Friday, September 2, 2011

Our Least Sustainable Energy Option

Our Least Sustainable Energy Option
By Paul Driessen

President Obama and a chorus of environmentalists, politicians, corporate executives and bureaucrats are perennially bullish on wind power as the bellwether of our “clean energy economy of the future.”

In reality, wind energy may well be the least sustainable and least eco-friendly of all electricity options. Its shortcomings are legion, but the biggest ones can be grouped into eight categories.

Land. As American humorist and philosopher Will Rogers observed, “They ain’t making any more of it.” Wind turbine installations impact vast amounts of land, far more than traditional power plants.

Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant generates 3,750 megwatts of electricity from a 4,000-acre site. The 600-MW John Turk ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in Arkansas covers part of 2,900 acres; two 600-MW coal-fired units in India use just 600 acres. Gas-fired units like Calpine’s 560-MW Fox Energy Center in Wisconsin require several hundred acres. All generate reliable power 90-95% of the year.

By contrast, the 600-MW Fowler Ridge wind installation (355 turbines) spans 50,000 acres of farm country along Indiana’s I-65 corridor. The 782-MW Roscoe project in Texas (627 turbines) sprawls across 100,000 acres. Oregon’s Shepherds Flat project (338 gigantic 2.5 MW turbines) covers nearly 80,000 wildlife and scenic acres along the Columbia River Gorge, for a “rated capacity” of 845 MW.

The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre project will blanket some 320,000 acres of sage grouse habitat and BLM land in Wyoming with 1,000 monstrous 3-MW turbines, to generate zero to 3,000 MW of intermittent power. That’s eight times the size of Washington, DC, to get an average annual output one-fourth of what Palo Verde generates 90% of the time. But C-SM has already received preliminary approval from BLM.

To replace just 20% of the United States’ 995,000 MW of total installed generating capacity, we would need to blanket an area the size of Kansas with wind turbines, and then add nearly a thousand 600-MW gas-fired backup generators … and thousands of miles of new high voltage transmission lines.

Raw materials. Wind turbine installations require vast amounts of steel, copper, rare earth metals, fiberglass, concrete, rebar and other materials for the turbines, towers and bases.

A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like 315 of the Fowler Ridge units, involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and tower, plus nearly 1100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation. Bigger units require substantially more materials. Grand total for the entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe, 752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons; for Chokecherry, perhaps 2,000,000 tons. Offshore installations need far more raw materials.

To all that must be added millions of tons of steel, copper, concrete and rebar for thousands of miles of transmission lines – and still more for mostly gas-fired generators to back up every megawatt of wind power and generate electricity the 17 hours of each average day that the wind doesn’t blow.

Money. Taxpayers and consumers must provide perpetual subsidies to prop up wind projects, which cannot survive without steady infusions of cash via feed-in tariffs, tax breaks and direct payments.

Transmission lines cost $1.0 million to $2.5 million per mile. Landowners get $10,000 per turbine, plus royalties on all energy produced from the turbine, plus payments for every foot of access road and transmission lines. However, taxpayers pay more, while the landowners’ neighbors suffer property devaluation, scenic disruption, noise, health problems and interference with crop spraying, but no monetary compensation. Direct federal wind energy subsidies to help cover this totaled $5 billion in FY 2010; state support added billions more; still more billions were added to consumers’ electric bills.

The Other People’s Money well is running dry. The “manmade catastrophic climate change” thesis behind the wind energy campaign is in shambles. Voters and consumers are understandably fed up.

Energy. Mining, quarrying, drilling, milling, refining, smelting and manufacturing operations make the production of metals, concrete, fiberglass and resins, turbines, and heavy equipment to do all of the above very energy-intensive. Ditto for transporting and installing turbines, towers, backups and transmission lines. That takes real energy: abundant, reliable, affordable – not what comes from wind turbines.

In fact, it probably requires more energy to manufacture, haul and install these monstrous Cuisinarts of the air and their transmission systems than they will generate in their lifetimes. However, no cradle-to-grave analysis has ever been conducted, for the energy inputs or pollution outputs. We need one now.

Health. Whereas environmentalists garner scary headlines over wildly speculative claims about health dangers from hydraulic fracturing (to extract abundant natural gas for wind turbine backup generators), they ignore and dismiss a growing body of evidence that wind turbines cause significant health problems.

Principal health issues are associated with noise – not just annoying audible noise, but inaudible, low-frequency “infrasound” that causes headache, dizziness, “deep nervous fatigue” and symptoms akin to seasickness. “Wind turbine syndrome” also includes irritability, depression, and concentration and sleep problems. Others include “shadow flicker” or “strobe effect” from whirling blades, which can trigger seizures in epileptics, “vibroacoustic” effects on the heart and lungs, and non-lethal harm to animals. Serious lung, heart, cancer and other problems have been documented from rare earth mining, smelting and manufacturing in China, under its less rigorous health, workplace and environmental regulations.

To date, however, very few health assessments have been required or conducted prior to permit approval, even for major wind turbine installations. Perhaps the trial lawyers’ guild could redress that oversight.

Environment. Raptors, bats and other beautiful flying creatures continue to be sliced and diced by wind turbines. Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management has included an “avian radar system” to track the slaughter within its 500-square-mile Chokecherry region – and banned mining among the turbines.

Wind turbines are supposed to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. But because backup generators must repeatedly surge to full power and back to standby, as wind speed rises and falls, they operate inefficiently, use more fuel and emit more – much like cars forced to stop repeatedly on freeways.

Jobs. The myth of “green jobs” is hitting the brick wall of reality. While the turbines are installed in the USA and EU, far more numerous mining and manufacturing jobs are in China, where they are hardly “green.” As Spanish and Scottish analysts have documented, the “green” installer and maintenance jobs cost up to $750,000 apiece – and kill 2.2 to 3.7 traditional jobs for every “eco-friendly” job created.

Electricity costs and reliability. Even huge subsidies cannot cure wind power’s biggest defects: its electricity costs far more than coal, gas or nuclear alternatives – and its intermittent nature wreaks havoc on power grids and consumers. The problem is worst on hot summer afternoons, when demand is highest and breezes are minimal. Unable to compete against cheap Chinese and Indian electricity and labor, energy-intensive industries increasingly face the prospect of sending operations and jobs overseas. Bayer Chemical’s warning that it may have to close its German facilities is just the tip of the iceberg.

When it comes to wind, Nat King Cole might have sung: “Unsustainable that’s what you are, unsustainable though near or far. Unsustainable in every way, and forever more that’s how you’ll stay.” Well, maybe not forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future.

So take a hint from Spoon’s lively tune and “cut out the middleman.” Forge a direct relationship with energy you can afford, energy that works nearly 24/7/365, energy that causes the least ecological damage and is far more sustainable than wind power: the hydrocarbon, hydroelectric and nuclear power that have sustained our society and brought unprecedented health, prosperity and living standards to billions.

Then help the planet’s least fortunate people to do likewise.
Spreading 'Big Oil' Subsidy Disinformation
By Paul Driessen

Every American manufacturing company gets tax deductions that help it create jobs and strengthen our economy – whether it produces newspapers, furniture, cars or fuel. Eliminating those deductions would increase unemployment and further slow our nation’s desperately needed economic recovery.

Yet that is precisely what President Obama wants to do when oil companies want to use the deductions. It is one of many ways the Obama administration is undermining the oil industry and 9.2 million Americans whose jobs it supports. It is part of the administration’s strategy for replacing fossil fuels with heavily subsidized “alternatives” that taxpayers cannot afford, and consumers will not purchase on their own.

Newspapers that benefit from the same genre of tax deductions as oil companies nevertheless sometimes join attacking the oil industry, and the jobs and benefits it creates. This is rank hypocrisy.

“If Republicans are truly determined to slash the budget and end government waste,” the New York Times editorialized, “they will start [by] ending the web of tax breaks enjoyed by the rolling-in-dough oil industry and terminating the ethanol subsidy. Together these cuts would save up to $100 billion over 10 years.”

The Times is right about ending ethanol subsidies. But it and other “progressives” are wrong on every other argument they present to justify their job-killing, economy-crippling energy agenda.

1) Oil industry tax deductions cover costs incurred in exploration, drilling, production, transportation and refining. They aren’t subsidies or special tax breaks. They are essentially the same deductions claimed by all manufacturers, in conducting their business under our complex tax code. They ensure that businesses recover their costs and get taxed only on net income, in the process of making essential products.

Refineries and petrochemical manufacturers play an especially vital role in the oil industry – transforming crude oil and natural gas into fuels and raw materials used to make fabrics, plastics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers, carpets, paints, roofing, siding, and myriad other products that improve and safeguard our lives. Solar panels and resins for fiberglass wind turbine blades are also petroleum-based.

The NY Times itself enjoys similar tax breaks, and hasn’t offered to give one of them up, to help end government waste. Nor have other newspapers, some of which have even sought to benefit under the “failing newspaper act,” which would let them operate as “educational nonprofits,” and pay no taxes. Others have sought exemptions from antitrust laws, so that they can set online subscription prices.

In truth, in this internet and online media age, we could live without newspapers. But as an American Express advertising executive might say, Oil: You can't leave home without it. Nor can you have modern civilization or improved health and living standards without it.

2) Most petroleum companies aren’t “Big Oil.” They’re small independents. And the entire industry operates under government policies and regulations that keep many of America’s best oil and gas prospects off limits and make leasing, exploration and drilling needlessly expensive and time-consuming. Between 1981 and 2008, the largest consolidated oil companies (“Big Oil”) alone paid $1.95 trillion in severance, property, excise, sales and corporate income taxes, the Tax Foundation reports.

Eliminate the tax deductions amid the current regulatory and political climate, and fewer wells will be drilled, fewer deposits will be profitable enough to develop, fields will be abandoned prematurely, royalty revenues will decline, refineries will close or move overseas, workers will lose their jobs, their income tax payments will morph into welfare checks, and we will import still more oil and refined products.

3) A primary reason oil and gasoline prices are so high, unemployment is stuck at 9% and our economic growth is anemic is that government has made most of our western states, Alaskan and Outer Continental Shelf energy prospects off limits. It raises unfounded concerns about hydraulic fracturing, and drags its feet on permits for lands that supposedly are “available” for leasing and drilling. In short, it chokes off supplies. Meanwhile, politicians stoke demand – with legislation like the NAT GAS Act. That bill would obligate US taxpayers to pony up some $14 billion annually in subsidies (aka, tax credits and rebates), to encourage motorists to buy natural gas-fueled cars and trucks, and service stations to install natural gas fueling stations.

Eliminate oil company tax deductions: “save” $4 billion. Subsidize car and truck purchases: spend $14 billion. It’s unsustainable. It’s insane.

4) Real subsidies take money taken from society’s productive sectors, and transfer it to legislators and bureaucrats, who give it to companies that “deserve” funding, because they provide politically favored products or could not remain in business without perpetual infusions of Other People’s Money. You support our reelection, our “catastrophic manmade global warming” thesis and our commitment to a renewable energy future, and you’ll continue receiving taxpayer cash – until the OPM runs out.

Evergreen Solar received $486 million in federal and state subsidies – but still closed its doors and fired 850 workers, when the subsidy well ran dry. The same thing happened to five of six solar companies in Germany. The jobs went to China and Malaysia, which have lower costs and fewer regulations.

5) Even with subsidies, wind and solar still can’t compete, unless they are also exempted from endangered species and other environmental laws. If you shoot an eagle, or birds die in an uncovered oil company waste pit, fines and possibly prison terms are meted out. But wind farms slaughter bald and golden eagles, falcons, hawks, curlews, bats and other threatened, endangered and just plain majestic sky dwellers with no consequences. They even get fast-tracked through the environmental review process by the same Interior Department and EPA that routinely delay or deny oil and gas applications.

6) Then there’s ethanol. Producing 13.2 billion gallons of it in 2010 required one-quarter of all the corn grown in the United States – monopolizing 23 million acres (Grade A cropland the size of Indiana) and consuming 1.2 trillion gallons of water, along with prodigious amounts of petroleum in the form of fertilizer and tractor, truck and distillery fuel. While corn growers get rich, higher corn prices mean pork and chicken producers pay more for feed, meat producers are driven out of business, manufacturers pay more for corn syrup, consumers pay more for food, and more jobs disappear.

America could produce far more gasoline from a mere 2,000 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (1/20 of Washington, DC), if anti-oil zealots would end their opposition to drilling in the frozen tundra.

And still ethanol enjoys fuel pump mandates, $6 billion in annual subsidies, and tariffs against foreign competition – so that consumers can “choose” a fuel that gets a third fewer miles per gallon than gasoline.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is doing a theirs-not-to-reason-why Light Brigade charge into the jaws of biofuel R&D – and extolling the virtues of camellia-based jet fuel that costs $67 a gallon, versus $5 per gallon for aviation gas that could also come from ANWR, the OCS and other off-limits US lands.

The bottom line is simple. The worst thing we can do is what President Obama is intent on doing: use the mythical revenues he expects from eliminating oil company “subsidies and tax breaks” to increase federal wind, solar and ethanol subsidies by another 50% (to $18 billion a year) – so as to “foster the clean energy economy of the future and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.”

As should be abundantly clear by now, these energy sources are not so clean or eco-friendly. They can’t exist without perpetual subsidies. They are simply not sustainable. To provide reliable, affordable, ecological, sustainable energy … put people back to work … rejuvenate our economy … and generate trillions in new government revenue – we need to do three things.

Open America’s public lands for responsible hydrocarbon development. Take the boot off the neck of American businesses. And get rid of all the subsidies, bailouts, targeted tax breaks, selective tariffs, mandates to purchase ethanol and other products, and other corporate welfare gimmicks that make tax lawyers and lobbyists more important than researchers, trained workers and top-flight CEOs.

To read another article by Paul Driessen, click here.

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