Archive for the ‘energy’ tag
Could our nation’s love affair with the defense contractors sabotage a possible solution to global climate change? Nuclear power is much more efficient than coal and natural gas, there just was that little problem of nuclear (uranium) waste.
But the book [Fluid Fuel Reactors] inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.
Weinberg and his men proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear- armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material. The course of the nuclear industry was set for the next four decades, and thorium power became one of the great what-if technologies of the 20th century.
[Click to continue reading Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke | Magazine]
Perhaps the contemporary energy crises will encourage nations, and their engineers, to re-examine thorium.
Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal. It is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.
Thorium was successfully used as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium in the molten-salt reactor experiment (MSR) from 1964 to 1969 to produce thermal energy, as well as in several light-water reactors using fuel composed of a mixture of 232Th and 233U, including the Shippingport Atomic Power Station (operation commenced 1957, decommissioned in 1982). Currently, officials in the Republic of India are advocating a thorium-based nuclear program, and a seed-and-blanket fuel utilizing thorium is undergoing irradiation testing at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Advocates of the use of thorium as the fuel source for nuclear reactors state that they can be built to operate significantly cleaner than uranium based power plants as the waste products are much easier to handle.
[Click to continue reading Thorium – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
I have slightly more than zero knowledge to apply to this question, but I’m intrigued by the thought of thorium becoming more widely utilized. What are the downsides to transferring nuclear power plants to thorium from uranium, other than cost? What is this somewhat celebratory article leaving out? What’s the flaw? Nothing is ever this simple. I don’t think…
This might be the first time I’m writing about Exelon doing something positive for the world, namely, publicly quitting the head-in-the-sand U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber of Commerce’s position regarding climate change. Kudos to Exelon for being citizens of the 21st Century!
Exelon CEO John Rowe announced that his company — the largest electric utility company in the United States — would not renew its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of its opposition to global warming action. In his keynote address to the annual conference of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the nation’s largest association of energy efficiency experts, Rowe said that the Chamber’s multi-million-dollar campaign against clean energy legislation is incompatible with Exelon’s commitment to climate change leadership. As Rowe said when he accepted a leadership award from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce in 2008:
Exelon has staked out an industry-leading position on the issue of climate change and, in the spirit of Daniel Burnham, we have launched our own “not so little plan” to eliminate the equivalent of our entire carbon footprint by the year 2020. I do not know if it will stir men’s souls, but I hope it will stir policymakers and others in our industry to action.
Confirming Exelon’s decision to ThinkProgress, a spokesperson explained that “Exelon is a big supporter of climate legislation.” Exelon is the third energy company to sever ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the past week, joining Pacific Gas & Electric and PNM Resources.
[Click to continue reading Wonk Room » Exelon Ditches U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Over Climate Denial ]
Of course, the G-20 is only taking tepid moves, so no energy company is going to lose much by siding with the forces of science and progress, but that’s a discussion for another time.
from my archives. Green City Market produce.
Corn from a different farmers market, for the Chicago Chain.
My Spanish-translation skills are very poor, can anyone tell me what this article is about? Headline is Bio combustibles en Centroamérica, Bio Fuels in Central America.
Google Translation renders the first paragraph thus:
The production of so-called “green fuels” is linked to food insecurity in Central America. Guatemala, on the basis of sugar cane and African palm in large areas, has significantly increased production of ethanol and biodiesel, both exported mainly to the European Union. While this is not basic crops, the fact is that large areas of land previously owned by farm families devoted to corn and rice have been displaced by private firms that have intensified to generate crops for biofuels.
Hard on the heels of the health care protests, another citizen movement seems to have sprung up, this one to oppose Washington’s attempts to tackle climate change. But behind the scenes, an industry with much at stake — Big Oil — is pulling the strings.
The event on Tuesday was organized by a group called Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group. Many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces.
This was the first of a series of about 20 rallies planned for Southern and oil-producing states to organize resistance to proposed legislation that would set a limit on emissions of heat-trapping gases, requiring many companies to buy emission permits. Participants described the system as an energy tax that would undermine the economy of Houston, the nation’s energy capital.
[Click to continue reading Oil Companies Back Public Protests of Greenhouse Gas Bill – NYTimes.com]
Opposing climate change legislation, how forward thinking!
One such group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity went as far as having their PR agency forge letters from non-profit groups and sending them to Congress. They’ve been caught, and are attempting to blame a “temporary worker”. Uhh, yeah, right.
A public relations firm hired by a pro-coal industry group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, recently sent at least 58 letters opposing new climate laws to members of Congress. An investigation by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming found that a total of 13 letters sent by the firm, Bonner & Associates, were forgeries. The committee is currently investigating another 45 letters to determine whether they are fakes. The letters purported to be from groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Hispanic organizations.
Mother Jones has more:
Rep. Ed Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has released a new batch of bogus letters sent to members of Congress by Bonner & Associates, including one the DC-based PR and lobbying firm previously told the committee was genuine but admitted on Monday was also a fake. The letters claim to be from representatives of local senior citizens groups concerned that climate change legislation will drive up energy costs for the elderly in an already “volatile economy.”
Founded in 1984 by Jack Bonner, a former GOP Senate aide and Republican National Committee staffer, the company specializes in Astroturf campaigns—efforts to create the illusion of grassroots support around the positions of its corporate clients. The firm accomplishes this by, among other things, convincing citizens, nonprofits, and others to sign letters to lawmakers in support or opposition to various issues.
Markey’s committee has been investigating the falsified letters since late July. According to a release issued by the committee on Monday:
The five letters revealed today brings the total number of fraudulent letters to 13, now representing 9 different community groups. The letters released today were staged to appear as if they were sent by groups representing senior citizen services like the non-profit Erie Center on Health & Aging. Previous letters already made public were from the Charlottesville NAACP chapter, Creciendo Juntos, a hispanic advocacy organization, the Jefferson Area Board on Aging, and the American Association of University Women.
In a statement, Markey drew parallels between advocacy efforts to derail health care reform and those opposing global warming legislation. “We’ve seen fear-mongering with our nation’s senior citizens with health care, and now we’re seeing fraud-mongering with senior citizens on clean energy,” he said. “Lately, democratic debate has been deceptively debased by fake facts and harsh rhetoric. We must return to an honest discussion of the issues, and ensure that this sort of campaign does not further poison the well of trustworthy debate.”
[Click to continue reading Bonner’s Latest Astroturf Admission (Plus More Fake Letters) | Mother Jones]
as does Talking Points Memo
But a closer look suggests a culture at Bonner and Associates that makes such deception all but inevitable. As one former employee put it, at Bonner, distortion “was the norm rather than the exception.”
Internal Bonner documents obtained by TPMmuckraker, and interviews with former employees, shed light on the modus operandi of a firm that’s known as the pioneer of astroturf lobbying — that is, creating the illusion of grassroots support for corporate-backed positions, just as corporate-backed groups like Freedom Works are currently doing in their fight against health-care reform. Bonner’s business model involves using both carrots and sticks in spurring low-paid and poorly-trained employees to convince local groups or individual voters to agree to offer nominal expressions of support for the campaigns of the firm’s corporate clients, which have included Philip Morris, the health insurance industry, and the pharmaceutical industry, among others. Often the voters or local groups know little about the legislation at hand, which is typically obscure to all but the industries affected by it — medical liability reform, say. But the resulting form letters, faxes, or phone calls are then represented to a list of targeted lawmakers — generally drawn up by the client — as genuine expressions of grassroots concern. Bonner then satisfies its client by reporting back to it on the number of communications it’s generated.
[Click to continue reading Behind The Forged Letters: Jack Bonner’s “White-Collar Sweatshop” | TPMMuckraker]
and much more on Bonner and Associates if you’re interested.
You would think such transparently false campaigns would be ineffective once exposed, but apparently Senators and Members of Congress are easily fooled, and don’t have time in their busy schedules of lobbyist dinners and fund-raising luncheons to read much news.
Matt Taibbi’s putdown of Goldman Sachs is finally online if you didn’t get a chance to read it yet. He places Goldman Sachs at the scene of several crime scenes, also known as stock market bubbles. For instance, the summer of 2008’s massive gas price increase. Reserves of crude oil were as high as they had ever been, demand was lower because of a world-wide economic slowdown, why then did gasoline prices exceed $4?
As is so often the case, there had been a Depression-era law in place designed specifically to prevent this sort of thing. The commodities market was designed in large part to help farmers: A grower concerned about future price drops could enter into a contract to sell his corn at a certain price for delivery later on, which made him worry less about building up stores of his crop. When no one was buying corn, the farmer could sell to a middleman known as a “traditional speculator,” who would store the grain and sell it later, when demand returned. That way, someone was always there to buy from the farmer, even when the market temporarily had no need for his crops.
In 1936, however, Congress recognized that there should never be more speculators in the market than real producers and consumers. If that happened, prices would be affected by something other than supply and demand, and price manipulations would ensue. A new law empowered the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — the very same body that would later try and fail to regulate credit swaps — to place limits on speculative trades in commodities. As a result of the CFTC’s oversight, peace and harmony reigned in the commodities markets for more than 50 years.
All that changed in 1991 when, unbeknownst to almost everyone in the world, a Goldmanowned commoditiestrading subsidiary called J. Aron wrote to the CFTC and made an unusual argument. Farmers with big stores of corn, Goldman argued, weren’t the only ones who needed to hedge their risk against future price drops — Wall Street dealers who made big bets on oil prices also needed to hedge their risk, because, well, they stood to lose a lot too.
This was complete and utter crap — the 1936 law, remember, was specifically designed to maintain distinctions between people who were buying and selling real tangible stuff and people who were trading in paper alone. But the CFTC, amazingly, bought Goldman’s argument. It issued the bank a free pass, called the “Bona Fide Hedging” exemption, allowing Goldman’s subsidiary to call itself a physical hedger and escape virtually all limits placed on speculators. In the years that followed, the commission would quietly issue 14 similar exemptions to other companies.
Now Goldman and other banks were free to drive more investors into the commodities markets, enabling speculators to place increasingly big bets. That 1991 letter from Goldman more or less directly led to the oil bubble in 2008, when the number of speculators in the market — driven there by fear of the falling dollar and the housing crash — finally overwhelmed the real physical suppliers and consumers. By 2008, at least three quarters of the activity on the commodity exchanges was speculative, according to a congressional staffer who studied the numbers — and that’s likely a conservative estimate. By the middle of last summer, despite rising supply and a drop in demand, we were paying $4 a gallon every time we pulled up to the pump.
[Click to continue reading about the gasoline bubble: The Great American Bubble Machine : Rolling Stone]
Read the entire article here
The Economist points out clean coal is no panacea – expensive, and more hype than reality. Politicians love mouthing the phrase, but the energy industry is not so sanguine, at least when cash is being discussed.
“FACTORIES of death” is how James Hansen, a crusading American scientist, describes power stations that burn coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned. That makes it a big cause of global warming.
But some of the world’s biggest economies rely on coal. It provides almost 50% of America’s and Germany’s power, 70% of India’s and 80% of China’s. Digging up coal provides a livelihood for millions of people. And secure domestic sources of energy are particularly prized at a time when prices are volatile and many of the big oil and gas exporters are becoming worryingly nationalistic. It is hard to see how governments can turn their backs on such a cheap and reliable fuel.
There does, however, seem to be a way of reconciling coal and climate. It is called carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration, and entails hoovering up carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of power plants and other big industrial facilities and storing it safely underground, where it will have no effect on the atmosphere. The technologies for this are already widely used in the oil and chemical industries, and saltwater aquifers and depleted oilfields offer plenty of promising storage space. Politicians are pinning their hopes on clean coal: Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, among others, are keen on the idea.
But CCS is proving easier to talk up than to get going (see article). There are no big power plants using it, just a handful of small demonstration projects. Utilities refuse to make bigger investments because power plants with CCS would be much more expensive to build and run than the ordinary sort. They seem more inclined to invest in other low-carbon power sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind. Inventors and venture capitalists, in the meantime, are striving to create all manner of new technologies—bugs for biofuels, revolutionary solar panels, smart-grid applications—but it is hard to find anyone working on CCS in their garage (although some scientists are toying with pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air instead of from smokestacks: see Technology Quarterly in this issue). Several green pressure groups, and even some energy and power company bosses, think that the whole idea is unworkable.
[click to continue reading The illusion of clean coal | The Economist]
There are better options for reducing carbon emissions, pretending that clean coal is a viable solution damages the progress in other possibilities.
from a related Economist article:
Despite all this enthusiasm, however, there is not a single big power plant using CCS anywhere in the world. Utilities refuse to build any, since the technology is expensive and unproven. Advocates insist that the price will come down with time and experience, but it is hard to say by how much, or who should bear the extra cost in the meantime. Green pressure groups worry that captured carbon will eventually leak. In short, the world’s leaders are counting on a fix for climate change that is at best uncertain and at worst unworkable.
CCS sounds beguilingly simple. It entails isolating carbon dioxide wherever it is produced in large quantities, such as the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, compressing it and pumping it underground. The oil and chemical industries already use most of the processes that this involves, although not in combination. And oil, gas and salt water seem to stay put in certain rock formations indefinitely, suggesting that carbon dioxide should as well.
CCS particularly appeals to politicians reluctant to limit the use of coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, and burning it releases roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as burning natural gas. The world will struggle to cut greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically if it continues to burn coal as it does today. Yet burning coal is one of the cheapest ways to generate power
[click to continue reading Carbon capture and storage | Trouble in store | The Economist]
boiled down to the most basic facts, the problem is the technology is too expensive to be feasible, even with governmental support.
The problem with CCS is the cost. The chemical steps in the capture consume energy, as do the compression and transport of the carbon dioxide. That will use up a quarter or more of the output of a power station fitted with CCS, according to most estimates. So plants with CCS will need to be at least a third bigger than normal ones to generate the same net amount of power, and will also consume at least a third more fuel. In addition, there is the extra expense of building the capture plant and the injection pipelines. If the storage site is far from the power plant, yet more energy will be needed to move the carbon dioxide.
Estimates of the total cost vary widely. America’s government, which had vowed to build a prototype plant called FutureGen in partnership with several big resources firms, scrapped the project last year after the projected cost rose to $1.8 billion. Philippe Paelinck, of Alstom, an engineering firm that hopes to build CCS plants, thinks a full-scale one would cost about €1 billion ($1.3 billion).
Not the answer, in other words.
A few interesting links collected February 27th through February 28th:
- Debunking the Clean Coal Myth : EcoLocalizer – “There is no such thing as “clean coal” in the U.S. today. Coal is responsible for 32% of CO2 emissions in this country and 83% of the CO2 emissions from producing our electricity. In theory, we could retrofit this nation’s coal plants to capture their pollution and store it. Here is my question: If every single coal plant needs to be revamped to be truly “clean,” why not just invest that time and money in truly clean, renewables?” [Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Seth Anderson]
April Winchell » Barack Obama is tired of your motherfucking shit – Ray, a fellow classmate of Obama’s, was also bi-racial, and also trying to define himself. But what set him apart was his colorful manner of self-expression. Ray cursed like a motherfucker.
This would all be snickerworthy enough, but it turns out that Obama actually read the audiobook version of Dreams From My Father.
And that means he read Ray’s quotes.
And that means you’re about to hear the President of United States using language that would finish Cheney off once and for all.
Chicago Reader Blogs: Chicagoland Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all: The Chicago Journalism Town Hall – “In other words: journalism isn’t dying. (Journalists are dying, of course, but even I don’t blame the Huffington Post for that.) The institutions are dying. That’s it. We’ve isolated the problem!
Journalists (I will irresponsibly use this as a synonym for “people who work in broadcast or print,” even though we’re all kind of journalists, which I will get to later) blame the bloggers (ditto, for people who work online). Bloggers blame the journalists. Everyone blames the economy, and management. Was it Ben Goldberger in the Blog with the Aggregator? Or was it Eric Zorn in the Newspaper with the Inverted Pyramid, or Sam Zell in the Boardroom with the ESOP?”
John Bolton at CPAC: The Benefits of Nuking Chicago | Mother Jones – “Former UN Ambassador John Bolton believes the security of the United States is at dire risk under the Obama administration. And before a gathering of conservatives in Washington on Thursday morning, he suggested, as something of a joke, that President Barack Obama might learn a needed lesson if Chicago were destroyed by a nuclear bomb.”
BULLS: Sam Smith: He was always Stormin’ – “Chicago understood Norm because it is known as the Second City. It is in the flyover region. Norm couldn’t crack the big time and run with the big boys, not among the playing elite and not afterward. But he never accepted being less than them and always was sticking his foot in the door to remind them he wasn’t going away.
Norm was like us. Never really appreciated despite working so hard at it and giving everything he had every time. Norm broadcast harder than some guys played the game, and he let them know it. Someone was speaking up for us, and we loved Norm for that. And he loved us because he understood, if not accepted, rejection.”
SLAM ONLINE | » First Person: Norm Van Lier – “It was my dad who helped me let go of my anger. Before he died in 1988, we watched “The Godfather” together. Afterward my dad asked me, “Why do you think the Bulls owe you anything?”
I told him about this and that, slights and slams, stuff that had grown into huge obstacles in my mind.
“Did they pay you on time?” Yes, sir. “Were their checks good?” Yes, sir.
“Well, then they don’t owe you a thing. So get up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and go to work.”
I swear, from that moment on, my attitude was completely different. I’ve not looked back since.”
- The Sports Guy: Bill Simmons Welcome to the No Benjamins Association – ESPN Page 2 – Ru-oh.
“For once, the league’s problems have nothing to do with talent, drugs, racial issues or how the sport is being played. With the country embroiled in its worst economic crisis in 80 years, the NBA is quietly bracing for its own little D-Day … only outsiders don’t fully realize or care. Clearly, we wouldn’t put this budding debacle on par with the Gulf War, the collapse of American car companies, the real estate quagmire, the implosion of Wall Street, the decline of the American dollar, the shaky footing of previously untouchable media institutions (newspapers, magazines, TV networks, movie studios and publishing companies), or even Vegas and the porn industry caving financially. “
Media Matters – Media Matters: In support of shunning – Will has made false claims about the Voting Rights Act and the New Deal. He made a claim about China drilling off the coast of Florida that was so wrong, even then-Vice President Cheney — who cited Will in repeating the claim — acknowledged it wasn’t true. When even Dick Cheney thinks you’ve gone too far in spouting pro-drilling falsehoods, you have a problem. But neither Will nor the Post corrected the error.
Last year, Will claimed in his Newsweek column and on ABC that Social Security taxes are levied based on household income. Not true. He claimed that McCain won more votes from independents during the primaries than Obama did. Wrong. He claimed most minimum-wage earners are students or part-time employees. False. Will has even lied about Hillary Clinton’s Yankees fandom.
Basically, George Will routinely makes false claims large and small, holds politicians to disparate standards, and engages in ethically dubious conduct on behalf of his preferred candidates.
The George Will Affair : CJR – Undeterred, on Tuesday, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and Media Matters for America sent a joint letter to the Post reiterating the call for some form of correction or clarification. It cited three key problems with Will’s column: that he misused data on global sea ice levels from the Arctic Climate Research Center; that he misrepresented the World Meteorological Organization’s position on global warming and climate trends; and that he “rehashed the discredited myth that in the 1970s, there was broad scientific consensus that the Earth faced an imminent global cooling threat.”
“George Will is entitled to his own opinions, but he is not entitled to his own facts,” the letter concluded. “We respectfully ask that you immediately make your readers aware of the glaring misinformation in Will’s column.” But the Post’s position remains the same.
Some additional reading February 15th from 09:57 to 21:10:
Having It Both Ways: Republicans Take Credit for ‘Pork’ – In Stimulus Bill They Opposed | Crooks and Liars – Rep. John Mica was gushing after the House of Representatives voted Friday to pass the big stimulus plan.
“I applaud President Obama’s recognition that high-speed rail should be part of America’s future,” the Florida Republican beamed in a press release.
Yet Mica had just joined every other GOP House member in voting against the $787.2 billion economic recovery plan.
Facebook’s New Terms Of Service: “We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever.” – Facebook’s terms of service (TOS) used to say that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire. Not anymore.
Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later. Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want.
- Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Michael Isikoff: Yoo Disbarment Proceedings Now Visible on the Horizon – Torture Report Could Be Trouble For Bush Lawyers: An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department’s ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said.
Gutless Wonders: Specter Admits GOP’s Political Calculus On Stimulus Bill | Crooks and Liars – DCCC head Chris Van Hollen puts it into perspective (if only the media would actually frame it this way):
“Americans will hold House Republicans accountable for just saying no to saving and creating three to four million jobs and the largest tax cut in American history.
“House Republicans are fast becoming party of No-bama. Americans will hold Republicans accountable for being the party of no – no to President Obama’s economic recovery, no to children’s health care, and no to equal pay for women doing equal work.”
Talking Points Memo | The Big Disconnect – But there’s a very big problem with this strategy above and beyond the absurdity of the argument. “Congress” may be really unpopular. And the Democrats now control Congress. But politics is a zero sum game. At the end of the day, in almost every case, you’ve got to pick a Republican or a Democrat when you vote. And if you look at the numbers, congressional Democrats are pretty popular. And congressional Republicans are extremely unpopular. If you look at the number, the Dems are at about 50% or higher in most recent polls, while the GOP is down in the 30s.
The city remains wired for the GOP. Not that it’s done them a great deal of good of late. But it remains a key part of understanding every part of what is happening today.
- Google Jumps Into Organizing Smart Meter Energy Data « Earth2Tech – “Just as Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt hinted over the past few months, Google is moving from managing the world’s information to managing your personal energy data. On Monday night Google tells us it is developing an online tool called “PowerMeter” that will allow users to monitor their home energy consumption. For now Google is testing the web-based software with Google employees, but the search engine giant is looking to partner with utilities and smart energy device makers and will eventually roll out the tool to consumers.”
Energy Information – “Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage. The graph below shows how someone could use this information to figure out how much energy is used by different household activites.”
Oooh, I want one of these so-called smartmeters
- MyDD :: The Beltway Games Don’t Really Matter – “Perhaps more than ever, there is a real divide between what the chattering class inside the Beltway is saying and what the people of this country are saying. We saw the beginnings of this during the campaign, when despite the fact that John McCain was deemed to be winning the news cycles — indeed, his campaign seemed to care more about winning “Hardball” than it did about reaching 270 electoral votes — Barack Obama nevertheless continued to lead in the polls, both nationwide and in the key states. Now we’re seeing it again, as the establishment media focuses on the less meaningful back and forth while at the same time overlooking the larger picture being grasped by the public — that is that President Obama is succeeding, in terms of both moving forward his policy agenda and bringing two-thirds of the country along with him in his effort.”
There really isn’t any such thing as clean coal, well, other than a marketing tool utilized by energy company hacks to greenwash coal, one of the dirtiest energy sources ever created. Clean coal might be created in the future, but then again, so might cold fusion1. Or robots with bees in their mouths.
I hope Barack Obama and Joe Biden will alter their campaign positions supporting clean coal, but I’m not holding my breath.
Coal washing results in the formation of large quantities of slurry. This is placed in waste piles. Rain drains through the piles, picking up pollutants which end up in rivers and streams. This runoff is acidic and contains heavy metals.
Between 7 and 30 percent of coal consists of non-combustible material that just has to be eventually disposed of. “Clean coal” technologies attempt to trap these waste products before they leave the smokestalks; waste material that is trapped is then used (despite containing a number of toxic elements) or dumped as landfill.
The use of higher quality coal – lower in ash and sulphur should reduce emissions and increase efficiency, but thermal efficiency is increased by only one percent. If clean coal is used to meet the increased electricity demand predicitions of govenments instead of cleaner renewable alternatives, there will in fact be a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) mercury and its compounds are highly toxic and pose a ‘global environmental threat to humans and wildlife.’ Exposure to it has been associated with serious neurological and developmental damage to humans. The report also states that coal-fired power and heat production is the largest single source of atmospheric mercury emissions. According to the Coal Utilization Research Council ‘there are no commercial technologies available for mercury capture at coal-fuelled power plants’. Furthermore, a US Department of Energy commissioned report, states that the consistent, long-term performance of mercury control has yet to be demonstrated. Experimental removal of mercury is prohibitively expensive at $761,000/kg mercury removed and even then 10% of the mercury still remains.
Despite $5.2 billion of investment in the US alone , clean coal research has been plagued with difficulties. For example, of the 13 clean coal projects that the US General Accounting Office looked at, eight had serious delays or financial problems – six were behind schedule by 2-7 years and two were bankrupt and will not be completed.
The operators of the $297 million Healy Clean Coal project in the USA intend to retrofit the current clean coal plant with traditional technologies. The plant has been closed since January 2000 because safe, reliable and economical operation was not possible with the experimental technology.
Hidden Social and Environmental Costs
Social and environmental problems caused by the use of coal begin at the point where coal is mined. Mine workers are at great risk of death, injury and illness. Local communities suffer from land degradation and pollution and in many cases are forced to relocate.
At a coal-fired power plant, coal is pulverised and burnt in a high temperature furnace. Various toxic gases and tiny particles are released from the furnace into the smokestalks; pollution devices are used to try to trap pollutants before they are released into the atmosphere. The use and disposal of solid wastes trapped in the furnace and the release of gases and fine particles from the smokestacks have severe impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and people’s health.
Strangely enough, we drove by this gas station the other day on our way from the North Park Village Nature Center, looking for gasoline.
Since the middle of the summer, those who’ve driven through the intersection of Irving Park and Pulaski Roads regularly, as I do, have probably been struck by the staggeringly high gas prices at the Shell mini-mart on the northwest corner.
How high? Sometimes a dollar per gallon higher than the price at the Mobil mini-mart just across Pulaski and higher than any other price in the city or suburbs. So high it was rare to see a customer at the pumps.
“I’ve been scratching my head about it just like everyone else,” said the local alderman, Margaret Laurino (39th). “If I ever see a car there, I wonder what the driver’s thinking.”
The average price for a gallon of regular in the Chicago area Monday was $1.83, according to AAA. The Mobil station at Irving and Pulaski was selling it for $2. The Shell at North Avenue and LaSalle Street, traditionally one of the priciest gas stations in the continental U.S., was charging $2.36.
The Irving/Pulaski Shell? $2.80.
I live nearby, and the most popular theory among the neighbors is that the same man owns both stations and is using asymmetrical pricing to drive customer traffic to the Mobil, which was remodeled this year to include a sandwich counter and a doughnut franchise.
We bypassed this place and purchased gas elsewhere. The comments to Eric Zorn’s post are interesting: seems to be a common theme that Shell is possibly trying to shut down stations so that they can increase demand while reducing supply. And we aren’t the only citizens to notice that gasoline prices have dropped by half in a couple of months, leading to speculation that the whole thing was rigged.
On that topic, I actually think the high gasoline prices helped America in the long run: forcing some changes to policy, encouraging the sales of fuel efficient cars, encouraging discussion of public transit and national rail systems, yadda yadda. Short term pain for many, but long term benefits for us all.
Speaking of Dingell and Waxman, Kate Sheppard writes
By chance, just a few days before the US election, I picked up a copy of Richard Cohen’s Washington at Work, a book documenting the nearly decade-long debate over the 1990 Clean Air Act, and which I planned to read post-election in preparation for what I figured would be next year’s battle over climate legislation.
The book highlights the antagonistic relationship between two major forces in the House Democratic caucus – the curmudgeonly, industry-friendly Michigan representative John Dingell, and a wily environmentalist from California, Henry Waxman. It’s been nearly two decades since that law passed, but the two men continued to represent the different factions in the House when it comes to passing environmental laws, a division that has long stymied action.
But then came a surprise: mere hours after the election, Waxman announced he was making an attack on Dingell’s chairmanship of the energy and commerce committee, changing the entire tenor of the House when it comes to climate legislation. Even before we get down to serious debate on climate legislation, Waxman’s success yesterday in unseating the “Dean” from his perch in the most powerful House committee signals a new era for Congress when it comes to the environment.
Again, for Congress to actually do something about climate change, automobile fuel efficiency standards, and the like, Dingell had to be removed as chair. All eyes on you, Congressman Waxman.
Would seem as if this should be bigger news: McCain would rather devote alternative energy tax credits to the poor, poor oil corporations who are underwriting his campaign instead of renewing or expanding tax credits to new green-collar industries.
The whole clean-energy ecosystem, from investors to manufacturers to developers, is on tenterhooks to see what will happen with the credits.
Of course, that’s not necessarily the fault of the Democrats who control Congress. Sen. John McCain famously missed the decisive vote on renewing the tax credits earlier this year, and missed another vote after that.
But it does explain why, as California senator Barbara Boxer said last night in Denver, “In the Senate, 60 is the new 50!”. Sixty Demcratic senators is a filibuster-proof majority. That means policy ideas turn into policies. Which is why some observers, like the WSJ edit page, figure the most important votes this election season won’t necessarily come at the top of the ticket—Obama versus McCain—but at the Congressional level.
With 60 Democratic senators, clean-energy advocates like Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell may just get their wish: permanent tax credits for renewable energy.
1. Renewable resources like wind and solar, or 2. petro-dollar dictators like the Saudi princes. Hmmmm, let us collectively noodle on that choice for a second. Gee, let’s choose door number 1, Alex!
I’m sure the final rule will have a lot less oomph, and plenty of loopholes.
Under pressure from federal lawmakers concerned about high energy prices, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule prohibiting petroleum-market manipulation, giving the agency authority to levy fines of up to $1 million per violation a day.
The proposed rule — which would cover both spot and futures markets — is designed to increase oversight of the crude-oil, natural-gas, gasoline and other product markets as directed by Congress late last year.
As oil prices surged to nearly $150 a barrel in July, many lawmakers increased pressure on the FTC to promulgate the antimanipulation rule, feeling existing oversight was too weak and laxly regulated. Lawmakers are concerned that excessive speculation — and possible manipulation — in the oil markets helped drive prices to record levels, and are seeking ways to enforce tougher market oversight. Congress is considering legislation designed to rein in speculative trading deemed to be distorting the market.
Potential fines are discussed:
If the agency enacts the rule as it is currently written, it could subject violators with penalties of up to $1 million per violation per day. The FTC said it aimed to conclude the rule-making process by the end of the year. It drew immediate praise from some lawmakers who have been pushing for more stringent oversight of the markets.
This is some serious cheese for violators. As an example, Exxon Mobil’s profit in 20071 was in the vicinity of $4,633,200 per hour, or $111,196,800 per day. A million dollar fine would reduce Exxon Mobil’s daily profit to a paltry $110,196,800 a day! Won’t somebody think of the children! Of course, I’m not sure Exxon Mobil would be covered by these rules anyway, I’m sure nobody at Exxon Mobil is involved in speculation of oil futures, right? but sounds like there will be a lot more discussion before anything gets enacted in any case.
Given that the proposed rule covers the futures market — also the domain of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — it is likely to upgrade a regulatory turf battle between agencies and spur activity by the CFTC.
Lots of discussion and posturing, and lots of profits to be snatched in the meantime. By the end of the year, Obama will be elected, and the glory years of oil companies might start to sputter.2
Stewards of our planet, failing again.
The Great Salt Lake is so briny that swimmers bob in the water like corks. It is teeming with tiny shrimp that were sold for years in the back of comic books as magical “sea monkeys.” And, for reasons scientists cannot explain, it is laden with toxic mercury.
“We’ve got a problem, but we don’t know how big it is,” said Chris Cline, a biologist for the federal Fish and Wildlife Service who has been collecting the eggs of cinnamon teal ducks from nests along the rim of the lake so that they can be cracked open and analyzed in the laboratory.
Three years ago, in an alarming finding, tests by the federal Geological Survey showed the lake had some of the highest mercury readings ever recorded in a body of water in the United States.
Researchers say mercury released into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants in the West, gold mines in Nevada, volcanoes in Indonesia or industries in rapidly developing countries such as China or India may be settling in the lake.
Let us speculate: man-made pollution from coal plants, or some unknown natural phenomenon? What are the odds? My money is on coal plants, whether locally, or elsewhere.
Greg Palast discusses John McCain’s love for all things nuclear, a part of McCain’s goofy energy plan.
I’m guessing it was excessive exposure to either radiation or George Bush, but Senator John McCain’s comments from inside a nuclear power plant in Michigan are so cracked-brained that I fear some loose gamma rays are doing to McCain’s gray matter what they did to Homer Simpson’s.
On Tuesday, the presumptive Republican candidate descended into the colon of a nuke to declare we need to build 45 new nuclear plants – that this is the way out of our energy crisis. Nuclear power, declared the senator, is a “safe, efficient [and] inexpensive” alternative to oil.
Really? We can argue all day about whether nuclear plants are safe (they aren’t –period). But there can be no argument whatsoever that these giant radioactive tea-kettles are breathtakingly expensive.
Nuclear plants are cheap until you actually try to build one. Not one of the last 49 nuclear plants cost less than $2 billion apiece. I’m looking down the road at the remainders of the Shoreham nuclear plant which took nearly 20 years to build at a cost of $8 billion – or close to $7,000 per customer it was supposed to supply. When I say “supposed to,” it was closed for safety reasons after operating just one single day.
We’re told that the new generation of plants will be different. Just like an alcoholic child-beater, the nuclear plant builders promise us that, “This time it will be different.” Sure. And McCain believes them.
and the nuclear plant waste issue is still unresolved, as we’ve mentioned previously
While The New York Times reporters following McCain repeated his line about “inexpensive” nuclear power without question, a buried wire story on the same day noted that the Energy Department is putting the unfunded bill for disposing nuclear plant waste at $96.2 billion – nearly a billion dollars per plant operating today. And no one even knows exactly how to do it, or where. Obama has the audacity to ask about the nuclear waste’s cost. “Can we deal with the expense?” he said on Meet the Press.
McCain’s plan to spend endless billions on nuclear plants without a waste disposal system in place is like building a massive hotel without toilets. D’oh! I suppose you can always tell the guests to poop in buckets until someone comes up with a plan for plumbing. But the stuff piles up. And unlike the fecal droppings of tourists, nuclear waste will stay hot and dangerous for a thousand generations.
Read the whole article here