Giant Cleanup Ship Met with Puny Response from Bureaucrats

After our government claimed that we did not need or could not obtain larger ships to skim the Gulf oil spill, a giant-capacity skimming ship has arrived in U.S. waters. Yet our government has us wondering whether it will permit the ship to join the cleanup effort.

The problem is not simply the Jones Act; it’s also that our Environmental Protection Agency may squelch the ability to use this giant ship.

The S. S. A-Whale is not like the mere 4,000-barrel-a-day vessels we’ve been using. Its owners say this ship, a converted oil tanker, can gather 500,000 barrels a day. By comparison, say the owners, the entire fleet our government has authorized for BP has only gathered 600,000 barrels—TOTAL—in the 70 days since the Deepwater Horizon explosion. (NOTE: 500,000 barrels equals 21-million gallons.)

The A-Whale is the essence of an international ship—built in South Korea, modified in Portugal, owned by Taiwanese and flagged in Liberia. And that is part of the problem. Even if it stays farther offshore than the 3-mile limit of America’s Jones Act, it still requires approval by the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency before BP can hire the A-Whale and put it to work.

The second problem is that the ship would gather spilled oil, separate the water from the oil, and discharge the water back into the ocean so its tanks could be filled with oil. Our EPA has a problem with that, because the discharge would retain a minor amount of oily residue. To EPA, any residue greater than 15 parts per million is impermissible. They elevate perfection above the need for speed.

The A-Whale also uses a skimming method that has been tested but not previously used on an actual spill, gathering oil through large slits cut into the sides of its bow.

When the ship arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, where it awaits a green light, the local media reported.

The Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship dubbed the “A Whale” stands 10 stories high, stretches 1,115 feet in length and has a nearly 200-foot beam. It displaces more water than an aircraft carrier.

“Built in South Korea as a supertanker for transporting oil and iron ore, the six-month-old vessel was refitted in the wake of the BP oil spill with 12, 16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters

“The vessel’s billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf “like a lawn mower cutting the grass,” ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.

“But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.”

Not trusting the U.S. government to act quickly, TMT has hired public relations officials and lobbyists, and invited the media to inspect the ship, trying to cut through the federal red tape that has slowed down the cleanup so far.

Not until June 16th did our government officially decree that we needed foreign ships, because U.S. skimmers lacked the capacity. And our officials had claimed that no oil tanker-size vessels were available. And they have issued no waivers of the Jones Act.

As Rep. Corinne Brown (D, FL) told a congressional hearing, “We need the large ships. . . . They are available in foreign countries.”

It’s long past due that we put more resources on the problem. Every delay has enabled more oil to make landfall, and be whipped up and spread by potential hurricanes. By bureaucratic delays in finding and hiring bigger cleanup vessels, our government and BP have enabled the problem to be worse than it had to be.

See post here.

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Huge Oil Skimming Boat Sits Idle, Waiting for Permission to Go to Gulf

Gotta Protect Those Unions, Ya Know!

By Dell Hill

It’s absolutely unbelievable!

There’s a ship tied up in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s an oil-skimmer, designed specifically to clean up messes such as the one now in its 66th day in the Gulf of Mexico. And there it sits, bobbing like a cork on the Atlantic Ocean waters in VIRGINIA.

Someone call the White House and alert them to the fact that the oil leak is in the Gulf, not the Atlantic, and there’s absolutely NO reason on Earth for that ship to be sitting in Virginia, doing nothing.

Peter Frost, writing for the Daily Press, files this amazing report.

“After making a brief stop in Norfolk for refueling, U.S. Coast Guard inspections and an all-out publicity blitz intended to drum up public support, a giant tanker billed as the world’s largest oil skimming vessel set sail Friday for the Gulf of Mexico where it hopes to assist in the oil-cleanup effort.

The Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship dubbed the “A Whale” stands 10 stories high, stretches 1,115 feet in length and has a nearly 200-foot beam. It displaces more water than an aircraft carrier.

Built in South Korea as a supertanker for transporting oil and iron ore, the six-month-old vessel was refitted in the wake of the BP oil spill with 12, 16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters.

The vessel’s billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf “like a lawn mower cutting the grass,” ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.

But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.

That’s part of the reason the ship was tied to pier at the Virginia Port Authority‘s Norfolk International Terminals Friday morning. TMT and its public-relations agency invited scores of media, elected officials and maritime industry executives to an hour-long presentation about how the ship could provide an immediate boost to clean-up efforts in the Gulf.

TMT also paid to fly in Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, to get a look at the massive skimmer.

Overton blasted BP and the federal government for a lack of effort and coordination in their dual oil-spill response and made a plea to the government to allow the A Whale to join the cleanup operation.

“We need this ship. We need this help,” Overton said. “That oil is already contaminating our shoreline. We’ve got to get the ship out there and see if it works. There’s only one way to find out: Get the damn thing in the gulf and we’ll see.”

TMT officials acknowledged that not even they’re sure how well the new skimming method will work, noting that it appeared to perform well in limited testing last week.

“This concept has never been tried before,” said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer. “But we think we can do in maybe in a day and a half what these other crews have done in 66 days. We see the A Whale as adding another layer to the recovery effort.”

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said the McDonnell administration “still has great interest in offshore oil development in Virginia” and supports the A Whale’s effort to assist in the cleanup.

To join the fight, the ship also might require separate waivers from the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The A Whale — pronounced along the lines of “A Team” because there is a “B Whale” coming — is designed to work 20 to 50 miles offshore where smaller skimmers have trouble navigating. The ship would take in oily water and transfer it into specialized storage tanks on the flanks of the vessel. From there, the oil-fouled seawater would be pumped into internal tanks where the oil would separate naturally from the water.

After the separation process, the oil would be transferred to other tankers or shore-based facilities while the remaining water would be pumped back into the gulf.

Because the process wouldn’t remove all traces of oil from the seawater, TMT will likely have to gain a special permit from the EPA, said Scott H. Segal of the Washington lobbying firm, Bracewell &Giuliani, which TMT has retained to help negotiate with federal regulators.

“The simple answer is, we don’t know what the discharge will look like until we can take A Whale out there and test it,” Segal said. TMT will work with regulators to determine an appropriate level of oil that can be contained in the ship’s discharge.

TMT also is firm is working with the Coast Guard to gain approval to operate in the gulf, which may require a waiver from a 90-year-old maritime act that restricts foreign-flagged vessels from operating in U.S. waters, said Bob Grantham, a TMT project officer.

Connaughton, the former federal Maritime Administrator, said he doesn’t believe the A Whale would require a waiver from the Jones Act, a federal law signed in 1920 that sought to protect U.S. maritime interests.

Coast Guard inspectors toured the ship for about four hours on Thursday to determine the ship’s efficacy and whether it was fit to be deployed, said Capt. Matthew Sisson, commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Research and Development arm in New London, Conn.

“We take all offers of alternative technology very seriously,” Sisson said. The ship, he said, is “an impressive engineering feat.”

He would not offer a timetable for Coast Guard approval of the vessel, but said he will try to “turn around a report … as soon as humanely possible.”

Of course, even if the ship gains approval to operate in the gulf, its owners expect the company to be paid for its efforts.

“That’s an open question,” Segal said. “Obviously, (TMT) is a going concern and its people would need to be compensated for their time and effort.”

It makes absolutely NO difference who pays the bill. It makes absolutely NO difference whether or not there are enough life preservers on board. It makes absolutely NO sense to have this ship parked at Norfolk, Virginia while millions of gallons of crude oil is still pumping into the Gulf daily.

He told us it would be “Hope and Change”. Is this the “change”? God, I “Hope” not!

BP, Greenpeace and the Big Oil Jackpot

By Jeff Blue (Dennis Quaid), Undercover Blues

In what passes for debate about climate change one of the most tiresome allegations is that skeptics are lavishly funded by big oil. As a result of this funding, so the argument goes, the public has been confused by those who’ll say anything in exchange for a paycheck.

“Follow the money” we’re told and you’ll discover that climate skeptics are irredeemably tainted. Ergo nothing they say can be trusted. Ergo their concerns, questions, and objections should be dismissed out of hand.

It’s therefore amusing that the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now drawing attention to the close relationship between climate change activists and BP – aka British Petroleum, an entity for which the descriptor “big oil” was surely invented.

According to the Washington Post the green group Nature Conservancy – which encourages ordinary citizens to personally pledge to fight climate change – “has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years.”

Gee, didn’t Greenpeace build an entire ExxonSecrets website to expose the allegedly diabolical fact that, over a 9-year-period (1998-2006) ExxonMobil donated a grand total of $2.2 million to a conservative think tank?

$10 million versus $2 million. Who do we suppose has the cozier relationship with big oil?

But that’s just the beginning. The Washington Post also points out that Conservation International, another green group which insists climate change represents a “profound threat,” has “accepted $2 million in donations from BP over the years and partnered with the company on a number of projects.”

Funny, Greenpeace doesn’t talk about that. Nor does it mention:

that BP is funding research into “ways of tackling the world’s climate problem” at Princeton University to the tune of $2 million per year for 15 years
that BP is funding an energy research institute involving two other US universities to the tune of $500 million – the aim of which is “to develop new sources of energy and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment”
that ExxonMobil itself has donated $100 million to Stanford university so that researchers there can find “ways to meet growing energy needs without worsening global warming”
The only dollar amounts Greenpeace cites in its explanation of why it decided to launch ExxonSecrets is that measly $2.2 million. Versus 10 + 2 + 30 + 500 + 100. Let’s see, which all adds up to…wait for it…$642 million.

If the world is divided into two factions – one that believes climate change is a serious problem and another that thinks human influence on the climate is so minimal it’s indistinguishable from background noise – one group has pulled off a bank heist while the other has been panhandling in front of the liquor store.

In the same document in which Greenpeace talks about the ExxonMobil money it chillingly asserts that climate “deniers” aren’t entitled to free speech. Why? Because “Freedom of speech does not apply to misinformation and propaganda.”

Actually, the big thinkers on the subject have consistently taken the opposite view. John Stuart Mill was adamant that no one has the right to decide what is or is not propaganda on everyone else’s behalf. He would have looked Greenpeace in the eye and told it to stop imagining that its own judgment is infallible.

More than a hundred years later Noam Chomsky famously declared that if you don’t believe in freedom of expression for opinions you despise you don’t believe in it at all.

If Greenpeace would like to have a serious conversation about who, exactly, is spreading misinformation I’m up for that – since it’s overwhelming obvious that the big oil jackpot was awarded to those on the Greenpeace side of the debate.

The fact that climate change activists have enjoyed such a powerful funding advantage and yet insisted all the while that the exact opposite was the case is troubling. It tells us a good deal about their intellectual rigour. About their character. And about their ability to distinguish fact from fiction.

If there really is a climate crisis, if our grandchildren’s future really is imperiled, these aren’t the people to lead us out of the wilderness.

Jeff Blue (Dennis Quaid), Undercover Blues

UPDATE (June 6): Reader Terry Kesteloot alerted me to the fact that the Greenpeace.org website is apparently infected with a “very low” risk computer virus. The links in this post to Greenpeace’s ExxonSecrets FAQ have therefore been replaced with links to a copy of the document that resides at Archive.org (scroll down once the page loads).

If your machine has virus protection, the document may be viewed directly on the Greenpeace website HERE.

Editor note: BP granted $500,000 to the University of California Berkeley to study energy and the environment. May be the same $500 million to the two universities mentioned above.

First U.S. offshore wind energy project faces lawsuit

By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau,
June 26, 2010

Environmental groups filed suit Friday in federal district court arguing that the nation’s first offshore wind energy project violates the Endangered Species Act.

The suit accuses the Obama administration of failing to protect endangered birds and whales in approving the Cape Wind project, a set of 130 wind turbine generators to be installed on Nantucket Sound off the Massachusetts coast.

The suit is first legal challenge to the project since it was approved April 28 by federal officials, who lauded it as a model of renewable energy production.

The plaintiffs, including Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Californians for Renewable Energy Inc. and the Texas group Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, argue that the Interior Department failed to adequately assess the wind turbine project for its potential harm to birds and whales migrating off the Massachusetts coast.

Interior Department Press Secretary Kendra Barkoff declined to comment on a matter in litigation. However, the department’s website details the extensive environmental review process that preceded the department’s approval.

Jessica Almy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the Interior Department ignored recommendations from experts to require that wind turbines shut down during the heaviest periods of bird migration.

She alleged the Fish and Wildlife Service recommendation was removed from the proposal after the Interior Department received an objection from the project applicant, Cape Wind Associates.

Cape Wind Associates, owned by a private Boston-based energy company, wrote Interior in 2008 that the shutdown requirement was “not reasonable.” The letter was sent to Interior’s Minerals Management Service, currently under criticism for allegedly mishandling its oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling.

The shutdown requirement would have included hours when power generated from the project was most important and would harm the project’s financial viability, the company wrote.

Mark Rodgers, communications director for Cape Wind, said, “The impact on birds will be minor and … the threats we’re imposing on birds from burning fossil fuels and from climate change are far more severe and need to be mitigated.”

The plaintiffs also argue that the project could harm right whales, citing reports that nearly 100 whales were recently observed feeding near the proposed project site.

Rodgers said that of all the water bodies around Cape Cod, “the one with the least amount of whale traffic is Nantucket Sound.”

See LA Times story.

Secret Footage from the BP Boadroom of Devestating Coffee Spill

Written by Editorial Dept
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 04:37

Our inside sources have provided us with secret footage that was filmed in the BP boardroom when a new spill broke out.
We cannot reveal our sources, but can let you know that what you are about to see is both disturbing and shocking.

Please see below for the video – This is obviously not a professional recording, but you will get the gist of what is taking place. See story here.

EPA, CAP-AND-TRADE AND OIL

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Posted by David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov

“After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus.'” Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell

Dr. Johnson’s famous refutation of Bishop Berkeley came to mind as we pondered the claim, tirelessly recited by advocates, that cap-and-trade will end, or materially reduce, America’s dependence on oil. Yet just as Dr. Johnson struck the stone, we point to EPA’s recent analysis of the Kerry-Lieberman bill, specifically the chart on page 31, which starkly refutes the notion that cap-and-trade would make even a dent in domestic oil consumption.

As the chart clearly shows, by 2050, in a Kerry-Lieberman world, consumers continue to use oil in volumes only slightly lower than would otherwise be the case. One could reasonably speculate that American drivers might be willing to pay a premium to end dependence on foreign oil, but according to EPA, Kerry-Lieberman would raise gas prices to $5.00 a gallon, and yet all they would get is a budget-breaking gasoline tax.

EPA came to much the same conclusion with last year’s Waxman-Markey bill.

In that analysis, the agency found that cap-and-trade would not “substantially change consumer behavior in their vehicle miles traveled or vehicle purchases at the prices at which low GHG emitting automotive technologies can be produced;” and that it “creates little incentive for the introduction of low-GHG automotive technology.”

Denny Ellerman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees. “The link between the oil spill and the climate bill in my view is very weak,” Ellerman, an economist and part-time professor at MIT, recently told Greenwire. “People are kidding themselves,” he said, if they believe penalizing “carbon pollution” will significantly shrink oil imports or the need for more offshore drilling.

In addition to MIT and EPA, there’s the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). An EIA analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill found that its cap-and-trade system would shrink petroleum use 5 percent by 2030, compared to the level expected in that year without the bill. That’s about 1 million barrels of oil a day. Right now, Americans consume about 19.5 million barrels a day. According to Ellerman, that meager 5 percent drop could drop further in the wake of rapid economic growth.

Maybe President Obama didn’t have time to read EPA’s or EIA’s analysis. He recently praised the Kerry-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill because it “will strengthen our national security by beginning to break our dependence on foreign oil.” If by “beginning to break our dependence” he means a slight reduction in oil use in 2050, we stand corrected. We think he means something else entirely. One prominent supporter of Waxman-Markey asserted that “one of the best ways to accomplish the overall goal is through what’s called a cap-and-trade mechanism…We won’t have to import so much gasoline and oil from a lot of countries that certainly don’t look out for our interests…” Except that we would.

Then there’s the issue of achieving a 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020-the level proposed by President Obama, and one notably lower than the 17 percent reduction by the same year in Kerry-Lieberman. On this point we consulted Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, which concluded in a recent report that gasoline prices would have to rise above $7 a gallon by 2020 to meet that level. “The overarching conclusion of this report,” said Belfer scholars, “is that reducing GHG emissions and fuel consumption in the transportation sector will be an enormous challenge that requires stronger policy initiatives than are currently being discussed by policy makers.”

The “stronger policy initiatives” of the kind Harvard thinks are necessary probably don’t jibe with what we support, but the original point still holds: Kerry-Lieberman, and any variants thereof, will make consumers, families, farmers-basically, anyone who drives-pay a massive gasoline tax for no apparent benefit-at least not the avowed benefit of which cap-and-trade supports are so fond of reciting.

Another point: when it comes to necessarily skyrocketing electricity prices under cap-and-trade, supporters routinely tout complicated wealth transfers in Kerry-Lieberman et al. to make consumers whole (they will do nothing of the kind). But as for higher gasoline prices, neither Waxman-Markey nor Kerry-Lieberman would help consumers shoulder the increased burden at the pump-a burden that is also highly regressive. Again, if the point is to keep prices high to change consumer behavior, i.e. drive less, Harvard tells us cap-and-trade is a simply massive tax that’s not high enough to achieve that goal.

As Dr. Johnson might have said, expecting cap-and-trade to meaningfully reduce oil dependence is the triumph of hope over analysis.

Wind Power: Limited, Expensive, Remote and Iffy

By Dr. Frank Clementem Energy Facts Weekly, June 22, 2010

“… taxpayers will be required to pay to build Cape Wind and then required to buy its products at twice normal rates, opponents might have more success if they pointed out what a lousy deal it is …”— Wall Street Journal, 2010

Electricity from wind is a worthwhile addition to electric grids throughout the United States. Fuel diversity is the linchpin of the electric reliability that serves as the foundation of modern society. But, as the forecast released last month by the Energy Information Administration in their International Energy Outlook 2010 confirms, wind-based electricity generation will play a very minor role in the electric supply system over the next several decades.

The Limited Role of Wind in U.S. Power Generation

In fact, wind power is projected to peak about 2015 when 4.7% of electricity will be produced by wind. Thus, after this current spate of turbine construction subsides, the relative role of wind will actually decline through 2035.

The constraints upon large-scale deployment of wind power are straightforward and well known. There is no free lunch in the energy business and the tab associated with greatly expanded dependence upon wind generation is just too risky and expensive — and probably not even possible.

The Cost of Cape Cod Wind-Based Electricity

Building 130 wind turbines, each as high as the Statue of Liberty, in Nantucket Sound will be expensive indeed. Beacon Hill Institute in Massachusetts estimated taxpayer funded subsidies alone will reach one billion dollars — giving wind investors an unseemly 25% return on equity. And then the real costs begin as electric rates follow an ever escalating trajectory based upon increases to which all parties have already agreed.


Cape Cod: The High Cost of Wind Generation

“This confirms the worst fears of many Massachusetts rate players and businesses,” — Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound

Of course, most wind power in the U.S. will come from onshore but that is expensive as well. Professor Jay Apt at Carnegie Mellon University estimated wind based electricity on land could reach 20 cents per kilowatt hour — double that of coal even after CO2 was captured and stored. The Heritage Foundation came up with similar numbers, stating that the average family in the U.S. would pay $340 a month for electricity from wind as opposed to $189 from coal. But even this alarming number surely underestimates the cost of wind since coal provides half of the electricity in the United States and wind could never reach that scale of deliverability.

Wind Resources Abound – but on the Farthest Horizon

Geographic Dissonance: 80% of the Class 4 Wind is far removed from 70% of the Electricity Load


Indeed, an extensive study by major U.S. power pools found that for the Eastern U.S. just to get 5% of its power from wind will require over 10,000 miles of extra high voltage transmission lines. Considering that it takes about seven years to get one line approved and built, the prospects that wind will make a significant difference are about as remote as North Dakota.

Wind Takes Hot Days Off — And Cold Ones Too

The intermittency of wind is its real Achilles heel. Modern societies are replete with machines and electronic equipment based on the presumption of reliable electricity. Wind’s variability means it must be constantly backed up by another source — most likely natural gas with a price that can spike literally overnight. Thus, the cost involves not only building wind turbines and new transmission lines but also building standby natural gas peaking plants — a true double whammy for electric rates to families and businesses.


Hot? Wind Generation’s Performance during a California Heat Wave

COLD?

“During the January 2010 cold snap in the United Kingdom, wind was able to generate power at only 4% of its rated capacity. Jeremy Nicholson, Director of an Industrial Energy Consumers group, noted, “Even if we had 30 gigawatts of wind power, it wouldn’t have contributed anything of any significance this winter…” — (UK, Telegraph)
NEVER ?
“Seven wind turbines launched near Bali during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2007 have failed to deliver any of their promised power … District head W. Sumarta acknowledged that the seven wind plants have never been operational …. ‘they are nothing more than monuments’ he said … each wind turbine cost $325,000 US …” ” — Jakarta Post, May, 2010

Major References:

1. Wall Street Journal, 5/12/2010
2. Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, http://www.saveoursound.org
3. Telegraph (UK), 1/11/2010
4. Jakarta Post, 5/2010
5. Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org
6. http://www.eia.doe.gov

Britain’s Wind Scam Worse Than Thought

Robert Mendick, The Sunday Telegraph, 20 June 2010

Energy firms will receive thousands of pounds a day per wind farm to turn off their turbines because the National Grid cannot use the power they are producing.

Critics of wind farms have seized on the revelation as evidence of the unsuitability of turbines to meet the UK’s energy needs in the future. They claim that the ‘intermittent’ nature of wind makes such farms unreliable providers of electricity.

The National Grid fears that on breezy summer nights, wind farms could actually cause a surge in the electricity supply which is not met by demand from businesses and households.

The electricity cannot be stored, so one solution – known as the ‘balancing mechanism’ – is to switch off or reduce the power supplied.

The system is already used to reduce supply from coal and gas-fired power stations when there is low demand. But shutting down wind farms is likely to cost the National grid – and ultimately consumers – far more. When wind turbines are turned off, owners are being deprived not only of money for the electricity they would have generated but also lucrative ‘green’ subsidies for that electricity.

The first successful test shut down of wind farms took place three weeks ago. Scottish Power received £13,000 for closing down two farms for a little over an hour on 30 May at about five in the morning.

Whereas coal and gas power stations often pay the National Grid £15 to £20 per megawatt hour they do not supply, Scottish Power was paid £180 per megawatt hour during the test to switch off its turbines.

It raises the prospect of hugely profitable electricity suppliers receiving large sums of money from the National Grid just for switching off wind turbines.

Dr Lee Moroney, planning director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a think tank opposed to the widespread introduction of wind farms, said: “As more and more wind farms come on stream this will become more and more of an issue. Wind power is not controllable and does not provide a solid supply to keep the national grid manageable. Paying multinational companies large sums of money not to supply electricity seems wrong.”

Earlier this year, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that electricity customers are paying more than £1 billion a year to subsidise wind farms and other forms of renewable energy.

The proceeds of the levy, known as the Renewables Obligation (RO), are divided between the main renewable energy sources, with wind receiving 40 per cent, landfill gas 25 per cent, biomass 20 per cent, hydroelectric 12 per cent and sewage gas 3 per cent.

Professor Michael Laughton, emeritus professor of electrical engineering at the University of London, said: “People will find it very hard to understand that an electricity company is getting paid the market rate plus a subsidy for doing nothing. It is essentially a waste of consumers’ money.”

Full story

Obama’s energy pipe dreams

By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, June 21, 2010; A17

“For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. . . . Time and time again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”
— Barack Obama, June 15 address on the BP oil spill

Just once, it would be nice if a president would level with Americans on energy. Barack Obama isn’t that president. His speech the other night was about political damage control — his own. It was full of misinformation and mythology. Obama held out a gleaming vision of an America that would convert to the “clean” energy of, presumably, wind, solar and biomass. It isn’t going to happen for many, many decades, if ever.

For starters, we won’t soon end our “addiction to fossil fuels.” Oil, coal and natural gas supply about 85 percent of America’s energy needs. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects energy consumption to grow only an average of 0.5 percent annually from 2008 to 2035, but that’s still a 14 percent cumulative increase. Fossil fuel usage would increase slightly in 2035 and its share would still account for 78 percent of the total.

Unless we shut down the economy, we need fossil fuels. More efficient light bulbs, energy-saving appliances, cars with higher gas mileage may all dampen energy use. But offsetting these savings will be more people (391 million vs. 305 million), more households (147 million vs. 113 million), more vehicles (297 million vs. 231 million) and a bigger economy (almost double in size). Although wind, solar and biomass are assumed to grow as much as 10 times faster than overall energy use, they provide only 11 percent of supply in 2035, up from 5 percent in 2008.

There are physical limits on new energy sources, as Robert Bryce shows in his book “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.” Suppose an inventor “found a way to convert soybeans into jet fuel,” Bryce writes. “Even with that invention, the conversion of all of America’s yearly soybean production into jet fuel would only provide about 20 percent of U.S. jet fuel demand.” Jet fuel, in turn, is about 8 percent of U.S. oil use. Similarly, wind turbines have limited potential; they must be supported by backup generating capacity when there’s no breeze.

The consequences of the BP oil spill come in two parts. The first is familiar: the fire; the deaths; coated birds; polluted wetlands; closed beaches; anxious fishermen. The second is less appreciated: a more muddled energy debate.

Obama has made vilification of oil and the oil industry a rhetorical mainstay. This is intellectually shallow, if politically understandable. “Clean energy” won’t displace oil or achieve huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — for example, the 83 percent cut by 2050 from 2005 levels included in last year’s House climate change legislation. Barring major technological advances (say, low-cost “carbon capture” to pump CO2 into the ground) or an implausibly massive shift to nuclear power, this simply won’t happen. It’s a pipe dream. In the EIA’s “reference case” projection, CO2 emissions in 2035 are 8.7 percent higher than in 2008.

Rather than admit the obvious, Obama implies that other countries are disproving it. “Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America,” he said in his address. If China can do it, so can we! Well, whatever China’s accomplishing on wind and solar, it’s a sideshow. In 2008, fossil fuels met 87 percent of its energy needs, reports the International Energy Agency. Coal alone accounted for 66 percent. China represents about half of the world’s hard coal consumption. Usage grew 10.7 percent annually from 2000 to 2008.

The outlines of a pragmatic energy policy are clear. A gradually increasing tax on oil or carbon would nudge people toward more energy-efficient products, including cars. Any tax should be part of a budget program that includes major spending cuts. This is a better approach than the confusing cap-and-trade proposals — embraced by the House and the administration — that would inevitably be riddled with exceptions and preferences. Finally, research and development should search for cheaper, cleaner energy sources.

Meanwhile, it’s imperative to tap domestic oil and natural gas. This creates jobs and limits our dependence on insecure imports. Drilling advances have opened vast reserves of natural gas trapped in shale. Human error and corner-cutting by BP seem the main causes of the spill. Given the industry’s previously strong safety record, Obama’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling isn’t justified and should be shortened. It’s not industry lobbyists who sustain fossil fuels but the reality that they’re economically and socially necessary. A candid president would have said so. See Washington Post editorial here.

Obama spill panel big on policy, not engineering

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON – The panel appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is short on technical expertise but long on talking publicly about “America’s addiction to oil.” One member has blogged about it regularly.

Only one of the seven commissioners, the dean of Harvard’s engineering and applied sciences school, has a prominent engineering background — but it’s in optics and physics. Another is an environmental scientist with expertise in coastal areas and the after-effects of oil spills. Both are praised by other scientists.

The five other commissioners are experts in policy and management.

The White House said the commission will focus on the government’s “too cozy” relationship with the oil industry. A presidential spokesman said panel members will “consult the best minds and subject matter experts” as they do their work.

The commission has yet to meet, yet some panel members had made their views known.

Environmental activist Frances Beinecke on May 27 blogged: “We can blame BP for the disaster and we should. We can blame lack of adequate government oversight for the disaster and we should. But in the end, we also must place the blame where it originated: America’s addiction to oil.” And on June 3, May 27, May 22, May 18, May 4, she called for bans on drilling offshore and the Arctic.

“Even as questions persist, there is one thing I know for certain: the Gulf oil spill isn’t just an accident. It’s the result of a failed energy policy,” Beinecke wrote on May 20.

Two other commissioners also have gone public to urge bans on drilling.

Co-chairman Bob Graham, a Democrat who was Florida governor and later a senator, led efforts to prevent drilling off his state’s coast. Commissioner Donald Boesch of the University of Maryland wrote in a Washington Post blog that the federal government had planned to allow oil drilling off the Virginia coast and “that probably will and should be delayed.”

Boesch, who has made scientific assessments of oil spills’ effects on the ecosystem, said usually oil spills are small. But he added, “The impacts of the oil and gas extraction industry (both coastal and offshore) on Gulf Coast wetlands represent an environmental catastrophe of massive and underappreciated proportions.”

An expert not on the commission, Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University and an Obama campaign contributor, said the panel should have included more technical expertise and “folks who aren’t sort of already staked out” on oil issues.

Jerry Taylor of the libertarian Cato Institute described the investigation as “an exercise in political theater where the findings are preordained by the people put on the commission.”

When the White House announced the commission, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and others made compared it with the one that investigated the 1986 Challenger accident. This one, however, doesn’t have as many technical experts.

The 13-member board that looked into the first shuttle accident had seven engineering and aviation experts and three other scientists. The 2003 board that looked into the Columbia shuttle disaster also had more than half of the panel with expertise in engineering and aviation.

Iraj Ersahaghi, who heads the petroleum engineering program the University of Southern California, reviewed the names of oil spill commissioners and asked, “What do they know about petroleum?”

Ersahaghi said the panel needed to include someone like Bob Bea, a prominent petroleum engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s an expert in offshore drilling and the management causes of manmade disasters.

Bea, who’s conducting his own investigation into the spill, told The Associated Press that his 66-member expert group will serve as a consultant to the commission, at the request of the panel’s co-chairman, William K. Reilly, Environmental Protection Agency chief under President George H.W. Bush.

Adm. Hal Gehman, who oversaw the Columbia accident panel, said his advice to future commissions is to include subject matter experts. His own expertise was management and policy but said his engineering-oriented colleagues were critical to sorting through official testimony.

“Don’t believe the first story; it’s always more complicated than they (the people testifying) would like you to believe,” Gehman said. “Complex accidents have complex causes.”

The oil spill commission will not be at a loss for technical help, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

For one, he said the panel will draw on a technical analysis that the National Association of Engineering is performing. Also, members will “consult the best minds and subject matter experts in the Gulf, in the private sector, in think tanks and in the federal government as they conduct their research.”

That makes sense, said John Marburger, who was science adviser to President George W. Bush.

“It’s not really a technical commission,” Marburger said. “It’s a commission that’s more oriented to understanding the regulatory and organizational framework, which clearly has a major bearing on the incident.”