Energy

The Public Choice Economics of T. Boone Pickens

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Via blogger, writer, and critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman comes this bit from Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum on T. Boone Pickens and the Texas bazillionaire's newfound enthusiasm for wind power (not to be confused with Psi Power, the vastly more interesting ability, at least according to the environmentally unconscious band Hawkwind, to "read your mind like a magazine"):

Pickens wants to build his electricity transmission facilities on a strip of land 250 feet wide and 250 miles long that starts at his farm in Roberts County, Texas, and terminates in Dallas. Why that particular strip? Because Pickens has been buying up massive water rights from the Ogallala Aquifer and he wants to pipe that water to Dallas at huge profit. Unfortunately, pipeline right-of-way is pretty hard to acquire, so Pickens figured out a way to get some help: he formed a little water district headed by his wife and a friend and then convinced the Texas legislature that water plus wind electricity was a good reason to use its power of eminent domain to hand over the land to him for a song. Wind power wasn't really the motivation for this land snatch, it was just a sweetener for a water deal.

Clever—and typically Texan, no? Still, why not just sell the electricity? Why the natural gas switcheroo [part of Pickens' plan is to fuel cars with natural gas after making conventional gas stations friendly to the new energy]? Turns out Pickens has a vested interest there too:

Along with being the country's biggest wind power developer, Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling station company that is the sole backer of the stealthy Proposition 10 on California's November ballot.

Prop. 10 would kick $5 billion in public money toward incentives to switch toward alternative fuels for trucks and automobilies, the likely biggest winner being natural gas.

More here.

As reason's Ron Bailey has pointed out, Pickens has rarely met a subsidy he didn't like, as long as he was on the gettin' end.

The larger lesson? Always check ostensibly environmentally friendly plans for hidden agendas, regardless of who is pushing the plan, whether it's Al Gore or T. Boone Pickens or Jack London, for that matter.

NEXT: The Return of Old-Fashioned Paternalism

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  1. Another example of Reason ignoring corporate welfare and just picking on the poor. Damn elitest libertarians.

  2. It’s a damn good thing the Texas legislature only meets once every other year.

  3. Does this make Nick the first reason contributor to link to a Hawkwind video? I don’t recall Mr. Prog himself, Weigel, ever linking to Hawkwind.

  4. I am shocked, SHOCKED, that a billionaire with a well functioning PR bracket would seek out subsidies and government favor!

  5. I have some news for Mr. Pickens (who I used to appreciate). Both of my ‘hybrids’ already run on ‘natural gas’. Mostly C8H18, which is organic, solar and renewable, btw.

    Exxon/Mobil and other energy firms were kind enough to help out with a distribution system for the fuel I use, but for some reason they are under attack by Big Corn and Big Wind.

  6. Wind energy is notoriously unreliable. In West Texas, one of the very very few areas in the U.S. that has relatively continuous winds, there are wind farms that total about 3000 MW of generation capacity. There have been incidents in which all 3000 MW drop out of service at once due to failure of the wind to blow. This has been such a problem that the system operator in that area has had to curtail load, shedding load for large numbers of industrial and commercial customers.

    3000 MW of generation is a lot of power to lose at once. The largest single unit generators in the country are only about 1400 MW, and most are much smaller. Loss of that much generation instantaneously can be a very bad situation.

    Add to that the fact that most of the rest of the country has even less reliable winds, without enormous, expensive energy storage facilities (pumped water storage, etc.), wind becomes hard to manage. The wind blows in the middle of the night, most places, and load is heaviest in the daytime. Not that the storage facilities couldn’t be built, but the capital investments required are huge.

  7. Always check ostensibly environmentally friendly plans for hidden agendas, regardless of who is pushing the plan, whether it’s Al Gore or T. Boone Pickens or Jack London, for that matter.

    Wouldn’t a bunch of those folksy song writers fit in here too?

  8. The larger lesson? Always check ostensibly environmentally friendly plans for hidden agendas, regardless of who is pushing the plan, whether it’s Al Gore or T. Boone Pickens or Jack London, for that matter.

    The most reasonable thing I have read on reason in a long time.

  9. To be fair, Episiarch, Hawkwind isn’t really prog. They have a lot of the same sonic elements as prog bands, but their song structures are too simple.

  10. Wind,solar and corn.Yea,no problems with them.What a joke.

  11. Details, details- this *sounds* good.

    Intent is more important than effect.

  12. Both of my ‘hybrids’ already run on ‘natural gas’.

    Please come up with another joke. Please.

  13. And thanks for the link to the Jack London piece – I didn’t see that when it originally went up.

  14. BP, they are technically prog. “Space rock” is a subgenre of prog.

    But I don’t really care, I was just noting the appearance of the band.

  15. Pickens is a great American hero, you libertarian nuts:

    Well, boys, I reckon this is it-nuclear combat toe to toe with the Rooskies. Now look, boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin’ on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin.’ Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human bein’s if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelin’s about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin’ on you and by golly, we ain’t about to let ’em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for ever’ last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let’s get this thing on the hump-we got some flyin’ to do.

    Brings a tear to my eye.

  16. Pro,

    That would be Slim Pickens and what in the wide world of sports is going on here?

    You don’t get to be a billionaire by caring about the society or much beyond your own wallet. Anytime some billionaire shows up to save the world, rest assured it will involve him taking some of your money.

  17. RA,

    That is no more of a joke than this Big Wind stuff.

  18. What??! You mean T. Boone Pickens was not in Dr. Strangeglove or Blazing Saddles? Then why are we talking about him?

    Whoa, I think I just had a sargasm ?

  19. The larger lesson? Always check ostensibly environmentally friendly plans for hidden agendas

    Whereas chacking ostensibly environmentally harmful plans for hidden agenda is a disreputable ad homenim, worthy only of mockery.

  20. joe,

    There is something more annoying about people claiming higher purposes when they really are just acting with the same motives as their opponents. In politics, we see similar hypocrisy when people act for God?, the Flag?, or The Children? but really are just lining their pockets with their thirty pieces of silver.

  21. Maybe Pickens can get a federal methane subsidy, while he’s at it.

  22. Whereas chacking ostensibly environmentally harmful plans for hidden agenda is a disreputable ad homenim, worthy only of mockery.

    joe, did you hit your head on something?

  23. joe, did you hit your head on something?

    Obama’s pubis?

  24. Epi,

    LOL

  25. Pro Lib,

    There is something more annoying about people claiming higher purposes when they really are just acting with the same motives as their opponents.

    Yes, people makes claims of serving a noble purpose as they pursue a purely mercenery agenda are the most annoying of all.

  26. Must be a real good feeling to have Guy Montag chiming in about how clever you are.

    That’s when you know you’re really getting somewhere.

  27. Maybe Pickens can get a federal methane subsidy, while he’s at it.

    Can they make that from government cheese?

    Ah, new study required.

  28. To quote another Texas oil bidness millionaire, H.L. Hunt, “If the world’s worth saving, then it’s worth saving at a profit.”
    However, that’s without subsidies, eminent domain shenanigans, backroom boolyahs with your bought legislators, and the like. I think some of them 150+ Texas Libertarian candidates should be tackling this Boone-doggle issue full time.

  29. You know you’ve really achieved a wordly, above-it-all skepticism when the observation that it’s wise to look for a hidden agenda on all sides offends your sensibilities.

  30. I think some of them 150+ Texas Libertarian candidates should be tackling this Boone-doggle issue full time.

    Is that number greater or equal to the number of Libertarians in TX?

    But I do support the idea.

  31. Most people claiming to do good are also trying to do well, esp when their plans involve gov’t action; even the Communists weren’t really communists.

    Al Gore’s made some $100M on his enviro-messianism. He just had a yacht built, which I’m sure reduces his carbon footprint.

    I don’t mind seeing someone else get rich, as long as they’re not simultaneously telling me why I need to reduce my own living standards.

  32. I’m just amazed that anybody thought for any length of time, even a nanosecond, that T. Boone gave a damn about anything other than T. Boone. It flies in the face of his entire career.

  33. joe,

    WTF is your problem this fine AM? This is a scam dressed up as environmerntal/public works do goodism. Rational environmentalists despise crap like this.

  34. ostensibly environmentally harmful plans for hidden agenda

    What’s the hidden agenda in an environmentally harmful plan? If it’s ostensibly harmful, to have a hidden agenda that agenda would have to be beneficial to the environment, and that they would need to hide it in the first place.

    And if the hidden agenda is money… how many “ostensibly environmentally harmful plans” are not upfront about their profit motive? And how many prima facie “environmentally harmful plans” are presented as some sort of philanthropic endeavor?

    OK, sure. Look at all sides. Cui bono is always a good idea. But when, say, a company wants to clear-cut a mountain, I doubt there are many hidden agendas there.

  35. Must be a real good feeling to have Guy Montag chiming in about how clever you are.

    That’s when you know you’re really getting somewhere.

    Unlike you, joe, I don’t base my appreciation of my humor on who chimes in about it. I do it for the lulz, not the lolz.

    You should put some ice on that, by the way.

  36. Is that number greater or equal to the number of Libertarians in TX?

    I’m not running, so no.

  37. So I’m guessing that this is just plain old graft, as opposed to honest graft*?

    *honest graft is when people skim a little off of projects that are actually useful and/or needed.

  38. J sub D,

    WTF is your problem this fine AM? You should probably ask that of the people who decided to pick a fight with me over nothing.

    PS: I didn’t write anything about Pickens. Perhaps your observations about him, and what rational environmentalists think about him, was intended for someone else?

  39. Wind power won’t be viable until they find a way to store the energy generated by it so it can be tapped when the wind isn’t blowing.

    Whether this is via batteries, ultra-capacitors, or the aforementioned water storage will remain to be seen.

    But as it stands right now, the dirty secret behind wind energy is that for it to work, you have to have a coal-fired power plant running in standby mode on a continuous basis.

  40. SugarFree,

    Good point.

    OK, sure. Look at all sides. Cui bono is always a good idea. But when, say, a company wants to clear-cut a mountain, I doubt there are many hidden agendas there.

    You’re right, of course. I was thinking more along the lines of plans which look remarkably similar to what people opposed to environmental protection put out, but which are cloaked in environmentalist language.

  41. mediageek,

    Wind power won’t be viable until they find a way to store the energy generated by it so it can be tapped when the wind isn’t blowing.

    Wouldn’t the distribution of wind turbines throughout a region, combined with a regional grid, solve that problem? The wind’s going to be blowing somewhere.

  42. Seems the documentry had some catchy tunes. Perhaps this deserves a little repackaging?

  43. Al Gore’s made some $100M on his enviro-messianism. He just had a yacht built, which I’m sure reduces his carbon footprint.

    What if it’s a carbon-fibre sailboat?

    Judges, can we have a ruling?

  44. Only if your grid didn’t have many transmission losses and you were willing to seriously derate output to consumers. I think there needs to be a combined cycle type system, where the wind turbine can do work, like compress gas and that compressed gas in turn turns a power turbine.

  45. P Brooks,

    As long as someone else was doing the polluting when the boat was built, he is in the clear, as it were.

    Just like when you move the pollution from a car to a power grid.

  46. L.I.T.,

    Iceland is the process of developing a system of geothermal-powered hydrogen plants. I wonder if it’s possible to build hydrogen-producing plants at a small enough scale – perhaps even down to the household level – to be practicable for the distributed, small-scale pattern that makes the most sense for wind.

  47. the wind turbine can do work, like compress gas and that compressed gas in turn turns a power turbine.

    The windmills can pump the water into water towers, and then the water can power turbines as it is released. Simple.

    Send me a check.

  48. Mankind will not be truly free until we have fusion power in each and every home.

    To amplify my previous comment, I don’t mind profit motives or other motives tinged with self-interest; I just mind people pretending that they don’t have such motives.

  49. He just had a yacht built….

    I thought he just bought Thor Heyerdahls old boat.

  50. P Brooks,

    The water using people of drought prone west Texas, Colorado and Wyoming might be very unhappy with that arrangement.

  51. Pro L,

    Mankind will not be truly free until we have a Mr. fusion power in each and every home.

    fixed

  52. “Whether this is via batteries, ultra-capacitors, or the aforementioned water storage will remain to be seen.”

    Ultra capacitors? Can’t we just use flux capacitors? Those have been around since 1985.

    Wind isn’t a viable alternative for the reasons cited above. You can’t lose 3000 mw of generating capacity when the wind decides not to blow. Further, you can only push power about 1000 miles down the line. There is not a lot withing a 1000 miles of West Texas.

    Pickens is selling a snake oil sollution that is going to do nothing but get him richer. Worse still, he is giving aid and comfort to people who want to live in a fantasy land whereby there are all of these magical sollutions out there for replacing oil.

  53. To amplify my previous comment, I don’t mind profit motives or other motives tinged with self-interest; I just mind people pretending that they don’t have such motives.

    To amplify this comment, I don’t like it when people’s profit motives result in forcibly taking money from me.

  54. Joe, it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m certainly not against the development of alternative forms of energy generation.

    You may very well be correct that a large enough network of wind farms would allow energy to be substituted from other areas when the wind fails in your neck of the woods. I’d be curious to see the studies that have been done to show if that is feasible.

  55. Iceland is the process of developing a system of geothermal-powered hydrogen plants. I wonder if it’s possible to build hydrogen-producing plants at a small enough scale – perhaps even down to the household level – to be practicable for the distributed, small-scale pattern that makes the most sense for wind.

    A couple of years ago, I recall seeing a proposal from Honda that involved having an in-house system used to generate hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles.

    It was kind of pie-in-the-sky, but thus far they’ve been able to build a couple of refueling stations for the handful testbed of FCX Clarity vehicles that are in California.

  56. PS: I didn’t write anything about Pickens. Perhaps your observations about him, and what rational environmentalists think about him, was intended for someone else?

    And the thread is about? Oh yeah, “The Public Choice Economics of T. Boone Pickens”. Sorry I misinterpreted your threadjack attempt and assumed that your initial comment was somehow related to the topic at hand.

    My bad.

  57. I thought he just bought Thor Heyerdahls old boat.

    I think his first choice was Noah’s…

  58. Iceland is the process of developing a system of geothermal-powered hydrogen plants. I wonder if it’s possible to build hydrogen-producing plants at a small enough scale – perhaps even down to the household level – to be practicable for the distributed, small-scale pattern that makes the most sense for wind.

    Yes, but they will be far less efficient.

  59. Worse still, he is giving aid and comfort to people who want to live in a fantasy land whereby there are all of these magical sollutions out there for replacing oil.

    If alternative energy solutions are all nothing more than “magical” then we’re well and truly fucked.

    FWIW, the Air Force currently have to bases that derive their power from wind generation.

  60. “If alternative energy solutions are all nothing more than “magical” then we’re well and truly fucked.”

    Right now they are “magical”. Maybe in a few years if fusion comes around or they develop so super fantasic solar cell they won’t be, but right now they are. But we are not fucked because the world is swimming in oil. We just have to be smart enough to drill for it. Sadly, I am starting to wonder if we are. There seems to be a case of mass insanity going on in this country regarding oil.

  61. On one hand, if Pickens doesn’t have any investment in wind or gas or whatever, people will say, “why don’t you put your money where your mouth is.” On the other hand, if he has substantial investments in those areas, people will cry, “hidden agenda.”

    I think we can all agree that T. Boone Pickens needs a swift boat in the ass.

  62. Oh I’ Illuminati!
    Yes I’m Illuminati!
    I can be nice or naughty!
    ‘Cause I’m Illuminati!

  63. If the world’s worth saving, then it’s worth saving at a profit.

    This has always been my thought on recycling. You want to pay me for my aluminum cans? Hell yes I will separate them out. You want them for free? Screw you, Im thowing them in with the rest of the garbage.

    I always figure mining landfills for aluminum could be big business some day.

  64. John, “magical” implies “nonexistent” which would be correct if these energy generation technologies weren’t actually being used by people here and now.

    There are no less than a half-dozen companies in or near my small city that specialize in rooftop solar photovoltaic electricity systems. And that’s not counting the off-the-shelf Solar Photovoltaic system you can buy from Home Depot.

    EESTOR Ultracapacitors are already being used by the military for some applications where dense energy is needed in places where you can’t just plug your shit into a wall outlet.

    And I’ve seen no less than a half-dozen homes in the mountains that quite obviously generate at least a portion of their electricity from small-scale wind turbines.

    Are these technologies somewhat primitive compared to what they could be?

    Yes.

    Are they totally ready for Prime Time?

    Not quuiiiiiite yet, but we’re getting there.

    But your statements betray what I will classify as utter ignorance on the subject mired in a view of what alternative energy was circa 1985.

  65. Nigel,

    Yes, but they will be far less efficient.

    Certainly, you’d lose out from economies of scale and the lower elevation of the blades, but there’s the transmission losses from a centralized plant that other people brought up.

  66. Wind power and solar definitely have their place in the energy mix. To think that world energy production is somehow going to be carbon free in our lifetime is magical thinking. I have high hopes for large scale geothermal, I know large scale fission works, and even have fantasies about room temperature superconductors in my less lucid moments.

    The fact is, we will still be burning (hopefully less) fossil fuels into the foreseeable future. Sometimes reality sucks.

  67. And the thread is about?

    The hidden agendas of people who claim their ideas about the environment and energy are efforts to advance the public good.

    This is confusing to you?

  68. But we are not fucked because the world is swimming in oil. We just have to be smart enough to drill for it.

    Oddly enough, the people I know in the oil industry are not nearly so optimistic.

  69. And the thread is about?

    The hidden agendas of people who claim their ideas about the environment and energy are efforts to advance the public good.

    This is confusing to you?

    Go read your first post, joe. After that you’ve contributed positively to the discussion, but that was just some sort of whine.

    You may now return to T. Boone Pickens’ (and others) environmental perfidy and public teat sucking.

  70. media geek,

    If all of these wonderful cheap sources of energy really exist, then people will start using them.

    “And I’ve seen no less than a half-dozen homes in the mountains that quite obviously generate at least a portion of their electricity from small-scale wind turbines.”

    First, what proportion? They still need to be on the grid. Second, it is in the moutains where solar works better than other places. Lastly, there is a big difference between rich people playing around gadgets on the edges and actually replacing hydrocarbons and nuclear. Electric companies operate for profit. If there were a cheap way to use solar to replace hydro carbons they would be doing it on a mass scale, not just in your back yard.

  71. But we are not fucked because the world is swimming in oil.

    While we are not fucked, the world is most assuredlt not “swimming in oil”. But you knew that easily recoverable petroleum is running out, didn’t you?

  72. Go read your first post, joe.

    You mean, the one about looking at the hidden agendas of people who make declarations about environmantal plans?

    Um…ok.

    There. Done. How about you stop whining at me now?

  73. Wouldn’t the distribution of wind turbines throughout a region, combined with a regional grid, solve that problem? The wind’s going to be blowing somewhere.

    I don’t think wind works that way. There are surprisingly few areas where the wind is strong and consistent enough for wind turbines to make sense, and you have to run major transmission lines to your wind farms.

    Even in the best wind areas, periodically the wind just doesn’t blow. I don’t think there’s a way around that.

  74. And I would say that, given his past record in the energy business, if T. Boone Pickens is betting on alternative energy, then its a likely a pretty good bet that alternative energy is going to grow significantly in the very near future.

  75. JsubD,

    I know large scale fission works

    Sure it works, but it is not as cost effective as a number of other energy sources currently available…including wind. If it was a money maker, T. Boone would be pushing to get public money to help him build a string of nuclear plants.

    http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid467.php

  76. Oddly enough, the people I know in the oil industry are not nearly so optimistic.

    so very true.

    http://www.theoildrum.com

  77. John,

    You are operating under the false assumption that the way people are doing things is the best possible way to do things.

    People do things largely because it is the way they did it before. Breaking a system out of a historical rut to a better solution often takes deliberate prodding.

    PNM is actively adding solar and wind to their coal and nuclear…

    The best way to do this is to have on-site generation of power and send excess generation into the grid. With widespread adoption, this takes care of many of the reliability issues raised above.

  78. Well we certainly shouldn’t support anything that might make someone a profit, even if its good for the country. Better to send our money to the middle east than to do anything to help dirty capitalists. Thanks for pointing out that billionaires are motivated by profit. As surprising as this is it’s something we need to know. Profit motives have never done anything good for anyone.

  79. I would suggest that a utility company should invest in the solar and wind units much like a satellite tv company invests in dishes…and install the distributed power sources as part of the service they provide.

  80. LIT,

    Now that is not what I meant. I was just clarifying that I wasn’t objecting so much to a profit motive than to hypocrisy. Sucking on the public teat pisses me off most of the time, too.

    To John’s point above, we really need to improve the efficiency of energy storage, on top of everything else.

  81. lib,

    I believe the beef is the eminent domain/public money grab, not the profit motive.

  82. If all of these wonderful cheap sources of energy really exist, then people will start using them.

    I never said they were cheap. They aren’t, yet. Nor have I made any claims about them being perfect. Regardless, solar PV systems are projected to reach grid parity within a few years.

    First, what proportion? They still need to be on the grid.

    In the case of most of these systems, yes, they do. But that only results in cost savings since you don’t need a bank of batteries to run your household off of.

    My parents, who are in the midst of planning their retirement home, have some friends who discovered that it was cheaper to install an off-grid Solar PV system than to run the wire to plug into the electric grid, so, as I said, it can and is being done.

    Second, it is in the moutains where solar works better than other places.

    First off, I was referring to the small-scale wind turbines I’ve seen. But I have no idea why solar would work better in the mountains vs. not mountains. Plainly, if you live in a state like Colorado which has 300+ days of sunshine a year solar will make more sense than if you live in, say, Washington State.

    Lastly, there is a big difference between rich people playing around gadgets on the edges and actually replacing hydrocarbons and nuclear.

    I would hardly describe most of the people undertaking these things as being rich. Most of them are comfortably middle class or upper-middle class, at least judging by the appearance of their homes.

    Nor did I ever claim these things are a replacement for coal or nuclear. You might try scrolling upthread and reading my first post about wind generated electricity after you remove those Team Red Tinted shades of yours.

    I’m all for coal-fired power plants and nuclear energy. In fact, if I could find an Alternative Energy mutual fund that invested in solar, wind, tidal, nuclear, and related technologies, I do believe I would cream myself.

    Electric companies operate for profit. If there were a cheap way to use solar to replace hydro carbons they would be doing it on a mass scale, not just in your back yard.

    Again with the straw man argument.

  83. NM,

    Massachusetts just passed a bill that, among other things, eliminated a regulation that forbade utility companies from owning commercial solar facilities.

    I haven’t the foggiest idea why banning utility companies from owning solar facilities was once considered a good idea.

  84. mediageek,

    A couple of years ago, I recall seeing a proposal from Honda that involved having an in-house system used to generate hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles.

    I remember about 8 or 10 years ago, GE was talking about a home fuel cell, powered by natural gas, that created electricity through a catalyst IIRC.

    Have not seen much on that since.

  85. Whereas chacking ostensibly environmentally harmful plans for hidden agenda is a disreputable ad homenim, worthy only of mockery.

    joe, sometimes people say, “I’m doing this because it’s good for the environment.” It makes sense to check and see if they might have a less respectable reason for their action.

    If someone says, “I’m doing this to destroy the environment,” how likely is it they’ve seized that rationale as a fig leaf to cover their true motive?

  86. joe,

    Because the Sun God, Ra, objects to the misuse of his divine rays for such mundane purposes as powering appliances. Cower in fear, Monkey Boy!

  87. FWIW, I view T. Boone Pickens’ plan with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

    For all the advancements in alternative energy in the last ten years, the big challenge won’t be keeping the lights on so much as it will be getting from point A to points B and beyond.

  88. Guys, if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline, indicating that you have at least taken and passed a thermo coruse or two, please refrain from commenting on the technical viability of any, repeat, ANY, energy production technology.

  89. joe,

    I haven’t the foggiest idea why banning utility companies from owning solar facilities was once considered a good idea.

    Sounds like the primary bane of sound environmental policy, one industry convincing government to squash the competition from another industry.

    One of the reasons I think libertarians and greens are more natural allies than it would appear on the surface is because both are interested in eliminating government regulations and subsidies that create barriers to innovation.

    They may disagree on a lot of other issues, but there is a lot of overlap in their goals.

  90. Have not seen much on that since.

    The Honda proposal also used natural gas.

    I think that alt-energy powered motive transportation will be much more prevalent twenty years from now, but the stuff we’re seeing right now, such as the Toyota Prius, etc. constitute just the baby steps in that direction.

    I don’t think hybrids or electric-powered cars will be quite so excellent until batteries are either improved, or been supplanted with another form of power storage.

  91. db,

    Aren’t those the guys who keep trying to convince us Finance guys to keep filling their little theoretical black holes with real money?

  92. Geothermal’s not simple, easily maintained technology, joe. Individualized geothermal production is not, from what I’ve seen, a workable idea.

  93. If you have at least completed an English course or two, feel free to correct my sepelinh.

  94. Neu, count me as a extreme skeptic of household level distibuted energy production systems (especially solar and wind). The storage problems already cited by many, coupled with huge seasonal swings in household demand are considerale obstacles.

    If reliable small generation wind and solar systems (power whenever you throw the switch) become cheap enough that they pay for themseves in ten – fifteen years, banks will gladly lend us the money to buy them and we’ll be glad to take out the loans. Then the power companise can sell their suburban and rural distribution systems for scrap and concentrate on urban and and industrial/large commerxial users.

    I reemain skeptical that that is going to happen in my lifetime and would be happy to be proven wrong.

  95. Pickens has rarely met a subsidy he didn’t like, as long as he was on the gettin’ end.

    Horrifyingly, a savvy investor will consider all returns, and gladly accept government subsidies in the mix. You don’t get as rich as Pickens by leaving money on the table.

    I don’t like it, but it’s not, strictly speaking, his fault; if the government would desist from their attempts to impose indutrial policy, the efficiency and economic merits of these projects would be more evident.

  96. mediageek,

    Sorry man, I have been hearing this one for over 30 years: I think that alt-energy powered motive transportation will be much more prevalent twenty years from now, . . .

    The fad energy source of choice, of course, does change from time to time.

  97. db,

    Until you produce flying cars, Mr. Fusion, and a space elevator, bite me (but only with cyborg teeth). People here have opinions in my discipline all the time. I just mock them secretly in sargasmic glee.

    Too bad we can’t tap into libertarian angst–we could power a new sun with that.

  98. Guys, if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline, indicating that you have at least taken and passed a thermo coruse or two, please refrain from commenting on the technical viability of any, repeat, ANY, energy production technology.

    Why?

    If anything I’ve posted is in need of correction from an engineer, I’m fully open to being educated.

    I’d like to think I’m generally smart enough to avoid falling for things like overunity drives, cars powered by water, room-temperature nuclear fusion, or other nonsense.

    But if you just want to be a dick and flaunt your superiority, then you can certainly feel free to STFU.

  99. Sorry man, I have been hearing this one for over 30 years: I think that alt-energy powered motive transportation will be much more prevalent twenty years from now, . . .

    The fad energy source of choice, of course, does change from time to time.

    And you’d be right, if not for the fact that there are average people doing this stuff right now.

    Toyota, Nissan, and Ford all offer hybrid vehicles for sale that the average person can afford. Chevy plans to offer the Volt hybrid for sale to the public shortly.

    Tesla Motors has delivered the first of their all-electric sports car that is capable of doing 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and has a range of over 200 miles.

    In principle I would agree with you if the technology announcements were just some nerd in a lab coat at the NREL issuing a press-release.

    But it isn’t. This stuff is for sale or coming on line NOW. For fuck’s sake all you have to do is use Google once in awhile.

  100. Fine. Just don’t come whining to me when your public energy policy, informed more by politics than sound engineering, causes you to have to choose between using your computer or keeping your food cold.

  101. To sum up my posts:

    The price of oil is climbing for *insert reason(s) here* and we are now entering the point in time in which technologies that make better use of oil or supplant it completely are becoming economically viable.

    Nothing I’ve advocated is of the “go live in a cave without electrcity or a fast car and eat worms” view.

  102. JsubD,

    Neu, count me as a extreme skeptic of household level distibuted energy production systems

    You have been added to the skeptic column.
    On-site energy generation is being aggressively pursued at the commercial level currently by many industries. Utilities that pursue it along the lines I suggest above will install their solar panels and other site specific generators at commercial sites first. Once that system is up and running, it will move into home-based units.

    It will not happen overnight, but there is no technical reason to delay the start of the project. As I said, at least one utility, PNM, is already working to incorporate distributed generation into the mix. This sector will expand more quickly if regulatory barriers are removed.

    I expect to see it in my lifetime.
    I ain’t that much younger than you.

  103. db-

    If you have insights to offer to the discussion, from an engineering perspective please feel free to share them as such information is of great interest to me as a layman.

    Otherwise, you’re just being a douche.

  104. I daresay that few here advocate making technical decisions–or most other decisions, for that matter–based on politics. We’re like libertarians and stuff.

  105. But it isn’t. This stuff is for sale or coming on line NOW. For fuck’s sake all you have to do is use Google once in awhile.

    I am fully aware of the toy cars that you list.

    You are trying to present them as some sort of revolution in energy usage?

    Plenty of federal alternative energy fad money went into most of those vehicles. Some more of it goes into bribing people to buy the things.

    Looks more like a ‘false’ market to me. One artificially created by various government do-gooders.

  106. You are trying to present them as some sort of revolution in energy usage?

    I’m presenting them as the first step in what may be a new direction in transportation.

    I hardly see the development of an electric sports car as something the feds would throw money at.

    They’re more interested in throwing piles of money at Iowa corn farmers under the guise of energy independence, thereby driving up the price of both food and fuel.

  107. Al Gore vs T. Boone Pickens

    The difference being that Pickens will cost tax payers less money and might actually work at improving environmental quality.

    Not to say that what Pickens is doing is all that great but it is important to quantify these things.

  108. Guy Montag,

    The Prius is a toy car?

    Really?

    It seems your 1970’s Charger would fit the definition of toy much better.

    Owned and driven for fun more than utility.

    Tesla Motors money comes from these people
    http://www.teslamotors.com/media/investors.php

  109. FWIW,

    I think hybrid technology was funded more by Japanese tax payers and American car consumers, than it was by American Federal funds.

    But I haven’t researched it too carefully.

  110. I just got back from a vacation that involved some lengthy driving, and I must say that the Prius looks particularly vulnerable on the interstates. It’s not alone in that, but my wife and I specifically noted its apparent fragility. Naturally, with our near-Brady Bunch quantities of passengers, we were running small cars off the road in our massive, gas-sucking mini-van.

  111. db | August 7, 2008, 12:50pm | #
    Fine. Just don’t come whining to me when your public energy policy, informed more by politics than sound engineering, causes you to have to choose between using your computer or keeping your food cold.

    For an engineer, you seem to have little understanding of how systems work.

    Strange.

  112. Wouldn’t the distribution of wind turbines throughout a region, combined with a regional grid, solve that problem?

    No.

    The amount of money and environmental degradation that would be incurred from constructing such a system massively swamps any possible gains.

  113. Joshua Corning,

    Do tell.
    Details?

    Harms include?
    How do these compare to the harms of coal energy?

    http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/renewable_energy_basics/coal-vs-wind-power-you-be-the-judge.html

  114. Just don’t come whining to me when your public energy policy, informed more by politics than sound engineering,…

    WTF are you talking about.

    You keep spouting off as though everyone’s wrong or something but as near as I can tell there are several people disagreeing omong themselves. this leaves open the possibility that someone migh be right. As it is, I have no idea what your know-it-allness has to say about the topic.

    So, as mdiageek has pointed out, if you have some great qualification in this area, how about actually taking issue with a particular comment and set all of us straight. Otherwise just fuck off.

  115. I have it on ‘good’ authority that eminent domain transfers to private parties aren’t [always] about the money.

  116. The Prius is a toy car?

    Yes

    Really?

    Yes really.

    A Prius, because of owner habits, life span, and manufacture the Prius is more damaging to the environment then a Hummer is.

    Why people people find spending money for a false sense of righteous indignation fun is not for me to explain.

  117. Pro Libertate

    As I understand it the Prius’ advantage exists primarily in city driving.

    On high speed interstate driving it has no perceptible advantage over an equivalent sized and powered conventional car.

  118. Whereas chacking ostensibly environmentally harmful plans for hidden agenda is a disreputable ad homenim, worthy only of mockery.

    Joe, in most cases that spring to mine, most environmentally harmful plans don’t have a hidden agenda. Their agenda is usually out in front: money.

  119. Joshua Corning,

    You’re pulling out the Prius/Hummer canard?
    Really?
    Are you being willfully ignorant or do you not know that analysis has been shown to be seriously flawed?

  120. erh, spring to mind.

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

  121. Isaac,

    Fair enough. Our comments were more focused on the death-in-a-box feature of the Prius than on anything else.

  122. Details?

    Harms include?
    How do these compare to the harms of coal energy?

    Pretty simple really.

    The wind farms and conduit and wire have to be manufactured and then installed…the coal plants and transmission lines already exist.

    Your study completely ignores these costs.

  123. Isaac,

    The Prius gets about 45mpg on the highway.

    I think that beats any other mid-sized vehicle other than a Honda hybrid.

  124. parse,

    We covered that downthread.

    Nigel,

    I think we might be talking past each other – I was refering to distributed, household-scale wind power. Did you mean “hydrogen” instead of “geothermal?”

    J sub D, you’re talking about replacing in toto electricity from the grid, without even having it as a backup, but most of the household solar and wind are meant to compliment power from the grid.

    joshua, you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about, do you? The amount of money and environmental degradation that would be incurred from constructing such a system massively swamps any possible gains. The massive enviornmental damage from…building an electrical grid…linking power lines together…which is what we have now…is going to cause more environmental damage – massively more – than removing coal plants from the power mix.

    Sure it will. You can tell, because joshua corning says so.

  125. Joshua Corning,

    Sorry, not buying that as an argument against wind. Short term costs are not really the deciding factor when choosing between infrastructure options.

  126. You’re pulling out the Prius/Hummer canard?
    Really?
    Are you being willfully ignorant or do you not know that analysis has been shown to be seriously flawed?

    Actually it isn’t…it is really weird how environmentalists completely ignore the costs of replacing functioning existing infrastructure…they only look at cost benefit analysis that compares the two as if they are both already built.

    This is not exactly what is happening with the prius but similar. Hummers last longer and owners tend to not replace them as quickly as a prius owner does.

    I admit that trend could change…but the facts of today are that Prius owners are not the stewards they claim to be.

  127. Safety ratings for the Prius:

    http://autos.yahoo.com/toyota_prius_4_door_liftback-safety/

    Four and five stars on every measure.

    People make a lot of assumptions about the Prius based on its appearance. It looks a bit like an econobox from the early 80s, so a lot of people assume it’s smaller than it actually is, and isn’t safe.

  128. Forgot to add:

    Though given the fact that a hogh proportion of driving is in town most drivers would, in fact, benefit from a hybrid.

    I’m not all that familiar with the Prius but a friend (serious lefty Democrat enviro) has a Civic hybrid. It strikes me as a remarkably solid little car. My friend is very happy with it (although a significant part of that is due to the extraordinary sense of moral superiority she gets from it).

    I have another friend who’s Dad owns a Camry hypbrid. In his case it’s not an enviro sense that motivates him but the fact that he’s a fairly well-to-do old dude (retired Navy/NASA doubledipper) who loves to try every new gadget that comes out. He likes his car too. It was from him that I first heard of the lack of advantage for hybrids in interstate driving.

  129. db:

    Guys, if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline, indicating that you have at least taken and passed a thermo coruse or two, please refrain from commenting on the technical viability of any, repeat, ANY, energy production technology.

    One needs no degree to comment. One need only understand thermodynamics to have a sense of which crackpot ‘renewable’ energy schemes are viable, and which aren’t. I have never “passed a course in thermodynamics”, but yet I know that this won’t work.

    For the record, I’m very skeptical of the viability of wind power.

  130. Neu Mejican | August 7, 2008, 1:41pm

    Maybe you’re right.

    I’m just repeating what I have heard from several sources.

    On the other hand, like many H&R commenters, my sources may very well be full of shit.

    Unlike many H&R commenters I’m usually willing to admit when I’ve been shown to be full of shit.

    🙂

  131. Civic hybrid safety ratings.

    http://autos.yahoo.com/honda_civic_hybrid_cvt_at_pzev-safety/

    About the same as the Prius.

    Both of which, of course, are going to be vastly safer than your standard, outmoded 70s-era muscle car.

  132. In case anyone interpretted anything I said as critical of the Prius, you’d be wrong.

  133. I expect to see it in my lifetime.
    I ain’t that much younger than you.

    You’ve likely lived a less chemically demanding life though. 😉

  134. Short term costs are not really the deciding factor when choosing between infrastructure options.

    So under that analysis we can destroy the planet to replace all our infrastructure so long as after it is built it is marginally less environmentally costly.

    “Short term costs” is not a measure of impact of those costs.

    Under your scenario we could be replacing our infrastructure every few years with the best new thing and sure each best new thing is marginally less destructive but unless the last old thing is allowed to run its full working life span and gain all its benefits over time you will be encouraging “short term costs” that swamp an gains.

    To be honest it is sort of sad that you are blind sided by this.

    If your proposal was a phased replacement as old infrastructure wears out then sure i can go along with a distributed wind power network. But that is not your proposal.

  135. Joshua Corning,

    Actually it isn’t…it is really weird how environmentalists completely ignore the costs of replacing functioning existing infrastructure…they only look at cost benefit analysis that compares the two as if they are both already built.

    You are wrong on that for the most part.
    Environmentalists came up with the concept of lifetime environmental impact to cover, well, the lifetime environmental impact that includes replacing the existing infrastructure.

    This is not exactly what is happening with the prius but similar. Hummers last longer and owners tend to not replace them as quickly as a prius owner does.

    Nope. Not demonstrated. Given that both Hummers and Prius are new enough models that we haven’t reached anywhere near their lifespan, it is unknown how long they last.

    And, as for replacing an old Prius with a newer car, what, do you think that Prius ends up in the junk yard?

    I would guess it ends up on a used car lot and replaces someone’s old VW.

    https://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Transportation/T07-01_DustToDust.pdf

    http://www.thecarconnection.com/article/1010861_prius-versus-hummer-exploding-the-myth

    http://www.pacinst.org/topics/integrity_of_science/case_studies/hummer_vs_prius.pdf

  136. One point about all of this crap about the oil companies not agreeing that we are swimming in oil. What makes anyone think that the oil companies have any motivation to tell the full truth about their reserves? A large component of the price of oil is based on future expectations of the supply of oil. By downplaying the extent of the known reserves, the oil companies lower the expectations of future supply and drive up the current price. The oil companies are amazing at playing their advasaries in the Green Movement for useful idiots. The Green Movement is always looking to buy into the idea of dwindling oil supplies in order to justify the next crank alternative energy project. This perception in turn helps to prop up oil prices and make the oil companies money. Further, everytime the Greens shut off an area to drilling, that just makes the existing reserves that much more valuable which also makes the oil companies money. The oil companies know the oil is not going anywhere. The oil in ANWAR and off shore will be there 20 years from now. Why pump it all now and drive the price down? Why not wait and let the greens stop development and preach the “end of oil” driving the price sky high making the oil companies billions and then drill later when the public pressure to drill finally becomes too much to stop? More importantly, why would anyone in the oil industry want to debunk the myth of peak oil?

  137. [screeching envirofundie voice]

    Won’t anybody think about the birds? This crazy proposal from Mr. Oil is going to make Silent Spring look like an ant farm!

    [/screeching envirofundie voice]

  138. Under your scenario we could be replacing our infrastructure every few years with the best new thing and sure each best new thing is marginally less destructive but unless the last old thing is allowed to run its full working life span and gain all its benefits over time you will be encouraging “short term costs” that swamp an gains.

    This is just nonsense. What makes you think I am ignoring this issue?

    To be honest it is sort of sad that you are blind sided by this.

    You are arguing with some mythical creature in your head on this.

    If your proposal was a phased replacement as old infrastructure wears out then sure i can go along with a distributed wind power network. But that is not your proposal.

    Phased replacement, yes, but “wears out” may not be the best criteria…the criteria is “replacing now has better results than waiting.”

  139. Environmentalists came up with the concept of lifetime environmental impact to cover, well, the lifetime environmental impact that includes replacing the existing infrastructure.

    The study you linked to did not.

  140. db | August 7, 2008, 12:50pm | #
    Fine. Just don’t come whining to me when your public energy policy, informed more by politics than sound engineering, causes you to have to choose between using your computer or keeping your food cold.

    For an engineer, you seem to have little understanding of how systems work.

    Strange.

    Since db doesn’t have at least a bachelor’s degree* in economics, I do wish he’d refrain from making comments.

    * I am going to save this comment

    Guys, if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline, indicating that you have at least taken and passed a thermo coruse or two, please refrain from commenting on the technical viability of any, repeat, ANY, energy production technology.

    to use on later threads. The arrogance is astounding.

  141. Joshua Corning,

    The study you linked to did not.

    I didn’t link to a study.
    I linked to a website that included some very basic information.

  142. Phased replacement, yes, but “wears out” may not be the best criteria…the criteria is “replacing now has better results than waiting.”

    In the case of replacing with wind power and the network necessary to transmit “wears out” and “replacing now has better results than waiting.” are synonymous.

    The manufacture of copper wire and the mining and smelting and casting of generators have huge environmental costs. Costs, I would like to once again remind you, that are not accounted for in the study you linked to.

  143. I didn’t link to a study.
    I linked to a website that included some very basic information.

    Basic information which does not account for replacement costs.

  144. Joshua,

    In the case of replacing with wind power and the network necessary to transmit “wears out” and “replacing now has better results than waiting.” are synonymous.

    Because you say so?
    Why are utilities phasing wind into their grids now then? Why are they currently building new infrastructure to support wind and other distributed generation?

    Wire from the old infrastructure, of course, can be recycled/reused (see joe’s comment above), reducing some of the harms you are worried about. Don’t act like this requires the old power grid to end up in a landfill somewhere.

  145. Basic information which does not account for replacement costs.

    I haven’t read everything on the site, but I seem to recall discussion of this very issue.

    Dig around some more.

  146. Wind power is great – where it’s cost effective. To be cost effective, you need to be in a location that is A) reasonably close to the people who will consume it, and B) gets a constant wind over about 8 mph. Super high winds don’t help – most turbines are designed to generate peak power between 10 and 15 mph of wind, and if the wind is higher they just don’t do any more than that. And if the wind goes below 10, the power starts to drop off dramatically and costs skyrocket because a wind turbine costs the same to buy and operate regardless of whether you are operating at 80% efficiency or 20% effciency. If your average is 5 mph, wind power is very expensive.

    T-Boone’s map of the midwest makes it look like the whole area could be filled with wind turbines. It just isn’t so. If you drill into the DOE’s maps of wind resource availability, you’ll see that even the best states for wind power only have high wind zones in relatively few places – and most of those places already have wind power stations under construction.

    Wind power can work – here in Alberta we’re producing about 7000 MW of wind power. But then we have an excellent region of high wind in Southern Alberta due to a natural venturi effect coming from the mountains. The wind power is cost-effective, too.

    You don’t have to have batteries to make it work, because you can use other power sources as a buffer. For example, you can have a natural gas plant scaling up and down as wind comes online and offline. If there’s no wind, all your power comes from traditional sources. As the wind picks up, the traditional sources throttle back and burn less fuel and wind takes over some of the load. There are technical glitches, and issues regarding the efficiency of running other plants at less than optimum power levels, but they can be managed.

    Wind can be cost effective, but if you add up all the areas of excellent wind, you find that you can’t really supply more than maybe 10-20% of our power from wind, and that would require enormous investment and major changes to the infrastructure. More reasonably, we might be able to get 5-10% of our power from wind, in areas that have good wind resources.

  147. Something that needs to be reiterated:

    If you want to save the planet from fossil fuels you will not do it by opting for a cleaner, but more expensive energy source. Because if you choose to do that, you will simply take your demand for oil away from the oil markets, which will lower the price and stimulate demand for it elsewhere.

    This is the cold logic of a global, fungible resource. So long as it is cheaper to make energy with oil, oil will be used. Unless you can get the entire world to voluntarily stop using oil, all you can do is change the distribution of who burns it. Cut U.S. consumption in half, and consumption in China and India will increase until a new equilibrium is reached.

    Either way, every drop of oil in the ground is coming out of the ground and being burned, until it’s no longer in anyone’s economic interest to do so. Any ‘energy policy’ or ‘green policy’ that doesn’t take this hard fact into account is worse than useless – it’s counter-productive. It’s counter-productive because it shifts the dirtiest energy source away from the people who at least use it as cleanly as possible and increases the use of it by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about pollution.

    If you learn to accept this simple fact, the only possible answer is staring you in the face – you have to come up with a source of energy that is cheaper than oil. Nothing else matters. Conserving it doesn’t matter. Putting carbon taxes on it at home doesn’t matter.

    Now, other energy sources can become cheaper than oil in two ways – one is to work to improve the energy sources so the price comes down. The other is to wait until oil becomes scarcer and prices itself out of the market. Or do both. That’s where the future is.

    In the meantime, any restrictions on output you put on your own country will simply hurt the local economy, which will inhibit the ability to invest in the research to lower the price of other energy sources.

    And by the way, the market is doing just fine in this regard. Energy sources that weren’t viable when oil was $14/bbl are viable now, and being implemented in quite large scale. Wind and Geothermal today. Solar will be there in a few years. Work hard to lower the cost on those – every time you lower the price of alternative energy, you drop lower the point where its cost intersects that of oil. The lower you make that intersection, the more oil will stay in the ground unburned because no one wants to pay to burn it.

  148. it’s counter-productive. It’s counter-productive because it shifts the dirtiest energy source away from the people who at least use it as cleanly as possible and increases the use of it by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about pollution.

    Ironically, as far as global warming goes, unless you capture the C02 from the fossil fuels, you may want the more polluting countries using the stuff as the pollution contributes to global dimming and slows the warming. The worst scenario is “clean” burning not including C02 capture.

    NOVA discussed this issue nicely.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sun/

  149. Neu Mejican,

    Mandates to buy wind (renewable portfolio standards) is one of the primary drivers for the utilities addition of wind to their systems.

    The biofuels debacle provides a lesson we should all remember. The bulk of the damage they occurred when biofuel usage was mandated.

    The fact that wind usage is being driven by mandates and subsidies should be a red flag of caution.

  150. Via blogger, writer, and critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman

    What? Are you guys fucking dating?

  151. TJIT,

    Re: mandates for renewables do no, I think, specify “buy wind.”

    Among the alternative tech currently available to fulfill the mandates, wind is being chosen due to the perception by the utilities that it shows the best potential.

    Nuclear also has subsidies and no one is choosing nuclear.

    FWIW, I am not advocating an all-wind system.
    If wind can create a 5-10% reduction in c02, then why would we ignore that potential. If solar can create another 10-20% reduction, why would we ignore that potential. A mix of solutions will replace fossil fuels and those options will be somewhat regionally dependent, based on what works where.

    Texas is one place that wind makes some good sense. SW states and solar also make sense. Coastal states and wave-power, etc….

    Mandates that set a goals of x% with renewables do not determine the form those renewables will take nor stifle innovation since any renewable tech you can come up with helps meet the mandate.

    That is an important difference compared to a mandate to use X amount of ethanol.

  152. do not, that is.

  153. Neu Mejican,

    Energy source mandates are very risky and potentially destructive policy tools, WRT the environment, technology deveolpment, and economics.

    The massive environmental destruction caused by the biofuels mandates are the best example of this.

    People can choose to ignore the very real risk renewable portfolio standards will at best do nothing to reduce carbon emissions and at worst cause substantial environmental destruction while increasing carbon emissions.

    People who choose to ignore the risks aren’t serious about energy policy and can’t make rational decisions about it.

    Mostly because they don’t understand the technical issues.

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