Archive for the ‘energy’ Category
Whatever you want to call the coalition of folks working to get our country off of coal–committed activists, radical environmentalists, or just smart people worried about the future–these folks have been working hard, for years, to end our reliance on coal powered electricity generation.
The country has of course benefited from our coal development. But knowing what we know, the great problem of epistemology, it is irresponsible to continue burning coal: it is toxic to our planet’s air, water, and the health of everything that relies on air and water.
So how are these efforts going? Recently, the retirement of two Chicago coal-fired plants was announced, a major win in a decades long fight. This victory has prompted a bit of self-evaluation in the crusade to get our electricity freed from coal.
Clean Technica has an update on how the movement is coming.
A confluence of factors is making it very difficult for owners of coal plants — particularly old coal plants — to compete. A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.
So just how much of an impact have these factors had on coal closures? Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign sent along these numbers:
EXISTING COAL (ANNOUNCED/RETIRED SINCE JAN 1 2010)
- 106 coal plants, 319 units
- 42,895 MW (13% of fleet)
- 150 million MWh (8% of fleet)
- 162 million tons/year of CO2 (9% of fleet)
- 921,417 tons/year of SO2 (16% of fleet)
- Average age: 55 years old
- (For plants with available data – Data from Clean Air Task Force): 2,042 pre-mature deaths, 3,229 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks prevented each year (about 15% of total health impacts from fleet). All together these plants retiring will save about $15.6 billion in health care costs.
This is no way to imply that the effort on behalf of climate change is winning. As producers are moving away from coal in some parts of the country, plans for new coal plants (“clean coal”) are progressing. And much of this generation is being replaced with natural gas, which has its own questions.
But it is important to take a step back from time to time and acknowledge that despite what the big political stories of the day might be, progress is being made.
It wasn’t that long ago that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum understood that burning fossil fuels was bad for the Earth. Coal and gas were understood as the root cause of climate change, they polluted our drinking water and our oceans and our skies. As a result, the idea that we should consume fewer hydrocarbons was widely accepted, the science of climate change was accepted, and moving towards a diversified, clean, home-grown energy portfolio was a plan everyone got behind.
But something else was also happening in that time of climate harmony. It was understood that alongside decreased consumption would come decreased production. We were running out of cheap sources of oil and gas in the United States anyway.
Fast forward to today. Consumption of coal and gas are still root the cause of climate change, they are still polluting our drinking water and our oceans and our skies. The science behind climate change has only gotten more sound. And yet, the bi-partisan acceptance that we should move to a clean energy future has eroded. Heck, even President Obama is calling for increased production of oil and gas. So what changed?
Technology. We could all get along on energy when we all thought we would be producing less. Now we can get a whole lot more of that out of the way, expensive hydrocarbon bounty that was just not worth it in the past–the “unconventional sources.” And if we can recover more oil, if we can successfully drill deeper and further and in more remote places, if we can continue to make money off oil and gas, then the arguments against consuming fossil fuels become much less impressive.
So the argument shifts, the new era of technology makes energy security and energy jobs and domestic production the holy grail of the political energy sector, on both sides of the aisle, and relegates what has not changed, the very real and potentially catastrophic environmental threat of continued dependence on fossil fuels, to the background.
For a clear, thoughtful, reminder that we are indeed reverting, read America’s Fossil Fuel Fever, by Michael T. Klare, at The Nation.
Advocates of the new techniques claim that the environmental risks are overshadowed by the greater benefit of economic gain and national security. “Even while the environmental argument rages,” Yergin wrote in the Washington Post in October, “oil sands are proving to be a major contributor to energy security” by lowering the nation’s dependence on Middle East oil. Increased domestic production, he adds, is generating jobs and reducing the nation’s dollar outlays for imported petroleum.
These arguments have great appeal and are attracting support. But they are deeply flawed. While highlighting some benefits to the nation’s security and well-being, they overlook detrimental outcomes of equal or greater significance.
The most important, of course, is the impact of these trends on global warming. By shifting the emphasis from renewables to fossil fuels, we can expect a significant increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—from the consump- tion of oil and gas and from its production. The consumption aspect is well understood: all fossil fuels contain carbon and this carbon is released when the fuels are burned, so any increase in fossil fuel use will result in increased GHG emissions. But the production aspect requires closer attention. All drilling activity requires energy, which produces GHGs; producing unconventional oil and gas, however, usually requires far more energy than drilling for conventional fuels and so emits a correspondingly greater amount of GHGs.
Robert Samuelson can’t see the forest because he’s only looking at the oil (that was a boreal forest/tar sand joke). In an op-ed at the Washington Post, Samuelson has decided that Obama’s decision to reject Keystone XL is insane. Actually, that it was an act of “national insanity.” His arguments are unconvincing, or at least unoriginal, but worth spending a second or two on. Here are the four key arguments:
1. “Getting future Canadian cooperation on other issues will be harder.” Seriously? You think Canada is suddenly going to spur its allied relationship with the US? Somehow, I doubt that.
2. “It threatens a large source of relatively secure oil.” How? You just said that this oil will be developed, so, not really.
3. “Combined with new discoveries in the United States, [this oil] could reduce (though not eliminate) our dependence on insecure foreign oil.” Probably not. Anytime there is an oil-based argument for reducing our dependency on foreign oil, it’s not going to happen. History is very clear on this. The only solution to reducing foreign oil consumption is reducing oil consumption.
4. “Obama’s decision forgoes all the project’s jobs.” I guess I can’t argue with this. But can continue to ask, at what cost are we willing to take jobs? That’s not a decision, but it’s an important question.
These, though are the small potatoes in comparison to the dangerous defense of Keystone XL that Robert Samuelson makes. The above arguments are just the easy Republican talking points that flutter in the breeze of political rhetoric. Here is the real danger in arguing for Keystone XL:
First, we’re going to use lots of oil for a long time. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that U.S. oil consumption will increase 4 percent between 2009 and 2035. The increase occurs despite highly optimistic assumptions about vehicle fuel efficiency and bio-fuels. But a larger population (390 million in 2035 versus 308 million in 2009) and more driving per vehicle offset savings….Second, barring major technological breakthroughs, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, will rise for similar reasons. The EIA projects that America’s CO2 emissions will increase by 16 percent from 2009 to 2035. (The EIA is updating its projections, but the main trends aren’t likely to change dramatically.) Stopping Canadian tar-sands development, were that possible, wouldn’t affect these emissions.
This argument is numbers based, and sounds reliable and hard to dispute. But don’t be fooled, this is scary business. It acknowledges that there is a reason to worry about greenhouse gas emissions, but disregards that worry because it is all inevitable. Variations of this argument are everywhere, and they cast aside climate change with a simple brush of the hand. It says, simply, “you cannot do anything about emissions, so do not try; instead, since we are already knee-deep in the muck, why not sink up to the neck.”
And such carelessness needs to be identified. Especially when, on the same day, the scientists are telling us how bad it is.
Maps are always awesome. And the EPA has unveiled a new one that is very interesting. It is an interactive map that providing emissions data from across the nation.*
*It is not actually total. The data is self-reported, and thus not comprehensive. But still fascinating.
Look up your house, find the nearest power plant, and see what its CO2 output is. Below is my neighborhood on the West side. The three plants here are our local emitters, but not too bad: the High Bridge Natural Gas plant, and the 2 dot represents St. Paul District Energy and the St. Paul Cogeneration plant.
Know where your local energy comes from? Know how many GHGs they are emitting? Live near one of the top 10 emitters? Check it out. It’s quite a fascinating tool.
This is adorable.
In a City Journal article titled The New Authoritarianism, authors Fred Siegel and Joel Kotkin argue that the liberal left has been branching into a new model of governance that is, obviously, Authoritarianism. Needless to say, I disagree.
But that’s not the point. They make their case and you can read it if you are interested. But in the future they see if Obama wins this year’s election, the authors claim: “In the post-election environment, the president, using agencies like the EPA, could successfully strangle whole industries—notably the burgeoning oil and natural gas sector—and drag whole regions into recession.”
The burgeoning oil and natural gas sectors? Honestly? That’s the most preposterous phrase I’ve read in months. And I read about Rick Santorum. It is such a ridiculous comment that it almost seems quaintly adorable. They continue by pushing the EPA regulations will “sharply raise electricity rates in much of the country” fallacy.
Anyway. The authors paint a “nightmare scenario” that would be a “constitutional crisis” if Obama wins. Because, you know, if the opponent wins, the nation will be destroyed for ever and ever and ever. As usual.
I planned on waiting to write this post until closer to the November election, but it’s on our mind now, and the with the Keystone XL decision due on February 21, it’s seems appropriate.
So, to President Obama: Hello. I’m a supporter. I’m a faithful liberal democrat, whose vocational concern is mitigating climate change, and who places climate and environmental policy as one of the top 3 issues in my political worldview. If we don’t put the Earth at the top of the list, well, we are doing a disservice to our species’ survival. Not a politically popular position, but as important a value as there is.
When you made the change from Candidate Obama to President-Elect Obama, I wrote the following:
It’s starting to feel more and more like what happens with the Keystone XL will reflect whether that impulse was right. I know I wasn’t the only one who had such an impulse. It seem’s so optimistic now, but after the campaign, that is where you led us environmental folks.
And then, you did not push on Nancy Pelosi’s energy and climate legislation when you had the opportunity. Instead, health care reform was prioritized, and passed. I get that. But was pretty bummed. I doubt you could have known health care was going to take the entire time you had the super-majority. But you missed a lot of opportunities while getting that watered-down health care bill passed.
It is true, though, you have been a pro-environment President. To pretend otherwise is to miss the facts, to obscure the forest for the trees. Even yesterday your administration made an important decision to protect the Grand Canyon by banning uranium mining. You have increased fuel-efficiency standards, protected and enhanced the Endangered Species Act, and overseen many environmentally friendly decisions in the three years you’ve been in office.
But climate change mitigation is not the same as protecting the environment. Environmental decisions are critical and necessary. But that’s not good enough. The continued permits for exploring in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the continued mountain-top removal, the failure to move climate change mitigation to a policy level priority through the legislature, these are climate failures.
And now Keystone looms. A Climate President, and I perhaps rashly addressed you as such three years ago, would find a way to move the nation, and the world, towards decreasing our Greenhouse Gas emissions. Because that is what is necessary to confront the actual threat of climate change. The science is clear, and you have said all along that you respect science. Not enough to put through EPA director Lisa Jackson’s regulations to hinder emissions. Not enough to choose climate change as the primary driver of your legislative majority. But still. You’ve called for clean energy, you’ve called for robust energy portfolio relying on renewables, you’ve called for serious action on climate change. And yet, we are still pumping out more CO2 than ever.
I know the system. And that you cannot just enact a series of climate friendly decisions and expect the nation to change its energy ways, stop everything and turn course. Of course not. This country is deeply embedded in a fossil-fuel energy system, and getting out of that system is going to be very, very hard. But now that it is clear that any action will have to be made in spite of the Congress, not with the Congress, maybe it’s time to take a step against the threat of climate change. Don’t worry about November, either; I agree with David Roberts: this isn’t even going to be that big of a deal come election time.
I know you recognize the reality and the danger and the scientific necessity to start somewhere on Climate Change. Hopefully, you recognize that KXL provides a pretty good staring point.
Thanks. Have a good day. The Relative Comment.
Sometimes the most important way to understand a problem is also the simplest. In that light, here’s a problem. The world has a fixed water supply and we are not using it well. The availability of clean water is becoming more and more limited for many reasons, of which a major part is energy use. Make the problem simple:
The greatest use of freshwater in the U.S. is to cool electric power plants, comprising 41 percent of the total. Most is withdrawn from lakes and rivers. Of today’s two main power production options — coal and gas — gas uses less than half the water, emits almost no air pollution, and releases less than half the carbon dioxide of coal. Wind power, which is expanding quickly across the U.S., uses no water and produces no emissions. By reducing demand, energy efficiency also cuts water use and CO2 emissions.
That’s a problem, and it cannot be argued. It is complicated severely by the reality of climate change. But even if one does not accept climate science, this is still a major, global, human, environmental and social problem. Providing water for the current human population, let alone the generations that will (hopefully) thrive on the planet for next several millenia, requires actual changes at every level, including moving toward energy sources that are not water intensive, i.e. coal, nuclear, and gas.
This is as simple as environmental concern can get: We need water.
I am not envious of the position of the President of the United States. Making decisions as the chief-executive means at least one consistent reality: Somebody, probably a whole lot of people, will be very, very upset no matter what you decide.
This dynamic will never be more clear than with President Obama’s decision to re-study (read: punt, delay, cave, etc) the Keystone XL pipeline route. TRC’s opinion of this decision has previously been discussed and is unchanged in the past 10 days or so.
Since the President made his decision on this, TRC has read more than a few “editorials” that laid out what choices the President faced. The context of making a decision to run an oil pipeline from the earth’s dirtiest extraction project, through a valuable aquifer, and across the entire country makes any decision grave, and difficult. That’s the bottom line. I oppose that pipeline, but it’s not difficult for me to see why people want it. There are economics and jobs considerations, environmental concerns, geopolitical and ideological ramifications, national security worries, constitutional questions regarding the nature of federalism, etc. etc. etc. But to read the ideologues, one might have no idea that these are delicate matters to weigh. To these folks, KXL is a not a sensitive policy question, with real consequences. It is obvious, and there is clearly only one choice. In case you wondered what it is, here’s the decision, as they see it.
(Note that these are just 2 of hundreds of such articles written since Obama decided to delay the project. I selected these two at random; most of them make a variation of these 2 arguments.)
Kenneth Green, AEI: But the Keystone decision shows the reality of the Obama energy agenda: stifling all forms of fossil fuel production, acquisition and use in favor of replacing a small fraction of that energy with expensive, intermittent renewables constructed by crony corporations like Solyndra, General Motors and General Electric.
Choices: the happy world of fossil-fuels vs. the energy policy of cronyism and corruption.
Marita Noon, Energy Makes America Great (nice): First, we all know that the President is fundamentally opposed to all carbon-based fuels (think Solyndra, et al)—so the pipeline’s approval was a longshot… With less than twelve months until the 2012 election, both the unions and the environmentalists will be buying—oops, I mean vying for—his favor. While some are calling his punt indecisive or a debacle, it could be the most brilliant fundraising tactic as both sides over-donate in support of their positions.
Choices: fossil-fuel wonderful goodness or pure political acumen to place influential constituencies in the pocket of the President, while keeping the poor out of work.
Why else could anyone disagree? Oil is good. Environmentalism is a sham, and disagreement points to an anti-American worldview. In the world of these writers, the decision could not be starker: Help America by choosing the pipeline, or continue to destroy America for purely political gain.
I know this is low-hanging fruit. That these are people who are going to oppose President Obama anyway, who are solely in the interest opposing any 21st century energy policy, and who are fundamentally tied to the pursuit of fossil-fuel consumption and exploration. It is not a surprise that such articles are floating about the conservative corners of the internets.
But that doesn’t make the need to counter such claims any less necessary. Policy decisions are always hard, people. And energy policy is particularly complex and sensitive. The consequences of bad energy choices can be felt for centuries, in some cases. And as the election cycle gears up, and Keystone XL continues to be used to browbeat the President, it remains important to call out the carelessness of casting decisions like KXL in such a shallow manner. It is as difficult, and important, a decision as any the President is likely to face.
The world is about to be populated by 7 billion human beings. That is a lot of people relying on an ever-decreasing number of resources to fuel our bodies, our electricity needs, our transportation, everything. It’s worth spending some time thinking about. There is no prescription here, but continued population growth at these rates does have consequences.
What does 7 billion people mean? Scientific American has a few ideas to report from an Earth Institute forum that was meant to “celebrate, raise awareness and sound a few alarms regarding a U.N. estimate that the 7 billionth human is due to join the party Oct. 31.”
So here are some numbers and predictions to ponder regarding human # 7,000,000,000:
- “The 7 billionth addition to Homo sapiens represents a spurt of 4 billion people in five decades.”
- “The growth rate prior to the mid-20th century was much slower and had effectively held steady for thousands of years until the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution.”
- “By 2100, the African continent will have overwhelmed a historic balance among continents, with “five sub-Saharan Africans for every European.”"
- “With the steady increase over the past half-century has come improved life expectancy to a global average of 70 years.”
- “Dwindling natural resources, food and water could mean 1 billion starving people across Africa and South Asia’s “hunger belt” sooner than many think.”
- “We are going to need to construct a city of a million people every five days for the next 40 years”
The EPA has been pushed around a lot lately. The Environmental Protection Agency has become the favorite punching bag of the Right, and to many on the Left; an easy target for everything that is wrong with the US government. If regulation is the enemy of business, then the EPA epitomizes the enemy. The only business EPA has (ideally) is environmental regulation based on science. What more evil characterization could there be?
And now, they are up to their old tricks. States and companies are in a tizzy from sea to shining sea because the EPA wants to increase protections of air and water. Folks can call such burdens whatever they want, job-killing, too expensive, over-burdensome, driving business out of the country; businesses have entire departments where creative minds come up with colorful language to describe why the EPA should not increase protections of our air and water.
This is extreme push back against the EPA, but it’s certainly nothing new. In the late 1960s and the 1970s, the US passed landmark environmental legislation, created the EPA and set about to monitor and protect the natural resources of our country. Since then, we’ve done everything possible to reverse it. Weakened our oversight, allowed violators to skirt the rules or issued penalties far to soft to affect change. Those were the good times. During the bad times, the EPA ignored the science, or used the science only to have its reports ignored or changed. In government, as in business, the US loves to hate the EPA.
To hear industry tell it, everyone, everywhere opposes the EPA’s upcoming regulatory rules. In the energy industry the next few years are being referred to as the “train-wreck.” There’s even a slide making the rounds of every energy company presentation to illustrate just how many pollutants EPA plans to regulate. It is called the train-wreck slide. The regulations of the train-wreck are coming down the tracks, and the costs are going to be significant. To polluters. Which is the point. And so the polluters are suing, and delaying, and rallying the elected officials whose pockets they fill with cash to get to DC and stop it. They are doing everything that can be done to continue business as usual. A reminder of business as usual: burning lots and lots of coal, releasing coal ash and mercury and CO2 and SOX and NOX and PM and OZONE and methane in amounts that are almost impossible to fathom, causing human illness and death, driving species extinction at a rate that should shock everyone, and bringing future injury to the planet that cannot be predicted other than to say, it will be bad. This is what our energy companies are fighting to protect.
Often it is asked what the alternatives are. Coal may be dirty, but the lights need to go on, and coal is cheap and reliable electricity. To stop burning coal is to send the US back in time to an age of fewer comforts and more problems. This is, frankly, ridiculous. The EPA is continuing the important task of transitioning the US energy and electricity industry away from dirty, polluting, dangerous fuels. It is not an easy or painless process. But they are not shutting down every coal plant in the next few years. They are not shutting down any coal plants. The owners of coal plants will be shutting them down, if they don’t want to invest in the technology to clean them up. That’s a business decision, and one that acknowledges that there are alternative to coal ready to serve the needs of the US. To say otherwise is simply to ignore reality.
In the US, we burn a lot of coal, but we do not need to. The US will probably continue to burn coal for generations, but it does not have to be that way. People in every single community of the United States will live healthier lives if we burn less coal. That is a fact. And it is possible to burn less coal. In order to do so we have to place a higher value on the things that are actually important.
The dirty polluters are upset about the upcoming air and water quality standards of the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency. Clearly the EPA is doing its job.