Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Enfeebled conscience"

Aware of the Other Vibe's growing reluctance to trust reports from out in the field, Foley, who usually was out there and thought he had a good grasp on things, at first resentful and after a while alarmed, had come to see little point these days in speaking up. The headquarters in Pearl Street seemed more and more like a moated castle and Scarsdale a ruler isolated in self-resonant fantasy, a light to his eyes these days that was not the same as that old, straightforward acquisitive gleam. The gleam was gone, as if Scarsdale had accumulated all the money he cared to and was now moving on in his biography to other matters, to action in the great world he thought he understood but -- even Foley could see -- was failing, maybe fatally, even to ask the right questions about anymore. Who could Foley go to with this?

Who indeed? He had at least brought himself to reckon up what the worst outcome might be, and it came out the same every time. It was nothing to recoil from, though it did take some getting used to -- maybe not massacre on the reckless, blood-happy scale of Bulgarians or Chinese, more, say, in the moderate American tradition of Massachusetts Bay or Utah, of righteous men who believed it was God they heard whispering in the most bitter patches of the night, and God help anybody who suggested otherwise. His own voices, which had never pretended to be other than whose they were, reminded Foley of his mission, to restrain the alternate Foley, doing business as Scarsdale Vibe, from escaping into the freedom of bloodletting unrestrained, the dark promise revealed to Americans during the Civil War, obeying since then its own terrible inertia, as the Republican victors kept after Plains Indians, strikers, Red immigrants, any who were not likely docile material for the mills of the newly empowered order.

"It is a fine edge here," the tycoon had hinted one day, "between killing just the one old Anarchist and taking out the whole cussèd family. I'm still not sure which I ought to do." ...

But a voice, unlike the others that spoke to Foley, had begun to speak and, once begun, persisted. "Some might call this corrupting youth. It wasn't enough to pay to have an enemy murdered, but he must corrupt the victim's children as well. You suffered through the Wilderness and at last, at Cold Harbor, lay between the lines three days, between the worlds, and this is what you were saved for? this mean, nervous, scheming servitude to an enfeebled conscience?"

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Wayward Wind

The front page of yesterday's New York Times Business section featured an article by Matthew Wald about the fickleness of wind as an energy source (it was also in the International Herald Tribune). Click the title of this post for the whole article. Here are some excerpts.
[B]ecause it is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, wind is not reliable enough to assure supplies for an electric grid that must be prepared to deliver power to everybody who wants it -- even when it is in greatest demand. ...

[P]ower plants that run on coal or gas must "be built along with every megawatt of wind capacity," said William Bojorquez, director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The reason is that in Texas, and most of the United States, the hottest days are the least windy. ...

Frank P. Prager, managing director of environmental policy at [Xcel Energy, which serves eight states from North Dakota to Texas and says it is the nation’s largest retailer of wind energy], said that the higher the reliance on wind, the more an electricity transmission grid would need to keep conventional generators on standby -- generally low-efficiency plants that run on natural gas and can be started and stopped quickly. ...

Without major advances in ways to store large quantities of electricity or big changes in the way regional power grids are organized, wind may run up against its practical limits sooner than expected. ...

In May, Xcel and the Energy Department announced a research program to use surplus, off-peak electricity from wind to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could be burned or run through a fuel cell to make electricity when it was needed most. Xcel plans to invest $1.25 million, and the government $750,000. But storage imposes a high cost: about half the energy put into the system is lost.

The Electric Power Research Institute said that existing hydroelectric dams could be used as storage; they can increase and decrease their generation quickly, and each watt generated in a wind machine means water need not be run through the dam’s turbines; it can be kept in storage, ready for use later, when it is most needed. [If the reservoir is already full, however, then the water is run through the dam without generating electricity. --Ed.]

The institute listed another possibility, still in the exploratory stage: using surplus electricity made from wind to pump air, under pressure, into underground caverns. At peak hours, the compressed air could be withdrawn and injected into generators fired by natural gas. Natural-gas turbines usually compress their own air; compression from wind would cut gas consumption by 40 percent, the institute said.

That would help with an important goal, reducing consumption of natural gas, which is increasingly scarce and costly in North America. But not everyone is so sanguine that wind will do that.

Paul Wilkinson, vice president for policy analysis at the American Gas Association, the trade group for the utilities that deliver natural gas, said that wind, while helpful in making more gas available for home heating and industrial use, would still need a gas generator to back it up. And the units used as backup are generally chosen for low purchase price, not efficient use of fuel.

At the American Wind Energy Association, Robert E. Gramlich, the policy director, said that one solution would be to organize control of the electric grid into bigger geographic areas, so that a drop-off in wind in one place would be balanced by an increase somewhere else, reducing the need for conventional backup. That is among several changes the wind industry would like in the electric system; another is easier construction of new power lines, because many of the best wind sites are in prairies or mountain ranges far from where the electricity is needed.

A problem for new power lines is that they would be fully loaded for only some of the year, since the amount of energy that the average wind turbine produces over 12 months is equal to just 30 to 40 percent [actually, 20-30% --Ed.] of the amount that would result from year-round operation at capacity.
wind power, wind energy

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Alternative" wind energy requires massive new transmission lines

Dec. 9, Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent: "Costs, especially of new power transmission lines, must be taken into account when considering new wind farms, [Nebraska Public Power District spokeswoman Jeanne Schieffer] said."

Dec. 15, Rocky Mountain News: "Building the high-voltage power lines, which carry electricity from generating stations to substations before delivering it to homes and businesses, has lagged the rapid construction of wind farms because of cost, location and regulatory and technical issues. ... A study by the U.S. Department of Energy released in August identified areas of severe transmission constraints, with New England, Phoenix-Tucson, Seattle-Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area topping the list. The second level included Montana-Wyoming and Kansas-Oklahoma."

Dec. 23, Green Wombat: "But renewable energy projects like the huge wind farms to be built in SoCal’s Tehachapi region face a big hurdle: insufficient or non-existent transmission lines to connect the windy and sunny parts of California to the power grid."

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

Damn the poor

Joseph Kennedy has written an excellent defense of his company's providing low-cost heating oil from Venezuela to the poor of Massachusetts. It's in today's Boston Globe: Click the title of this post. In short, it's time for those who enjoy so much socialism for capital to stop complaining about a little socialism for people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Land of the free market

But sometimes Veikko went on and got philosophical. He'd never seen much difference between the Tsar's regime and American capitalism. To struggle against one, he figured, was to struggle against the other. Sort of this world-wide outlook. "Was a little worse for us, maybe, coming to U.S.A. after hearing so much about 'land of the free.'" Thinking he'd escaped something, only to find life out here just as mean and cold, same wealth without conscience, same poor people in misery, army and police free as wolves to commit cruelties on behalf of the bosses, bosses ready to do anything to protect what they had stolen.

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Excusitarianism

From "Beyond the Grave," by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau:

I've heard every excuse in the book for eating animals, but I've yet to hear a convincing reason. It's a pretty simple equation: since humans don't need to consume animals to survive, killing them simply to satisfy our taste buds amounts to senseless slaughter. But our eating habits and appetites have very deep roots, and we prefer convenience over conscience. With a determination that belies an irrational attachment to animal flesh and secretions, otherwise sensible and sensitive people spend vast amounts of time and energy concocting outrageous excuses to justify this unnecessary habit. Using lyrical and exalted language, they extol the virtues of tradition, glorify the need to conserve "heritage breeds," and wax poetic about our "evolutionary heritage." With "humane meat" gaining popularity, non-vegetarians have co-opted the ethical argument ..., but it's not the vegetarians who are losing. It's the animals. ... If we have to disguise, rationalize, romanticize, and ritualize eating animals to such a degree that we're no longer living in truth or reality, then perhaps we're not comfortable with it at all. Adopting a vegan diet is the best choice I've ever made, and I've never had to offer any excuses for it.

animal rights, vegetarianism

When Animals Resist Their Exploitation

From "Kasatka, the Sea World Orca," by Jason Hribal:

Two weeks ago, an orca named Kasatka intentionally grabbed and pulled her trainer underwater twice-nearly killing him in the process. Kasatka is a performer for Sea World Adventure Park, San Diego. She is one of seven orca entertainers at the Southern California park. With operations in five other US locations, Sea World and Busch Gardens are owned by the Anheuser-Busch corporation. Indeed, as Susan Davis demonstrated in her Spectacular Nature (1997), these flagship zoological parks are corporate enterprises: for-profit businesses.

According to a park official, the Sea World orcas perform as many as 8 times per a day, 365 days a year. The Kasatka attack happened during the final daily show. As for the performances themselves, they are finely choreographed and composed of several acts. Each is highly complex in its routines and challenging in its stunts. These shows require skill, patience, labor, and hours of weekly practice. The orcas are, in every sense, performers and entertainers. ...

In order to see the world from Kasatka's perspective, three facts need to be considered. First, there are no recorded incidences of orcas "in the wild" attacking humans unprovoked. This is an institutional problem. Second, Kasatka and other performers have a long history of attacking trainers. Resistance in zoos and aquariums, in truth, is anything but unusual. Third, the zoological institutions themselves have to negotiate with their entertainers to extract labor and profit. Indeed, animal performers have agency, and zoos have always (privately, at least) acknowledged this. Therefore, the next time you hear about an orca attack, don't dismiss it from above: "Animals will be animals." But instead, look from below: "These creatures resist work, and can occasionally land a counterpunch or two of their own."

animal rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

Greenpeace flacks for industry

The shamelessness of U.K. Greenpeace activist Richard Claxton working as a paid agent of industrial wind developer "Your Energy" is breathtaking. What is amusing, however, is how much effort is required to even pretend there is community support for the project. The "silent majority" he claims to be giving voice clearly isn't. It's telling that only the "supporters" of these projects need the professional PR advice of such as Richard Claxton and the generous funds of the developer to create an illusion of support. Visit the Moorsyde Action Group for more about this project.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Western civilization ends in a slaughterhouse

"Yes here," continued the Professor, nodding down at the Yards as they began to flow by beneath, "here's where the Trail comes to its end at last, along with the American Cowboy who used to live on it and by it. No matter how virtuous he's kept his name, how many evildoers he's managed to get by undamaged, how he's done by his horses, what girls he has chastely kissed, serenaded by guitar, or gone out and raised hallelujah with, it's all back there in the traildust now and none of it matters, for down there you'll find the wet convergence and finale of his drought-struck tale and thankless calling, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show stood on its head -- spectators invisible and silent, nothing to be commemorated, the only weapons in view being Blitz Instruments and Wacket Punches to knock the animals out with, along with the blades everybody is packing, of course, and the rodeo clowns jabber on in some incomprehensible lingo not to distract the beast but rather to heighten and maintain its attention to the single task at hand, bringing it down to those last few gates, the stunning-devices waiting inside, the butchering and blood just beyond the last chute -- and the cowboy with him. Here."

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

Monday, December 18, 2006

Electricity is all around us. But ...

"Back in the spring, Dr. Tesla was able to achieve readings on his transformer of up to a milion volts. It does not take a prophet to see where this is headed. He is already talking in private about something he calls a 'World-System,' for producing huge amounts of electrical power that wnyone can tap in to for free, anywhere in the world, because it uses the planet as an element in a gigantic resonant circuit. He is naïve enough enough to think he can get financing for this, from Pierpont, or me, or one or two others. It has escaped his might intellect that no once can make any money off an invention like that. To put up money for research into a system of free power would be to throw it awa, and violate -- hell, betray -- the essence of everything modern history is supposed to be. ... If such a thing is ever produced," Scarsdale Vibe was saying, "it will mean the end of the world, not just 'as we know it' but as anyone knows it. It is a weapon, Professor, surely you see that -- the most terrible weapon the world has seen, designed to destroy not armies or matériel, but the very nature of exchange, our Economy's long struggle to evolve up out of the fish-market anarchy of all battling all to the rational systems of control whose blessings we enjoy at present."

--Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Minnesota Wind Integration Study smooths data, finds problems to be small

The study also assumes a 40% capacity factor rather than projecting from historical data, which are much less.

And the modest cost they find for integrating wind is simply a comparison with the cost of using the same amount of dispatchable energy. It does not consider the extra cost of wind itself and its low effective capacity. In other words, the cost of building and maintaining capacity just to cover for the wind is ignored. As is the actual effect on fuel burning in such plants. The assumption is that the electricity from wind simply replaces the electricity from other sources and that's that.

Even with smoothing the available 5-minute data into hourly data and exaggerating the likely average production levels, the study found the effective capacity (or "effective load carrying capability") of the wind plant to be about 17-21% in 2003's wind conditions, 11-12% in 2004's, and 4-5% in 2005's.

That is, for practical planning purposes -- even using the fudged data from this study -- one megawatt of wind power could be counted on to "replace" only 50 kilowatts of other sources.

The study is currently available from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission here.

wind power, wind energy, Minnesota

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shumlin wants to focus on climate, focuses on wind instead

To the editor, Rutland (Vt.) Herald:

Peter Shumlin seems confused ("Senate leader wants to focus on climate," Dec. 11). It is unclear if he wants to get rid of Vermont Yankee (or at least store its waste somewhere else) or combat climate change.

If he is ready to throw out aesthetics and sacrifice Vermont's mountains for industrial-scale wind energy, how can he complain about carbon-free Vermont Yankee?

He is also mistaken about technological progress in wind energy. The only progress has been that the turbines get bigger, making them more environmentally damaging, not less.

One wonders, too, about his sobriety in this matter when he warns of temperatures rising 30 degrees. Hopefully, it was a typo. The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a rise somewhere between 2 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years.

I share Shumlin's concerns about both warming and nuclear power. An honest assessment of wind energy, however, reveals that it would not contribute even a small part towards solving either of these issues.

With sprawling wind turbine facilities, Shumlin would destroy the state in a gravely misinformed effort to save it. We need real solutions, not fashionable window dressing that will do much more harm than good.

tags: wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, Vermont

Monday, December 11, 2006

Robber barons

Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan executives are getting year-end bonuses of $25 million each. That's on top of their already obscenely inflated salaries and perqs. That gives them each almost $70,000 extra to play with every day, which is more than twice the median annual income of 90% of American households.

anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How the scam works

Driven by a concern for reducing carbon emissions, many governments around the world have signed on to the Kyoto Accord or otherwise established similar goals (such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast United States).

Since the goal is overall reduction, one mechanism for achieving it is a "cap & trade" market, which has been successful is reducing other pollutants. Desired limits are established, and credits are earned by facilities that reduce their emissions proportionally to below that limit. Those credits may then be sold to entities that are unable (or don't want) to achieve the limit. Their extra emissions are allowed as they are equal to extra reductions by others.

Wind energy is promoted as a means of reducing emissions, but in fact wind energy facilities are being built to generate credits to allow continuing emissions, to avoid actual reductions.

The problem is that wind power generators are assigned credits even though no emissions are reduced. As an emissions-free energy source, their value would be in reducing emissions from other sources in the grid they are part of. Then those other facilities would earn credits for fewer emissions.

The wind turbines don't reduce emissions themselves, because they did not emit carbon dioxide or anything else in the first place. So if they are newly built, then it should be the entities that are able to reduce their emissions because of the use of wind energy that earn the credits.

If wind turbines were in fact responsible for such reductions, then they do deserve credit in some form, and that is an issue only for facilities not owned by the utilities hoping to benefit.

Wind energy advocates assert that since every kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity means one kilowatt-hour not generated by other sources (which include non-CO2 hydro and nuclear), you might as well skip the middleman and give the wind companies the credits directly and provide a helpful incentive for investment.

Thus, if a grid's generation balance is 50% coal and 14% natural gas, for every kilowatt-hour generated the wind company would get credit equivalent to the carbon emissions of half a kilowatt-hour from coal and a seventh of a kilowatt-hour from natural gas.

It would earn those credits even if the burning of coal or natural gas is not in fact reduced. And it can sell its credits to the coal and natural gas plants so that they don't have to reduce their emissions.

The wind company will say, however, that by definition -- theirs -- the emissions from coal and natural gas plants are reduced by wind energy on the grid. Yet this has never been shown to in fact be the case.

That is not surprising. Since the grid must continuously maintain the balance between energy supply and demand, highly fluctuating and intermittent wind energy (its average production is one-fourth to one-third of its rated capacity, and it generates at or above that average rate only a third of the time) adds to the challenges of that task.

Because the wind does not always blow sufficiently -- let alone on demand -- no other sources can be removed. Even when the wind is blowing well it may drop at any time, so other sources have to be kept burning to be ready to kick into generation mode. The result is little, if any, reduction of fuel use by or emissions from other sources.

Wind energy promoters also ignore the fact that -- even if wind power worked as they believe it does -- only quick-responding peak suppliers, such as no-emission hydro and low-emission natural gas plants, would be affected. Base load supplied by coal would not be affected at all.

In short, if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, the method should be to reward results, not promises. If wind works, prove it. As it is, building wind "farms" is like printing money.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Greenpeace et al. sucks up to power, bargains away environment

From Peace, Earth & Justice News:

Dani Rubin, secretary of B.C. Pathways, says the exclusionary process inflicted "collateral damage" on the entire B.C. environmental movement. "I remember Don McMillan of Interfor telling me that the industry had a plan for us [environmentalists]," he says. "It's pretty clear now that the corporate strategy was to divide the environmental movement by electing to negotiate only with the 'pragmatists,' leaving the rest of us out in the cold." ...

[In February 2006, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and other groups celebrated a historic agreement with government and industry to bring an end to the "war in the woods" in the Great Bear Rainforest area of coastal British Columbia. Less than a year later ... timber companies have ratcheted up the rate of clearcut logging to unprecedented levels, and guidelines for sustainable logging are not being implemented.]

The announcement of the final agreement set B.C.'s environmental community abuzz with debate over tactics and strategies in the Great Bear Rainforest. Clearly, Greenpeace has switched its focus from confrontation to cooperation, no doubt to stay in line with the changing priorities of a protest-weary public. Similarly, "finding solutions" and "building consensus" have become the catch phrases of foundations funding the large eco-groups in the U.S.

The evolution of Greenpeace from a rag-tag band of protestors to a multinational bureaucracy may explain its newfound commitment to collaboration with industry and government. Ingmar Lee, a journalist and old-growth forest activist from Vancouver Island, says the group has adopted the corporate model it once deplored.

"This is exactly what happens to forest protection activists who graduate from the frontlines into paid positions and begin working themselves up the ladder," Lee says. "Once they're into the $60,000-a-year bracket, they just quite simply cannot relate to anyone in the movement, but they can sure hobnob with the corporate logging executives. They begin to see how the 'real world' works, and they begin to understand that if they cooperate, they will start to get some of that power."

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, anarchism, ecoanarchism

Monday, December 04, 2006

Goldman Sachs wants out of wind biz?

Goldman Sachs wants to sell Horizon Wind Energy, which it bought last year (then called Zilkha Renewable Energy). As the New York Post astutely notes today, Goldman Sachs is betting "that the market for renewable energy is nearing a top."

Of course, they are selling it as a good investment, but if that were the case, why are they letting it go after only a year? Perhaps they have come to perceive that large-scale wind energy is a dead end -- an overhyped technology that underdelivers -- and that the market for it is indeed facing a decline.

wind power, wind energy

Friday, December 01, 2006

A question about renewable energy

More and more governments are requiring utilities to use more and more renewable energy, sometimes even directing them to not use some (such as hydro) and instead use others (such as wind). The goal is to usually to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

Why, then, isn't that the requirement? With wind energy, for example, its variability and intermittency cuts into its ability to reduce emissions, since conventional plants have to keep working -- even when not producing electricity -- to balance it.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Reunion Power getting desperate in Cherry Valley

Vermont-based Reunion Power wants so badly to desecrate East Hill in Cherry Valley, N.Y., that it has now offered to give away its electricity to all of the residents.

Nevertheless, the town extended its moratorium on development for another 45 days to ensure that a final ordinance is in place before Reunion formally applies for its project.

In an effort to have its way against an ordinance that would protect the historical and rural character of the area, Reunion has increased its promised "payments in lieu of taxes," will pay $2,000/year to all neighbors of the project, and has now arranged to pay for all of the electricity (though not delivery, about half of the bill) used by an average household (that will encourage conservation!) for every residential customer.

The ordinance currently specifies setbacks of 1,200 feet from property lines and 2,000 feet from residences. Following New York State Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, the noise level is limited to 6 dB above ambient at the property line.

Despite overwhelming opposition to its project, Reunion Power apparently believes it has a right, even an obligation, to have its way.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, Vermont