Posts tagged with: energy

Skyrocketing energy costs have, among other effects, led to interesting political maneuvering. Specifically, the question of expanding of domestic energy resources (e.g., offshore drilling) has become live for this first time in decades. For that to happen in the current Congress, of course, requires that there be at least a certain measure of bipartisan consensus. As Michael Franc explains on NRO today, there have indeed been a few Democratic defections to the pro-drilling side. These Democrats are caught between the popularity of expanded oil and gas exploration on one side and, on the other, both the traditional Democratic allegiance to the enviornmental lobby as well as the unyielding stance of the Party’s leadership.

Lifting restrictions on drilling will assist the market in creating additional supply, even as demand has already been affected by rising prices. It is important that environmental concerns not be tossed to the wind in a rush to relieve the strain on American pocketbooks, but that seems unlikely in the current political environment. In fact, the negative environmental impact of drilling in places like ANWR has always appeared questionable. It seems more likely that opposition to offshore and other drilling was fueled by NIMBY sentiment rather than demonstrably significant environmental damage.

There is the argument that offshore drilling will have little impact on prices, at least or especially in the near future. It is important that the potential for such sources be assessed realistically and not exaggerated, but the “10 years from now” objection is not compelling. If it’s a good thing to do, then we should start. Not doing so simply pushes the horizon ten years further down the road.

By no means can I claim the ability to weigh accurately the costs and benefits of expanding domestic energy exploration. That’s why it’s important to let the price mechanism operate freely and let the market respond in turn. If lifting drilling restrictions moves us in that direction, then I favor it.

Following up on my commentary “Washington’s Unpopular War on Energy,” Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talks about her own frustration with Washington energy policies in an interview with Investor’s Business Daily. Governor Palin is of course in favor of drilling for more oil in Alaska, and she believes development can be done in a safe and clean manner. She also believes increasing the domestic supply of oil will have a positive affect on oil prices for Americans. The interview is a solid discourse on the ongoing theme of Congressional inaction in regards to an energy policy. Also, it is a reminder of an unpopular Congress completely ducking a policy that is now widely supported in the country. Governor Palin declares:

There are billions of barrels of oil underneath the ground up there on the North Slope including ANWR. In Alaska alone we can supply seven years of complete crude-oil independence, and eight years’ supply of natural gas for Americans with ANWR (and) other areas of Alaska that we want to allow for development.

Last week I linked to this R&L item, “The Leaky Bucket: Why Conservatives Need to Learn the Art of Story.” And two weeks ago, I discussed the relationship between environmental stewardship and economics.

You may recall that the first story featured in Acton’s Call of the Entrepreneur documentary is that of Brad Morgan, a Michigan dairy farmer. Faced with huge costs to dispose of cow refuse, Morgan’s entrepreneurial vision took hold: “His innovative solution to manure disposal, turning it into high quality compost for a variety of purposes, led to the formation of Morgan Composting in 1996, and more than ten years later the business is still going strong.”

Two news items sparked my curiosity as I opened my Sunday paper this week related to these themes of narrative and stewardship. One of the strengths of good stories is their perennial applicability. Narratives that speak to the human condition in a fundamental way will always be relevant, even if the particulars change. With that, I pass on these news items.

First, in “Turkey manure isn’t waste, it’s poultry power,” Ken Kolker and Susie Fair of the Grand Rapids Press write, “The biggest dairy farms in Michigan generate more sewage than the city of Lansing.

With livestock farms getting bigger than ever, all that manure poses a growing threat to the environment, sometimes running off into streams and lakes.”

The piece doesn’t mention Morgan Composting, but it’s clear that Moran’s entrepreneurial vision and practice of stewardship is being duplicated by other farmers facing the problem of waste disposal:

Turkey farmer Harley Sietsema plans next year to start building a turkey-litter-to-electricity plant in Howard City — the state’s first poultry power operation.

A similar plant opened recently on Scenic View Dairy farm in Fennville — manure from cows is heated and churned in enormous tanks, producing methane that powers generators.

A manure-to-electricity plant is expected to open in about a month at den Dulk Dairy in Ravenna.

The 1.2 million turkeys on Sietsema’s farms in Ottawa and Muskegon counties produce 10,000 to 12,000 tons of poultry litter a year.

Three tons of litter — which also contains bedding materials such as sunflower hulls, wood chips and alfalfa stems — is equal in energy production to a ton of coal, but it does not produce polluting carbon dioxide.

Slow-burning litter will heat a boiler, producing steam that drives a generator.

Sietsema plans to use the power to run his farms, saving him $300,000 a year.

And then there’s this piece from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Garbage in, profit out”:

Waste Management Inc., heeding the proverb that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, is spending $3.5 million to poke holes and run pipes to help the Spruce Ridge landfill expel gases that soon will run three electrical generators.

The project is part of a $350 million investment to be made by Waste Management over the next five years to turn 60 landfills across the country into sites for creating renewable energy.

These projects are examples of searches for alternative sources of energy, specifically from biomass, that results from the reduction or recycling of waste products.

These stories just reiterate the connection between sound economics and stewardship of the earth. Or, in the words of the Cornwall Declaration (PDF), “We aspire to a world in which advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce not only minimize pollution and transform most waste products into efficiently used resources but also improve the material conditions of life for people everywhere.”

Ray Nothstine’s Acton commentary on the the ethanol boom and its impact on the poor was published today in the Christian Science Monitor as, “The unintended consequences of the ethanol quick fix.” His timely article was also picked up by a slew of other newspapers and Web sites, including the Bakersfield Californian, the Fresno Bee and the Atlantic City Press.

Over at the Becker-Posner blog, the gentlemen consider the question, “Do National Security and Environmental Energy Policies Conflict?” (a topic also discussed here.)

Becker predicts, “Driven by environmental and security concerns, more extensive government intervention in the supply and demand for energy are to be expected during the next few years in all economically important countries. Policies that meet both these concerns are feasible, and clearly would have greater political support than the many approaches that advance one of these goals at the expense of the other.”

Posner observes the difference between a gasoline and a carbon tax, noting that the former would “have a direct effect in reducing demand for oil, thus reducing, as Becker points out, the oil revenues of oil-producing nations.”

But for a policy that addresses both national security and environmental concerns, “a gasoline tax would be inferior to a carbon tax from the standpoint of limiting global warming, because producers of oil, refiners of gasoline, and producers of cars and other products that burn fossil fuels would have no incentive to adopt processes that would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per barrel of oil, gallon of gasoline, etc. A carbon tax would create such an incentive and would also have a strong indirect negative effect on the demand for fossil fuels.”

There’s a lot more to these posts worth mulling over.

“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” That’s a good rule, I think.

The Care of Creation blog is noting, however, that “people who work longer hours use more energy and generally contribute more to the decline of the ecological quality of life on planet earth.”

The basis for the claim is a report that comes from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and “finds that if all countries worked as many hours per week as U.S. workers do, the world would consume 15 to 30 percent more energy by 2050 than it would by following Europe’s model.”

As I’ve asserted before, calculations that simply take into account the outputs of various environmentally-relevant factors, like GHGs, without also noting the relevant economic variables, are highly flawed.

So perhaps per capita American workers do work longer hours and therefore use more energy than their European counterparts. But do the American workers also contribute more to their respective country’s GNP than do Europeans? I’m betting they do…and it shouldn’t be surprising that all these factors correlate, because of the energy-dependent nature of the economy in the 21st century. But as recent trends suggest, perhaps even that doesn’t mean that economies must increase GHG emissions to grow.

Who gets more bang for their energy buck? The EU’s share of gross world product (GWP) is roughly 20%. Estimates put the EU’s population right around 490 million. The US’s share of GWP is larger than the EU’s, somewhere between 20% and 30%, but accomplishes that with a fraction of the population, numbering barely above 300 million.

So, work less and “save” the planet, but also contribute less to the global economy. That’s a formula for disaster.

For another take on how you can do nothing and save the planet, see the May 21 edition of the Joy of Tech comic.

One more note related to the week’s reflections on energy and the environment. This brief piece from Marketplace highlights coal’s newfound popularity, “Coal makes a comeback” (here’s an in-depth and more technical piece from the NYT. HT: Instapundit).

Marketplace reporter Jeremy Hobson notes the need for coal to be integrated into an energy policy oriented toward independence: “The U.S. has more coal than any other country. $27 billion worth is mined every year. That’s why everyone, from unions to politicians to scientists, is getting on the coal bandwagon.”

Some scientists are arguing that the negative environmental impact of coal-burning power plants can be significantly mitigated by the advent of new cleaning technologies, presumably including the use of “scrubbers” which divert CO2 emissions from smoke stacks.

Many of these technologies, such as scrubbers, are focused on limiting the input of GHGs into the atmosphere. But there is a shift that is beginning to focus much more on sequestration and removal of GHGs. That is, there are two elements to consider: how much CO2 or other GHGs are put into the atmosphere and how quickly they are taken out, through both natural and artificial means.

Robert O. Mendelsohn, of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, made this point in his comments at the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004. He writes, “Although the bulk of carbon emissions in the future come from burning fossil fuels, policy makers should consider more than just energy policies to reduce carbon emissions. Another important policy option is to include carbon sequestration in forests. By growing timber trees longer and by setting aside vast tracts of marginal forestland for conservation, land use policies can sequester a large stock of carbon in living forests.”

Well-planned and properly planned reforestation is indeed an important part of that second element by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. But new technologies like carbon capture devices also will be an important feature of any attempts to manage the climate.

According to reports published last week (HT: Slashdot), Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT) has announced the first successful “demonstration of a bold new technology to capture carbon from the air. The ‘air extraction’ prototype has successfully demonstrated that indeed carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere. This is GRT’s first step toward a commercially viable air capture device.”

It’s an encouraging step to see that the media and politicians, but most especially commercial businesses, are beginning to pay attention to the possibilities for sequestration and GHG removal and not just focusing on consumption and emissions. There’s definitely going to be a commercial demand for carbon capture devices. Maybe someday we’ll all wear some sort of mask that mitigates the .3 tons per year of CO2 that a human being emits just by breathing.

John Stossel must have been on vacation last week.

I caught part of the 20/20 special offering for Earth Day on Friday night. Among the reports was one by Jay Schadler focusing on solar power as an alternative source of energy.

Schadler pointed out that even though the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s energy. It’s a typical canard trotted out by those who want to depict us ugly Americans as “energy hogs.”

But instead of taking a deeper look at these kinds of statistics, the stats usually appear at the intro of a news piece as a hook leading into some other point about alternative energy.

But let’s take a brief look at the implications of such statistics. Let’s even accept them at face value. What such conclusions about the wastefulness per capita of American energy consumption overlook is the inherent connection between economic productivity and energy usage.

Yes, let’s say America’s share of worldwide energy usage is 25%.

But what is America’s share of the global economy? Somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of gross world product. So just maybe there is in fact a link between economic output and energy consumption.

Another aspect of this relationship appears when you run a historical series comparing per capita CO2 emissions and income growth on Google’s Gapminder software.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, January 2, 2007

“The environment is begging for the Wal-Mart business model,” says H. Lee Scott Jr., CEO of Wal-Mart Stores in a NYT article, “Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart.”

The piece discusses Wal-Mart’s campaign to increase the sales of compact fluorescent bulbs, as compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. As Michael Barbaro writes, “A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.”

I’ve converted probably half of the bulbs in my home to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), but have run into problems when trying to use them in some places. Lights that use dimmer switches, for instance, don’t work well with CFLs. And some CFLs won’t fit into light fixtures designed to accommodate incandescent bulbs.

Wal-Mart’s clout has begun to affect the light bulb manufacturing business, as producers like GE struggle to change their emphasis from production of incandescents to CFLs.

And on the demand side, what’s called for in convincing consumers to go with the CFLs is a basic economic lesson: you are sometimes better off spending more in the short-term for long-term gain: “Wal-Mart will have to persuade its traditional consumers that it is worth paying a bit more at the checkout counter to save a significant amount money down the line, a seemingly simple task that few companies ever accomplish. It is particularly difficult at a retailer that has long emphasized ‘always low prices.'”

As is so often the case, the best economic decision is the one that makes best use of both financial and environmental resources.

Update: This story is getting major attention across the blogosphere and MSM, including a NYT editorial here, and posts here and here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A debate about the future of energy policy is being held over at sp!ked, sponsored by Research Councils UK. From their notice:

Expanding supply or managing demand?

In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.

ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’

JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’

MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’

MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’

JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’

spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.

I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).

Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.