Category Archives: Energy

How to save the world one gas station at a time.

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Look at a map of your city or suburb. Search for the gas stations, you know, those places where you can buy cigarettes and petroleum products?

Now imagine going to each and every one of those locations and tearing it down. We don’t need them any more anyway, because we’ve electrified transportation and nobody smokes. Remove the pollution (they are all brown fields, and the government will eventually be charged for this cleanup, so that is where you get your money for this). Remove the above ground structure, remove the pollution, then look at that vacant lot (and the other one one katty-corner across the intersection). Imagine a transit and school bus stop at this location, with an indoor area to keep the kiddies safe during the very hot or very cold days. Imagine a 20 car charging station, a small cafe, and the whole thing is covered with PV panels. (For the entire US that would be upwards of 15,000 mW of generating power.)

That transition would happen eventually, or something like it, but it won’t get far. Do you know why it won’t get far? Because in all its glory and brilliance, the free market is slow and shy and stupid. It will not figure this out fast enough, it will not deploy the changes in time, and when we are about a third of the way through the whole system will collapse because we are being too slow — and too slowed down by deniers and Republicans, Trumpers and Big Oil, dark money and deplorables — to fix it before it fails.

Or, Governors and State Legislators and Presidents and the Congress can just make it happen. Set up a program that buys out gas stations, cleans them up, and inserts them into the new power and transit system. Take care of the job loss, which will be offset by the increase in clean energy jobs, but make that offset work for the victims of progress. Oh, and probably sell lottery tickets at the cafe.

Can we do this please?

Thanks. Get back to me when the blueprints are ready, next week if possible.


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Divestment in Fossil Fuels is Happening, A Little

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BlackRock Inc is the world’s largest investment management company. It is headquartered in New York City, handling nearly seven trillion dollars in assets.

BlackRock is about to move away from investment in fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben notes, in a piece in the New Yorker, “If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments…By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history.”

Here is his letter

It is not a full-on divestment. For that matter, this might be greenwashing as much as anything else. But a major player in the financial market has declared fossil fuel and related investments risky because of the environmental damage they induce, because that damage is to be mitigated, and thus, assets are to be stranded. More or less. For example with respect to “Exiting Thermal Coal Producers” BlackRock says,

Thermal coal production is one such sector. Thermal coal is significantly carbon intensive, becoming less and less economically viable, and highly exposed to regulation because of its environmental impacts. With the acceleration of the global energy transition, we do not believe that the long-term economic or investment rationale justifies continued investment in this sector. As a result, we are in the process of removing from our discretionary active investment portfolios the public securities (both debt and equity) of companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production, which we aim to accomplish by the middle of 2020. As part of our process of evaluating sectors with high ESG risk, we will also closely scrutinize other businesses that are heavily reliant on thermal coal as an input, in order to understand whether they are effectively transitioning away from this reliance. In addition, BlackRock’s alternatives business will make no future direct investments in companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production.

McKibben agrees that this is that this change is not as powerful as it needs to be, noting that :BlackRock’s actual policy changes are modest compared with Fink’s rhetoric. At least at first, the main change will be to rid the firm’s actively managed portfolio (about $1.8 trillion in value) of coal stocks; but coal, though still a major contributor to climate change, is already on the wane, except in Asia. The companies that mine it have tanked in value—even Donald Trump’s coddling has been unable to slow the industry’s decline in this country. So an investor swearing off coal is a bit like cutting cake out of your diet but clinging to a slice of pie and a box of doughnuts.”

BlackRock is not to be congratulated here. This is not enough, and for much of the damage done, it is too late. The barn-door closers at BlackRock are still liable for being among the entrenched power and money brokers that have destroyed this planet for the future. This action will help the rest of us to rebuild our world a few decades sooner, and it may help some of them survive the turnover that has to happen eventually. In short, if you are an activist working toward divestment, know that your work is just starting, but now you have a new tool to use in convincing the complacent that there is a problem, and a partial solution.


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Solar Power, Jobs, Costs, Economy

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Solar energy will become an increasingly important part of the equation, as deploying this form of electricity generation creates jobs and lowers energy costs.

In Iowa, solar is starting to compete with wind for being cheap and a good investment, and as a course of more and more safe and cheap electricity. “Invenergy, a major developer of large renewable generation projects nationwide, began construction in December on three solar arrays with a total capacity of 750 megawatts. It may at some point add three batteries with a capacity of 190 MW.”

In Ohio, a 36 acre solar array will reduce electricity costs for the 2,700 people who live in Grafton.

Looking for work near Flint, Michigan? The Shiawassee solar farm is looking to hire 250 people right now.

Superior Wisconson is building a new community solar project. “The solar garden, named Superior Solar, will be built on land SWL&P owns at 2828 Hammond Ave., near Heritage Park. The 2.5-acre site was chosen because the local distribution grid can handle the additional energy. At 470 kilowatt hours, it’s large enough to power about 115 homes. All SWL&P residential and business customers are eligible to participate.”

In Indianapolis, 10 low or middle income homeowners are about to get free solar. This is a pilot project. “We really want to make sure that the program is a step in a more inclusive and more equitable direction for our clean energy transition,” said Zach Schalk, Indiana program director for Solar United Neighbors. “Folks who are able to invest in solar can install solar on their roofs for the most part, but that leaves a lot of people behind who can’t afford to make that investment on their own. So, we think that solar energy should be able to benefit not just folks who have a lot of money to invest.”


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Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

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Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow. Continue reading Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout


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Koch Brothers vs. Farmers

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It is a known fact that organizations like the Center of the American Experiment, organizations funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers or the Bradley Foundation (of “The Bell Curve” fame) organize anti clean energy activism, often using fake citizens showing up at city or county council meetings, to tamp down efforts to produce non-Carbon releasing electricity. And, in rural Minnesota’s Carver County, this is hurting farmers. Continue reading Koch Brothers vs. Farmers


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Pipelines: Just say no

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Two pieces of news about pipelines.

From MPR: MN court says PUC didn’t weigh oil spill impact in Line 3 pipeline decision

In a victory for Line 3 oil pipeline opponents, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday reversed the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the Line 3 replacement project’s environmental review, saying it didn’t adequately address the potential impact of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

Last June, the PUC approved Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline, which has been transporting oil across northern Minnesota from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s.

From Politico: Trump administration seeks criminal crackdown on pipeline protests

The Trump administration is joining calls to treat some pipeline protests as a federal crime, mirroring state legislative efforts that have spread in the wake of high-profile demonstrations around the country.

Bring it on, suckas. Even a conservative federal judge has read the constitution.


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Books On The Energy Transition

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Be informed, have a look.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.

This is a great resource for understanding the diverse strategies available to decarbonize. There is a flaw, and I think it is a fairly significant one. Drawdown ranks the different strategies, so you can see what (seemingly) should be done first. But the ranking is highly susceptible to how the data are organized. For example, on shore vs. off shore wind, if combined, would probably rise to the top of the heap, but separately, are merely in the top several. Also, these things change quickly over time in part because we do some of these things, inevitably moving them lower in ranking. So don’t take the ranking too seriously.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.

I mention this book because I hope it can help the free market doe what it never actually does. The energy business is not, never was, and can’t really be a free market, so expecting market forces to do much useful is roughly the same as expecting the actual second coming of the messiah. Won’t happen. This book is not an ode to those market forces, though, but rather, a third stab (I think), and a thoughtful one, at a complex problem.

Related, of interest: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk. “Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all. ”

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, Rovbbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman. ” A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well.”


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Confessions Of A Rogue Nuclear Regulator: Review

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As the Midwest experiences unprecedented flooding, authorities assure us that a handful of nuclear power plants in the area will remain at full power and are not in danger. Flooding would be a disaster for a nuclear plant, as it could shut down cooling systems. In a very stormy situation, power to a nuclear plant, necessary to keep cooling systems going while the plant is experiencing an emergency shut down, could be interrupted, and flooding could then damage local petrolium based generators designed to keep the cooling pumps going.

Or course, it is impossible to imagine a nuclear power plant being built in such a way, or in such a place, or maintained in such a way, that mere flooding from excessive rain and a few dam or levy breaks, could threaten it. The nuclear plants are not built by idiots, and the regulatory agencies are very good at overseeing the whole process.

Rubble from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with flooding of the plant and shutting down of cooling systems. The plant was built on the sea well below the elevation of the highest known tsunamis, so this disaster was presumably fully anticipated.

… um … ok, well, to continue…

Dr. Greg Jaczko served on US Representative Ed Markey’s staff as a science fellow, and taught Georgetown University. He served as Senatory Harry Reid’s science advisor, and in other roles for the US Senate. He became a commisioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) early in January 20905, andwas appointed by President Obama, in 2009, to chair that body.

His philosophy as a regulator has been transparency and public participation. He worked to improve security regulations for nuclear plants, and oversaw the initiative to make these plants airplane strike resistant. He is most well known for taking the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear disaster into account when considering further development in American nuclear energy. He took a role in stopping plans for the development of the Yucca Mountain repository. He is responsible for stopping plans for the Southern Co to build new reactors at the Vogtle plant in Georgia.

His time as commissioner and head of the NRC is not without controversy. There are complaints about his management style, and women who worked with him claim to have been treated in a more demeaning manner than their male counterparts. Jaczko’s response to these complains has been to cite a conspiracy by pro-nuclear forces against him, because of his lack of blind support for the industry. This position, that the pro-nukers have unfairly treated Jaczko, is supported by a number of third party individuals. He was asked to resign before the end of his term, but claims that this was a strategy of Senator Reid’s, to have control over who the next appointee would be.

I have no fully formed opinion on this, but I suspect that a pro-regulation regulator in Washington is essentially pre-doomed, because most of the regulatory agencies have been taken over by the industries they regulate.

Anyway, Jaczko wrote a book, and it is a rollicking, interesting, disturbing, and important read. Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator is the Jaczko story told by Jaczko.

If Jaczko is legit, if the points he is pushing are valid, then we should expect pushback from surrogates supportive of the nuclear industry in response to the book. That of course happened. I have no intention of getting into an internet fight with the greenwashers, but if you scan for reviews of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator, you’ll find greenish pro nukers writing negative ones in widely read outlets. At the same time, the book is “liked” in the reviews by both independent thinking science reviewers and the usual anti-nuclear activists.

The book is an engaging and fast read, important, and you should judge for yourself.


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Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex

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A polar vortex event like we experienced last week does not make the sunshine weaker, nor does it reduce the strength of the wind. In fact, very cold weather can be associated with very sunny conditions, and in Minnesota a long dreary cool but not frigid cloudy period ended with the arrival of a much sunnier but very cold Arctic air mass. And,the movement of great masses of air is what pushes those windmill blades around. Continue reading Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex


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Vermont could lead the way. But it doesn’t.

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Vermont. The state where everyone lives in a yurt and drinks organic maple syrup. Bernie Sanders is their Senator and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama lives there. Or, at least, the yurts are lined with Llama fur.

You’d think that Vermont could get its act together to reduce greenhouse gasses more than most other states, but in fact, that has not happened, and it is probably important to know why.

Vermont had implemented one of the more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans, but it turns out, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by about 16%. Like this following figure from this report shows:

Figure 1. Vermont Historic GHG Emissions Estimates and Future Emissions Reduction Goals.

From the Boston Globe:

“It wasn’t just disappointing and ironic, it was surprising,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney based in Vermont for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Many thought we were at least moving in the right direction. But we weren’t just missing the target, we were moving backward.”

The main reasons greenhouse gas emissions went up is because people, for the most part, did everything backwards. They did not buy electric cars, and they did buy bigger gas guzzling cars. They figured that as long as gas was cheap and easy to get, who cares about the planet?

Also, “Much of the blame falls on the aging pickup trucks, the state’s most commonly registered vehicles, which many residents often drive alone. The state also has a disproportionate number of tourists who clog its mountain roads on their way to ski resorts or leaf peeping.” (Boston Globe).

So much for the yurt people saving us all.


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Can you convert a regular bus into an electric bus?

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Of course you can, and they did it in Boulder. From the Boulder News,

What’s 30-feet long, bright orange and runs on electricity? Boulder’s newest old bus, the first in its fleet to go fossil fuel-free, courtesy of a Front Range company specializing in conversions that are both cheaper and faster than buying brand new.

Via Mobility Services, which operates the HOP line for the city of Boulder, commissioned and paid for Bus No. 15 to be stripped of its non-functional diesel engine and outfitted with an electric power train. Lightning Systems of Loveland performed the retrofit; Longmont’s UQM Technologies provided the electric motor The process cost $260,000 and took roughly four months.

The bus plugs in overnight; one charge powers a full day’s route.

Everybody needs to do this now.


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