Saturday, May 30, 2009

California Energy and Renewables

What follows is a response I made to a commenter on WUWT, whose handle is Fuelmaker, regarding renewable energy systems. As my two regular readers will recall, I work to develop cost-effective, grid-scale energy storage systems so that intermittent renewable power systems can provide reliable, on-demand, baseload or incremental power.

Fuelmaker wrote: "This is my sole, but overwhelming disagreement with Roger. The policies he supports has destroyed least cost planning in CA and has burdened the lower class with boutique and obsolete electricity sources. CA has passed law after law practically banning the most economical sources of power. They bungled “generation deregulation” so badly that they bankrupted their utilities. On top of that, they have forced all ratepayers to buy more expensive favored sources of power."

[And now my response:] Fuelmaker, I appreciate the points you made. Policies in California are almost always screwy. However, the bottom line is that electric power prices in California are not that bad, compared to the other 49 states. Our power prices are around 20 to 30 percent above the national average, yet our per-capita consumption of power is about the same percentage less than average. I believe I gave a citation for these facts earlier in this thread. California does not have the highest prices in the U.S.; it is about 11th out of 50.

Now, could the power prices be lower, with different policies? Perhaps. As I stated earlier, I work diligently to repeal AB 32, our Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, because I am convinced the law is detrimental, and will kill the economy. I have only so much energy and time with which to wage my battles, as do we all.

The policies I support re power production are, of necessity, consistent with the avenues that remain open to Californians. Without major legislative changes, those avenues are all we have. The electorate in California, sadly in my view, is not disposed to either A) elect representatives to change those policies, or B) vote via Propositions to change those polices. Only when those policies hit the electorate in the pocketbook, and even then it must be a hard hit, will the electorate rouse themselves and vote. A good power crisis does the trick in Sacramento, too.

The recent cool "weather" (or should I say, cooling climate?) during the past 2 or 3 years has not created a heat-wave-related power emergency, and meanwhile we have built some new gas-fired power plants for a margin of safety. But, if we were to have a prolonged heat wave, coincident with a drought so there is little water available for hydroelectric generation, this place is in serious trouble. If the climate realists are correct, we are due for around 20 years of continued cooling, so an electricity shortage is not likely. If Hansen et al are correct, we should have a block-buster shortage and perhaps things will be changed on the legal front.

The avenues that are presently available to us in this state are few, but include natural gas, and renewables of all types. Natural gas plants meet with fierce opposition due to the NOx emissions, which are capped-and-traded out here, also NIMBY-ism, and charges of Environmental Justice (lower income neighborhoods tend to be where power plants are sited).

Therefore, it makes little sense to argue for coal-fired power in California, nor for nuclear power, nor for oil-burning power plants. Our few windy locations are about built-out, and there are only three of them. Our hydroelectric sites are known, and built up, plus there is horrendous opposition to any more dams out here. So, where does that leave us? With solar in the desert. With wind offshore. With wave, also off-shore. With bio-gas and solid waste burning plants. With geothermal. Offshore power plants require unbelievable environmental scrutiny, and to reach the really good waves/winds, one must go through the U.S. MMS, who has only just now begun to think about issuing leases for these areas. Also, the ocean here is too cold for an OTEC system.

Meanwhile, the population increases, and (at least until recently) so does the economy. Our electrical demand grows with both of those factors. We are in a tight race out here, to do what we can to provide electric power, given the constraints we face. My associates and clients are working non-stop to develop, invent, devise, improve, or otherwise cobble together something that generates power where and when it is needed.

In all seriousness, if any readers see a solution to the situation I have outlined, I would love to hear it!

(I know, I know, we could all turn off our jacuzzis and save 20 percent right there...we could shut down all the floodlights and tv cameras at the Oscars and save another 20 percent...but wait, we already use 20 percent less per capita than the U.S. average!)

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weekly Petroleum Analysis

As I predicted earlier, demand for petroleum products continues to decline in the U.S. Here is an excerpt from the latest EIA release (Wednesday 5/20/09).

"Total products supplied over the last four-week period has averaged nearly 18.3 million barrels per day, down by 7.6 percent compared to the similar period last year. Over the last four weeks, motor gasoline demand has averaged about 9.1 million barrels per day, down by 1.2 percent from the same period last year. 
Distillate fuel demand has averaged 3.5 million barrels per day over the last four weeks, down by 12.0 percent from the same period last year. Jet fuel demand is 9.0 percent lower over the last four weeks compared to the same four-week period last year."
We are nearly into the summer driving season, with Memorial Day weekend only 2 days away.  Last summer (2008) saw declines in gasoline use due to very high prices, and this year sees an additional decline due to economic recession. 
These statistics have many ramifications for the economy, jobs, housing, tax revenues, demographics, and more.  The global oil market watches these figures closely, because the U.S. consumes roughly one-fourth of all petroleum produced in the world.  The price of oil is affected, at least partly, by the U.S. demand.  
Oil refiners are watching these numbers, too.  Of the roughly 142 refineries in the U.S., obviously some are more profitable than others.  The least profitable refineries are the ones most affected by low product demand.  Decisions to remain in operation, or to shut down are greatly impacted by these numbers.  
Decisions by refiners to invest in capacity expansions or processing upgrades are also affected by these numbers.  There are a few major expansion projects underway, but the completion dates are under review.  With a surplus of refining capacity in the U.S. due to decreased demand, product imports are reduced, thereby affecting foreign refineries.  
Last year (2008), saw diesel demand remain strong but now diesel has declined along with gasoline.  Jet fuel demand decline is reflected in reduced airline ticket sales, as fewer people are flying.  That should provide some relief to the long lines at airport security checkpoints.  
The government's radical policies of flooding the economy with printed dollars, dictating which companies survive and which fail, draconian new CAFE (car mileage) standards that will require massive investments in new plant - yet questionable sales, and CO2 regulations that further strangle the economy (as currently the law in California, perhaps soon to be the U.S. law), all contribute to the further decline in the economy.  One need only look at the falling demand for three products to know the government's policies are failures:  
Gasoline demand is down, even over last year which was already down; 
Distillate demand(primarily diesel fuel used in commerce, e.g. trucks) is down;  and 
Jet fuel demand is down.  
No matter how much spin or squirming or flat out lies the government spews forth, these three products tell the tale.  
There is no economic recovery underway in the U.S.   If and when one begins, these numbers will resume their upward climb.
Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is Nuclear Fusion the Answer

I was asked on another site why I advocate renewable energy forms such as wind, and solar, rather than research into nuclear fusion.  The point was made that diffuse energy sources (wind and solar) require vast transmission lines that are ugly and ruin the landscape.  I replied that I am a rational environmentalist, and completely enjoy the outdoors. Few things are as refreshing as hiking and camping through the High Sierras or sailing the high seas.

But as an engineer, I am also aware that the benefits of abundant energy are worth the costs of having it. Economies of scale dictate that power lines will be built to bring the power from the large generating plant to the consumer. Distributed generation, as that term is now used, reduces the need for power lines because the power is generated either on-site, or much closer to the consumer. Cogeneration in industrial facilities also reduces the need for transmission lines. The realities of solar and wind power require some transmission lines to collect and send the power to the consumers.

One could also argue that telephone poles across the land are a blight, yet for decades that was (and still is) the case, just so consumers could use telephones rather than wait for snail mail for communication. Roads, highways, bridges, railroads, ports, cities, all are useful yet change the natural landscape.

As for nuclear fusion, it has been a long while since I looked into the state of that art (early 1980’s). There seem to be insurmountable difficulties in finding materials of construction that will not melt or evaporate at the very high temperatures obtained in a fusion reaction. Magnetic pinch bottles were used, and perhaps still are, to squeeze plasma until it begins the fusion process. Even if that fusion process is someday sustainable (they were thrilled at achieving fusion temperature for a fraction of a second), melt-down is a very real problem.

There were two fundamental problems to overcome, the first being how to sustain the fusion reaction, the second how to keep the thing from melting. Sustaining the fusion reaction required a magnetic bottle with an inlet for fresh fuel, and an outlet for the reaction products. The nature of a magnetic bottle does not allow for inlets or outlets, at least at that time. There may have been advances since then, I do not know.

Then, finding a way to do something useful with the heat without melting the reactor is a bit of a problem. The materials science professors and researchers were having quite a bit of difficulty with that one. It had something to do with the energy of inter-atomic bonding, under which everything they tried disintegrated at those temperatures.

It is a very good thing that the sun is so very far away from Earth.

Therefore, unless some amazing breakthroughs in magnetic bottles and heat-resistant materials have occurred, or will occur, fusion is off the list of energy providers.

We (the engineers) are much closer to having renewable energy storage systems that work reliably and economically. At that point, wind, solar, wave, and ocean current energy will provide everlasting, cheap, reliable power. And that is a very good thing.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unseasonable Frost Alert

UPDATE 4: June 4, 2009

Well now, isn't this interesting! We are to have SNOW in June in the Sierras centered on Lake Tahoe, as seen in the map below. The blue area in northern California is under a snow watch. Who wants to bet that this will be front-page news across the country on main-stream media? California legislators need to be aware of this as they continue writing the AB 32 regulations, which are predicated on a disappearing snowpack due to global warming.














UPDATE 3: May 31, 2009 -- This blogspot-blogger seems to append new images to the top, so I will go along and place the updates up here, too. Kind of confusing, but so be it.

The map shown below, from NOAA, shows a band of snow between the Great Lakes and Hudson's Bay. Is this at all unusual? Is this merely to be expected as the climate becomes warmer and warmer? After all, tomorrow is June 1st! Hot time, summer in the city, surf's up, tank tops and hot pants, and all that, right?

"Unseasonable frost" is forecast for Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio for late Sunday night and early Monday morning. Temperatures in the low 30's will pose a danger to outdoor plants.

Hmmmm....where is this consistent with all the Global Warming that is supposed to be killing us all? All that CO2 in the sky, put there by those evil coal-burning power plants, (death trains, as James Hansen calls the coal-trains running to those power plants), what has happened to the CO2 and the warming it is supposed to cause?

A knowledgeable climate realist, KCR, takes actual observations and compares them to the dire predictions from the IPCC, Al Gore, James Hansen, and the rest of the AGW crowd. Looks like they blew it on this one. As usual. Temperatures are not increasing. Seas are not rising, in fact, they are falling off the west coast of North America. Snow and record cold temperatures occurred in great numbers this past winter. Sea surface temperatures are dropping. Glaciers in Alaska are advancing. Polar ice caps are at either normal, or above-normal levels (if a 30-year recent average is "normal.") Polar bear populations are increasing. No islands are inundated with sea water. And sunspots are at a very low point, as they were during each recent global cooling event such as the Little Ice Age.

Maybe when we get snow in July, will that be sufficient for governments to say enough is enough? Frost in the middle of May is a pretty good start.

UPDATE 1: (May 29, 2009)

The blue areas around Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York are forecasts for freezing temperatures.
SECTIONS OF THE WEST HALF OF UPPER MICHIGAN.  (temperatures given in Degrees F)
The NWS goes on to say that this freeze will kill crops.  
This is not good for any farmers in that area. 
This is also not good, if this is to be the norm.  I am not familiar with 
the weather patterns in upper Michigan, so maybe this is normal for there. 
Or, maybe they farmers can quit selling wheat (or whatever they grow) and 
go into the snow-cone business.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nuclear Weapon Complacency

This got started on WUWT following a very nice commencement speech on the realities of energy supply, and how natural gas is a large part of the answer.   Some (as usual, there are always some) responded that nuclear power plants should be built to meet the world’s energy needs.   I responded as shown below, and some interesting commentary followed.  

What floored me was the complete disregard from one commenter on the danger of nuclear bombs.  He apparently believes that because none have been used since 1945 (he puts that at 70 years ago), then it is a non-problem.  I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, and have a different view of this.  Nuclear bombs are a reality, and a serious problem.  This problem grows worse each year, as more and more bombs are built, and more unstable countries acquire them.  


I reproduce this here, along with my additional comments as noted in brackets [ ~RES ].



@doc-navy, George E. Smith, and others pro-nuclear:

Nuclear power is not safe. It is not affordable. It is not reliable. It is not the answer to increasing energy demands.


The nuclear industry spokesmen have misled the public for decades. Recently, GE stated their Mod III reactor plants would only cost $1 billion for a 1000 MW plant. False. They cost $8 to $10 billion. This is well-documented.

They state that power from a nuclear plant is the cheapest of all sources. False. That statement includes the cost only from variable costs such as fuel. Yet on the same basis, hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power are much cheaper. Nothing is cheaper than free. On a fully-costed basis, including capital charges, nuclear power must be sold for 30 to 40 cents per kwh. That does not look very cheap next to power from natural gas at 10 to 12 cents per kwh.

They state that France produces 80 percent of their power from nuclear, and sell it for 5 cents per kwh. True, but very misleading, as France subsidizes their nuclear power industry. France also must sell huge amounts of power to neighboring countries each night as their reactors “react” badly to sudden changes in power production.

No natural gas power plant’s waste materials ever were used to make a bomb. CO2, NOx, and H2O just do not make bombs. If nuclear power plants were so benign, why do so many countries have so much angst and heartburn over certain other countries building and running nuclear power plants (Iran, North Korea).

I could go on and on. Nuclear power is not the way to go. Our generation knows better. Our generation can do better. Future generations will not thank us for creating a legacy of toxic radioactive wastes for them to deal with.



[David Porter wrote:  ~RES]

“Roger, as a spectator here (lurker I believe is the term) you have made the point on several occasions that the French nuclear industry is subsidised. I would like to know where you get this information from because this is not my understanding. “

From EDF’s website “On April 8, 1946, the law nationalising 1450 French electricity and gas generation, transmission and distribution companies gave birth to the industrial and commercial public undertaking (EPIC) Electricit√© De France, an enterprise with an innovative corporate model: gender equality, single salary scale, internal training etc. Marcel Paul, the Communist minister of Industrial Production, was the main architect of this law.” From this can be seen that the French electric utility was state-owned. France built their nukes while in the state-owned mode.

The EDF website is here:

However, in 2004 EDF became public: “On July 1, 2004, 70% of the electricity market was opened up to competition. On November 19, EDF changed status and became a Public Limited Company. This new status created new opportunities for EDF by making it possible to create multi-energy offers combining the supply of gas and electricity.

In 2005, EDF signed a new public service contract with the French Government on October 24, and on November 21 the Initial Public Offering took EDF into the Stock Market, with 5 million private individuals taking the opportunity to buy shares. Between 2006 and 2010, EDF Group will be investing €40 billion in the context of the total opening up of the electricity market, which takes place on July 1, 2007.”

“In fact from what I have read the French nuclear industry is highly profitable and safe.”

At this time, with the nuclear power plants depreciated or nearly paid for by some mix of revenue from power sales, plus subsidies as a government-run entity, EDF can state that the power plants are profitable. With no cash payments to banks to repay loans, or bond payments to bondholders, their profit/loss statements merely indicate ongoing operating costs. On that basis, nuclear power plants (and the company that owns them) will appear profitable.

This is one result of the nationalization – then – privatization maneuver. Entities that would not be built in the private sector due to very high initial costs are built by the government, with no (or very lax) requirements to control costs. Then, these entities are sold to private investors at a fraction of what it would cost to construct them.

“At 1993 costs these reactors ( 59 of them) cost $1 billion/1000MW. Now you imply that this will now be 10 times this.”

I don’t imply it, I flatly state it as a fact. A detailed (and very accurate) cost study was published by Craig A. Severance, CPA, which shows the costs are as I stated, $10,000 per MW. I have some expertise in designing, estimating, and financing large projects (multi-billion dollars) and concur with Mr. Severance’s results. Also, several utility companies have submitted similar cost estimates to their regulating Public Utility Commissions.


and see

“These 59 reactors produce 430 billion KWhrs which they sell for around 7 cents/KW. So if they do subsidise and your fully costed figure of 30 to 40 cents is correct then using your low figure of 30 cents the subsidy would be 23 cents on 430 billion Kwhrs. This comes to a grand annual total of $99 billion and that is just so unrealistic.”

I doubt if France’s power plants were built at $10,000 per MW, as those are 2007 costs. It is more likely their plants cost between $2000 and $4000 per MW in then-current dollars. However, a modern, new nuclear plant will cost $10,000 per MW. Although the Chinese are claiming they are building nuclear plants for around half that price. I question their (the Chinese) numbers.

Next, leaving aside the irrefutable facts that nuclear bombs are made from nuclear plants’ spent fuel, and the spent fuel is a toxic, radioactive waste that endures for generations, why would anyone want to build electric power plants that must charge 30 to 40 cents for the power, when so many less-expensive alternatives abound?

[Here, Bill Befort makes the point that if a country has 90 percent of its power from nuclear plants, over a 30 year period, and sells the power cheaply for 7 cents per kwh, that proves that nuclear power is the best and lowest price option. – he is referring to France, of course. – RES]

[My response to Bill Befort:  ~RES]

Great idea! How about finding an island, say, one that has a demand during peak hours of 1,000 MW? That would be a perfect fit for a 1000 MW nuclear power plant. GE has them ready to sell, just place a phone call.

Then, ask the islanders why they have not built just one solitary nuclear power plant, as that is “obviously” the most economic source of power? Surely, it will be less costly than importing diesel fuel for diesel-generators, or importing LNG for natural-gas fired power plants. Or importing coal, if that is what they are using…

Does anyone know of such an island?

Here’s your chance, greenies and nuclear advocates. Show me the island. I am willing to learn. Let’s help these islanders obtain the “cheapest source of power there is.” After all, that is the prevailing wisdom from the pro-nuclear crowd!

Only a couple of rules, here. First, the islanders must pay for the nuclear-generated power. No subsidies allowed. Second, no selling any power to any other customers. All power is to be consumed strictly on the island.

I can’t wait for this one.

[It turns out there are currently approximately 15 islands that meet the above criteria, with Oahu in the Hawaiian Island chains prominent among them.   The entire list is, by estimated population (and hence power demand):

Island ……………….population, millions




Hong Kong……………….1.18


Xiamen Island…………….1.08

Sao Luis Island……………1.08


South Island (NZ)…………1.008




Grand Canary……………...0.815


Reunion (France)………….0.793       


Note that none of the listed islands has power provided by a nuclear power plant.  This is rather curious, as it should be obvious to the nuclear proponents that these are ideal candidates for a solo, single-reactor nuclear power plant.  After all, these unfortunate islanders are paying some of the highest prices for power in the world – Hawaii residents pay 26 cents per kwh in 2009, as just one example.  Following France’s example, one could build a nuclear power plant on Oahu, and sell the power for 7 cents per kwh (all this according to the nuclear proponents, of course – not my view at all).  The lucky residents of Oahu would see their utility bills drop by a factor of almost 4!  (26 / 7 is roughly 3. 7)

It is curious, because I just do not read anywhere about nuclear power plants under construction on any of these islands, nor any plans to do so.  Why is that, one must ask?  Perhaps a nuclear proponent can correct this serious injustice, or just explain it to me. 

For anyone reading this who, at this point, believes I am serious about building a nuclear power plant on an island, let me explain why that will not happen.  First, an island’s power system follows a typical demand curve, with high demand during the day and low demand at night.  The power plants must follow the demand curve, as at this time it is impractical (but not impossible) to store power in massive quantities for later use.  Nuclear power plants just do not have the ability to follow the load.   Second, as I have written many times, the power from a new nuclear plant is very expensive, at 30 to 40 cents per kwh.  Even Oahuans, who pay 26 cents for power, would not find that an attractive deal.  Third, many islanders are serious about their environment, and abhor nuclear fission in any form.  I like islanders, and become one (at least as a visitor) as often as possible.  ~RES]

[Next, this from David Porter again: ~RES]

“I have read your through your response several times but nowhere do I read that the French nuclear industry was subsidised. It seems to me that you have this opinion simply because it was a nationalised industry it must therefore be subsidised. My impression of nationalised utility industries is that they were labour intensive an incredibly inefficient.”

Let’s start with how a country operates a nationalized industry. I do not know what country you are from, or in presently, so I will use the United States as an example. There are very few nationalized industries in the U.S., but we can point to an equivalent, the interstate highway system. These highways were built using federal dollars, at taxpayer expense, then some fees were and still are collected from those who drive on them. More fees are collected in the form of gasoline taxes that are designed to pay for repairs and upkeep. (I leave aside for the moment the increasing ownership and involvement of the U.S. federal government under President Obama into banks, car companies, and who knows what next).

The construction of the interstate highways, in contrast to private toll-roads, was paid for by taxes without obtaining investors or bank loans. To the extent the federal government sold Treasury bills and went into debt, one could say these roads were financed, however there was no clear one-for-one loan for highway. One could therefore say, and be correct, that the state subsidized the building of the interstate highway system. Clearly, they were not built with private funds (except for some small tollroads).

Similarly, the French government (as shown above) built nuclear power plants when EDF was a part of the state. Whatever amount of taxpayer’s funds were spent, they were not built privately to my knowledge. Now, the French government has privatized EDF, as described earlier. When the government builds something for a lot of money, then sells that same something for a small amount, the new owners have a capital asset that was, indeed, subsidized by the government.

If you can find evidence to the contrary, perhaps the French government took out loans to fund the plants’ construction, and paid them back, or issued bonds for their construction, and paid the coupons and the face value upon maturity, then please, I would like to see this.

Or, if the French government sold the EDF assets for fair market value, then please, show me the evidence of such a sale and the resulting cash deposit into the French treasury.

” I think you are so anti nuclear you believe anything negative about this industry. Your comments and opinions on a recent “climate progress” blog debating the exaggerated costing of Craig Severance illustrate my point admirably.”

[I jump in here to explain that reference to “climate progress,” as I made some comments on that blog where Craig Severance’s paper may be found.  I had several lively exchanges, and made zero converts as to be expected.  None of the arguments raised against me hold any merit, but it was entertaining, at least for me. ~RES ]

[My reply to David Porter continues: ] I state my grounds for being opposed to nuclear power, and I try to carefully research the various claims pro and con by and about the industry. If you have read my blog post on Nuclear Nuts, then you should be aware of my grounds. To date, no-one has refuted any of my points. None.

As to the “exaggerated” costs stated by Mr. Severance, that is your opinion, and apparently, you are standing alone with that view. Serious players in major utility corporations have publicly corroborated those costs. By public statements, I refer to submissions to public utility commissions. If those costs were exaggerated, as you maintain, why would a utility company not just tell the PUC the real numbers, perhaps $1 billion for a 1000 MW new plant? Why are so many utility companies going with the Severance figures?

Next, you take issue with my statement about high power prices, but you duck that one and go into apocalyptic consequences of nuclear bombs. I clearly stated I would leave that aside, but I will answer this since you focus on this point.

I wrote: “Next, leaving aside the irrefutable facts that nuclear bombs are made from nuclear plants’ spent fuel, and the spent fuel is a toxic, radioactive waste that endures for generations, why would anyone want to build electric power plants that must charge 30 to 40 cents for the power, when so many less-expensive alternatives abound? “

[Porter responded:]“When was the first and last nuclear bombs dropped? Who and how many people have been killed, maimed, destroyed, liquidated, evaporated, due to nuclear power since 1946. If you don’t mind me saying so but you have a fear of nuclear power some 70 years after the two and only nuclear bomb were dropped that is irrational. If it is such a great threat why is it still only in the minds of people like you. You have mentioned many times that you have worked in the energy industry, including nuclear, and yet you continue to shower us with apocalyptic views, which would only make sense if we were in the 1950’s.”

I am dumbfounded at this. Nuclear bombs, the proliferation of them, and threat of nuclear war are not subjects to gloss over so lightly. Yes, only two such bombs (and they were very small ones by today’s standards) were ever used in a military or aggressive manner. And yes, they were used roughly 60 years ago (not 70). Since then, the number of nuclear warheads worldwide has grown rather alarmingly. While there have been some efforts to reduce the numbers, there are still a great many remaining.

If this were not such a great issue, why then did (and some still do) heads of state make nuclear arms treaties and disarmament such major items in their agendas?

Let me try to put this in some perspective for you. The horrific terrorist attacks on New York, and the Pentagon, on 9-11-2001 resulted in two skyscrapers destroyed, the Pentagon damaged, and approximately 3,000 lives lost. Yet, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs wiped out far, far more lives and caused far more property damage. Remember, those were very small explosions by today’s standards.

The disruption to not just the USA, but much of the world as a result was, to say the least, intense. One can only imagine what the resulting panic would be from a nuclear bomb explosion instead of airplanes smacking skyscrapers.

You may not know, or remember, what it was like to live in the U.S. and have nuclear air raid drills, or to watch the news and listen to the radio while President Kennedy navigated through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I know, and I remember only too well. I suspect that many European countries have and had similar anxieties knowing that various missile systems were and are deployed near them.

This is the problem with so many decades of relative peace, with respect to nuclear weapons. People (and I include you in this) diminish the importance and the threat and horror of these weapons. I believe that those groups that maintain the memory of the Jewish holocaust, and never let that memory die, have the right idea. Such a program should exist for the horrors of a nuclear weapon.

This is far too important to be dismissed lightly, as if this is all a big game. I have serious concerns about nuclear power plants, not only for their outrageous costs and subsequent high prices for power, but because those plants produce plutonium.

I pose the question directly to you: If this is no big deal, then why do so many countries devote so much time, money, and energy in dealing with nuclear power and associated programs in Iran, and North Korea?

You state that nuclear power is safe, and you are of course entitled to that view. You accuse me of being a fear monger. If you consider what I write fear mongering, you have that right. I leave it to others to judge. I, on the other hand, try very hard to stick to the facts, to the evidence, and valid arguments based on those facts and evidence.

As it turns out, the high price of nuclear power plant construction appears to have stopped the plants, for now, in the U.S. However, our government has pledged at least some money as loan guarantees, which is a form of subsidy.

My clients and I are working as hard as possible to bring reliable renewable power at a lower price than nuclear. When that day arrives, we can finally begin dismantling them, hopefully world-wide.

As the bumper stickers said in the 1960’s: One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day.


[Next, David Porter says this:  ~RES]

“I have heard all your arguments before so your this diatribe does not come as any great surprise. However I stick with my view that you are wrong on nuclear, for whatever reason.

I would certainly hate to have your imagination. It must frighten you to death. And by the way I live in the UK directly in the line of fire, sitting next to the Trident warheads on your US airforce bases. So please don’t give me any crap about how dangerous they are. For most of us they were there for our protection and since there has never been another bomb dropped you might say they were highly successful.

I will end on this:

“As the bumper stickers said in the 1960’s: One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day.”

That statement speaks volumes. You are just out and out anti nuclear and you sure as hell aint going to change your mind.”

[David Porter is absolutely correct, that I am anti-nuclear, and will likely never change my mind.  I have seen too many negative issues with nuclear power plants, and too many negative consequences, and know full well that other sources of power are far superior.  No arguments that I have ever heard or read, thus far, have altered my position.  The day that nuclear plants can stand alone and compete with natural gas for sales price of power (and they never will), and will not produce nuclear bomb material (and they never will), and not require massive decommissioning costs (and they never will), and not require time measured in generations to store and then process their spent fuel wastes (and they never will), when that day arrives, please let me know.  I will be happy to endorse nuclear power at that time. ~RES ]

And this, from David Porter:

“I think Bill [an earlier commenter]had it right. We had a rather large country do the experiment so there is no need to consider a small island. The country in question is doing fine. It hasn’t gone bust (which of course it should have done by your calculations) and continues to supply the UK with electricity at less than half the price of our domestic product. Incidentally we pay almost 20 cents for our electricity, something to with the Renewables Obligation Certificate (fancy title for subsidy).

Vive la France.”

[David Porter is either deliberately obtuse, or in massive denial.  It should be quite clear that France is selling cheap power only because their power plants were subsidized, and the capital costs are not reflected in their power price.  But, for a buyer of power such as David Porter, what would he care?  It was the French taxpayers who got screwed in this deal, not him! ~RES ]

 Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 


Friday, May 8, 2009

Musings on Many Things - 1

From the various things that cross my desk and screen these days, a few are worthy of comment. 

++  A huge oil field was just discovered in Iraq, with between 2.3 and 4.2 billion barrels of oil.  The figure will be improved as more wells are drilled.  This qualifies as an elephant field, and again puts the lie to those who say we have passed the peak of oil.  Not so.  Never have, never will.  Imagine the world as a stack of pancakes, and we have just stuck a fork in the upper layer of the top pancake.  Such is our situation with drilling for oil.  There are lots of pancakes down deeper, and we have not even begun exploration and drilling there. 

++  More natural gas is being liquefied and shipped around the world, so much so that there is a glut of natural gas.  The world is swimming in natural gas.  More is found almost daily, it seems, in shale formations.  Even more is produced from coal beds, known as coal bed methane.   The price of natural gas is around $3.5 to $4 per million Btu.  On an equivalent basis, a barrel of oil would be $25.  So, either natural gas should increase to $8, or oil should drop from around $50 back to around $25.   Yet, OPEC is throttling production to prop up prices in the $50 range.  They would prefer it be in the $70 to $80 range.   As more car owners wise up, and convert their cars to CNG as fuel, the demand for gasoline and diesel will decrease.   What a strange turn of events...OPEC countries may go broke, as they cannot raise prices for oil enough to produce the cash flow they must have to support the infrastructure in place.   Stay tuned on this one, and watch for massive dis-array within OPEC, as the smaller members cheat and produce more than their quotas.  

++  Nuclear power plants are really so expensive that some utilities are abandoning their plans to construct new ones.   About time.  Who wants to pay 30 and 40 cents per kwh for nuclear power, when we can enjoy reliable, clean, and virtually unlimited power from natural gas, at around 10 cents per kwh?

++  The sun is in a strange mode, at least during modern times.  No sunspots.  For a long time.   In the past, when such a thing happened, the entire earth got cold.  Very cold.  As in crops failed, snows were very deep, and people suffered greatly.  This is completely unpredicted by the Anthropogenic Global Warming hysterics.   Also, the oceans are cooling down, as best we can tell from actual measuremens.  The AGW folks tell us incessantly that the oceans will heat up, the atmosphere will heat up, and the great ice fields in Greenland and Antarctica will melt.  The melted ice will increase the sea level, along with thermal expansion of the oceans as they heat up.  The result, they say, is islands under water, cities on the shore inundated, and most of Florida underwater.  It is not happening.   Sea level is stabilized, the oceans are cooling, and the ice packs are growing.  When will the grown ups stand up and tell those ill-behaved AGW alarmists to go to their room?  

++  California is having yet another fiscal crisis.  This is getting to be more regular than clockwork.  The gloom and doom this time is $23 billion shortfall, by July of 2009.  Note that we just fixed the $42 billion shortfall in January or February, a mere three or four months ago.   How can a state be so mis-managed that it produces a fiscal shortage of $23 billion in only six months (January to July).   This is a bit like the Titanic, after striking the iceberg, having the captain tell everyone not to worry, the water is so cold that ice is plugging the hole.  Meanwhile, everyone can see the ship is slowly sinking.   It is, or should be, obvious to one and all that California is no longer the Golden State.  It is the Ship of Borrowing and Sorrowing, instead.   Perhaps Obama will bail out the state, again, only this time, attach some serious strings to the money.  One such string should be that the state have a balanced budget.  No borrowing, ever.  None.  If the revenue is not there, then cuts in services automatically follow.   The state can attempt to increase tax rates, but that is not a wise move.  Businesses soon depart to greener pastures, as it were.  

++ Meanwhile, California's woes continue as the state pushes ever onward with the Bill that Killed California, AB 32.  For those who may not remember, AB 32 is a landmark legislation passed in 2006, and steadily being implemented in all its numerous parts, to choke economic growth in California by imposing limits to carbon emissions.  AB 32 is ambitious, as virtually every sector of the economy is impacted.  Cars, trucks, fuels, industry, the ports, buildings, land developments, services, electric power generation, all of these and more are being impacted.   Recently, the Air Resources Board passed the Low Carbon Fuels Standard, mandating ethanol and bio-diesel for transportation fuel.  Never mind that even the Obama EPA, now run by greenies, have themselves stated that ethanol does not clean the air of much, if any, carbon.  Never mind that producing ethanol from corn requires huge quantities of fresh water to irrigate the corn.  Never mind that water is scarce in California, so the state will import ethanol from the mid-west, using up great quantities of diesel fuel (from petroleum!) to run the trains to bring the ethanol to California.    What is truly needed, as I have written elsewhere, is to force every step of the ethanol process to use nothing but ethanol for their fuel.  Then, see how much is left over for sale to gasoline stations.  And, I mean every step.  Farmers tractors for plowing, seeding, cultivating, harvesting, all must burn ethanol.  Trucks to haul the corn to corn refineries must burn ethanol.  All the fertilizer and pesticide plants must burn ethanol, not natural gas or another fuel.  The corn refineries must burn ethanol for any outside fuel purchased.  They can burn the corn cobs if they want.  Then, the trains must burn ethanol to bring the ethanol to California.   Lest anyone say that is not fair, not the way it works, baloney.  Oil refineries have done it for decades.  And still had plenty of product left over for sale.  

++  I love it when one environmental group shoots at another.  This week was rich with such shooting.  Bio-diesel in California (that land of such fiscal restraint) now cannot be stored in underground tanks, at least not unless it is diluted with petroleum-based diesel.  There is a fear that raw bio-diesel will corrode the tank walls, leading to leaks and groundwater contaminaton.   So, the state agency in charge of groundwater ruled that this must be stopped while studies are performed.  The state agency in charge of air quality, ARB, insists that bio-diesel be used in the state.  Hmmm...I suppose they could sue each other.   The result is that above-ground storage tanks will be used, but there are space issues in urban settings.  Not going to happen.  This will be great fun to watch.  

++  Los Angeles is modernizing their major airport, LAX.  Also known as Los Angeles International Airport.  But most people just say LAX.  (El Ay Ex)  The construction projects must meet ever-increasing pollution requirements, especially for air pollution.  Construction vehicles must be equipped with smokestack scrubbers, known as DPFs.  DPF stands for Diesel Particulate Filter.  The Air Resources Board (here they are again) has a list of about 20 such DPFs from various vendors that ARB has verified are up to the task.  These DPFs remove up to 90 percent of the soot from the smokestack, leaving behind a very clean air.  These things are expensive, at around $30,000 each.   I am waiting for the next set of project specifications to require the diesel equipment to run only on bio-diesel.   

++  Last musing for today, and that is for the fire tragedy in Santa Barbara.  This latest wildfire has been burning for four days now, and has consumed hundreds of houses and dislocated thousands of people.  The numbers grow by the hour.  The area is blasted by strong winds, at 50 miles per hour and more.  The area is also very rugged, which means mountains that can only be attacked by air for firefighting.   The local air temperatures are very hot, and the air is dry, at around 90 degrees F and humidities in the low teens or even lower.  All together, this makes for a fire that cannot be stopped.  One of the cases in law school comes to mind, from ancient England.  When a city was faced with an out-of-control fire, the mayor gave the approval to bulldoze several rows of houses to create a fire-break.    One can only wonder at what point the mayor of Santa Barbara does something similar to save the remainder of the city.      

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sea Level Surprises at Hilo

While doing research for my comment to EPA on their Proposed Finding that CO2 is a dangerous air pollutant, I ran across some data for sea level in Hawaii, taken at Hilo which is on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The data has some surprises, and quite frankly, I am asking for comment and insight from those who have a better understanding than I have.   

The first graph below (Figure 1) shows the same time period as does University of Colorado's sea level as measured by satellites.  The upward trend is roughly the same as the global average from U. Colorado, which shows 3.3 mm/year.  Figure 1 has 2.9 mm/year, or roughly 10 percent lower than the global average.  This makes sense to me, as Hawaii is almost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and very tropical.  The ocean there should be warm, and expand along with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation in its warm phase. 

                                            Figure 1.  Rate of increase 2.9 mm/yr

Figure 2, shown below, has me puzzled, however.  This shows the sea level from 1978 through 2002, with an almost zero slope to the trend-line.  The very slight downward trend is negative 0.1 mm/year.  My puzzlement arises because this time period was reportedly during the warming phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the ocean water surrounding Hawaii should have been warming, and therefore expanding.  The sea level is a function of ocean temperature, according to the climate scientists who incessantly tell us the globe is warming due to man-made CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.   How, then, could the sea level at Hilo, Hawaii, not be rising during 23 years?  We know that the CO2 in the atmosphere was rising steadily all during that time.  

                                             Figure 2. Rate of increase -0.1 mm/yr

Finally, Figure 3 shown below shows the entire record of sea level measured by the University of Hawaii researchers, from 1927 through 2008.  The overall trend is positive, with the rate of sea level increasing at 3.2 mm/year.   The rather flat trend from 1978 through 2002 is what aroused my curiosity. 

Another odd thing about Figure 3 is the increase in sea level from 1945 through 1961.  This was the same time period as a cold phase of the PDO. 

                                            Figure 3. Rate of increase 3.2 mm/yr

The information on the PDO and its phases is taken from JISAO at the University of Washington.  Something just does not add up, at least not to me.  

Any comments?

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.