Archive for November, 2007

Assignment…Google “Baseload Power”

Google. What haven’t they done to make our life easier? Now they want to make renewables cheaper than coal, and I for one hope they can figure out how to make that happen. If they do, we all win.

Their working hypothesis is that within 10 years (and $100,000,000 later) renewable energy can be cheaper than using coal to generate electricity. Here’s my question…how many years after that (and how many more zeros on the balance sheet) will it take to make it as reliable as coal?

Here’s the thing…cheap electricity is only a bargain if it works all the time whenever it is needed. For everything renewables can do, there is no way to make the wind blow on command or the sun to break through the clouds on dreary day (not to mention nighttime).

A news story in the Reno Gazette last Wednesday stated “But if renewable projects are more favorable, a lack of transmission lines needed to route energy produced at wind, solar and geothermal plants into the power grid remains a challenge.”

“Those renewable sources are where they are and can’t be moved around,” said Tom Darin, an attorney for Western Resource Advocates.

As I’ve stated, ideas like the one Google proposes is a situation where everyone wins, let’s just keep in mind that providing affordable and clean energy requires more than just one silver bullet to provide the answer, it is an endeavor so vast that it requires silver buckshot.

Let’s be Clear About What the Midwest Governors Did and (More Importantly) Did Not Do

There is little doubt that environmental special interest groups are already trying to spin today’s agreement by members of the Midwest Governors’ Association as the next step toward eradication of coal in America.

In a word … baloney!

First off, the governors signing on to that accord recognized the key role that coal plays in meeting the region’s electricity needs and also the economic benefits resulting from coal production in the region. That’s why the governors expressed their strong concerns that efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions must not harm consumers and drive away well-paying jobs from the region.

Second, with technology advancing to allow for the capture of CO2 in the utility sector, the MGA agreement calls for establishing a regional transportation and storage infrastructure for captured CO2. Recognizing that talk is cheap, the governors went a step further to endorse increased spending for carbon capture and storage technologies to ensure that reducing greenhouse gas emissions does not result in reducing the region’s reliance on domestic energy resources like coal.

Also, it appears that the governors clearly recognize that state regulatory programs to cap CO2 emissions are not the preferred policy alternative. The MGA proposal allows 30 months for developing a regional policy; and the policy deliberations this week noted that, within this timeline, a federal policy could likely emerge making the MGA pact obsolete.

So let’s take a breath and see the MGA policy for what it is: a plan to respond to climate change concerns while, at the same time, recognizing the need to ensure energy security, reliability of the electricity grid, and access to affordable electricity.

For those reasons, coal—and advanced clean coal technologies—will be the centerpiece of programs emanating out of the MGA agreement … not the target.

We Can’t Stop the Future

Sometimes I’m just not sure where people are coming from. Take for instance some environmental special interest groups who are calling for
an end to financing for new coal-generated electric power plants. Their targets are Citi (formerly Citigroup) and Bank of America. They want

people to picket and petition these banks during two “days of action,” Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17. I for one will not be joining them.

Oh I’m sure you can guess what it is they’re having to say, but just in case you want to research more… the petitions and other materials
are available here.

Let’s be honest, their position is short-sighted because as the nation uses more and more energy, no other source is as readily available and
inexpensive enough to use. Are these groups for protecting the environment or just against using coal?

Here’s the funny part, their position would defeat one of their goals — to provide clean energy. By withholding funding for new, cleaner power plants, they would keep older, less efficient plants online longer. Is that really the intent of this protest? Have they really thought this one through or are there people who are ready, willing and able to protest anything at the drop of a hat?

We can’t stop the future. We need new coal plants, and we need the financing to make them as clean as they can be. Without it, we are moving backwards and lose momentum to get to the next generation of clean coal technologies to provide clean, affordable electricity. And shouldn’t that really be the goal we’re all moving toward?

The Clinton Energy Plan, Part Deux


I’ll admit it, I’m a political junkie. I follow politics and I am
fascinated in watching how public opinion shapes public policy. In
watching recent polls, I’ve noticed that the public is becoming
increasingly concerned about “energy security.” In some recent polls,
“energy security” concerns are even higher than concerns about “the
environment” (generically) or “global warming” specifically.

Given the public’s growing concern about energy security issues, I’m
somewhat surprised that Senator Clinton’s energy plan did not do more
to address those very real concerns.

Currently, over 50% of the electricity we use each day comes from
American coal. If you’ve seen our ads, you know that we have more coal
in the U.S. than Saudi Arabia has oil (actually, that’s an
understatement – we have more coal than the Middle East has oil).

However, if regulatory programs that will reduce America’s reliance on
coal become law – our country will become more reliant on imported
energy resources to meet our electricity needs!
a fact, regardless of claims that energy efficiency and Herculean
growth in the use of renewables can replace traditional energy
resources like coal.

Unfortunately, Senator Clinton’s plan is not specific enough to discuss
how she would address these concerns. This obviously has energy
security as well as national security implications.
We think she needs to say more!

But before it appears that we’re coming down too hard on Senator
Clinton for what she did say … let’s be clear that she is the only
presidential that has offered details on this very important issue (at
least thus far in the campaign).

So, like I said yesterday,
Senator Clinton’s plan is a good first draft … but we’ll need to do
better if we’re going to meet America’s growing energy needs and
continue to improve our record of protecting the environment.

To the other presidential candidates, give us a chance to talk more
about your energy plans. Get out there and talk to America about your
energy and environmental policies that will ensure that we keep the
lights on (and keep energy costs affordable) and protect the
environment. We’re waiting to hear from you.


I Give Hillary’s Plan a B-


Did everyone have a chance to read Senator Clinton’s energy plan yet? I
did. Here’s why I’m giving her a B- (we all know she’s an educational
overachiever, so I’m guessing that she’ll be bothered that she didn’t
get an A!).

The good

First, she gets the fact that “technology” is the solution to the
challenge. In most cases, “she’s putting her money where her mouth is”
instead of just telling people that “this will be an easy fix.”

Second… Hillary is talking about an important near-term way we can
address concerns about climate change—storing the greenhouse gases or
what’s called “sequestration.” She proposes funding ten large
geological carbon storage sites—and she favors incenting farmers and
ranchers to use proven methods to store carbon in soil and in plants.

Third, Hillary recognizes that new power plants using coal can’t be
expected to put on carbon capture and storage technologies on that
don’t yet exist. That’s why it is crucial that the federal government
join with the private sector in funding the research, development, and
deployment of these new technologies — and soon.

Hillary is getting a break on the grading curve. At this point, her
competitors in the presidential campaign are getting an incomplete
(come on guys, you have to submit your paper to get a grade). She is
the only one, so far, who has provided real details. This is a big deal
issue that will have a greater effect on the domestic economy (and
therefore American families) than any other set of regulations
considered for quite a long time. So it is reasonable (that’s an
understatement) that folks running for president need to have some
details on how they see the issue playing out.

The “could do better” part

There’s the old political “double speak” about how we will meet
America’s growing energy needs. Senator Clinton places a lot a
confidence in energy efficiency; and, like her, we also embrace using
energy more wisely. However, regardless of how energy efficient you
make a television … it doesn’t get you around the fact that we’re all
plugging in four or five televisions, when several years back it was
one or two televisions per house. I use televisions just as an example
to say we are becoming more energy efficient … but at the same time,
we’re using more energy. So, new coal-based power plants will be
needed. These power plants will meet increased energy demand as well as
replacing older, less efficient power plants.

Also, I’m concern that there is not enough in her plan to protect
families from higher energy costs. I’m particularly concerned about her
plan for 100% auction of the emissions credits for GHG regulations.
Experience from the successful acid rain program show that assigning
credits based upon emissions sources helps to lower the compliance
costs for utilities and those savings ultimately passed along

With oil prices at a record level (and 10% of American households
already paying 50% of their income to cover energy-related
expenditures), having a “safety valve” in any plan to regulate CO2 is
essential to protect families and the economy from substantially higher
energy costs.

As first drafts go, this one shows promise. Let’s hope that Senator
Clinton can add some provisions to look out for working families so I
can give her that “A” I know she’s striving for.

That’s important because climate change is such an key issue —
America can’t afford to support a B- platform. The American public
deserves (and, in fact) will require that whatever policy gets enacted
on this set of issues be an A+ plan.

(Note: Next, I want to share with you some ideas on how I see Senator
Clinton’s plan in relation to energy/national security and her plans
for outreach to the international community on this issue.)