Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Some Biofuel Skepticism

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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children-of-the-corn-revelationA number of intrepid readers took issue with last night’s post on bioethanol.  One question concerns the “energy balance” of ethanol production.  Producing a gallon of ethanol requires a input of energy.  If the output is greater than the input (a positive balance) then ethanol production adds to the total stock of available energy.  If the reverse (a negative balance), then bioethanol production reduces the stock of energy.

Here is one answer, from “Ethanol Production: Energy, Economic, and Environmental Losses”, by David Pimentel, Tad Patzek, and Gerald Cecil (

To produce a liter of 99.5% ethanol uses 43% more fossil energy than the energy produced as ethanol and costs $0.42/L($1.59/gal)…  The total energy input to produce 1L ethanol is 7,333 kcal (Table 2). However, 1 L ethanol has an energy value of only 5,130 kcal. Based on a net energy loss of 2,203 kcal ethanol produced, 43% more fossil energy is expended than is produced as ethanol.

If that is correct, bioethanol production is consuming, not supplementing, available energy supplies.  The authors acknowledge that there are contrary findings.

Shapouri (Shapouri et al. 2004) of the USDA is now reporting a net energy positive return of 67%, whereas in this chapter, we report a negative 43% deficit. In their earlier report, Shapouri et al. (2002) reported a net energy positive return of 34%. Why did ethanol production net return for the USDA nearly double in 2 yr, while corn yields in the U.S. declined 6% during that period (USDA 2002, 2003)? The Shapouri results need to be examined and explained.

Shapouri et al. (2004) omit several inputs. For instance, all the energy required to produce and repair farm machinery and the fermentation and distillation equipment is not included…

Shapouri et al. reported a net energy return of 67% after including the co-products, primarily dried distillers grain (DDG) used to feed cattle.  These co-products are not fuel!

Who is right?  Common sense sheds some light here.  One of the problems with government subsidies is that they make it a lot harder to evaluate the true costs and benefits of any subsidized activity.  What would happen if all government subsidies to all forms of energy production were ended immediately?  Coal, oil, natural gas, and hydroelectric power would continue to be produced.  The same is true, I suspect, of nuclear power.

By contrast, large scale wind and solar power generation would come to a grinding halt.  Would bioethanol continue to be produced?  It is pretty clear that the producers don’t think so.  That is what fuels the controversy.  The corn ethanol industry is tenuous enough with the government subsidies.  That would not be so if the energy balance were significantly positive.

Even if the energy balance were positive, that would not mean that ethanol production is a good idea just now, let alone that subsidies are in order.  Producing ethanol from corn means either diverting a substantial portion of the world’s corn crops to energy production, or significantly increasing corn production.  It probably means both.  The first necessarily increases the cost of corn and so raises world food prices.  The second results in an increase in carbon emissions, something we are supposed to be trying to avoid.

Ron Bailey has a nice summary of the issue on the Reason website.  Here is an abstract from a paper in Science to which Ron directs us.

Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

Okay, so what about the ideal of energy independence?  I believe in that ideal like I believe in fairies, but has ethanol production reduced our consumption of foreign oil?  Here is a bit by Robert Bryce at the Manhattan Institute website:

Between 1999 and 2009, U.S. ethanol production increased seven-fold, to more than 700,000 barrels per day (bbl/d). During that period, however, oil imports increased by more than 800,000 bbl/d. (In addition, U.S. oil exports—yes, exports—more than doubled, to about 2 million bbl/d.[3]) Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that oil imports closely track domestic oil consumption. Over the past decade, as oil demand grew, so did imports. When consumption fell, imports did as well. Ethanol production levels had no apparent effect on the volume of oil imports or on consumption.

I do not know whether, in the foreseeable future, biofuels might become a viable source of energy.  Fossil fuels represent millions of summers followed by millions of years of underground processing.  A corn crop represents one summer and all the processing is on our tab.  So I am doubtful, but I do not underestimate the power of human ingenuity.

Right now bioethanol looks like a bad gamble.  It doesn’t add significantly to the supply of energy, and probably subtracts from it.  It doesn’t make us less dependent on foreign oil.  It increases the cost of fuel and that doesn’t help the economy.  It raises the cost of food, and that doesn’t help people who eat food.  It’s bad for the environment.  What it does do is shift wealth toward some at the expense of others.  But hey, living in a corn producing state, I am all for ethanol subsidies.

Ethanol: Immortal & Immoral

Posted: Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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Insane-Clown-Energy-DrinkIt looks like the President and the Lame Duck Democrats have cut a deal with Republicans.  The country can breathe a sigh of relief that taxes won’t go up across the board on January 1st.  Another sigh of relief is coming from the ethanol industry.  From the Washington Post:

The White House and key lawmakers cleared the way Thursday night for swift Senate action to avert a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for nearly all Americans, agreeing to extend breaks for ethanol and other forms of alternative energy as part of the deal.

I don’t find a lot to cheer in this.  It is widely assumed that a significant tax increase would be another shock to an already weak economy.  That might well be true, but maybe it would have done more good for Congress to show that it was serious about getting our fiscal house in order.

As for extending the ethanol subsides, I’m all for it.  I live in South Dakota and work for the state.  We have a lot more ethanol plants than beach volleyball courts.  I figure what floats the state economy floats me, and I am worried about the sinking of fiscal real estate hereabouts.

Of course, ethanol subsidies make no sense on any other grounds.  Ethanol production doesn’t increase our “energy independence”, whatever that might mean.  It takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the gallon actually contains.  That extra energy isn’t coming from wind towers.  Over the next five years, these subsides will cost us over $25 billion dollars.

Ethanol production doesn’t yield any environmental benefit and certainly none at a reasonable cost.  From Forbes:

Australian academic Robert Niven found that ethanol gasoline lets out more harmful air toxins than regular gasoline. The Congressional Budget Office finds that taxpayers are shelling out $750 for every metric ton (2,205 pounds) of carbon kept out of our atmosphere. To put that in perspective, the carbon-offset company Terrapass values the reduction of 1,000 pounds of emissions at a mere $5.95.

When you add up the environmental costs of corn production, the equation looks much worse.  Virgin prairie has been plowed up to produce corn for fuel.  The machines that work the fields aren’t solar powered.  From Pajamas Media:

A gallon of ethanol emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) than a gallon of gasoline when combusted. However, CO2-emitting fossil fuels are used to make fertilizer, operate farm equipment, power ethanol distilleries, and transport the ethanol to market. In addition, when farmers plow grasslands and clear forests to expand corn acreage, or to grow food crops displaced elsewhere by energy crop production, they release carbon previously locked up in soils and trees. For several decades, such land use changes can generate more CO2 than is avoided by substituting ethanol for gasoline.

Ethanol production raises the price of gasoline and it raises the price of food.  Tariffs keep cheaper ethanol produced south of the border out of the U.S. market, which makes the system all the more expensive but is probably an act of Christian charity.  Diverting corn to ethanol production raises the price of tortillas which results in hungrier children.

But hey, as long as it brings money to the Dakotas and Barry’s own Illinois, why should I complain?  The issue has made odd bedfellows of conservatives and environmentalists, who have united in opposing the subsidies.  That’s amusing, since it was the green lobby that gave us ethanol in the first place.

I can’t help pointing out that subsidies for wind and solar power differ from the above only in so far as they currently do much less damage.  But they are no more economically or environmentally advantageous.

The ethanol regime is what you get when you base your energy on beautiful ideas like “renewable energy” or “green jobs,” and not on any rational estimate of the costs and benefits of energy technologies.

Cap and Trade Not Ballot Box Poison

Posted: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 7:49 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Heartland Consumer Power District’s Mike McDowell wags his finger at Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and any other Congressmen thinking of taking advantage of the lame-duck session to “enact policies rejected by the voters on November 3rd [sic].” McDowell’s warning carries the hint that he includes cap and trade in that batch of “rejected” policies.

Mr. McDowell’s queasiness about cap and trade, that really effective policy that was part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, was not rejected by the electorate last week. The bill never made it to a vote in our laggardly Senate, but in the House, 80% of the Democrats who voted for ACESA won re-election. 27 out of 43 Democrats—63%—who voted no on ACESA lost last week. Only one of eight House Republicans who voted with Nancy Pelosi for cap and trade was beaten at the ballot box, and that was Delaware’s Mike Castle, who lost the Senate primary to Christine O’Donnell… which worked out nicely for Democrats and other reasonable people.

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was one of those Democratic nays. So was Dennis Kucinich. But Herseth Sandlin the Blue Dog lost, while Kucinich the fire-breathing liberal won. Go figure… and keep that in mind, candidates-in-waiting, as you think about whether you want to run in 2012 as an “Independent (democrat)” or a just plain “Democrat.”

By the way, conservatives, instead of gambling on your extreme best-case scenario that the scientific consensus is wrong, climate change isn’t happening, and oil will last forever, why not be real conservatives and join the Dems in this lame-duck session to pass serious climate change and energy security legislation?

SD Job Losses Projected from GOP Denialism

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:52 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The stimulus package is creating jobs, even against fundamental shifts in the nature of our economy. To tackle those fundamental shifts, we need to revamp our economy. That revamping includes revolutionizing the energy economy. Commiting America to a policy of clean, renewable energy would create loads of jobs, including 5000 to 10,000 right here in South Dakota.

But the oil industry’s best friend, the Republican Party, has kicked, screamed, and mythologized to keep us from passing any sensible energy legislation this year. Thanks to Republican obstructionism (not to mention some Blue Dog collaboration), America is giving up 1.9 million new-energy jobs to foreign companies. Plus, the defenders of the energy status quo are also keeping an extra $208 million a day from being invested in the U.S. economy, as folks who want to build new-energy businesses say, “Heck, the U.S. won’t get serious, but China and Europe will. Let’s invest elsewhere!”

In kitchen-table terms, the denialism of Republicans like Senator John Thune and Congress-wannabe Kristi Noem means your household will miss out on as much as $1175 a year in income.

You can read the full report from the nice folks at the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, American Businesses for Clean Energy, and We Can Lead. These are all business groups—business groups—telling the Republicans to get with the program on energy security.

Faint glimmer of hope: Senator Al Franken and some other good liberal Senators are signing on to a bipartisan bill from Senators Bingaman and Brownback to establish a national 15% Renewable Energy Standard. That proposal by itself wouldn’t bring all of the above jobs and income back to South Dakota and the rest of the country, but it’s an important step in the direction of the energy future that our competitors in the world economy are already embracing.

The Republicans seem determined to apply their “Invisible Hand” wishful thinking to everything. Don’t just do something; stand there! The economy will sort itself out. Oil will magically bubble from new holes in the ground. We can keep doing things the way we always have, because we’re Americans, and Americans are always right.

Look around, America. The world is changing. The economy is changing. We must change with it… and that means changing our energy policy. Listen to Senator Franken, and fix it now!
Update 17:22 CDT: Of course, 15% RES is small potatoes for real forward thinkers. California is working on requiring investor-owned utilities to go 33% renewable.

Government Does Energy. The Three Stooges Do Plumbing

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 at 11:44 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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baileysynfuelsI had the enormous pleasure, yesterday, of dinning with Ron Bailey.  Ron is the science correspondent for Reason magazine.  I have known Ron for several years, having run into him at various conferences and colloquiums.  He was passing through Aberdeen on his way back from Montana, and he was kind enough to look me up.  Professor Schaff and I took him to Mavericks Stake House.  If you think this is a shameless exercise in name dropping, you are quite right.

I would like to balance the ledger by bringing the awesome power of South Dakota Politics to support his publications.  His last book, Liberation Biology, is a wonderful argument for new technologies that, he assures us, will improve human life.  If you are worried about the pernicious, Syfy Channel effects of genetic engineering, or the like, Ron will persuade you that the promise exceeds the peril.  He has been working on a new book, and to judge by what he told us, you will want to reserve a copy on Amazon.

You can go to Reason’s website to read his dispatches from the road.  His most recent piece explains the history of the Great Plains Synfuels plant near Beulah, North Dakota.

In 1980, Congress created the Synfuels Corporation, endowing it with $20 billion with the goal of eventually building as many as 22 enormous coal gasification plants, each one producing 300 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Since coal gasification was an unproven technology in the U.S., natural gas pipeline companies were reluctant invest in it. The federal government rushed to the rescue. The Department of Energy helped create a public/private partnership with five natural gas pipeline companies that agreed to put up 25 percent of the cost of building a demonstration plant while the government supplied the remaining 75 percent in the form of loan guarantees. Out of this bold alliance between business and government was born the hugely ambitious Great Plains Coal Gasification plant.

The plant was built at a cost of $2.1 billion and shipped its first thousand feet of natural gas in July 1984. Due to escalating costs, the plant was scaled back to half size so that it was designed to produce 150 million cubic feet of gas per day. In the meantime, the hapless Jimmy Carter unknowingly had already undercut the rationale for constructing a massive coal gasification industry by a simple change in policy—he deregulated the price of natural gas. It turned out that the country wasn’t running out of natural gas; it was running out of natural gas with a government imposed price cap. That old truism—only governments create shortages—was once again proven correct.

Construction of the plant was first proposed in 1978, just months after the creation of the new Department of Energy during the “energy crisis.” Natural gas production in the U.S. had been declining since 1971 and nationwide shortages were causing schools and factories to close in the winters as gas was diverted to home heating and cooking…

Allow me to summarize my interpretation of this story.  In the 1970’s the U.S. government created a shortage of natural gas by price controls on that energy source.  That same government then tried to remedy the shortage by investing billions of public monies in a technology that private enterprise was unwilling to support.  After the Synfuels plant had been built, the same government removed the price controls.  The plant ceased to be economically viable.  The Department of Energy bought the plant back at a loss and then sold it, again at a loss.

Today the plant is modestly profitable, but only when natural gas prices are high and only because the current owners didn’t have to pay back the loans or otherwise cover the cost of building the plant in the first place.  I think I got all that right.

That is what happens when the U.S. Government does energy policy.  If you look at history of Cap and Trade legislation, you will see the same bogus projections, the same willful ignorance of economic principles and recent history that was at work when Jimmy Carter was President.  The only bright spot in this coal dark picture is that the ability of Congress to do monumental mischief looks about to be cut short.

Stimulus Drives Colton Energy Independence

Posted: Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 7:41 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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You can take the Kristi Noem position and contend the stimulus has failed. Perhaps Noem would like to double down and say the stimulus has driven folks crazy.

Exhibit A: Colton, South Dakota, which is announcing its plan to become the first energy-independent city in South Dakota:

The City of Colton has broken ground on it’s Energy Independent Community (EIC) Initiative with the start of project construction at all city facilities. Recovery Act funding through the U.S. Department of Energy and S.D. Department of Energy will allow Colton to become the first city within the State of South Dakota to subsidize and offset electricity consumption of all city facilities by the use of small wind and solar hybrid system technology! In addition to producing a majority of the electrical energy needed to power city operations through renewable energy, grant funds will also be utilized to increase the energy efficiency at city facilities with improved insulation, upgraded doors and windows, radiant heat sources, upgraded electrical services and improved efficiency lighting. The project will drastically improve the viability and energy efficiency of city facilities, and effectively double city shop square footage without increasing and possibly even reducing current energy demands of city operations [City of Colton, 2010].

A whole city producing as much power as it uses from wind and solar. Crazy, right?

Wrong. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act wasn’t just about keeping and creating jobs. It was about inspiring long-term investment in really good ideas, like building renewable energy infrastructure and making improvements that allow us to produce more of our own energy and use it more efficiently.

Colton is thinking big. They’re hosting a ribbon-cutting to showcase their big-thinking initiative at the Taopi Hall in Colton on September 28 at 3 p.m. Perhaps candidate Noem will come to Colton to learn what the stimulus is really doing for her fellow South Dakotans.

THIS is Change that we can REALLY use!

Posted: Monday, September 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm
By: RadioActive Chief
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As usual…another case of the London Telegraph going where no US mainstream media has dared to venture.

Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium

If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.

What’s not to like about this one? Well, it IS kind of disconcerting to be in a position to [potentially] supporting an Obama initiative…but then again, it hasn’t happened yet, and since it depends on the other (technological) n-word (nuclear), the Chief is willing to be that B.O. will be no more likely to adopt this than he would be to embrace the original n-word.

There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday – produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. “It’s the Big One,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

“Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels,” he said.

Ooops. What would happen to the “uranium cartels”, to say nothing of the vast, wealthy, and dare one say influential oil iindustry? Anyone else think there may just be a BIT of opposition to this from those locations? (I’m just saying…you know?) As an object lesson in support of this observation:

You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.

Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. “They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology,” he said.

C’est la vie.

After explaining some of the technical aspects of thorium energy, and the prospects of at least one privately financed effort underway (in Norway), the piece from the Telegraph concludes:

Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.

When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.

Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. “This needs action,” he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.

The global energy crunch needs equal “action”. If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.[Emphasis added]

Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.

The Chief concurs.

Bikes, Solar, Good Sense Challenged

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 7:59 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Buried in browser tabs! Time to clear the queue!

Colorado is seeing a weird outbreak of velophobia. Some folks have a Sibby-Ellis-tinged idea that promoting Denver as a bicycle city is part of the United Nations’ sinister agenda to enslave us all. The tiny casino town of Black Hawk, Colorado has banned bicycles: a new Colorado law requires motorists to give bicycles at least three feet when passing, and Black Hawk reasons that complying with that law would be just too hard for the big tour buses bringing gamblers to town. Riding your bike through town now gets you a $68 fine (to make up for cyclists not spending as much on booze, I guess).

Green power is ugly. Or so goes the thinking, apparently, in Hanover Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Township supervisors there have imposed restrictions on solar panels: tucking panels away beside or behind the house is fine, but if you happen to have a south-facing abode and want to place your panel out front where it will do the most good, you need to get a conditional permit, which will take $800, two months, and all sorts of paperwork. Says a state township association official, “A lot of people have a problem with placing solar panels on the front of their homes for the simple reason…solar panels are distracting and take away from the value of [their] house…. Elected officials are hearing that and they’re taking that into consideration.” Once again, obsession with appearance trumps environmental sense and property rights.

Solar power is making progress in California. Regulators there have approved the first solar thermal plant in the U.S. in two decades. Ah, good old American innovation… maybe we’ll catch up with Portugal after all.

But not if boneheads like Don Kopp stay in office. One of South Dakota’s most embarassing legislators provides a teabaggers’ splinter group in Rapid City with a slideshow assortment of decontextualized quotes—prooftexting at its finest (and a popular pastime among the non-thinkers in the Tea “Party”). The slides flog the U.N.-evil meme and insisting environmentalists are out to lynch America (yes, slide #10 includes a noose). I’m sure Kopp et al. consider this Kansas City artist’s work on sustainable buildings an effort to destroy America, too.
But think positive: Lester R. Brown sees renewable energy booming worldwide and thinks we can “replace all coal- and oil-fired electricity generation with renewable sources.”

Dirty Energy vs. Clean & Green

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2010 at 11:03 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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Wile-E-CoyoteSome writers have a divine muse to inspire them.  I have my friends on the local blogosphere.  No muse can compete.

Lately they have been complaining about how much money Senator Thune receives from “Dirty Energy”.  It occurs to me that the demonic term “dirty” like its angelic counterpart “green,” is impressionistic.  It describes how the writer feels about a particular source of energy, but is altogether divorced from any consideration of the actual consequences of using that source of energy.

For example, see the recent New York Times article on Portugal’s massive investment in renewable energy (hat tip to Cory Heidelberger).  It is a very interesting article, and perhaps unintentionally revealing.

Today, Lisbon’s trendy bars, Porto’s factories and the Algarve’s glamorous resorts are powered substantially by clean energy. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago…

[A]ggressive national policies to accelerate renewable energy use are succeeding in Portugal and some other countries, according to a recent report by IHS Emerging Energy Research of Cambridge, Mass., a leading energy consulting firm. By 2025, the report projected, Ireland, Denmark and Britain will also get 40 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources; if power from large-scale hydroelectric dams, an older type of renewable energy, is included, countries like Canada and Brazil join the list.

Portugal is a success story, because it has gone from down and dirty to green and clean.  Well, sort of.  Forty-five percent clean is presumably fifty-five percent dirty.  The trouble is that the success is measured only in how much power comes from the beautiful technologies.  That is success only if you assume that the green technologies are really clean technologies.  Are they?

Presumably, green technologies are supposed to lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases.  Has Portugal achieved such a reduction?  There isn’t a word about that in the article.  Presumably, these technologies should result in a reduction in the importation and use of “dirty” energy, or else the total package isn’t really any cleaner, is it?  Has Portugal achieved such a reduction?  If the author had any curiosity about that, she managed to suppress it.

Has the transition to renewable energy benefited the Portuguese people in economic terms?

“So far the program has placed no stress on the national budget” and has not created government debt, said Shinji Fujino, head of the International Energy Agency’s country study division.

Well, that’s one measure of success.  It hasn’t bankrupted the country.  Yet.  On the other hand, it has increased the cost of electricity to Portuguese households by 15%.  They were already paying twice what Americans pay to flicker on an energy efficient bulb.  What it hasn’t done is to produce green jobs.

In Portugal, as in the United States, politicians have sold green energy programs to communities with promises of job creation. Locally, the effect has often proved limited. For example, more than five years ago, the isolated city of Moura became the site of Portugal’s largest solar plant because it “gets the most sun of anywhere in Europe and has lots of useless space,” said José Maria Prazeres Pós-de-Mina, the mayor.

But while 400 people built the Moura plant, only 20 to 25 work there now, since gathering sunlight requires little human labor. Unemployment remains at 15 percent, the mayor said — though researchers, engineers and foreign delegations frequently visit the town’s new solar research center.

I like that term “locally.”  Aren’t all jobs local?

To judge by the article, the Portuguese government has done a masterful job of realizing a great dream: generating a substantial portion of its electricity from green sources.  What we don’t know is whether these sources are really any greener or cleaner than dirty sources.  To answer that question, you would have to ask it.

We also don’t know from the article what percentage of this new, clean, power is coming from wind as opposed to hydroelectric sources.  Some of the windmills are employed pumping water back up into the artificial lakes that dams create.  Does damming rivers and flooding valleys benefit the environment?  Environmentalists used to be opposed to that sort of thing.

And then there are the birds.  A single wind farm on Altamont Pass in California has been killing between five thousand and ten thousand birds a year.  That is probably the extreme example, but it has been operating since the 1970’s!  In case it hasn’t occurred to you, migratory birds often travel where the wind is.

Maybe wind power can meet part of the human need for energy in a way that benefits both us and is kinder and gentler to the environment.  Maybe wind power is an economic sink hole that turns wind energy and bird and bat guts into government subsides.  We might ought to know which is which before we invest more.  One thing is for sure: the language of dirty vs. clean and green energy is an impediment to even asking the right questions.

Thune Leads SD Delegation in Dirty Energy Money

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2010 at 7:05 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Since we’re talking about tainted campaign contributions, let’s look at polluted political money from Big Oil and Coal. An eager reader points me toward, a fun website with lots of buttons to push. You can look up how much money your Congresspeople get from the fossil fuel lobby and others who want to keep America in the energy Dark Ages.

So how much money do our Congresspeople take from energy lobbyists in smoke-filled rooms fighting for a smoke-filled country?

  1. Senator John Thune: $521,046 (22% from coal interests, 78% from Big Oil)
  2. Senator Tim Johnson: $218,260 (61% coal, 39% oil)
  3. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: $72,450 (52% coal, 48% oil)

Alas, only tracks current members of Congress, not candidates. You’ll have to dig through Federal Election Commission records yourself to find the scuzzy money in Kristi Noem’s war chest (though I’ve started a list here).
Bonus BP-Boehner bash:’s numbers show that House Minority Leader John Boehner has taken $8000 in contributions from BP. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken $1000 in dirty BP money. The logical conclusion: John Boehner is eight times worse than Nancy Pelosi! ;-)