Of pipelines and pipedreams: Obama’s drilling deception

Before he was for it:

The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.

If this were a sincere change of heart and an honest, stand-alone effort to wean America off foreign oil, it would be worth heralding.

But as always with this administration, there’s a catch, via the American Energy Alliance:

“One major flashpoint in the negotiations has been whether to share drilling revenue with states and to allow states to opt in or out of drilling along their coastlines. It was unclear late Tuesday whether Obama endorses revenue-sharing for states. “It appears the Northern Atlantic and entire Pacific Coast will now be under a de facto ban” for drilling, said Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Institute for Energy Research. Even if drilling is ultimately allowed in part of the Atlantic, Creighton said, revenue sharing is an essential incentive for states. The administration’s plans could meet resistance from at least 10 Senate Democrats representing coastal and Great Lakes states who last week raised concerns about “unfettered access to oil and gas drilling” that could jeopardize fishing, tourism and military exercises. The Interior Department retooled the current schedule of offshore leases governing 2007 through 2012 after a federal appeals court last April ruled that the second Bush administration had not done a sufficient environmental review of expanded drilling off the Alaskan coast.

GOP Rep. Mike Pence adds:

“As usual the devil is in the details. Only in Washington, D.C., can you ban more areas to oil and gas exploration than you open up, delay the date of your new leases and claim you’re going to increase production.

“The President’s announcement today is a smokescreen. It will almost certainly delay any new offshore exploration until at least 2012 and include only a fraction of the offshore resources that the previous Administration included in its plan.

“Unfortunately, this is yet another feeble attempt to gain votes for the President’s national energy tax bill that is languishing in the Senate. At the end of the day this Administration’s energy plan is simple: increase the cost of energy on every family in America and trade American jobs oversees at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.”

See post here.

Reducing Global Poverty Depends on Clean Coal Technologies


“We should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible… bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries…”  — Copenhagen Accord

The extent of global energy deprivation is difficult for most Americans to comprehend. Over 20 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity and has no linkage whatsoever to the benefits such access brings to an improved quality of life. For more than another billion people availability of power is extremely limited, e.g. electricity only a few hours a day or two days a week.

The Scale of Global Poverty
“Without energy, countries face very limited or no economic growth: factories and businesses cannot function efficiently; hospitals and schools cannot operate fully or safely; basic services that people in rich countries take for granted cannot be offered.”  — World Bank, 2010

China Shows the Pathway

China has used coal-based electricity to lift hundreds of millions of children, women and men out of poverty. Now, China is meeting its Copenhagen commitment to reduce GHG emissions by replacing small and inefficient coal plants with large and highly productive coal units. The 2,000 Megawatt Shanghai Waigaiqiao #3, for example, is the most efficient coal power plant in the world. Indeed, Shanghai #3 has an efficiency rate equivalent to abating 480,000 tons of CO2, 3,600 tons of SO2 and 28,000 tons of dust.

Out of Poverty
“Electrification in China is a remarkable success story … the most important lesson for other developing countries [is] that electrified countries reap great benefits, both in terms of economic growth and human welfare…. China is an example for the developing world.”  — International Energy Agency

The Accessibility of Coal

“China has … become the major world market for advanced coal-fired power plants with high-specification emission control systems.”   — IEA, 2009

Coal is widely distributed and readily accessible. Seventeen countries have at least three billion tons of coal and eight have over 30 billion tons. China, India, Russia and the United States each have over 50 billion tons, with the latter having over 230 billion tons. The opportunity to use these vast resources cleanly and for the betterment of humanity never has been greater.

Coal is Where the People Are


“Access to electricity is strongly correlated with every measurable indicator of human development”  — Berkeley Science Review

The Power of Coal at the Global Level

To meet projected demand by 2030, and replace projected coal-based electricity generation, the world would have to do the following:

To Replace Coal

Coal is Affordable and the Price is Stable

In countries where millions of people live on less than two dollars a day, the price of electricity is crucial. Consider the volatility and price escalation of natural gas to produce electric power in the United States over the past decade.  From 2000-2009, the price of natural gas per million Btu ranged from $3.10 to $12.41. The coal price never exceeded $2.28.

China: Levelised Cost of Electricity


“Electricity use and gross national product [are] strongly correlated.  The relationship … is so important that it should be considered in developing … energy and economic policies [which] seek to lower the real cost of electricity supply.”  — U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Clean coal works

Over the past several decades the US electric power industry has invested almost $100 billion to control pollutants with stunning success. Criteria emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide have declined significantly since 1989 despite a dramatic increase in coal-based generation. Clean coal technology has solved other emission challenges, and now the creative gaze of the scientific and engineering communities has turned to the management of CO2.

Clean Coal Technology has Worked for the US


“We conclude that CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs.”  — MIT 2007
Coal's Ever-Growing Role


“Citizens of poor countries have the right to aspire to better standards of living… clean coal is key.” — Arun Ghosh, Global Economic Fellow, Oxford University

The Past is Prologue

“For decades, the coal industry has supported quality high-paying jobs for American workers, and coal has provided an important domestic source of reliable, affordable energy….  Charting a path toward clean coal is essential to achieving my Administration’s goals of providing clean energy…”  — President Barack Obama, 2010



[1] United Nations, Copenhagen Accord, December 18,2009
[2] http://www.iea.org/
[3] http://www.worldbank.org/
[4] http://www.eia.doe.gov/
[5] http://www.nap.edu/catalog/900.html
[6] MIT Energy Initiative December, 2009
[7] BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2009
[8] businessatoxford@livemint.com
[9] Berkeley Science Review, http://scienciew.berkeley.edu/index.pherevp
[10] Presidential Memorandum, White House, February, 2009

Turning over a new Leaf

The Scientific Alliance

Nissan has announced that the first mass-produced all-electric car in Europe is to be built at its Sunderland factory in the UK (the third production site, after Japan and the USA). It is to be called the Leaf, a suitably green name, but possibly an unfortunate one in the event of problems. The company had previously decided to produce lithium ion batteries to power the vehicle at a nearby plant. The UK government is promising incentives for consumers who buy all-electric cars, and there are various plans – most of them currently rather vague and aspirational – to install charging points to cater for the expected demand. So, does this (and similar initiatives in other countries) finally bring electric cars into the mainstream?

Are we really likely to see a major shift in the market away from conventional petrol and diesel engines? Despite what enthusiasts may say, a cold-blooded look at the facts would suggest not.

Cost is clearly an important factor. Nissan claim that they can build the new car for essentially the same price as a conventional one, but have not yet announced how the batteries will be paid for. These will form a significant proportion of the overall vehicle cost, and may well need to be replaced during the lifetime of the car.

One option is to lease them to the car owner, rather than sell them as part of the overall package (although in the USA, customers can choose to buy or lease the car including batteries). Whatever the model, the overall capital cost to the buyer will inevitably be higher, which is why the UK government is offering a subsidy of up to £5,000 to encourage uptake. Current cost is not in itself necessarily a big obstacle.

As with any new product, there will always be early adopters eager to get the latest technology, and this demand should be sufficient to sell the proposed 50,000 cars due to roll off the production line annually, starting in 2013 (presumably for sale across the whole of Europe). Battery technology will undoubtedly continue to develop, and it is likely that those available for cars will become both lighter and more powerful over the next few years. Probably the cost will also fall. Running costs at present are low, until governments find a way to extract more revenue from owners. The Leaf will have a 24kWh battery, powering an 80kW motor, driving the front wheels.

Cruising range is claimed as over 160km. But here we come to one of the major limitations of this and competitive cars. The Leaf may be a 4-door hatchback with room for five passengers, but how far can it take them? The limited range will effectively confine the electric car in its current incarnation to urban use. And, in towns, cars do rather little cruising. Unlike petrol or diesel engines, electric cars use no idling power while stationary.

And they make use of regenerative braking, whereby the kinetic energy of the moving car is used partly to recharge the battery (or is stored in a capacitor) rather than simply being lost as heat. But acceleration takes considerably more energy than cruising and, in stop/start urban driving, the actual range of the car is likely to be significantly less than the cruising range.

Add to this the extra drain of carrying more passengers or luggage or driving up hills, and realistic driving distances are reduced still further. But the battery does not just power the engine. For large parts of the year, commuting motorists will need to use their headlights. So add in two 55W bulbs plus sidelights and dashboard lights. Conventional cars recycle some of the waste heat from the engine to heat the car, an option which is not available for the Leaf or its ilk.

The simple but most energy-intensive option is to use a resistance heater, but alternatives such as heat pumps seem to be the favoured route. Whatever the option, there is still an extra demand for energy. A significant reduction in practical range is something motorists could live with if recharging after each journey was a practical option. There has been general talk of putting in charging points in the street; indeed a few have already appeared in central London.

But for battery-powered cars to be a realistic option, there must be a high degree of certainty that there would be somewhere convenient to plug it in between journeys. If those journeys are short enough, then recharging at home overnight would be sufficient. But that would be difficult for the large numbers of city-dwellers who do not live in houses with garages or off-road parking. If you have to park in the street, or have an apartment a with a separate parking space, plugging the car into an indoor socket is not feasible.

So, there would be significant new infrastructure needed to keep these cars running. If there really is a move away from the internal combustion engine, then at least battery power has big advantages over the once-fashionable ‘hydrogen economy’, which would require enormous investment in a completely new (and unproven) fuel distribution system. At least we have an established and efficient electricity distribution network, and extending that would be quite manageable, albeit at a cost.

There is also legitimate debate about the environmental credentials of battery power. Ignoring for now the carbon intensity of battery production and the cost of recycling these at the end of their life, there are inefficiencies built into the energy distribution process. In simple terms, it is more efficient to burn fossil fuel in a petrol or diesel engine than to burn an equivalent amount to generate electricity (with some energy wasted), distribute it to charging points (with losses en route), charge and discharge batteries (at less than 100% efficiency) and then drive an (imperfect) electric motor to overcome the same rolling resistance and air resistance as in any car.

This only makes sense if the electricity is generated from renewable or low-carbon sources; otherwise, the carbon footprint of the car is arguably higher than the conventional one it replaces. Conversion from the internal combustion engine to batteries will need additional generating capacity, and the new power stations, given the state of current technology, should be nuclear or biomass-fired rather than wind or solar.

The big question is how popular the electric car will be with motorists. Nissan’s chief executive last year said that electric cars would account for 10% of the market in ten years. That sounds a lot but, even if 20% of Europeans were to buy a new car each year, electric cars would only increase their market penetration by 2% annually. Nevertheless, that is still a big number.

There are about half a billion people in the EU, and roughly one car for each two people; say 250 million. 2% of that is 5 million. If we are to get anywhere close to that figure, electric cars will have achieved a good level of acceptance from consumers. But it seems very unlikely that this level of sales will be reached until battery technology has advanced so that cars like the Leaf can be used for much longer journeys that short commutes. If not, they will never fully replace petrol and diesel power. Governments have a tightrope to walk: it is right to provide incentives for the development of new technologies, but not if there is little prospect of that technology being economically competitive in the medium term. If the bulk of consumers are not interested, or if a better understanding of climate change and energy policy suggests that transport fuel is not a sensible target for intervention, then politicians should have the courage to change their minds.

Phony products impress federal energy program

By Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 26, 4:15 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Fifteen phony products — including a gasoline-powered alarm clock — won a label from the government certifying them as energy efficient in a test of the federal “Energy Star” program.

Investigators concluded the program is “vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”

A report released Friday said government investigators tried to pass off 20 fake products as energy efficient, and only two were rejected. Three others didn’t get a response.

The program run by the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to identify energy-efficient products to help consumers. Tax credits and rebates serve as incentives to buy Energy Star products.

But the General Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said Energy Star doesn’t verify claims made by manufacturers — which might explain the gasoline-powered alarm clock, not to mention a product billed as an air room cleaner that was actually a space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached, and a computer monitor that won approval within 30 minutes of submission.

The alarm clock’s size — 1 1/2-feet high and 15 inches wide — and model name “Black Gold” should have raised alarms with Energy Star, but the automated review system didn’t catch on to the deception.

“EPA officials confirmed that because the energy-efficiency information was plausible, it was likely that no one read the product description information,” GAO said.

In addition, the four phony GAO companies were able to become Energy Star partners, giving them access to the program’s logos and other promotional resources. Energy Star didn’t call any of the companies or visit the addresses, and sent only four of the 20 products to be verified by a third-party, GAO said.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who requested the study, said that “taxpayers are shortchanged twice” when Energy Star products are not thoroughly vetted — when consumers are willing to pay more for the products, and when taxpayer dollars are spent encouraging the purchases.

The GAO findings were first reported by The New York Times.

According to the GAO, the EPA and Energy Department told investigators in briefings that although the program is based on manufacturers’ certifying their products meet efficiency standards, that efficiency is ensured through aftermarket tests and self-policing. The GAO did not look at those efforts.

The GAO did note that the two agencies said they are shifting to a more rigorous upfront screening process. In a news release last week, they announced additional testing of products and an ongoing verification program.

In a joint statement Friday, the agencies said consumers can have confidence in the Energy Star label.

“In fact, a review last year found that 98 percent of the products tested met or exceeded the Energy Star requirements, and last year alone, Americans with the help of Energy Star saved $17 billion on their energy bills.”

But the agencies acknowledge the report raised important issues.

“That’s why we have started an enhanced testing program and have already taken enforcement actions against companies that have violated the rules,” the agencies’ statement said.

See post here.

Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke

By Richard Martin
The thick hardbound volume was sitting on a shelf in a colleague’s office when Kirk Sorensen spotted it. A rookie NASA engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Sorensen was researching nuclear-powered propulsion, and the book’s title — Fluid Fuel Reactors — jumped out at him. He picked it up and thumbed through it. Hours later, he was still reading, enchanted by the ideas but struggling with the arcane writing. “I took it home that night, but I didn’t understand all the nuclear terminology,” Sorensen says. He pored over it in the coming months, ultimately deciding that he held in his hands the key to the world’s energy future.

Published in 1958 under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission as part of its Atoms for Peace program, Fluid Fuel Reactors is a book only an engineer could love: a dense, 978-page account of research conducted at Oak Ridge National Lab, most of it under former director Alvin Weinberg. What caught Sorensen’s eye was the description of Weinberg’s experiments producing nuclear power with an element called thorium.

At the time, in 2000, Sorensen was just 25, engaged to be married and thrilled to be employed at his first serious job as a real aerospace engineer. A devout Mormon with a linebacker’s build and a marine’s crew cut, Sorensen made an unlikely iconoclast. But the book inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.

Weinberg and his men proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear- armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material. The course of the nuclear industry was set for the next four decades, and thorium power became one of the great what-if technologies of the 20th century.

Today, however, Sorensen spearheads a cadre of outsiders dedicated to sparking a thorium revival. When he’s not at his day job as an aerospace engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama — or wrapping up the master’s in nuclear engineering he is soon to earn from the University of Tennessee — he runs a popular blog called Energy From Thorium. A community of engineers, amateur nuclear power geeks, and researchers has gathered around the site’s forum, ardently discussing the future of thorium. The site even links to PDFs of the Oak Ridge archives, which Sorensen helped get scanned. Energy From Thorium has become a sort of open source project aimed at resurrecting long-lost energy technology using modern techniques.

And the online upstarts aren’t alone. Industry players are looking into thorium, and governments from Dubai to Beijing are funding research. India is betting heavily on the element.

The concept of nuclear power without waste or proliferation has obvious political appeal in the US, as well. The threat of climate change has created an urgent demand for carbon-free electricity, and the 52,000 tons of spent, toxic material that has piled up around the country makes traditional nuclear power less attractive. President Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, have expressed general support for a nuclear renaissance. Utilities are investigating several next-gen alternatives, including scaled-down conventional plants and “pebble bed” reactors, in which the nuclear fuel is inserted into small graphite balls in a way that reduces the risk of meltdown.

Those technologies are still based on uranium, however, and will be beset by the same problems that have dogged the nuclear industry since the 1960s. It is only thorium, Sorensen and his band of revolutionaries argue, that can move the country toward a new era of safe, clean, affordable energy.

Named for the Norse god of thunder, thorium is a lustrous silvery-white metal. It’s only slightly radioactive; you could carry a lump of it in your pocket without harm. On the periodic table of elements, it’s found in the bottom row, along with other dense, radioactive substances — including uranium and plutonium — known as actinides.

Actinides are dense because their nuclei contain large numbers of neutrons and protons. But it’s the strange behavior of those nuclei that has long made actinides the stuff of wonder. At intervals that can vary from every millisecond to every hundred thousand years, actinides spin off particles and decay into more stable elements. And if you pack together enough of certain actinide atoms, their nuclei will erupt in a powerful release of energy.

To understand the magic and terror of those two processes working in concert, think of a game of pool played in 3-D. The nucleus of the atom is a group of balls, or particles, racked at the center. Shoot the cue ball — a stray neutron — and the cluster breaks apart, or fissions. Now imagine the same game played with trillions of racked nuclei. Balls propelled by the first collision crash into nearby clusters, which fly apart, their stray neutrons colliding with yet more clusters. Voilè0: a nuclear chain reaction.

Actinides are the only materials that split apart this way, and if the collisions are uncontrolled, you unleash hell: a nuclear explosion. But if you can control the conditions in which these reactions happen — by both controlling the number of stray neutrons and regulating the temperature, as is done in the core of a nuclear reactor — you get useful energy. Racks of these nuclei crash together, creating a hot glowing pile of radioactive material. If you pump water past the material, the water turns to steam, which can spin a turbine to make electricity.

Uranium is currently the actinide of choice for the industry, used (sometimes with a little plutonium) in 100 percent of the world’s commercial reactors. But it’s a problematic fuel. In most reactors, sustaining a chain reaction requires extremely rare uranium-235, which must be purified, or enriched, from far more common U-238. The reactors also leave behind plutonium-239, itself radioactive (and useful to technologically sophisticated organizations bent on making bombs). And conventional uranium-fueled reactors require lots of engineering, including neutron-absorbing control rods to damp the reaction and gargantuan pressurized vessels to move water through the reactor core. If something goes kerflooey, the surrounding countryside gets blanketed with radioactivity (think Chernobyl). Even if things go well, toxic waste is left over.

When he took over as head of Oak Ridge in 1955, Alvin Weinberg realized that thorium by itself could start to solve these problems. It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.

Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.

In 1965, Weinberg and his team built a working reactor, one that suspended the byproducts of thorium in a molten salt bath, and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973.

That proved to be “the most pivotal year in energy history,” according to the US Energy Information Administration. It was the year the Arab states cut off oil supplies to the West, setting in motion the petroleum-fueled conflicts that roil the world to this day. The same year, the US nuclear industry signed contracts to build a record 41 nuke plants, all of which used uranium. And 1973 was the year that thorium R&D faded away — and with it the realistic prospect for a golden nuclear age when electricity would be too cheap to meter and clean, safe nuclear plants would dot the green countryside. 

Illustrations: Martin Woodtli The core of this hypothetical nuclear reactor is a cluster of tubes filled with a fluoride thorium solution. 1// compressor, 2// turbine, 3// 1,000 megawatt generator, 4// heat exchanger, 5// containment vessel, 6// reactor core.
Illustration: Martin WoodtliWhen Sorensen and his pals began delving into this history, they discovered not only an alternative fuel but also the design for the alternative reactor. Using that template, the Energy From Thorium team helped produce a design for a new liquid fluoride thorium reactor, or LFTR (pronounced “lifter”), which, according to estimates by Sorensen and others, would be some 50 percent more efficient than today’s light-water uranium reactors. If the US reactor fleet could be converted to LFTRs overnight, existing thorium reserves would power the US for a thousand years.

Overseas, the nuclear power establishment is getting the message. In France, which already generates more than 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the Laboratoire de Physique Subatomique et de Cosmologie has been building models of variations of Weinberg’s design for molten salt reactors to see if they can be made to work efficiently. The real action, though, is in India and China, both of which need to satisfy an immense and growing demand for electricity. The world’s largest source of thorium, India, doesn’t have any commercial thorium reactors yet. But it has announced plans to increase its nuclear power capacity: Nuclear energy now accounts for 9 percent of India’s total energy; the government expects that by 2050 it will be 25 percent, with thorium generating a large part of that. China plans to build dozens of nuclear reactors in the coming decade, and it hosted a major thorium conference last October. The People’s Republic recently ordered mineral refiners to reserve the thorium they produce so it can be used to generate nuclear power.

In the United States, the LFTR concept is gaining momentum, if more slowly. Sorensen and others promote it regularly at energy conferences. Renowned climatologist James Hansen specifically cited thorium as a potential fuel source in an “Open Letter to Obama” after the election. And legislators are acting, too. At least three thorium-related bills are making their way through the Capitol, including the Senate’s Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act, cosponsored by Orrin Hatch of Utah and Harry Reid of Nevada, which would provide $250 million for research at the Department of Energy. “I don’t know of anything more beneficial to the country, as far as environmentally sound power, than nuclear energy powered by thorium,” Hatch says. (Both senators have long opposed nuclear waste dumps in their home states.)

Unfortunately, $250 million won’t solve the problem. The best available estimates for building even one molten salt reactor run much higher than that. And there will need to be lots of startup capital if thorium is to become financially efficient enough to persuade nuclear power executives to scrap an installed base of conventional reactors. “What we have now works pretty well,” says John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, a power company that owns the country’s largest portfolio of nuclear reactors, “and it will for the foreseeable future.”

Critics point out that thorium’s biggest advantage — its high efficiency — actually presents challenges. Since the reaction is sustained for a very long time, the fuel needs special containers that are extremely durable and can stand up to corrosive salts. The combination of certain kinds of corrosion-resistant alloys and graphite could meet these requirements. But such a system has yet to be proven over decades.

And LFTRs face more than engineering problems; they’ve also got serious perception problems. To some nuclear engineers, a LFTR is a little … unsettling. It’s a chaotic system without any of the closely monitored control rods and cooling towers on which the nuclear industry stakes its claim to safety. A conventional reactor, on the other hand, is as tightly engineered as a jet fighter. And more important, Americans have come to regard anything that’s in any way nuclear with profound skepticism.

So, if US utilities are unlikely to embrace a new generation of thorium reactors, a more viable strategy would be to put thorium into existing nuclear plants. In fact, work in that direction is starting to happen — thanks to a US company operating in Russia.

Located outside Moscow, the Kurchatov Institute is known as the Los Alamos of Russia. Much of the work on the Soviet nuclear arsenal took place here. In the late ’80s, as the Soviet economy buckled, Kurchatov scientists found themselves wearing mittens to work in unheated laboratories. Then, in the mid-’90s, a savior appeared: a Virginia company called Thorium Power.

  • Uranium-Fueled Light-Water Reactor
  • Fuel Uranium fuel rods
  • Fuel input per gigawatt output 250 tons raw uranium
  • Annual fuel cost for 1-GW reactor $50-60 million
  • Coolant Water
  • Proliferation potential Medium
  • Footprint 200,000-300,000 square feet, surrounded by a low-density population zone
  • Seed-and-Blanket Reactor
  • Fuel Thorium oxide and uranium oxide rods
  • Fuel input per gigawatt output 4.6 tons raw thorium, 177 tons raw uranium
  • Annual fuel cost for 1-GW reactor $50-60 million
  • Coolant Water
  • Proliferation potential None
  • Footprint 200,000-300,000 square feet, surrounded by a low-density population zone
  • Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor
  • Fuel Thorium and uranium fluoride solution
  • Fuel input per gigawatt output 1 ton raw thorium
  • Annual fuel cost for 1-GW reactor $10,000 (estimated)
  • Coolant Self-regulating
  • Proliferation potential None
  • Footprint 2,000-3,000 square feet, with no need for a buffer zone
  • Founded by another Alvin — American nuclear physicist Alvin Radkowsky — Thorium Power, since renamed Lightbridge, is attempting to commercialize technology that will replace uranium with thorium in conventional reactors. From 1950 to 1972, Radkowsky headed the team that designed reactors to power Navy ships and submarines, and in 1977 Westinghouse opened a reactor he had drawn up — with a uranium thorium core. The reactor ran efficiently for five years until the experiment was ended. Radkowsky formed his company in 1992 with millions of dollars from the Initiative for Proliferation Prevention Program, essentially a federal make-work effort to keep those chilly former Soviet weapons scientists from joining another team.

    The reactor design that Lightbridge created is known as seed-and-blanket. Its core consists of a seed of enriched uranium rods surrounded by a blanket of rods made of thorium oxide mixed with uranium oxide. This yields a safer, longer-lived reaction than uranium rods alone. It also produces less waste, and the little bit it does leave behind is unsuitable for use in weapons.

    CEO Seth Grae thinks it’s better business to convert existing reactors than it is to build new ones. “We’re just trying to replace leaded fuel with unleaded,” he says. “You don’t have to replace engines or build new gas stations.” Grae is speaking from Abu Dhabi, where he has multimillion-dollar contracts to advise the United Arab Emirates on its plans for nuclear power. In August 2009, Lightbridge signed a deal with the French firm Areva, the world’s largest nuclear power producer, to investigate alternative nuclear fuel assemblies.

    Until developing the consulting side of its business, Lightbridge struggled to build a convincing business model. Now, Grae says, the company has enough revenue to commercialize its seed-and-blanket system. It needs approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission — which could be difficult given that the design was originally developed and tested in Russian reactors. Then there’s the nontrivial matter of winning over American nuclear utilities. Seed-and-blanket doesn’t just have to work — it has to deliver a significant economic edge.

    For Sorensen, putting thorium into a conventional reactor is a half measure, like putting biofuel in a Hummer. But he acknowledges that the seed-and-blanket design has potential to get the country on its way to a greener, safer nuclear future. “The real enemy is coal,” he says. “I want to fight it with LFTRs — which are like machine guns — instead of with light-water reactors, which are like bayonets. But when the enemy is spilling into the trench, you affix bayonets and go to work.” The thorium battalion is small, but — as nuclear physics demonstrates — tiny forces can yield powerful effects.

    Read more here. See transcript of interview here.

    Gas pain needed to meet emission targets, Harvard study says

    By Marlo Lewis, Open Market.org

    A new Harvard University study (Analysis of Policies to Reduce Oil Consumption and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions from the U.S. Transportation Sector) offers a sobering assessment of what it will take to meet the emission reduction targets proposed by President Obama and the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill.

    Saruman’s rebuke to Gandalf — “You have elected the way of pain!” – nicely captures the key policy implication of this study (although the researchers, of course, do not put it that way).

    Congressional proponents of cap-and-trade policies typically favor cost-control measures (price collars, safety values, offsets) designed to keep emission permit prices from exceeding $30/ton of CO2 in 2010 and $60/t of CO2 in 2030. Although an economy-wide permit price of $30-$60/t CO2 would significantly reduce GHG emissions from the electric power sector, it would have only a “marginal impact” on transport-sector emissions, which account for about one-third of all U.S. GHG emissions.

    As a consequence, by 2020, total annual GHG emissions under Waxman-Markey would be only 7% below 2005 levels — far short of both the Waxman-Markey target (15.4% below 2005 levels) and President Obama’s somewhat less aggressive target (14% below 2005 levels).

    To reduce transportation GHG emissions 14% below 2005 levels by 2025 would require gasoline prices “in the range of $7-9/gal,” the researchers estimate. They acknowledge that such prices are ”considerably higher than the American public has been historically willing to tolerate.” Yep, $7-9 a gallon would set a new record for pain at the pump!

    By itself, the $30-$60/t CO2 carbon price would increase motor fuel prices by “only” $0.24-0.46/gallon. Not enough pain! To make driving hurt enough to save the planet (okay, hurt enough to produce undetectable effects on global temperatures), policymakers would also have to adopt a $0.50/gal motor fuel tax in 2010 that increases 10% a year until it reaches $3.36/gal in 2030. Even then, it won’t hurt enough unless crude oil prices increase to $124/barrel (in real dollars) by 2030. Crude oil prices as high as $198/barrel would work even better, the researchers opine.

    Exactly how would “the way of pain”  produce these transport-sector emission reductions? Some of the reductions would come from consumers buying higher mpg vehicles, and some from technological innovation spurred by market demand for such vehicles. Most of it however, comes from people driving less — i.e., pain avoidance behavior!

    A by-the-numbers explanation: In the base case (no carbon price, no new transportation taxes), vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) is projected to grow 39% by 2030. The economy-wide carbon price would reduce VMT by only 1% compared to the base case, and maybe not even that much due to the “rebound effect” of fuel-economy regulation (when the average vehicle gets more miles to the gallon, the average motorist travels more miles). But, add a generous serving of pain at the pump, and Voila – instead of growing 39%, VMT grows 25%. We’re saved!   

    A few other tidbits from the Harvard study: 

    • Economy-wide CO2 prices must be more than twice as high (250%) as oil price increases to result in the same increase in the price of gasoline. For example, a $50/barrel increase in the price of oil is comparable to a CO2 price of $130/t.
    • Tax credits for advanced vehicles (diesels, hybrids), ranging from $3000 to $8000 per vehicle, require excessive government expenditures ($22-38 billion per year, on a par with the 2008 U.S. auto bailout).
    • Such subsidies are also counter-productive, because they blunt automakers’ incentive to increase the fuel economy of conventional vehicles, which occupy a larger share of the market.
    • If Congress is unwilling to elect the way of pain (impose transportation taxes and steeper CO2 prices), covered entities will increasingly purchase offsets rather than reduce emissions to comply with the Waxman-Markey cap. Specifically, they will purchase an estimated 730-860 tons of CO2-equivalent offsets in 2020 and more than 2 billion tons in 2027 — breaching the proposed statutory limit.
    • A $30-$60/t CO2 carbon price combined with $7-$9/gallon gasoline would reduce GDP only 1% in 2030. However, this conclusion depends on the assumption that Congress adopts a textbook perfect revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all emission permits are auctioned, and all revenues are retured to taxpayers. 
    • The actual GDP losses would be higher: ”Given the politics surrounding the debate in Washington, D.C., revenue neutrality is likely to be an elusive goal and thus our analysis may understate the economic impacts, since only a small number of the permits are likely to be auctioned.”

    The Harvard study makes even more obvious what should no longer be controversial. Congress has not yet adopted tough controls on GHG emissions not because a “well-funded denial machine” is “confusing the public,” but because Members of Congress seek above all else to get re-elected, and inflicting pain on voters is not a smart way to win their support!

    See post here.

    An unconventional glut

    Mar 11th 2010 | HOUSTON | From The Economist print edition


    SOME time in 2014 natural gas will be condensed into liquid and loaded onto a tanker docked in Kitimat, on Canada’s Pacific coast, about 650km (400 miles) north-west of Vancouver. The ship will probably take its cargo to Asia. This proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, to be built by Apache Corporation, an American energy company, will not be North America’s first. Gas has been shipped from Alaska to Japan since 1969. But if it makes it past the planning stages, Kitimat LNG will be one of the continent’s most significant energy developments in decades.

    Five years ago Kitimat was intended to be a point of import, not export, one of many terminals that would dot the coast of North America. There was good economic sense behind the rush. Local production of natural gas was waning, prices were surging and an energy-hungry America was worried about the lights going out.

    Now North America has an unforeseen surfeit of natural gas. The United States’ purchases of LNG have dwindled. It has enough gas under its soil to inspire dreams of self-sufficiency. Other parts of the world may also be sitting on lots of gas. Those in the vanguard of this global gas revolution say it will transform the battle against carbon, threaten coal’s domination of electricity generation and, by dramatically reducing the power of exporters of oil and conventional gas, turn the geopolitics of energy on its head.

    Deep in the heart of Texas

    The source of America’s transformation lies in the Barnett Shale, an underground geological structure near Fort Worth, Texas. It was there that a small firm of wildcat drillers, Mitchell Energy, pioneered the application of two oilfield techniques, hydraulic fracturing (“fracing”, pronounced “fracking”) and horizontal drilling, to release natural gas trapped in hardy shale-rock formations. Fracing involves blasting a cocktail of chemicals and other materials into the rock to shatter it into thousands of pieces, creating cracks that allow the gas to seep to the well for extraction. A “proppant”, such as sand, stops the gas from escaping. Horizontal drilling allows the drill bit to penetrate the earth vertically before moving sideways for hundreds or thousands of metres.

    These techniques have unlocked vast tracts of gas-bearing shale in America (see map). Geologists had always known of it, and Mitchell had been working on exploiting it since the early 1990s. But only as prices surged in recent years did such drilling become commercially viable. Since then, economies of scale and improvements in techniques have halved the production costs of shale gas, making it cheaper even than some conventional sources.

    The Barnett Shale alone accounts for 7% of American gas supplies. Shale and other reservoirs once considered unexploitable (coal-bed methane and “tight gas”) now meet half the country’s demand. New shale prospects are sprinkled across North America, from Texas to British Columbia. One authority says supplies will last 100 years; many think that is conservative. In 2008 Russia was the world’s biggest gas producer (see chart 1); last year, with output of more than 600 billion cubic metres, America probably overhauled it. North American gas prices have slumped from more than $13 per million British thermal units in mid-2008 to less than $5. The “unconventional”—tricky and expensive, in the language of the oil industry—has become conventional.  

    The availability of abundant reserves in North America contrasts with the narrowing of Western firms’ oil opportunities elsewhere in recent years. Politics was largely to blame, as surging commodity prices emboldened resource-rich countries such as Russia and Venezuela to restrict foreign access to their hydrocarbons. “Everyone would like to find more oil,” says Richard Herbert, an executive at Talisman Energy, a Canadian firm using a conventional North Sea oil business to finance heavy investment in North American shale. “The problem is, where do you go? It’s either in deep water or in countries that aren’t accessible.” This is forcing big oil companies to get gassier.

    The oil majors watched from the sidelines as more entrepreneurial drillers proved shale’s viability. Now they want to join in. In December Exxon Mobil paid $41 billion for XTO, a “pure-play” gas firm with a large shale business. BP, Statoil, Total and others are sniffing around the North American gas patch, signing joint ventures with producers such as Chesapeake Energy. A wave of consolidation is likely in the coming months, as gas prices remain low, the drillers seek capital and the majors hunt for the choicest acreage.

    Shale is almost ubiquitous, so in theory North America’s success can be repeated elsewhere. How plentiful unconventional resources might be in other regions, however, is far from established. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates the global total to be 921 trillion cubic metres (see chart 2), more than five times proven conventional reserves. Some think there is far more. No one will really know until companies explore and drill.

    The drillers are already arriving in Europe and China, which are both expected to import increasing amounts of gas—and are therefore keen to produce their own. China has set its companies a target of producing 30 billion cubic metres a year from shale, equivalent to almost half the country’s demand in 2008. Several foreign firms, including Shell, are already scouring Chinese shales. After a meeting between the American and Chinese presidents last November, the White House announced a “US-China shale gas initiative”: American knowledge in exchange for investment opportunities. The IEA says China and India could have “large” reserves, far greater than the conventional resource.

    Exploration is also under way in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland and other European countries. The oil industry’s minnows led this scramble, but now the big firms are arriving too. Austria’s OMV is working on a promising basin near Vienna. Exxon Mobil is drilling in Germany. Talisman recently signed a deal to explore for shale in Poland. ConocoPhillips is already there. The first results from wells being drilled in Poland, in what some analysts believe is a shale formation similar to Barnett, should be released this year.

    No one expects production of shale gas in Europe to make a material difference to the continent’s supply for at least a decade. But the explorers in China and Europe present a long-term worry for those who have bet on exporting to these markets. Gazprom, Russia’s gas giant, is the company most exposed to this threat, because its strategy relies on developing large—and costly—gasfields in inhospitable places. But Australia, Qatar and other exporters also face a shift in the basics of their business.


    These producers are already getting a taste of the global gas glut. Almost in tandem with the surge in American production, recession brought a slump in world demand. The IEA says consumption in 2009 fell by 3%. In Europe, the drop was 7%. Consumption in the European Union will grow marginally if at all this year and will not be sufficient to clear an overhang of supplies, contracted through take-or-pay agreements signed in the dash for gas of the past decade. IHS Global Insight, a consultancy, reckons that the excess could amount to 110 billion cubic metres this year, almost a quarter of the EU’s demand in 2008.

    The glut has been exacerbated by the suddenly greater availability of LNG. Importers with the infrastructure to receive and regasify LNG can now easily tap the global market for spot cargoes. This is partly a product of the recession, which dampened demand from Japan and South Korea, the leading LNG buyers. But another cause is that many exporters, not least Qatar, the world’s LNG powerhouse, spent the past decade ramping up supplies aimed at the American market. That now looks like a blunder.

    America is still taking some of this LNG, but the exporters’ bonanza is over before it ever really began. “You’ll always find a buyer in North America,” says Frank Harris, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy, “but you might not like the price.” And LNG will grow increasingly abundant as new projects due to come on stream this year add another 80m tonnes to annual supply, almost 50% more than in 2008.

     Gas out, money in

    Qatar’s low production costs mean it can still make money, even in North America. Others cannot. In February, for example, Gazprom postponed its Shtokman gasfield project by three years because of the change in the market. Some of the gas from that field, in the Barents Sea, was to be exported to America. But Shtokman’s gas will be costly, because the field is complex and its location makes it one of the world’s most difficult energy projects to execute. Some analysts now wonder whether gas will ever flow from Shtokman.

    China offers some hope for ambitious exporters, but even there the outlook has become cloudier. The Chinese authorities want natural gas to account for at least 10% of the country’s energy mix by 2020 and are building LNG import terminals. With that target in mind, Australia, which has its own burgeoning conventional and unconventional gas supplies, has been busily building an LNG export business. But warning lights are coming on. In January, PetroChina let a deal to buy gas from Australia’s Browse LNG project expire. The original agreement was made in 2007, when LNG prices were soaring in Asia, but China can afford to be picky now. “Too many Australian LNG plants are chasing too little demand,” says Mr Harris.

    The shift in the global market has left China well-placed to dictate prices. This will be another blow to Gazprom, which has long talked of exporting gas to the country. Indeed, while the Chinese and the Russians have squabbled over the terms, Turkmenistan has quietly built its own export route to China. Even if Beijing’s shale-gas plans come to nothing, supplies from Central Asia and new regasification terminals along its coast may allow China to reach its natural-gas consumption targets without pricey Siberian supplies.

    The glut has weakened Gazprom’s position in Europe, too. It has been losing market share to cheaper Norwegian and spot-market supplies. In 2007 Gazprom talked of increasing its annual exports to the EU to 250 billion cubic metres. Now, says Jonathan Stern, of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Gazprom will probably only ever supply the EU with 200 billion cubic metres a year (it shipped about 130 billion in 2008). The company forecast in 2008 that its gas prices in Europe would triple, to around $1,500 per 1,000 cubic metres, on the back of rising oil prices, which help set prices in long-term contracts. But the price dropped to about $350 last year and is expected to fall again in 2010. The weak market could last for another five years, believes Wood Mackenzie. Gazprom has been renegotiating with leading customers, injecting elements of spot pricing into contracts to make them more attractive.

    Shtokman shtymied

    Moreover, Europe’s need for new pipelines to guarantee supplies suddenly looks less pressing. Construction of Nord Stream, Gazprom’s flagship project to export gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea, will begin next month. It is due to come on stream in 2011. The scheduled doubling of its capacity to 55 billion cubic metres a year is in doubt, says Mr Stern, because Shtokman was to have supplied the gas for it.


    Demand is a bigger problem. Even without recession or European shale, the assumption that Europe’s consumption will keep growing is looking shaky, because the EU’s efforts to boost efficiency and reduce carbon emissions are making gradual headway. Edward Christie, an economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, says the EU could be importing a third less natural gas in 2030 than the European Commission forecast in 2005. That makes the case for additional supply lines much less compelling. The IEA expects rich European countries’ demand to grow by only 0.8% a year in the next two decades, against 1.5% for the world as a whole (see chart 3).

    An age of plenty for gas consumers and of worry for conventional-gas producers thus seems to be dawning. But two factors could reverse the picture again. The first surrounds the uncertainty about how fruitful shale exploration will be outside North America. A clearer understanding of the geology will emerge from pilot wells in the coming months. Second, there are reasons for caution above ground, too. Despite natural gas’s greener credentials than oil’s or coal’s, shale drilling has critics among environmentalists, who worry that water sources will be poisoned and landscapes despoiled.

    The industry says cement casing of wells and the depth to which they are drilled make the practice safe and relatively unobtrusive. But so far it has been drilling mainly in North America, where land is plentiful and people are accustomed to the sight of oilmen’s detritus. In densely populated Europe, the rapacious rate at which shale plays must be drilled to sustain production is less likely to be tolerated.

    Even in America, opposition to shale gas is rising. New York state has imposed a moratorium on drilling in its portion of the Marcellus Shale, which it shares with Pennsylvania. Lawmakers in Congress want to study the ecological impact of fracing. The Environmental Protection Agency, a federal body, also raised concerns about “potential risks” to the watershed.

    The path of demand in gas’s new age is hard to predict, but abundant new sources could bring about profound change in patterns of energy consumption. Some of the downward pressure on price will ease: despite sedate growth, the LNG glut should dissipate, probably by 2014, says Mr Harris; and low prices will kill more projects, clearing the inventory. France’s Total thinks global demand will recover strongly enough to require another 100m tonnes a year of LNG by 2020, on top of plants already planned. However, the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of America’s Department of Energy, predicts decades of relatively weak prices.

    If this is correct, it makes sense, for both environmental and economic reasons, for the country to gasify its power generation, half of which comes from coal-fired plants. This could be done cheaply and quickly, because America’s total gas-fired capacity (as opposed to production) already exceeds that for coal. Put a price of only $30 a tonne on carbon, say supporters, and natural gas would quickly displace coal, because gas-fired power stations emit about half as much carbon as the cleanest coal plants. The IEA agrees that penalising carbon emissions would benefit natural gas at the expense of dirtier fuels.

    There would be political obstacles. The coal lobby remains strong in Washington, DC. Climate legislation struggling through Congress even includes provisions to protect “clean coal”, a term covering an array of measures, so far uncommercial, to reduce emissions from burning the black stuff. Ironically, oil companies that were once suspicious of proposals to control carbon now regard a carbon price or even a carbon tax as a potential boon to their new gas businesses.

    A more radical idea, and one that would have ramifications for the global oil sector, is to gasify transport. T. Boone Pickens, a corporate raider turned energy speculator, has launched a campaign to promote this, and has support from the gas industry. By converting North America’s fleet of 18-wheeled trucks to natural gas, says Randy Eresman, boss of EnCana, a Canadian gas company, America could halve its imports of Middle Eastern oil. EnCana is promoting “natural gas transportation corridors”: highways served by filling stations offering natural gas.

    All this is some way off. The coal industry will not surrender the power sector without a fight. The gasification of transport, if it happens, could also take a less direct form, with cars fuelled by electricity generated from gas.

    A gasified American economy would have profound effects on both international politics and the battle against climate change. Displacement of oil by natural gas would strengthen a trend away from crude in rich countries, where the IEA believes demand has already peaked as a result of the recent spike in oil prices. Another consequence of the energy market’s bull run, the unearthing of vast new supplies of gas, could bring further upheaval. If the past decade was characterised by the energy-security concerns of consumers, the coming years could give even the world’s powerful oil producers reason to worry, as a subterranean revolution shifts the geopolitics of global energy supply again.  See post here. 

    Obama surrenders gulf oil to Moscow

    By The Washington Times

    The Russians are coming – to drill in our own backyard

    The Obama administration is poised to ban offshore oil drilling on the outer continental shelf until 2012 or beyond. Meanwhile, Russia is making a bold strategic leap to begin drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. While the United States attempts to shift gears to alternative fuels to battle the purported evils of carbon emissions, Russia will erect oil derricks off the Cuban coast. Offshore oil production makes economic sense.

    It creates jobs and helps fulfill America’s vast energy needs. It contributes to the gross domestic product and does not increase the trade deficit. Higher oil supply helps keep a lid on rising prices, and greater American production gives the United States more influence over the global market. Drilling is also wildly popular with the public.

    A Pew Research Center poll from February showed 63 percent support for offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. Americans understand the fundamental points: The oil is there, and we need it. If we don’t drill it out, we have to buy it from other countries. Last year, the U.S. government even helped Brazil underwrite offshore drilling in the Tupi oil field near Rio de Janeiro. The current price of oil makes drilling economically feasible, so why not let the private sector go ahead and get our oil?

    The Obama administration, however, views energy policy through green eyeshades. Every aspect of its approach to energy is subordinated to radical environmental concerns. This unprecedented lack of balance is placing offshore oil resources off-limits. The O Force would prefer the country shift its energy production to alternative sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind power. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, in the long run, assuming technology can catch up to demand. But we have not yet reached the green utopia, we won’t get there anytime soon, and America needs more oil now.

    Russia more sensibly views energy primarily as a strategic resource. Energy is critical to Russia’s economy, as fuel and as a source of profit through export. Russia also has used energy as a coercive diplomatic tool, shutting off natural gas piped to Eastern Europe in the middle of winter to make a point about how dependent the countries are that do business with the Russians. Now Russia is using oil exploration to establish a new presence in the Western Hemisphere. It recently concluded four contracts securing oil-exploration rights in Cuba’s economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

    A Russian-Cuban joint partnership will exploit oil found in the deep waters of the Gulf. Cuba has rights to the area in which drilling will be conducted under an agreement the Carter administration recognized. From Russia’s perspective, this is another way to gain leverage inside what traditionally has been America’s sphere of influence. It may not be as dramatic as the Soviet Union attempting to use Cuba as a missile platform, but in the energy wars, the message is the same. Russia is projecting power into the Western Hemisphere while the United States retreats. The world will not tolerate a superpower that acts like a sidekick much longer.

    See post here.

    Wind turbines: ‘Eco-friendly’ – but not to eagles

    By Christopher Booker

    A red kite killed by colliding with a turbine in Spain, where up to a million birds a year may be dying in this way

    A red kite killed by colliding with a turbine in Spain, where up to a million birds a year may be dying in this way

    In all my scores of items over the years on why the obsession with wind turbines will be seen as one of the major follies of our age, there is one issue I haven’t touched on. The main practical objection to turbines, of course, is that they are useless, producing derisory amounts of electricity at colossal cost. (Yet the Government wants us to spend £100 billion on building thousands more of them which, even were it technically possible, would do virtually nothing to fill the fast-looming 40 per cent gap in our electricity supply.)

    A feature of these supposedly environment-friendly machines that I haven’t mentioned, however, is their devastating effect on wildlife, notably on large birds of prey, such as eagles and red kites. Particularly disturbing is the extent to which the disaster has been downplayed by professional bodies, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain and the Audubon Society in the US, which should be at the forefront of exposing this outrage, but which have often been drawn into a conflict of interest by the large sums of money they derive from the wind industry itself.

    There is plenty of evidence for the worldwide scale of this tragedy. The world’s largest and most carefully monitored wind farm, Altamont Pass in California, is estimated to have killed between 2,000 and 3,000 golden eagles alone in the past 20 years. Since turbines were erected on the isle of Smola, off Norway, home to an important population of white-tailed sea eagles, destruction is so great that last year only one chick survived. Thanks to wind farms in Tasmania, a unique sub-species of wedge-tailed eagles faces extinction. And here in Britain, plans to build eight wind farms on the Hebridean islands, among Scotland’s largest concentration of golden eagles, now pose a major threat to the species’ survival in the UK.

    The real problem is that birds of prey and wind developers are both drawn, for similar reasons, to the same sites – hills and ridges where the wind provides lift for soaring birds and heavily subsidised profits for developers. Eagles may thus be drawn from hundreds of square miles to particular wind farms. And, as can be seen from the YouTube video of a vulture circling above a turbine in Crete (Google “Fatal accident with vulture on windmill”), the vortices created by blade tips revolving at up to 200mph can destabilise such large birds, plunging them into a fatal collision.

    This ecological disaster has been abundantly documented and publicised, not least in Europe by Save The Eagles International, run by Mark Duchamp, a retired French businessman living in Alicante. Spain has one of the three highest concentrations of turbines in Europe and, according to the Spanish Ornithological Society (see Mr Duchamp’s Iberica 2000 website), they may be killing up to a million birds a year. But he focuses his campaign on what he sees as the disturbing failure to protect birds by the bodies whose job it is to do so, from the RSPB to the European Commission.

    In the US, the local branch of the Audubon Society withdrew its opposition to a giant wind farm off Cape Cod after a substantial sum of money was promised for ornithologists to monitor its effects on bird life. In Britain, the RSPB claims to keep a critical eye on those effects, but nevertheless urges a major expansion of wind farms, on the grounds that “climate change is the most significant threat to biodiversity on the planet”. The RSPB receives £10 from the wind-farm builder Scottish & Southern Energy for every customer signing up for electricity under its “RSPB Energy” scheme. Ornithologists also derive a good income from developers for providing impact assessments for planning applications or for monitoring existing wind farms for bird collisions.

    Various official bodies, such as Scottish National Heritage (SNH), are responsible in law for protecting bird populations. One particular scheme that sparked a long and fierce controversy – and was mildly opposed by the RSPB – was a wind farm now under construction at Edinbane on the Isle of Skye, on hills known to attract young golden eagles and sea eagles. A first run of the SNH “collision model” showed that, over 25 years, this was likely to kill 137 golden eagles, nearly 10 times the permissible conservation limit of 15. But when SNH revised a key parameter, the “avoidance rate”, from 95 per cent to 98 per cent, and the developer removed nine turbines from its plan, the result was that predicted eagle deaths fell to exactly 15, allowing the scheme to go ahead.

    Details of what Mr Duchamp calls “the scandal of the Edinbane wind farm” are included in a complaint he has lodged with the European Commission (also available on his Iberica 2000 website), asking Brussels to be much more rigorous in enforcing its own environmental legislation, such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, which are widely disregarded by national authorities. The Commission did order the Scottish Executive to veto a 178-turbine wind farm on the Hebridean island of Lewis (for once, strongly opposed by the RSPB) because its devastating effect on eagles and other protected birds would breach its directives. But many similarly damaging schemes on Lewis and elsewhere are still being driven forward as part of Edinburgh’s mad dream that 40 per cent of Scotland’s electricity should come from wind and other renewable sources within 10 years.

    Large birds of prey are far from being the only victims of wind farms, and the thousands of miles of power lines needed to connect them to the grid. A study cited by Birdlife International shows that, each year, power lines can be responsible for up to 800 bird kills per mile. Vast numbers of other birds are killed by turbines each year, as are countless thousands of bats, which also seem to be drawn to wind farms, and which recent studies have shown die with their lungs distended by air pressure from the blades.

    For the rest of us, it is a criminal offence to kill bats and golden eagles. But it seems that all those under the spell of the infatuation with windpower and global warming can claim exemption from the law. In return for ludicrously small amounts of very expensive electricity, wildlife must pay the price for their dreams.  Read more and see comments here.  See another similar story here.

    America is headed to prison, years in the making, painted green

    By Jay Dwight

    Let me show you the motion picture analogy.

    You probably have seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” based on Stephen King’s novel where Andy Dufree (played by Tim Robbins) is convicted on circumstantial evidence of murdering his wife. 

    Dufree is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary, a fictional prison in Maine. After much noble suffering and struggle, Andy Dufree breaks out, leaving behind evidence of the warden’s corruption and brutality.

    In other words, American’s have been condemned for global warming on circumstantial evidence by a stacked jury, and without due process.

    The jury was stacked with biased ‘climatologists’, environmental sellouts, bureaucrat enforcers, and industry insiders. The verdict, declared without trial in the Senate, by the Environmental Protection Agency: “CO2 is pollution. Since you can’t control yourselves, we will.”

    The jurors then became our self-appointed judges, and wardens, and jailors.

    We are promised freedom and independence, a ‘green’ redemption, if we just put in the years and payment.

    Only through renewable energy and wind power, they say, will come salvation.

    Wind turbines are hailed as ‘free and clean, bringing green jobs’. They will bring “freedom and independence from foreigners who hate us!” they add.

    But, they bring decades of torture and servitude, high cost and debt.

     America is headed to such a prison it seems to this columnist, replete with sleep deprivation, heavy chains of cost on the ‘inmates’, and strict corrupt ‘jailers and wardens’.

     Note what is happening in Maine.

    Recently, courageous journalists have written news-stories about health complaints from the people in Maine from Mars Hill, Freedom, and Vinalhaven. Victims of sleep deprivation from recently installed low frequency thrumming of the wind turbines.

    Maine’s ‘warden-legislators’ ignore the ‘inmates’ pleas for mercy.  The people are literally ‘locked-in’. They now have difficulty selling their homes, because of noise and visual pollution.

    Others decry the betrayal and the destruction of Maine’s islands and hills. Beauty that inspires and brings many to our state.  They are put down as just ‘NIMBYs.’

    The Maine ‘warden-legislators’ gave preferential treatment in expedited permitting for industrial turbines, and excessive compensation to developers and investors of massive wind turbine industrial parks.

    Permitting is fast. Appeal is shortened, stifled and silenced. Harmful health effects, and destructive environmental impacts are ignored.

    The Maine wind power law, and announced offshore wind power law, will lock Maine people, and the people of the United States, into usurious long-term electricity costs. 

    Contracts at almost double the current wholesale cost of electricity have been granted by Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to First Wind the gest industrial wind company in Maine.  

    Contracts amounting to eighty cents per kilowatt-hour have been given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to First Wind’s subsidiary Deep Water Wind in a twenty-year contract for a planned offshore wind development.

     For every onshore wind turbine installed in Maine $1 million to $2 million is added to the national debt.  Offshore wind turbines could add $15 to $20 million each to the deficit and debt.  Debts incurred to pay up front cash payments to developers.

     Costs and debt our children and grandchildren will be shackled to.

     Incentives given to industrial wind developers mean there will be scant additions to state or federal tax revenues.

     Local property taxes are promised, but few are delivered. The town of Mars Hill for example, receives only a net $100,000 per year from First Wind, the company that owns the turbines installed in 2008.

     No other business is given such favorable treatment in the state of Maine, or for that matter in the United States.

     Unfortunately, we don’t have documents like Andy Dufree to prove corruption.

     Just ‘circumstantial’ connections easy for all to see:

    • Former Maine governor and his son: Angus King developer of a $283 million wind project whose son Angus King III is head of mergers and acquisitions at First Wind.
    • Former legal counsel and friend of current Governor John Baldacci, Kurt Adams is now Vice President of Transmission Development at First Wind.
    • Former employee of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and current Chairman of the Energy and Utilities Committee Jon Hinck and Juliette Brown his wife, is attorney for the wind industry.
    • Former defenders of Maine’s mountains and water, The Natural Resources Council of Maine have turned promoters for the wind power industry, after receiving contributions and money for ‘natural resources protection’, in a deal arranged by Juliette Brown
    • The hedge fund owners of First Wind have connections high up in the Obama Administration.  David E. Shaw, founder of D. E. Shaw (major investor in First Wind), was appointed to President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2009. Lawrence Summers former employee of D. E. Shaw is now director of the Obama’s National Economic Council.
    • In 2009 First Wind was given $115 million in stimulus funds.  The company was just granted a $117 loan guarantee to build a project in Hawaii.
    • Evidence of collusion between the American Wind Energy Association and government officials at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are emerging.

    But, according our warden-legislators and jailors, there are no problems here. 

    All this for being falsely convicted on circumstantial evidence?  Where is the justice in that?