Peak Oil Aware NY Governor?

Eliot Spitzer's campaign is now pretty much running victory laps around the state with polls showing he will be sweeping into New York's powerful governor's chair with a huge mandate for change. I've written before about Spitzer's views on energy, transportation and the environment as well as his favoring closure of the Indian Point Nuclear plant. What hasn't been talked about in the press much is that Spitzer's running mate, David Paterson has talked openly about peak oil in a speech delivered in May that mentions a certain Shell geologist...

Eliot Spitzer, my friend, and I, outside of our goals, have a little polite competition. We try to find the most obtuse quotations to work into government policy, and I still haven't been able to match Eliot's presumption, which I think is very, very applicable to energy policy, in the words of Yogi Berra: If you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up someplace else.

Tell me if this verse sounds familiar: "And then one day, while he was shooting for some food, up from the ground there came a bubbling crude.'' Those light-hearted lyrics from the CBS 60s comedy series, "The Beverly Hillbillies," in my opinion poignantly portray the mass availability of oil and gas in American society, in the society at that time.

But the situation comedy that allowed a poor mountaineer to become a Hollywood millionaire may have obfuscated the work of a Shell Oil geologist who was offering a different interpretation at the same time.

Hmmm....Shell geologist? He continues:
In 1956, Dr. King Hubert offered a prediction that United States' oil production would, in effect, plateau somewhere between 1970 and 1971. This was the culmination of research where the first drilling for oil in this country came in 1859. By 1870, we had a network of oil pipes, starting the first network of delivering of oil as a fuel alternative at that particular time, and the curve went up steadily and steadily until, alarmingly, October of 1970 when we were producing 9.5 million barrels of oil per day. That's the highest we ever achieved.

Currently, we're producing about 5.1 million barrels of oil per day. We will go under half of the oil production of 1970, 37 years later, sometime in the middle of next year. Now this is staggering because, in addition to that, the United States Department of Energy - and I don't know how they got this past Phillip Kooning, Bobby - offered a paper describing the mitigation of oil peak downside, meaning that, after the production of oil slips below half of the peak production, at that point the energy return on energy investment becomes negative.

In other words, it takes as much energy to bring the oil out of the ground as it would to realize energy benefits from the oil that's actually drilled. So the reality is that in the flourishing 50s, we were getting 30 barrels of oil out of the ground for every barrel invested, and we are now somewhere between five and 10 barrels of oil for every barrel we invest.

That is some of the most knowledgeable talk about oil production (including talking about our own peak production in the US) and EROEI of oil extraction that I have heard from any politician. So Paterson and therefore Spitzer know that there will be a peak to oil production eventually. It's not a matter of it, but when...

So the question is: when is the oil going to run out? The answer is: nobody knows.

There were alarmists in the 70s after the fuel shortage crisis that said that we'd run out of oil in the 80s. There are bloggers on the Internet who say we're going to run out of oil in the next 10 years. No one really knows. Discoveries in the Yucatan Peninsula, the Gulf of Mexico, and in Credo, Alaska, have certainly extended that period of time.

But then the drilling that took place in the Caspian Sea in 1998 that was supposed to yield 400 billion barrels of oil is now being estimated at 40 billion barrels of oil. So it goes back and forth, how long the oil supplies are going to last.

Actually the real question is not whether David Paterson has read The Oil Drum, but if he has registered a username here...

In any case, this level of publicly expressed sophistication is rare in politics. And he's not just talking about peak oil as a theoretical issue that the next generation will have to deal with, he's serious about it in the present tense.

But what's more important than that would best be represented by this example: The human body has 21 quarts of blood contained in it. We don't die at the moment we offer our last drop of blood. What's more important is when our first drop of blood is spilled, and that's what Shakespeare taught us in the "Merchant of Venice." The problem is that if a person loses 20 to 25% of his own blood, it severely impairs the systems of the body, and death will not be long.

This is the problem we are going to have if there is any cutoff of our oil supplies in the immediate future.

Remember the 1970s oil shortage only involved a 5% lessened amount of oil than we actually have now, than we actually had at that particular time. What we've got to start concentrating on, as a society, are alternatives to what has been the lifeblood of our economy.

Oil and blood...and interesting new twist on that old line. So what's their plan once they take office?

The Spitzer administration's policy on energy can be summed up in four words: conserve today, renew tomorrow.

We have got to stop throwing good energy after bad. We will use conservation for immediate results, and we'll hope that we can find alternative sources of energy for long-term and future positive results. These are not new ideas. They're not dramatic. They don't even cost that much, but they are effective.

And the most effective and immediate way to establish some kind of impact on our environment is through conservation. Conservation doesn't mean privatization. It doesn't mean austerity. It just means doing more with less, not just doing with less.

We're asking New York businesses to raise profits by reducing their utility costs, not by reducing their businesses. We're asking the families in New York to lower their utility bills, not to lower their expectation of a lifestyle. Conservation is good business sense, because if it saves energy; it saves money. Because energy is the new currency.

We want to make sure that the community action agencies, the not-for-profits and the weatherization organizations, get the proper funding that they will need. So we will use conservation in the short-term. We will implement it to get immediate results, but we want to pursue renewable energy sources as a long-term solution to New York's energy uses.

This is the long-term solution that can liberate America from its dependency on foreign oil importation. And we certainly think that this is an avenue that we can go on now because it will decrease greenhouse gas effects, create high-skilled, high-paying jobs around the state. It can stimulate in-state investment and generate huge tax revenues.

There is an ancillary benefit to bringing renewable energy, and it is that every dollar invested in renewable energy can create 40% more jobs than the conventional sources and more widely-used sources of gas and oil.

And this typifies Eliot Spitzer's view of dealing with crisis: he believes that crisis creates opportunity, and opportunity is enhanced by more jobs and economic development for this state.

Nice words. It will be very interesting to see how all of this actually plays out, particularly in light of their stated support to close the Indian Point Nuclear plant. But it's nice to know that we have a new executive coming into office here in NY State aware of peak oil and ready to make serious changes by making conservation and renewables a real priority.

It sounds good. Which, in politics, is important. If someone can come up with language that makes bitter medicine taste somewhat sweet, half the battle is won. People will take it. And they will discover that it is not half as bad as they were told by the fear mongers. People will discover that replacing oil with something else does not mean economic downturn but upturn. It means money stays in the US that would have gone to terrorists. Jobs are being created. Renewable energy can not be globalized any more than oil already is. Actually, renewable energy can not be globalized, it has to be made at home.

It sounds good. It will taste even better.  

how 'bout replacing oil with not oil not gas not electric  not "renewables"    ie  conservation ?
How would you do it?
i dont know how to make everyone "do it"     i do know that the usa is the big waster(at present)     i know i can conserve by driving less  driving slower or not driving at all   i suppose the free market will "do it" although the free market's timing may be a little off       and the cure for antrax is death
You are running through open doors with me. But conservation will only fit half the bill. The other half will have to come from investment in technology. And, of course, you are right, new technology won't get the job done, either, we need conservation on top of it. Well, we need it at the base, really.


Don't know if this was posted earlier, but the ethanol/biofuels debate has gone mainstream on commondreams:

Another proof that Americans will try all the wrong solutions first before they do the right thing, eventually.

Current biofuels are a wasteful de-tour on the way to energy independence. And the future biofules that won't be, aren't here, yet.  

Re: Spitzer
Spitzer was presented with abundant documentation of multiple serious felonies committed on his watch in NY state and chose not to act as the suspects were very well connected.  In other words, he is a politician.  Individuals can act to improve their own circumstances, but do not look to any politician, anywhere, to act on your behalf.

I do not know anything about Spitzer's opponent, but my caveat would apply to him as well.  He might be talking about PO, but his ultimate goal is most likely his self advancement, and talking about PO is just the current means to that end.

Politicans often choose 'Topics' that are in fashion to further their public image. However that is not to say that it won't further everyone elses cause aswell.

Cut him some slack! You have let your own president off with war crimes and breaking the constitution, so whats a serious felony between people trying to save the world:).


My Prime Minister is named Helen Clarke
Spitzer was presented with abundant documentation of multiple serious felonies committed on his watch in NY state

Could you provide some details and support for this very strong assertion? As it stands it is just slander.

For starters,Spitzer was given extensive documentation of insurance fraud by the owner of WTC7, including a video confession.  He did nothing.
How is favoring closure of a nuclear power plant anything but ignorant pandering? Renewables wont make up the slack, it will come from coal or natural gas.
Based on the analysis they did about how much power they would have to replace without Indian Point, basically we are going to need a few LNG facilities.

I think we probably need both.

Re: I think we probably need both

As a member of the reality-based community, I would say we definitely need both. I am not feeling too optimistic, however, about either. Political pandering is so easy to do when your house is still heated and your food had been cooked.

It's the same kind of pandering that got California into the energy bind that it's in.  

Now, Californians don't want LNG terminals in their backyards.  I doubt that all the large wind farms that would be necessary to replace Indian Point would go up without a whole lot of NIMBY fights.

By the way - how many ridge-top wind farms of the sizes appropriate for NY State topography would be needed to replace Indian Point's 850 megawatts?

Anti-nuclear politics is an extremely counterproductive energy policy in a world where CO2 emissions are a problem.

I goofed in the post above.  

  1.  I seriously under-quoted Indian Point's generation.  Indian Point generates 1,970 MW of electricity, not 850.  

  2.  I forgot to mention that the large difference in capacity factor between Indian Point (over 90% average) and the ~30% average capacity for wind generation would also need to be accounted for, so more than 1,970 MW of wind farms would be needed to replace the 1,970 MW of reactor capacity.

That's a tall order, Elliott Spitzer!
Some of our wind farms going up in scotland are around 150MW (~100+ turbines) We have a new 5MW turbine just finished in the Moray firth, but i'd imagine many objections happing to these 400ft monsters going up on-shore.

Then again you have a lot more land in the US. (9.6M KM^2 compared to our 0.07M KM^2 - thats 137x the land area)


IIRC, 4 MW wind turbines are now being installed onshore (6 MW offshore) at about $1M per MW.

  • using your numbers, 1970 * 0.9 = 1773 MW = 1478 turbines (@30%) = approx $6.0B

  • using UK numbers, 1970 * 0.7 = 1379 MW = 1723 turbines (at 20%) = approx $6.9B

Either way, those are big numbers. And they don't allow for any transmission lines or possible storage required...

Nuclear capital costs are $3M to $5M per MW. Or are they $1.7M per MW (EIA)? So, replacing Indian Point nuclear would cost $3.3B to $9.8B. Take your choice.

Your numbers show that wind is cheaper than nuclear.  It has some other problems (uses larger area, intermittent, etc), but cost is not one of them.  And neither is EROI.
You then need load levelling capacity, higher maintenance costs, and a projected capital lifetime 1/2 to 1/3rd that of a nuclear facility. Nuclear cost is highly dependant on the discount rate and the ease of licensing/construction.

On an amortized per kw/hr cost, wind is often still more expensive than nuclear even before load leveling capacity.

But shutting down indian point makes no sense at all, considering the capital is allready paid for, even if wind was much cheaper than nuclear.

Two comments:

  1. Nuclear cost never seems to include the cost for decomissioning and waste storage.

  2. Not everything in life is about direct cost. Some of it is about quality of life. Quality of life next to a nuclear plant is always restricted because of the fear of an accidental release of radioactivity. And if you now factor in the loss of property values from being in the shadow of a nuclear plant (and what a long shadow that is), nuclear is ALWAYS a looser. Even on the cost side.
Nuclear cost never seems to include the cost for decomissioning and waste storage.

Where do you get this? Nuclear cost allways includes decomissioning and waste storage.

Some of it is about quality of life. Quality of life next to a nuclear plant is always restricted because of the fear of an accidental release of radioactivity.

As opposed to next to a coal plant where you have deliberate release of particulates, heavy metals, and several orders of magnitude more radioisotopes from the coal itself. Or wind farms with the incessant whine of the gearboxes and towers marring the skyline.

Me, I think wind towers are neat but some dont. I'd still take living in the shadow of a nuclear plant any day.

Another way to summarise that is that nuclear power is a 'close coupled complex system'.

Quality of life near a nuclear plant = probability of an accident X damage from that accident.

As such complex systems with complex feedbacks, failures are inevitable, in the same way we cannot legislate against airline crashes.  Or Shuttles blowing up.

The question then is what is the hazard of an accident, and can it be contained? (Chernobyl failed this test, Windscale led to significant radiation release (fire up a stack), TMI led to some radioactive release).

If I have a problem with nuclear power, it is that it requires an ongoing level of complexity and technical competence, and it is very hard to legislate for conditions 50 years from now, let alone 500 (in the case of waste).

My rough and ready rule of thumb is:

nuclear - 8c/ kwhr (long term waste disposal not priced in)

onshore wind 5-9 cents

offshore wind 6-12 cents

(I would stress again that nukes and wind solve different problems.  Wind is not baseload power, and nukes are not mid merit and peak power-- in both cases, an ability to export power can increase the size of the sector, but essentially where your nighttime bottom demand is, is the top of your nuclear sector size).

You could undoubtedly find cases of nukes which were cheaper (France) and offshore wind which might be more expensive.

MIT (2003) study of nukes made a case for 6 cents/ kwhr, I believe, but I also think they were way too optimistic on some issues.

Both calculations are incredibly sensitive to the interest rate used.

If you have long runs of reactor units then you might well drop construction costs quite significantly, if not O&M.

The US reactors which were most economic were the smaller versions and where they were then repeated, the same type of unit on the same site.

In that sense, the 3rd Gen 'scale up' to 1650MW/unit worries me.  The Finns aren't doing too well at the moment.

How much wind = 1 "Indian Point"

Rather than "ridge top" farms why not "off shore" turbines on Lake Ontario?

G.E. has a 1.5MWatt unit that has been used in this area, so ;est say grid input from that was 0.5 megawatts, using your 30% number. You would thus need about 3,900 turbines.

Each turbine has a footprint of about 30 acres, so the farm would cover about 184 square miles, lets say a patch of lake 10 X 20 miles in size

At $1.5M per turbine (WAG) total build cost of say $6 Billion

Assuming 11 cent per kw hour sell price for the power (thats the standard offer contract price from the Ontario utility) the farm will generate about $214,000 of electricity per hour. (3,900 turbines X 500 Kwatt/turbine X $0.11/KWatt)

The capital cost of the plant would then be recovered in about 6,000,000,000 / 214,000 = 28,000 hours = about 3.2 years.

Seems pretty do-able....

If your numbers hold up, it's very encouraging for wind. I question, though, the $1M/MW figure for wind, although my information is limited to what is being considered for the south shore of Long Island. Here, we're looking at a minimum of $500M for 140MW of installed capacity. That's $3.5M/MW at rated capacity. Granted, it's a deepwater installation (20m to 25m) and it's Long Island, where everything is expensive, but could it be 2 to 3 times as expensive? Does $1M/MW include all the cabling and T&D work, plus decommissioning costs?

Also, 11 cents/kWh sounds high compared to what I understand wholesale rates to be, particularly for a non-dispatchable resource like a wind farm (or wind factory, depending on your outlook), particurlarly upstate. Does that figure include favorable tax considerations and emission-reduction credits in order for it to be so high? If the utility is paying 11 cents, what's the consumer going to have to pay?

What about operating costs for the wind farm/factory (maintenance, insurance)?

At $3M/MW installed at 11 cents/kWh, the payback is extended to ten years. At $3M/MW installed and 6.5 cents/kWh, the payback goes out to 18 years, not including operating costs in either case. These aren't bad numbers. If they prove out, perhaps they can serve as the upper limit for wind farm costs in NYS.

If the utility is paying 11 cents, the consumer is paying 15-16 cents, normally.

Both nukes and wind are high cost solutions.  They both only make sense with 1). explicit subsidies (recognised in the Bush Energy Act which places equal subsidies on new nukes and new wind, I believe) 2). reasonably low real interest rates (low risk premium on debt) 3). explicit carbon taxation or tradeable permits.

On 3, one way to look at it is that if we don't have that in 10 years, it is quite unlikely we will need to worry about the 50 year scenario.  You might as well plan your power system around it, because if the world doesn't adopt those measures, there isn't a world (that our civilisation can inhabit) at the other end.

John, Lake Ontaio has many quiet wind on hot days in the summer and also on very cold days in the winter [at least the north shore does], exactly when wind power would be most useful.
I don't claim it "can all be done with wind", just that the numbers for wind at the "back of an envelope" level seem reasonable.

I suggested offshore because that seems to be where the highest wind levels are in the New York area, and it might avoid some of the objections from the folks who find them ugly...

I'd be interested in knowing if the cost for nukes mentioned above includes the cost of some "reasonable" method of dealing withe the waste for the next X thousand years...

I'd be interested in knowing if the cost for nukes mentioned above includes the cost of some "reasonable" method of dealing withe the waste for the next X thousand years...

Yes. Thats how discounting works. You pay the rent (or opportunity cost) on some low value parking lot for the next century one year at a time, and this stuff takes up a surprisingly small amount of space.

You can bet that in a century someone will be popping those things open to get at the spent fuel, because that stuff is valuable. Even if you dont recycle the fuel, theres still about ten million dollars in platinum group metals alone per GW/year.

It's the next thousand years, and some of it 10 thousand plus, I believe?

It's an open question whether you can discount a permanent liability, that goes away in time spans longer than humans have been civilised.  It's the same argument about global warming-- is it fair to discount disasters that will happen in 2050, because of our activities now?  Why should we value the welfare of future generations less than our current one?

I believe the logic of the 3rd Generation Reactors is that they will create relatively little additional high level radiation waste.

£70bn is the UK (current present value) nuclear waste liability (civilian programme).  If you price that across nuclear power, nuclear power doesn't look that attractive, in retrospect.

and we have no permanent waste depository.

It's the next thousand years, and some of it 10 thousand plus, I believe?

No. It depends what in it scares you. If its the plutonium, the average half life is around 25000 years, with the most long lived (and rarest) Pu244 having a half life around 80 million years. It will be a quarter million years before most of it is gone. However, its very unlikely that Pu will be sitting in spent fuel rods for the next 500 years, let alone 25000, as its a valuable nuclear fuel in its own right. Someone is going to cut it out.

If its the Technetium and other long lived isotopes that are scary, those can have half lives in the millions of years.

If its the radioactivity itself you are more nervous about, the radioactivity of the waste decays down to background levels after about 300 years.

It's an open question whether you can discount a permanent liability, that goes away in time spans longer than humans have been civilised.

The Romans did it with all their damned lead pipes. Chemical industries do that all the time with chemical wastes and no one pays attention to them, and chemical waste stays toxic forever.
Why should we value the welfare of future generations less than our current one?

Why not?
I believe the logic of the 3rd Generation Reactors is that they will create relatively little additional high level radiation waste.

Sorry, thats not really the goal. If it were, fluid fuel reactors would be on the menu. Instead the goals are better passive safety, economics, and the like. PBMRs actually produce higher volumes of spent fuel than LWRs... the difference is that it can be dry stored immediately instead of waiting several years in a cooling pond.
and we have no permanent waste depository.

Dont need one. All the stuff in spent fuel is so valuable that it will all be cracked open for use in 100 years or less.
I would kindly remind the poster that California is using less electricity per capita than ANY other state.

It was using 6732kWh per capita in 2003 vs.
a US average of 11,997kWh and a top use
in Wyoming of a whopping 26407kWh!

Does anybody know what is special about Wyoming? It seems a bit excessive, yet I don't think it is for residential use.

I don't call these numbers an energy bind but a rather succesful strategy to reduce consumption.

One can say about a few outages in summer whatever one will. They for sure help to conserve.


CA is now adding 3GW of renewables to its mix. That is approx. 10% of consumption, I believe.

Wyoming is the Powder River Basin coal resource.  I don't know if electricity is a big part of that (to run the conveyor belts?) but it is probably the second or third largest energy producer in the USA (lower 48).

Yes California has been very clever about energy savings, from the 70s.  A combination of high prices (air pollution regulations have made it hard to build coal plants) and tough building codes has offset economic growth and technology adoption.

California is relatively less industrialised than some states, but of course it has a heavy air conditioning load (and spends a lot of energy pumping water).

Careful on capacity v. consumption

The first you measure in Gigawatts

The second in kilowatt hours

Typically on a per annum basis:

So capacity X Load Factor X 24hrs X 365 days (electricity nerds actually factor in leap years!)

Typical LFs:

wind - 28% (latest UK data, onshore)

Coal - 60-70% (80%+ if running baseload).  Coal is the typical mid merit and peak power.

CCGT - anywhere up to 90% (depends on gas price v. pool price, the 'spark spread').  If the CCGT was debt financed and is relatively new (most are) you keep running as long as the net pool price (wholesale) is above the gas fuel price ('positive spark spread').

Hydro - might be 90%+, but droughts have a significant effect on hydro resources (most get their water from melting ice and snow)

nuclear - 80% (some do 90) but as I have argued elsewhere, this may not reflect maintenance events that happen every few years, and take significant downtime.  The recent operating experience of many reactors is very good, the industry's historical experience has been dreadful.

A (related) concept is the Capacity Value (Capacity Factor) the grid operator will give you for capacity.  In the UK at least this is 20% for wind, I think about 70% for nuclear (lots of unplanned maintenance shutdowns), and 90% for CCGT.

The oil shortage <> blood loss analogy is mentioned in AMPOD's intro text at LATOC so apparently it's not just TOD that Patterson has read...
It's nice that a politician even dares mention PO, but the quoted text shows that he needs to do a lot more reading, as he's got many of the concepts totally twisted.  E.g. (among others):

We will go under half of the oil production of 1970 ... sometime in the middle of next year.  Now this is staggering because, ... oil peak downside, meaning that, after the production of oil slips below half of the peak production, at that point the energy return on energy investment becomes negative.

It's bad enough that so many people define PO as "URR half used up" which is probably inaccurate.  What's so complicated about "peak extraction rate", as in a maximum, followed by a decline?

I believe his point here is about net energy, not identifying the peak. He's saying that once you reach half of the peak, it will cost more energy to extract oil in the US. I don't think that's completely correct, but he right that before you run out of oil, you run out of economically viable extraction, when the energy cost of extraction exceeds the energy benefit of what is extracted - however production may continue due to financial incentives that skew the calculations.

He may not be 100% on the mark, but he shows a deeper understanding of the concept that net energy is what really matters, not reserves or production rates.

Newly discovered technologies will prevent us from running out of oil anytime soon considering that more than 50% of oil we've already extracted from existing oil wells remain in the ground. Too heavy to extract by conventional methods, we will prevail with new technologies. We are just beginning the process. You'll see, just keep positive!