Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check

Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check
by Mark P. Mills, Manhattan Institute
As policymakers have shifted focus from pandemic challenges to economic recovery, infrastructure plans are once more being actively discussed, including those relating to energy. Green energy advocates are doubling down on pressure to continue, or even increase, the use of wind, solar power, and electric cars. Left out of the discussion is any serious consideration of the broad environmental and supply-chain implications of renewable energy.

This paper turns to a different reality: all energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. No energy system, in short, is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out. Compared with hydrocarbons, green machines entail, on average, a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy.

Among the material realities of green energy:
Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society.

A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine have more plastic than 5 million smartphones; and a solar array that can power one data center uses more glass than 50 million phones.

Replacing hydrocarbons with green machines under current plans—never mind aspirations for far greater expansion—will vastly increase the mining of various critical minerals around the world. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.

Oil, natural gas, and coal are needed to produce the concrete, steel, plastics, and purified minerals used to build green machines. The energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.

By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it nonrecyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage.
(Download full report)

Renewable energy causes electricity cost to skyrocket

President Obama recently said that he wanted 28% of America’s electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030, mainly by increasing the use of wind and solar power. Currently about 10% of US energy is produced by renewable energy sources.

But, of that 10%, half comes from burning biomass, 26% comes from hydroelectric generation, and 22% comes from solar and wind power combined which means just 2.2% of total energy generation comes from wind and solar according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Differentiating between total energy and electricity production, the EIA says that in 2014, solar produced 0.4% of the nation’s electricity while wind power produced 4.4% of the nation’s electricity for a combined total of 4.8% of electrical generation. (EIA)


Current average electricity cost in the U.S. is 12.95 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh), according to the EIA. See EIA reported costs by state and region here.

So what happens as a country increases the amount of electricity generated by renewal sources (mainly wind and solar) as the European Union has been doing? As renewable energy becomes a larger percent of electricity generation, costs per kwh rise from about 12 cents per kwh to 32 cents per kwh.

EU electricity cost vs renewables

Here are the costs of electricity by country in the European Union. The highest costs are in the countries with the most renewable energy capacity.

EU electricty prices

Under Obama’s plan, if the U.S. follows the European Union example, electricity costs will nearly triple in the next 15 years. Obama is keeping a campaign promise. Remember he said that under his plan electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. That is the reality of the war on coal and other fossil fuels.

And that’s not our only expense. According to the EIA, for just the period 2010-2013, we taxpayers have subsidized wind power to the tune of $5.5 billion together with $4.5 billion for solar installations.

Julian Morris of the Reason Foundation opines: “The Clean Power Plan is a centralized plan for electricity generation in the United States that is likely to harm public health, increase energy bills for households and businesses, destroy American jobs, and cause blackouts in communities across the country.” (Read article)

The proposed reductions in CO2 emissions will have the grand effect of preventing warming of about 0.02 C. (Source)

In my opinion, Obama’s power plan is a foolish, even criminal, waste of resources.

(H/T to Paul Homewood of Not A Lot of People Know That for the graphs.)

See also:

Capitalism is not a zero sum game

Climate and Communism

Environmental Sophistry

The Collectivist Mind

How NEPA crushes productivity

A New Type of Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Safer and more versatile than standard nuclear reactors

A new company, Transatomic Power, formed in 2011 by two M.I.T. PhD. graduates proposes to build a new type of molten salt nuclear reactor. Transatomic has just received a $2 million grant from Founders Fund, a private venture capital company. The money will be used to test and verify the corrosion resistance of metals that their design employs in the reactor core and piping, as well as modeling the reactor design. Molten salt reactors where experimented with by Oak Ridge National Laboratory back in the 1950s and 1960s, but they never produced a commercial application. The new design uses different “salt” and different moderators than the old Oak Ridge design.

By the way, “salt” is not table salt, it is a lithium-fluorine (LiF) mixture in which uranium or thorium is dissolved.

Claimed advantages:

Molten salt reactors extract 20 times more energy from uranium than a conventional reactor, producing a far smaller and far less radioactive final waste product. And this type of reactor can use “spent” uranium from conventional reactors as fuel, thus solving a major disposal problem. Because of government ineptness and environmental activism, most spent fuel from nuclear reactors is “temporarily” stored near the reactors themselves, awaiting final burial. Conventional reactors require weapons-grade uranium (about 33% U-235) whereas the salt reactor can use lower grades (about 2% U-235). Molten salt reactors can also use thorium. This eliminates the potential for terrorists stealing weapons-grade uranium.

Salt reactors don’t require cooling water and therefore are safer than standard reactors because there is no chance of producing explosive hydrogen or steam. “ The main concern in nuclear power is to avoid a steam explosion, fire, or containment breach that could allow the release of radioactive materials outside the plant and affect public health.” If there is a breech in a salt reactor, the salt freezes solid and contains the radioactive material.

In conventional nuclear reactors, the uranium rods are surrounded by water which acts as a coolant and moderator. If the containment vessel is breeched, the heat can produce explosive hydrogen. Molten salt reactors are self-stabilizing because the uranium is dissolved in the salt. “As the core temperature increases, the salt expands. This expansion spreads the fuel volumetrically and slows the rate of fission. This stabilization occurs even without operator action.” “The main technical change we make is to change the moderator and fuel salt used in previous molten salt reactors to a zirconium hydride moderator, with a LiF-based fuel salt.”

“Transatomic Power’s design also enables extremely high burnups – up to 96% – over long time periods. The reactor can therefore run for decades and slowly consume both the actinide waste in its initial fuel load and the actinides that are continuously generated from power operation. Furthermore, our neutron spectrum remains primarily in the thermal range used by existing commercial reactors. We therefore avoid the more severe radiation damage effects faced by fast reactors, as thermal neutrons do comparatively less damage to structural materials.”

The designers say that a 520 MW reactor would cost $2 billion to construct, and, because it doesn’t need water for the reactor vessel, the plant is more versatile in siting requirements. Nuclear reactors operate all the time unlike wind and solar plants. And, of course, nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide.

For full details and diagrams, read a 34-page white paper from Transatomic Power:

This seems like a viable option that would solve several problems.

Impact of Solar and Wind Electricity Generation on our energy supply and the environment

Installation of solar and wind facilities has expanded almost exponentially in the last few years. The graph below, from an article in Energy Matters by Roger Andrews, shows global growth.

Renewable energy growth

Quite impressive isn’t it? But what impact does it have on energy supply compared to total consumption? Andrews shows another graph which puts things in perspective:

Renewable energy impact

You might have to look very closely at the very bottom right of the graph to see what wind and solar generation contribute to our total energy supply. In spite of the exponential growth in solar and wind installations, it has had almost no impact on the supply of electricity. In the U.S. wind energy produced 3% of total energy consumption and solar energy produced 0.26% of total energy consumption in 2012 according to the Energy Information Administration.

President Obama, with his “war on coal,” has promoted alternative energy schemes. Europe, especially Germany, has been way ahead of Obama’s policy, and have found out, the hard way, that Obama’s prediction is true: “ “under my plan…electricity prices would necessarily
skyrocket.” (See The Price of Obama’s New Carbon Dioxide Emission Rules)
Pierre Gosselin, writing from Germany, says “It seems that it is beginning to dawn on some of Europe’s mainstream media: The transition to green energies is turning out to be ten or even 100 times more expensive than what they were led to believe just a few years ago.” “Already the EU 2020 strategy costs 185 billion euros annually. By the end of the century the costs will run to 15 trillion euros. With this, according to the UN IPCC, the global temperature increase will be lowered 0.05°C.”

While solar and wind generation seem to have little impact on electricity supply, generation facilities have a large impact on the environment because both solar and wind installations take up large tracts of land. They also have a negative impact on wildlife. See Avian mortality from solar farms and Big Wind gets “get out of jail free card” from Obama Administration. They also have an impact on human health and well-being, see Health Hazards of Wind Turbines.

Some people think we should replace all fossil fuels with “green” energy sources. Philip Dowd did a calculation on what it would take to produce all U.S. electricity from solar power (see full article here):

If we start with demand of 56 Terawatt hours of electricity per day and add a 50% safety factor, we find that we will then need a system that can produce about 83 Twh/day. The footprint of PV solar panels needed to produce this much electricity is 210,000 square miles [almost twice the size of Arizona]. Cost about $60 trillion.

“We would need some kind of battery to store energy to use at night. The article proposes pumped storage of water in a pair of reservoirs. This would require 1,640 reservoirs each covering at least 1,000 acres. Cost about $5 trillion.

Back in Germany, Gosselin also writes that “The days of an open welcome to ‘environmentally-friendly’ wind parks in Germany are over.” “Developers To Clear 850,000 sq m[eters] of virgin forests on UNESCO nature reserve to make way for 700-foot turbines.”

Gosselin also reports that every month 10 wind turbines are destroyed by fire due to lightening strikes, damage to power cable insulation, and overheated gear-drives.

The Obama administration seems to behave hypocritically on energy policy because he promotes alternative energy in the U.S. but U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing fossil fuels in other countries. Kevin Mooney, writing at the Daily Signal, notes:

“Americans have to pay more for electricity and compete for fewer jobs because of President Obama’s regulatory curbs on fossil fuels at home, even as their tax dollars support expansion of those same energy sources abroad.

“The Obama administration last month rolled out its most recent brake on fossil fuels, a 645-page proposed rule to achieve a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from power sources by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

“At the same time, the administration pressed for reauthorization this fall of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that offers billions of taxpayer dollars for development of fossil fuels in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico and other countries.”

We live in interesting times.

Why alternative energy is not a viable alternative for electrical generation

Larry Bell, writing in Forbes, claims that ” Renewable Energy Is No Alternative.”  Read the complete article here.

His main points:

Utility scale wind and solar installations take up too much land to be a significant alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear, and hydro electrical generation which currently produce 96 percent of electricity in the U.S.  In the U.S. “about 3.4 percent now comes from wind, and about 0.11 percent from solar.”

Wind and solar generation are unpredictably intermittent and that makes electric grid management very difficult.  “Managing the uninterrupted transfer of electrical power from myriad sources wherever and whenever it is needed is a hugely complicated challenge. It’s one thing when the principal supply sources use gas, heat or hydraulically-driven turbines which provide constant, unfluctuating outputs that can be adjusted and counted upon independent of weather or season.”

Adding an unpredictable supply to the mix makes grid management very complex and increases  the danger that the grid will become unstable and fail.  The problem is multiplied as wind and solar generation become a larger percentage of the total power sources.  “Difficulties arise as segments of the grid become overloaded or underserved by the renewables, requiring the conventional-source turbines which balance the grid to meet base demand loads be repeatedly throttled down and up.  This reduces turbine operating efficiencies.”

Many upgrades to the electric grid would be necessary to safely accommodate the intermittent output of wind and solar generation.  A group from Caltech estimates “that the necessary upgrades to make a green future work will be ‘one of the greatest technological challenges industrialized societies have undertaken.’ They project this can be expected to cost about $1 trillion nationwide by 2030.”

As it stands now, utility scale wind and solar electrical generation do not represent a viable alternative.

See also:

Winds farms decrease weather radar ability to track storms

Wind Farms Gone Wild

Biofuels program destroying grasslands in American Midwest

Wind turbines killed 600000 bats last year

Wind turbines versus wildlife

The scale problem for solar and wind generation of electricity

Ethanol fuel not as green as you think

Health Hazards of Wind Turbines

The economic impact of Arizona’s renewable energy mandate

In a recent, rather befuddled, guest opinion in the Arizona Daily Star, solar energy advocate Terry Finefrock urges the Arizona Corporation Commission to compel our electric utilities to install more solar energy generation. Finefrock starts his article with this sentence: “I challenge the Arizona Corporation Commission to fairly evaluate all electricity-generation technologies and act to actually reduce ratepayer and taxpayer costs.” I agree with that sentence. Ironically, Finefrock’s call for mandating more solar energy will have the opposite effect.

The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston, MA., has been studying the probable impact of renewable energy standards and tariffs (REST) on a state-by-state basis. This month they published their analysis of Arizona’s renewable energy mandate. You can read the entire report here.

They calculate low, medium, and high estimated impacts. Among their findings are:

The current REST rule will raise the cost of electricity by $389 million for the state’s electricity consumers in 2025, within a range of $239 million and $626 million.

The REST mandate will cost Arizona’s electricity consumers $1.383 billion from 2013 to 2025, within a range of $857 million and $2.221 billion.

Arizona’s electricity prices will rise by 6 percent by 2025, within a range of 3.7 percent and 9.7 percent.

These increased energy prices will hurt Arizona’s households and businesses and, in turn, inflict harm on the state economy. In 2025, the REST would:

Lower employment by 2,500 jobs, within a range of 1,500 jobs and 4,100 jobs.

Reduce real disposable income by $334 million, within a range of $202 million and $543 million.

Decrease investment in the state by $38 million, within a range of $23 million and $61 million.

Increase the average household electricity bill by $128 per year; commercial businesses by an average of $686 per year; and industrial businesses by an average of $28,600 per year.

See also:

Petition to Arizona legislature – Dump Renewable Energy MandatesThat post gives six main reasons why we should dump Arizona’s renewable energy mandate. Among those reason are that renewable energy such as solar and wind are much more expensive and very unreliable and the unreliability puts the stability of the electric grid in danger.

TEP wants to control your air conditioner this summer

From the Big Brother Department:

According to a story in the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Electric Power (TEP) is recruiting participants in it new “Power Partners Project” which will allow “customers to receive goal-setting and performance-tracking tools, personalized energy-efficiency suggestions and expert advice.” That’s the carrot. “The new TEP Power Partners Project is being funded through a $500,000 U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Data Access Award and administrative funding from the Governor’s Of f ice of Energy Policy, with matching funding from TEP and Colorado-based Tendril.” Apparently Tendril is a company that manufactures smart meter devices.

The stick is that the program involves installation of “smart meters” and a control on your air conditioner. This allows TEP to remotely turn off your air conditioner or adjust your thermostat during periods of high electricity demand. During a pilot program last summer, TEP exercised this ability eight times among participants.

This program is made necessary by Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) and this phase is called demand side management (DSM). According to the Arizona Corporation Commission: “Arizona’s public utilities will be required to achieve annual energy savings of at least 22%, measured in kWh, by 2020, with the savings to increase incrementally as a percent of retail energy sales in each prior calendar year to reach that goal.”

One of the ways to achieve DSM is through use of the so-called “smart grid” and “smart meters.” Smart meters placed on your house or business will allow the electric company to monitor and control your electricity use via radio/internet-controlled commands to your meter. If you use too much air-conditioning, for instance, the electric company will be able to turn it off.

Because these systems are controlled over the internet, they are vulnerable to mischief by hackers who may decide to turn off the A/C in a shopping mall or neighborhood.

You can sign up for the program at https://enroll.teppowerpartners.com/ Be sure to read the customer agreement. One of the caveats is: “I understand that it is my responsibility to manage my electricity consumption and that participating in this pilot will not guarantee lower bills.”

See also:

Petition to Arizona legislature – Dump Renewable Energy Mandates

Will you let the power company control your air conditioner?

EPA targets wrong cause of haze in Grand Canyon

As a followup to a previous post: “The EPA is destroying America,” I will focus today on the issue of haze in the Grand Canyon.

The EPA is targeting the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in regard to its emissions of nitrogen oxides. The EPA is insisting that NGS install “selective catalytic reduction” to control nitrogen oxides, at an added cost of $48 million per year, even though, just two years ago, the plant installed devices to control nitrogen oxides. This EPA action is of particular concern to Southern Arizona because NGS supplies the electricity to run pumps that provide water via the Central Arizona Project Canal (See more here.)

The story below demonstrates the perfidy of the EPA in its war on coal, its possible collusion with environmental groups, and there is even a connection to President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior. First, let’s look at the composition of haze in the Grand Canyon.

In the chart below, compiled from data produced by the Western Regional Air Partnership (part of the Western Governor’s Association), we see that nitrogen oxide emissions from electrical generating stations represent only about 1 percent of the constituents of haze in the Grand Canyon. Most haze is a combination of soot, dust and sulfates.

Grand canyon haze causes

In the pie chart above, we see that nitrates constitute about 8% of haze. The bar chart, if it is to proportional scale, indicates that nitrates from power plants (see asterisk) comprise about 13% of total nitrates, therefore nitrate contribution to total haze is about 1% (8% of 13% = 1%). See here for a clearer view of the chart. The EPA is, therefore, imposing a very expensive requirement to target less than one percent of the problem. As I’ve point out in another article, the EPA’s solution will have no effect on Grand Canyon haze (see: “EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue“). It appears that the EPA attack on the Navajo Generating Station is part of the administration’s war on coal. See more on the Navajo Generating Station here and specifics on emissions control equipment here.

There have been many wild fires and controlled burn fires near the Grand Canyon, all of which contribute to the haze. In fact, the National Park Service (NPS) has a Facebook page on the subject on which they show several photos. Ironically, NPS celebrates smoke in the Canyon as “a photographer’s paradise::

“Fire has always played a role in the ecology of the high altitude forests of the Grand Canyon’s rims. The mixed conifer forests of the North Rim are dependent on fire. Natural fires burn low to ground, clearing out the down and dead wood on the forest floor. Fire creates a mosaic of burned and unburned vegetation, these openings and gaps on the landscape provide habitat for forest animals enriching the diversity of life a healthy forest needs. Prescribed fire is one tool park managers use to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem. Prescribed fires can smolder for days or even weeks creating smoke that lifts in high plumes during the day and sinks into the canyon at night. Smoke in the canyon may seem like a bummer, but in fact creates dynamic, beautiful vistas. Grand Canyon, regardless of conditions, is a photographer’s paradise.”

There is another curious connection. An environmental group, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), has a hit piece on the Navajo Generating Station. Within that article is a video which shows a hazy Grand Canyon and the article strongly implies that the haze is due to emissions from the station. However, that video was filmed during the past summer when there were fires in the area contributing to the haze. The people featured in the video also belong to Diné Care, a Navajo environmental group that is fighting the generating station although the Navajo people as a whole value the station for jobs and income. Navajo President Ben Shelly, recently said in a public statement and in testimony before Congress, “I still think that the federal government has placed too much of an emphasis on visibility in contrast to the costs of compliance and the potential economic ripple effects. I sincerely hope that any ripple effects of this proposal will not result in immediate drastic impacts to our Navajo workers employed at NGS and the mine. Unfortunately, some federal rulemakings result in economic impacts that are hard to recover from. I hope this will not be the case here.”

I suppose that in the realm of political advocacy, truth is optional.

Another interesting confluence: President Obama has nominated Sally Jewell to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Ms. Jewell has been a long-standing member of the board of the National Parks Conservation Association. It’s a small world.

It seems that the EPA is again colluding with environmental groups and manufacturing an issue to serve a specific purpose.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal has an article on Sally Jewell here.

“The president knows he can rely on Ms. Jewell to do for the federal government exactly what she’s done at an activist level: Lock up land, target industries, kill traditional jobs.”

Update: CAP officials discuss impact of EPA action, see story in Arizona Daily Star here.

See also:

An open letter challenging the EPA on CO2 regulation

Electricity supply endangered by EPA regulations

BREAKING: Court tosses EPA Cross-state air pollution rule

EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue

EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply

EPA fuel standards costly and ineffective

The EPA is destroying America

Obama’s undercover EPA regulations

EPA Admits CO2 Regulation Ineffective

EPA sued in federal court over illegal human testing

The EPA is destroying America

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), defying a court order, mandated that petroleum companies must add 14 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol to gasoline, in spite of the fact that commercial quantities of cellulosic ethanol do not exist. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided in favor of the American Petroleum Institute, which sued the EPA, deciding that the EPA “exceeded its authority by requiring refiners to purchase cellulosic biofuel despite the fact the next-generation fuel is not commercially available.”

 The Environmental Protection Agency, the home of junk science, environmental radicals, and political zealots, is active on many fronts promulgating regulations that will close down American industries, our electricity supply, and our economy. The EPA is not required by law to consider the economic consequences of its regulations. That oversight should be changed.

 Let’s take a look at some of EPA’s recent actions and proposals.

 The war on coal

 New regulations regarding emissions of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone may greatly increase the cost of electricity, cause some power plants to close, and endanger our ability to produce adequate power.

 In Arizona, EPA is using alleged haze in the Grand Canyon as an excuse to target coal-fired electric plants and is particularly targeting the Navajo Generating station, near Page, AZ. EPA rejected Arizona’s proposal for modifying the plant and instead wants the plant to install “selective catalytic reduction” to control nitrogen oxides, at an added cost of $48 million per year. In spite of the additional cost, the EPA proposal will have no noticeable effect on haze as shown in my post: EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue. This one plant supplies the electricity to run the pumps bringing water from the Colorado River to Tucson along the Central Arizona Project canal. If the plant survives and installs the mandated catalytic devices, the cost will raise our water rates (See Arizona Daily Star).

 The EPA is also harassing other coal-fired plants in Arizona. The State of Arizona is suing the EPA over this issue (see here). Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said of the EPA, “”This is an absurd action that would significantly raise utility rates for most Arizonans without providing any benefit to anyone.”

 In Georgia, the Georgia Power company said it will close 15 fossil-fuel-fired electric units, impacting nearly 500 jobs in the state, due to the high cost of complying with EPA regulations. In Texas, because of the EPA, Chase Power cancelled plans for a $3 billion coal-fired plant near Corpus Christi which would have employed 3,900 workers.

 Biofuels and invasive species

 The EPA protection of the environment apparently doesn’t apply in the realm of biofuels. The Heartland Institute reports that the EPA is proposing the introduction of two invasive grass species Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass), as advanced biofuel feedstock under the federal renewable fuel standard. Pennisetum purpureum is an African grass that thrives in warm climates, multiplies rapidly, and crowds out other vegetation. Arundo donax, native to India, is already a feared invasive plant well beyond the subcontinent. California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas, classify Arundo donax as a noxious weed.

 “These two species are already harmful invaders in parts of the United States and should not be incentivized for biofuel use,” said Doria Gordon, director of conservation for Nature Conservancy Florida. “Both species can become so dominant that they crowd out native species and alter habitats.” A group of more than 200 scientists have sent a letter to EPA warning them of the danger and unintended consequences of this proposed action.

 Maybe the EPA wants the invasive species because its mandate for use of non-corn, cellulosic (plant waste) ethanol has not been realistic. Use of cellulosic ethanol, made with crop residue, grasses or wood chips, is a provision of the 2007 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) enacted by Congress. In 2012, EPA mandated that 8.7 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol be blended into gasoline. However, the ethanol industry was able to produce only about 20,000 gallons in 2012. Even though is was impossible to comply with the EPA mandate, the EPA none-the-less fined gasoline producers for compliance failure and will require they use 14 million gallons in 2013.

 Ethanol and your automobile

 There is more trouble with ethanol. Currently, gasoline is blended with 10% ethanol to supposedly curb air pollution. Now the EPA wants to increase that to 15%. However, the American Automobile Association (AAA) warns that use of E15 as the new blend is called, will damage the engines of most vehicles on the road.

 “The number of vehicles approved to use E15 – only about 12 million out of the more than 240 million light-duty vehicles – is limited, while the use of the fuel blend in non-approved vehicles can compromise a vehicle’s warranty:

 “Less than 5 percent of cars on the road are approved by automakers to use E15. Approved vehicles include flex-fuel models, 2001 model-year and newer Porsches, 2012 model-year and newer GM vehicles and 2013 model-year Ford vehicles.

 “Five manufacturers (BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen) say their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by the use of E15.

 “Seven additional automakers (Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo) have stated that the use of E15 does not comply with the fuel requirements specified in their owner’s manuals and may void warranty coverage.”

 “AAA automotive engineering experts believe that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in significant problems such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false ‘check engine’ lights for any vehicle not approved by its manufacturer to use E15.”

 Burning food for fuel

 Ethanol mandates are essentially burning food for fuel. Even the New York Times has noticed some unintended consequences:

 “Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.”

 “With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.”

 “In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, ‘the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development,’ said Katja Winkler, a researcher at Idear, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization that studies rural issues. Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations.”

Soot and Dust and illegal human testing

 Another EPA campaign is about fine particulate matter in the air, soot and dust, the so-called PM2.5 standard, which the EPA sets at 35 millionths of a gram (micrograms) in a 24-hour period. Most air in the U.S. averages about 10 micrograms.

 According to a story by Steve Milloy in the Washington Times, Outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson testified about PM2.5 before Congress in September 2011: “Particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It is directly causal to you dying sooner than you should.” “In scientific documents, the EPA has repeatedly concluded that any exposure to PM2.5 can kill, and it can kill people within hours or days of inhalation.” How does the EPA know? It conducted illegal human testing.

 But, Milloy asks, if the particulate matter is so dangerous, where are the bodies? He was referring to recent air pollution in China: “Beijing’s PM2.5 levels peaked at 886 micrograms per cubic meter — an incredible 89 times greater than the U.S. daily average. Based on EPA risk estimates, we should expect the daily death toll in Beijing to have skyrocketed by 89 percent on a same-day and next-day basis.” Yet there have been no reports of a spike in deaths caused by breathing the heavily polluted air. Has the EPA has been exaggerating the danger?

Tucson doctor Jane Orient, in a Wall Street Journal article, “EPA Science Is the ‘New Homeopathy,’ Doctors State,” says:

The “evidence” for the harm is very weak correlations seen in epidemiologic studies done in 1993 and 1995. Findings are contradicted by other studies. The EPA is now apparently trying to prove harm by subjecting human subjects to diesel exhaust in an apparatus some say resembles a gas chamber.

“Either the EPA is lying to Congress about the lethality of PM2.5, or it is engaged in illegal and unethical human experiments, subjecting vulnerable patients to a substance it believes could kill them instantly,” states Jane Orient, M.D., president of Physicians for Civil Defense.

 EPA colluding with radical greens

 On another front, we see that the EPA (and other government agencies) are colluding with radical environmental groups.

 From SPPI:

 U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is warning of more secret “sue and settle” deals with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups. In a letter today, Vitter encourages Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to join the 13 states’ AGs who recently filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with EPA asking for any and all correspondence between EPA and a list of 80 environmental, labor union and public interest organizations that had been party to litigation since the start of the Obama Administration.

 “The collusion between federal bureaucrats and far-left environmental organizations entering legal agreements under a shroud of secrecy is the opposite of a transparent government,” Vitter said. “This is a problem across the country, but could quickly become a threat to Louisianans if we see the full weight of the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service come crashing down on private landowners.”

EPA regulations are costly:

 A recent study commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers critically assessed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cost- benefit analysis with respect to six key regulations: Utility MACT, Boiler MACT, Coal Combustion Residuals, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, Cooling Water Intake Structures, and Ground-Level Ozone. The NAM study details the significant differences between EPA’s cost estimates and those of industry sources, while highlighting problems and inconsistencies with EPA’s methodology. Most importantly for manufacturers, the study estimates the impact of EPA rules on the manufacturing industry, directly and through indirect macroeconomic effects.

A key finding of the report is that “the annual compliance costs for all six regulations range from $36 billion to $111.2 billion (by EPA estimates) and from $63.2 billion to $138.2 billion (by industry estimates).” Notably, the study was picked up in the trade press and recognized by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which reiterated the study’s finding that “major new EPA rules could cost manufacturers hundreds of billions of dollars and eliminate millions of American jobs.” (MasterResource)

 Pretending that carbon dioxide is a pollutant

 Of course, the biggest EPA stick is its “endangerment finding” contending that carbon dioxide emissions pose some danger in spite of there being no physical evidence to support that contention. The EPA violated both the scientific method and the Scientific Advisory Board statute intended to enforce the scientific method when it made its highly influential scientific assessment in the Endangerment Finding. That the endangerment finding is purely political is shown by the fact that the EPA is getting all worked up about carbon dioxide levels of around 400ppm. But submarine crews work efficiently in carbon dioxide levels over10,000ppm. A group of scientists is challenging the EPA’s endangerment finding.

 The EPA has long been a rogue, radical agency, and a very expensive one at that. They seem incapable of exercising common-sense and are now merely an unscientific political tool.  Proper environmental protection is important and desirable, but we are not getting it from the EPA. It is time to defund the EPA.

 See also: The EPA’s Lisa Jackson: The Worst Head of the Worst Regulatory Agency, Ever

Petition to Arizona legislature – Dump Renewable Energy Mandates

In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) imposed the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) on non-government owned electric utilities. I request that the Arizona legislature repeal this mandate and let utility companies generate electricity by the method they see as most efficient, cost effective, and reliable. Most renewable energy sources are none of these things.

REST requires that electric utilities generate an ever increasing amount of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The mandated goal is to reach a total of 15% renewable generation by the year 2025. The commissioners wanted “to capitalize on Arizona’s sunshine and other ‘green energy’ opportunities” according to an ACC press release. Currently, Arizona produces about 7% of its electricity from renewable resources but that figure counts the 6% from hydroelectric generation. We currently get less than 1% from so-called green energy sources. The integrity of our electrical grid will be in danger when 15% of our electricity is generated by unreliable sources such as wind and solar.

In addition to utility-owned projects, REST requires the utilities to produce a growing percentage of the total electricity from “distributed generation,” i.e., residential or non-utility owned installations. That means, for instance, solar panels on your roof or on the roof of your business or on shopping malls. The distributed energy requirement started at 5% of the total portfolio in 2007 and grew to 30% of the total renewable mix this year. We all pay for the subsidies associated with this requirement.

The rationale for REST is essentially political correctness embraced by some gullible Corporation Commissioners. The stated rationale is two -fold.

First, the commissioners want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But in the entire U.S., only about 1% of electricity is generated by burning petroleum. In Arizona, petroleum generates less than 0.1% of our electricity. Besides, America has abundant domestic sources of petroleum if only the feds would let us exploit it.

The other rationale is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thus forestall dread global warming.

Six reasons why we should lay REST to rest:

1. Electricity generated from renewable sources is much more expensive than conventional generation. That expense is reflected in higher electricity bills. For instance, my bill from Tucson Electric Power itemizes an expense for “Renewable Energy Standard Tariff” and another charge for “DSM Surcharge.” (DSM is demand side management, more on that later). In 2011, TEP raised about $35 million from these charges. The ACC estimates that from 2010 to 2025, the surcharges for electricity from REST will cost consumers $1.2 billion more than they would have paid for conventional energy sources.

The cost of being politically correct is essentially a regressive tax which will cause low income households to shoulder a greater burden than higher income households because the energy costs make up a larger portion of their budget.

electricity by source and cost

2. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are intermittent, unpredictable, and unreliable. Increased generation from unreliable sources will make our electric grid more susceptible to blackouts and brownouts. Solar and wind generation typically produce at only about 20% of rated generation capacity. Tucson Electric Power operates one of the largest solar PV arrays in the United States, a 5-MW system. But during five years of operation it has produced at only 19% of it rated capacity. Even in Arizona, clouds cause rapid fluctuation in the array’s power output.

3. Because generation from renewable energy sources is intermittent and unpredictable, these sources require backup generation which is usually by burning fossil fuels. Because the time and duration for backup generation need is unpredictable, the fossil-fuel fired backup generators cannot be run efficiently. Experience in Europe shows that backup generators actually use more fuel and produce more carbon dioxide emissions and pollutants such as sulfur dioxide than they normally would if they were run efficiently for primary generation.

A new report from the European Nuclear Energy Agency analyzed the effects erratic intermittent source generation on the electric grid: The report considers “six technologies in detail: nuclear, coal, gas, onshore wind, offshore wind and solar. It finds that the so-called dispatchable technologies – coal, gas and nuclear – have system costs of less than $3 per MWh, while the system costs for renewables can reach up to $40 per MWh for onshore wind, $45 per MWh for offshore wind and $80 per MWh for solar. The costs for renewables vary depending on the country, technology and penetration levels, with higher system costs for greater penetration of renewables.”

4. Use of renewable energy will not impact climate. By using data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, NOAA, and the IPCC, it is possible to estimate the temperature impact of carbon dioxide emissions. For instance, if we stopped all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions it could theoretically prevent a temperature rise of 0.08ºC by 2050. If Arizona stopped all carbon dioxide emissions it could theoretically prevent a temperature rise of 0.0015ºC by 2050. Will you notice? (Data from Science & Public Policy Institute report “Analysis of US and State-by-State Carbon Dioxide Emissions & Potential ‘Savings’ in Future Global Temperature & Global Sea Level Rise

Besides, the increasing emissions from other countries such as China will completely wipe out any imagined savings from REST.

5. Wind turbines cause health problems due to low frequency vibrations. (See here)

In the United Kingdom a new study “claims thousands of people are falling sick because they live near” wind farms. Wind turbine syndrome is alleged to cause dizziness; increased blood pressure, sleeplessness, and depression among other things. All due to low-frequency vibrations. In December 2011, in a peer-reviewed report in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, Dr. Carl Phillips, one of the U.S.’s most distinguished epidemiologists, concluded that there is “overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate.”

6. Political philosophy: Who is in charge of public policy, state legislators as representatives of the people, or the Arizona Corporation Commission?

Rationing electricity:

Above, I mentioned DSM – demand side management. The REST program requires electric utilities reduce the amount they produce, i.e., ration electricity. “Arizona’s public utilities will be required to achieve annual energy savings of at least 22%, measured in kWh, by 2020, with the savings to increase incrementally as a percent of retail energy sales in each prior calendar year to reach that goal.” ( ACC Source).

One of the ways to achieve DSM is through use of the so-called “smart grid” and “smart meters.” Smart meters placed on your house or business will allow the electric company to monitor and control your electricity use via radio-controlled commands to your meter. If you use too much air-conditioning, for instance, the electric company will be able to turn it off.

Because these systems are radio controlled they are vulnerable to mischief by hackers who may decide to turn off the A/C in a shopping mall or neighborhood.

Renewable energy is not as green as advertized.

For example, many PV solar panels rely on polysilicon being manufactured in large quantities and at high quality. A byproduct of polysilicon production is silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that poses a major environmental hazard. Wherever silicon tetrachloride is dumped, the land becomes totally infertile. A major environmental cost of photovoltaic solar energy is toxic chemical pollution (arsenic, gallium, and cadmium) and energy consumption associated with the large-scale manufacture of photovoltaic panels.

A Cato report found that the materials required for thermal-solar projects were 1,000 times greater than for a similarly sized fossil-fuel facility, creating substantial incremental energy consumption and industrial pollution.

A wind farm uses about 85 times the area required by a gas-fired plant, about 10 to 80 acres per megawatt capacity. Solar requires about 10 acres per megawatt, still much larger than fossil fuel plants. This large footprint may impact wildlife.

Besides chopping up birds, a study from M.I.T. says wind turbines cause a rise in local temperatures of up to 1.8ºF because the turbines disrupt local air flow that can transport heat away from the land surface.


My argument here is not against any use of renewable energy because there may be circumstances where such use is appropriate. My argument is against government mandated use which raises our electricity rates unnecessarily, distorts the market, and makes our electric grid less reliable.

Renewable energy mandates are bad for ratepayers, bad for the environment, and even bad for the state’s economy because of the increased electrical costs on business and the expense of government subsidies required by the mandate. The mandate fails to accomplish the stated rationale and is essentially just a politically correct eco-fad (with a little crony capitalism thrown in) that increases our electricity costs but provides no benefit. When the new Arizona legislature convenes in January, tell them to lay REST to rest. Dump the mandates.


There is a new paper from the University of Delaware that claims “Renewable energy could fully power a large electric grid 99.9 percent of the time by 2030 at costs comparable to today’s electricity expenses…” The claim is based on computer modeling: garbage in, garbage out. Anthony Watts injects some reality to this nonsense: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12/10/a-lol-press-release-on-renewable-energy-from-wishful-thinkers-at-the-university-of-delaware/#more-75558

UPDATE 2: Privacy concerns with smart meters, from National Geographic.
In theory, the information collected by smart meters could reveal how many people live in a home, their daily routines, changes in those routines, what types of electronic equipment are in the home, and other details. “It’s not hard to imagine a divorce lawyer subpoenaing this information, an insurance company interpreting the data in a way that allows it to penalize customers, or criminals intercepting the information to plan a burglary.

UPDATE 3: An executive of a solar company argues against mandates and subsidies for renewable energy. Read the whole article here.

“In reality, it [solar] is hopelessly inefficient from an economic sense to be a fix for our CO2 concerns.” “Subsidies are much worse that just wasteful, they’re diabolical. They lull us into thinking we have almost solved the problem and they hinder us from seeking the real solutions.”