Fighting Big Solar

Environmentalists clash over paving the desert in order to save the planet

Last month, former Vice President Al Gore proposed a crash program that would require all electricity in the United States to be produced using renewable fuels such as solar, wind, and geothermal by 2018. The presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is aiming for a more modest goal—a national mandate that 25 percent of the country's electricity come from renewable fuels by 2025. And already 30 states are mandating that some portion of the electricity their residents buy be produced from renewable energy sources.

For example, renewable energy mandates in the sunny Southwest include Nevada at 20 percent renewables by 2015; New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah at 20 percent by 2020; and Arizona at 15 percent by 2025. California ambitiously decreed that 20 percent of its electricity will come from renewable sources by 2010.

Given their abundance of sun-drenched deserts, thermal solar power is the most promising form of renewable energy for these states. Most solar thermal plants generate electricity using mirrors to focus the sun's rays on liquid filled tubes, producing steam that drives turbines. The once killer objection that solar power cannot supply round-the-clock base load power because it only works when the sun shines is now being finessed. Engineers have devised ways to store heat—molten salt or ionic liquids—that can be used to produce steam to drive turbines through the night and on cloudy days.

So, base load solar power now seems technically feasible, but what about cost? Current solar thermal plants produce electricity at 15 to 17 cents per kilowatt hour, but many believe it will eventually fall to below 10 cents per kilowatt hour. By contrast, electricity from coal-fired plants costs around 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour. The push for switching from cheap coal to expensive solar is being justified on the grounds that humanity needs to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that contribute to man-made global warming.

However, Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, favors simply setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Why? Because as he correctly observes: ''In essence, renewable standards, subsidies and other mandates assume that the government has all the answers, rather than letting the market figure out the best way to produce energy at the lowest possible cost." But let's set that quibble aside and make the safe assumption that our politicians and regulators will continue to believe that they do have all the answers. In other words, these so-called renewable portfolio standards are not going to go away.

These mandates are driving a land rush in the Southwest as would-be renewable energy producers vie for the best spots, especially for locations suitable for producing solar energy. As a result, a conflict is brewing between the energy and conservation wings of the environmentalist movement. Why? Because solar plants take up a lot of space. In addition, new power lines will have to be built to transmit the renewable power to growing desert and coastal cities. This means trade-offs. Some desert acreage will have to be sacrificed in order to produce energy.

So far the federal Bureau of Land Management has received applications for more than 130 projects in the desert Southwest that could occupy more than 1 million acres of land. A million acres is more than 1,500 square miles. On the other hand, the Mojave Desert measures over 50,000 square miles. According to one estimate, if all these projects were built they could supply enough electricity to fuel 20 million homes.

While some national environmental groups recognize that such trade-offs are necessary, some local groups are fiercely fighting the development of utility-scale solar power generation in the desert. The California-based Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy argues that the push for Big Solar promotes the "permanent destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine public lands designated for multi-purpose use that belong to the people." The Alliance also accuses the development of solar power in the desert of "wilderness killing, unacceptable groundwater depletion and the erosion of hard fought protections of public lands and private rights."

The San Diego-based Desert Protective Council also opposes the construction of a high voltage power line that San Diego Gas & Electric says it needs to transmit renewable power from a solar generation project planned for California's Imperial Valley. The power line would run through an existing right-of-way in a state park, but each of its 141 new towers would average 130 feet in height. "Our take has been from day one, 'Here we go again,'" said Terry Weiner, Imperial County conservation coordinator for the Desert Protective Council to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Here is where we can do everything out in the desert that we don't want to do in our own backyards in the city,'"

The Desert Protective Council has allies in this fight. "The idea that we're going to sacrifice critical pieces of our environment to protect other pieces of our environment seems a little ironic," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California Parks Foundation in the Los Angeles Times. "That's an irony I cannot accept. We have to find a way to do both." In other words, no trade-offs. These groups want renewable power to be generated locally, preferably by placing solar photovoltaic arrays on roofs.

"It's not just businesses that have slowed things down, it's not just Republicans that have slowed things down, it's also Democrats and also environmental activists sometimes that slow things down," declared a frustrated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) during a speech at Yale University this past spring. "They say that we want renewable energy but we don't want you to put it anywhere, we don't want you to use it." Schwarzenegger added, "I don't know whether this is ironic or absurd. But, I mean, if we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where the hell we can put it."

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  • ||

    Cat fight cat fight cat fight

    Bonus quote from Arnold shows he is finally aware of the futility of trying to address energy issues in a state so totally in the hands of environmental extremists. Not in my backyard indeed.

    Energy from gas and oil, 3-4 cents, energy from solar, 10 cents plus. By golly let's mandate the use of solar anyway, that will show the plebes who's in charge. Extra points for ignoring the steep enviromental costs of making things like solar panels

    Cat fight indeed........

  • ||

    It is no longer not in my backyard. It is BANANA; build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. It has been that way for a long time. In the long run things are going to start to stop working if we don't do something. But once the lights start to go off, the envrionmental movement will be completely discredited. That will be a sad thing. The fanatics are going to destroy their own movement.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Suck it up Arnold. You're a politician after all. Make a bunch of fantasy projections. Throw out some "the enviroment is precious" rhetoric and then do nothing. Sure fire winner.

  • Paul||

    As the executive director of the Center for Good Things that People Want, we propose a crash program where as much energy as possible should be produced alternatively, allowing markets to ferret out what the proper balance is. As the amount of wattage per square foot of solar is limited-- even at 100% efficiency-- we believe that a combination of fossil fuels, solar, some wind, and some localized (distrubuted) power generation is the proper path. What those percentages are can only be determined by free market forces. Any subsidies of power systems, including but not limited to fossil fuels subsidies will distort the efficiencies, and hide inefficiencies thus causing possible further degradation of our pristine environment.

    Thank you.

  • Guy Montag||

    [calm leftoid voice]

    In all fairness, shouldn't we keep the deserts pristine?
    [/calm leftoid voice]

    [shrill raving leftoid voice]
    Any less could lead to the extinction of all life on earth.

    Think of the polar bears!
    [/shrill raving leftoid voice]

  • Mike Laursen||

    "The idea that we're going to sacrifice critical pieces of our environment to protect other pieces of our environment seems a little ironic," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California Parks Foundation in the Los Angeles Times. "That's an irony I cannot accept. We have to find a way to do both."

    I want a refund of every cent I ever gave to the CPF. She doesn't even the hell know what the word "irony" means.

  • ||

    I grew up in the Mojave desert. It has its beauty, in a bleak kind of way, but the environmentalists who are opposed to solar power there, and are opposed to nuclear and fossil fuels -- well, they're advocating for shutting down the power grid and going back to horse and buggy days.

  • Fluffy||

    These groups want renewable power to be generated locally, preferably by placing solar photovoltaic arrays on roofs.

    You mean, they want electricity to be generated near the point of use, the way it always would have been generated if utilities hadn't been granted monopolies and either titled, or allowed to extort, rights-of-way all over to hell and gone?

    Bastards.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Aren't the environmentalists quoted arguing "IN MY BACK YARD" rather than NIMBY?

    Can this technology be built in already developed areas?

  • the innominate one||

    Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary:

    irony

    3 a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity

    also: it's a world of trade-offs (see also: TANSTAAFL, utopia is not an option)

  • squarooticus||

    Can this technology be built in already developed areas?



    On a smaller scale, sure.

    And what's more: these mirrors can be readily converted into death rays, which are much more effective when placed near people rather than out in the desert.

  • ||

    Aren't the environmentalists quoted arguing "IN MY BACK YARD" rather than NIMBY?

    Can this technology be built in already developed areas?


    Sure, if you want the bulk of your power to come from fossil fuels or nuclear.

    If you insist on low energy density solar and are willing to pay exorbitant prices, you gotta put it everywhere feasible, which means places like the Mojave.

    If you want to preserve as much vacant wilderness as possible with low CO2 emissions and are willing to pay fairly high prices, you need very high power density, so you build nuclear.

    You want dirt cheap power and are willing to put up with lots of pollution, you build coal power plants.

    This insane insistence on no tradeoffs whatsoever is not in touch with reality -- unless you want to revert to preindustrial times, in which case fucking come out and say so.

  • Guy Montag||

    You want dirt cheap power and are willing to put up with lots of pollution, you build coal power plants.

    You call it pollution. Others call it plant food.

    Why must you be such an antiplantist?

  • Episiarch||

    You mean, they want electricity to be generated near the point of use, the way it always would have been generated if utilities hadn't been granted monopolies and either titled, or allowed to extort, rights-of-way all over to hell and gone?

    Bastards.


    Don't worry, the advent of washing-machine sized fusion generators will correct this problem. Aaaaaaany day now.

  • ||

    The Desert Protective Council has allies in this fight. "The idea that we're going to sacrifice critical pieces of our environment to protect other pieces of our environment seems a little ironic," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California Parks Foundation in the Los Angeles Times. "That's an irony I cannot accept. We have to find a way to do both."

    Insane idiots like this are why I have to describe myself as a rational environmentalist. Far too many ignorant, unthinking "environmentalists" are doing far more harm to the environment than if they'd just butt the hell out! The phenomenal nonsense of "If it's not perfect in every way, we're against it" is so fucking childish and saturated with magical thinking I have to distance myself from these unthinking fools.

    TANSTAAFL, shitheads.

  • Paul||

    "That's an irony I cannot accept. We have to find a way to do both." In other words, no trade-offs. These groups want renewable power to be generated locally, preferably by placing solar photovoltaic arrays on roofs.

    Ron, surely you deliberately blew right past this one?

    No, the preference is not placing photovoltaic arrays on roofs. The preference is:

    Use Less Energy.

    There is a wing of the environmentalist movement that when they use the term 'alternative energy', they really mean 'an alternative to energy'.

  • Neu Mejican||

    You call it pollution. Others call it plant food.

    Plant food is like oxygen.

    Not enough and you're gonna die
    Too much and it gets you high...

    Or something.

    Cockroaches are just Black Widow Spider food, but I don't want to be buried in that meal either.

  • The Extispicator||

    4 cents vs. 10 cents? I don't see where the problem is here. I'll donate the 6 cents myself just to make this whole problem go away.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Prolefeed,

    Sure, trade-offs.

    I not sure if I buy the argument that there is not enough solar energy hitting Phoenix to power Phoenix...

    517 square miles is like 1/3rd of the total areas Ron discusses in the article...and Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah don't approach 20 million homes, iirc.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Back of the napkin,

    517 square miles of mirrors on Phoenix rooftops generated enough power for all 6 million homes in Arizona.

  • robc||

    NM,

    Are there 517 sq miles of rooftops on Phoenix or 517 sq miles in Phoenix? Unless they are going to pave the roads (and backyards) with solar panels, there is a big frickin difference.

    Next, try Milwaukee. Or Seattle.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Paul,

    Using less energy does not equate with using no energy, or doing less, for that matter.

    Many of the activities we currently engage in are very energy inefficient. They can be done with less energy and still get done.

    This saves money, btw, and is good for the bottom line.

    Increased efficiency is the single largest source of new energy available with current technology.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Why would I try Seattle?
    Solutions that are good in one location are not in another.

    And yes, subtract some of that 517 square miles...still gets you past the population of Phoenix, I would bet.

  • robc||

    Many of the activities we currently engage in are very energy inefficient. They can be done with less energy and still get done.

    This saves money, btw, and is good for the bottom line.


    And will be done when the bottom line is important enough. I know a number of people who have recently switched to bus over car to get to work. Rising energy prices will lead to rising energy efficiency.

  • fyodor||

    Many of the activities we currently engage in are very energy inefficient. They can be done with less energy and still get done.

    This saves money, btw, and is good for the bottom line.


    So why isn't it being done already?

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    I wonder how well a wave generator plant would work in Phoenix.

  • robc||

    NM,

    When Seattle builds there solar array, they will need to use the Arizona desert. Hence, why I was suggesting that.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Fyodor,

    It is.

    Aggressively.

    And has been for the last few decades.

  • robc||

    s/there/their/

  • ||

    Of course there are environmental costs to building solar panels. They use lots of nasty chemicals and must be desposed of at the end of their life. People act like solar has no environmental consequences. It does.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Fyodor,

    Of course, not everyone is on-board, as not everyone is clued into the knowledge.

    Changing habits, breaking out of old ways of doing things takes advocacy sometimes.

  • ||

    Increased efficiency is the single largest source of new energy available with current technology.

    Increased efficiency leads to decreased costs which leads to increased demand which brings us back to where we started. Efficiency is not the silver bullet here.

    And as one who is advocating efficiency, why are you arguing for inefficient decentralization?

  • robc||

    NM,

    And yes, subtract some of that 517 square miles...still gets you past the population of Phoenix, I would bet.

    Subtract how much? Ive only been in Phoenix once, so I dont know the typical rooftop:yard ratio, but going on my city, I best it is well under 1:4.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Yes, and the population of Phoenix is less than 2 million, so we are good.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    In case you didn't follow.

    We'd be good with a 1:10 ratio, so your 1 to 4 is well within our back of the napkin parameters.

  • robc||

    NM,

    Numbers dude, give me numbers. How many fucking square miles of rootfops are there in Phoenix?

  • robc||

    NM,

    1:4 is approximately my yard, which is tiny. Im not sure if Phoenix would meet 1:10 even. Thats assuming you could convince EVERYONE to totally cover their roofs.

  • ||

    What people never talk about when they talk about wind and solar is the effect of bad weather on the grid. Lets say you could build the 517 miles of mirrors of whatever in Pheonix. There are cloudy and rainy days in Pheonix, not many but a few. When that happens you have however many megawhats just go off line completely. Unless and until there is a massive breakthough in battery technology that would allow the engergy to be stored for a rainy day, you are never going to power the world with solar no matter how efficient the panels. are.

  • Neu Mejican||

    And as one who is advocating efficiency, why are you arguing for inefficient decentralization?

    I guess I am not convinced that decentralized equals inefficient...or that centralized equals more efficient.

  • robc||

    BTW, do both sides of the roof work, or only south facing ones (or maybe some other direction?)

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Yep, it is making that assumption.

    You can figure out the total area of Phoenix rooftops if you are interested enough.

  • Neu Mejican||

    BTW, do both sides of the roof work, or only south facing ones (or maybe some other direction?)

    I would imagine you would want a system that tracks the sun.

  • ||

    It's these extreme left environmentalists that give the environmental movement such a bad name. Basically for them it's build nothing nowhere. Of course that's just not an option. We will get our power from somewhere. Either from coal, natural gas, and nuclear, or from wind and solar etc. Everything has trade offs. Me, I'll take the Wind and Solar.

  • robc||

    NM,

    I guess I am not convinced that decentralized equals inefficient...or that centralized equals more efficient.

    Take it from someone who has some (limited) experience in the power generation field - big plants hella more efficient than distributed little plants. Nuke, coal, solar, wind, whatever, its better to bunch them up. For some the difference is greater than others.

    London tried the burning of coal in every house before they switched to big coal plants outside the cities. All it did was lead to nasty pollution.

  • ||

    Oh and check out
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan

    For a pretty good solar plan

  • ||

    Every single one of these dumbshits is a fucking hypocrite on top of being insane. They are so worried about groundwater depletion, they life in the godforsaken desert! Not a one of them goes through life eschewing refigeration, electronic communication, pumped water, heated homes or transportation.

    Goddam, these people make me angry. Do they think the energy fairy is coming down from the heavens next week to provide us with inehaustible, non-polluting power that has no environmental impact?The Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy behavior is akin to the national Cancer Society handing out PCB laced cigarettes to schoolchildren.

    Fuck those retards.

    My apologies to garden variety retards and dumbshits.

  • Neu Mejican||

    you are never going to power the world with solar no matter how efficient the panels. are.

    Place the panels above the weather?

    Never is a long time.

  • ||

    What people never talk about when they talk about wind and solar is the effect of bad weather on the grid.

    John,

    Ron's piece specifically addresses that:

    "Engineers have devised ways to store heat-molten salt or ionic liquids-that can be used to produce steam to drive turbines through the night and on cloudy days."

    I have no idea about the applicability of this in regards to a decentralized implementation.

  • robc||

    NM,

    You can figure out the total area of Phoenix rooftops if you are interested enough.

    You are the one that claims enough rooftops (pointed in appropriate directions - rooftop solar panels dont track, AFAIK) in Phoenix. I just want to check your work.

  • robc||

    NM,

    Place the panels above the weather?

    Orbital panels beaming power down to earth is a very good idea. Of course, it goes back to centralization instead of your decentralization idea. Space would be more effiecient than the Mojave.

  • robc||

    Also, if I remember my sci-fi correctly, Manitoba is where you want to put the receiving station for the beamed down power. Mostly, I think, because no one cares if Manitoba gets fried.

  • fyodor||

    Of course, not everyone is on-board, as not everyone is clued into the knowledge.

    Changing habits, breaking out of old ways of doing things takes advocacy sometimes.


    If all you're advocating is education and/or (truly) friendly persuasion, I may roll my eyes and wish you luck, but I won't get in your way.

    It's when advocacy turns into laws to try to force people to be "more efficient" that we have an issue, and you'll have to convince me how the "inefficiency" harms others' rights before I'll step out of your way.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    This is reassuring. Since any serious effort to change our current energy policy (I use the term loosely) will step on lots of toes, the government will end up doing nothing, leaving the matter to market forces, which is by far the best solution. The system works!

  • Paul||

    Using less energy does not equate with using no energy, or doing less, for that matter.

    I never suggested it did. However, within the fight to develop alternative energy schemes, there is a resistence to developing said schemes by environmentalists: see current article.

    Unfortunately I'm not going to take the time to re-research the articles, but we've been treated multiple times to people who are skeptical of the idea that we can have all the energy we need if we just create efficiences. "Isn't that cheating?" "Aren't we missing the point? Shouldn't there be some pain? Shouldn't we be doing less?"

    There is a wing of the environmental movement that gets annoyed when we maintain our lifestyles with the same energy? It's the lifestyle they want curbed. Efficiencies be damned.

  • Tacos mmm...||

    Unless and until there is a massive breakthough in battery technology that would allow the engergy to be stored for a rainy day, you are never going to power the world with solar no matter how efficient the panels. are.


    This is the purpose of thermal solar, as it is relatively easy to store heat for rainy days.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Fyodor,

    I would be advocating education and friendly persuasion.

    I ain't a libertarian, so I would also advocate replacing the income and labor taxes with a tax on material throughput (starting with CO2 and other greenhouse gases).

    And yes, like Al Gore, I think this has to be a revenue neutral shift in tax policy. Replace all existing income and labor taxes with taxes on material throughput.

    This shift the balance of incentives in the market to allow for market forces to find a way to be more efficient.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    You are the one that claims enough rooftops (pointed in appropriate directions - rooftop solar panels dont track, AFAIK) in Phoenix. I just want to check your work.

    So check it.
    If you don't buy my assumption that there is enough roof space, then do some leg work. I think my estimate is good enough for this discussion.

    As for tracking the sun...yep, 1970's technology. My neighbor had 'em when I was a kid.

  • Neu Mejican||

    There is a wing of the environmental movement

    Yes.
    And there is a blue-skinned wing of the libertarian movement.

  • ||

    Just to jump in on the roof top question--we are not talking mirrors on roofs, but photovoltaic cells which currently produce electricity at around 30 cents per kwh. Coal between 3 and 4 cents per kwh.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Regarding decentralization and efficiency.

    Efficiency is about usage, not generation.

    You can get by with a less efficient, environmentally friendly power source if you usage is efficient enough.

    One of the main ways to increase efficiency, of course, is to capture waste heat and use it to generate electricity. This has to be done at the point of usage, and is by its very nature decentralized.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Ron,

    No.
    We are speculating about building thermal plants in populated areas.

    Just speculating.

  • ||

    "Just to jump in on the roof top question--we are not talking mirrors on roofs, but photovoltaic cells which currently produce electricity at around 30 cents per kwh. Coal between 3 and 4 cents per kwh."


    Coal is wonderfully cheap and all it produces is CO2. Unless you buy into the global warming religion, you really can't beat coal.

  • ||

    You know the people in the Central African Republic, Myanmar, most of India, Bangladesh, Chad, Bolivia et al, use a whole lot less energy that we inefficient westerners. Some of them are not very content rightfully pissed off about that situation. If you give a rat's ass about all human beings it follows that you desire global energy use to increase dramatically.

    The energy fairy, like all the other deities, ain't gonna fix this for us, wishing does not make it so, and Al Gore's ten year proposal is too damned stupid to be coming from a purported expert.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Regarding decentralization,

    Are people saying that centrally planned and controlled energy generation is the way to go?

    Or are they with Fluffy?

  • ||

    Area of rooftops, back of the envelope

    say 2M people
    say 3 per household = 666667 households
    say 1200 sq ft roof per household = 800,000,000 sq ft
    multiply and divide by (5280*5280)= 29 sq mi
    Double that for commercial and industrial.
    Say 60 sq mi

    How much area did you need?

    I don't think rooftops do it.
    No reason not to use them, it just looks
    like you need more.

    x

  • ||

    Efficiency is about usage, not generation.

    Doesn't matter. Efficient usage leads to expanded usage (to a point, but a point we as a race haven't reached yet).

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    Go ahead, tell us what you really think.

    Try using all caps next time...

    John,

    All it produces is c02?
    That is a Co2 haze over the Olympics?

  • robc||

    NM,

    Efficiency is about usage, not generation.

    Wrong. Efficiency is about both.

    You can use inefficient generation means and use less or you can use efficient generation means and use more. Both have the same systematic efficiency (assuming it balances out). Howeveer, I prefer the 2nd because it allows for growth in usage at a reasonable price.

    Advocating for education and friendly persuasion is a good thing. As far as the rest of your 4:36 post, a bullet to the brain is the most efficient solution.

  • Neu Mejican||

    x,

    Okee dokee.

    So we need to put mirrors over all the parking lots as well.

  • robc||

    NM,

    Are people saying that centrally planned and controlled energy generation is the way to go?

    Centrally planned as in the headquarters of a corporation, yes.

    Centrally planned as in DC, no.

  • ||

    As long as we are speculating about solar thermal plants in urban areas, there is this little, itsy bitsy, probably inconsequential problem of LINE OF SIGHT TRANSMISSION. Where do we put the collector that can "see" all of Phoenix's rooftops?

  • ||

    Are people saying that centrally planned and controlled energy generation is the way to go?

    It depends on your goal. Centrally planned and controlled is cheaper (less resource intensive, less maintenance, economy of scale), but decentralized gives reduced impact on open space (and what else?).

    Cheaper almost always rules the day.

  • robc||

    NM,

    I think my estimate is good enough for this discussion.

    It appears you think wrong.

  • robc||

    NM,

    So we need to put mirrors over all the parking lots as well.

    Who is this "we" you speak of, and do you own all the parking lots in Phoenix?

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Wrong. Efficiency is about both.

    Technically true.
    But gains in efficiency are easier at the usage end with today's technology. We are much closer to maximum efficiency in power generation...(must be why we are having such a hard time coming up with cheap generation schemes).

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    No, I don't own all the parking lots, but I imagine that parking lot owners would be willing to get some extra cash from the power company for use of their land. Why do you always assume some centralized, government run solution to problems.

    We = us.

  • ||

    What the matter Neu? Everything I say is true. Wish upon stars if you like. if it makes you feel more informed and rational, I got to the all caps stage when you mentioned urban solar thermal energy. Been in a city lately?

  • fyodor||

    I ain't a libertarian, so I would also advocate replacing the income and labor taxes with a tax on material throughput (starting with CO2 and other greenhouse gases).

    And yes, like Al Gore, I think this has to be a revenue neutral shift in tax policy. Replace all existing income and labor taxes with taxes on material throughput.

    This shift the balance of incentives in the market to allow for market forces to find a way to be more efficient.


    I'm guardedly okay with this, and I consider myself a libertarian. You just shouldn't pretend this won't cause people pain. Maybe it's pain they should feel because their activities are causing pain to others, and maybe it's made up for by the greater tax freedom to people who are (or will be) less responsible for polluting activities. But pain it will be. You shouldn't pretend people will wake up and go, "Oh, I could do this so much more efficiently than I realized before! Thank you, carbon tax!" No, they'll go, "#*^))*^#@ carbon tax!!! Stopping me from being able to do what I used to do for less money!!!! Good freakin thing I'm paying less income tax, mumble, grumble, mumble..." That's the reality. Take it if you think it's necessary, but don't pretend it's all good.

  • robc||

    NM,

    But gains in efficiency are easier at the usage end with today's technology

    True on the individual level, but not on the societal level. I or you, if we so cared, could save on energy usage. But, just like with the stupid tire air pressure argument, unless you create a Bureacracy of Really Freaking Annoyance (Borfa), you cant force this across the board. Efficient generation (coal plant in outskirts of city vs coal burning fireplace in house - I think your solar idea is the same level of inefficiency) lowers the cost to everyone.

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    That was the source of my first question.

    Are these types of plants possible in developed areas.

    The thermal towers would need to be distributed around the city...and line of sight would need to be maintained.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Fyodor,

    I was not pretending.
    I think your assessment is about accurate.

  • robc||

    Why do you always assume some centralized, government run solution to problems.

    I dont ALWAYS. If you make it clear this is voluntary and that the power companies can do it either way without any government interference/subsidies then I am okay with it if the power companies want to go your way.

    Im a wrong in assuming that isnt what you are pushing, or did I read your 4:36 post wrong. I saw centralized, government run solutions there.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    [yawn]

  • robc||

    NM,

    and line of sight would need to be maintained.

    And how would this be done without government help?

    Cause Im building a LOS blocking building if I fucking feel like it. :)

    The more I see about this idea, the more I think Im right in assuming it involves the government.

  • robc||

    NM,

    yawn all you want, you havent answered the basic libertarian objections to your idea. And since you chose to post it here....

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    See Fyodor's comments.

  • robc||

    NM,

    Im not okay with it.

  • ||

    Back of another envelope

    Stirling Power on the El Centro project
    6500 acres
    750 megawatts
    about 500,000 homes

    OK, so Phoenix is 2,000,000 people, estimated 666,667 homes

    6500:500000 as X:666667
    X is about 8667 acres
    8667/640 is about 14 sq mi

    Maybe rooftops do it.

    Anybody who cares to, feel free to check my math or logic :-)

    x

  • robc||

    To expand, I prefer Coasean solutions to Pigovian solutions.

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    I got to the all caps stage when you mentioned urban solar thermal energy. Been in a city lately?

    I am in a city right now.

    Regarding ALL CAPS: No offense intended...I was just teasing you since you used the same toxic language in all of your posts today.

    Being a realist is fine, but so is speculation about other ways to do things. Even if they are pie in the sky.

    Speculation is the only way things move from the possible to the actual.

  • Al S.||

    By all means let's plant solar panels all across the country, festoon the cocksucker with wires...

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Objection to getting rid of the income tax noted.

    Never saw you as a defender of the status quo on taxes before, but there ya go.

  • robc||

    NM,

    I favor getting rid of the income tax and NOT REPLACING IT.

  • robc||

    Revenue neutrality is for suckers.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    Cause Im building a LOS blocking building if I fucking feel like it. :)

    Natural consequences, no need for government.

    These mirrors would be sending a lot of thermal energy right at your building...good luck renting those upper floors (sauna facilities maybe, hmmmmm).

  • Paul||

    Neu:

    Are people saying that centrally planned and controlled energy generation is the way to go?

    Some might be. I'm not. See the Center for Good Things that People Want executive director's statement on balance of traditional and alternative energy production.

    This libertarian is a big fan of decentralized production. There's nothing more libertarian than getting off the grid. I'm also a realist and know something about this here thing called engyneering and sciency sounding stuff. I believe that in the medium-term, we won't be able to produce enough energy to service all of our needs. In the long term however, Mr. President, we're all dead.

    Also, effiency is about production as well as usage. When burning fossil fuels, spinning a turbine, or shining a light on a photovoltaic cell, efficiency is about the anmount of usable energy we get back from said production method. For instance, most commercially available solor panels are (as of my last check) running at around 20% efficiency.

  • Paul||

    Re my previous post I should have written:

    "In the medium term, we won't be able to produce enough decentralized energy to service all of our needs."

    I will use the preview button.
    I will use the preview button.
    I will use the preview button.

  • robc||

    NM,

    There was a thread many months ago where I opposed carbon taxes as amazingly stupid. Lets say it happens as you and Gore propose, we reduce the income tax and replace it in a revenue neutral way with a carbon tax. Now, lets say it works, and carbon production falls by 75%. Is the gubmint going to be okay with losing that much revenue or are they going to then raise either the carbon tax or the income tax? Yeah, thats what I thought. Its a suckers play.

    Replacing the income tax with the fair tax? Maybe that would be okay, there is no real attempt at social engineering, its just changing the means of raising the money to something less disturbing on the economy (okay, maybe that is social engineering, but I would prefer calling that social de-engineering :) )

    Like Ive said many times, Coasean bargaining is much better than a Pigovian tax.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I have no problem advocating efficiency. Let's start by making government buildings convert to 100% renewable energy. If that results in a reduction in taxes, the concept will be proven and there will be no need to force private buildings to convert, they'll do so as soon as they can afford the conversion.

  • robc||

    NM,

    These mirrors would be sending a lot of thermal energy right at your building...good luck renting those upper floors (sauna facilities maybe, hmmmmm).

    I would sue the fucking power company to keep its damn energy off my land. Or build my own receiving station and use the free power.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Paul,

    I am actually with on all those points.

    Efficiency of production is important, but, I couched my comments in the concept of using current technology.

    Most of our energy generation systems are closer to maximum efficiency than our use of that energy until we get some new technology that is more efficient at producing energy most gains will be made at the usage end when the come from increased efficiency.

    Sure, we should be using natural gas more (currently our most efficient source, no?), and can make some gains on the efficiency at the production end, but these get swamped by the gains that can be made on the usage end.

    Where to put generation from recaptured heat at the usage end? I would say that is a usage gain, but it is also a power generation gain, so...

  • Neu Mejican||

    I would sue the fucking power company to keep its damn energy off my land. Or build my own receiving station and use the free power.

    You would lose your suit.
    If you use the power, then everything is good, you would probably sell the excess back to the grid anyway.

  • Neu Mejican||

    robc,

    So, robc's new handle should be Freerider, no?

  • ||

    4 cents vs. 10 cents? I don't see where the problem is here. I'll donate the 6 cents myself just to make this whole problem go away.

    sadly environmentalists would only be emboldened and invent new problems that you would need to donate to.

    This is why you cannot negotiate with environmentalists.

  • robc||

    You would lose your suit.

    Probably, but it leads to a Coasean solution again.

    If I have the property rights to prevent the flow of particles (photons, in this case) across my property, then I could sue for damages or negotiate a payment for a photon right-of-way.

    If, on the other hand, they have the right, like radio/tv stations, to "broadcast" across my property, I have the right to build a receiving station and intercept the power. Or, they could pay me for a right-of-way.

    Its not free-riding, its a toll. :)

  • Gerard||

    Dear World,

    Use nuclear power.

    Love,

    Logic

  • Kolohe||

    I guess I am not convinced that decentralized equals inefficient...or that centralized equals more efficient.

    I^2*R is your enemy. V^2/R is your ally.

    Distributed photovoltaic systems have low V. And rather high R (per unit length).

    There is the obvious advantage of ridding oneself of hydraulic despotism. And the negligible opportunity cost in that one wasn't using that roof space for anything else. Mitigated by the fact that not all roofs are structurally suited for installation in their current condition.

  • Kolohe||

    As for tracking the sun...yep, 1970's technology. My neighbor had 'em when I was a kid.

    Well, tracking the sun is Stonhedge/Egyptian/Sumerian level of technology, and I'm pretty sure either the ancient Greeks, medieval Arabia, and/or renaissance Europe had some sort of contraption that would move with the sun.

  • Kolohe||

    Now that I think I understand your proposal, one other consideration.

    You call that 'waste heat'. Your the desert rat, not me, but isn't the heating of your building during the day sometimes useful to counteract the comparatively rapid cooling of the air and land at night?

  • Kolohe||

    "You're the desert rat"

  • ||

    But, if we convert solar heat to electricity, and reduce the amount of heat in the atmosphere, that will slow global warming, which will have a negative effect on the funding of socialist academics!

    -jcr

  • ||

    The old nuclear test site in Nevada is 1,350 sq miles, that's about 38 billion square feet. Solar panels produce about 10 watts per hour, so over eight hours the Nevada nuclear test site (already a lost environmentally) could make 3 billion kilowatts of electricity daily. America households use about 2.75 billion kWh per day, so every single house in the USA could be run just by solar power in an old nuclear test site, where environmental impact is a non-issue because the natural environment is already gone.

  • ||

    Neu Mejican --

    We're not talking about Phoenix, we're talking about LA. LA has more rainy overcast days than Phoenix, lots more sun-blocking pollution.

    I've got solar hot water panels on my house. Much cheaper power than solar electric panels -- they've already paid for themselves.

    I think it's not particularly economical to build solar power plants in the Mojave -- would make more economic sense to build a coal power plant or five there as far away from LA as possible.

    Someone mentioned CO2 as the only pollutant of coal plants. First, I don't consider CO2 a pollutant, second, there is a shitload of REAL pollution generated by coal. But, it's so cheap that you can build it at quite a distance and even with the loss of energy through lines it'd be cheaper than solar voltaic.

  • ||

    my usual talking points:

    US subsidies and market protections for coal and other fossil fuels are an order of magnitude greater than those for renewable energy...and most of the latter is wasted on corn-ethanol. Eliminate all the subsidies and a good chunk of the price gap goes away. Require full CO2 offset credits, and the price difference evaporates. I think it reasonable to at least require new coal and oil drilling to be fully offset/sequestered.

    Optimum Efficiency-of-Scale™ is a moving target and tends to get smaller for a given method as it's technology improves. Wholly different technologies do not have the same optimum.

    Utilities are fighting hard to protect their monopolies, which were based on absurdly large Efficiencies of Scale™ , which were necessary given old coal technologies, which usually no longer apply.

    Solar thermal plants being proposed are not going to be all in one single big chunk of the desert. The plan is to distribute them well without disturbing natural wildlife, whilst being near or on existing developed land.

    Last year I installed SolaTubes in the roof of my condo. Now I no longer need to turn the light on during the day. The Lighting is much better now, and the fixtures looks better; CO2 and energy usage in general are down a bit. As such, it is possible to increase wealth whilst reducing energy usage. It should also be noted that increasing energy usage does not guarantee increased wealth, for example, a leaky hot water faucet increases energy usage, but actually decreases your wealth. /me looks nervously at leaky faucet. :/

  • Neu Mejican||

    prolefeed,

    Once you are talking LA, then you can add wave power into the mix.

    Kolohe,

    You call that 'waste heat'. Your the desert rat, not me, but isn't the heating of your building during the day sometimes useful to counteract the comparatively rapid cooling of the air and land at night?

    During certain times of the year you want to trap the heat during the day so that you stay warm at night...passive systems take care of that in most cases.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Gerard | August 12, 2008, 7:47pm | #
    Dear World,

    Use nuclear power.

    Love,

    Logic


    Logic,

    Some reading for ya...
    http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid185.php

  • ||

    Environmental extremists tend to not understand things fully. They are pushing for solar and wind like they are the answer to all of our problems. They hear "carbon" and immediately think that emissions/KWH is a complete figure of energy efficiency.

    The problem with wind and solar is that they cost a lot to produce and maintain, and the manufacturing process emits, guess what, CO2.

    Nuclear would be a great option right now if we would have prepared for it 10 years ago and started building reactors. Still, the high energy density of nuclear is a good option, but keeping in line with emission standards today will cripple the creation of nuclear plants, still causing a net increase in energy costs.

    If we had more reactors built, nuclear would be far more efficient and cheaper per KWH than coal.

  • ||

    When someone tells you that finite fuel plants such as coal, nukes or natural gas costs x amount and Thermal Solar energy costs x amount, remember the one big difference. The fuel for Solar will remain at 0 forever and you already know what the costs of the others will do.

  • Justen||

    I lived out in the Mojave Desert for the better part of my life, not too far from the existing solar power station. Let me explain something to potential naysayers: there is *nothing* out there. Plowing down 1500 square miles of desert is going to kill a handful of lizards, a hundred thousand or so skunky, smelly bushes that are found throughout the southwest, and give the endangered Desert Tortoise a place to hang out where ravens (imported with human encroachment) can't further deplete their population, as they'll get zapped out of the air by the mirrors, bwa ha ha.
    It might displace some scenic dirt and rocks, but we can keep them in a museum. Seriously, there are huge stretches of the Mojave desert where absolutely nothing lives, such as salt flats, or where life is so sparse you can spend all day looking for something that moves. If we can't build solar plants there, there is nowhere on Earth suitable for solar power.
    As for ground water depletion, I'd like to see someone measure the effect of Los Angeles' aqueduct pumping away every natural source of groundwater in all of Southern California and compare that to ground water lost due to solar production. If they want more ground water out there, and believe me they do, they should be telling L.A. to figure desalinization out in a hurry.

  • ||

    The First Law of energy production is that everything has an environmental impact: biofuels deplete land and water resources, wind power kills migrating birds (besides being a visual blight), and hydroelectric kills migrating fish. Oh, and those solar panels the feds will pay you to put on your house: your neighbors will have to cut down all of their CO2 consuming shade trees to let the light through.

    But don't hold your breah waiting for the political/environmental dim bulbs to figure this out...

  • ||

    How many examples is it going to take before commenters around here realize that environmentalists are against energy? It is about power and control, not the planet. Anyway, oil isnt a fossil fuel, it's the primordial goo.

  • Sully||

    Many of the core supporters of the so-called environmental groups are not only against energy, they are also against people in general. Do some googling about population control and you will find them calling for large decreases in the human population. If they would just do the right thing and off themselves the world would be a better place for people who want to live.

  • Sully||

    And - this business about despoiling the natural environment in the desert is easily recognized as bogus by anyone who has ever been to the desert. There are innumerable areas in the Southwest where you could locate a one mile square solar array that would never be seen except by the most dedicated hikers, and they would have to be specifically looking for the thing. The transmission lines are a harder problem because they have to march pretty straight across the landscape to where the people are but if you want the power you have to have transmission lines as well as power plants.

    The few honest folks who claim that rooftop solar arrays are an efficient solution can easily be identified by the solar arrays on their roof and the lack of power lines going to their houses.

  • ||

    I think it reasonable to at least require new coal and oil drilling to be fully offset/sequestered.

    Sam-Hec, that's the way to keep the competition down (at least until your own fields dry up). Should manufacturers of solar cells have to do the same? How do you offset real (non-CO2) pollutants from manufacturing and disposal? I know its not your responsibility to have these answers just cuz you made a comment about the oil industry, but it seems you want to penalize one industry while ignoring or effectively subsidising pollution of another.

    Optimum Efficiency-of-Scale™ is a moving target and tends to get smaller for a given method as it's technology improves. Wholly different technologies do not have the same optimum.

    Which is why fluffy's comment at 3:32 made no sense at all. Generating power efficiently at every home in the late 1800's through mid 1900's (even to present perhaps) would have been a very dirty and expensive business. Large power plants are more efficient, even counting distribution. If it were not so, there would be dozens of companies for the past 100 years beating your door down to outbid each other on a whole house generator. They would have full color glossy ads detailing how quickly you would recover your investment vs getting your power off the grid. The best alternative, wind power, only became feasible (for real, 120VAC, non-science fair use) in the 1980's.

    When someone tells you that finite fuel plants such as coal, nukes or natural gas costs x amount and Thermal Solar energy costs x amount, remember the one big difference. The fuel for Solar will remain at 0 forever and you already know what the costs of the others will do. -Lee

    The fuel for solar will be zero, but the replacement cost is large. If you spent $50,000 on solar cells in 1985, you would be replacing all of them right about now. Better have some money saved. Negatives would be pollution in disposing/recycling of the old cells every 25 years, manufacturing and shipping new ones to every individual location, re-installation environmental impact and cost. There is also going to be some replacement cost for when things just break (premature failures and Oppsees). That cost is already buried in your electric bill, but when you go the DIY route you get to pay for all the little surprises in hefty lump sums. Also, you might want to calculate what you could have done with all the money it would cost to install the photovoltaic system. Would the money be better spent on insulating materials and more efficient fixtures and appliances?

  • ||

    From the fine folks at the Internaional Energy Agency, electricity costs.

    At a 5% discount rate, levelised generation costs range between 25 and 50 USD/MWh for most coal-fired power plants.
    ...
    At a 5% discount rate, the levelised costs of generating electricity from gas-fired power plants vary between 37 and 60 USD/MWh but in most cases it is lower than 55 USD/MWh.
    ...
    At a 5% discount rate, the levelised costs of nuclear electricity generation ranges between 21 and 31 USD/MWh except in two cases.
    ...
    At a 5% discount rate, levelised costs for wind power plants considered in the study range between 35 and 95 USD/MWh, but for a large number of plants the costs are below 60 USD/MWh.
    ...
    The hydro power plants considered in the study are small or very small units. At a 5% discount rate, hydroelectricity generation costs range between some 40 and 80 USD/MWh
    ...
    For solar plants the availability/capacity factors reported vary from 9% to 24%. At the higher capacity/availability factor the levelised costs of solar-generated electricity are reaching around 150 USD/MWh at a 5% discount rate



    Coal - 25-50 USD/MWh
    Filthy greenhouse gas emitting, environment raping.
    Gas fired plants - 37 - 60 USD/MWh
    Sure to increse. Greenjhouse gas emitting as well (less than coal).
    Nuclear - 21 - 31 USD/MWh
    It works and does not emit global warming gases in the process of making electricity.
    Wind - 35 - 95 USD/MWh
    Getting competitive but the number of locations suitable for bird cuisinarts is limited.
    Solar* - 150 USD/MWh
    People will not stand for those prices.

    Here is where I mined the data.

    If we want to get rid of coal generated electricity, a global carbon tax would do the job. Getting India, Chiana and the rest of the developing world to buy into that is problematic at best.

    * The numbers indicate to me they are referring to photovoltaic vice solar heat electrical generation.

  • ||

    BTW, I'm satisfied with Yucca mountains nuclear waste disposal. It ain't perfect. Nothing is.

  • ||

    Yucca Mountain wouldn't even be an issue if Jimmy Carter hadn't signed a law that prohibits the recycling of spent nuclear waste into new nuclear fuel.


    Ever notice how you never hear the Europeans talking about what they do with their nuclear waste?

    Repealing that one idiotic law would go a looooooooong way to making nuclear power much more viable in the US.

  • desertguy||

    The Sunrise Powerlink transmission line mentioned in the article is not really about bringing renewable energy from the desert to San Diego. Check into the reliability of the Stirling Energy Systems technology SDG&E plans to connect to. It's not at a commercial stage yet. Southern California Edison has already given up on it, and the fact that SDG&E hasn't even required a pilot commercial test run tells us that the company is just using this contract with Stirling Energy as a smokescreen.

    The real purpose of the Sunrise Powerlink is to carry gas-fired power from Baja California. The Sunrise Powerlink will originate from a substation already connected to two gas-fired power plants near Mexicali, with capacity for more. Most of the natural gas for the current and future plants will be supplied by Sempra Energy, which is SDG&E's parent company, and has invested heavily in a natural gas terminal and pipeline in Baja. The Sunrise Powerlink will eventually connect to the much larger Los Angeles market.

    SDG&E has been proposing this line for years, and keeps being denied. Then they decided they needed a way to sell it to the public, and in a meeting with San Diego's political leaders and business groups, hit on the selling strategy of "renewable energy". They intentionally set up the "green energy vs. state parks" debate that you all are commenting on now.

    If reducing San Diego's energy-related carbon footprint is really the goal, there's a better plan to do it: San Diego Smart Energy 2020, which you can read about at http://www.sdsmartenergy.org/smart.shtml. It's a combination of PV solar, combined heat and power, energy efficiency, and distribution improvements.

    BTW, the new industry standard rates for PV solar have fallen to between $90 and $120 / megawatt hour, cheaper than thermal concentrated solar power ($145 / megawatt hour). From Public Utilities Fortnightly http://tinyurl.com/5dqeyv

  • ||

    Excellent discussion of a real problem. Good to hear that Arnold is finally coming off his million rooftops to recognize that central solar will probably be the better, more economically vialbe resource.

  • ||

    MediaGeek:
    Ever notice how you never hear the Europeans talking about what they do with their nuclear waste?

    I think Greenpeace occasionaly protests France dumping radioactive waste into the ocean from their nuclear reprocessing facility at La Hague.

    (see: http://archive.greenpeace.org/pressreleases/nucreprocess/2000jun26.html or just google it.)

    Would this be a reason why you never hear them talk about it?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Thanks, desertguy, for filling in the back story.

  • ||

    Efficiency is about usage, not generation.

    Actually, efficiency has to do with CONVERSION. Generating energy IS usage, because you are converting one form of energy to another. The efficiency of conversion is the ratio between the available energy input and the energy output.

    You can get by with a less efficient, environmentally friendly power source if you usage is efficient enough.

    No, that is not it. A less efficient system provides you with less energy at conversion than a more efficient system. More efficient systems are actually more cost effective than less efficient systems, leaving you with more resources for other things. This is why solar power is so expensive: you require a lot of resources, both in systems and in land, to get a lower return than other sources, like wind power, nuclear, natural gas and coal. What you are saying is that people can get by using less efficient energy sources if they just lived like poor people.

    One of the main ways to increase efficiency, of course, is to capture waste heat and use it to generate electricity. This has to be done at the point of usage, and is by its very nature decentralized.

    Depends on the waste heat. This is feasible in heat engines like steam turbines, but you cannot try that with solar power, since the total heat available after conversion is very small. You can use heat absorption systems to heat water but those would be stand-alone systems, nothing to do with trapping waste heat.

  • ||

    From the link offered above:

    "For homeowners, the California Solar Initiative and home loan programs make it very affordable to install a home solar system. And, solar actually pays for itself - only 12.5 years for a typical system."

    The above sentence assumes people will live in their homes for longer than 12.5 years, in order to start reaping the net gains from switching to solar. That is preposterous, even more now that many people are being evicted from homes they could not afford. Imagine if they had also installed these outrageously expensive PV systems, adding just one more ton of dirt over their graves.

    It baffles me how people can seriously make assurances like the one from Solar Power Solutions - their website looks more like a sales pitch for PV systems than an energy education site. Do they really think everybody has the wherewithal to buy these systems? Can you imagine if they became (gulp!) mandatory? Their price would immediately rise due to the artificial demand, with calls from "concerned citizens" to have the State involved and subsidize these systems, directly from taxpayer money... That is where this is leading, the concerns from environmentalists nothing more than a smokescreen. Seems like many enviro-wackos have purchased stock issued by PV manufacturers, and are hedging their bets...

  • Mike Laursen||

    For homeowners, the California Solar Initiative and home loan programs make it very affordable to install a home solar system.

    Not really. You still have to come up with most of the dough out of your own pocket. Making solar affordable was never given as the main selling point for the solar subsidies; it was sold as a way to help the industry grow.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Whoops, just saw that you also mention "home loan programs". I was only commenting on the California Solar Initiative part. I'm not sure which home loan programs you are referring to.

  • Chad||

    "John | August 12, 2008, 4:45pm | #

    Coal is wonderfully cheap and all it produces is CO2. Unless you buy into the global warming religion, you really can't beat coal."

    Yes, that crazy "religion" being envangelized by whacky organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, American Physical Society, NASA, etc...and their foreign equivalents too.

    And even without the global warming "religion" you still have coals soot, SOx, NOx, particulates, mercury from coal emissions, while spoiling the land with blasted open pit mines and polluted rivers where the coal is excavated.

    Yeah, coal is REALLY cheap...with all the free garbage dump subsidies it gets.

  • ||

    "Depends on the waste heat. This is feasible in heat engines like steam turbines, but you cannot try that with solar power, since the total heat available after conversion is very small. You can use heat absorption systems to heat water but those would be stand-alone systems, nothing to do with trapping waste heat."

    Actually, Solar concentrating PV systems can be setup with water cooling to regulate the optimum temperature of the PV cells. That water can then be used as around-the-house hot water. This whole setup can also be enclosed in a box connected the home air heating and used for cooling or heating of home air. This requires a reasonable well designed home and requires maintenance, but it is doable.

  • ||

    "I know its not your responsibility to have these answers just cuz you made a comment about the oil industry, but it seems you want to penalize one industry while ignoring or effectively subsidising pollution of another."

    The pollution from coal and oil is a league far bigger than solar thermal can ever possibly be.

    If you are talking Solar PV, yes there are awkward wastes from acid washing, though ways are being developed around that problem.(ironically involving cooled na presurised CO2 washing.) Even then the Offseting Model could work just as with such wastes as it has elsewhere (mercury sulfur offsetting from coal plants)

    My comment really had to do with breaking the policy logjam by not giving in to enivironmental idealism; e.g. the "NEVER allow offshore drilling!" camp...in order to get something useful done, e.g. getting CO2 emissions under control via offsetting. I also realize that Libertarianism doesn't like government force in such things...but things aren't ideal now and the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. Eliminating all related subsidies is a good pure Libertarian start. Getting government itself to offset it's own wastes is another.

  • Chad||

    "My comment really had to do with breaking the policy logjam by not giving in to enivironmental idealism; e.g. the "NEVER allow offshore drilling!" camp...in order to get something useful done, e.g. getting CO2 emissions under control via offsetting. I also realize that Libertarianism doesn't like government force in such things...but things aren't ideal now and the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. Eliminating all related subsidies is a good pure Libertarian start. Getting government itself to offset it's own wastes is another."

    Many "libertarians" are not really libertarian at all. They are simply anti-government. The basic libertarian ideal boils down to only using force in response to someone else's force. Yet while it is patently obvious that polluters are forcing their pollution on the public, far too many libertarians are unwilling to allow the government to do anything about it. This is completely wrong-headed. Commons problems such the environment are precisely the areas where governments excel, markets completely fail, and action is justified.

    And yes, we should also ignore the whacky left who essentially evangelizes the extinction of the human race as a cure for the environment.
    There is always some lefty loony one can find who will object to any project you can think of.

  • ||

    Yucca Mountain wouldn't even be an issue if Jimmy Carter hadn't signed a law that prohibits the recycling of spent nuclear waste into new nuclear fuel.

    Actually it would. There is a shitload of radioactive nuclear waste that is not reprocessable. It has to go someplace.

  • ||

    Yet while it is patently obvious that polluters are forcing their pollution on the public, far too many libertarians are unwilling to allow the government to do anything about it. This is completely wrong-headed.

    While it may be patently obvious that one polluter may force their pollution upon an individual, to say that they force their pollution "upon the public" is a sweeping generalization. Who is "the public"?

    What the government does is to institute regulations that tend to treat everybody as polluters, even if they are not polluting or even if their pollution is not affecting a particular individual. Most of these regulations tend to increase the cost of business, and harm consumers in the end, sometimes at a higher cost than the pretended pollution the regulations intended to limit.

    Commons problems such the environment are precisely the areas where governments excel, markets completely fail, and action is justified.

    You have it exactly backwards - it is commons problems where the government is shown at its best of its incompetence. Commons problems exist because of poorly defined property rights, a problem that governments exacerbate with gusto. The market can perfectly deal with pollution problems by creating entrepreneurial opportunities for pollution reduction technologies and services. Reducing your potential legal liabilities should be incentive enough to invest in such technologies. The fact that many polluting companies were able to get away with polluting is due to legal positivism and the protection given by the same government you place so much hope on.

  • ||

    "Who is 'the public'?"

    I am the 'public'.

    (and in anticipation...)
    NO YER NOT !I AM THE PUBLIC!

    NOYOUARENT! IAM THE PUBLIC, and SO's MY WIFE!

    (Identity arguments ensue. and so the Public exists)

    ;)

  • ConTextant||

    This reminds me of the song "Should I stay or should I go?" These eco-radicals have no clue what they want to do.

    And why do they always insist on revolutionary change vs. evolutionary? Look at how much technological progress has happened in the last 30 years. All these proposals are moving forward, but they don't, and shouldn't, happen until they are practical. I don't want to be forced to pay 3x more for energy. But I'll happily use solar energy when it is of comparable cost. In the meantime, I'll spend MY extra money on trans fat laden McD hamburgers. Hehe

  • ConTextant||

    Fyodor wrote to NM:
    "Of course, not everyone is on-board, as not everyone is clued into the knowledge.

    Changing habits, breaking out of old ways of doing things takes advocacy sometimes.

    If all you're advocating is education and/or (truly) friendly persuasion, I may roll my eyes and wish you luck, but I won't get in your way.

    It's when advocacy turns into laws to try to force people to be "more efficient" that we have an issue, and you'll have to convince me how the "inefficiency" harms others' rights before I'll step out of your way."

    1. Exactly right. NM's "advocacy" carries a strong hint of coerciveness. Makes me think of the book "The True Believer" - people who feel powerless find ways to force their agendas on others.

    2. What people "advocating" conservation *really* mean is that *you* should conserve, not them. Hypocrites like AlGore come to mind. And it won't solve anything, anyway. Lower the cost of a good, and demand increases. (Except in the Fantasia that eco-radicals inhabit.)

    3. Francisco already responded to Chad better than I could have.

  • ||

    Interesting and, for the most part, "reasoned" discussion. Some comments:

    "visual blight" - purely in the eye of the beholder and the ultimate enviro-whacky objection to doing ANYTHING. An example - my "yard" has been left to nature, with more than a hundred kinds of weeds/grass/brush and lots of small critters. My neighbors lawn is a pristine expanse of one kind of grass. Each of us considers the other's yard a visual blight....

    Environmental impact in (nearly) lifeless wastelands like the Mojave desert - ever seen the coastal plain of ANWR? The oil companies want to use only 2,000 out of nearly 20 million acres - and the coastal plain was specifically set aside for oil drilling when ANWR was created!! And the local natives want the drilling. And Prudhoe Bay hasn't been the environmental disaster predicted by the Sierra club - the (local) Porcupine caribou herd has doubled in size since the Alaskan pipeline was built.

    The global warming argument is not settled. Of course, now it's called "climate change", since global temperatures have been slowing dropping since 1998. And since the climate does "change", the environmentalists win that argument by definition.... If sunspots rather than CO2 drive the Earth's temperature, we may be entering a cold period. Go to Jerry Pournelle's website (www.jerrypournelle.com) for some excellent counterargrments.

  • Chad||

    "Francisco Torres | August 13, 2008, 7:31pm | #

    You have it exactly backwards - it is commons problems where the government is shown at its best of its incompetence. Commons problems exist because of poorly defined property rights, a problem that governments exacerbate with gusto. The market can perfectly deal with pollution problems by creating entrepreneurial opportunities for pollution reduction technologies and services. Reducing your potential legal liabilities should be incentive enough to invest in such technologies. The fact that many polluting companies were able to get away with polluting is due to legal positivism and the protection given by the same government you place so much hope on."

    You are right in that commons problems fundamentally arise from lack of property rights. Where you fail is in your implicit assumption that the solution is always to create property rights. This is simple not true, for two reasons

    1: In certain circumstances, property rights simply cannot exist or be enforced in a rational manner. Wildlife, air, oceans, etc all fall into this category to a large degree.

    2: In certain circumstances, property rights could be defined, but would result in a de-facto monopoly over a necessary good. Roads and bridges serve as good examples of this problem.

    What would you define as "incentive enough"? You know darned well that the market is going to ignore the huge pollution-related externalities as long as they believe they won't be required to pay for them - which is the vast majority of the time. As long as you leave these externalities out there, the market FAILS. Your free market ideology is built upon assumptions, and when one of the assumptions is wrong, the whole ediface collapses. When externalities are present, the market does a great job of pursuing the wrong answer. And that is very dangerous.

    In most of these cases, the government would be hard-pressed to do worse than a market would. Slightly-less-efficiently pursuing the right goal is almost always better than effectively heading the wrong way.

  • ||

    1: In certain circumstances, property rights simply cannot exist or be enforced in a rational manner. Wildlife, air, oceans, etc all fall into this category to a large degree.

    False - you CAN have property rights over those things. Air may move around, but you can set up a legal boundary on the air right above your property. African elephants are wild, however they are protected by African tribes in Kenya as their private property.

    [quote]2: In certain circumstances, property rights could be defined, but would result in a de-facto monopoly over a necessary good. Roads and bridges serve as good examples of this problem.[/quote]

    You think of bridges and roads only because these have been built by governments, but in fact they do not have to be monopolized by a single person or organization.

    In any event, you have not given a single reason why the market cannot handle pollution problems. You seem to confuse the market with companies or businesses, when saying "them", as in "You know darned well that the market is going to ignore the huge pollution-related externalities as long as they believe they won't be required to pay for them[.]"

    For your information, the Market is every one of us, when we interact with each other.

  • Jaycephus||

    The pro-efficiency argument is moronic. What happens as we go to plug-in electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles? We need electric power, generated somehow, to power our vehicles in place of gas, or to create the hydrogen that in turn powers our vehicles instead of gas. Worldwide demand for electricity is going to double and double again in the scenarios where gas-burners are replaced with plug-in electric or hydrogen vehicles.

    'Distributed' rooftop solar mirrors that somehow direct sunlight to a central collector-furnace? That is the absolute dumbest idea I have heard yet. The aggregate cost of reinforcing the roofs to enable them to carry the weight, live-load, and increased wind-load of said servo-positioned mirrors would be massive, and completely unnecessary in a world run by common sense. And who's houses get demolished to make way for the solar furnace that has to be raised hundreds of feet into the air to facilitate line-of-sight. Oh, emminent domain will take care of them anyway.

    Somehow, a mirror-farm out where NOBODY ever goes is an 'eye-sore', but putting giant-mirror assemblies on the tops of San Diego spanish-style homes, and planting enormous solar furnaces all around the city isn't?

    The truth is we are shortly going to get to the point where the jokes about killing all the lawyers is going to get replaced by the reality of killing all the liberal enviromentalists (and their lawyers). That, and replacing the word 'patriot' in the saying about watering the Tree of Liberty.

  • Chad||

    False - you CAN have property rights over those things. Air may move around, but you can set up a legal boundary on the air right above your property. African elephants are wild, however they are protected by African tribes in Kenya as their private property.

    You can set up a "legal boundry", but what for? The literal space, and perhaps the energy contained in the wind...but not the composition nor sound waves, which you cannot contain on site. I find it entirely amusing that you discuss a species that is two steps from extinction and under pressure everywhere it exists as an example of functional market. And note that the few places such species do well, it involves large cooperative groups (tribes, governments, NGO's) to protect them. Carve those protected lands up into a bunch of private little plots and the elephants are toast.

    You think of bridges and roads only because these have been built by governments, but in fact they do not have to be monopolized by a single person or organization.

    There is only one effective route for me to get to work. Pray tell, how are you going to have multiple owners of one set of roads competing against each other? The fact is, the road outside my door has a monopoly on me, and if it was privately owned, I would be SOL. So would everyone else in the country.
    Note that roads also present a third difficulty that markets often can't solve, that I didn't mention earlier: some things could be privatized, but actually measuring who uses what and who owes who would be cost prohibitive. Do you really want every road to be a toll road?

    In any event, you have not given a single reason why the market cannot handle pollution problems.

    Uhh, the classic tragedy of the commons market failure. You know, that whacky thing that appeared in chapter two of your freshman economics text. I would make the reverse charge to you: you have provided zero evidence that the market would avoid a very classic and well-understood failure mechanism.

    For your information, the Market is every one of us, when we interact with each other.

    Yep, and as long as we are all allowed to dump our garbage on each other's property with no restrictions, we should all expect to be buried in garbage.

  • ||

    Hiya, the EDF blog has post up on giving ideas:
    http://tinyurl.com/6h2b5d

    I just posted my usual talking points. If you have any ideas on how to actually make the climate change policy better whilst still being true to Libertarianism, please post your ideas there...to help counter the rather non-libertarians posting there. Be constructive, and you will likely be taken seriously.

    cheers

  • TokyoTom||

    The real problem with many of these environmental fights is that either governments own the resources or the economic actor is highly regulated. With the deserts privatized and freer markets, we'd see solar if it made economic sense (including the costs of paying off nimby-ists).

    While we are unlike to see complete privatization of state or federal lands, we'd see greater citizen enthusiasm if the states and the feds would be so kind as to rebate a hefty chuck of the land-use royatly payments to us (with a cut to the related bureacrats to incentivize them to get good rates and to make sure proceeds are actually collected; citizens and public prosecutors would be similarly ncentivized).

    It is the lack of sufficient revenue sharing by a greedy federal government that has led state governors to block further OCS leasing, and has given enviros no incentives to agree on ANWR drilling (as I note in the linked blog post).

    Likewise, rebated carbon tax would be a million times better than the ethanol mandates, renewable mandates, the Warner Lieberman pork and the Pickes' ad blitz for solar hand-outs. The problem is a government that wants to have a finger in every pie - citizens ought to be insisting on a direct cut, instead of letting politicians direct all of the spoils (which is the REAL cause of the constant deadlock).

  • Contextant||

    Chad | August 14, 2008, 10:29pm | #
    To Chad-
    Answers to your 4 questions:

    1. On the air, you have to show some sort of injury to another, which is obvious in Beijing's horrible air, but not with us. The polluters are also government owned, or government sanctioned thru the good ol' boy Communist Party club. They have no incentive to change. Is this a private property issue, or a government monopoly issue?
    Since these tribes/groups have been given property rights over the elephants, their numbers have increased. They now have a reason to care because it is in their best interest.

    2. You can have multiple owners by them receiving tax dollars to maintain the roads according to government mandated standards. They are liable for lack of maintenance, and therefore for anyone who has an accident due to their negligence, or whose car gets damaged by potholes. Anything left over is profit. If you also have a traffic counter that rewards them for every car that uses their property, then bad roads will be used less, resulting in lost profits, and good roads that get people home quicker (with properly timed lights, and well designed to avoid bottlenecks) will be used more, and result in higher profits. These companies will innovate to achieve that. I agree that a "toll on every corner" is unworkable, if that's what you mean, but a city or statewide system is very doable

    3. Until we can eliminate all pollution, there has to be a provable, minimum trigger level. Say, X level of soot results in X number of health problems, and them identify the polluters. A large, modern factory may put out less pollution than an older, smaller plant. This has to be weighed against the health problems that would happen if there were no factories, and people had to revert to a 1650s-style economy. A company that was set up to polce and even help companies reduce pollution, and keep their output constant, would preserve property rights. You would probably make a good CEO.


    4. Who is allowed to dump garbage on another's property?

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