|The Week That Was
April 13, 2002
MEDIEVAL WARM PERIOD AND LITTLE ICE AGE.
2. THE DEBATE ABOUT DRILLING IN THE ANWR: KIM WEISSMAN MAKES SOME POINTS
3. SEVEN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WIND POWER: A VIEW FROM DENMARK, THE
LAND OF WIND TURBINES
4 WIND POWER: FOLLY OR THE FUTURE?
5. PEW CENTER REPORT EXAMINES EMISSIONS TRADING --- AND LIKES IT
6. PEW CENTER HAS STRANGE IDEAS ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
The debate over Tom Daschle's energy bill continues. One interesting facet of that debate involved the viability of alternate energy sources -- solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, ocean tides -- compared to the energy that could be obtained by drilling for oil and natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Supporters of alternate energy always point to the extent of land that would be impacted by oil drilling (as though that land would be totally destroyed and lost forever, which is simply not the case, as the 1999 Clinton Energy Department study determined), and those alternate energy supporters go on to pretend that the alternate sources of energy which they advocate are harmless and would have virtually no impact at all on the environment. But is that true?
The ANWR plan involves using approximately 2000 acres of land, which would be the so-called "footprint" of the development, the size of the parcel of land that would be affected. A 1998 study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) of the Department of the Interior estimated the total quantity of economically recoverable oil and gas in the ANWR area at between 4 and 11 billion barrels. During Senate debate, Alaska's Senator Murkowski indicated that ANWR is expected to produce about 1 million barrels of oil per day from that footprint. In contrast, 2000 acres of windmills, for example, would produce the energy equivalent of about 1800 barrels of oil daily. So for windmills to produce the energy equivalent of ANWR would require a wind farm of over one million acres -- over 1700 square miles in size. For some points of reference, all of New York City covers 303 square miles, and Los Angeles covers 469 square miles. A wind farm five times the size of New York City would not be a pleasant sight, and certainly could not be said to have no environmental impact on the land and wildlife in the area. To which must be added the complaints of people living near wind farms about the noise produced by rotating windmill blades.
But that's not all. Wind turbines have a proven tendency to kill low-flying birds at an alarming rate (determined by scientists counting birds killed by the turbine blades at California's Altamont Pass wind farm) of roughly one bird killed per year for every seven windmills. Including, incidentally, numerous birds that are listed as endangered. So while ANWR opponents agonize over the speculative harm that might be caused to Alaskan wildlife by oil drilling, windmills have a proven, not speculative, history of killing birds. At the kill rate observed in California, a wind farm with the energy equivalent of ANWR would -- not might -- kill over 22,000 birds every year.
Then there's solar power. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), obtaining electricity from solar power is far more efficient than from the wind. The NREL claims that a patch of 100 square miles (64,000 acres) of open space covered with efficient solar panels in an favorable collection locale, such as Nevada, where sun rays are powerful, could generate all the electrical power needs of the United States. Thus the 2000 acres that would be occupied by ANWR, if appropriately located and covered by solar panels, could collect the energy equivalent of 8 million barrels of oil a day (the equivalent of approximately 4000 barrels per acre). The solar alternative, at least, begins to make a lot more sense than windmills. Far more efficient still, of course, are nuclear power plants, but those never seem to make it into the calculus of environmentalists when they discuss alternates to fossil fuel. Nuclear is, and always has been, the environmentalists' most despised source of energy.
It is clear that abundant and reliable energy is what fuels America's and the West's economic engine, and makes possible the advanced lifestyle enjoyed by the developed nations of the world. Most sources of energy preferred by environmentalists as alternates to fossil fuels are neither abundant nor reliable, and that is why they are preferred -- because it is the West's advanced lifestyle that the anti-development crowd hates the most. To them, the worst sort of pollution are people themselves, which is why the no-growth environmental movement is so closely aligned with the zero population movement.
"When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth's biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve (if they believe in evolution), and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Mother Nature's 'experiments' have done throughout the eons. Good health will be restored to the Earth's ecology... to the life form known by many as Gaia." -- the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
3. SEVEN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WIND POWER: A Danish Appraisal
Notion 1: It saves fossil fuel
That is true, but don't ask how much. More than one thousand wind turbines in Holland help to save - what do you think? One thousandth part of the country's total domestic fuel consumption. If a new type of car was designed to save one thousandth of its fuel consumption, would that be called economical? Why should wind power be any different? [NB! these figures could be replaced by e.g. West European figures, or those of Denmark, but would lead to the same conclusions]
Notion 2: It reduces the emission of greenhouse-gases.
This is also true, but again don't ask how much. This reduction is even less than the one thousandth given above, because part of our power generation is already free of greenhouse-gases: think of hydro-electric power and nuclear power.
Notion 3: Wind power replaces electrical power stations.
This is incorrect. Each megawatt of wind power must be backed up by a megawatt of conventional power. For several weeks a year a wind farm generates no power, or too little power, because of insufficient wind. But the supply of current should preferably be continuous over this period. Or perhaps not? Should we welcome black-outs? Or California-type situations? And don't let them tell you that wind energy is "stored in the network" and can be used whenever you want it. It is not true.
Notion 4: A half megawatt wind turbine provides electricity for a thousand families.
For a substantial part of the year the wind turbines are idling or generate too little power. During this period these families receive their electricity from the public network just like everyone else. By the way: who are these families? They always remain anonymous and cannot be checked.
Notion 5: Large improvements in wind generation are yet to come.
Regrettably this is incorrect. A modern wind turbine draws 45% of the available energy from the wind. According to theory the maximum is 59%. Improvements by a factor of up to 1.3 are thus possible. This is no match for the disappointing 1/1000th savings, shown above. Moreover, such improvements would not remedy the unreliable generation of power caused by variable winds.
Notion 6: Wind energy is still expensive but it will decrease in price.
Why should it?
Notion 7: Denmark is an example for other countries.
This is true, but not in a good sense. Denmark generates more than 10% of its electricity consumption by wind: it is far ahead of other countries.
a) But almost half of this power is instantly exported because it is generated at night or on weekends when the country is not able to consume it. Neighbouring countries import this current reluctantly, and at one fifth of the production cost. If these countries did not do that, the Danish network would be overloaded and black-outs would result.
b) At other times, when wind speeds are low, the Danish grid cannot satisfy the demand for electricity because too many conventional power stations have been pulled down in favour of wind farms. Electricity is then imported at a higher price from the same neighbouring countries that absorbed the Danish overload a few days earlier.
The truth is that the Danish network has become unstable because of its emphasis on wind power. It is only saved by its strong electrical links with the rest of Scandinavia and Germany.
4. A SKEPTICAL APPRAISAL OF WIND POWER
(CNSNews.com) - Supporters of wind power call it "part of the future" and insist government subsidies like those given to the now-bankrupt Enron Corporation during the 1990s, are a key component in developing alternative energy sources. But an energy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. calls those subsidies "a total waste of time."
During the year 2000, the latest year records are available, wind power represented 13/100 of one percent of all electricity produced in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the Department of Energy.
Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the CATO Institute, said despite the fact that wind power production is so low, it received $900 million worth of federal subsidies between 1978 and 1996. Taylor noted that the natural gas industry received $778 million in subsidies during the same period, but produces 33 percent of U.S. electricity.
Last month, U.S. producers of wind power also saw their federal tax credits of 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour extended for another two years. And the $900 million in subsidies is an incomplete picture, according to Taylor, because it does not count government mandates regarding wind turbine plants. "States mandate certain percentages from renewable [energy.] How can you put a number on 'thou shalt build wind?" he asked.
Companies dealing in wind power were among the top beneficiaries of a 1994 executive order signed by then-President Bill Clinton, which called for "green energy sources" to be prioritized by the federal government.
Frederick Palmer, former CEO of Western Fuels Association, Inc., a coal advocacy group, blames the recent electrical shortages in California on the Clinton administration's reliance on alternative fuel sources like wind instead of coal-fired power plants. "The problem of electricity supply, at base, is that we are using up the capacity of existing power plants, including those that are coal fired," he told the Internet site, National Anxiety Center.
In marking Earth Day 2000, then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson also directed his department to purchase a portion of its electricity from so called "green power sources" derived from wind, solar and water.
An exclusive series of reports recently published by CNSNews.com, showed how Clinton's energy department gave tax credits and subsidies to a wide range of wind power projects, including several operated by Enron Wind Corporation. Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) calls the federal subsidies "an unnecessary expenditure." "Wind power is a good thing, but is not cost competitive," Ebell stated. He believes it has evolved into another "special interest that needs a hand out."
However, Christine Real de Azua of the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry's trade association, maintains wind power is a great alternative source of energy. She does acknowledge that wind power has a lot of room for growth. "It's still very small," she conceded. Real de Azua envisions wind power turbines as "part of the future" of energy in the U.S. "There is a huge potential in the U.S., it is barely being tapped. There is no reason that wind can't step up to six percent [of total U.S. electricity produced] by 2020. It is very achievable," she said.
Real de Azua points to Denmark, where currently 15 percent of the nation's electricity comes from wind turbines. She believes the U.S. should follow Denmark's example and develop a "renewable energy goal" because there is "no reason why it should not work in the U.S."
While stressing that wind power deserves continued government subsidies, even Real de Azua acknowledges, "We are still a little more expensive." She adds, "But at least we're competitive." "If all subsidies ended, we would still do well, just not as well as with subsidies," Real de Azua said.
Mary McCann of Enron Wind in Tehachapi, California, stated, "Wind power is incredible right now, it is growing leaps and bounds." Enron Wind, which bills itself as "a world leader" in wind energy production, is a subsidiary of the now bankrupt Enron Corporation.
Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project says taxpayers have failed to get their money's worth from government wind subsidies because of the inherent limitations of the technology. "It only works intermittently when the wind blows ... wind power has to be subsidized for even the small amounts we have now," Singer said.
He admits that the cost of wind power generation has gone down with new turbine technologies but believes the cost is not likely to continue dropping. "Turbine development has reached a plateau and increasing the strength of wind cannot be achieved through government subsidies," Singer said.
Singer believes that if wind power is to ever play a significant role in U. S. energy production, it will have to survive without subsidies. "There are alternatives to wind. I am sure we can get along without it. If we were to discontinue wind power now, it would hardly be noticed," he said.
5. "THE EMERGING INTERNATIONAL GREENHOUSE GAS MARKET,"
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a report on March 19,
2002 which found that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading has become
the "policy of choice" for addressing climate change. The report,
titled "The Emerging International Greenhouse Gas Market," concluded
that although the market for GHG emissions trading is "fragmented,"
trading activity has increased globally over the past five years. "Despite
the United States' inaction, it is abundantly clear that we are beginning
to see the outlines of a genuine greenhouse gas market," said Pew
Center president Eileen Claussen. "Governments and businesses around
the world understand that emissions trading is essential if we're going
to address this issue in the most cost-effective way possible." The
report examined the characteristics of the GHG emission trading market,
key features of early trades and the potential evolution of the GHG market.
"The challenge now is to forge links between these emerging regimes
in order to ensure that trading systems are compatible," said Claussen.
"We are already beginning to see interest in the [Congress], and
private sector efforts to build a trading system are even farther along.
The need for certainty, consistency and a level playing field will encourage
a merging of trading regimes." The report concluded that the new
market for GHG trading is "evolving in a fragmented way" because
regional, national and subnational trading programs are operating under
different rules. The center warned that this fragmentation could "inhibit
market convergence and increase the cost of trading."
SEPP Comment: They never give up do they
6. REMARKS BY EILEEN CLAUSSEN, PEW CENTER PRESIDENT TO THE AMERICAN
INSTITUTE OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERS, NEW ORLEANS,
"The best place to start, I think, is with the science. And here,
I believe, the consensus that has emerged is quite clear. Both the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change and the report prepared last year by a panel of
the National Academy of Sciences are agreed on three main points: 1) the
earth is warming; 2) human activity is largely to blame; and 3) the warming
trend is likely to accelerate in the years ahead. And the implications
for the United States alone are profound, affecting everything from farming
and tourism to the reliability of the water supply and the livability
of our coasts.
SEPP Comment: Sorry Eileen, but you have it wrong:
1) The climate hasn't warmed noticeably since about 1940
2) Human activities are increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases but the warming is minute. Evidently, the theory is not working and we'd rather believe the atmosphere.
3) Yes, there should be some warming in this coming century - perhaps half a degree. But will we be able to feel it or even detect it when natural climate changes are so much larger?