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Posted by on Aug 7, 2008 in Miscellaneous | 28 comments

An Energy Policy vs. An Energy Vision

John McCain has taken what seems in this highly energy-conscious election year a prudent view about energy. We have to use all our options, he says. Drill, drill, drill for more oil offshore. Use more clean coal. And yes, develop alternative energy resources if and when this seems possible.

It’s a safe-sounding policy. But that’s all it is. A policy. A way to plod along as we’ve been plodding, and hope that one way or another things will gradually get better.

Barack Obama takes a more radical approach. He is emphasizing alternative energy resources to not only solve our long-term energy problems, but as the best way to meet the short-term ones as well.

It’s an approach favored by many of those who have looked closely at alternative energy resources, and understand they are not just futuristic dreams. Understand that countries such as Denmark and Germany expect to meet 20-30 percent of their total electrical needs with provem windmill technology within 10 years; that countries like Iceland aleady meet all their own electricity needs with proven geothermal technology; that amazing advances in solar technologies are aleady making both solar heating and solar-generated electricity very cost competitive for many applications; and that all such alternative energy resources offer better near-term hopes to help us become energy independent than offshore oil drilling.

This Obama view isn’t just a policy, however. It’s a vision of a new way to do things for a new century, a new millenium, a new world economic order. A way that uses the “live” energy of sun, wind, water and the earth itself to replace the long “dead” and buried energy we have depended on for so many years.

This policy versus vision notion is something for all Americans to consider. But perhaps its most dramatic potential appeal is to Americans of a religious bent.

The Bible doesn’t say that without a policy the people are lost. It says that without a vision the people are lost. Take it from The Guy who knows. Tapping live energy is the right vision for these times. Basing our future on dead and buried energy sources is just another version of being eyeless in Gaza.

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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • CStanley

    This is one of the most bizarre blog posts I’ve read in recent memory, particularly since most Obama supporters seem to resent the accusations that they’ve joined a Messianic cult. Gee, can’t imagine why his detractors think that.

  • Silhouette

    I think “new” alternatives is such a misnomer. BigOil has been actively suppressing their known development since the 1970s and before.

    The hype about them being “weird” “unreachable” “futuristic” or even “silly” is just that…BigOil generated hype aimed at keeping their monopoly and us on their ball and chain $$$$$ at the pumps.

    They use nuclear to scare us back to the pumps. Why are all the BigOil spokesmen open (weirdly) to nuclear? Seems to fly in the face of their monopoly right? Well they know nuclear is scary and tricky to produce (steam driven turbines). So if people don’t get scared back to oil, then they’ll just invest in big complex and tricky radioactive steam generators to keep competition at bay.

    Our entire energy policy is and has been forged for decades now by a cloistered smallish group of really rich people trying to hang onto that wealth within their families and not to allow that super-rich status to slip away..

    So….

    We know that nuclear is just radiation heating water to steam to run turbines. And the boring and decades-old technology of geothermal steam running turbines instead has been dry-docked. There is nothing to geothermal. It isn’t ‘new age’ or futuristic. It is simple cave-man technology:

    Og put pipe in ground. Og pump in water onto hot rocks and boiling reservoirs. Og put ‘nuther pipe coming out going to spinny thing with magnet and copper windings. Spinny thing make ouch-zap go through wire to grid…

    It’s so easy, a caveman could do it.. And that’s BigOil’s problem with it..

    lol…

    However, nuclear, coal and oil ARE last Century in that they are filthy, dangerous and costly….COSTLY ways of generating steam that already exists for us to go pluck and harvest without peril.

  • Rambie

    Sil, this isn’t a Geico commercial. Where pray-tell is enough geo-thermal steam vents to replace our use of fossil fuels?

    We do need to have long term vision to get off of fossil fuels with short & medium terms goals to get there. Being clean is good where we can but we need to be realistic that we’re a long way from a zero-pollution society.

    Short-Medium term:
    – Nuclear fission
    – Clean coal
    – Bio-fuels
    – Deploy wind & solar collectors.
    – Give tax incentives to home owners

    LONG TERM
    – Fusion
    – Solar & Wind farms
    – Geo thermal where approach
    – Bio-fuels

  • Silhouette

    The entire western half of the lower 48 is riddled with surface or near-surface steam and hot rock for injection wells.

    Nuclear is dangerous and will face untold amounts of litigation. There are groups mobilizing as we speak to oppose the construction of plants in their backyards.

    Clean coal is a misnomer. There is no such thing. The label is there because it sounds good. Bio-fuels will deplete food acreage in a time when global populations are swelling beyond our ability to feed them. If you think the conflict in Iraq is a problem, just wait until starvation becomes the impetus to start wars..

    Wind and solar are good ideas, especially when wind is implemented in areas where there is a steady breeze, but not high gusts. Solar is fabulous and we have zillions of sun-baked acres, again in the western half of the lower 48 just sitting vacant and empty…usually and often right next to geothermal resources, just begging to be tapped.

    Fusion….yeah, that’s still off in the future. And why even bother when we have steam from the earth to run a million power plants?

    We have had the knowledge of how to put a pipe in the ground and one coming out for some time now. Why we aren’t doing so is a matter of pure politics and nothing else.

  • CStanley,
    That is kind of funny, but I agree with the underlying premise that Obama offers a more forward thinking vision than McCain. McCain’s rhetoric focuses almost exclusively on drilling and nuclear power as a bludgeon to attack Obama, who has never been categorically opposed to either. But new drilling won’t have much effect on the global supply of oil, while nuclear seems less than ideal given the necessary government subsidies and waste management problems.

    Shouldn’t the supposed greatest country on earth aim high?

  • Ike_Skelton

    I like a good portion of Obama’s policy, except for his opposition to nuclear power. Nuclear power is clean power, except for the spent fuel rods. That is a problem, but I see it as the only real problem. People will say nuclear power is dangerous, but in fact, it is safe; saying it is dangerous and reminding us of Chernobyl are good ways to kick up opposition, and keep us dependent on oil and coal. You want clean (hell of a lot cleaner than coal) energy that will provide enough energy to meet demand? Nuclear is a great option right now. Sure wind, solar, and other sources like those are important, but they will not provide enough energy to power the quickly growing demand.

  • Neocon

    Well once again short term, long term does not address transportation which is what all the fuss is about.

    Once again as with every post about energy the left/democrats trying to defend a Clueless Barak Obama tell us we need more Coal, wind, solar, tax incentives and Bio Fuels.

    YOU cannot grow your fuel. Well you can but then you have to import your food.

    Barak Obama is as Clueless about energy as is those who would support him.

    Oil is NOT replaceable by anything in the short term or even the intermediate term. Period.

    One can only conclude that Barak Obama, Nanny Pelosi and crowd are simply liars. You cannot wind farm your way out of high gasoline prices.

    But if you say it loud enough, long enough then it will become the truth.

    Obama Lied and Drilling Died.

    Thats okay…..another government run program is coming to a gas station near you. The only problem is they want to give the poor a tax credit and usually its the freakin POOR who DO NOT EVEN OWN CARS.

    Gotta love socialism.

  • jwest

    More like:

    Energy Policy vs Energy Fantasy

    We should acknowledge that different groups do different things better than each other. Conservatives are demonstrably better at military, foreign affairs, economics, domestic policy and energy.

    Liberals are far superior at poetry and interpretive dance.

    Let’s keep to our own side of the street and we’ll all get along just fine.

  • Ricorun

    CStanley, it sounds like you’re not buying the “it’s not just futuristic dreams” argument. It sounds like you believe anyone who thinks that must be a member of some “messianic cult”. So let me ask you, on what basis do you believe that? Is it that you don’t believe it’s an approach favored by many of those who have looked closely at alternative energy resources? If so, why not? I mean, all you have to do is look at the data…

    * Wind power accounted for 35% of all new power sources in the US in 2007.
    * Worldwide over $165 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2007.
    * The DOE’s NREL division estimates that it would cost the average homeowner about 50 cents a month over current prices to convert 20% of the national grid to wind power. If that is done the price is essentially locked in, because wind is free. Every indication is that doing the same thing with nuclear (which is what McCain is suggesting) would be much more expensive.
    * There are currently about 150 applications for utility scale solar plants in the US alone.
    * Nevada is planning to expand its geothermal resources to account for over 70% of its electrical power over the next 5-7 years.
    * Virtually every major vehicle manufacturer is working full tilt to offer plug-in hybrids within 2-3 years. Some, such as Nissan, are planning to introduce fully electric vehicles in the same time frame. And of course there are smaller start-ups planning the same thing.
    * Even big rig manufacturers (e.g. Peterbilt, Mitsubishi, Kenworth) are beginning to offer hybrids).
    * The McKinsey Group and others have estimated that as much as 20-25% of domestic energy demand could be eliminated by energy efficiency technologies (e.g., grid leveling, changes in building standards, industrial and utility heat recovery, retrofitting existing buildings) — technologies which would be net economic positives over their useful lifetimes.

    I could go on, but I think you get the idea. This isn’t a fantasy. The time is now. There’s a HUGE amount of money to be made in this stuff, and the necessary investment is relatively small. All they need is a little help. Obama is talking about investing about $15 billion/year over a decade developing all sorts of renewables and energy efficiency technologies. That sounds about right to me. To the extent that the US occupies a leading role there are millions of domestic jobs at stake. Manufacturing opportunities. Intellectual capital to accumulate. And a serious reduction in the trade deficit. This is supposed to be the kind of thing America does best. In the 20th century it was large increases in manufacuring efficiency (assembly lines, etc.), by large increases in agricultural efficiencies (e.g., mechanizing farms, development of higher yield crops), by large increases in transportation efficiencies (e.g., the expansion of railroads and interstate highways), by large increases in information efficiencies (e.g., computers, communications satellites, the internet). All through that energy efficiency was largely ignored. Now it’s time to concentrate on that. That is now the biggest, lowest hanging fruit available to increase production efficiency. And increasing production efficiency is how you boost GDP.

    So what is it exactly that you don’t understand?

  • Neocon,
    You done hyperventilating yet? Burning petroleum is not the only way to propel a car. A car is not the only way to transport a person. Etc.

  • Conservatives are demonstrably better at military, foreign affairs, economics, domestic policy and energy.

    And the last 8 years are proof!

  • Nuclear is a great option right now.

    But it will have to be heavily subsidized by government. It is in every single country where it’s been successful. That’s why it’s surprising to hear conservatives sing nuclear’s praises.

  • CStanley

    Ricorun and Chriswww, have you read the actual post that I was commenting on? I didn’t say that anyone who believes that Obama has more vision is buying into Messianism, but the actual author of this particular piece took it in that direction and that’s what I was directing my comment toward. Try rereading the last two paragraphs.

  • CStanley,
    I was agreeing with you 🙂

  • CStanley

    LOL, OK, Chris, I didn’t read your comment that way (thought you were saying that you only thought he meant that vision and aspiration are good things and appropriate for America- I can certainly agree with that part.)

    I don’t get why you are harping on govt subsidies for nuclear power being a bad thing if you think Obama’s proposals for investment in other alternative energy sources is a good idea. If we’re going to invest tax dollars to shift off of an oil based economy, then why shouldn’t nuclear be part of the mix (particularly since we already have the know how and a lot of the barrier has been excessive regulation of that industry?)

  • Ricorun

    Okay CStanley, I see where you’re coming from — you were emphasizing the last two paragraphs of Michael’s post. I was concentrating more on the first five. Those are the ones that appealed to those with practical sentiments. The last two to those with more emotional/religious sentiments. And of course the whole thing was attacked by some as “clueless”, or a “fantasy”. I submit it’s neither clueless or fantastic. I have provided the elements of evidence for that — most of which I have documented in previous comments, or which should be easy to google. In contrast, so far as I kinow, NO ONE who supports nuclear has EVER provided an up-to-date cost/benefit analysis — including McCain. He NEVER talks about costs — not building costs, not costs for uranium, not costs for waste disposal, not costs for decommissioning. He doesn’t even talk about the cost of transmission, which is itself likely to be as sizable as it is for other alternatives. For those reasons, and as ChrisWWW points out, it’s very surprising that it tends to be those of a more conservative (or worse, a libertarian) bent that strongly advocate nuclear. Even more oddly, it is those that are dubious (even for very practical reasons) that are labeled as clueless, or childish, or inclined to fantasy. Go figure.

  • If we’re going to invest tax dollars to shift off of an oil based economy, then why shouldn’t nuclear be part of the mix (particularly since we already have the know how and a lot of the barrier has been excessive regulation of that industry?)

    I’m fine with nuclear as long as it’s proven to be cost effective vs. the alternatives.

    I think we can all agree that nuclear isn’t ideal, that’s why I would rather see the limited government subsidies going to something more ideal like wind or solar.

  • jwest

    Ricorun,

    The cost analysis of nuclear has been nearly impossible to calculate due to the misinformation and uncertainty.

    Since there have been no nuclear plants built here in the past 30+ years, the costing models become heavily distorted. Plants built in the 60’s and 70’s were one-off designs and products of one-off production – a more expensive method could not be conceived.

    Manufacturing the essential components of nuclear plants prior to the era of computer controlled machining was an exercise in money burning. Welds couldn’t be monitored as they were being made and instead of a 5-axis robot laying perfect beads the shaky hand of a hung-over welder did the best he could. Since a nuclear power plant is simply a collection of welded pipe and machined flanges, modern manufacturing methods (along with incredibly better quality control) would reduce costs substantially.

    Legal fees and carrying costs for legal-based delays, projected from the experience of past plants, previously equaled construction costs. Indecision as to waste storage (like delaying Yucca Mountain) increased costs. Licensing and regulatory roadblocks all added to the total.

    The remedy is a government/private industry partnership. Although as a true capitalist I realize that the government screws up everything they touch, it’s the only way this can move forward.

    Plants need to be financed and owned by the federal government. The feds would also provide the nuclear material and dispose of it when necessary. Private industry would build, operate and distribute the power. Communities would need to vote for and compete to have a nuclear plant in their area. In return, discounted power would be available to those within certain radius of the facility on a descending scale based on proximity.

    What is missing from the discussions about energy today is the fact that for our economy to grow, we need cheap, unlimited power. Want those jobs back from overseas? Provide all the power for next to nothing and watch heavy manufacturing flock back to the U.S. Want to make sure the poor don’t freeze in the winter or die of heat stroke in the summer? Be able to provide the power it takes.

    The key to a better future isn’t reducing energy usage, it’s having more energy than we know what to do with.

  • Neocon

    Neocon,
    You done hyperventilating yet? Burning petroleum is not the only way to propel a car. A car is not the only way to transport a person. Etc.

    Well Im waiting to be enlightened, or has Obama not given you the 11th commandment yet?

  • Neocon

    Neocon,
    You done hyperventilating yet? Burning petroleum is not the only way to propel a car. A car is not the only way to transport a person. Etc.

    And there you go this sums up in a nutshell the militant attitude that the greenies have on oil drilling and petroleum in general.

    Walk to work…………ride a bicycle……..or take the mass transit to work………oh wait I dont live in a big city……..I dont live in a city that has mass transit, I live in a city where the temperature drops to -30 below during the winter……….

    Don’t care……..thou shalt not burn anymore gas and we will replace your transportation with a bicycle……….how you get thru 3 foot snow drifts 10 miles to work is not my concern………but we will save the world from that evil oil.

    It is messianic.

  • Neocon,
    Hybrids and 100% electric cars aren’t fantasies. Your nay saying is neither helpful nor grounded in reality.

  • Neocon

    Neocon,
    Hybrids and 100% electric cars aren’t fantasies. Your nay saying is neither helpful nor grounded in reality.

    Thats it? Hybrids? Electric cars? Those are going to bring oil prices down in 3 months or 5 years?

    You do know dont you that if we start today and produce 2 million cars this year……3 million year 2, 4 million year 3, 5 million year 4 and 6 million year 5 that we have produced a whopping 20 million out of an estimated 250 million cars by the END OF FIVE YEARS?

    You do realize that dont you? You do know that even if all the automakers make the effort that their is not enough batteries being made to make this many cars. That the assembly lines would have to be rebuilt.

    You do realize that dont you?

    You do realize that those advocating drilling are doing so in the hopes that we can bring the prices down for the short term so that we are not all riding our bicycles to work like Barak Obama and his militant greenies want us to do.

    You do realize that it will take 30 years to replace all the gasoline vehicles with hybrids and battery powered cars and that by the time youve done that it will be time to replace them with something else?

    You do realize that just because we can build hybrids and Electric cars doesnt mean that that will solve short term or even medium term gasoline prices dont you?

    Or do you folks really believe that with the wave of a hand we can just start making 50 or 100 million new cars a year and in a couple years we can have the problem solved?

  • Neocon

    Euro Trades Near 8-Week Low as ECB Cites Economic Growth Risks

    Japan Economy Probably Contracted, Bringing a Recession Closer

    “The ECB is acknowledging the economic slowdown,” said Matthew Sharratt, an economist at Bank of America in London.

    See its just not the USA being hammered by these high gasoline prices. Its the world and we are headed into a worldwide recession if we dont get these prices under control. That means drilling. That means letting the other 55 companies drill for oil if the big 5 dont want too.

    The world is being hammered by these prices. Its time to do what we can to get it back down to reasonable amounts.

  • You do realize that those advocating drilling are doing so in the hopes that we can bring the prices down for the short term so that we are not all riding our bicycles to work like Barak Obama and his militant greenies want us to do.

    You’re not bringing down oil prices in 3 years or 30 with offshore drilling. McCain and the White House have already admitted as much. You know them as the militant oilies.

  • Ricorun

    jwest, thanks for the thoughtful reply. It’s a cut above anything else I’ve seen. But I would argue that the notion that a cost analysis of nuclear is nearly impossible because no nuclear plants have been built here in the US in the past 30+ years is a red herring. Plenty of them have been built in other areas of the world. Moreover, all of the nuclear plants of which I am aware that are currently proposed in the US employ the same design: the Toshiba/Westinghouse AP1000. This is the latest variation on earlier Westinghouse designs, which account for about 50% of the more than 400 nuclear plants now operating in the world. Other countries — notably China, South Korea, and South Africa — have standardized on the design as well. It’s pretty cookie-cutter.

    So, what’s an AP-1000 plant going for these days? About $6.36/W or so. Not including transmission lines (for these Florida plants that’s estimated to be about $3 billion of the total $17 billion price tag). And perhaps more importantly, that doesn’t include cost overruns. Cost overruns are more the exception than the rule in the nuclear industry. And the fact that there are significant bottlenecks in the supply of key components doesn’t bode well in that regard.

    Because of these and other factors the reality is: nuclear power is too expensive and risky to attract the necessary commercial investors. The massive federal subsidies on offer will cover up to 80 percent of construction costs of several nuclear power plants in addition to generous production tax credits, as well as risk insurance. But consider this: the average two-reactor nuclear power plant is estimated to cost $10 billion to $18 billion to build. That’s before cost overruns, and no US nuclear power plant has ever been delivered on time or on budget.

    So even if you use the lower cost estimate ($10 billion/pair of 1.1 GW plants, or $5 billion each), and assume no cost overruns, that represents $4 billion in subsidies each. You want to build 100 of them? Then prepare for taxpayers to have to shell out $400 billion — minimum. Not including transmission. I suspect that’s one reason why McCain doesn’t talk about costs.

    100 nuclear plants (at 1.1 GW each) represents about 20% of the current grid. As I mentioned in a previous comment on another thread, the DOE estimates the cost of replacing 20% of the grid with wind (about 300 GW nameplate capacity — 3 times more than nuclear because wind’s capacity factor is about 3 times lower) is on the order of $200 billion — including transmission. And that cost is offset by about $150 billion in fuel savings — or more if prices go up.

    Considering that, why on earth would anyone favor nuclear if wind is an option? Similar logic could be applied to solar as well, although some of the details would differ.

    The fact is, though, that wind and solar aren’t available everywhere in the US. It is perhaps true that the problem could be solved with a considerably more robust transmission network, but that would take a long time and would likely be a legal and regulatory nightmare even under the best of circumstances. Then again, as you pointed out, legal and regulatory issues relating to nuclear plants can be equally nightmarish.

    Nonetheless, it seems to me that nuclear power may make sense when other forms of non-fossil power are not feasible. This part of the argument is a little more nuanced, because it requires the assumption that fossil fuel prices will rise substantially over the next 30 years. Wind and solar already look to be on course to achieve grid parity even if coal and gas prices don’t rise at all. Ever. Nuclear probably never will. For nuclear to make sense relative to coal and gas on a strictly cost basis, the latter would have to rise substantially in years to come. In other words, what happened in the last 30 years to fossil fuel prices would have to happen again in the next 30 years. If fossil fuels remained nuclear’s only competitor I’d say that would be a no-brainer. But now there are other options — wind, solar, and whatever else. As they become more common they will almost certainly have a negative pressure on fossil fuel prices — particularly coal.

    There are other concerns other than cost of course — e.g., the environment, both in terms of “traditional” pollutants and GHGs. So on those grounds, and unless (or until) a viable and cost-effective carbon capture and storage technique is perfected, nuclear works for me when other, cheaper and cleaner alternatives are not readily available. I suspect, however, that over the next two decades the locations where nuclear makes sense is likely to contract quite a bit. Anyway, there is another good thing about nuclear… a reasonable number of the principal components of the AP-1000 design are manufactured right here in the good ole’ USA.

  • Neocon

    The Republicans thank you Chris.

  • Ricorun

    Neocon: See its just not the USA being hammered by these high gasoline prices. Its the world and we are headed into a worldwide recession if we dont get these prices under control. That means drilling. That means letting the other 55 companies drill for oil if the big 5 dont want too.

    Come on now. The US currently accounts for 3% of the world’s supply of oil. Even if we managed to double production (which is moot because it’s impossible) that would only be another 3%. As ridiculously optimistic as that scenario is, it’s not likely to have much effect on prices even if it could be realized. Other countries (notably Saudi Arabia and other Arabian peninsula countries) have enough elasticity that they can easily compensate by reducing their production. If we are ever to find relief we have to rely on other countries to increase their production enough to swamp those that can control their output. Given that 80% of the supply is controlled by nationalized companies, what are the chances of that?

    Domestic drilling will not reduce oil prices. However, domestic drilling will reduce imports. So will demand destruction. The latter can have essentially permanent effects. Without them the former will only be temporary. Moreover, demand destruction in the form of more fuel efficient vehicles, hybrids, and electric vehicles, perhaps combined with third generation biofuels generated from algae and/or organic waste, can be distributed essentially world-wide. To the extent that we’re on the cutting edge of that the rest of the world would have to buy our technologies and hire our technicians. And the market is HUGE. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. And it’s not like it’s escaped the notice of the rest of the world. We used to be the undisputed world leaders in wind and solar. Now we have to import a great deal of it. That can change, but only if we get with the program.

  • I consider this thread thoroughly dominated by Ricorun. Thanks for setting the record straight with hard facts and numbers.

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