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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

For Those Who Said He Wouldn't

Update: And Henry Waxman gets control of the Energy Committee, ousting Dingell who realized that the economy can't survive high energy prices. The perfect political and economic storm is forecast to hit January, 2009. End update.

The governors had their climate change conference, and Obama made an appearance yesterday. The NY Times has the story:
Speaking by video to a climate conference in Los Angeles, Mr. Obama repeated his campaign vow to reduce climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and invest $150 billion in new energy-saving technologies.
Some industry leaders and members of Congress have suggested that Mr. Obama’s climate proposal would impose too great a cost on an already-stressed economy — having the same effects as a tax on coal, oil and natural gas — and should await the end of the current downturn. A bill similar to Mr. Obama’s plan failed to clear the Senate earlier this year, largely because of concerns about its impact on the economy.

Mr. Obama rejected that view, saying that his plan would reduce oil imports, create jobs in energy conservation and renewable sources of energy, and reverse the warming of the atmosphere.
So there you have it. San Francisco Chronicle:
...President-elect Barack Obama promised Tuesday to set stringent limits on greenhouse gases, saying the need is too urgent for delay.
He repeated his campaign promise to create a system that limits carbon dioxide emissions and forces companies to pay for the right to emit the gas. Using the money collected from that system, Obama plans to invest $15 billion each year in alternative energy. That investment - in solar, wind and nuclear power, as well as advanced coal technology - will create jobs at a time of economic turmoil, he said.

"It will ... help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating 5 million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," Obama said.
Economically speaking, this is total lunacy. But he believes. Nor does he need Congress to act, since the EPA is already dealing with petitions to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. He simply does what he said he would do before the election, which is to regulate CO2 as a HAP. Even farms would have to go through permitting, as would large stores, etc.

Last week an EPA appeals board dumped another coal plant, and said the EPA should develop national rules for CO2 emissions. That ruling is widely believed to have placed about one hundred coal plants in jeopardy, at a time when the US is rapidly running out of electricity. Plants in Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Georgia have all recently been stopped by legal action.

That leaves the US with no new drilling, no new nuclear plants, no new hydro plants and no new coal plants. In short, it leaves us with no real substantial new energy sources except perhaps plants that burn natural gas. Wind and solar will not do it, nor will biodiesel. Utility prices for electricity are expected to keep rising next year. As Grist proudly reported earlier this month:
Of the 151 coal plants on the drawing boards as of the May 2007 report by the Energy Department, 82 have now been abandoned, blocked, or placed on hold.
For your amusement, a Vermont editorial rails against the threat of carbon regulation and is sure that Obama will save us from Bush. Really!!

Funny comments (and some well-informed ones) at this WSJ blog post on the coal plant ruling.

NERC (North American Electric Reliability Council) is the body that has authority over the grid. In 2006, it got statutory basis. NERC just published a report detailing its concerns about climate-related energy policy implications for reliability. That's a short little thing - the real meat is in the 300 pager Long Term Response (10 years) here, which was released in October. As you read through that, it's important to understand that "demand response" programs involve turning off power to users. Users enroll in the program in exchange for lower rates or promised payments when the lights go off. As the report explains on page 20:
Further, demand response also has an important role to play as more variable resources (such as wind) are added to the system. Variable resources, for example wind generation, often need a “dance partner” which can provide operational flexibility to maintain reliability during resource down-ramps that can be associated with them. Demand response can provide all or a portion of the flexibility required for this integration.

As demand response is relied upon more heavily to meet firm demand in these capacities, however, more coordination between demand response programs, system operators, and system planners is needed to fully assess the resource’s availability, characteristics, and constraints. For example, as dispatchable demand response programs are increasingly used as non-emergency resources, the probability and frequency of their dispatch will also likely increase. Voluntary participation in these programs may decline as a result of this higher usage, causing the program to suffer “response fatigue.” If this occurs, system reliability could be affected as other resources may not be built or available in time to provide the ancillary services or energy required. In many cases, dispatchable demand response resources have not yet been tested to meet system reliability requirements at these potentially higher dispatch frequencies.
When they start turning off your lights all the time, you're not going to be so pleased.

The bottom line is that in 2006, about 20% of the US electricity supply came from natural gas, and about 50% from coal. There are natural gas pipeline constraints in some areas - if more is used relative to coal in the west, one would probably need to build more pipelines and storage. The west is still heavily dependent on hydropower, and a drought would produce major supply problems. The "renewable resources" place heavy demands on the grid and more high capacity, long lines need to be built. However, then you get into other balancing issues.

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