I haven't felt much like discussing the Energy Bill...

...because I have felt it would be a waste of our time. It's going to pass. Hot diggity damn.

Ezra Klein sums up my reaction to what can only be viewed as an anti-climactic event:
Bush's energy bill is headed for passage, and thankfully so. Save for substantive modernization of our electricity grid, an increase in CAFE standards, an actual stance on global warming, a coherent framework for reducing our oil consumption, a serious investment in natural gas, an actual interest in new technologies for alternative sources, and really anything that'd have any sort of worthwhile impact on our energy situation at all, this bill has is just what we need. Subsidies. Giveaways. Handouts. Protection. Guidelines. Bureaucracy. All sprinkled with liberal amounts of Corporate Love and put on the Senate's desk.
*sigh* That is why the two party system we currently have will be too slow to address/solve the problems that we face (not just with peak oil, but with oh so many other things). Both parties are motivated by gaining/keeping power, and in the democratic process that we currently face, that means not taking on problems until it is politically rational to do so. Bully for us.
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that ezra klein quote is getting a lot of play. i think a lot of people tracking energy issues (myself included) agree with it.

Yep, one greasy pile of pig slop.

Re: "Giveaways. Handouts. Protection. Guidelines. Bureaucracy. All sprinkled with liberal amounts of Corporate Love..."

As Captain Renault said in the great movie Casablanca (1942): "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

More concrete reasons to hang onto my doomer point of view.

I agree, the two party system virtually guarantees a huge uphill climb to bring these issues to the forefront of discussion.

But from an energy investor perspective, the energy bill is mildly bullish, in that it won't make any real difference.

(Ron Weasley) Say it, I'm doomed.
(Harry Potter, deadpan) Your doomed.

Staying up all night.
Tossing amendments left and right and right again.
It's hard hard work. :-)

I had really hoped this thing would strangle from its own excesses, as it has in the past. Sigh.

Did the MBTE producer protection section remain in?

I was most disheartened to read about my local senator, Lamar Alexander, mocking solar as useless and wind power as too detrimental to the scenery (and so therefore neither should be given any encouragement). So much for my voice in Washington DC>

Well, I had thought quite highly of the prospects of solar energy but then Lamar Alexander is an expert on uselessness...

It seems as if America has forgotten how to do things. Education, war fighting, energy policy; all seem in a shambles. Even trade is dysfunctional.

I guess ideology and greed are trumping rationalism and science at every level of the political spectrum. A clear symptom of social decline.

Regards, R. Nemo.

Ah humans are clearly "rational".
Evidence of this is all around us.
We swim in rationalization.
You, too must agree at least to that.


P.S. I think the MTBE immunity clause was left out in the final bill, but who knows? Typo happens.

MBTE [couh]. MTBE. Yep: typos happen. It was left out of the final bill. Apparently all that's left to negotiate is the 14.5 billion in tax breaks to energy companies.

"This is a huge giveaway for the oil and gas industry," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). "The bill just tips the American consumer and taxpayer upside down and shakes money out of their pockets. The bill is an historic failure."

'Nuff said.

Personally, I think the problem is lack of citizen awareness and thus apparent citizen silence. I say this all the time, I admit. But I think it may be more useful to write to the local newspaper editor and suggest much better coverage of the whole energy issue. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Toronto Globe and Mail (in June), Christian Science Monitor (periodically), other papers set a better example. Can one of some of us produce some articles we can send to editors hither and thither?

but retro, is that a lack of efficacy speaking? I mean, people just don't think an action like that matters...

As a nuclear engineer and a rock-ribbed Republican, I'm conflicted.

While I think new nukes can and should stand on their own economically, the main difficulty of utilities thinking about nuclear power is the political risk. In a pure economic sense, with reasonable estimates of forward price curves for various fuels, uranium wins. Yet what CEO is willing to bet his company on the government NOT allowing the anti-nukes to block or delay his new plant?

That's why I support the government loan guarantee portion of the bill. It's a risk within the purview of government so government ought to take or share that risk.

The production "incentives" of 1.8 cent/kWh are just icing that I have a difficult time justifying. Of course, some of that money will find its way into my pocket so it can't be too bad!

Otherwise, there is way too much symbolism at way too high a price but if its the best our elected representatives can deliver, I'll take it.

well rock ribbed, here is where you're party's empty platitudes meet the real world and as you see, they are bankrupt. Now if you have the maturity to see their failings when they don't apply to you personally you will have truly grown as a human being.

but SW, even if the Rs are in power, the Ds aren't doing all that they can either...they played a big role in the energy bill too, did they not? it's the two party/unresponsive and deliberative as all hell system that's going to get us in the end, whether the left OR right is in power, I fear.

The specific issue I was addressing is the old Republican aversion to government intervention in the marketplace. On close examination this is seen to be fantasy. Every technological innovation has only managed significant market penetration after massive government intervention. The piety of non-intervention is invoked merely by entrenched interests to maintain the status quo. Whether we are talking about Transcontinental Railroads, Interstate highways, the transistor and electronics, computing and the internet, rural electrification, all massively subsidized by the government. That is simply the way it is. The next generation of power generation technologies will also require massive government intervention in the market place and it is important that we realize that this is nothing new. It is the way it has always been done. We should stop fooling ourselves and stop believing in these counterproductive myths.


"Rock Ribbed" doesn't mean "idiot" or "fanatic". I'm a practical man! Free market Libertarianism is an unworkable ideology while a more general reluctance for government to interfer with markets is a sound principle that I endorse.

Yet, government has used industrial policy to develop our modern world with some failures and many big successes, as you listed. Energy is such a foundational infrastructure that government HAS to be involved.

I think where we have room to argue is, which of the options before us are likely to be successful and which are a waste of time, money, and options. I would argue that the industrial policy to develop civilian nuclear power has been a HUGE success, partially because it was founded on sound physics. Contra, an industrial policy focusing on solar and "renewables" at the expense of the proven technologies of fossil and nuclear seems to me to be foolish at both the levels of practicality and on the fundamental physics. Likewise, the rush to market-based electricity was fated to benefit only Wall Street and was ill-advised - I've long argued against it (a little was OK on the margins).

In addition, there are competent industrial policies and there are misguided ones too. Not only is the goal important, but how you play the game makes a difference too.

As to your argument that "entrenched interests" block innovation, look at it another way. Society has made massive investments in capital and in human careers in industries that generally work and deliver the goods. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," has merit! Likewise, we're not going to throw out billions of dollars of working intrastructure because some punk claims that he's got some miracle cure for something that's working OK as-is. Conservatism is a important and valuable attribute in people with REAL responsibilites. Wisdom is knowing when to change and knowing when to stand pat.

May I suggest reading about the long cycles of technological innovation?

I agree with SW that government intervention/spending is going to be the only way out of this. I just don't think even THAT will be accomplished in time because both parties are so beholden to special interests...

Rather than the nebulous "special interests", give me particulars. ChevronTexaco? The House of Saud? Jersey Power and Light?

I do know that the oil companies fought nuclear power using some pretty dirty tricks. The earthquake faults near Diablo Canyon were the result of a deliberate search by assigned oil company geologists, even though they were minor, as revealed in later, expensive, independent mapping.

See "The War Against the Atom".

As a warning to all, premature action can be as disasterious as overdue, delayed action.

yes, yes, and, um...yes. :)

as I have written before, there's little chance of politicians responding to peak oil because it is irrational for them to do so...especially with the problem of peak oil, because the populace, in my opinion, can't handle the idea or its complexity. Ergo, politicians will never be responsible until it's way too late.

And to your last point, I would usually agree wholeheartedly, deliberation has worked for a long time...however, this is one case where the longer we deliberate, the further down the peak we will be. In this case, it means we will have less/more expensive petroleum to help society put on the brakes going down the other side of the hill...

The evidence is there for all to consume as to the peak itself. The longer we wait, the harder it will be. That's my main point.

Well, whitehall, we disagree. In fact, I am advocating an alliance between advocates of renewables including wind and solar and nuclear. I think your dismissal of solar is ignorant. I think the knee jerk rejection of nuclear is ignorant. If we accept that global warming and fossil fuel depletion are the greatest dangers facing our civilization both of these technologies have to be embraced. You need to open your mind and those who think that nuclear is the worst thing imaginable are showing a clear lack of imagination. In my view we need to make an honest effort to do what we can with renewables (and what we can and will be able to do would surprise you), but we have to be prepared to fill in what we can't, with nuclear. Otherwise we will do the easy thing and reach for coal. If, as a species we do that, we are literally cooked.

Glad you agree about nuclear having a role. I would also point out that solar hot water and passive solar architecture are technologies of merit that I endorse. Wind mills are only good for fuel substitution and are not currently economical for that.

As to the latter, I spent a major part of my career to date at a West Coast utility with a large installed base of wind mills. We found that, in our circumstances, the wind mills only worked on days that were NOT peak load days. It will be difficult to run an electric grid with more than a few percent wind input.

As to the physics - each uranium fission releases 200,000,000 electron volts. About 60 to 80% of that is capturable. A photon of sunlight is maybe 2 to 4 electron volts. Power is made in the DIFFERENCE in a source's energy and ambient.

Given those facts of the universe, where do we go looking for gravy?

Let's also keep our head about peak oil. There are two critical uses for petroleum - transportation and feedstocks. In the event (which I think is well-founded), transportation will be hit hardest. Electric production (at least in the US) will have little direct impact. Petrochemical feedstocks are high value-added items so the price impacts should be managable. In other words, oil will preferrably flow to feedstocks. Also, there are large reserves of non-convential oil with lower EROEI that will become more attractive, especially with nuclear supplementation (reactors supplying process heat for extraction and processing).

Transport oil will not disappear overnight. The cost will rise on a trend (as we're seeing now) which will work its way throughout the economy. Widespread inflation will occur as those costs appear in all products and most services. We'll adapt by 1) less movement of people and goods, 2) alternate transport fuels will arise. This will lower productivity everywhere but not make it go away.

Here's some examples: People might find that Amazon.Com is less attractive due to shipping costs (those UPS trucks!) and maybe shopping at a store near a railhead is cheaper. Videoconferencing will gain favor, fast. No more weekends in Aruba - hello ski trains. Electrification will increase as tasks are shifted from oil-fueled to electric powered - fewer buses and more trolleys. Sailing rather than power boats (yahoo!) - goodbye SkiDoos.

We had an extensive non-oil based transport system once. Ships burned coal as did locomotives. Bet the Russians start selling nuclear-powered fast, large container ships for the trans-Pacific routes. Hydrogen locomotives?

We'll have a few more years but natural gas will follow. Then we're really hurting as it will be either coal or nuclear for electricity. Homes will be installing electric heat pumps to replace gas furnances.

Please, it won't be the end of the world, just a difficult challenge which we will adapt to. We'll be poorer as a species but some of us who provide extra value will make some real dough. Having the change happen slowly gives us more time to adapt. Of course, the more concerned amongst us think we're like a lobster in a pot of cold water - by the time we take action, we're cooked. I'm glad we have these sites on peak oil to make sure that doesn't happen.

It may seem that the discussion of electrical power generation is off topic since oil is primarily a transportation fuel. However, I think we will rather rapidly rediscover the joys of electric cars. The catalyst will be plug in hybrids. There will be two effects associated with them. The first is that most people will find that given the fact that the bulk of their trips are under 30 miles, they will rarely need to use gas unless they want to. Then, sometime next year or the year after, when we begin to see physical shortages and closed gas stations, those who have these little marvels will find themselves completely unaffected by the "crisis".

Of course this will then put a much greater demand on the grid. From that point forward the discussion of oil depletion and alternative electrical power generation will be inseparable.

I appreciate your contribution to this discussion Whitehall but as a specialist in photovoltaic power conversion I simply cannot allow some of your statements to stand without a rebuttal.

First of all the built in voltage of a photovoltaic device is completely irrelevant to our discussion. I can fabricate a device that has a Voc of 1000 V per square centimeter if I want to. We are talking about power which is the product of voltage and current. You can simply, by microlithography put many devices in series and get any voltage you want so I fail to see what your point is.

The only relevant point is that for a large fraction of the households in this country enough solar energy is incident on the roof to provide all the electricity needed in that house. Not all houses. Not the large scale power required for industrial purposes, but a damn good fraction of suburbia. If we could drive down the cost of the systems so that they could be purchased with a ten year loan, and the monthly payments on that loan was less than the occupant's current electric bill wouldn't that be a good thing? Considering that once the loan was paid off, the system would continue to operate for at least another ten years and the energy would be essentially free? This would be the case with about another four fold reduction in the cost of these systems. This is an achievable goal. Of course utilities aren't crazy about the idea.

I am serious about the threat of global warming. That threat has caused me to swallow my objection to nuclear power. My primary objection is the generation of waste that is highly toxic and that will be around for thousands of years. The idea that we are competent to baby sit this stuff for thousands of years when our 300 year old government is an example of longevity is a joke. This stuff will still be a threat when the Washington monument is older than the sphinx. It is insane. Yet the threat to the planet from global warming is such that we really have to set that aside. It is like worrying about a bad case of acne when you have lung cancer.

I should think that you nuke guys would realize that us renewable guys are making a real effort in reaching out to you. The anti-nuke people have supported us for years and trying to convince them that we need to do this is going to make us a lot of enemies. The least you can do is a take another look at the data because if you did so in an honest way you would see that this stuff can make a significant contribution.

Otherwise, we will relax back into the old battle lines. We will fight you, and you will never build another nuclear power plant.


Let's be clear - I was discussing the energy source concentration - not the device output voltage. At the level of the atom and photon, one uses "electron volt" or eV as an energy unit. A photon coming to us from the sun has 2 to 4 eV. An atom of uranium fissioning releases 200,000,000 eV. My point is that it is far easier to extract power from the latter source than from solar insolation. That's basic thermodynamics. It's like the asking a bank robber why he robs banks - "Because that's where the money is."

I've consulted with a PV manufacturer here in Silicon Valley and so I think I've an inside perspective. PV will have a niche, no doubt, but advocates who wish the US to devote itself to a PV future at the exclusion of other (ie nuclear) sources are promoting an unworkable future for our society. Likewise, over-investing at the expense of more proven technologies does us no service.

There is indeed a role for PV; its just not as glamorous or as extensive as the advocates propose.

As someone who has worked all his career in providing electricity to America's homes, factories, and businesses, I feel a huge responsibility to keep the lights on. Everyone is my customer - work for an electric utility and you'll hear about it every time the lights go out! I can't run off and promise pipedreams - it has got to work.

Show me a PV setup that makes an economical, practical contribution and I'll embrace it. In the mean time, I'm sharing what I know about nuclear power and working overtime to make it safe, clean, reliable and affordable.

Good exchange, SW. Thanks for hearing me out and responding in good faith.