Monday, July 27, 2009

Alternative energy in the UK and Midwest 

(In which I am a little more rant-y than usual.)

I am often amused by the blog of James Delingpole, who I first heard on a Dennis Miller podcast some months ago and who wrote the most wonderful depiction of Robert Gibbs and the American media in its reporting on President Obama's trip to England a few months ago. He's piqued me with this story now on building wind farms in national parks, proposed by a group whose mission is to preserve nature. You've seen wind farms, haven't you?
So the best way of conserving natural England, a body calling itself Natural England has decided, is to destroy it. Can anyone come up with a more ludicrous example of the warped, supposedly �progressive� but in fact utterly poisonous, wrong and self-defeating thinking so prevalent in these dark times?
Last week we find out that our neighbor colleges, St. Benedict's and St. John's, have decided to get into the solar farming business.
St. John's soon could become home to the largest solar farm in Minnesota and possibly in the Upper Midwest, providing as much as 20 percent of the campus's electricity on a cloudless day.

St. John's and the Order of St. Benedict are partnering with Westwood Renewables, an Eden Prairie-based company that received a $2 million grant from Xcel Energy for a renewable energy project.

They hope to install about 1,800 solar photovoltaic panels just northwest of the St. John's campus in Avon Township. The panels would produce up to 400 kilowatts an hour or about 575,000 kilowatt hours annually, roughly the same amount of energy that 65 homes consume in a year.

The project is part of St. John's goal to end its contribution to global warming. In 2007, it joined more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide signing a pledge to become "carbon neutral."
Well yes, yes, quite noble.
"It's a nice step forward," said Brother Benedict Leuthner, treasurer for OSB, which is spearheading the project. "It's surely not going to solve all our energy needs."

When nights and cloudy days are factored in, the solar farm would supply about 4 percent of St. John's electricity needs annually, Leuthner said.
Now I'm not a real statistician, just an economist, but I think that means 96% of their electricity needs would still be met with fossil fuels? So this is a small "part of St. John's goal to end its contribution to global warming". As Radar O'Reilly would say on M*A*S*H, "wait for it..."
The project's backers hope it will raise awareness ...
YES! "Raise awareness." Short of a sensitive nose, there is no surer bullsh*t detector than the words "raise awareness". It's your five-year-old saying "Oh yeah? I'll show you!" It's vague and meaningless, as the rest of the sentence makes clear.
...of Minnesota's potential to produce electricity from the sun, one of the cleanest sources of renewable energy. The St. John's site would serve as a research and education tool for students and visitors who want to learn more about solar power.
You know what makes these things very clear? Profits. Perhaps in our Democrat-ruled country that's a bad word. It's most certainly a taxed word. But its usefulness in guiding resources is unparalleled in human history. To wit, from later in this article:
Solar hasn't caught on widely in Minnesota largely because it costs more to produce than other types of renewable energy such as wind.

Electricity in Minnesota comes mainly from coal-fired power plants and is inexpensive compared with other parts of the country, [SJU professor of environmental studies Derek] Larson said. In California, customers pay a higher rate for any electricity they consume above a base level. The state also offers incentives for homeowners who install solar panels.

"It becomes really economically smart," Larson said.

New federal tax credits and rebates from the state and utility companies should make solar energy more appealing for Minnesota homeowners, [Doug] Shoemaker [a renewable energy spokesman] said.
Professor Larson, have you thought about where California gets the money to offer incentives for solar panels? Mr. Shoemaker, where do those federal tax credits come from? They are paid for by taxing other things in lieu. It isn't as if the government reduces its spending dollar-for-dollar with those tax credits and rebates.

But more to the point. if it costs more to produce a kilowatt by coal-fired power plants, and it's inexpensive here versus other parts of the country, why not use the coal? "Oh, but it harms our planet!" you say. Instead, the brothers at St. John's and sisters at St. Ben's decide this is better:
This is a 16 acre solar farm at Florida Gulf Coast University. For four hundred acres, multiply that picture by 25.

400 acres could grow about 16,000 bushels of corn, selling between $3-$4 per bushel normally. They could go organic perhaps and do better on a dollar basis. But they never did that, those nobles of St. John's and St. Ben's. That area has been a nice bit of pasture or wooded land. People hike around there. Now they won't because they'd goof up the mirrors. You'd wreck their "demonstration" to "raise awareness" that solar would be a good idea, if coal just wasn't so damn cheap.

So raise the price, they'll say, through cap-and-trade. Then all those people who drive trucks or, say, work in extraction industries in the Iron Range (not many of them left) will have time to visit the beautiful hills around St. John's.

And see the pretty mirrors.

But hey! They're saving the planet with those things, if you'll just have your awareness raised.

POSTSCRIPT: After crafting this I came across at least one government bureaucrat who understands.
India will continue to use coal to meet its energy demands, says Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

�Can you imagine 400 million people who do not have a light bulb in their homes,� Pachauri told reporters here Monday.

�You cannot, in a democracy, ignore some of these realities and as it happens with the resources of coal that India has we really don�t have any choice but to use coal in the immediate short term,� he said.
He must be some conservative nut, right? No, actually, Mr. Pachauri shares a Nobel Peace Prize ... with Al Gore. So at least raising consciousness comes after lighting one's home. There's still a place called Hope.

Even better, another Indian minister says retreating glaciers in the Himalayans are a natural process.
"We have to get out of the preconceived notion, which is based on western media, and invest our scientific research and other capacities to study Himalayan atmosphere," he said. "Science has its limitation. You cannot substitute the knowledge that has been gained by the people living in cold deserts through everyday experience."
Nurture that common sense, dear Indians. We'll want to import some when we get leaders here who can use it.

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