From Botswana to New England - a different story

I have recently been writing about Botswana, and their sudden discovery of vulnerability when they found that their supply of electricity was no longer to be available. There is a passage in Cape Wind, the book by Wendy Williams and Robert Whitcomb, that shows the increasing vulnerability of places such as New England as the balance that exists between available supply and demand narrows. The event occurred in mid January 2004 when there was a sudden cold spell that lasted over a week, and the story is told from the point of view of the Independent System Operator (ISO) that manages the supply for some 14 million folk, and is located in Holyoke, MA.

On January 14th the ISO had assurances that up to 10,000 megawatts would be available from gas-fired power plants as they anticipated demand rising to around 23,000 to 25,000 megawatts, as the temperature was anticipated to drop to minus ten degrees. But by 8:30 am on the first morning of the crisis, this began to change:

A trickle of phone calls began coming in to the Holyoke headquarters, all with pretty much the same bad news. Plant operators who relied on natural gas as their fuel reported that although their plants were in working order, there was no gas available for them to buy. It had all been taken by the companies responsible for providing gas for home heating.

By afternoon the trickle of “no gas” calls became a flood. . . . .During this all-time winter peak, when electricity was essential for the very survival of many New Englanders, roughly 7,200 megawatts of gas-fired generation was now unavailable. . . . .because they couldn’t find enough natural gas to buy.”

In the end crisis was averted by some load shedding, including closing the schools, but it illustrates the coming vulnerabilities that we face as our historic assumption that there will be enough power when we need it, suddenly starts to be significantly challenged. However, in this case, action was taken, and things no longer look as grim.

Following the 2004 event there was a report (pdf) prepared for the New England Governors in 2005, from a specially appointed Natural Gas Subcommittee. Summarizing their conclusions (from March 2005) they reported:
• Supplies will largely be challenged in the winter, there is more than enough power otherwise. (The highest electricity use is in the summer – this relates the NG).
• Demand can be met, through 2010, providing there is adequate LNG supply, without which supply would not be reliable.
• To ensure reliable deliveries beyond 2010 there must be either significant demand reduction or infrastructure development.
• Expansion of fuel switching, energy efficiency and renewable energy programs may be the least expensive ways to improve gas supply reliability, while improving fuel diversity. But expanding LNG facilities provides considerably greater improvement to gas supply reliability.
• Investing in energy efficiency programs may yield benefits, but this will require more study.

The LNG facility in question was that at Everett, MA., and this supplied 20% of the regions normal gas demand, but 30% at peak. The network had, in 2005, storage capacity for 10 days of peak winter demand, but this is conventionally stored at pressures below that required as feed for the natural gas power stations. Nine different supply scenarios were developed that looked at ways of meeting the need. In terms of cost fuel switching, so that gas-powered stations could switch to burning oil, was considered the cheapest; expanded electricity efficiency the next in cost; followed by new coal and nuclear power plants, and then renewable power. It was anticipated that expanded LNG facilities would be the most expensive.

Natural gas usage in New England was at 800 Bcf per year in 2005. It received some 60 tanker loads of LNG for a total of 158 Bcf, but has the capacity to handle up to 98 tankers per year. At that time it was supplied from Trinidad and Tobago (pdf). Growth was anticipated to be around 1.38% (EIA) or higher. By 2007 natural gas use was still providing 29.3% of electrical power, but the absolute amount (39,367 MWH) was down slightly from 2006 (39,423 KWH) but up over 2005 (38,583 KWH), and it provided 40% of New England’s total fuel supply.

In order to improve LNG supply the Northeast Gateway was proposed, with the ability to offload LNG tankers offshore, and pipe the gas ashore. It was completed in January 2008.

With peak deliveries of up to 800 MMcf/d of gas, Northeast Gateway can deliver about 500 MMcf/d of gas into the New England market during normal operations, or approximately 20 percent of the New England market's current annual gas consumption. The facility cost between $350 and $400 million about half that of an onshore facility, and was installed in around seven months. The downside to the operation, however, comes from the concept around which the facility was designed. For instead of off-loading the LNG as liquid and revaporizing it on-shore, the Gateway uses special tankers (ppt) that regasify the fluid on-board and deliver the revaporized gas to the pipeline. At present the company has only 3, with more scheduled for delivery by 2010. However, with this system, the overall storage capacity of the system is not greatly increased. This may mean that the worries that the ISO saw back in 2004, which were in part because the pipeline delivery volumes were already committed to their full capacity, may not be fully remediated by this additional supply. However a number of power stations have now converted so that 8,600 MW of plant can use dual-fuel (pdf) , i.e. natural gas or oil, so the criticality issue of being able to deliver energy is no longer quite as severe – only the price now becomes more of an issue. And there are always issues with ships losing power. That is, of course, if there is still LNG available. There are already stories of shortages.
“Globally, gas prices have shot up and it’s not available. For example, an 8,000 mw power plant in Japan is lying idle for want of fuel and they’re desperately looking for gas from anywhere. So it’s going to be a problem to source gas for our power plants too,” said a central power ministry (India) official, who did not want to be named.

I started looking into the consequences of the 2004 scare as a result of reading “Cape Wind”, which is a well written story that is quite easy to read and digest, and tells the sad story of a company foolish enough to want to put a wind farm in the waters where the Kennedys sail. At the time that the book was written (late 2006) the final decision as to the fate of the farm was not decided, but end runs through Congress to effectively shut it down had been derailed. At present the public hearings which the Minerals Management Service have held have brought significant outcry from both sides. The comment period has been extended until April 21.

The proposed Cape Wind Energy Project would be comprised of 130 wind turbine generators that could generate a maximum electric output of 468 megawatts and an average output of approximately 180 megawatts. The project is proposed to be located on federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts.I await the book sequel, it is a comment on how controversial the topic has become that there may well be one.

No offence, but what percentage of the problems experienced in New England can be put down to the fact that US society is, well ... retarded?

No, seriously - other Western nations don't get this stuff, do they.

Let's face it - the US is not 'normal' in any respect for a Western society. The US is an outlier. It's amazing that anyone even understands (indeed, laps up) Hollywood, given how bizarre US society actually is, by normal civilized Western standards.

Truly, defending the U.S. is not something I generally do, but Italy and its handling of natural gas shortages come to mind - having a prime minister go on the national networks he owns (or are government owned) to remind those who cook to put lids on their boiling pots is pretty absurd.

The U.S. as we currently know it is unlikely to survive a decade, in part because American society seems to have replaced reality with Hollywood.

I have no real idea of what follows the current society that exists in the U.S., except that it will likely be much more in touch with reality. However, my opinion is that change in attitude will out of necessity, and not voluntary. And there is a fair chance that it will look very unpleasant to people from other cultures. A sort of fanatic purification which returns the U.S. to its 'real' roots comes to mind, for example, cutting Americans off from the wider world we share.

Now, if only someone can figure out how to pry thousands of nuclear warheads out of the U.S. before it fractures. Trust me, there are other scenarios which I can imagine that would be nightmarish on a scale that makes the doomer discussions here look like a pleasant fall afternoon in the park.


Your account is almost 2 years old, but that post suggests, to me at least, you haven't been reading here much.

AS a US citizen, I agree with your assessment - as many here do.

Hang around a bit and you might get some excellent dialog about how non-normal the US is from some well-informed wordsmiths ;).

the US is not 'normal'

Living in Germany...
I read a lot out of your statement.
Downthread (well, Expat too), almost all have read something into your statement which has not been said. So...

In which concrete respects is the US "backwards"?
You mention
"US society is retarded"
"social arrangements and economic policies are already pretty weird"
"retarded political and social structure"
and that is as specific as you ever get (except for mentioning Holywood. Should I mention Winitou??)

Now.. What in the world are you talking about? Which system/superstructure/arrangements are you referring to? Get as concrete as possible, please.
The legal system?
The corporate system?
The tax system?
The energy infrastucture?
The social/welfare (lack of) structures?
Your blanket statement has gotten a blanket response...

Cheers, Dom


Gratuitous anti-American comments are the worst part of The Oil Drum.


Au contraire, Dave: it's-all-about-population-close-the-borders-and-head-for-the-hills-YEEEEEHHAAAAAH! is the worst part of TOD.

Now, you may object to my use of the word 'retarded' ... so just concentrate on the other one, 'outlier'.

The US IS an outlier in many, many respects. It isn't normal at all. And here I use 'normal' in its neutral statistical sense.

Even for an Anglo-Saxon country, the US is just way off the edge. And Anglo-Saxon social arrangements and economic policies are already pretty weird, and would probably be completely unsuccessful but for the hangover provided by the British Empire and the 'hanger-on' effect afforded by the current US imperium.

But it's late here and I'm not arguing now ... the point is that developments in the US reflect the US's unique (and, yes, retarded) political and social structure and should not be taken to be representative of probable developments in the rest of the industrialized world.

[edited for typo: 'probably' changed to 'probable']

There is a fixation on natural gas usage for ethanol on TOD which does not make much sense and may reflect on the U.S. in general. Electricity production uses more natural gas than ethanol. When EROEI is applied (erroneously IMO due to unlike and unlike) it is lower than ethanol. Not only that, ethanol's usage of natural gas largely just replaces the usage of natural gas for MTBE before its phase out.

Electricity is almost a sacred cow even though most of it is produced from fossil fuels. It is hard for me to see the energy gain in switching to electric powered cars with the current infrastructure. True there may be an environmental gain as pollution may be easier to control at central plants, but there is a big loss of energy in electricity production unless it comes from solar or wind. And there is not enough of that currently.

I have to agree with Franz, it is difficult for Americans to apply logic. Being an atheist I think it is because the U.S. prides itself on being a religious nation. Logic and religion do not mix.

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Albert Einstein

Your ethanol drivel is as logical as Pat Robertson's sermons are religious.

Recommended reading:

"I Don't Believe in Atheists", Chris Hedges, Free Press, 2008

and for people interested in an informed analysis of the best use of land and insolation in the (non-food) bio-energy domain:

The linked study deals specifically with the comparative effectiveness of various energy production incentives for greenhouse gas mitigation, but is nonetheless very useful in understanding why ethanol production is a tragic waste of resources.

"Logic and religion do not mix."

I disagree with that statement personally, but unfortunately, for the majority of Americans, it is all too true.

About 1/3 of Americans believe that Jesus will come and save them within their lifetime, so there is no reason to conserve energy/invest in renewables/worry about peak oil/think at all.

Luckily, Britain isn't quite as 'retarded' (to quote the above poster), but our politicians are almost as short-sighted.

About 1/3 of Americans believe that Jesus will come and save them within their lifetime, so there is no reason to conserve energy/invest in renewables/worry about peak oil/think at all.

What evidence can you provide that support your linking these two assertions?

If you just replaced all cars with plug-in hybrids and used eletricity (derived from the gas the cars wold be burning) to power short trips, you'd reduce fuel consuption by nearly half. (Engineer-poet already made those calculations.) That is because big generators are more efficient than car motors.

And, there seems to be no viable route to renewably powered cars except by eletrifying them, since most renewable (and nuclear) are good for generating eletricity, and hydrogen (the second best candidate) has a very big set of problems. Ok, maybe hydrogen-eletricity hybrids are more viable, but those still count as eletrical cars.

Any country that uses 1/4 of the world's oil is no outlier. It has to be paid attention to, regardless.

"Any country that uses 1/4 of the world's oil is no outlier."

Well, that's wrong. Any country that uses 1/4 of the world's oil, considering that there are near 200 countries, has to be an outlier.

That is tautological. Now, the 'retarded' part has some oppinion/knowledge/predjudice (all having the same meaning here) on it.

Most of the higher US energy usage is a result of higher per capita income. Part of it is due to lower population density. Part of it is due to a large exporting agricultural sector.

That's like calling an elephant in the room an outlier.

Statistically, the elephant is the outlier.

"Any country that uses 1/4 of the world's oil is no outlier."

Unlikely that, but for sure any country with 5% of the worlds population that uses 25% of the world's oil definitely joins the in a group called Fat ____ Pigs.

Franz, I think these abnormalities in the US populace arise from two major factors.

(1) Unlimited availability of domestic oil and gas beginning around 1900 and lasting until about 1965. Using more was better because, as fuel roared through the production system, it left in its wake a built up infrastructure which effectively increased communal wealth. In this connection, bear in mind that US oil companies at that time had the ability to supply much more fuel than the populace could possibly use. In broad effect, we had unlimited free high-energy fuel. This period of time was entirely unprecedented in human history.

(2) Commercial broadcast radio and television on a very large scale encouraged constantly-increasing consumption of everything.

There is nothing wrong with the gene pool here; rather we have lived with such abundance, and saturated with such heavy pro-consumption propaganda, that we have lost touch with the reality that scarcity is possible and, in fact, is ultimately inevitable.

I think Americans are pretty retarded. 85% of the discussions on TOD are about how to keep the cars running and McMansions heated/cooled to a comfy 70 deg all year round.

The solutions are not real difficult -- basically trains and well-insulated apartments for urban areas, which is where most people would be barring an economic collapse, and efficient transport (motorcycles, electric bikes, etc.etc) combined with regional trains for rural areas, and far, far fewer suburban areas. My town here in rural upstate New York, population 1,000, has a train station from the 1800s that is no longer in service. (The station is now a train museum.)

If you did that, you would have something that looked like ... Europe. Heck, even in the Soviet Union, a huge, rambling land mass, people got by without personal automobiles.

Instead, we get a 24/7 technology wank-off. "Solar panels in parking lots! Ground-source heat pumps! Cars that run on compressed air!" Which are all OK, within the context of trains and proper urban/rural areas. As means to maintain suburbia, they will fail as suburbia is basically a failed experiment.

If you look at the history of civilization, from the Sumerians (3500 BC) to the present, you will notice that it is one of rural, food growing areas and dense urban areas, whether a small medieval village of 500 people or Paris of 1835. Suburbia was an experiment now about 60 years old, and it has been a failure. Nothing wrong with that, but let's move on. Like Communism in China, within the scope of their 5000 year history.

If you look at the recent history of civilization you will notice an industrial revoution, huge scientific discoveries, the development of communications and computing technologies, and now genetic engineering. The past is not always a reliable guide to the future.

I expect suburbs to shrink some. But most humans do not like living stacked up in many storied buildings. They will develop technological innovations that allow them to live in lower population densities.

"But most humans do not like living stacked up in many storied buildings. They will develop technological innovations that allow them to live in lower population densities."


"With a big enough technological wank-off, we can keep living in suburbia."

It is odd how Americans equate their odd preferences as those of "humans," although there is no evidence of such. The first apartment building in Japan was built in the 1920s. Today, there is a move OUT of suburbia into denser urban areas, because people don't like cars and long commutes, and prefer the pleasures of city living.

At some point, Americans may realize that their supposed preferences, which they equate with those of "humanity" although they have nary a clue what people in other countries think or live like, are the OUTLIER.

It should be no surprise that, when Americans persist in this behavior, they seem pretty retarded to people in the rest of the world.

The national character of Japan is very different from the United States.  People steeped in (and likely even selected for genetically over generations) a culture which prizes harmony is going to get along much better in dense conditions than the boistrous, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural stew on the east of the Pacific.

econguy, Yes we have such different preferences. We like expensive German luxury cars. But the Germans don't. We like fast food restaurants. But our fast food companies can't expand abroad. We like Hollywood movies. But noone in the rest of the world watches them. We like to spend as much as we make. But the Brits are big savers. We like expensive clothes. But the Japanese are content to go around in modest outfits.

Oh wait, these people in other countries do want all that stuff. Consumer culture pops up wherever incomes rise.

Long commutes in Japan: Yes, if you make the commutes slow enough and long enough and expensive enough then people decide that given all these sticks they'll suddenly decide that an apartment looks like a carrot. But give them space and empty roads and cheap gas and the money to buy a house and few will live in apartments.

European lifestyles differ from American lifestyles out of necessity. Higher population densities, higher energy costs, and lower per capita GDPs cause more urban living. You can make a virtue out of necessity. But this is just after-the-fact let-me-feel-morally-superior spinning.

Gratuitous means "without cause". I think the anti-American comments are generally not without cause.

And in any case, any critiques I'd have of the US - being wasteful with energy, polluting, warmongering, arrogant, spineless in addressing real problems - apply just as much to my own country, Australia.

Yeah In Australia we are so smart that Kevin07 has gathered together a kilo of people to come up with some ideas next month to fix everything by 2020. Don't panic, we've signed Kyoto, apologised to the natives, abolished slavery (WorkChoices)and today we solved the drought and fixed the health system. It's a good thing this summit. For a while there I thought the guvmint was going to run out of things to do. I hope they decide how to keep us from becoming Merikans!

I would also mention New Zealand. The Wellington central business district was out of power for several months in '04-05. I recently saw a story, albeit written by a Green, suggesting that a repeat was not too far away.

As for Europe, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria lost their Central Asian gas this winter. Who's next?

The usual round number I see for the population of "The West" is a billion people. The anglo-saxon countries total over 400 million of that. Forty percent, with the rest split a dozen ways, does not add up to an outlier.

Edited to add that a quick google for "italy power failure" is also instructive.

At the level you're asking your question, you'll never get a realistic answer, but you'll at least get to do some fine finger-pointing.

Hollywood isn't America, first off. It's stuff that Americans buy, and as you remarked, clearly a lot of other folks buy it as well. It pretends to paint a fantasy picture of 'America', but there are a lot of people who aren't actually duped by this charade, and many of their consumptive actions are more a result of the system they've grown up within. You can't choose to get around town with a trolleycar if the Highway Lobby and the AutoCo's had them all ripped out half a century ago, after all.

Misunderstanding our country biased towards our prominent Squeaky-Wheels, Loudmouths and Yahoos is no surprise, of course, but your conclusion that 'Other western nations don't get this stuff..' is what drew my attention. England's energy status doesn't look an awful lot more secure than ours, does it, due no doubt to many of the same unsubtle demands of a persistently 'Short-term view' market-ideology and a glorious addiction to the black stuff. The 'Continent', meanwhile is at the end of a series of umbilicals going towards Russia, KSA and Africa, to name a few.

It seems to me that as particularly uncouth and gluttonous as the USA can be (and that's the part that always sells best on camera), that we are ALL 'soaking in it', and have to change a lot of our habitual ways of dealing with energy, and of stereotyping one another, if we want to find a way out of the maze.


Franz, you hit the nail on the head re the USA. Everyone should read "Dark Ages America" by Morris Berman. I just picked up a copy on a recommendation. Things are going to be tough everywhere when the oil and gas run out but Americans are going to be particularly nasty with our toxic level of extreme individualism, materialism, stupidity and religion. Read Berman's book if you aren't convinced. Get out now if you can.

No, we are in pretty good shape. Parts of the country are far enough south to get a lot of solar irradiation. Other parts have lots of wind. We also have coal and oil shale and hydro.

Now, our total energy consumption could fall by a quarter or even a half. But we'd then fall down to a level far higher than the level at which least three quarters of the world's population lives.

... the fact that US society is, well ... retarded?

Fecundity and IQ are fairly strongly negatively correlated. What do you expect?

Mean IQ is arbitrarily set at 100. Since the lower a person's IQ the more childern they have, on average, the mean intelligence of the population inevitably declines. But since the mean is set at 100, an IQ of, say, 110 today is equivalent to ~90 a few generations ago. As population pressure mounts, environmental crises potentiate one another, and cheap fossil fuels are running out, we need all the intelligence we can muster. Unfortunately, intelligence, like petroleum, is becoming depleted.


In what way is the U.S. more retarded than anyone else? After talking to various people and from personal experience I get the impression that people are the same all over the World. The illusion that some countries operate more logically seems to be due to the fact that they have to, not that they want to (if you don't have the wealth you tend to spend money more frugally).

For example, take Canada. Before the 1988 Free-Trade deal it used to be said (and I agreed) that "the English(-Canadians) lived to work while the French(-Canadians) worked to live." By 2003 any young Quebecois (French-Canadian) I randomly met and spoke with surely brought up the topic of money... and how to make more of it. My big reason for occasionally vacationing in Canada no longer exists... so now I vacation only here in the U.S..

Maybe it was something you said? I found the same thing happened to me after visiting Mexico for the second time. Or maybe it is some sort of virus?

My friends who travel here and there say it's happening all around the World... at least that's their subjective opinions. Seems to agree with my experience. Maybe there are far more twins that were seperated at birth than we know about?

Fecundity and IQ are fairly strongly negatively correlated.

I think you'll find a DOUBLE peak.

The middle classes have 2.4 children or fewer ... but those on welfare .. AND THE WELL-OFF / RICH i.e the brightest part of the population ... have large families.

Wives of richer families need not have jobs, and these families can afford people carriers, large houses etc.

Here's a video to clarify that point:

It isn't so much a matter of depletion as proliferation. Are humans smarter than yeast?

That was one of the most depressing videos I have seen posted on TOD.


Go Franz!

Let's list some developed ("Western") countries:

New Zealand
Hong Kong (part of China)

Most of these have been handling their energy issues reasonably well for decades, via taxes on fuel and automobiles, focus on public transportation, maybe encouragement of nuclear power (France and Japan), and many other means. None of them have an SUV/freeway/McMansion problem, except perhaps Canada and Australia. None of them have the gaagaa debate in which the SUV/McMansion lifestyle is "non-negotiable." Most of them don't have talks about "electrifying" and "double tracking" rail (noble as they may be), as this was done about fifty years ago, and is as common as indoor plumbing.

The US is indeed the outlier.


There is no normal except in a statistical sense of an average of all peoples.

Germany has opted for a massive solar build in spite of its geographic location so far north (very cost ineffective). Germany has opted for shutting down its nuclear power plants in spite of its location so far north.

Britain is looking at an electric power gap starting around 2018 and is going to build a bunch of offshore wind that is twice as expensive as onshore wind and way more expensive than nuclear.

Italy is a mess in lots of ways. The corruption for example.

I could go on and name more dumb policies by more governments. But my point is I see plenty of foolishness and stupidity everywhere I look. The difference with the US is it is wealthier, more powerful, more visible. So people like to take pot shots at it.

"Britain is looking at an electric power gap starting around 2018"

yeah, any predictions on who is going to win the world series too?


I'm confused by your point really. What have you got against Americans? They virtually invented the electricity industry and all the groovy gadgets that work because of it, while the stupid Europeans whose scientists like Georg Ohm, Allessandro Volta and Andre Marie Ampere discovered electricity, were too culturally stuck to adopt a new way of thinking about energy and how to harness this wonderful natural phenomenon.

Without the efforts of American entrepeneurs like Edison, who did't just invent new technologies but worked hard to exploit their commercial use, we would not be here on TOD bagging the shit out of eachother. Give credit where it is due. I don't know where you are from or the circumstances of your life but the fact that you have access to American invented technology leads to me believe that you have probably personally benefited a great deal from the fossil fuel fiesta and the Americans who basically invented all the apparatus to exploit it.

Americans are a little different to the rest of the world. Hollywood simply exagerates a basic truth that I have learned about American culture. The entrepeneurial spirit of rugged individualism, basic freedoms to fail or succeed by your own wits, and an almost arrogant disregard for what anyone else thinks of you are the drivers behind Americas technological superiority that outshines the rest of the world by far.

I think sometimes that there is a great deal of smug satisfaction here to watch America fall both economically, politically and militarily. American power has not been all sweetness and light to be sure, and some of the excesses of American culture are quite vulgar and destructive. America will have to go through a cleansing of sorts to clear out this excess and energy decline is likely to be the trigger that causes this. But I would urge you to think seriously about the consequences of a seriously destabilised America before you hurl insults, despite your contradictory claims of not wishing to cause offence.

Thanks for the interesting write-up! I think that reliability of electric power is likely to grow as an issue in years ahead. It is easy for TOD folks to ignore this issue, since it doesn't seem to be closely related to oil shortages.

I know that some new gas pipelines are being added in the West. It seems like US natural gas supply may actually increase a bit in the next year or two. Is any of this natural gas likely to make it as far as New England?

Also, switching to oil for electrical power in the winter in emergencies is an interesting approach. Currently, world oil supplies are lowest in the winter, because so much oil is used for heating around the world. Because of this, the cost of oil is likely to be highest, and availability lowest, in the winter. What kind of oil do these power plants use- residual fuel oil? Do power plants plan to store large amounts for this purpose, or will they simply start looking for supply, when cold weather hits? Is oil supply also likely to be a problem?

The pipelines go from the West as far as Ohio, so I am sure there is some potential for inter-connectivity - I just haven't put it all together yet. The problem of course comes in the assumption that if you put in all these pipelines that there will be enough to fill them for long enough to justify the investment.

My concern echoes yours in terms of their selected fall-back position. I suspect, as you do, that when they have an oops moment that the alternate cupboard will be bare and that the investments will have been largely in vain. And that could turn out to be quite nasty. Wind farms can. fortunately, often be put in much more rapidly than more conventional power stations, but not when, as in this case, there is a well-connected political machine that prefers sailing.

Makes you wonder about the recent drive towards installing ground heat/electric pump based heating systems. On the one hand they seem the most efficient method of providing residential heat. On the other hand, when the electricity goes, they just wont work.

But, it might be feasible to improve your indoor climate with a homegrown renewable source such as solar or wind. Without the GSHP, it would be harder to generate enough.

The LNG tanks use sea water to heat the liquid. I suppose through a massive heat exchanger. So the lobster better watch out.

Wind is the natural replacement for natural gas heating( the old wind furnace idea). You can buy electrical furnaces that have heat storage in them. They usually have about 18 hours worth of peak heating demand in them so if your house heat loss is 30 kw, you need a storage load of 540 kwh. If you have heat storage in them there's a study that you only need to have 1% backup(natural gas generators) but if you install electric baseboard with no heat storage you need 33% backup.

If you had 30 GW of offshore wind you'd have enough electricity to heat enough baseboard to cover ~10,000,000 homes.

The wind project to watch is the one on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Oops--1,000,000 homes

"But expanding LNG facilities provides considerably greater improvement to gas supply reliability."

Is this the same as 'We lose a little on each sale, but make up for it with volume' ?

Maine had an 'Power Watch' one weekend last fall, due as I heard initially, to NG supply issues, although the linked article (all I found) pointed to "Power plant and transmission line problems in the state have lowered the system’s capacity"..

Maine's Mars Hill windfarm just celebrated it's first year today, however.
" Maine Governor Baldacci and UPC Wind Commemorate One Year of Operations at Mars Hill Wind"

.. this project has also had a few bouts of Copper theft, to tie it into one more facet of Complicated Catabolic Lapses..
"It later was determined that someone had entered the building and stolen several rolls of copper wire. Approximately 30 rolls of industrial wire as well as fittings also were taken, for a total of more than $8,000 worth of goods."

Heading Out,

Excellent piece. Thank you.

A week ago I posted something the Maine legislature is working on - LD2255, An Act To Protect Maine's Energy Sovereignty through the Designation of Energy Infrastructure Corridors and Energy Plan Development.

The Botswana scenario is what I've told legislators will result - the corridors will enable any power generated in Maine to be sucked out as rapidly as possible in any crisis. They've suspended all sorts of normal process to work this bill - which is nasty in a number of other ways too - but it seems still hung up.

cfm in Gray, ME

ISO NE website lists the following fuel sources for electric power in New England

New England 6-state overall electric generating capacity
Gas 40%
Oil 22%
Nuclear 15%
Coal 9%
Pumped Storage 6%
Hydro 5%
Misc. 3%

Massachusetts based electric generating capacity
Gas 44%
Oil 21%
Nuclear 5%
Coal 13%
Pumped Storage 13%
Hydro 2%
Misc. 2%

Rhode Island based electric generating capacity
Gas 98.8%
Pumped Storage
Hydro 0.1%
Misc. 1.1%%

This is a chart I put together using an EIA database showing fuel sources actually used for generating electrical power in 2006, by state.

Note the 72% nuclear for Vermont:  that's the Vermont Yankee BWR.

PNM is running Monte Carlo simulation scenarios for retiring both the San Juan and Four Corners coal-fired electric power plants.

Apparently both are fairly polluting.

Plentiful NM coal apparently has low BTU output.

But what will PNM replace these power plants with? And at what cost?

Scared in Texas.

Hi Gail,

Thanks for the chart. Do you know where Maine's 24% non-hydro renewable comes from?


Don't know for sure, but probably wood.


Let's talk about preparedness for intermittent power cuts and increasing grid unreliability.

For those of us living in cold climates, the first concern is to make sure we have a backup source of heat. In my part of the country, many people have wood stoves, and everyone should. Even a wood stove that is too small to keep an entire house warm (say above 60F) would nevertheless be able to at least keep one room warm enough, and to keep the entire house interior above freezing to protect the pipes. (Keeping just a trickle of water running on all the taps would help with that, too.) If you have a wood stove, you need to have your chimney inspected periodically and cleaned if needed, and obviously you need to lay in a supply of firewood. Having an axe, sledge and wedges, and saw would be handy too.

For those in cold climates without a wood stove, I'd suggest trying to get one if at all possible, sooner rather than later. I would most strongly recommend that anyone buying a woodstove get a model that features a separate combustion air vent. This turns the woodstove into a closed system, which is much more efficient and eliminates any worries about backdrafts or CO buildup indoors. I would also recommend buying the best quality woodstove that you can afford. This is one thing that you don't want to take any chances on.

There might be other alternatives that one might consider, like kerosene or propane space heaters. However, wood is the one fuel source that it is possible to go out and gather oneself, if necessary, and there is a lot to be said for that.

By the way, it should go without saying that one should have plenty of warm clothing and blankets on hand if one lives in a cold climate. With such, you yourself become the solution to much of your heating problem.

If you have a wood stove, then you've got a source of heat to cook your meals -- in the winter time. You are probably not going to want to fire up your wood stove in the summertime, though. A charcoal or propane grill might serve well for a while -- until the propane and charcoal supplies run out. Then, you are going to need to be prepared to set up a fire pit (have some rocks handy) in a safe location so that you can cook by campfire outdoors. It would probably be a good idea to have an assortment of cast iron cookware on hand, including a dutch oven with rim on the lid; you need to learn how to cook corn bread or beans or stews using one of these and coals from a fire.

Another handy thing to have on hand is a solar oven. Between this and the above options, you can be assured of at least one hot meal per day.

I'd suggest stocking up on stainless steel thermos bottles. With these, you can boil a lot of water while you've got a fire going, and then keep it hot for the next 24 hours until the next fire is going. You can also use these to cook rice, pasta, beans, etc.

Since you might have to go for days, or maybe even eventually for weeks, without power, this means you might also have to go for days or weeks without a hot shower. Those "solar shower" bags are very cheap, and it would be a good idea to have one or two on hand (if you are not already set with solar hot water). As for clothes washing, you could go down to the nearest stream and look for some rocks. Most people would probably be glad to have a large wash tub and wash board on hand; be aware, too, that the detergents formulated for automatic washing machines don't always work that well for hand washing, so give some thought to that when you are "stocking up". Obviously, you won't be able to count on clothes dryers other than the type that you tie between two poles; having one of those folding wooden drying racks is a good idea for wintertime, when clothes hung outside would only freeze and not dry.

Speaking of water, if you are on a well, you've better give some thought about what you are going to do if the power cut stretches into days or weeks or even months. A backup generator is great - as long as fuel continues to be available for the backup generator. Remember that the gas stations might not have power to run their pumps either, and who knows what type of disruptions might hit the refining and distribution systems. If your well isn't too deep, it might not be a bad idea to have a hand pump on hand, with the idea that you could swap out the electric pump for a hand pump if worst came to worst. You don't want to wait until the power has already been down for a week to try to get one of these.

If you don't have your own well, then that means that you are dependent upon a municipal system. Understand that most of these depend upon electric pumps at various critical points in their systems. Most systems can continue to deliver water for a couple of days if the electricity is down. Weeks or months would be another matter, though. They would undoubtedly try to get backup generators for the pumps, and fuel for these generators would get top priority. Nevertheless, it could be pretty iffy. Thus, those reliant upon municipal water systems need to have a backup plan. I am not talking about storage of 72 hours worth of water, but rather about a system for gathering, transporting, filtering, boiling, and storing water in quantity for an extended period. If you are on muni water and don't have a backup well (or rainwater collection & storage system), then you are going to have to haul water from some surface water source - a lake or a stream. You need to know where the closest such source is, and you need some buckets and a cart or wheelbarrow to haul water. You also need to assume that this water is (or will be) contaminated, so you'll need a filtration system (with plenty of spare filters) and you'll need to be set up to boil water in quantity. You'll need to be able to store this water in quantity, hopefully getting "ahead" enough so that you won't have to do this chore every day.

Light is not truly a necessity, but it is so useful that it is certainly more than just a luxury. It is good to have plenty of flashlights and lanterns, but realize that the batteries and lantern fuel will eventually all be bought out as well. Candles are a tried and true backup, but I would suggest investing in plenty of hurricane lamps or other such devices, as open flames can be very dangerous. You might also consider stocking up on a few of those crank-powered flashlights or lanterns, as you'll be able to count on these long after all the batteries, lantern fuel, and candles are gone.

Communication is also pretty important. Radio is the one technology that is likely to stay "up" long after the television broadcasters are off the air, long after the cell phone network is disrupted, long after the land line telecom & internet systems go down. You need one of those crank-powered radios. I'd suggest getting one with a shortwave band, as the "official" news that is broadcast from domestic stations may or may not be factual and reliable.

The above only scratches the surface. One should also be equipped with all the stuff that usually goes into an emergency kit (see the American Red Cross website for more about this), and one also needs to give some thought to food supplies.

Speaking of water, if you are on a well, you've better give some thought about what you are going to do if the power cut stretches into days or weeks or even months. A backup generator is great - as long as fuel continues to be available for the backup generator. Remember that the gas stations might not have power to run their pumps either,...

This is really what prodded us into putting in our 3.6kW PV system ten years ago. We have a couple of backup generators (8kW gas and 23kW diesel) but we were out of fuel and the station in town (15 miles away) didn't have power and the nearest town with power was 30 miles each way. We had a very, very small PV system that would keep the refrigerator and freezer from thawing but we need to pump water.

We also added more water storage so we now have 4,700 gallons but have to share this with our rental house down the hill.


Re: shortage of LNG supply: this was on the March 24th, 2008 Peak Oil Review by Tom Whipple:

The US may import less liquefied natural gas this year as project delays and cold weather in Asia and Europe reduce supplies. LNG imports have also fallen because suppliers rerouted cargoes this winter after utilities in Europe and Asia paid more than double the U.S. benchmark.

That's what I'm afraid of.

Here's the latest in all EIA oil data including Feb08. This time I've included oil retained by the exporters and also all oil retained (by whatever country produced it). The data was taken from the spreadsheet.

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