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Posts Tagged ‘energy nuclear’

The new age of the energy abyss
Sunday, April 18, 2010@ 3:57 PM
Author: Press

The new age of the energy abyss


March 13, 2010

Given the condition of our country’s energy system and the public policies that currently govern it, the nation will begin a new era by the end of this decade. By the year 2020, the age of the energy abyss will begin. Once it begins, it is sure to last at least a decade or longer.

Hard decisions avoided and ignored over the past 40 years, together with another several terms of political leaders and policymakers kicking the can down the alley, will combine to ensure shortages of liquid fuel for transportation and electrons for everything electrical and electronic. (Texas may be exempted, other than having very high prices, thanks to local drilling, refineries and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the electric grid and manages the deregulated market for much of the state).

Gas lines, outages of fuel and sky-high prices at the pump will besiege and enrage drivers and truckers who have no transportation alternatives. Ongoing brownouts and rolling blackouts are now inconveniences endured during ice storms and hurricanes or after thunderstorms. In the age of the energy abyss, they will be employed by electric system operators more frequently, and especially in the hot summer and cold winter months, as an alternative to otherwise shutting down the system to save it from self-destruction. Grass-roots Americans will ask themselves, How did this happen? What’s with this Third World, Venezuela-like problem? Who did this to us?

Who’s to blame?

Whom do we blame? Will it be the fault of electric utilities, oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, biofuels, hydropower, hydrogen, geothermal, nuclear or wave energy producers, each of which works for its investors? Will it be the fault of investors who put money only in energy projects that paid them a return? Will it be consumers who for more than a century have benefited from affordable and available energy and built their lives around it on the presumption that their energy purchases, votes and tax dollars ensured continuity of energy supply? Or will it be the combination of eight presidents since Richard Nixon, who in November 1973 promised “energy independence” within seven years, together with 18 Congresses, which likewise promoted energy independence but failed to deliver on their energy public policy promises?

From the 1910s through the 1970s the great American energy system build-out occurred. Never in human history had so much financial and human capital gone into creating a ubiquitous and homogenous energy system that fostered the creation of the world’s largest economy, won two world wars for freedom and raised a standard of living that became the envy of the world. Energy was affordable and available. The shiver down the spine created by the Arab oil embargo in 1973 was the first shot across the nation’s bow that suggested perhaps the energy nirvana we enjoyed also carried risks. Today’s energy system is essentially a 40-plus-year-old legacy of what we built back then. Add 10 more years and we are headed toward a 50-plus-year-old legacy energy system that cannot carry on. It’s worn out.

Dismal record

With no national energy policy, here’s the track record. In the past five years the nation’s electric utilities have shelved plans for more than 100 new coal plants because the barriers were too great to build them. They have ignored gasification of coal because they can’t get a high enough price to pay for the technology. More than 100 nuclear plants were built in the 1960s and ’70s. The last one built was finally commissioned in the early 1990s, having endured more than a decade of delay. Not a single new plant has been built since, and I can all but guarantee that another one will not be built or commissioned in this decade. Time marches on. Many nuclear plant licenses begin expiring in this decade. The nation has endured 30 years of congressional and presidential moratoria prohibiting offshore drilling across 85 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf. While the law expired in 2008 and President George W. Bush took seven and a half years to lift the presidential moratoria, nothing has happened since then. Support for future drilling shows up in occasional words, not actions. For oil and gas companies to expand their operations into the nation’s reservoirs of untouched oil and gas resources they need approved leases, actions not words. Instead we “fritter at the edges” of our energy system by promoting subsidized wind, solar and biofuels, pretending to remake the nation’s energy system. Addressing 2 percent of our energy supply by promising to double it and double it again with subsidized funding does not make a new energy system.

Meanwhile, 93 percent of our existing energy base, and the infrastructure that supports it, is aging faster than it is being maintained. The balance comes from old and silted dams. No new dams are planned. The world’s largest economy is energized by a precarious, aged, diminishing supply infrastructure. The most promising new supply, natural gas from tight formations, relies on fracking technology. Its prospect is shrinking and slowed by the threat of authorizing oversight from the federal EPA instead of states.

Meanwhile, in China …

China, meanwhile, commissions a new coal plant every week and licenses coal gasification technology for multiple purposes, including electricity production. It just bought $60 billion of Australian coal because it can’t produce enough itself. It is building dozens of nuclear plants with a goal of a hundred new plants in coming decades. China is the world’s largest builder of wind and solar systems, not only the installations but also the manufacturing plants to produce such systems.

The American energy abyss will take hold of the country thanks to political leaders who make promises but not policy, who point fingers, but not at themselves. They have chosen the do-nothing path to avoid tough choices. They prefer partisanship and policy paralysis in spite of the nation’s needs. They are guided by the arrogance of incumbency, avoiding the risk of offending special interests. They make words of rectitude, not decisions to deliver the goods. Politics and energy are oil and water. They don’t mix. The nation’s energy abyss will be proof positive, if such is needed.

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Climate Change Is Not the Problem
Friday, April 16, 2010@ 10:28 PM
Author: Press

Climate Change Is Not the Problem


March 20, 2010

During my last 2000 or so conversations about climate change and global warming, since the time of Kyoto in 1997, it’s clear that the stridency and dysfunctional nature of the discussions have only gotten worse. Last month during an engagement at Rutgers Law School when I bemoaned the implications of shelving more than 100 new coal plants in the past five years and no new nuclear plants in decades on the cost of electricity for low and fixed income Americans paying the highest electricity rates in their lives, a panelist thanked God those plants were killed. He said that we shouldn’t have any coal plants when we can have offshore wind.

Misinformation, disinformation and lack of information dominate every climate change discussion I’ve been a part of. It’s worse when gifted amateurs spout out what they’ve heard or read with no real knowledge of climate science or energy’s critical importance in society. Headline deep knowledge is not enough to justify public policy decisions being made by hundreds of elected officials.

In the grander scheme of things climate change is not the issue. Climate has always changed and always will. There’s a more urgent concern that should grab every one of us by the throat and cause us to rethink what we’re doing. It’s what we breathe.

As people we’re prone to waste. We can ignore our waste and move on, clean it up, or live in it. My bottom line is we have a duty to our future generations to clean up our waste so they don’t have to deal with it. Let them deal with their own waste. I’m disgusted by the waste that has been left for us to clean up. Take an Acela Amtrak train from Washington to New York. Look out the window at the junk yard of America’s last century as you roll from Wilmington to New York. The filth, detritus, decaying, abandoned structures, spoiled waterways and wetlands shame us for our negligence. The same can be said for gaseous waste. The real challenge for our age is what do we do about our wastes: physical, liquid and gaseous?

Fortunately we’ve learned a lot about managing physical waste. We collect, sort, bury, burn, crush and recycle it. If we didn’t we’d be buried. Fortunately we’ve learned a lot about managing liquid waste. We separate, treat, clean, sequester, aerate and reclaim liquid wastes to the extent that water emitted from many facilities is as clean as, if not cleaner than, the water it takes in. If we didn’t we’d be poisoned by what we drink.

Why do we do such a good job on physical and liquid waste? Because we have to. It’s regulated and in our own self interest and that of our heirs. Why doesn’t every country behave as we do? They should. We all suffer because they don’t. But it doesn’t stop us from cleaning up our own mess.

So what about our gaseous waste? No one I know would willingly stick their head over the top of a smoke stack or stand behind a Metro bus for an hour or so. They’d become ill, or worse. Yet we all breathe what comes out of countless stacks and tailpipes every day. Tons and tons of effluent are emitted into our air every hour. Fortunately the atmosphere is large and the pollutants are dispersed, so we’re not all dead. But no one can argue that the atmosphere is infinite, because it’s not. Some excuse carbon dioxide emissions because they are also found in nature. True. But try breathing in an unventilated closed room full of people. Too much carbon dioxide is simply too much. How much man made carbon dioxide can the atmosphere stand? I, for one, would rather not have to find out.

It is time now to seriously put our collective, smart heads together to figure out the future of gaseous waste management. What comes out of smokestacks and tailpipes is more than carbon dioxide. It’s a lot of nasty stuff. Every living thing on earth has a stake in this. Nasties dispersed from smokestacks and tailpipes are still nasties. We have sustainable remedies for physical and liquid waste. Now is the time for gaseous waste solutions.

Regulating, managing, scrubbing, cleaning, capturing and sequestering are powerful concepts that could be applied to our gaseous wastes. That’s what it takes to rid our atmosphere of harmful gaseous waste! We have the technology today that can do the job. What we don’t have is the requirement or the infrastructure to get it done. Does it cost money? Absolutely. Does managing physical and liquid waste cost money? Absolutely. Do we know how much we spend disposing of trash and cleaning sewage? Probably, but it does it really matter? Managing trash and sewage is a normal, natural cost of living in our times. So, too, managing gaseous waste can become a normal, natural cost of living in our times.

Why are we debating the galactic question of climate change, which contributes such dysfunctional passion and ignorant rhetoric to our political dialogue? Why aren’t we framing the question as “why don’t we manage our gaseous waste like we do physical and liquid waste to make our lives better?” My own opinion is that elected officials, current and former, see pomp, power and glory for themselves by arguing the state of the world and mankind’s destiny in it, including their own part in the outcome, for or against, by debating climate change. They can be heroes either way, applauded by the masses for their courage and brilliance. If they stood in front of us proposing the garbage collection of gaseous waste, there is little in it for them. But then that’s my opinion.

It is the right time to do the right thing. Let’s manage gaseous wastes just like we do physical and liquid wastes. Let’s save ourselves from having to listen to the blathering of self-righteous, self-important would-be “destiny-makers” of mankind.

John Hofmeister

Founder and CEO: Citizens for Affordable Energy

Former President: Shell Oil Company

Author: Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider (Palgrave Macmillan 2010)

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