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An argument often heard against wind is that it costs a lot in public subsidies for a solution that will always have a limited impact (because it still produces only a small fraction of overall needs, and because of its unreliability linked to its intermitten nature). This is an argument worth addressing in detail, especially when it is pointed out, as the graph shows, that wind is already almost competitive with the other main sources of electricity, which suggests that it might not even need the subsidies then (and the increase in commodity prices since that graph was prepared using 2004 data, only reinforces that argument).

We are on the brink of a new energy order. Over the next few decades, our reserves of oil will start to run out and it is imperative that governments in both producing and consuming nations prepare now for that time. We should not cling to crude down to the last drop - we should leave oil before it leaves us. That means new approaches must be found soon.

The above, from an article by Fatih Birol, the increasingly strident chief economist of the International Energy Agency, suggests that we need to develop all non-carbon based energy sources as quickly as we can to avoid the coming energy crunch from oil depletion. He suggests to push nuclear energy, but that may not be enough - and, as I will show below, the best way to push nuclear is also the best way to promote wind power...

:: ::

Now, if you look at the graph above, it is very easy to see that the long term cost components of wind power and gas power are very different. Nuclear is quite similar to wind in that respect (more, in fact than the above graph suggests), and coal is quite similar to gas.

Wind turbines, once built, generate almost free electricity - they require only some basic maintenance and servicing. That means that they have a marginal cost of production close to zero (ie each additional kWh of production only requires more wind, but no actual spending); that also means that their main long term cost is the repayment of the initial construction cost, in the form of debt repayment and return on capital for the investors.

This has two simple consequences:

  • the cost of wind power is essentially set at the time of construction, when the parameters of the financing of the initial investment are agreed, in the form of debt service plus a set return, over an agreed period of time, typically 15-20 years. That cost is fixed and will not vary in accordance with the price at which electricity is actually sold.
  • once installed, wind power will always be dispatched - with its negligible marginal cost of production, it will always be cheaper than alternatives, and the only reason not to take such free power will be technical constraints from the network (which I'll discuss later). When dispatched, wind power will move the dispatch curve, and ensure that the marginal cost of production required at that point ot satisfy demand will be lower than if wind power were not available - ie wind power displaces the most expensive power source that would have been needed otherwise, typically a gas-fired plant.

The second argument, as the Economist noted, brings savings to all electricity consumers - in fact, in Denmark, such savings are now higher than the subsidy paid to wind power producers, thus creating a net gain for the country. This, in itself, is enough to justify subsidies, given that no other economic actor than the government can create such a gain, as it is diffuse and spread amongst all electricity users; by imposing a feed-in tariff, which similary spreads the extra money paid to wind power producers amongst all electricity users), the costs and benefits appear in the same place, and the gain is obvious and immediate. This is a perfect example of a smart regulation which benefits everyone.

The first consequence noted above is a bit more subtle and needs to be discussed in more detail.

As noted, wind power has high fixed costs, while gas power has low fixed costs but higher variable costs - the cost of procuring fuel. At a time of steadily increasing gas prices, that might seem like an advantage for wind, but, in fact, it is not. The reason for that is that, in today's liberalised markets whereby electricity prices are driven by the marginal cost of production, power prices tend to follow that of gas, since the marginal producer is usually a gas-fired plant. Thus, the variability of gas prices is mirrored in electricity prices, and a gas-fired plant does not really see its competitive position in the market change.

On the other hand, a wind farm, with its fixed costs, makes a lot of money when gas prices (and thus electricity prices) are high, but stands to lose money should at any point electricity prices come down again. The short term profitability of wind farms is driven by factors totally outside of their control (gas prices, which are themselves driven, in the medium term, by oil prices). Should that short term profitability be negative for too long, that can spell trouble for the investment (ie bank loans might be in default - even if temporarily - and the investors then stand to lose the project to the banks. And if that's too likely to happen, banks simply won't lend, because any default (even a temporary one) causes losses and headaches. Essentially, investors and banks must bet that gas prices will stay high enough every single one of the next 15 years for the project to avoid trouble.

To express things differently, the competitiveness of a wind farm - decided at the time of investment - depends on how low the gas prices might go over the next 15 years, whereas the competitiveness of a gas-fired plant depends mostly on the existing power plants - to know the plant's position on the dispatch curve, and thus its likely use. To a much lesser extent, the relative variations of gas and coal prices will also play a role, but this has a second-order impact on revenues.

In short, a gas-fired plant presents a much lower risk profile at the time of the investment, in the sense that the risk of catastrophic loss (from long term price movements) is much less, and that the somewhat higher short term price risk is easier to manage (and financial markets are happy to provide their services there).

That different risk profile is, of course, the reason why wind power needs to be supported in some way by public authorities: markets, left to themselves, will invest in the very technologies (gas and coal) that are the source of all our worries, founded or nor, on the energy front: climate change (coming from carbon emissions), and security of supply (coming from the likely depletion of resources in the long term and the perceived unreliability of suppliers like Russia in the short term).

And the public authority has an actual incentive to encourage wind farms: the long term fixed nature of its price structure presents an unsurmountable risk for the private sector, but it does embed very real value for any entity able to bet on the very long term: a guarantee that prices will be no higher than that fixed cost, whatever the price of oil, in 20 years' time. The markets, except for very specific cases (energy intensive industrialists that know their energy needs in the long term, are not necessarily concerned about temporary interruptions and value long term average prices rather than short term ones), are currently unable to give a value to what is effectively a very long term option on electricity prices - but that value is there.

We know we'll still need electricity in the next 20 years; public policy that works to provide a cap to how high the price of that electricity can go sounds like smart policy - and smart politics.

In fact, on the basis of the value of that option, it can be argued that feed-in tariffs, which provide a stable, guaranteed price to wind power and thus allow the relevant investment to be made with the high-probability perspective of a decent return , are not a subsidy, but a fair transaction, whereby the public authority purchases the guarantee of capped prices in the future in exchange for somewhat higher prices today. The exemple of Denmark quoted above, and the current trends for oil prices, suggest that this is a transaction likely to be highly profitable in the long run, in fact, and thus not at all a subsidy.

Tax credits, as provided in the USA, are a similarly  effective mechanism, as they provide a guaranteed minimum income to wind farms and thus ensure that the minimum long term power price threshhold required to make the investment in a wind farm a sensible one is much lower than it would otherwise be, and thus that such investments can be made today - and indeed they are, as the current boom in windpower in the US shows. And the cost-benefit analysis is likely to be similar once wind reaches a sufficient penetration in the market.

A third mechanism that would work as well is NOT the green certificate market regulations used in a few countries (the UK, Australia, Italy), but would rather consist in authorising public authorities to provide financing to the power sector. Given that the main cost of a wind turbine is the fixed financing cost, if you loser the aplicable interest rate and/or required return on capital, you also lower the long term cost of production. Public authorities can borrow money a lot more cheaply, and over much longer periods, than private sector entities, so the cost difference can be quite significant - it can halve the cost for nuclear plant, for instance. And they would not even need to actually provide funds, as this could take the form of payment guarantees. Thus, the public entity would bear that risk of periods of low power prices in exchange, once again, for having a growing portion of power generation coming from carbon-free, capped-cost sources. and the beauty of such guarantees is that they can be provided to all power sources (ie including gas and coal fired plants) in order to avoid the accusation of distorting competition: the cost impact is a lot bigger on wind or nuclear than on gas or coal, and thus the investment decisions will be correspondingly influenced. Charging a flat fee for such a guarantee would make the mechanism transparent and "fair."

The lesson from all this is that wind power does not need subsidies if you make it possible to take into account long term perspectives rather than short term risks. And the same argument applies to nuclear power, so the two technologies are perfectly aligned in that respect - one could even argue that mechanisms that allow to take into account the long term cost/benefit analysis would boost nuclear even more, given that nuclear power plants present the additional risk, from a private investor's perspective, that it is a huge discrete investment, ie it is hard ot invest a small amount in a nuclear plant, you need to sink at least a couple billion euros. Wind farms can at least come in chunks of a few million a piece but, with nuclear, you need to bet big each time, and very few private sector players can afford to concentrate their risks like this.

Of course, this discussion has not even discussed the fact that most existing technologies other than wind are heavily subsidized, either directly, or because they do not have to pay for the externalities they cause. The most obvious example being the lack of price paid, until emissions trading actually comes into force, for the carbon dioxide emissions from gas- or coal-fired plants, or the direct subsidies paid to coal mining in many countries.


At this stage, nuclear advocates might agree with my points and conclude that we need to focus on building nuclear plants, given that wind, being unreliable and small-scale, can never "do the job."

I'd argue that, while personally favorable to nuclear, it's not the easiest solution to deploy in many countries. Given that the State will always bear the ultimate risk for very long term waste management, for catastrophic accident insurance (both impossible to price by the private sector) and for overall safety and security regulation, and that price "support" as proposed above further implicates public authorities, my position is that nuclear power should be run by publicly-owned entities - the EDF model. Under such a model, nuclear can indeed provide a large chunk of our electricity needs.

But even in countries where this model can be applied, there should be no limitation to the development of wind power, and no need for nuclear advocates to demean or mock wind power. Given that it is essentially the same regulatory framework that favors both technologies (with specific regulatory requirements for waste on the one side, and for network reinforcement on the other), they are objective allies in the public debate on energy.

:: ::

Earlier diaries on the topic:

Don Quixote meets Wall Street - financing wind farms
Energy - some good news (for once)
The future of power generation
Wind power: birds, landscapes and availability (I)
My detailed dissection of Robert F. Kennedy Jr 's misguided Op-Ed on Nantucket Wind in the NYT (original title: Robert F. Kennedy Jr is a lying, deceitful, pathetic NIMBY SELL OUT)
Something to take your mind off indictments: Windfarm blogging
Wind power now CHEAPER for US retail consumers
USA to become world leader in wind power in 2005
2005 was a great year for wind power worldwide
Alternative energies: wind power
wind power: debunking the critics
Wind farm kills eagles in 'large numbers'
My job
No technical limitation to wind power penetration
Wind power: some lessons from 2006
5MW with location picture (by PeWi)
Solar Photovoltaic vs Wind (by Laurent Guerby)
GE CEO: nuclear uncompetitive against wind without subsidies
Offshore wind blogging
2007: record year for US wind industry
Wind exajoules

Recent related diaries on energy policy
Competition is a policy, not an objective
Experts disagree on market liberalisation
Will the next German election be a referendum on nuclear energy?
EU Energy inconsistencies and lies
So is energy strategic or not?
Markets are just magic
Even CATO libertarians say energy deregulation does not work
Energy: the fundamental unseriousness of Gordon Brown
The markets will provide (subject to the weather)
UK govt does not like some market prices

Originally posted to Jerome a Paris on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 08:58 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The graph at top of diary blocking some text n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rolfyboy6, lineatus, Stranded Wind

    Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. -Barack Obama

    by klizard on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:04:40 AM PST

  •  subsidies for current technologies ignored (14+ / 0-)

    in most of our discussions about energy policy.   Of course the largest subsidy is the military cost we pay for continued access to Gulf and other overseas petroleum sources, but I am not sure how well we can calculate that, even independent of the additional costs for our Iraqi debacle.

    Thanks for the diary

    Recommended - even if you are from a different time zone  :-)

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:06:13 AM PST

  •  I'd think there's one political discussion (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, Andy30tx, DBunn, JeffW, Stranded Wind

    that renewable energy advocates aren't thinking that much about and that relates to changing the model of electricity production and distribution.

    I work on my school's solar decathalon team - we're designing and building, by hand, a house that runs on solar energy. The thing about these houses is that they produce their own produce their own power.

    The current model is for a power plant to produce it, and you buy the power from the company that owns the power plant. So, if we go towards a solar model, and your house produces in excess, should you get money?

    Wind and solar both require much more R&D, in my opinion. And I'm pro nuclear power.

    The Schwarzenegger plan... It forces everyone to buy health insurance, whether they think they need it or not. - Paul Krugman, using right wing talking points.

    by bhagamu on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:08:13 AM PST

  •  And what is the cost of not finding alternatives (8+ / 0-)

    to oil/gas? The start up cost of energy generated by wind pales in comparision to the overall cost of oil generated power when considering the cost to the environment in gathering and then burning oil. Talk about short sighted thinking by the critics of wind.

    If it is spelled correctly---it's a typo

    by alasmoses on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:09:43 AM PST

    •  The critics of every alternative energy source (4+ / 0-)

      are short sighted.  They want it to be either a.wind,, c.nuke or d.ethanol but it cannot be e.all of the above because that encourages competition between the 4 or more different types of renewable technologies.  And competition is bad for buisness, good for the consumer but bad for profits, as OPEC has shown us and history of the early 20th century in America has taught us.

      But to get completely off the black tar carbon from dead animals and plants under the earth is to have a wide and varying array of power creation from renewables, competition will drive the prices down and technology up if we are to believe the basic fundamentals of the mysterious market.

      "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002-GWB

      by meatwad420 on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:55:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wind power will begin to contribute more... (9+ / 0-)

    ...on a more-reliable basis when more wind farms are built in "fair" areas, like Illinois, and the wind farms are more distributed around a given electrical grid. Reliability can be covered in that the wind is always blowing somewhere across a given area, so combined with nuclear power, wind can become more competitive. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some combination projects started turning up in the near-future.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight.

    by JeffW on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:10:23 AM PST

  •  Do you have figures... (4+ / 0-)

    that show the different costs for land vs offshore wind generators?  Or are they close enough that it isn't worth talking about the difference?

    What kind of assumptions are made regarding wind conditions for the price points that are indicated in the graph?

    •  Offshore is still more expensive (11+ / 0-)

      than onshore - probably 50% more so, because of higher investment costs (you need heavier foundations, specialised vessels to make the installation, and a much longer cable to be connected to the grid) and because of higher maintenance costs (more expensive to take a crane+equipment at sea than by road, and a lot more subject to weather)

      The graph is from a July 2005 edition of the Economist, replicating numbers in the IEA 2004 Energy Outlook.

    •  It would be interesting to see the assumptions (6+ / 0-)

      One thing is for sure, whatever the assumptions: the graph would look different today. Fuel prices are up for gas, coal and nuclear. Construction prices have risen across the board. But for wind, those increased costs will have been somewhat offset by increases in performance.

      A general rule of thumb for wind right now, is that any figures more than a couple of years old are obsolete. The newest turbines are taller, reaching stronger more consistent winds. They also perform better, having lower cutin wind speeds and a larger wind speed range over which full generation can happen.

      In the United States for example, the 2006 Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends (available here) published last May (so already a bit old in light of the many new projects completed in late 2007) shows the growth in turbine sizes:

      and in capacity factors, although it omitted the newest projects (those completed in 2006) to avoid part-year comparisons:

      •  So what you are saying (0+ / 0-)

        is that you don't know. Your preferred data is "new"; it's "fresh" and therefore "reliable." Any historical data is "old" and therefore should be discarded.

        What utter nonsense! You cannot make any reliability claims about the technology from only "new" data. By throwing away any and all "old" data, you have no track record to go by. So you happily and naively assume that the latest numbers for new wind will go on, unchanged, forever. I'm sorry to burst your bubble and inform you that the real world doesn't work that way. Ask any competent engineer (that is, any engineer who is not in the marketing business) and he or she will tell you this.

        Note: I am not anti-wind. This has nothing to do with wind. I'm anti-bullshit, and the claim that "any figures more than a couple of years old are obsolete" is bullshit if you want to predict the long-term performance of any technology. Give me historical data, or I will assert that the future performance of a given technology is unknown.

        Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
        -- Mark Twain

        by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 12:41:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  For someone claiming to be (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel, NRG Guy

          "anti-bullshit" you certainly write a lot of crap here. I never wrote that old data should be discarded - there is a lot to learn from it - but it needs to be kept in context in an industry that is rapidly improving.

          Measures of capacity factor more than a few years old are clearly obsolete. I'm not sure how you stretch from that obvious point to claiming I want to "throw away any and all old data" or assume "latest numbers will go on unchanged forever."

          There are wind turbine manufacturers that have a long track record of greater than 95% availability in their production turbines. Past performance is a useful indicator of future reliability, because new designs are based on the experience of previous models and reputations are earned over time. But any measure of capacity factor or cost per MWh that is based on average turbine sizes of a few years ago is obsolete for obvious reasons.

          Finally, regarding "Ask any competent engineer (that is, any engineer who is not in the marketing business) and he or she will tell you this" -- I can assure you that while there may indeed be some correlation, it is lower than you think. As an engineer working on safety-critical systems, I've seen both exceptions: engineers not involved with marketing who lacked the competence required, and engineers given marketing duties who most certainly had it.

        •  what a load... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          A Siegel

          You are contending that technology doesn't improve over time?  I guess you would think that the cost and performance of evolving technology like wind and PV is better estimated from old data rather than newer data?    

          Quick -- call Gordon Moore and tell him that new processors may start to have fewer transistors at greater cost than old ones -- after all you should base your analysis on older data not newer data.

          What utter nonsense -- clearly one of the most ignorant comments I've seen in a while -- amazingly you act like you are calling out someone else for their bullshit.  

  •  How does solar fit into your argument? (6+ / 0-)

    There are major technological advances in solar in the pipeline now, and those of us in the American Southwest see it as more reliable and less intermittent than wind in our neck of the woods.  The fixed installation costs are still too high for your average homeowner, despite some tax breaks offered by the states.  If solar can be a stand-alone, off-the-grid power source, should we be subsidizing individual purchases of equipment?

    Impeachment is not a constitutional crisis. We are in a constitutional crisis already. Impeachment is the cure.

    by ZAPatty on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:20:12 AM PST

    •  Nanosolar very exiciting, firming required (6+ / 0-)

      Nanosolar's advances are very exciting and if they prove out it looks like they'll put solar on an even footing with wind.

       Renewables require firming - you have to be able to at least time shift the power generation by somehow storing the energy, and better yet produce something that is transportable.

       Here in the wind and water rich midwest we can produce ammonia from wind which accomplishes both of these goals. The southwest is a bit more problematic - you don't have the water resource necessary for cracking & cooling to produce ammonia, hydrogen requires water input and its a pain to handle, you don't have the layout for pumped hydro storage like they have in the Great Lakes ... so its a bit of a hassle, made less so by the fact that your sun is more reliable than our wind and it comes when you need it most - on hot, sunny days. In Iowa our peak electric usage corresponds with the absolute minimum for wind :-(

       Its an interesting prospect and in anticipation I registered, which is currently a testbed for the production web site. If someone starts kicking up a fuss on the solar side I'm expecting to turn it over to them and get another test bed. So ... all it needs is a fierce, diary writing, photograph taking, politician influencing community organizer and then that effort will be on its way, too.

    •  Solar is not yet completely mature technology (9+ / 0-)

      and is still a lot more expensive as a power producer (for now, at least 5 times more expensive than  wind power or the conventional sources).

      So it still needs actual subsidies to be developed. These should definitely be provided, but there's no arguing that they are needed for any investment to happen, and that they are actual subsidies to an industry which is still in the R&D phase. They could and should be called "investments", but they certainly are a (societal) bet on the future, not something that makes sense in the very short term that our financial capitalism understands.

      But the good news is that thanks to these subsidies, prices are tumbling down rapidly and the industry may soon be competitive on absolute terms.

    •  The answer is not tax breaks or subsidies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The answer is long term, low interest loans.

      Quizá, podríamos!
      (But it takes more than just a President)

      by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:37:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Several supporting resources (7+ / 0-)

     I've written a diary about this:

     I've interviewed Paul Gipe, who is a big name in pushing such policies along:

     And the Stranded Wind Initiative's site carries articles about success in this area, mixed in with other news.

     Paul Gipe's site has a specific section on feed tariffs - an excellent read and please do send him you or your NGO's endorsement - this adds to his mojo in policy circles.

  •  Wind, solar need subsidies for FAST DEPLOYMENT (10+ / 0-)

    Framing the argument in terms of capital investment is not the way to discuss the energy issues.

    The main reasons for subsidies are the requirements for FAST DEPLOYMENT of alternative energy solutions; national security (Iraq war, terrorism), economic (trade deficit, energy industry development, jobs) and environmental (global warming, air/water pollution).

    The "free market" arguments of Returns on Investment, marginal subsidies, etc. totally misses the point(s) of the US need for FAST DEPLOYMENT of alternative energy applications.

    •  Doesn't quite miss the point (4+ / 0-)

      The "free market" arguments of Returns on Investment, marginal subsidies, etc. totally misses the point(s) of the US need for FAST DEPLOYMENT of alternative energy applications.

      I wouldn't say that Jerome misses the point, rather that he is making a different point. He is simply pointing out how the financial logic works within a capitalist model, and how a few small tweaks such as gov't insurance for capital risk could dramatically alter that logic in favor of more wind development.

      The point you are making is essentially why we would want to make tweaks like Jerome suggests. I think he would agree with your point about the advantage to us of fast deployment.

      •  Terms like "Feed in tariffs" totally misses point (4+ / 0-)

        "He is simply pointing out how the financial logic works within a capitalist model"

        That is simply wrong on so many levels.  

        First you must establish why US must quickly deploy alternative energy technology, the national security issues, the economic issues, the environmental issues (which are all interrelated).

        Second, we don't have a "capitalist model" in any real economic sense.  Models based on a non-existent economy are not going to be useful.  We have regulated markets and the fight is over who those regulations benefit.  Corporations spend billion$ (Cheney $40M payoff from Hallilburton = $1T Iraq war example) to get governments to regulate in their favor vs. public interest.

        Third, playing corporations game at the margins ("Feed in tariffs" etc.) has clearly failed to work. US oil and energy use/imports are up as are national security risks, economic damage and environmental damage.

        US needs to regulate for results.  Cars for examples, simply set fuel efficiency standards. Industry, require energy efficiency and environmental standards. Construction, the same. Only real subsidies needed would be to US universities in basic and applied sciences to help create alternative energy technology.  

        We currently have the technology to eliminate US energy imports which accomplishes the goals (security, economy, environment). We need political leaders to lay out reasons those goals are necessary and to implement them via requlatory requirements.

        In the case of wind power, require that 20% of electric energy be from wind power in 10 years.  Doing the "Feed-in Tariffs" dance does not achieve that goal.

        •  Be nice (0+ / 0-)

          First you must establish why US must quickly deploy alternative energy technology, the national security issues, the economic issues, the environmental issues (which are all interrelated).

          I take it that this point is so well understood it does not need to be re-stated in every comment.

          Second, we don't have a "capitalist model" in any real economic sense.

          I live in the USA. Our economy is certainly not a pure free market system, but to say it is not a capitalist economy is to strip our language of meaning.

          US needs to regulate for results.

          Regulation is one tool that is available to us, and I am in favor of its appropriate use. However, there are other tools in the toolbox. My small comment above was about one of the other tools. To discuss the utility of one tool is not necessarily to discount that of another.

          Having said that, regulation is not always popular everywhere and with everyone. Decreeing that people must do this and must not do that has a tendency to generate political resistance, perhaps not from you or me, but potentially still enough to be a significant drag on the forward progress of our movement. For this reason, we should want to use the regulation tool with restraint, while still achieving our goals.

          In general, it is desirable to find ways to get people to voluntarily choose the direction that we know we need to go in as a society-- for example, by altering the financial incentives and disincentives in a way to favor the choices we want them to make.

      •  I think that Jerome is making a valid point (7+ / 0-)

        and so is Tuscany.

        The irony of Jerome's comment about the Danish situation in which the government being the only actor capable of acting to provide subsudies to wind that create a social benefit (i.e. the whole country is better off) that is too diffuse (i.e. it doesn't pay for any actor that encompasses less of societal weath than the government to make the investment) to work in the market, is that it utterly demolishes much of the neo-liberal tripe we get from the media about letting the market do its job.  It connects directly into another topic that Jerome likes to speak about a great deal (I take at least from the number of diaries here and at EuroTrib.)  

        That being the "Anglo disease." (I loathe the name, though I thoroughly embrace the concept.)

        What we really need is action by the government to transform the American energy infrastructure.  Like government financing for farmers to organize rural electric cooperatives to market electric production from turbines on their land, that they own. Facilitating the financing and construction of wind turbines would provide a substantial economic assets to rural America, and could be used to reformulate the agricultural price support mechanism we currently have, which would free up money to be directed to other programs.  

        Second, as a national security issue, legislation requiring the all farm equipment be converted to electric from diesel, would mean that even in the event of a serious cut in oil supplies, there would be continuity in food production.

        Third, if the government agrees to purchase wind power for all US government buildings at a premium, that would provide a significant price support.  And it would provide a role model for private industry. There is no reason that the United States can not meet all new electric energy needs through conservation measures, and through renewable technologies like wind.

    •  Tuscany is on the mark (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drewfromct, Wild Starchild, Tuscany

      If we make this an Investment issue we will lose...the subsidies given to fossil fuels will make them cheaper than wind.

      But this is a National Security issue.  Nobody ever demands that Fighter Planes or Missile Systems meet R.O.I. hurdle rates.  We need to make people understand that Wind Power is in the same category.

      •  I really think that this needs to be framed (6+ / 0-)

        as a national security issue.

        We need economic continuity plans in the event that there's another Katrina that wipes out our import facilities in Louisiana and Houston or a terrorist attack on the Saudi offloading facility at Ras Tanura.  There are bottlenecks in the system, and in the current context, there's no slack, so a serious crisis could lead to a situation in which there simply is no gasoline.

        Imagine corn rotting in the field because farmers either can't get or can't afford diesel for their tractors.  Imagine empty grocey stores, because there's no diesel to to keep the big rigs running, and warehouses full of perishable goods go bad, while Americans perish in the hundreds because they can't get food and medical supplies.  

        We need a government plan that provides for economic continuity in the case of a serious disruption of oil supplies.  I'm not talking about letting people drive their hummers 30 miles to and from work, I'm talking about preventing economic collapse if there's a crisis.

        We need leadership on this issue.  And it is one of national security.

  •  I don't understand... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stranded Wind

    ...why can wind investors bank profits from the good years and use them to subsidize the bad years?

    Every other cyclical industry does this, why should Wind be different?

  •  Nuclear seems way more expensive than advertised (7+ / 0-)
    Has anyone priced the cost of very long term waste management for Nuclear. Seems that the Present Value cost calculation on that would be off the charts.

    Also, if the private sector is unwilling to insure Nuclear power, doesn't that tell us that that the risk is off the charts as well.

    After all, how do you price the economic risk of making NYC or any other major city uninhabitable?

    Together it seems that the Nuclear might be way more expensive than advertised.

    •  France has (6+ / 0-)

      you can find pretty detailed in French on the topic. Those costs are included in the table posted above in the diary, for instance.

    •  Very expensive (9+ / 0-)

      Not just dealing with nuclear waste, but when thinking about nuclear power you also have to factor in the high costs of security. Nuke plants are prime terrorist targets, for obvious reasons, and the post-9/11 security measures are as expensive as they are tight. I recently did some work at a local nuke plant, and about 70% of the time we were there was not spent in actually doing the job, but was taken up in special training to be in the hot zone, going through security checks, etc. A simple one-day job ended up taking the better part of a week. These costs do not apply to wind, solar, and geothermal, hence they are a much better investment.

      Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

      by drewfromct on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:44:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No one ever considers that the waste (7+ / 0-)

        repositories will have be guarded for thousands of years. I have never seen projected costs of operating these facilities, ever in any compilation of the costs.

        The costs of the physical plants, maintaining a base of employees and guards for thousands of years grossly exceed all the costs of all of the power plants constructed so far.

        500 generations down the road, people will be paying so we can flick the switch today. It's insane.

        Quizá, podríamos!
        (But it takes more than just a President)

        by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:35:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  guarding waste repositories? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MarkInSanFran, Abra Crabcakeya

           They put stuff into a mine and when the facility is full a few blasting charges near the entrance ensure the stuff will be sealed up until plate tectonic recycle it.

           For every hand wringing concern, there is a simple solution. Not down on you, shplik, but as an engineer I see this everywhere - lots of knee jerk responses to things that are nonissues, and lots of lack of concern over things that are. Read up on the whole Olduvai theory - we've got bigger troubles than someone finding a mine full of mildly radioactive material sealed in large glass barrels.

          •  I prefer to drill down about 2500 (0+ / 0-)

            feet at the plant site using oil well directional drilling equipment and storing it half a mile under ground.

          •  agree -can't guard against earthquakes , (0+ / 0-)

            less noticeable movement along fault planes allowing sometimes enormous changes in groundwater movement, subsidence of not only coastline but continent's interiors allowing enormous lakes or arms of seas to form . Half -life of , say , 50,000 years? So , in 200,000 years only 25% as much radiation from the waste that doesn't exist? That's comforting , isn't it?
               Working around engineers all my life , I've seen lots of tunnel vision.

            •  Also tunnel vision from others (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              The "hottest" waste by definition burns up the fastest and thus becomes less dangerous.  The longer lived isotopes are less dangerous at the starting point.

              Look up Oklo.  Absolutely worst case scenario: nuclear waste generated (through natural processes) at a shallow depth, with water freely flowing through (the water actually was responsible for the natural reactor) and no containment of the waste.  Studies indicate that it didn't migrate that far at all from the site of the reaction.

          •  Not as easy for those living in Nevada (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Abra Crabcakeya

            Yucca mt. has been a very contentious issue here in LV. Sorry but I don't think I'm overreacting to this issue. Would you feel the same way if it was in your back yard?

            •  wouldn't care at all (0+ / 0-)

              If they want to bury nuclear waste 2,500 feet underground here in Iowa I'd be perfectly happy. That is well below the water table and if we had a deep hole here I'd be trying to figure out how to take that business away from Nevada.

               I worked in a radon testing lab in college ... I know exactly how far alpha, beta, gamma, and free neutrons go. 2,500' of rock and dirt is plenty of protection. The New Madrid fault? OK, a whopper quake could seal the facility ... deep underground. The concerns I hear voiced are emotional rather than rational, and I hope those people are the first to freeze and/or starve should this whole Olduvai thing overtake our civilization.


               Dig through my diaries and you can find a definition of liberal vs. progressive. I'm in the latter category ... I don't let fine ideals get in the way of common sense.

            •  Back yard? (0+ / 0-)

              Last I heard, the local government in Nye County (where the Yucca Mountain is located) was in favor of the repository:

              Ms. Candace Trummell, a Nye County Commissioner, gave the opinion of Nye County regarding Yucca Mountain. Nye County includes the repository site within its boundaries.

              Ms. Trummell stated that Nye County is "pro Yucca Mountain." She noted several reasons for this position, which included the fact that the repository storage area is 1000 feet above the water table while being 1000 feet below the ground surface. Given this information, along with other scientific evaluations, Nye County believes that the scientific data regarding Yucca Mountain is sound.

              Source (bold mine)

              Nye County is larger than the total area of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware combined; that's one hell-of-a-large "back yard." Since Yucca Mountain is about 100 miles away from Las Vegas (a distance that is greater than the distance that separates New York and Philadelphia, by the way), why should I consider the repository to be in Las Vegas's "back yard"?

              Considering all of the problems that Las Vegas has within it's own city, why should it be interfering with something that is happening so far away?

              Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
              -- Mark Twain

              by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 01:53:14 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  it's so easy, that's why we have these (0+ / 0-)

            waste repositories already in place.

            I get it.

            Quizá, podríamos!
            (But it takes more than just a President)

            by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 04:01:47 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Nuclear is far less expensive than supposed. (7+ / 0-)

      The busbar costs of nuclear energy are under 2 cents/kwhr in some nuclear power plants - [i]including the cost of so called "waste," the term "waste" being a rather bizarre fantasy.

      As for the "accident scenario" bullshit, I note that the immersion of most of the Southern portion of New York City is a certainty with dangerous fossil fuel waste - about which the anti-nuke cult could not care less.    On the other hand, the measured probability of disaster with nuclear power plants is extraordinarily low.

      (I'm about to hear some pathetic bullshit, I know, about Chernobyl, but I note that the Ukranians do not agree - they plan new nuclear plants.)

      Nuclear power does not need to be risk free to be vastly superior to all other alternatives.   It merely needs to be vastly superior to everything else - which clearly it is.

      I note, with some contempt, that you cite no data whatsoever in your claim and I know from a fact - just reading your tone - that you know neither the chemistry nor the physics of nuclear energy.   I, on the other hand, do.

      •  Recced despite the terrible attitude (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MarkInSanFran, pgm 01, Stranded Wind

        because there are some insightful points amidst it.

        The true Ben Franklin quote from Poor Richard's Almanack is "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

        by Andy30tx on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:58:35 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  attitude typical NNadir, points are valid (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There is a lot of hand flapping over nuclear and NNadir is right on with his assessment here. He is also a quite funny diarist when he takes the time to write, and I enjoy his curmudgeonly approach to things :-)

      •  "vastly superior " - the entire point . n/t (0+ / 0-)
      •  'waste = bizarre fantasy' (6+ / 0-)

        Because you say so, doesn't make it so.

        Quizá, podríamos!
        (But it takes more than just a President)

        by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:33:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  nuclear 'waste' is a bizarre fantasy (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

           Everything that comes out of a nuclear reactor today that is labeled "waste" can be used as a fuel ... we're real stupid about how we handle stuff, primarily due to concerns over nuclear weapon proliferation.

          Ideally the 0.7% U-235 in uranium should be used to help breed the 99.3% U-238 into plutonium, which is a fine fuel in and of itself. The end products from fission should be small radioisotopes with short half lives. You end up with some not very radioactive stuff that can be turned into big glass "casks" and then any ol' abandoned mine would work nicely as a place to put the stuff.

        •  Nuclear waste is concentrated (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pgm 01

          Even counted in the thousands of tonnes, it's so concentrated that, for instance, all of France's nuclear waste for the past decade basically fits in one large warehouse.
          All of the US's coal waste for the same period occupies a much larger space, in our atmosphere.

          A "centrist" is someone who's neither on the left, nor on the left.

          by nicta on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:16:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Really? (4+ / 0-)

        Does your figure of under 2 cents/kwhr factor in the massive security costs for nuke plants? Does it factor in the billions being spent on long-term storage facilities such as Yucca mountain? What about the very high costs associated with decommissioning and dismantling obsolete nuke plants?

        How many machine gun-toting guards does it take to secure a windmill or a solar panel? How many man-hours are lost getting through security at geothermal plants?

        Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

        by drewfromct on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:45:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  mining effects are no fantasy (0+ / 0-)

        An amendment: Do not allow a single US corporation to do oil business in Iraq until a complete withdrawal of American forces takes place.

        by jcrit on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:45:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  What are the true cost of nuclear power (0+ / 0-)

        including the cost of so called "waste," the term "waste" being a rather bizarre fantasy

        Are you denying the existence of nuclear waste?

        As for the "accident scenario" bullshit

        Are you denying that there have been accidents and there is a possibility of others?

        On the other hand, the measured probability of disaster with nuclear power plants is extraordinarily low.

        Why is the private insurance industry unwilling to insure nuclear power plants in the US. Too risky for those who measure risk?

        (I know, about Chernobyl, but I note that the Ukranians do not agree - they plan new nuclear plants.)

        Are you saying that we should base our decisions on what others do rather than on science?

        Nuclear power does not need to be risk free to be vastly superior to all other alternatives.   It merely needs to be vastly superior to everything else - which clearly it is.

        You seem to want to ignore and minimize the risks of nuclear power. I say that we should consider all the risks and costs in deciding on our energy choices.

        I note, with some contempt, that you cite no data whatsoever in your claim and I know from a fact - just reading your tone - that you know neither the chemistry nor the physics of nuclear energy.   I, on the other hand, do.

        In noting your contempt, I will consider the source.

        With all due respect, you appear to me to have poor communication skills. Your use of phrases like "bizarre fantasy" and "pathetic bullshit" make your comment read more like a rant than a response.

        If you know about this topic, please demonstrate that by addressing the issues.

        •  You can begin (0+ / 0-)

          providing numbers, facts, and data that support your speculation any time now.

          We're waiting ...

          "Seems" is just another word for "I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about," but is far more terse.

          Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
          -- Mark Twain

          by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 02:16:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  The busbar cost of nuke under 2 cents (0+ / 0-)

        is basically true ... because the plants are all paid off, their capital cost is no longer part of the equation.  What would "new plant" costs be?  This is dependent, heavily, on actual construction cost, loan terms, etc ... the "capital" cost portion of the equation (for a US plant) has some uncertainties.

    •  I just found and read this NY Times story (7+ / 0-)

      Atomic Balm?

      It's really long read, but it does not take into account the human costs of uranium mining such as here in the U.S.:

      Lakota oppose expansion of uranium operations

      Lakotas fight uranium mining: Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hear arguments

      and no one really looks at the costs of disposal at the other end, let alone the proliferation problems.

      <div style="color: green">"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture" -- Thomas Jefferson</div>

      by tommurphy on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 09:59:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Except when they do (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bryfry, Stranded Wind

        Of course people look at the waste issue.  The problem is when people look at the waste issue and don't immediately come to the conclusion that it's a complete impossible problem.

        That's the real problem, isn't it?  It's not a problem with the waste, it's a problem that people don't agree with people who claim it's a problem.  Because they have to be right.

        Here's a simple question that I always ask people opposed to nuclear:

        Are there any circumstances, any at all that you can dream of, that you'd agree nuclear was an acceptable option?

        If the answer is "No", then we aren't talking about a logical argument any more, we're talking about a religious position.  And as such, quite frankly, you don't really have anything to contribute to the discussion because everyone already knows what you're going to say.

        •  yup, religious zealots (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You hit the nail on the head here. We need to stifle NIMBY/BANANA nuclear concerns BEFORE we get this whole Olduvai thing going ...

        •  Funny you should ask (0+ / 0-)

          Here's a simple question that I always ask people opposed to nuclear:

          Are there any circumstances, any at all that you can dream of, that you'd agree nuclear was an acceptable option?

          Here is the answer from Greenpeace:

          And I quote: "The science isn't what you need to look at."  And let's not forget, "It really isn't a question of science." Then what is it a question of? Am I allowed to ask?

          It speaks for itself, no?

          Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
          -- Mark Twain

          by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 02:04:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Amusingly enough (0+ / 0-)

            Greenpeace is currently in the middle of internal issues because some environmentalists, including one of the organization's co-founders, have explicitly endorsed nuclear energy.

            Of course that means they aren't real environmentalists any more, doesn't it?

            •  Well ... (0+ / 0-)

              The real question is the following: can you determine who really is Greenpeace. There are several organizations that go under the name (and the locations of their headquarters are largely determined from tax considerations ... hmmm ...).

              For what it's worth, the Greenpeace Foundation is the true original Greenpeace, but it is not all that popular with many who today associate themselves with the name "Greenpeace," because more than one of the founding members of the original foundation have become critical of the current mission and tactics of organizations calling themselves "Greenpeace" these days.

              Whether the Greenpeace folks are "real environmentalists" depends on your definition of environmentalist. Surely, we can say that they are good at raising money in the name of the environment. Whether they are doing any good -- or simply more good than harm -- remains a more difficult claim to prove. Fortunately for them, most of their members take it on faith and rely on the propaganda that these organizations regularly publish.

              In any case, I classify them as anti-science, as the video clip demonstrates using their own words.

              Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
              -- Mark Twain

              by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 02:46:59 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Ultimately there will be variations of some sort (3+ / 0-)

      of leak, contamination or 'event' which has not been factored into the mix.

      Think "no one ever thought planes could be used as weapons": re:WTC.

      Think "no one ever considered the fact the water freezes and forms ice would down two Space Shuttles".

      Stuff like that.

      Quizá, podríamos!
      (But it takes more than just a President)

      by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:32:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Working on a large wind/firmed wind project here (18+ / 0-)

    I'm working on a large wind project with many follow on benefits.

     There is a 100 turbine installation planned for six miles east of my town but the 230mw plant is constrained by the 69k feed line and it may be effectively stranded.

     We're currently fund raising the seed money to get a 50k ton/year ammonia plant built that will use this wind resource to crack water for hydrogen. This is a serious effort - local industry leaders and politicians are in favor of the concept and we are very likely to get funding some time in March to pursue this.

     Once the ammonia production is certain there are three big follow on benefits.

     First we get a lot of hot water from the ammonia production, which will be fed to a greenhouse operation, dramatically cutting our food miles and giving fresh fruits and vegetables year round here in sometimes frigid Iowa.

     Second we get a chance to copy what Dr. John Holbrook of the Ammonia Fuel Network is doing in the Pacific Northwest - we can make a business of running an ammonia powered "peaker" generating facility here and allow the decommissioning of a natural gas powered competitor.

     The third and most exciting is that ammonia can replace diesel with minor retooling of engines. We think we can free the Iowa corn crop from fossil fuels for around $25B total, which would make our ethanol totally green.

      And I must add that none of this would be happening without the assistance of the diarist, who put me in touch with some guys from who have helped validate and push this concept along.

    •  sounds interesting (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueintheface, Stranded Wind

      can you explain how the ammonia plays into the equation? is it a portable form of energy that can be changed down the road for some fuel or something? i mostly know it as something you dilute for mopping floors.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:09:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ammonia as a fuel - sensible hydrogen use (4+ / 0-)

         I've written about ammonia quite a bit - this diary provides some proof that it is a serious concept - there are links to four years worth of presentations from Iowa State's ammonia fuel conferences:

         Ammonia is basically quite a bit like natural gas - it has three hydrogen atoms instead of four like methane, its quite a bit more dangerous to handle, but it is a manageable energy bearer, unlike hydrogen which is really hard on pipeline infrastructure. I think the best source of a top level view of this will be the Ammonia Fuel Network, which already has experts and is working on getting their web site up. The godfather of this effort is John Holbrook, whom I've interviewed.

         We actually have a company here that builds ammonia engines now - the Hydrogen Engine Center:

         There is a lot more information on the web site, but I'll admit that it could be better organized - one of my tasks for today ;-)

  •  The wind resourse off the Atlantic Coast... (6+ / 0-) more than capable of supplying ALL of the energy needs of nine states, plus DC, stretching from North Carolina to Massachusetts:

    The wind resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast could supply the energy needs of nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, plus the District of Columbia--with enough left over to support a 50 percent increase in future energy demand--according to a study by researchers at the University of Delaware and Stanford University.

    Willett Kempton, Richard Garvine and Amardeep Dhanju at the University of Delaware and Mark Jacobson and Cristina Archer at Stanford, found that the wind over the Middle Atlantic Bight, the aquatic region from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Hatteras, N.C., could produce 330 gigawatts (GW) of average electrical power if thousands of wind turbines were installed off the coast.

    The estimated power supply from offshore wind substantially exceeds the region's current energy use, which the scientists estimate at 185 gigawatts, from electricity, gasoline, fuel oil and natural gas sources.

    Supplying the region's energy needs with offshore wind power would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68 percent and reduce greenhouse gases by 57 percent, according to the study.


    This is a project we should be devloping - 166,000 wind turbines off the Atlantic coast.  It can be done quickly, with present day technology, built by Americans, for Americans.

    On the practicality of producing 166,720 wind turbines, co-author Richard Garvine noted, "the United States began producing 2,000 warplanes per year in 1939 for World War II, increased production each year, and, by 1946, had sent 257,000 aircraft into service.

    "We did that in seven years, using 1940s technology," he said.

  •  how does solar have a quantified external cost (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jcrit, The Wizard, Stranded Wind

    for "Global warming quantified external cost" of .33, much more than wind at .04, and half that of gas at .73?

    I would like to see some backup or explanation of that. It seems bizarre. Panels emitting some kind of lifetime co2...or what?

  •  An excellent diary (3+ / 0-)

     This is a good explanation of how the financial constraints on wind power mean that it has to be financed on a basis that reflects those constraints. It's also a good rationale that supports the need for effective government policies to counter the fallacies of purely market-driven policies. Government can and should deal with matters important to the public over the long term Market forces inherently focus on short term gains for private interests.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:07:10 AM PST

    •  financial constrain: tie renewable to follow on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

       I think the reason our stuff is moving forward here is that we're not making electricity with it, we're contributing to growing corn, a foundation commodity for our state. If we were just doing generation we'd be cold stopped by lack of transmission resources.

        I spent months just roaming around looking at abandoned houses, where our rail lines ran, what the population was like, what business there is here, etc, before I conceived my plan. There is a technical basis to renewables but there is a strong local culture need to a successful project - it has to address things that concern the man on the street, his mayor, his state Senator, and his Congressman. I suggest you take this view ... and then go take a walk around your neighborhood.

  •  I'm sorry for asking a stupid question, but is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Stranded Wind

    this diary talking about the possibility of government-controlled wind farms, ala the Tennessee Valley Authority?

    If so, which states/regions would this type of power be possible?

  •  I can discuss nothing on this website without (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dauphin, Stranded Wind

    hearing about my nuclear opinions, so I guess that makes me a point person for the topic.

    I can say definitively that is not the nuclear energy crowd who has set up this state of affairs where a "wind vs. nuclear" set of illusions have been obtained.

    Personally I'm not Robert F. Kennedy.   I have spent zero time opposing a single wind plant anywhere on the planet, although I will say that my enthusiasm for them is not as uncritical as it may have been in the past.   That said, with proper attention to spinning reserves, wind can - and I think does - eliminate the need for burning dangerous natural gas.

    In fact the topic of "wind vs. something" is a matter for discussion with the gas people, say for instance the Gazprom executive Gerhard Schroeder.   It is - I will say - rather startling, or maybe deliberately disingenuous, that Schroeder, who held a second job as Chancellor of Germany while working for Gazprom, was so ill informed as to have confused the relative roles of wind, nuclear, coal and gas power.   He is either purely venal or vastly ill informed - it doesn't matter which.   Pressed, I would go with the former.

  •  It's the business model (5+ / 0-)

    and the inability of large corporate players to see how they can make money the traditional way that it holding back adoption of this technology.

    Solar PV, CSP, wind, geothermal all have up front costs and work best at the point of the consumption.

    The companies that manufacture the hardware cannot afford to extend financing on their own, but the government can.

    Instead of providing tax breaks, how about having the government issue long term low interest loans. This would enable people to afford the up front costs of buying the equipment, and rather than paying for oil, gas and electricity off the grid, they pay back a loan?

    It requires cost shifting by the government, but in the end, they get the money back, unlike the tax breaks offered now.

    We get diversification, an increase in local manufacturing of new power technology, a portion of the population able to operate off grid [strengthens national security] and stops the bleeding of our dollars to overseas companies to furhter sink the dollar.

    Quizá, podríamos!
    (But it takes more than just a President)

    by shpilk on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:30:02 AM PST

  •  You are cavalier about nuclear waste externality (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jcrit, drewfromct, Abra Crabcakeya

    when you say "Given that the State will always bear the ultimate risk for very long term waste management..."

    There is no long term waste management solution and I predict there never will be.

    •  If you resolve to say "no" to every proposal... (0+ / 0-)

      then yeah, there will never be a waste management solution you will agree is adequate. I can think of four that I'd be very happy with, all on an industrial scale. Yucca mountain is one of them. Reprocessing is my favorite. Sea burial is better and cheaper than Yucca, or we could just leave the stuff sitting around the way the French do (since we'll want to eventually dig it up anyway for reprocessing).

      All of these are perfectly managable solutions. If you don't like them, you owe me a doable proposal for how to meet the world's energy needs that doesn't suffocate the planet. With numbers.

  •  nice report (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drewfromct, RosyFinch, Stranded Wind

    Hopefully, our government is ready now to listen to reason.

    I still maintain that, to be fair, the as-yet fully determined long-term environmental mining and disposal costs of nuclear fuel must be part of the comparative calculations.  Then, the exponential fuel cost of it would become graphically evident.

    An amendment: Do not allow a single US corporation to do oil business in Iraq until a complete withdrawal of American forces takes place.

    by jcrit on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 10:59:19 AM PST

  •  CO2 subsidy, externalities and no nukes (3+ / 0-)

    To level the playing field you can either have a CO2 tax on fuels or you can give a CO2 subsidy to clean fuels. The first one works, but you wind up with a regressive tax, that is, the poorest people pay for it in gas and heat for their homes. The second method, coupled with a more progressive income tax, would be preferred.

    The externalities argument is a sham. That assumes that the energy required to create the equipment is generated with a conventional mix. If all of it were non-CO2 emitting then the externalities would be zero. It becomes catch-22, if you don't make the change because of the externalities argument then you never get to the point where the externalities go to zero.

    New-Clee-Ar power needs to finish the design. They take a dispersed uranium ore, concentrate it and then generate huge amounts of radioactive material in use. What can you do with it that is safe and stable over a significant number of half-lives of the waste? Nothing structural that man has ever made has lasted intact for more than a few centuries. And the earth is in constant geological change. Fire the waste into the sun? At what cost per kilogram?

    •  I'm OK with regressive (0+ / 0-)

      I hate to say this, but we're 5% of the world's population using 25% of the energy and that doesn't count the stuff we've offshored to China - look at their manufacturing feeding us and we're closer to one third(!)

       Poor people here are going to be walking, biking, and taking the bus. There will not be any escape from this.  The sooner we get with the idea that we can't all be zooming around the landscape in giant steel boxes the safer we are. Yes, safer, because peak oil cares not one bit that we used to be the most powerful country in the world.

    •  nuke waste canard (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Wizard, pgm 01, bryfry

      Given the right reactor design you end up with lighter, short term radioisotopes. We just need to get over the idea that plutonium production is bad - its a perfectly good fuel and if you use every bit of what is available in uranium ore at the end of the game you get big, vitreous glass casks that are radioactively cool in a couple of decades. It isn't a 10,000 year storage problem ... unless knee jerk antinuke sentiments make it so.

    •  CO2 tax doesn't have to be regressive (0+ / 0-)

      A CO2 tax can be mostly progressive if the revenues are rebated back to everyone equally.  For a simple example -- imagine a gas tax of $2 per gallon.  It would cost on average about $1200 per adult per year in the US.  The revenues would then be distributed as a check for $1200 per adult.  People who use less gas than average would come out ahead.  People who use more gas would come out behind.  

      Overall, lower income households tend to use less gas per year on average and so would come out ahead.  Lots of people would find ways to reduce their gas usage to come out ahead.  

      The annual rebate checks would help create a constituency for the gas tax making it more politically viable.  Of course there'd be lots of details to work out -- like perhaps some effort to adjust the rebate amounts a little for rural vs. urban areas to make it more politically acceptable for more rural states -- but I think it is doable and needed and likely progressive overall.

    •  How many people have been harmed by nuclear waste (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Stranded Wind

      An international study just came out saying that 56 people died prematurely due to Chernobyl, and a few hundred others developed health problems.

      Over 3000 coal miners die every year in China alone. (6,027 died in 2004, for example.) Tens of thousands are estimated to have died because of coal-related pollution. Yet we are adding coal plants, and not adding nuclear plants.

      Do you see why arguments about nuclear safety seem to me like lots of immoral fiddling while Rome burns? How many more people have to die while we tap our fingers and wait for the scientists produce something renewable which we could actually deploy on a scale that's large enough to allow us to start shutting down coal plants? We have the solution right now, and anyone who opposes it is directly contributing to the deaths of thousands.

      Yes, I literally think that opposing nuclear power is immoral, and that when God judges you, you will be ashamed of your contribution to the death and misery of your fellow man and your sacred planet.

  •  hardly allies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Abra Crabcakeya

    Given that it is essentially the same regulatory framework that favors both technologies (with specific regulatory requirements for waste on the one side, and for network reinforcement on the other), they are objective allies in the public debate on energy.

    Not by any stretch of my radioactive imagination can I see the value in this connection.  Are you aware that there is currently a uranium rush going on once again in the Southwest US, right to the very borders of the Grand Canyon?  I can only imagine the havoc being wreaked in developing nations.  Nuclear energy is a scourge, whose true costs are hidden by the current nimby power elite.

    An amendment: Do not allow a single US corporation to do oil business in Iraq until a complete withdrawal of American forces takes place.

    by jcrit on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:21:54 AM PST

  •  Thanks, Jerome. (0+ / 0-)


    If we continue to accumulate only power and not wisdom, we will surely destroy ourselves. -Carl Sagan

    by LightningMan on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:22:01 AM PST

  •  Thanks for your research! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eternal Hope, Stranded Wind

    This issue is so important. Hopefully next year we will have a Dem Pres. so we can really begin to make some progress on the issue of alt. energy.
    BTW for those who don't know, Barack has received a 96% grade from the League of Conservation Voters vs. Hillary's 90%. One major difference I can see is how much $$$ they are proposing we spend on alt. energy, Obama $250 billion, Hillary $50 billion.
    That said, there was a report last week that with a $400 billion investment we could save $300 billion purchasing oil.
    This comes from Solar Energy International

    Wind power is the fastest-growing energy source in the world. (Worldwatch Institute)

    The wind in North Dakota alone could produce a third of America's electricity. (The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair)

    Wind power has the potential to supply a large fraction--probably at least 20%--of U.S. electricity demand at an economical price.

    I'm not sure where this idea of wind power being too cost prohibitive is coming from. I have always heard this argument about nuclear energy. I still believe the best combo would be wind and solar.Which I've read could produce as much as 40% of our energy right now if we just had the correct leadership.
    Why not replace cattle ranches with wind farms, ranchers could make just as much $ and save our environment from water depletion, methane emmisions  etc, from cattle ranching.
    Thanks again.  

    •  Wind,solar (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wild Starchild, Stranded Wind

      and geothermal. Solar is marginal on cloudy days and utterly useless at night. Wind is intermittent at best, but geothermal power is derived from the heat within the Earth which is more or less constant everywhere, 24/7/365.

      Ironically, the companies best positioned to bring about geothermal power are the oil companies, which already possess the knowledge and equipment necessary for deep drilling, but I see that as a plus seeing as how we should want them to be part of the solution rather than even more resistant to renewable energy than they already are. Giving them a chunk of the pie brings them in on our side.

      Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

      by drewfromct on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:45:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh yeah Geothermal (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Stranded Wind

        Another great idea.California is very ripe for this no? They will have to do something there soon as Cal has passed into law  that they must produce 20% of their energy from alt. sources by next year. Now if we can just get this passed nationally.Cheers.

        •  not alternate energy, renewable energy (0+ / 0-)

          The phrase "alternate energy" is far too close to this whole "alternate lifestyle" business. Not that I care who sleeps with whom, but please try to use "renewable energy" - because we are the mainstream now, the fossil fuel industry just doesn't realize its dead yet.

      •  Not useless at night... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wild Starchild

        CSP (concentrating solar power) plants make it possible to store energy during the day to make electricity at night.

        The general concept is that sunlight is collected with mirrors of some sort to heat a fluid.   Ultimately the fluid will be used to make steam and generate electricity in the same way that one would in a normal coal power plant, but the heated fluid can be stored in an insulated storage container.

        is a 10MW plant in Spain that was recently built.

        •  very cool - thanks for link (0+ / 0-)

          I had not heard of this - am going to research and write a piece for on it.

        •  uh, look again (0+ / 0-)

          How do you store a working fluid in excess of 100C? I don't see anything there indicating storage, but it is a neat method of solar collection - any word on what the efficiency is like compared to solar PV?

          •  Doesn't have to be water... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NRG Guy, Stranded Wind

            Back in the 1980's, they built a prototype plant in Arizona:

            They used molten salts as a working fluid.

            In a molten-salt power tower, the molten nitrate salt,Molten_salt_system which is a clear liquid with properties like water at temperatures above its 240oC (464oF) melting point, is pumped from a large storage tank to the receiver, where it is heated in tubes to temperatures of 565oC (1049oF). The salt is then returned to a second large storage tank, where it remains until needed by the utility for power generation. At that time, the salt is pumped through a steam generator to produce the steam to power a conventional, high-efficiency steam turbine to produce electricity. The salt at 285oC (545oF) then returns to the first storage tank to be used in the cycle again.

            As for what they used in the Spanish plant, I don't recall.  I think it was a much smaller amount of storage, that would only be suitable to cover a reduction in sunlight due to a passing cloud or some such, but it is ultimately a cost/benefit decision and not a technical issue.

            As for efficiency, I don't recall reading any numbers, and it can be somewhat misleading to simply compare the amount of solar that lands on the land on which the plant is built.  Perhaps a better comparison is to compare the amount of solar energy that is collected by the mirrors to the amount of electrical output.

            More info here.  There are several types of designs out there, and at this point the industry is still young enough that they still haven't standardized everything yet.


            •  One other point to mention... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Stranded Wind

              There are those that have very ambitious plans for CSP:


              that essentially involve CSP plants in North Africa, and high voltage DC lines to bring the power up into Europe.

              At the link above, there is a Google Earth kmz file that you can download.  Most CSP plants are large enough that they can easily be seen from Google Earth, and it is kind of fun to look them over.  Some of them are new enough that they don't appear on the photos.  In some cases, someone has made the effort to figure out the real location, in other cases the locations are just approximate.

    •  Don't be silly - Dem president not required (0+ / 0-)

      I've got a Republican President, a Republican Congressman, and a Republican state Senator in one area we're going to develop - except for ol' dipshit there at 1600 Pennsylvania the rest are quite excited to help with renewable initiatives.

       Act locally and do it now. Sitting on your hands because we have a dope in the Whitehouse is a cop out :-)

    •  Actually cattle and wind power (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pgm 01, kitkatkos, Wild Starchild

      can co-exist quite nicely. The cows will wander around eating grass while the turbines high above them turn. On the high plains, replace cattle with buffalo.

  •  Support when the government can most afford it (5+ / 0-)

    I'm a complete neophyte to economics, but I realized one amazing thing while reading the diary.  If the government can guarantee a price to wind farms (like they guarantee a cost per bushel to farmers for commodity crops) then they won't need to spend any money on this when energy prices are high and when the economy is poor.  Yet, when energy prices are low and the economy is doing well, the government will have higher tax revenues and actually have the money to spend.  

    Having a guarantee of a stable selling price will make it easier for alternative energy projects to get the startup investment they need.  In California, where the majority of of our state revenue comes from income taxes and is very sensitive to ups-and-downs in the economy, the government could guarantee a purchase price for alternatives that is higher than today's price with no short-term cost.  And if you're like me and don't believe energy costs will EVER go down, the state won't have to spend a penny in the long term either.

    Now here's an idea-- tie alternative energy to the Farm Bill as a payment to farmers.  The farm bill (which I do know something about) is an amazing instrument because it utilizes a bank called the Commodity Credit Corporation (the CCC) which can disburse money even when it is not appropriated by the appropriations committee.  What this means is that the farm bill is the only federal law that can not only authorize but APPROPRIATE funds, and funding can be guaranteed over multiple years.

    Let me explain: whenever the government wants to spend money on something they need to both authorize funds and appropriate them.  Funds can be authorized for a long period of time, but nothing happens unless they are appropriated for the current year's budget.  The farm bill avoids the budget altogether because it creates a bank that is allowed to payments to farmers when needed.  

    With a democratic government, it might be possible to add wind and solar energy to the list of commodities that are being subsidized.  If a farmer puts up a wind turbine or a bank of solar cells, the farm bill would guarantee him a set price for 10 years.  That should really help the farmer in securing investment.

    One man gathers what another man spills

    by John Chapman on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 11:32:10 AM PST

  •  What we need to do (0+ / 0-)

    is charge the oil companys under Rico (Cheneys secret meeting) and take the oil fields. As Bush has proven the law is not written in stone and can be interpreted. It's time to fight fire w/ fire.  It's big oil standing in the way of substantial reform. And we can make our government financially solvent almost immediatly.

    I can't afford anymore experience.

    by ghett on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 12:53:40 PM PST

  •  Good diary, Jerome (0+ / 0-)

    I've pointed out in the past (over and over) here that feed-in tariffs are very effective in spurring development and implementation of generation technologies such as wind. So, I agree with you there. I also don't oppose production tax credits as incentives for investment. These are two possibilities, and I don't speculate (much) on which is the better model.

    I also agree with you very much that wind is not the "enemy of nuclear." Thank you again for bringing this point up.

    Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
    -- Mark Twain

    by bryfry on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 12:54:25 PM PST

  •  Storage of Electricity (0+ / 0-)

    Excellent and informative article, Jerome, once again.

    For the time being, wind is only supplying 1 to 5% of any states electricity supply. As such, any electricity made is used as is/and or displaces higher priced "peaking units" and/or is exported from one grid into another. Once we start generating larger percentages in a given area, displacement of "baseload" plants can begin, and items such as storage must be addressed.

    The storage is usually handled by exporting from one region to another. However, the U.S. also has about 18,000 MW of pumped hydroelectric storage, with an average efficiency between 75 to 80%. We can also utilize "deferred hydro", which means that the output from a dam can be trhottled back when it is windy and the wind turbines are really cranking out the juice..

    Once we get near the 20% of supply via windpower, we are going toface a choice - shut down baseload units for days or months at a time, or shut down wind turbines. That is when the "nukes vs. wind" fight starts. Because nukes are very hard to adjust in a safe way, and because the nuke owners are not going to sit by quietly and let the nukes get downrated by those upstart wind turbines, and thus lower the greed factor on the nukes, it's going to get ugly with the Nuke Priesthood. But that spat is at least a decade away.

    In the meantime, maybe the idea of wind as "baseload" will finally sink in. That is, when vast numbers of wind farms are dispersed throughout large regions, the net result is a very steady overall average output (about a 400 mile x 400 mile zone is needed in the windy midwest for this to happen, and the bigger the zone the more "flat" the average output of all windfarms becomes).

    However, the daily and weekly electricity demand is NOT flat - often varying by 50% to 100% over the course of a day, especially in air conditioning season. That's what peaking units are for. And that's what pumped hydro and deferred hydro are for. There will even be need for more expensive (operating cost basis) storage approaches like flywheels (pricey, but really efficient), batteries and  compressed air storage in areas with either no water or no hills. And variable demand could also be used for certain energy intensive industries, such as perhaps making H2 from H2O and wind derived electricity, and then making ammonia, methanol, EtOH and other products from the H2 and N2 or CO2. Besides, with a bit of H2 storage at H2 production sites, some additional grid stability and responsiveness gets built into the system.


  •  Mass Market Wind Article (0+ / 0-)

    Parade magazine, a Sunday insert in many newspapers around the USA, has a lead article on windpower today.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

    by gmoke on Sun Mar 02, 2008 at 01:57:26 PM PST

  •  thank you for placing your expertise (0+ / 0-)

    into a subject that requires sound advice and is critically needing support.

    Wish I had time to write more now, but maybe later!

    Finding your own Voice -- The personal is political!

    by In her own Voice on Mon Mar 03, 2008 at 11:12:21 AM PST

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