Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wishing Something Were True Doesn’t Make It True

T. Boone Pickens has a series of commercials running so often on TV and radio that you can’t avoid them. The basic idea he is selling is to replace gasoline in cars with natural gas, and replace natural gas in electricity production with wind farm produced electricity. The idea won’t work, but Pickens will reap more millions from government subsidies until America figures that out, just as we have figured out that Biofuels made from foodstuffs was a very bad idea.

A boon for Pickens, not for America

August 6, 2008 L.A. Times (Excerpt)

”At a time of economic decline and record-high gas prices, there is something refreshing in an oilman turning into one of the nation's leading advocates of renewable energy. This could explain why T. Boone Pickens' multibillion-dollar efforts to reduce America's oil dependence and develop clean energy have garnered so muchpublic attention.

Pickens is right to suggest that America's oil dependence is a source of economic ruin and that Congress must act to stop the biggest transfer of wealth in human history. But Pickens stands to benefit from his own campaign -- and his proposal could do more damage than good to U.S. energy security.

Pickens' proposal involves a California ballot initiative to provide $5 billion in subsidies for developing clean-energy fuels on top of a $58-million public relations campaign to reduce America's oil dependence through wind power. Not coincidentally, the Texas oilman is heavily invested in natural gas and wind power.

The Pickens plan promises to dramatically reduce oil use by shifting the transportation sector from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to natural-gas-powered vehicles. This would allegedly reduce oil imports by more than 30% and would supposedly save the U.S. economy $300 billion that otherwise would end up in the coffers of oil-rich foreign countries. According to the plan, wind energy would substitute for natural gas, now generating 20% of the nation's electricity, freeing natural gas to power a third of the vehicles in the U.S.

There is nothing wrong with wind power. On the contrary, it is one of the cheapest ways to generate renewable power. But since only 2% of U.S. electricity is generated from oil, wind power (as well as nuclear power, solar energy and other renewable power sources often touted by politicians and pundits) would do nothing to reduce U.S. oil dependence unless we start using electricity to power our vehicles.

Pickens' assertion that increased use of wind power would displace natural gas is based on wishful thinking. Our energy system is not a Lego game -- one piece can't replace another at whim. Even if 78 other billionaires were willing to follow Pickens' footsteps and build a 4,000-megawatt wind farm -- that's the number needed to displace the current electricity production from natural gas -- there's no way to guarantee that natural gas would be the only energy source that would be displaced by all those turbines. Why not coal, or solar?

Furthermore, implementation of the Pickens plan might actually tie more natural gas to the power sector. Wind is an intermittent source of power -- the wind doesn't blow 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and until and unless our electricity grid has sufficient power storage capacity, utilities counting on wind need to have backup power plants that can be powered up to fill in the gaps when the wind does not blow. This back-up power is today generally provided with natural gas.” L.A. Times

My summer home is in a town in Rhode Island next to Smithfield, RI, where the following news made today’s paper:
Report shows few benefits to Smithfield using non-gas cars

August 5, 2008 Providence Journal

SMITHFIELD — Finding vehicles for town use that employ alternative fuels might sound like a good idea in a time of stiff gasoline prices, but it doesn’t seem to be practical.

That is the conclusion drawn by John Ratcliffe, acting director of public works, who investigated the options after the Town Council expressed an interest in the idea.

Ratcliffe is to deliver a report to the council this evening outlining his findings.

In a memorandum to the council, Ratcliffe said he sought information from neighboring Cumberland, which in 1997 acquired eight police cars powered by natural gas.

The tank in which the compressed gas was stored took up a large amount of storage space.

•The vehicles had a limited range and there was a serious lack of fuel depots. If they ran out of fuel, they had to be towed.

•They were difficult to work on.

•Injuries occurred during refueling.

•The vehicles had a resale value of zero.

•The fuel economy was half that of gasoline, although compressed natural gas cost less than gasoline.

Ratcliffe said Cumberland disposed of the fleet. He said the only positive aspect in the experiment was that tailpipe emissions were low.

Further research led Ratcliffe to the experiences of the state Department of Transportation, which in 2000 bought several vehicles that were equipped to run on either gasoline or natural gas. He said the DOT encountered many of the same problems that plagued the Cumberland police fleet, and he said the DOT is ridding itself of its “bi-fuel” vehicles.
Further, Ratcliffe said, both Ford and GMC, which manufactured the vehicles, have discontinued production. He said they are still available through Chevrolet, but at an added premium of $8,000

Likewise, diesel didn’t make the alternative-fuel grade.

“There is presently no diesel engine in current production that runs on alternate fuels except bio-diesel, which is a blend of diesel and other combustibles and has been said to have questionable quality properties, and there is only one local source that I am aware of,” he wrote.

“In short,” he said, “there are no economic systems on the market presently that are fuel efficient.”

Both of my sons are very environmentally conscious. One owns a Prius, and the other carried out the following project: He purchased a used diesel Mercedes and a kit that would permit switching to filtered, used cooking oils after the car started and warmed up on regular diesel. He installed the kit and spent a few weeks picking up spent oils from local restaurants. When cold weather came in, he found he could not get the car to go up hills while running on the cooking oils. Sadly, he had to discontinue the experiment.

Democrats would like us to believe that substitutes for petroleum are just around the corner, and that exploring for domestic supplies and converting coal and shale are self-defeating. They could not be more wrong. We need more domestic supplies of oil as soon as possible, and we need to build many more nuclear plants to replace fossil fuel-produced electricity. We need to conserve, and we need to keep the focus on alternative fuels, but we need to survive until those fuels become a practical reality. Environmentalists need to focus on what’s good for human beings, who achieved a doubling of our lifespan and an incredible increase in our standard of living once we unlocked the energy in fossil fuels and married that technology with free market capitalism.

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At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately most if not all energy alternatives require substantial government subsidies...the liberals don't like to admit this..but they are only going to significantly increase the cost of energy. Not a very intelligent what's new?

At 6:14 AM, Anonymous Joe said...

Years ago I used to sail over to Cuttyhunk Island which is at the end of a long chain of islands known as the Elizabeth Islands in Cape Cod MA. You could always distinguish Cuttyhunk from the rest of the islands in that chain because of the large windmill on it that stuck out like a sore thumb. I never saw it's blades turning and I don't expect that the people living on the island ever did either. It stood there doing nothing for years until they finally dismantled it. Oh well! I guess they thought that building a windmill on the island was a good idea at the time. Meanwhile, those six out of eight Detroit Diesel engines that supply all the power on the island,kept on running, day in and day out. What's that tell you? So much for wind power! It's a shame that we can't harness all that wind coming out of "Dingy Harry" Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and all the Democratic echoes in Congress.


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