September 29, 2010

Mythbuster busted: Tom Gray and the hard facts of wind energy

The unflagging Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association has now presented a story about Kodiak Island, Alaska, as a "mythbuster".

It's a mythbuster only if you characterize, as Gray does, the problems with wind on the grid in the most simple-minded way.

1. First, he harps on the charge that backup power units must be kept running, noting (actually, asking tauntingly like a brat in a schoolyard) that Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) burned 930,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel in the first year of three 1.5-MW wind turbines operating, so emissions must have been reduced.

2. For the same reason, fossil fuel use was reduced.

3. Finally, taking on the charge that wind is unreliable and hard to integrate into utility systems, he notes that KEA did it.

Now let us look at the facts.

The 4.5 MW of wind went into operation in July 2009. The data provided by KEA on diesel fuel saved is estimated as proportional to the net energy produced by the wind turbines. That is not a record of actual fuel savings, which is affected by the diesel generators' efficiency, which is affected by more frequent ramping and switching on and off to balance the wind feed.

As Gray knows, the charge that other plants have to be kept running primarily applies to large coal (and nuclear). Smaller coal plants may be able to ramp their production as needed (at a cost of efficiency). Natural gas plants may be able to switch very quickly on and off (again, at a cost of efficiency, like city versus highway driving). Diesel plants, too, can switch on and off quickly. On an island, they act very much like the backup generator that an off-gridder keeps ready.

So points 1 and 2 dodge the issue of exactly how much diesel fuel is saved by using an estimate rather than actual data. In a similar example from East Falkland, Islas Malvinas, less than one-fourth of the estimated fuel savings was actually seen. And it has still to be documented how less cleanly the remaining three-fourths is being burned.

Again, emissions may have been reduced, but by very much less, if any, than hoped or claimed. And fossil fuel use was reduced, but likely by very much less than estimated.

As for point 3, an island system is a simple closed system, with fast-responding diesel generators (as well as in this case hydro) to adjust quickly to changing demand. They continue to operate in the same way with the addition of wind turbines, which are essentially "negative demand". Being a "small, isolated" utility system is precisely why it is easy to integrate wind there, not, as Gray implies, an example of particular challenge.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

September 24, 2010

Two poems by Eric Rosenbloom


Clouds waft from over the ocean
        And rain upon the land
Rivers flowing return to ocean
        Waters seeped through the land

Out of the ocean a ship finds the river
        And sails against her waters
Its people build on her shores of mud
        With rushes, wood, and stone

And their towers tumbling back to the land
        Are the last that the river washes
Of the memories returned to ocean
        Of its people seeped in the land


Lilith the earth has drawn the waters to her
And grown a tree that branches over the ocean
And screens the sky from its jealous view

Adam takes the proffered fruit
And dwells with Lilith among the limbs
And leaves of her mortal garden

She is fair and he her king, but Eve
Her clouded brow is drawing him apart
To live again with her as ever

He promises return but knows not which
And Lilith dies, and he dies too, or lives
With Eve our queen to return, to return

September 23, 2010

Wind industry continues to lie

Here are a couple of examples of the alternate reality in which wind industry executives operate, hoping that the rest of the world will join them.

In today's Daily Mail report about the U.K.'s new sprawling wind energy facility off the coast of Kent, an unnamed spokesman for Renewable UK, responding to criticism that this 13.5-square-mile, £780 million plant will produce at an average of only 35-40% of its capacity, said, ‘You have to bear in mind that coal and gas-fired power stations don’t work at full capacity either – and even nuclear power stations are taken off line.’

He does not mention that other power stations are used according to demand, not the whims of the wind. Using a peaking plant (at full rated power) 35% of the time, that is, when you need it, is very different from wind turbines producing power, at variable rates, whether you need it or not. An average of 35% is meaningless: If it can not be produced on demand, it is worthless. Wind turbines produce at or above their average rate — whatever it might turn out to be — only about 40% of the time — at whatever times the wind wills.

Also in the article, an item in the sidebar says that it "generates power at wind speeds between 8mph and 55mph". Elsewhere in the article, however, it is noted that the the plant will generate at full capacity only if the wind is blowing at 16 metres per second, i.e., 36mph. Below that speed, production falls precipitously. At 8mph, it is barely a trickle. Furthermore, after the wind gusts above 55mph and the turbines shut down, they don't start up again until the wind goes down to 45mph.

Let us now turn our attention to Vermont, where the founder of anemometer maker NRG Systems David Blittersdorf (his wife Jan is still CEO; David went on to Earth Turbines and then All Earth Renewables, which applied for millions of dollars of grants this year, so Mr B got himself appointed to the state committee disbursing the grants ...). As reported by the Rutland Herald, Blittersdorf gave a talk about wind power at the annual meeting of the Castleton Historical Society.

He said that "wind power is practically unsubsidized when compared to power sources like oil and nuclear energy." Federal financial interventions and subsidies in the energy market were examined by the Energy Information Administration in 2008. They found that wind energy received $23.37 per megawatt-hour of its electricity production in 2007, compared with 44 cents for coal, $1.59 for nuclear, and 25 cents for natural gas and oil.

He also said that "many of the objections to wind power, such as danger to birds and concerns about noise, are no longer true due to newer technology". In fact, "newer technology" simply consists of taller towers with larger blades, which now reach well into the ranges of migrating birds, both large and small. Every post-construction survey of a wind energy facility continues to report more deaths than predicted. (And yet permitting agencies and bird protection organizations continue to believe the developers' assessments.) In addition to birds, the toll on bats has become an increasingly alarming concern. The size of modern turbines has also only increased, not decreased noise problems. Everywhere that wind turbines are erected within 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) of homes, people complain of disturbed sleep, consequent stress and irritability, and often worse health problems that may be a direct result of the throbbing low-frequency noise on the balance organs of the inner ear. (And yet permitting agencies and neighbors continue to believe the developers' reassurances; the latest victims of this willful obtuseness reside on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine.) Again, the problems with wind have only become worse with "newer technology"..

And so he said that the only real remaining objection is the aesthetic one: "Some folks don't want to see a wind turbine on a mountain. We have to choose something. By denying wind power, you're supporting coal, oil and nuclear energy."

Bullshit and bullshit. Not to mention, the aesthetic objection is valid, considering that wind turbine facilities are generally built in previously undeveloped rural and even wild areas. You can't have environmentalism without aesthetics. Vermont doesn't allow billboards on the highways. It essentially bans all development above 2,000 feet on the mountains. 400-feet-high machines blasted into the ridges and connected by wide straight heavy-duty roads are rightly seen as an insult to what we hold dear.

Anyway, many objections — as described about birds, bats, and noise — remain. And the benefits to be weighed against those "aesthetic" costs are hard to find. By denying wind power, you're not supporting other forms of energy any more than you are by promoting wind power. Because wind, which answers only to the whims of Aeolus, not to the actual minute-to-minute needs of the grid, has not replaced and can not replace other forms of energy on the electric grid.

David Blittersdorf may think it's worth killing birds and bats, destroying the neighbors' health, and wrecking the landscape in the belief that if we erect ever more wind turbines we might actually see some positive effect (ignoring all the havoc wreaked to get there). But instead he denies that these well documented impacts actually occur. That is quite disturbing.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont

September 13, 2010

Israel-Palestine peace talks to clear way for bombing Iran

As Sam Smith points at Undernews, the point of these very unserious peace talks seems really to be to declare their failure, thus clearing the way for the next round of atrocities by the U.S. and/or Israel. Next stop, Iran!

September 12, 2010

Stock exchange versus the economy

"You have to distinguish between two things — the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market. The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. ... That's the Swedish economy, and it's just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago. ...

"The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn't have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy."

—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

September 8, 2010

Burning Qurans

While everybody gets all morally righteous against the ignorant fearful hatefulness of marking September 11 with a pyre of Korans, or against the ignorant fearful hatefulness against a Islamic community center in downtown New York . . .

Let's not forget that these are just reflections of the greater ignorant fearful hatefulness of fact of the U.S. military invading and occupying two large Muslim countries in southwest Asia, abetting one small one (Israel) in its campaign against the mostly Muslim people whose land they took and want more of, and supporting antidemocratic Muslim autocracies in crass return for oil.

A lot more, a lot worse, than Korans have been burned and will be burned.

As a recent cartoon by Jeff Danziger suggests, the Koran burners in Florida reveal the truth of the U.S. mission, its crusade, this auto da fé.

September 7, 2010

Let them eat meat

Speaking of Affiliation, a correspondent writes about yesterday's column in The Guardian by George Monbiot (click the title of this post):

I always felt that there was something quite peculiar about Monbiot and how he never quite "gets" things that should seem so obvious, as in his dogged touting of industrial wind and his dumb war on Agas etc etc -- in this case in his bizarre, chillingly analytical defense of meat-eating (undoubtedly this is very convenient to his own tastes), he seems almost as if he suffers from Asbergers or autism in his precise, desperate totting up of percentages, ratios, and economics of "efficient" corpse production. Talk about missing the point of veganism, all the while he ignores the elephant sitting in the corner of this very tiny windowless room -- the abject horror, routine abuse, suffering and medieval cruelty that these living sentient beings are subjected to, on factory "farms" and little "happy farms" alike, and the fact that all of this nightmarish cruelty is utterly unnecessary, and that we have no right to take another creature's life and even their sense of well being. Monbiot would have made a very good accountant for Hitler -- what a truly dreadful little man he is, a very useful idiot for one destructive industry after another. And this is why I have so little hope for this planet and any evolution to a higher way of thinking about our fellow creatures -- because people like Monbiot, draped in the lurid polyester green flag of what passes these days for "environmentalism" or "sustainable light footprint" living, are listened to by people who used to see this kind of thing as blatant corporate brainwashing of the masses. But alas, no more; now they have joined the rest of the brainwashed greedy conformists -- we live in a real life world of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where everyone really does increasingly seem like drooling idiot zombies.

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism

September 6, 2010


In Witz, Joshua Cohen calls all religious Jews "Affiliated". After the sabbath meal a week before Christmas, Benjamin is born to Israel and Hanna Israelien in Joysey, the first son after 12 girls. This winter is particularly hard and in fact persists year round. Benjamin is born full grown, with a beard and glasses. His foreskin continually sheds itself and grows back. Already too big for his father's shirts, he takes to his mother's maternity robes. On Christmas Eve, all of the Affiliated die except first-born sons. The Israelien's maid, Wanda, drives Benjamin down to Florida to live with his grandfather, Isaac, who is Unaffiliated. Meanwhile, a cabal of government operatives are quarantining all of the first-borns on Ellis Island, now called "The Garden" (incorporated), capitalized with the property of the dead. A week later, they come for Benjamin. Isaac dies from a heart attack. Benjamin escapes at a rest stop but is eventually caught and taken to The Garden, where they have moved the entire Israelien house, complete with Sabbath guest still on one of the toilets. The Garden markets Benjamin as the messiah. A team of unaffiliated women are trained to act as his mother and sisters and see to his needs.

Then the first-borns start dying, and by Passover Benjamin is the only one remaining. It is arranged that he marry the President's daughter in Las Vegas, but Benjamin escapes again, to wander the country in his mother's robe. Back in New York, his "sisters" catch up with him, and during cunnilingus with his "Hanna", his tongue gets stuck and is torn off when his sisters try to separate them. The scandal destroys The Garden, and Benjamin is shunned by all (he and the operators of The Garden are Disaffiliated).

Without real Jews around to complicate things, America, and soon, the world, has become Affiliated. The President becomes chief of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Those who refuse to Affiliate are sent to their "homeland", Polandland, to be killed. Benjamin finds his way there, too, visiting the towns of his mother's and his father's ancestors. In his wanderings, he sprouts the horns of a cow and ultimately he turns into a woman. The Affiliated, however, revive the cult of his tongue, now displayed as a relic. And Wanda, now Affiliated, with a son of her own, remembers the visitor that Benjamin had every night from his birth: Isaiah in the form of Santa Claus.

25 years later, we hear from a 108-year-old Jewish man who was in Auschwitz ... He has listed the punch line of a joke, who needs the setup any more, for every year that he has lived. Because what should you do only laugh.

(((( ))))

Today, affiliation means with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, whatever Judaism. Cohen reminds the reader of the bloody record of The Bible: the flood, the almost-sacrifice of Isaac, the havoc wrought on the Egyptians, the conquest of Palestine. It is a model of single-minded imperial action by the self-chosen. When all of the Jews die, a singular Affiliation provides the complete means to realize the hegemony that has turned out to be the true American experiment. Indeed, after the destruction of The Twin Towers in New York in 2001, the world said "We are New York", but Israel said "Now you are Israel", which was prescient. Israel had already become everything that some thought it was supposed to stand against: it is a paranoid belligerent power instead of a voice for the oppressed and shunned. And America, seeing in Israel their own history (cf. the Indians), is wallowing even deeper into the madness of self-declared uniqueness that absolves it of all judgement. We are indeed marching headlong toward Affiliation: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer. God's Work.

Our Long National Nightmare Is Just Beginning

David Michael Green writes at Counterpunch (click the title of this post):

The Republican Party was once a moderately conservative, pro-business outfit, until it was highjacked by the oligarchy and turned into a full-on predatory machine, hiding behind the facade of hate mobilizing issues like bogus overseas threats abroad and uppity brown people and demanding women at home. Basically, any way that middle class white males could be distracted from their sinking economic status – through the diversion of a sense of superiority over others, or the supposed threat to that superior status – was employed to cover for a party whose true agenda was to quietly produce the greatest transfer of wealth in all of human history.

Having succeeded dramatically, they are back at it again. It is now transparent, for anyone who cares to look, that the ugly tea party movement in America is an invention of the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey and their sick ilk, once again mobilizing a boatload of fools who are angry, but too stupid to know quite why. This explains their endless rhetoric about the evils of the federal government, and their simultaneous desire to keep their Social Security and Medicare benies. It also explains their unmatched idiocy in serving as tools for their own destruction. If they succeed, they fail. If they get their champions elected, they lose their government-provided (Shhhh!) goodies. Brilliant.

In any case, the takeover of the GOP by Serious Money is now well into its second stage. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it is. Seriously, what is the next step after this one fails to provide any long-term solutions to what ails America, as most assuredly will be the case? For a decade or three now, regressives in America have been showing that they are capable of anything. Which more or less answers that question, doesn’t it? If you’re willing to savage military icons like John McCain, Max Cleland and John Kerry in order to win elections – and especially after you get away with it every time – you’re willing to do anything. If you’re willing to mock the 9/11 widows as scheming opportunists, you’re willing to do anything. If you’re willing to don a tuxedo and joke about missing WMD at a press banquet in Washington, just as you’re telling the American military’s adversaries in Iraq to “bring it on”, you’re willing to do anything.

Looking at the rhetoric the right throws in the direction of our president these days, questioning his very nationality (oh, did I mention that he’s black?), it’s easy to see that they‘ve gone completely over the line. But what’s really out of control is what lies underneath this insanity generated for the consumption of an ignorant hoi polloi. And what that is – what you see when you move the slime-infested rock away – is an unfathomably monstrous greed. Watching these folks in action, you could easily get the impression that they had been impoverished their whole lives. That they had been denied everything, right down to food and water. That they had been deprived through poverty especially of their dignity. You know, like the real poor people of this world, the forty or fifty percent of the Earth’s population that survives on less than two dollars per day. Those folks.

Instead, we are talking about people who are already fantastically rich. And who, despite this, are absolutely hell-bent on getting richer, even if that means depriving hundreds of millions of people in the American middle class of their middle classness, and in many cases, ultimately of their lives. How do we explain people like this? Are they not essentially sociopathic? Are they not made of essentially the same stuff as those who can kill without guilt or remorse? Especially when you consider that even the greediest among us reach a limit beyond which one can effectively make use of the next dollar and the one beyond that, so that pushing others into poverty is no longer even for purposes of your own benefit, but instead for some kind of sick sport? Aren’t these the characters whose essential sickness preachers and philosophers and shrinks have been trying to sort out for millennia?

Whatever the explanation for such illness, the effects of their efforts are certainly plain to see. We’re talking here about a class of Americans who have been essentially offended by the diminishment of inequality produced in America during the middle part of the twentieth century, due to the national policies ranging from the New Deal to the Great Society, Republican administrations included. America’s socio-economic structure changed dramatically during that time, and almost entirely for the better. A huge middle class that had never existed before came into being. Anti-poverty programs took the worst sting out of living conditions for the poor. And America became the greatest economic dynamo since the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, by the way, the rich remained very, very rich.

But that was not enough. So they have made a concerted effort over the last generation or so to revert the country back to the bad old days of Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Think about that for a second. What sort of elevated sickness, what sort parental deprivation in childhood, what sort of total absence of conscience and consciousness is required to produce a group of people with that mentality?

I wish I knew. But I do know that their plan worked. As Robert Kuttner notes in The American Prospect: “For more than three decades, the wages of American workers have been close to flat while economic insecurity has risen massively. Although the productivity of the U.S. economy has doubled in a generation, most of those gains have not been captured by workers. And in the decade that began in 2001, inflation-adjusted wages have fallen for all but the most affluent 3 percent of the population.

“This pattern of deepening inequality was well entrenched before the financial collapse – which only made things worse. In 2006, economists at Goldman Sachs, sounding almost Marxian, reported that ‘the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.’ By 2006, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product were already at their lowest share – 45 percent – since government began keeping statistics in 1947. In the past three years, the decline in worker earnings has only intensified, as worker bargaining power has been undermined by very high unemployment. As the economy has stumbled toward a feeble recovery, corporate profits and executive bonuses have rebounded smartly, but salaries and wages have not.

“In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, wages and productivity moved upward in lockstep. Beginning in the 1970s, as government regulation of labor conditions faltered, trade with nations that exploited their own workers increased, and corporations declared open war on unions, the lines diverged. Productivity kept increasing, while median wages were nearly flat.”

This is the successful agenda of the right in America, though it has been cleverly masked by the politics of resentment. This has been the real ‘class warfare’ in the United States these last decades – not, as pouncing regressives instantly scream out in an effort to silence truth, the very occasional and even more feeble attempts by the odd Democratic politician who slips up and mentions what has actually happened. And, as Warren Buffett is honest enough to point out, the war is over and his side won. As Robert Reich noted in a recent New York Times op-ed, the richest one percent of Americans have gone from taking in nine percent of the total national income right before the Reagan era began, to nearly one-fourth of it today. As Reich also reminds us, the last time this happened was in 1928. I would rush to say, “Hey, remember how that one turned out?”, but it’s pretty unnecessary to crack the history books for that reference, since we’re now living it. As just about the stupidest society that ever was, we’ve decided to get together to explore the fun and exciting question, “What would happen if America had a devastating economic downturn once again, boys and girls?!?!”

There is one big difference between today and the 1930s, however. Once there was a political party in America – the one that did the New Deal and the Great Society – that stood up a bit for the middle class and the poor. But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have led the Democrats down a different path. Now the party stands for a slightly weaker version of the GOP’s plutocracy protection service. And, seemingly, for getting its face bitch-slapped bright red at every possible juncture. Both aspects of the New Democrats are a puzzle, but particularly the latter. What sort of psychology of the self-loathing explains how a Clinton or an Obama can be so passive, even when getting handed their heads by the most scurrilous of creeps on the political landscape, pieces of (allegedly) human garbage who could be destroyed with the slightest show of self-defense, let alone a wee assertion of political courage? ...

September 4, 2010

Social Security and the Deficit

They have nothing to do with each other. Social Security is a self-supporting fund that is not part of the federal budget. Once again:

Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.

Read more about it in Glenn Greenwald's column at Salon.

A new world

At the outskirts of my father's dwellingplace, at the furthest limit of His encampment, there amid the ringing of haycocks where land gives way to earth, to pure planet — there's an emptied barrack or prison thatch that once quartered killers of mine and of any other kind, too, murderers with governments and the sanction of uniform, weapon, and horse. It's since become all board, nail, leak, and draft, its floor strewn with straw and that and its walls smeared with the sickening reek of we hair, pelage, daily turd. Inside, inhabiting, there's only a lone aged ram. It's humiliated, made modest, as its burden's considerable: how it's dually imaged, as if once for each horn, for each half of the cadence responsible; this ram both existing of its kind, as the last of its species still grazing, and then existing for its kind, too, as their most imperfected survivor — most imperfected as their survivor, their last and their only; to be herded humbled, alone, as a herd of one and itself, up the ramp of an Ark, bound express for our covenant's end: think the species' lowliest, and most degenerate aspect, made ancient to wizened bellwether with raggedy coat, then hefted here to rume out its life once it's downed its last golden door; it's lost its horns, too . . . how they'd been stolen by night, by a boy and his father, and an angel that'd saved them both from a mountaintop altar. At the sound of my horns, my own shofars these shofarot twinned in the wind, one for each lip ended upon that lip of last day . . . how this ram despite wormy illness and old age will perk, turn itself dumbly, lean its head toward the gusting, an echo. Hoof mud. Now, charging its brutishly bared head, and with nothing to fear, forward and always, this ram will hurl itself against the furthest wall of the barrack, not east nor west but out, only out and with such fierce and wet woolen force — to knock everything down, to shatter it through, an escape, into unlimited space.

Witz by Joshua Cohen