Sunday, April 12, 2009

Can Renewable Technologies Provide U.S. Electricity Needs?

Can Renewable Technologies Provide U.S. Electricity Needs? (Only hypothetically, using unrealistic assumptions). By Mary Hutzler
Master Resource, April 7, 2009

Several reports (see here and here) and certain websites (here) allege that renewable technologies can meet our growing electricity needs and also meet stringent reduction targets for carbon dioxide. For example, Climate Progress, a website populated by Joseph Romm, an assistant secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, indicates that the answer to our growing electricity needs will come from energy efficiency (including cogeneration), wind power, concentrated solar power (CSP), and biomass co-firing, which taken together will meet a projected 1 percent annual growth rate in demand while also reducing carbon emissions.

These reports are in sharp contrast to forecasts produced by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent agency of the U.S. Department of Energy. EIA’s most recent Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) indicates the U.S. generating sector will be dominated by coal and natural gas-fired technologies, representing two-thirds of our electricity generation through 2030, followed by generation from nuclear power, contributing almost another 20 percent. Only 14 percent of total generation would come from renewable sources, including hydropower, by 2030, up from 8 percent in 2007. The EIA forecasts include the efficiency and renewable technologies cited by Romm, plus others; but they do not include major policy and regulatory changes.


What gives rise to the differences between these projections? First, Romm assumes (based on California’s experience) that efficiency improvements can reduce the increase in electricity demand to near zero through 2020. Romm states: “If every American had the per capita electricity of California, we’d cut electricity use some 40%.” Many of California’s efficiency improvements were the normal types of strategies: better insulation; energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling; and so forth. And these are also incorporated in EIA’s demand forecast for electricity. Nevertheless, the EIA, after incorporating efficiency improvements, expects electricity generation to grow at 0.9 percent per year through 2030.

According to Romm, however, California also instituted a regulatory concept called electricity decoupling. Under this arrangement, utility company profits are not closely tied to how much electricity they sell; rather, the utilities are allowed to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money even when their customers use less electricity. Or, to put it in other words: California electric-utility companies can charge for electricity not used. While that may benefit the utility company, it distorts normal economic price signals. For example, with the addition of a pro-rated conservation charge, a consumer who has invested in energy efficiency could be faced with higher electricity bills than a consumer who has not conserved and who uses more electricity. This arrangement distorts the consumers’ benefits from traditional conservation measures, such as lowering their heating temperatures and/or raising their cooling temperatures. (For more on decoupling, see here.)

Perhaps decoupling may work in California where weather is milder than in many other states, housing is more geared to apartments and smaller homes due to high residential property values, and where many manufacturing firms have departed owing to high energy prices. But, decoupling could add hardship for Americans living in cold-weather states that heat with electricity and for Americans living in warm-weather states that need electricity to cool homes. Indeed, if consumers can’t afford to heat and/or cool their home adequately, they may be confronted with illness or death. Decoupling could also cause more manufacturing firms to leave the country as energy prices increase, making their ability to compete at home more challenging.

Combined Heat and Power

In addition, Romm favors combined heat and power, a technology that is incorporated in the modeling used by California to analyze compliance with its climate-change legislation, A.B. 32, which requires statewide greenhouse gas emissions to reach 1990 levels by 2020. That forecast has 4.4 gigawatts of combined heat and power constructed in California by 2020. In comparison, EIA’s forecast (see Table A9) has 0.7 gigawatts of combined heat and power constructed in the entire United States by 2020.

Wind Power

Romm next promotes wind power as a technology that has been growing at a staggering pace, with over 8 gigawatts constructed in 2008 alone. That statistic is true, and Romm correctly reports wind power as an intermittent technology. However, Romm cites a Department of Energy study that calls for 20 percent of U.S. power to be generated by wind by 2030. To reach that level, almost 300 gigawatts of new wind power (new, that is, beyond 2008 levels) must be constructed. EIA’s forecast (see Table A16) has about 20 gigawatts of new wind power constructed by 2030. A comparison of Romm’s cost assumptions for wind compared with those of EIA show Romm’s costs slightly lower by about 0.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or 8 percent lower when subsidies and transmission are taken into account. (Specifically, EIA’s wind costs are 9 to 11.5 cents/kWh unsubsidized, while Romm’s are 7.5 to 10 cents/ kWh, unsubsidized and excluding transmission. EIA includes some transmission at 0.8–0.9 cents/ kWh. On the same basis, the comparison is 8.2 to 10.7 cents/ kWh for EIA, compared with 7.5 to 10 cents/ kWh for Romm.)

Solar Power

Concentrated solar power is another technology that Romm is encouraging. He cites a report by Environment America entitled “Solar Thermal Power and the Fight against Global Warming,” which indicates that the United States could build 80 gigawatts by 2030. EIA’s forecast has 0.33 gigawatts of solar thermal built by 2030, most likely all demonstration projects. A comparison between Romm and EIA regarding the costs of this technology shows vast differences. Romm cites contract costs in the Southwest and assumptions from California’s A.B. 32 study. Compared to EIA’s cost assumptions for solar thermal, Romm’s costs are 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour lower or 30 to 40 percent lower. (Romm states that solar thermal is being contracted at 14 to 15 cents/ kWh in the southwest and that the California Public Utilities Commission assumes a cost for solar thermal at 12.7–13.6 cents/ kWh—including 6 hours of storage capacity—with the possibility of its dropping 20% by 2020, according to its A.B. 32 report. EIA’s subsidized price with transmission is 18.5–23.7 cents/ kWh. Transmission accounts for 1 to 1.1 cents/ kWh.)

Biomass Co-firing

Romm also touts biomass co-firing as “probably the cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to provide new renewable base-load power without having to build any new transmission lines.” Biomass co-firing is the use of biomass fuels along with coal in existing coal-fired generators. Romm and EIA both agree that up to 15 percent of the fuel used in a coal-fired generator can be biomass. They quote a cost range of $100 to $700 per kilowatt for adapting existing coal-fired technology to use biomass. But Romm adopts a median cost of $180 per kilowatt, while EIA sees the cost as dependent on the size of the host plant and the co-firing increment installed. Both recognize that the feedstocks need to be residues within a radius of about 50 miles around the plant since transportation costs limit the range. Dedicated feedstocks are more expensive than residues (e.g., construction and demolition wood, pallets, sawdust shavings from secondary wood processing). But both forecasters assume fairly similar feedstock costs.

Romm’s estimate of additional biomass co-fired capacity is 8 to 12 gigawatts by 2010, or 2 to 4 percent of total coal-fired capacity expected in that year, and 26 gigawatts by 2020, 8 percent of coal-fired capacity. EIA sees a possible 0.7 percent of coal-fired generation by 2010. By 2025, EIA’s reference case sees biomass co-generation peaking at 4.6 percent of coal-fired generation, dropping to 3.3 percent in 2030, as biomass gasification combined-cycle technology is built and competes with co-firing for lower cost feedstock. EIA’s forecast has 6.5 gigawatts of biomass gasification combined-cycle built by 2030.


Many of Romm’s technologies have been around for years, without much penetration. The EIA, which assumes existing policies and regulations, forecasts only small amounts of future penetration, with total renewable technologies, including hydropower, representing only 14 percent of the electricity mix in 2030.

So, how does Romm expect to meet these efficiency and renewable targets? Obviously, he expects major policy changes. But these policy changes will cost the American public higher electricity rates. How much higher depends on the policy, the location of the consumers, and their usage.

Without those policy changes, EIA is forecasting that electricity prices will increase at a rate of 0.6 percent per year in real terms through 2030, and 2.2 percent a year in nominal terms. How much more will Romm’s strategy cost? And will there be enough base-load power to supply the needs of future generations if current legislative and legal battles continue to restrict supply of coal-fired and nuclear-generated electricity? These questions are hard ones for the proponents of energy transformation via government intervention.

Pew Center Realism Towards ‘Kyoto II’

Pew Center Realism Towards ‘Kyoto II’: Game, Set, Match Adaptation? By Robert Bradley
Master Resource, April 8, 2009

‘Climate and Agriculture: We’re Not Dumb’ Follow-Up

‘Climate and Agriculture: We’re Not Dumb’ Follow-Up. By Chip Knappenberger
Master Resource, April 11, 2009

The Pirates Challenge Obama's Pre-9/11 Mentality - Distinctions between lawful and unlawful combatants go back to Roman times

The Pirates Challenge Obama's Pre-9/11 Mentality. By Mackubin Thomas Owens
Distinctions between lawful and unlawful combatants go back to Roman times.
WSJ, Apr 11, 2009

When Somali pirates hijacked the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama this week and took 20 Americans hostage, President Barack Obama refused to comment. It seems that our new president is desperate to do everything he can to distance himself from his predecessor, which is why his team has launched a campaign to rebrand the War on Terror. The results are mystifying. "Overseas contingency operations" is the new name for the war, while "man-caused disasters" is a euphemism for terrorist attacks.

In this new rhetorical regime, the administration criticizes President George W. Bush for his "illegal" policies with respect to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and claims that the treatment of the detainees themselves constitutes "torture."

But while they've certainly made cosmetic changes, many claim the Obama administration has left the substance of Bush's approach intact.

Attorney General Eric Holder added to this perception when, after visiting Guantanamo, he acknowledged that the facility is very well run and that implementing Mr. Obama's promise to close it down will be difficult. While renouncing the term "enemy combatant," the Obama administration acknowledges the reality that no matter what we call those detained at Guantanamo, the detainees are still not entitled to prisoner-of-war status because they have violated the laws of war by killing civilians and fighting out of uniform. Instead of calling the detainees enemy combatants, the administration has opted to refer to them as "individuals captured in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations," or "members of enemy forces," or "persons who [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for the September 11 attacks."

Though these changes might seem superficial, unfortunately, they represent a substantive shift. They signal a return to the policy mindset that existed before 9/11, and the consequence will be material harm to U.S. security.

First, in holding that the president's power to indefinitely detain without legal charges is derived from Congress's authorization for the Use of Military Force Act (passed in the aftermath of 9/11), the Justice Department has undercut the president's own war power under the Constitution. This is an inherent executive power that has been recognized since at least the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

As Lincoln wrote to James Conkling in August 1863, "I think the Constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war." In addition to the commander-in-chief clause of Article II, Lincoln found his war power in his presidential oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Second, the various new substitutes for "unlawful enemy combatant" abolish an important distinction in traditional international law. As the eminent military historian Sir Michael Howard argued shortly after 9/11, the status of al Qaeda terrorists is to be found in a distinction first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval and early modern European jurisprudence. According to Mr. Howard, the Romans distinguished between bellum (war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy) and guerra (war against latrunculi, pirates, robbers, brigands and outlaws).

Bellum became the standard for interstate conflict, and it is here that the Geneva Conventions were meant to apply. They do not apply to guerra. Indeed, punishment for latrunculi, "the common enemies of mankind," traditionally has been summary execution.

Though they don't often employ the term, many legal experts agree that al Qaeda fighters are latrunculi -- hardly distinguishable by their actions from pirates and the like. Robert Kogod Goldman, an American University law professor has commented: "I think under any standard, the captured al Qaeda fighters simply do not meet the minimum standards set out to be considered prisoners of war." And according to Marc Cogen, a professor of international law at Ghent University in Belgium, "no 'terrorist organization' thus far has been deemed a combatant under the laws of armed conflict." Thus al Qaeda members "can be punished for all hostile acts, including the killing of soldiers, because they have no right to participate directly in hostilities." But the Obama administration is about to extend legal rights -- intended to protect civilians -- to the very latrunculi who want to blow them up by considering the possibility of trying them in U.S. courts. Indeed, Attorney General Holder did not rule out trying the Somali pirates.

Some in Congress want to go further than the Obama team. Rather than focusing their attention on the terrorists, these politicians wish to criminalize the behavior of Bush administration officials for actions they took to protect Americans, and that fell well short of those taken by Lincoln in suppressing the Rebellion of 1861. Thus Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), aided and abetted by my own Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I), have begun hearings on Mr. Leahy's proposal for a "Truth Commission" to investigate the Bush administration's interrogation policies.

The mantra of Bush critics has been that the previous administration "tortured" detainees. But this is nonsense. At issue is the CIA's waterboarding of three high-ranking latrunculi who had been instrumental in planning and executing attacks that killed thousands of Americans. These individuals had been trained to resist conventional interrogation methods and were thought to have information about impending attacks.

What makes the Leahy-Whitehouse show trials most appalling -- and hypocritical -- is that Congress was briefed on the enhanced interrogation methods in September 2002. At the time, according to the Washington Post, members of Congress from both parties -- including current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi -- wanted to ensure that the interrogations were tough enough to get the necessary intelligence from the captured terrorists. As the Post reported, "there was no objecting, no hand-wringing," and according to a U.S. official present during the briefings, "the attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.'" But of course, according to a source looking back on that period, "the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic."

And therein lies the problem. Too many of our leaders have forgotten that we are at war with latrunculi who wish to destroy us. Anyone who doubts this need only read the recent statement by the five detainees at Guantanamo charged with planning the 9/11 attacks in which they describe the charge that they murdered Americans very clearly -- as a "badge of honor."

Mr. Owens is a professor at the Naval War College and editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

CIA has been ordered to get rid of contract interrogators and secret locations overseas

Blame The Messenger
Strategy Page, Apr 11, 2009

The CIA has been ordered to get rid of contract interrogators, and secret locations overseas where terrorist suspects were imprisoned and interrogated. This is all because, during the past eight years, opposition politicians in the U.S. accused the CIA of torturing terrorist suspects, to obtain information about attacks being planned. The interrogations worked, and there was very little of what one could call torture. However, the matter became a political issue, and the definition of torture was broadened to include things that are done regularly by Western police, including those in the United States.

The contract interrogators were people who had special language, cultural awareness and interrogation skills needed to get the job done. Most were former military, CIA or police interrogators, and a few were from foreign countries. These skills were particularly useful, because most of the terrorist suspects were from exotic, for most American interrogators, cultures. Having specialized knowledge was key to getting information out of many of these terrorists.

The CIA has put a brave, and career preserving, face on all this and declared that they have sufficient CIA employees to replace all the contract interrogators. They don't, and are hoping they can quietly slip into Congress or the White House and, in a classified briefing, scare the politicians sufficiently to bring in a contract interrogator for crucial situations. If not, and there's another attack in the United States that could have been provided by a competent interrogation, the blame will be shifted or, as a last resort, the CIA will have to take the blame. Thus the cycle that began in the 1940s when, right after World War II, the predecessor of the CIA, the wartime OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was disbanded for being politically incorrect and stepping on the wrong toes, repeats itself. When the Soviet threat was realized shortly thereafter, the OSS was quickly resurrected as the CIA. But it all happened again in the 1970s, when the CIA was punished and reformed for real or imagined misbehavior during the Vietnam war.

In the aftermath of these cleansing events, competent people stay away from the CIA, more problems arise, and desperate politicians demand something be done, no questions asked. But many potential espionage professionals will remember, and only the most courageous and self-sacrificing will step forward.

American Interests in Pakistan

American Interests in Pakistan. By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
The Weekly Standard, Apr 13, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 29


Sharif is aided in his rise by a sympathetic media, who ignore his shortcomings and help him "cultivate the image of a strong man who does not budge from his stance," in the words of commentator Yahya Hussaini. Officials in Zardari's government raised this concern with me. One complained that several recent pro-Sharif rallies were shown repeatedly on television before they had attracted many participants, and that the saturation coverage helped to increase their size.

The strong anti-American strand in Pakistan's media, moreover, indirectly aids Sharif. Thus, the message behind one music video that played frequently on Pakistani television during the recent crisis was that Pakistan's problems are caused by the American war in Afghanistan, not by jihadism. The video portrays a sinister-looking CIA agent and a cigar-smoking President Zardari cackling as a Predator strike kills an unjustly imprisoned Pakistani man who escapes from prison determined to "change the system of the country." Elsewhere in Pakistan's media, conspiracy-minded figures like commentator Ahmed Quraishi, who sees the hidden hand of the United States and India behind virtually all of Pakistan's ills, are reaching new prominence.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono's Big Decision

Indonesian President Yudhoyono's Big Decision, by Walter Lohman
Heritage WebMemo #2393
April 10, 2009

WaPo supports federal president's estate tax plan

The Small-Business Myth. WaPo Editorial
The facts about who would pay proposed tax increases
WaPo, Sunday, April 12, 2009; A16

SMALL BUSINESS is the cute puppy of American tax policy, along with its related breed, the family farm. Invoke small business, and the inevitable response is the policymaking equivalent of awwww, how sweet. Suggest that a proposed change might hurt small business, and you might as well be advocating torturing puppies. Now we like a cute puppy as well as the next editorial board, and we're all for small business, too. But the problem with the way this argument is deployed is that the facts often do not support the claims of harm.

Just recently, the small-business boogeyman came up in the debate over the estate tax -- specifically, whether it is unfair to impose a tax on estates in excess of $7 million per couple (the level this year) or whether the first $10 million of every estate should be exempt from taxation. Predictably, the advocates of the $10 million proposal, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), raised the small business/family farm canard. "Many have relatively low profit margins and are considered 'wealthy' by the government only because they own expensive equipment or land," they wrote in a letter to The Post.

In fact, nearly all small-business and family-farm estates are already shielded from having to pay estate tax. If the estate tax were kept at its current level, as President Obama advocates, only 430 business or farm estates would owe any tax whatsoever in 2011, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center. Moreover, it's not true that these estates would be forced to liquidate to come up with enough money to pay the estate tax. At current levels, 13 family farms and 41 family-owned businesses would not have had enough liquid assets to satisfy estate taxes in 2005, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office. Even these would probably not have to be sold on account of a tax hit, because payments can be spread over a 14-year period.

The impact on small business is also deployed to argue against letting the Bush tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers expire. The Bush Treasury Department said that 7 percent of taxpayers with small-business income would be affected by a change in the top two tax rates; the Obama administration says that the correct number is 2 percent -- and that even this figure may overstate the number of what are generally considered small businesses, because it includes high-income partners in law firms, investment banks and the like.

Opponents of raising top marginal tax rates argue that this small slice of taxpayers is nonetheless responsible for generating a disproportionate share of small-business income -- about a quarter of the total, according to the Tax Policy Center -- and that higher rates would discourage entrepreneurship. As much as that seems like a matter of common sense, the evidence is far from clear. A 2006 study by Donald Bruce and Mohammed Mohsin found that "the top income tax rate has no economically significant effect" on entrepreneurship and that "it would take a 50-percentage-point cut in the top income tax rate to generate a one-percentage-point change in entrepreneurial activity." By that measure, the increase of three to five percentage points proposed by Mr. Obama hardly seems like a small-business job killer.