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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who Let The Peons Vote?

Your lawmakers feel your pain. You cheapskate peons are responding to higher gas prices by driving less.

Damn you! Don't you realize that this cuts the flow of funds to your Congressional Overlords?

Up with this, Congress will not put, which is why they want to raise gas and diesel taxes:
...lawmakers quietly are talking about raising fuel taxes by a dime from the current 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents on diesel fuel.
The nonpartisan National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission concluded in a report this year that the U.S. needs to spend $225 billion annually over the next 50 years to create a highway and transit system capable of sustaining strong economic growth. Current spending, at federal, state and local levels, is about $90 billion a year.

Among other revenue-raising possibilities, the commission recommended gradually increasing the current federal fuel taxes to 40 cents a gallon.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is calling for a 10-cent-a-gallon raise and indexing the tax to inflation.
No special interests at all represented there, thank heaven. The problem with this sort of analysis is that some Americans already can't afford to get to work. Raising diesel taxes immediately boosts inflation, and raising gas taxes will produce a voter surge for the growing new party:

Hat tip Liberative

Needless to say this increase would be passed after the November elections. The idea about indexing gas taxes to inflation is really cute. That way, suppose gas prices dropped a dollar over the next year - gas taxes would still rise with CPI. Makes me feel all warm inside. The political calculation is that when gas prices drop, the consumer won't realize that they aren't getting the drop. Not only that, it will leave room for your s_n_t_r to hold more hearings excoriating "Big Oil" for ripping off the consumer, demanding to know why pump prices are so high. Clearly a political win-win situation.

Anyway, here is a group of prospective Cthulhu voters listening to my stump speech, and as you can see, they were really energized by this news:

We do have to raise taxes, but since the current round of inflation is so profoundly regressive, it's a terribly bad policy to pass another regressive tax increase.

Well this is a bit better than bailing out Wall Street Types. At least I get to drive on the roads and maybe the potholes will be fixed so I don't kill my aging vehicle and maybe a few cents will boost my local area and I get something back. Hmmmm $1.20 a week more for me. Not a bad deal as taxes go.

All seriousness, not a bad thing, force less use of gas, boost the economy by both the construction and use by business and its customers of the final product.

There are bigger fish to fry in the big scheme of things say the ethanol subsidy or the tariff on sugar cane ethanol. Maybe less chasing and killing insurgents whose training and equipment are worth perhaps $150 with multimillion ordnance and risking service men whose equipment and training is in the million dollar range.

Yea I could get real excited on a lot of thing, but not this.

Still a good thing to monitor this.

OTOH, I am greatly concerned about your lack of respect of the "Great Old Ones". The very mention of the name may bring disasters unimagined and insanely horrible to mankind.
Well after reading the above comment one does get a positive feeling ...

"at least one of them actually deserved it"

The lack of economic understanding and parotting of populist demagogic standpoints could make Obama's dog's flees scratch their heads in amazement. Also note the emphasis on the "big scheme of things". Modifying the "big scheme" sounds like something that'd require the government to direct private enterprise in "the right direction", right ? Now where did we hear that sort of thing before. Oh yes, Germany 1932 and Russia 19... well most of the 20th century. Wonder if that went well.
Vader - please don't turn out to be another PROgressive who favors REgressive taxation schemes. There is a word for that type of person, and it is "feudalist". Do you honestly expect Dems to win an election if their unstated campaign motto is "The beatings will continue until morale increases"?

The flaw in your logic is that for the lower half of the income spectrum, gas prices already are high enough and will remain high enough to modify behavior insofar as they can afford to modify behavior WITHOUT raising gas taxes. And for the top brackets, a gas tax increase will not constrain their behavior. The proposal to raise gas taxes by 22 cents a gallon would take 25 * 22 or $5.50 a week out of the average household budget of a two earner family practicing careful gas economy, which is $275 a year, or two weeks' groceries. Remember, Democrats are supposed to be looking out for the interests of all the little people.

The instability in the US economy stems from lower real incomes for over half the population. Let's try to avoid policies that accentuate the problem. Economically speaking, you are advocating the equivalent to a doctor deciding to amputate a person's leg because of an infected toenail.

And I endorse Anon's comment. There are times when it is right and good for peasants to rebel.
PS: As for the disrespect to the "Great Old Ones", I would not worry. In GA we have a procedure when we see creatures with a "pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings". That's some sort of swamp gator, we think, and then we shoot it if it gets too close to the house, kids, chicken coop, or doghouse. For this reason certain politicians are careful about campaigning door to door in GA.

I'm quite sure Georgians can deal with Cthulhu - but I'm kind of concerned about the damage the feudalists might do.
At least I get to drive on the roads and maybe the potholes will be fixed so I don't kill my aging vehicle and maybe a few cents will boost my local area and I get something back.

You wish. We really do need to raise the excise tax. 5¢ Federal and 6¢ state but you need only read the evil in the words they are using... "create a highway and transit system capable of sustaining strong economic growth."

Let us be clear. The money will be wasted on transit schemes and ever greater transit subsidies.

And don't even get me started on indexing for inflation. That's such a bad idea I would need to check with my cardiologist before commenting.

Oh, and my 11¢. Even better would be 11¢ at the state level but I'm not that wet behind the ears.
Rob, check back when your cardiologist has given you a once-over.

I'm trying to figure out if major wind power is a scam. So far I've looked at various reports saying that total contribution can't be more than 8%, but that comes at the cost of adding 90% reserve capacity, which generally must run at least at low levels, so the net is very low. Also, it appears that to add much more than 4% or so it's very costly in terms of transmission infrastructure addons.

I need engineers!
I think the amount of wind capacity that can be added is a function of how geographically extensive the transmission grid is....the wider the area, the better the odds that the wind will be blowing *somewhere* on the grid.

Somebody at The Oil Drum (www.theoildrum.com) was quoting a study saying wind safely replaces 20% of nameplate capacity...that is, if you have wind turbines with 1000MW *maximum* capacity, then you can safely get rid of 200MW of coal or gas-fired capacity. The number was said to go up to 30% with a very broadly interconnected grid.

GE (probably among others) is messing around with wind energy storage using compressed air, but it's still too early to count on this.
David - I spent some time hunting around, and found E.on's (German grid mgr) 2005 study. They are not reporting nearly that. Tomorrow I'm going to post again on what I found. I also was looking at some ERCOT (Texas grid) stuff.
Here's what I consider to be some pretty decisive words from Steven Den Beste at: http://chizumatic.mee.nu/ghosts_of_my_past

Here's what he says:
"I never enjoyed blogging about energy, anyway, because for too many people "alternate energy" is more about religion than about physics. They believe that if we are just creative enough, we can overcome fundamental physical limitations -- and it's not that easy.

In order for "alternate energy" to become feasible, it has to satisfy all of the following criteria:

1. It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
2. It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
4. It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
5. The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule).

If it fails to satisfy any of those, then it can't scale enough to make any difference. Solar power fails #3, and currently it also fails #5. (It also partially fails #2, but there are ways to work around that.)

The only sources of energy available to us now that satisfy all five are petroleum, coal, hydro, and nuclear.

My rule of thumb is that I'm not interested in any "alternate energy" until someone shows me how to scale it to produce at least 1% of our current energy usage. America right now uses about 3.6 terawatts average, so 1% of that is about 36 gigawatts average.

The way you can tell that a fan of "alternate energy" is a religious cultist is to ask them this question: If your preferred alternate source of energy is practical, why isn't it already in use?

Why not? Because of The Conspiracy™. The big oil companies don't want it to happen, and have been suppressing all this live-saving green people's energy all this time for their own nefarious purposes.

As soon as you hear any reference to The Conspiracy™, you know you're talking to someone who is living in a morality play. That isn't engineering any more, that's religion. And while religion is an important part of many people's lives, it has no place in engineering discussions.

UPDATE: There's actually another common answer to the "Why not" question. It's because you engineers are just too hidebound and conservative and unimaginative. If you'd just get on board and recognize how utterly cool and romantic these other ways of producing energy would be, then you could wave your magic engineering wand and make it happen.

That's another kind of religion. It's not a religious struggle against evil (as personified by Big Oil) so much as a religious image of paradise. If the adherents of this kind of religion can just convert enough doubters, then paradise can happen. If you just believe, we can all be saved! Hallelujah, baby! Praise Gaia and pass the biodiesel!

Thanks, but no thanks. My "conservatism" on this subject is due to my understanding of the laws of physics and the principles of engineering, not to me being hidebound and unimaginative."

We need new, clean energy for three different areas.
1. Transportation Now: Gasoline, diesel, ethanol. Future: Electric, hydrogen or?????
2. Generating electricity Now: Coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal. Future: Nuclear, hydro, fusion, or ????
3. Heating and cooling buildings. Now: Natural gas, electricity (heat pumps, furnaces), Passive and active solar, and wood stoves. Future: Heat pumps, geo-thermal heat pumps, passive & active solar, or ????

In the meantime we need enough supplies of those finite resources - oil, natural gas, and even coal to carry us through to the energies of the future.
Jimmy - heat pumps really don't work when the temp outside drops below 20.

Solar isn't going to work for big swathes of the country, and rural houses can't rely on electricity supplies in the winter. The current space heating solution really is pretty good.

In S. Central GA, where I live, we have a heat pump. However there is an emergency override to shift to electric heating when it gets cold. That is very inefficient and expensive, but of course you don't have to use it very much.

Solar wouldn't work for heating at my place, and neither would wind.

Geothermal won't work for most space heating needs.

Thank you for the comments. They are very apposite.
Put on your tinfoil hat. The list of 5 things Jimmy J. reports is arbitrary and built upon an unspoken motive. Energy need only be those 5 things IF the intent is to sell electricity for a profit.

Particularly #3. It has to be concentrated (not diffuse).

Why? Who says? The electricity is diffused to end uses at great cost and inefficiency.

Again I could go on but the nattering nabobs with their outdated static worldviews just don't seem worth it.

Imagine if we applied the 5 rules to transportation or education or healthcare and get back to me with why they are bad ideas.
Whoa, there RD. MOM asked for an engineer's point of view. Den Beste is an engineer. You may not like what he says but he is talking primarily about generating electricity, which is just one of three areas of energy usage that needs to be addressed. I agree with him that most greens do not understand the size of the problem and the engineering demands when it comes to generating electricity to power large urban areas. The problem changes when you start talking about small towns and rural areas. You can use smaller scale units for heating and even for electricity if the residents are willing to put up with certain inconveniences or make compromises. I have a friend who lives completely off the grid. He equipped his house with submarine wiring and batteries. With solar panels and wind he manages to produce and store enough electricity to run his lights, appliances, and even his computer. He has foregone TV because it is a bridge too far for his system. He uses propane for cooking and heat, so he is still partially a captive of fossil fuels.

Heat pumps. They are getting more efficient all the time. True, the normal heat pump needs a back up system where temps go below freezing. That problem can be solved with the geo-thermal heat pump where the coils are placed underground where the temps are a constant forty degrees. That allows the heat pump to work at maximum efficiency for both heating and cooling. Retrofit is hard because it means tearing up the yard to put the coils underground. I contemplated installing one on my new house. I decide instead on my present system, a 93% efficient natural gas furnace, which cost $5000. A geothermal heat pump would have cost $20,000. The heat pump would have saved me about $600/year in heating costs providing about a 25year pay back on my investment. The math just didn't work. But if geo-thermal heat pumps were mass produced and installed on most new construction the price would go down considerably.

I lived in two different passive solar designed homes when I lived in Colorado. They work very well. The cost to build was about 5% above normal, but the design resulted in a 50% savings on heating. If small active solar panels for heating water could be added at a reasonable price, one might get as much as 75% savings in heating costs in a sunny place like Colorado. You still have to have some kind of back up heat, but it reduces the carbon footprint quite a bit, and if you used electric heat from a nuclear or hydro plant it would be a completely green house.

Anyway, I hope this clears up some of the fog I presented.
Jimmy and Rob, thank you very much for your information.

I think off-grid usage is totally diffferent than on-grid supplements. What happens, for example, if end-users experience correlated failures and draw 20% more power as a result? Has anyone modeled this?
You may not like what he says but he is talking primarily about generating electricity,

No whoa here. Den Beste is speaking about the commercial generation, distribution... call it what it is, control of a vertical electric market. The power companies hate solar. It is beyond their control and at least for now only works as a distributed adjunct to the existing system. They love the idea of solar as massive capital intensive remote megawatt stations so when I mean "hate" I mean those aspects out of their sphere of influence. PV yields and cost per watts are both trending in the right direction. Thin film could accelerate prices even more. EVs will also make an interesting impact as they lower demand on NatGas and smooth out day/night demand cycles.
But Rob, I can see a potential problem for on-grid enduser generation that fluctuates in tandem.

Basically, the power company will have to have excess capacity but will not be able to charge for it if it is sitting.

Again, it's a scaling problem which does not occur until you have 4 or 5% in this category.
heat pumps really don't work when the temp outside drops below 20.

Ours does. It works harder, but it does work. I can't explain it. I mean, I live in Maryland which is a bit cooler than Georgia (though not all THAT much), and we've never had to use the emergency heat and our electric bills are nearly always relatively low. I am afraid either the house or heat pump is somehow magical and to replace either of them would break the spell. As you can tell, I am not an engineer.
Joy - it might be oversized? Is it an old one?
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. - H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Welcome to the Lovecraft Economy.
I agree with Rob Dawg that den Beste's item #3 (diffuse, low output production) is not an obstacle to power, provided that production occurs at the point of consumption. Solar would work well for handling heating/cooling loads (particularly AC loads in the summer in the southwest, for instance). #2 and #5 are more important failures. Storage technology really isn't very good or scalable, so variable sources like wind and solar are a problem (particularly wind; solar's variability you can plan for more easily). On point #5, cost, 20 years ago amortized costs of 30 cents a kilowatt-hour were typical for solar. Currently available photovoltaics are at about 25 cents a kilowatt-hour now (best available technology, once in production, may get this to the 15 cent per kilowatt range). I wish the thin film guys luck, because we really need them to beat the production problems and get the capital costs down before distributed solar will be cost-effective.

Wind, by comparison, is competitive on price but not easy to handle on distribution grids. I recall sending a link in comments earlier about BPA problems in managing hydro and wind output earlier this summer, when high wind output coincided with heavy snowmelt runoff. Normally BPA uses hydro to balance off wind power, but they couldn't do that this summer due to the heavy runoff. At that point your only alternative is to take the generators offline and let the wind go unreaped.
I don't think it's all that old, maybe from 1990? The hvac company told us in 2003 that it was about to die and we should replace it; having a brand-new infant at the time we opted to fix it instead. They said a new one will cost 7-9K and we have spent less than 3K fixing it. I am afraid if we replace it our bills will go up.
The Danes went into wind power big time about ten years ago. It's a windy place and all looked good. Now they have their system built out. The problem is they had to provide backup fossil fuel generators for the times when the wind didn't blow, What they have now is an expensive, parallel system that is less efficient (rates are higher) than what they had before. But their carbon footprint is somewhat smaller.

The only way wind can be a primary, large scale power generator is if someone can develop a cost effective storage system (a battery or compressed air, or??) that will kick in when the wind doesn't blow.

Rob talks about the greedy, power companmies that don't want small scale residential solar development cutting into their profits. During the oil embargo in the 1970s someone came up with the idea of shutting off 50% of the lights left on in urban buildings at night. The mayor of Denver thought it was a good idea. It was so ordered and carried out. Within a month the Public Service Co. of Colo. was screaming bloody murder because their income had dropped so much. It wasn't very long before the lights were back on. So the power companies do have some issues with both alternative energy and conservation. You have to look at the reason why they were given monopolies in the first place though. They borrowed a lot of money to build the generating plants and put the transmission infrastructure in place. They could only do that if they had some assurances they would be able to service that debt and make a small profit.

Then, of course, we had deregulation of utilities and Enron, but that's another story completely.
Do what they do in Europe:

Make the Peons vote over and over and over until they vote the way they're Supposed to.
We do have to raise taxes, but since the current round of inflation is so profoundly regressive, it's a terribly bad policy to pass another regressive tax increase.


Be careful, you'll lose your conservative credentials if you keep talking like that. ;-)

Stagflationary Mark, thanks for the Lovecraft quote and yr comment - so appropos.
Bob - I'm actually independent. I'd like to be a libertarian emotionally, but anyone who knows anything about banking realizes that quite a bit of regulation is necessary to get a truly free market. Individual freedom is produced by governments of laws moderated by the political inputs of a broad segment of the population. Of course trying to keep your government on that path is a constant struggle.

On the conservative/liberal thing, I don't map well to either. Marxism I don't like, and a lot of the "liberals" of today seem to have a strong fascist streak. I just want to stay in the middle. I don't like fascist conservatives or fascist liberals. One thing that bothers me about politics is that the extreme left and the right wings seem to be converging. They both want to do the same thing with different rationales.

Does any rational human being believe that REgressive taxation at a time when inflation is chopping away at the lower half of the income distribution is a good thing? Seriously?

If you want to have a healthy economy, you can neither overload it with regulation nor have a peon/feudal setup. Income distributions are very, very important, but you can't just legislate them.
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