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On Rather than Divest, Advocate for Carbon Balancing

John, I've never been able to understand how worries about preserving anyone's core business should take precedence over preserving the planet which will be home to thousands of generations of their progeny.

Fossil fuels are the problem, period. The carbon cycle was balanced for 10 million years before we started aggressively burning them. New evidence suggests terrestrial biomass is actually increasing while atmospheric carbon marches steadily upwards. Today, with fossils the leading cause of increased anthropogenic carbon, "prudent use of fossil fuels" is a contradiction of terms, and mitigation efforts like no-till farming and CCS are feeble justifications for continuing business-as-usual.

Getting rid of fossil fuels may not be the end goal, but when it's the best way to achieve that goal it's an appropriate focus of our efforts.

May 21, 2015    View Comment    

On Nuclear Agency: Nuclear Power Will Play Only A Modest Role In Stopping Climate Change

Hops, competent engineers do not consider the "survival" of a reactor, "imaginable" risks, or "major" disasters (epidemics? revolutions?). These generic legacies of The China Syndrome make great copy and draw banner advertising to Climate Progress, but would be laughable were it not for the deplorable state of education about everything nuclear.

May 21, 2015    View Comment    

On Nuclear Agency: Nuclear Power Will Play Only A Modest Role In Stopping Climate Change

Joris, neither the title of his piece:

Nuclear Agency: Nuclear Power Will Play Only A Modest Role In Stopping Climate Change

nor the softened first line:

Nuclear power can play a modest, but important, role in avoiding catastrophic global warming.

are found anywhere in IEA's report, but are fictions Joe has invented en route to rewriting his personal history of antinuclearism. For those wondering what on earth IEA did say, here's an exact quote of the first Key Finding in the report (p5):

Nuclear power is the largest source of low-carbon electricity in OECD countries, with an 18% overall share of electricity production in 2013 and second at global levels with an 11% share. The updated vision for the 2014 Nuclear Roadmap – based on the 2 degrees Celsius (°C) scenario (2DS) of Energy Technology Perspectives: Scenarios and Strategies to 2050 (IEA, forthcoming 2015) – sees nuclear continuing to play a major role in lowering emissions from the power sector, while improving security of energy supply, supporting fuel diversity and providing large-scale electricity at stable production costs.

Sadly, Joe seems to have convinced himself that some interpretation of the Roadmap is

...what I’ve been arguing on Climate Progress for a long, long time.

Hmm. Anyone who's been reading Joe's column for the last decade recognizes this egregious deception for what it is, but hey - I agree Joris, in the grand scheme it represents progress. Now is not the time to beat on this influential voice for climate, but wish him luck and godspeed to his journey's inevitable endpoint - and that he might redeem himself by blazing a trail for Helen Caldicott, Arnie Gunderson and others to follow.

May 20, 2015    View Comment    

On Nuclear Agency: Nuclear Power Will Play Only A Modest Role In Stopping Climate Change

Joe, a big LOL for your claim that

A key reason new reactors are inherently so expensive is that they must be designed to survive almost any imaginable risk, including major disasters and human error.

I was under the impression nuclear's expense was the result of calculated risk - but instead we've been relying on the rock-solid antinuclear imagination as a reference.

I don't know whether to be relieved or profoundly disappointed, but I would guess you're not the best person to ask.

May 20, 2015    View Comment    

On IMF Study: Global Energy Subsidies Will Cost $5.3 Trillion in 2015

Joris, the study doesn't deserve critical attention as much as inattention.

Both you and Roger correctly call into question the liberal use of the term subsidy to apply to post-taxation external costs. I can't find any definition of subsidy which doesn't specifically identify it as a monetary or pecuniary grant, so in fact the study begins and ends with an invalid premise.

Assigning hard values to soft costs of anything is a pointless academic exercise which reveals more about the authors' values than those of the factors they're investigating. For example: does the study recommend a Pigouvian tax deduction for the added utility which energy brings to the lives of people who use it, and if not, why not?

May 20, 2015    View Comment    

On The Sun Also Rises in the Southeast

Luis, regarding solar energy in Florida you claim

...the state could feasibly generate a mind-blowing 25 times its current electric needs using clean, renewable energy.

Peter Morcombe, who holds a master's degree in both physics and electrical engineering from Oxford and was until recently the director of Duke University's laser laboratory, has addressed that very subject.  His analysis indicates that achieving that feat with utility-scale CSP solar would require the construction of 35 million acres of mirrors, towers, etc., covering 94% of the entire state (Florida's Disney attractions might be spared, but there would be room for little else).

Where on earth did you find this nonsense?

May 18, 2015    View Comment    

On Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All

Dick, after heaping scorn on utilities and touting the advantages of microgrids (the ability to isolate outages, increase reliability, reduce pollution etc.) you select a microgrid proposed by ComEd - Illinois's utility - as your shining public example (Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood).

Your readers should probably know that the change you're proposing - removing electricity generation from any public oversight whatsoever - is a poster child for the current right-wing, small-government push to privatize public infrastructure. It would give unregulated large corporations unfettered control over electricity generation and prices, and is 180 degrees removed from the disingenuous, populist message you attempt to convey.

May 18, 2015    View Comment    

On Utilities, Cheap Batteries Won't Hurt You, You Have Much Worse Things to Worry About - Part II: The Ideas of Power

Jay, thanks for you reply.

My disagreement was more one of tone than substance. I don't believe, for instance, that anyone in utility management believes their industry faces an existential crisis. Challenges for utilities in 2015 and beyond are focused on modifying their business model to permit growth, which is good for everyone. It exploits efficiencies of scale and gives all Americans - not just those wealthy enough to afford it - access to clean, reliable electricity at an affordable price.

Which is exactly why cross-subsidization and TOU pricing constitute privatization of a public resource, and are anything but a joke. America's regulated utilities are as close to government agencies as the private sector can get. Their CEO pay is the lowest, and they're subject to the greatest amount of regulation. Their profits are limited by law. As such, they're very much the energy equivalent of police or fire departments, or water districts, or the USPS - they provide a nearly identical service to all Americans, regardless of social standing, for a modest price - i.e., a "public resource".

TOU pricing transfers the burden of maintaining adequate energy generation assets from all ratepayers to those least able to afford it. It's the single mother with two jobs who must do her laundry after 10PM to maintain the electricity rates she has now, so that owners of expansive homes will be awarded retail rates for their solar energy. She and others like her will bear the financial burden of maintaining the transmission lines on which nearly all distributed generation advocates continue to depend.

Perhaps one day the USPS will rename first class delivery "First Class Plus", and offer regular first class at a lower rate - but delivery will now take 2-3 weeks. Or police departments will be scaled back, with more than one visit/year to a residence requiring payment of a fee. These are trends which masquerade as equalization and empowerment, but in practice only expand the widening gulf between America's haves and have-nots.

May 18, 2015    View Comment    

On The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring

Lewis, the Forbes article you cite claims

when compared with the rest of the 25 most profitable U.S. companies the trio [Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and Conoco-Phillips] also had the highest effective tax rates.

The one I cite argues they have the lowest effective tax rates. Both analyses notwithstanding - assuming the competent accountants at all major corporations will take advantage of whatever tax advantages are available, oil companies should pay more - they make more.

Or should we be giving kickbacks to the wealthiest corporations for graciously cutting the IRS in on their take? Seems a bit undemocratic.

May 16, 2015    View Comment    

On Move Over Mandates: Can a New 'Personal Energy Independence' Bill Entice Congress?

Stephen, the illusion that privatizing the utility industry under the guise of "freedom of choice" has ever been anything but a conservative, small-government dream appears to be gaining adherents. Yet in their rush to erect wind turbines and solar panels, the renewables faithful might pause to consider there could be some benefit to having public control over how people get their energy, and that inefficiencies of scale could actually make distributed generation dirtier.

For instance: under the terms of your rugged-individualist ideal would I be permitted to purchase a diesel generator and generate my own electricity? Could I bypass my utility by erecting power lines, and sell my generation to my neighbors? Who's going to monitor my emissions? What about the safety of my generation and transmission? Should we ignore that stored grid energy is 5-10% dirtier than its source, or do we subscribe to the happy fantasy that "storage" somehow scrubs coal generation clean?

onedit: Perhaps you're thinking, "Who would ever go through the trouble of generating their own electricity with fossil fuels?"

After an initial $6,000 investment in a Tesla Powerwall and a Briggs and Stratton 9kW natural-gas powered generator, I can generate my own electricity for about the same price, after service fees, as my local utility. The generator turns on and off by itself whenever the battery gets low.

Now - imagine 100 million households generating their own electricity with fossil fuels. Compared to centralized utility generation, do you think that will be easier or harder to eliminate fossil fuels from U.S. energy consumption?

May 15, 2015    View Comment    

On Dismal Economics and Increased CO2 of Montpelier District Heating Plant

Paul, we're better off burning biomass and putting the chemical energy therein to good use than plowing it under:

Decomposition occurs through aerobic and an aerobic pathways, producing a mixture of CO2 and CH4 emissions. In a well-managed compost operation, the emissions are primarily CO2 because of frequent aeration of the material. The compost product, which contains approximately 50 percent of the original biomass carbon, is then spread where it continues to decompose, although no longer at an accelerated pace. The effect on the atmosphere is still a high level of contribution of methane and other volatile organic gases.

In the long term, it's hard to make any environmental case for pulling more fossil fuel out of the ground.

May 15, 2015    View Comment    

On The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Red Herring

Lewis, "effective tax rate" is one of the most manipulative terms in accounting. Here's another side to the story (which may or may not be more accurate than yours):

From 2009 through 2013, large U.S.-based oil and gas companies paid far less in federal income taxes than the statutory rate of 35 percent. Thanks to a variety of special tax provisions, these companies were also able to defer payment of a significant portion of the federal taxes they accrued during this period.

According to their financial statements, 20 of the largest oil and gas companies reported a total of $133.3 billion in U.S. pre-tax income from 2009 through 2013. These companies reported total federal income taxes during this period of $32.1 billion, giving them a federal effective tax rate (ETR) of 24.0 percent. Special provisions in the U.S. tax code allowed these companies to defer payment of more than half of this tax bill.  This group of companies actually paid $15.6 billion in income taxes to the federal government during the last five years, equal to 11.7 percent of their U.S. pre-tax income.

This measure, the amount of U.S. income tax paid regularly every tax period (i.e. not deferred), is known as the “current” tax rate. Four of the companies in this study - ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental, and Chevron – account for 84 percent of all the income and paid 85 percent of all the taxes for the entire group. These four had an ETR of 24.4 percent and a current ETR of only 13.3 percent. The smaller firms paid an even smaller share of their tax liability on a current basis. When the top four companies and those with losses are excluded from the analysis, the remaining companies reported a 28.9 percent ETR on U.S. income, but only a 3.7 percent current rate. They deferred over 87 percent of their tax liability.

May 15, 2015    View Comment