal capacity with nuclear. Then Three Mile Island occurred. All the planned nukes were canceled, and we were back to relying on coal. Not only that, but the economics of the Clean Air Act of 1990 encouraged utilities to switch to western coal, because even though it had less energy per unit weight (a lower-quality fuel than most eastern coal sources), it was low in sulfur and less expensive, even when transportation costs were factored in. Power plants representing tens of thousands of megawatts switched to western coal, because it was cheaper in the short-term (based on regulated utility economics) than adding sulfur dioxide scrubbers or other alternatives. So now we not only use much more coal, we use lower quality coal, with poorer efficiency, that emits more CO2. The result of all these jumps and starts is that despite some interesting cycles in the trend lines, our energy source mix today looks remarkably like it did forty years ago.

Looking for a good investment?

Food prices going up, along with everything else

From an article in the Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Hat tip to Gristmill reader KO): What has abruptly changed is the twin revolution of biofuel politics and Asia's switch to an animal-protein diet. Together, they have shattered the fragile equilibrium. Investors who want to take advantage of agflation must tread with care, both for moral reasons and questions of timing. Riiiight ... moral reasons. The way I see it, you can go the PETA route and call the closest thing the environmental movement has to a hero (Nobel Laureate Al Gore) a hypocrite for eating meat, replete with a bulbous-nosed, pot-bellied caricature, or you can admonish your politicians to stop supporting biofuels. I suppose you could do both. I'm concentrating my firepower on the biofuel side of the equation. Industrial agrofuels are still in their infancy. They have to be stopped now, before it's too late. As consumers, voters, and peaceful protesters, we have a measure of power. Let's start using it. Find an effective way to convince humanity to eat fewer animal products and I'll support that effort also. More quotes from the article under the fold:

Google funds R&D to make clean energy cheaper than coal

Google has made a humongous announcement — which goes without saying, since everything Google does is humongous — of plans to heavily fund R&D of renewable-energy technology, focusing on wind, solar, and geothermal power. Calling the project Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (or RE<C), Google has an end goal of cleanly produced electricity that’s less expensive than dirty-black-rock power — and “within years, not decades,” no less. The company has no intention of being froogle: it will allocate hundreds of millions of dollars total to the project, and tens of millions in 2008 alone. The Google motto, “Don’t be evil,” …

More proof that coal ain't cheap

Duke wins approval for a $3100/kW plant

From E&E News ($ub req'd): Indiana has approved a $2 billion, 630 MW integrated gasificiation/combined cycle coal plant. Two billion divided by 630 MW = $3,174/kW. If we assume that coal equity investors expect to recover their investment over 20 years, with an 11 percent return, that works out to 5.7 cents/kWh just to pay off the capital for the power plant. Add in another 3 cents or so for transmission and distribution, and a couple cents for fuel and operating costs, and this plant will work out to over 10 cents in retail prices. This in a state where the current average retail electric rate is 6.79 cents/kWh. So why was it approved? Simple: "In the Midwest, coal is plentiful and low-cost, and finding ways to burn it cleanly is fundamental to meeting our customers' demand for power," Duke Energy Indiana President Jim Stanley said in a statement. The head spins. Excerpts of the story below the fold.

George Bush fetes Al Gore in Oval Office

Yesterday, George W. Bush fulfilled the U.S. president’s traditional obligation to fete the winners of the Nobel Prize in the Oval Office — including, of course, Peace Prize Laureate (and, in the minds of some, rightful inhabitant of said Oval Office) Al Gore. Awkward! The two men had a private 40-minute conversation in which they “talked about global warming — the whole time,” said Gore, adding that it was a “very good and substantive conversation.” Damn. We were really hoping for some mud wrestling.

Notable quotable

“Here is my guess, and I know that I’m right. I will bet my car, in fact. Bush will come out, this president when he leaves office, will come out in the next decade or so as a strong advocate on behalf of ending global warming. He will be … he will have an environmentally conscious post presidency …” – MSNBC cable news host Tucker Carlson

The GOP and climate

One small step for Republicans on climate, but giant leaps still needed

I've noticed recently that some conservatives -- particularly Andrew Sullivan -- have offered kind words to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for being the only presidential candidate in the Republican field to take the climate change issue seriously. It's difficult to know what to make of this. On the one hand, the country would be in a much better position to seriously address the crisis if John McCain's environmental views fell in the mainstream of his party, instead of where they actually fall -- radically at odds with the views of his party's leaders, virtually all conservative thinkers, and almost every last pundit on the right. If that's ever going to change, it will probably require more people like Andrew Sullivan to highlight -- and praise -- the fact that McCain isn't a typical right-wing denialist or industry shill. At the same time, though, this really brings to light just how far behind the issue green conservatives are, and, as a corollary to that, the fact that the party of the filibuster is light years away from accepting the sort of legislation that will be necessary very, very soon if the problem is to be addressed adequately.

Not-so-great grandfathering

Cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax

I don't know what to say about this article, which is largely a critique of a grandfathered "cap-and-trade" system for reducing greenhouse emissions. On the one hand, I shouldn't complain. Any serious discussion in the press of climate policy is welcome. But on the other hand -- jeez, is it so hard to get climate policy right? My problem isn't so much that the article gets things wrong (though it does). It's that it tells, at most, half the story of cap-and-trade -- not even the important half.