Archive for the ‘Politics & Science’ Category

Wind energy.

Electricity generated by the power of the wind.

It’s a cool idea. (Or, should I say “hot”?) Clean (i.e., no carbon emissions or other harmful waste products), natural and “renewable”. Presumably cheap, too. Yay! Every politician’s dream, especially those who are funded and/or pressured by the environmentalist lobbyists and other “green” groups. Of course, when you read or listen to those activists via the MSM, you don’t usually hear the other side of the equation, as it were.

Wind Farm -- The Braes O'Doune near Stirling Castle in Scotland

The Braes O'Doune Wind Farm near Stirling Castle, Scotland

Unreliability is a BIG concern. You just can’t rely on the wind to always be blowing, even when you build a wind farm in a normally windy place. Take Scotland, for instance, which has several wind farms responsible for producing 1588 megawatts (MW) of power. A recent study on the data from those farms from February through June of this year revealed some eye-opening facts.

  • While the wind turbines are supposed to operate at an average output of about 30% of their maximum installed capacity, they under-produced 80% of the time.
  • They were at less than 5% maximum output nearly a third of the time, sometimes for several days.
  • Only 9 times did they actually reach 30% efficiency for a full day.
  • In fact, average output for the 5-month period was only 17% of maximum — i.e., just over half of what is expected.

It’s not a serious issue, yet, but Helen McDade of the John Muir Trust expressed her worries about depending too much on the wind farms:

This raises serious concerns about security of supply…. What will the consequences be when we become more reliant on wind power, and switch off the other resources, such as the coal-fired power stations? I think vested interests and blind hope are the reasons we are careening down this route.”

To be fair, though, this study looked at just 5 months out of an admittedly unusually calm year. Plus, as Rosie Vetter of Scottish Renewables points out,

No single energy technology can meet all of our needs, which is why we need a mix of renewables and thermal generation in different locations linked by a strong grid, with enhanced capacity to store electricity so it can be released when it is needed.”

Nevertheless, I think this case study is sufficiently illustrative of the undependable nature of this particular energy source.

5 megawatt wind turbine under construction

5 megawatt wind turbine under construction

Let’s look at it from another perspective.

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the Pacific Northwest currently has 2780 MW generated from wind farms and is expected to more than double that amount by 2013. It has already integrated over 1000 turbines, 5 new substations, and 6 tap-lines to connect the new power sources into the electricity grid. The BPA has one of the highest ratios of wind power to overall load of any federal power marketing authority in the United States — closing in on 30%. As Todd Wynn and Eric Lowe of the Cascade Policy Institute recently reported, however, there are several issues related to integrating wind-generated energy into a region’s power grid.

Obviously, wind is unpredictable and inconsistent, creating a significant problem for BPA and electric utilities. The electricity grid must remain in perfect supply-and-demand equilibrium in order to guarantee that when a ratepayer flips a switch, a light turns on. To prevent brownouts or overloads on the grid, BPA must schedule energy production in advance. However, the ability to predict when and how hard the wind will blow is extremely limited (usually a two- or three-day window) and often inaccurate. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that BPA has to have a backup system, known as a balancing reserve capacity, equal to or greater than the wind power capacity utilized at any given time. Because wind power is so unpredictable, every MW of wind power must be backed up by an equal amount of reliable energy in reserve to replace the energy lost when the wind dies down. Otherwise, the grid becomes unreliable and service is interrupted. In Oregon and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric dams currently serve as the balancing reserve. This means hydroelectric dams are turned on and off in order to respond to fluctuations in wind generation. [Not very efficient. More on this in a minute.]

…The argument that wind power can help to meet future energy demand is erroneous, since wind energy does not add capacity to the grid. Wind power merely trades off with existing sources of production, which functionally means shutting down hydroelectric dams and building additional back-up generation facilities (essentially building two power plants for the energy of one)…. [While research & analysis is underway to address these problems, solutions] are generally far off, or would fail to address the problem completely. Therefore, BPA eventually will be forced either to buy additional dispatchable generation capacity from third-party suppliers or to build additional back-up capacity. This leads to additional costs for BPA, the utilities which purchase power from BPA, and ultimately Oregon ratepayers.”

That bit I italicized is well worth remembering. Speaking of additional costs, here is some more info:

In 2009, BPA requested that the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) allow an electricity rate increase to reflect the costs of integrating wind. BPA proposed an increase of $2.79 per kilowatt-month, and the OPUC set the final rate increase at $1.29…. The new rate represents a doubling of wind integration costs, and this rate will continue to increase as more wind energy is added to the grid. These additional costs are eventually passed on to Oregon ratepayers.

Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, Oregon

Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, Oregon

In addition, President and CEO of Portland General Electric (PGE) Jim Piro sent an e-mail to ratepayers on February 16, 2010 explaining the utility’s plans to request a rate increase which would have to be approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. The rate increase proposed for 2011-2013 will raise the average household electricity bill $6.70 per month. According to Piro, these costs can be associated largely with state renewable energy mandates, such as finishing phase III of the Biglow Canyon Wind Farm.”

So much for energy savings from “renewable” power sources. But, we’re not done, yet. About those mandates Piro mentioned…

[O]ne of the main reasons why wind energy has expanded so quickly in Oregon is because the Oregon Legislature passed renewable energy mandates in 2007. These mandates force utilities, and ultimately ratepayers, to purchase a certain percentage of renewable power by a certain year. The main goal is to have 25% new renewable energy on the grid by 2025. This effectively creates artificial demand, and wind power developers must build wind farms to meet this demand. Additionally, subsidies for production, as well as lucrative state tax-incentives, create multiple levels of artificial support for wind power.”

Is it any wonder that oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, global warming activist Al Gore, speculator/investor & liberal activist George Soros, and others see a great opportunity to make new fortunes in the wind energy business? Of course, I’m not against making an honest buck when such an opportunity arises. My concern is with the reliability of the source and the viability of the technology to make it worthwhile to the end users — i.e., you and me. I also hate to see people tricked into thinking something is a “solution” or, at least, of much greater benefit than it really is. (Note: It seems Pickens has had some setbacks on this front and is shifting his focus to natural gas.)

Wynn and Lowe conclude that:

Forcing Oregonians to purchase an energy source with so many associated costs is unwise. At best, wind power simply replaces a clean, reliable and affordable source of energy: hydroelectricity. At worst, it invites increased price volatility, increased rates and the prospect of more greenhouse gas-emitting facilities. Ultimately, mandating increased wind generation leads to financial burdens on businesses and individuals across the state that ought to be considered carefully.”

If you don’t live in Oregon, you may be thinking this isn’t much of an issue for you. But, many (30?) states have issued or are considering similar mandates for their utilities. California, for example, will require that renewable energy sources produce 33% of its electrical power by 2020. Unfortunately, there is yet another wrinkle to impede this noble cause.

Remember how the predicted major reductions in carbon emissions was such a huge selling point for wind power? Well, several new studies have concluded that the actual reductions from wind-generated electricity will be rather negligible. As reported in the Wall Street Journal by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce and written about in his new book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, the cycling up and down of conventional coal- or gas-fired generators to compensate for erratic winds is rather inefficient. These generators are designed for continuous operation, so intermittently powering them on & off increases both fuel consumption and carbon emissions. According to Bryce, the aforementioned, recent research strongly indicates that this effectively cancels out any projected reductions.

[The summary I read didn’t mention anything about hydroelectric dams, as in the Oregon example above, but I can’t imagine ramping them up and down any more than absolutely necessary is a good idea, either.]

Wind Farm in Palm Springs, California

Wind Farm in Palm Springs, California

The Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States commissioned Bentek Energy to analyze Colorado and Texas power plant records. Despite sizable investments, Bentek concluded, wind power “has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide” emissions. Thanks to the cycling of Colorado’s coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of CO2 were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, there was an estimated, relatively small reduction (~600 tons) of CO2 in 2008 and a slight increase (~1000 tons) of CO2 in 2009.

Some of you may remember that the Waxman-Markey energy bill, which narrowly passed the House last year, included the goal of eventually having 25% of the nation’s electricity produced by renewable energy sources. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the best-case scenario is about 306 million tons less CO2 by 2030. With the estimated annual U.S. carbon emissions being roughly 6.2 billion tons that year, the expected reduction will only be around 4.9% of emissions nationwide. That’s only a fifth what the Waxman-Markey bill put forth. And it’s certainly not much when you consider that the Obama administration wants to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.

Frankly, I think the powers-that-be need to be much more realistic in their expectations, in terms of what can be done, by when, and how. (It would help if they weren’t being influenced/pressured by the climate change alarmists.) Granted, my knowledge on the subject is fairly limited. But, I still think it is safe to say that the more reliable, proven energy alternatives that should be focused on are natural gas, hydroelectric, clean coal, and definitely nuclear fission. If some billionaire gave me some money to invest in energy production, I would put it in one or more of those areas (after due diligence research, of course). No question.

Wind power? It might suffice for small, agrarian communities. But, for our modern, energy-ravenous society, it just doesn’t cut it. In fact, it “sucks”.

Something a little different today, but you’ll see the connection.

Laurie David (aka Laurie Lennard) is the ex-wife of writer/producer/actor Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and devoted mother of Cazzie & Romy David. She is also a liberal/progressive activist, particularly for the (perceived) dangers of catastrophic man-made Global Warming. (Does that make her a global warming activist, or an anti-global warming activist? I’m never sure how that works.) Hailed by Bobby Kennedy, Jr., as a hero for the cause, she has produced such notable documentaries as An Inconvenient Truth and Too Hot Not to Handle. She owns and operates

Laurie David & Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow (l) & Laurie David (r)

She is a member of the Hollywood elite and quite wealthy, since her divorce settlement from Larry should net her a healthy 9 figures (i.e., hundreds of millions). Her extramarital relationship with the contractor working on their 76-acre compound in Martha’s Vineyard looks like the primary cause of the divorce (2007), and it has been alleged that she had an affair with Al Gore for the past couple years. (Can’t say I’d be too surprised if it was proven true, since she’s been such an outspoken fan/cheerleader for her eco-activist friend & mentor.)

But, my purpose here isn’t to knock the former Mrs. David’s rich lifestyle, per se, nor her affairs. Rather, I want to point out something else she shares with Gore and so many of the liberal elite, from Hollywood to Washington, D.C. Namely, inconsistency & hypocrisy! (See Peter Schweizer’s Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.)

Laurie David is what they call a “true believer” in the environmentalist cause, with all the usual talking points and “indisputable” scientific facts. Sure, she worries about leaving the lights on, drives a hybrid, and forces her family to use “scratchy” toilet paper. (I wonder if she only uses one square per, um, sitting, like her pal Sheryl Crow.) But, it’s more than that.

In an interview with Treehugger, she explained:

Human beings are causing the climate to change…. In particular, the United States is the world’s biggest cause of global warming position and we’re doing the least about it. It all has to do with our consciousness; it has to do with how we’re living, and how we’re going to live in the future. My whole thing is the solution is you; we have to change the way we think, we have to change the way we act, we have to change the way we behave. And then we’re going to demand… if we change ourselves as individuals, we’re going to demand that our families change, then we’re going to demand that our businesses change, and then hopefully country changes. That’s sort of the path that I’m on, and that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

She has also been known to confront perfect strangers and accuse them of funding terrorists, because they drive an SUV. (Meanwhile, her children cringe, embarrassed, in the backseat.)

Ongoing development of the Davids’ compound (aka “Camp David”) has caused quite a stir in the Martha’s Vineyard town of Chilwick. According to neighbor Jackie Mendez-Diez,

Her disgusting and ostentatious trophy building has been virtually ceaseless for about 6 years now [as of 2007]. The trucks and pollution stop only when Mrs. Carbon Sasquatch is here for her summer vacation, making herself the center of everyone’s attention.”

One specific incident was her attempt to build a firepit inside the buffer zone for wetlands without permits. Even with the required permits, this doesn’t seem like something someone worried about their “carbon footprint” would do, does it? Not clear if it was a matter of ignorance or ambivalence on Laurie’s part, though.

“Camp David” includes a 25,000 sq ft house — bigger even than Gore’s mansion — and that’s just one home. Gore’s place in Tennessee uses 20X the energy as the national average. Makes you wonder what kind of “carbon footprint” the David compound leaves. Once asked why she doesn’t live in a smaller home, Ms. David replied,

Everybody has to strike their own balance between how they want to live and how they can reduce their impact [on energy consumption]. If the environmental movement wants to be mainstream, it has to lose it purer-than-thou, all-or-nothing attitude.”

I see. So, if my self-determined balance is to recycle, to turn off lights & appliances when no one’s in the room, etc., but still drive my car that averages 17mpg, is that OK, in her book? If she rolls up next to me at the traffic stop — as if I’m ever anywhere near Martha’s Vineyard or Pacific Palisades — and yells at me for being a “terrorist enabler” and keeping America beholden to the Saudis, can I quote that back to her? What do her friends at Greenpeace, Sierra Club, etc., think of that approach? Just wonderin’…

Laurie David - Force of Nature

Laurie David - Force of Nature

Another egregiously hypocritical example is her commute between Martha’s Vineyard and her second home in Los Angeles. Ms. David doesn’t like to fly commercially, you see. First class isn’t good enough, I guess. So, she charters a private jet. Gregg Easterbrook did the math at New Republic Online. A mid-sized Gulfstream G200 burns between 1200 & 1500 gallons of (expensive) jet fuel on a ~3,000 mile, Rhode Island-to-L.A. flight. By comparison, a Hummer uses up about 1250 gallons of gasoline to drive 15,000 miles (the average annual mileage for a U.S. vehicle). So, each cross-country flight for Ms. David represents as much “Persian Gulf dependence and greenhouse-gas emissions” as driving one of the biggest SUVs for a whole year.

I don’t know how often she actually makes those trips, but here’s Ms. David’s excuse…

Yes, I take a private plane on holiday a couple of times a year, and I feel horribly guilty about it. I probably shouldn’t do it. But the truth is, I’m not perfect. This is not about perfection. I don’t expect anybody else to be perfect either. That’s what hurts the environmental movement – holding people to a standard they cannot meet. That just pushes people away.”

I agree. Nobody’s perfect and no one should be held to unreachable, or unreasonable, standards by their fellows. I’m sure she never holds people to such standards, either. Still, as a high-profile activist for the radical environmentalist movement, wouldn’t you think she’d make a few more sacrifices to be consistent with her ideals and a model to the rest of us? Does this jibe with what she told Treehugger?

As Ms. Mendez-Diez put it,

[Laurie David] is the prime example of a spoiled, selfish, rich girl who says, ‘do what I say, not what I do’. She is a narcissist and a hypocrite to the nth degree.”

That about sums it up.

It seems that the Obama administration is finally accepting aid from other countries in dealing with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. ‘Bout freakin’ time! Booms, skimmers, sweeping arms, whatever — we need ’em!

Scientists of various disciplines have been doing their part, official or otherwise, to devise and recommend ways to seal the “leak” and to clean up and restore the local flora & fauna as much as possible. From physicists and engineers to marine biologists and biochemists — lots of ideas, only a very few get tried. Sometimes something goes wrong, or it doesn’t work as well as was hoped. Well, at least it’s something. (If things had been better managed from the start,….) Now, a revered botanist is pitching an idea to, well, anyone who will listen.

Danube Delta Bulrush Harvesting

Harvesting the delta bulrush

Dr. Alfred Ernest Schuyler, curator emeritus of botany for the Academy of Natural Sciences, thinks he may be onto something that could greatly reduce the impact of the “spill” — at least, in the Mississippi Delta. Forty years ago, Dr. Schuyler was the first to profile and name the delta bulrush (Schoenoplectus deltarum), a reedy plant of the sedge (Cyperaceae) family. Now, Dr. Schuyler is strongly encouraging those in charge of clean-up efforts in the Gulf to study the bulrush’s unusual properties.

For one, bulrushes in general are known to be rather resistant to oil — moreso than many other marsh plants. The delta bulrush is quite plentiful in the Mississippi Delta, and it will be one of the first that the oil will encounter when it hits the area. So, there is good reason to think it will serve as a partial buffer and a stabilizing force for the region’s marshes.

How much is too much even for the bulrush? No one knows for sure, but if the plants become covered, Schuyler recommends harvesting them just below the oil line. “This will protect waterfowl from the oil and also will allow regrowth from their basal portions.” Their seeds can also be removed from the harvested plants and replanted in untainted marshbed.

There is another interesting property of this local resident to consider. Dr. Schuyler explains,

Bulrushes are environmental workhorses, effectively used in sewage lagoons to purify water. Air cavities in the stems transport oxygen to underwater portions of the plants, making the oxygen available to microbes capable of decomposing pollutants in the sewage.”

Moreover, Schuyler believes the delta bulrush should be able to use the same process to break up “some chemicals in the oil, thereby reducing the impact of the spill to the delta area.” (There may even be some evidence for the common three-square, a close relative of the delta bulrush, having done this.)

Sounds very promising. Now, if they can just find a salt-water equivalent….

* The Academy of Natural Sciences. “Delta Bulrush Plant Could Help Ease Oil Spill Crisis, Botanist Says.” ScienceDaily 29 June 2010. 29 June 2010 <;.
Al Gore

Al Gore contemplating how to "spin" the facts

The great bear of enviro-activism has poked his head out from a self-imposed hibernation. We haven’t heard from him in awhile, but Al Gore has a new op-ed piece in the New York Times. Not surprisingly, he minimizes the current climate data scandals, maintains support for the IPCC, and tries to obfuscate by marrying climate change activism with the necessity of energy independence. In other words, he “doubles down” on his support for the idea of, and the fight against, Manmade Catastrophic Global Warming — or Climate Change, if your prefer. (Plus, there are the requisite jabs at free-market capitalism and “showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment.”) This is, of course, not surprising.

I’d like to believe him when he says, “I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion.” But, I’m not so sure he is sincere. It depends how much of the phony science he actually believes. Still, Gore is so completely invested — time, money, power, reputation — in the Cause that he will go down fighting to the bitter end. It would take a man of incredible personal & professional integrity to admit he was wrong at this point and start working toward more sensible policies based on reasonable interpretations of real & verifiable data. But, I have no reason to believe that Al Gore is that man.

I don’t normally post on Mondays, but I couldn’t resist passing this one along (courtesy G. Beck):

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has now identified with certainty the heaviest element known to science.

The new element, Pelosium (PL), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.”

Read more about the discovery here.

It seems an example of “climate change fascism” has peaked its head thru the curtain in Copenhagen. At a book-launching press conference today, Stanford’s Professor Stephen Schneider was answering questions from the audience, when journalist and documentarian Phelim McAleer asked the professor some frank questions about the ClimateGate scandal. While Schneider testily gave a non-answer, his assistant tried to take the mic from McAleer. At the end of the talk, McAleer waited patiently to the side for a chance to ask a follow-up. But, Schneider’s assistants got a burly, armed UN security guard to interfere. While the guard (who had no legal reason to do so) got in their faces and threatened the cameraman, Schneider snuck out.

Don’t the climate change doomsayers like Schneider realize how this looks? Can’t they see that avoiding questions and calling security to threaten and run interference only makes people wonder what they are afraid of? Regardless of the calm assurances of Gore et al., I think (and hope) that ClimateGate is the first of many very public cracks in the shaky foundation of Climate Change Science. The tide of opinion was already starting to turn before the scandal broke, but this is the tipping point.

For more details on this incident, read Mike Flynn’s article (with video) at BigGovernment.

For those who somehow missed this news item from several days ago, hundreds of email messages & other documents (some as old as 13 years) from the UK’s University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit were “leaked” to the public. Though illegally obtained (i.e., hacked), they have so far proven to be genuine. The correspondence between prominent climate change activist scientists are quite enlightening and damaging to the global warming / climate change cause.

As Paul Driessen discusses in his recent article, “They reveal an unprecedented, systematic conspiracy to stifle discussion and debate, conceal and manipulate data, revise temperature trends that contradict predictions of dangerous warming, skew the peer-review process, pressure scientific journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to publish alarmist studies and exclude dissenting analyses, and avoid compliance with Freedom of Information requests.” Serious accusations, but Driessen gives examples in his piece.

Now, no one is saying that EVERY scientist pushing the pro-global warming agenda is involved in some giant conspiracy to grab power and make fortunes while destroying jobs, ruining the world economy, etc. Many (perhaps most?) have simply been duped by fellow scientists & politicians, pressured by idealogues, and/or are guilty of sloppy science. (For example, programming their computer models with certain cause-and-effect assumptions that have not actually been firmly established, or leaving out / glossing over certain inconvenient data.) And the skeptic should, as always, take care not to overstate the impact of any particular statement or finding that seems to favor his case or discredit his opponent’s. But, anyone with a modicum of intellectual honesty must admit that these current revelations, regardless of how or when they came out, cast doubt not only on the integrity of those directly involved in these particular communications but on the validity of the whole Gore-ite argument for catastrophic, man-made global warming / climate change.

There is an excellent “companion” article from Christopher Booker at the The Telegraph. After laying out the significance of exactly who is involved in the scandal (e.g., CRU Director Phil Jones, Penn State’s Michael “Hockey-stick” Mann, etc.) and what they did, Booker concludes “Our hopelessly compromised scientific establishment cannot be allowed to get away with a whitewash of what has become the greatest scientific scandal of our age.”

If you want to read more material that is not the typical alarmist propaganda, I recommend books by people like Christopher C. Horner, Roy W. Spencer, Patrick J. Michaels, and Steven J. Milloy. They explain what the scientific evidence really says and what the consequences of following the alarmist agenda will be for America and the world if people don’t wake up and STOP it!