Newspaper column: Being ‘green’ is easy, ignore facts

If you thought the “green movement” was more about self-righteous politics than clear-headed science, here are two tales that prove the point.

In Arizona a petition is being circulated in an effort to get on the ballot an initiative called the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment. This would require 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030.

The petition states: “The Amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030.”

To get on the November ballot petitioners must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5.

If the measure passes it would necessitate the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, which currently provides about 35 percent of the state’s electricity, even though it produces no carbon emissions.

If the state were to achieve the goal of 50 percent of its power coming from mostly solar and wind, both of which are intermittent, there would be no room on the grid for Palo Verde’s power, because reactors can’t be quickly turned off and on — it takes weeks of preparation.

“We would have to shut Palo Verde down during the day every day,” one plant official was quoted as saying by Cronkite News. “But that’s not how nuclear plants really work. Nuclear plants can’t just be shut down and then started up again.”

The most likely source of rapid start-up generation would be natural gas, which produces carbon emissions, especially when frequently idling.

Adding wind and solar to the power grid could increase the carbon dioxide output.

Retired electrical engineer Kent Hawkins wrote in February 2010 that “the introduction of wind power into an electricity system increases the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions beyond levels that would have occurred using efficient gas plants alone as the providers of electricity equivalent” to the wind generated power.

This is because every kilowatt-hour of intermittent electricity introduced into the grid must be backed up by a reliable fossil-fuel generator. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the demand for electricity remains.

Starting and stopping natural gas-fired generators is inefficient, comparable to operating a car in stop and go traffic instead of steady and efficient on the open highway. Just like the car, the fuel consumption can double, along with the carbon emissions, negating any presumed carbon savings by using solar or wind.

Opponents of the measure say it will drive up power bills in the state. Proponents argue long-term benefits of solar power and reducing nuclear waste offset any immediate cost spike.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to build $6 billion worth of offshore wind turbines while shutting down the nuclear-powered, emission-free Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, explained in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that the wind turbines will produce only 60 percent as much power as the nuclear plant being closed.

How will this gap be covered? You guessed it, natural gas.

“The irony here is colossal. Mr. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing despite the economic boon it has created in neighboring Pennsylvania, and who has repeatedly blocked construction of pipelines, is making New York even more dependent on natural gas, which will increase its carbon emissions,” Bryce writes. “At the same time, he has mandated offshore wind projects that will force New Yorkers to pay more for their electricity, even though the state already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices.”

This past week NV Energy announced plans to contract to build six new solar power projects at a cost of $2 billion and double the state’s renewable energy capacity, but only if voters reject the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot that would end the company’s monopoly in most of the state and allow competition. No mention was made of how this might impact power bills.

In all three states emissions would likely increase, as well as power bills.

Being green is a state of mind. Just never let the facts get in the way.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Palo Vere nuclear plant

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Judge orders Interior Department to further review its environmental impact studies for Searchlight Wind Project

A federal judge has sent the Interior Department back to the drawing board and told it to rework paperwork that resulted in granting a Record of Decision allowing the construction of a wind turbine farm east of Searchlight. Interior had issued an environmental impact statement that found the project’s impact on endangered desert tortoises and protected bald and golden eagles was not great enough to reject the construction of wind turbines near Lake Mojave.

The Searchlight Wind Energy Project would erect 87 industrial-scale wind turbines that would be more than 400 feet tall.

In her ruling six weeks ago, Judge Miranda Du pointed out the initial data used by the Bureau of Land Management for the determination found that there were only three golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the proposed turbines — similar turbines near Ely have killed two golden eagles in two years. Subsequent surveys actually found 19 probable or confirmed golden eagle nests within five miles of the site, the judge wrote.

Simulation of what windmills may look it east of Searchlight and near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagle.

Also, the original study relied on Idaho data about the foraging distances golden eagles may fly from their nests.

“In December 2012, however, researchers published a study addressing golden eagle home ranges and foraging distances in the Mojave Desert,” Judge Du writes. “The study shows larger home range sizes and foraging distances than those reported in the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement). Taken together, this new information is sufficient to show significant environmental effects that Federal Defendants should consider in an SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement).”

Du also told the BLM to re-evaluate its conclusions about the impact of the project on desert tortoises, especially the effects of blasting and noises of the turbines during operation.

In a press release this past week the conservation groups who filed the federal suit to block the project stated that a survey actually found 28 golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the project site and that a new study shows golden eagles in the Mojave Desert travel nearly 10 times as far from their nests to forage as previously thought.

The plaintiffs include Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains, Basin and Range Watch and individuals Judy Bundorf, Ellen Ross and Ronald Van Fleet Sr.

“The Searchlight area merits preservation from large-scale industrial development. The historic town is the ‘Gateway to Lake Mohave’ and Cottonwood Cove in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and is surrounded by beautiful Joshua trees and abundant wildlife,” said Searchlight resident Bundorf. “Thousands of tourists visit each year, and enjoy the wide-open vistas and unspoiled Mojave Desert scenery. Allowing a 9,000-acre, 14-square-mile industrial wind energy project around the town would be a death knell for tourism, and for the rural lifestyle of people who call the little community home.”

Interior has been cheerleading all kinds of bird killing renewable energy projects on public land.

The last time I checked the owners of the project had not found a buyer for the power the project would produce.

In 2012, Bundorf also testified before the Clark County Commission in an unsuccessful attempt to block extension of the wind farm’s deadline for beginning construction.

Bundorf compared the Searchlight project to the Sloan gravel pit project. Sen. Harry Reid, who had a home in Searchlight, fought the 640-acre gravel pit and managed to shut it down. Bundorf offered that she would rather have a hole in the ground than 87 huge windmills. She estimated the windmills, with 24-hour blinking strobe lights for aviation safety, will be visible from 20 miles away.

Reid has since sold his Searchlight home to a mining company and moved to Henderson. Coincidentally, when the project was first proposed it was to have 165 wind turbines, some on the west side of the town where Reid lived, but a comprise removed all the westernmost turbines.

How will fine for wind turbines killing birds affect Nevada wind projects?

One can’t help but wonder how a recent $1 million in fines and penalties levied against Duke Energy Renewables for killing migratory birds with its wind turbines in Wyoming will affect wind projects in Nevada.

In March, a golden eagle was found dead at the Spring Valley wind farm east of Ely, additionally the turbines there have killed a number of other birds and bats. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has taken no action yet against the wind farm’s owner Pattern Energy.

Duke Energy Renewables still has in the works an 87-turbine wind farm east of Searchlight. Might the prospects of additional million-dollar assessments at a facility near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagles dampen the company’s ardor for the project? That would come on top of the fact the $12 billion wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year and there has been no discussion of renewal. Also, Duke has yet to line up a buyer for the power the wind farm would produce and has said that the project will not go forward without such a buyer being lined up.

On Friday Duke pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act — the  first ever criminal enforcement of the act for wind projects. In a press release, the Department of Justice stated:

“Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.  The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.”

The company’s two Wyoming wind farms have killed 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows between 2009 and 2013.

A 2009 study by Fish and Wildlife estimated wind turbines kill 440,000 birds annually. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates nearly 70 bald and golden eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the past four years, and figure doesn’t include the 75 a year killed at Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California.

“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts.”

In April, attorneys filed in U.S. District Court of Nevada a lawsuit (Searchlight suit) accusing former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of acting in “a manner that is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law” when he granted permission for construction of an 87-turbine wind farm east of Searchlight on 19,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land.

The suit alleges the Final Environmental Impact Statement, on which Salazar based his approval, was written by consultants for Searchlight Wind Energy, which is owned by Duke Energy. The suit says the FEIS is a one-sided and an incomplete portrait of the project’s adverse environmental impacts.

Another Searchlight deterrent might be the potential for litigation with nearby landowners. Though the Interior Department found no negative impact on property values due to wind farms, a report this year by Nevada Policy Research Institute found studies by real estate appraisers that conclude properties within two to three miles of wind turbines had values decline up to nearly 60 percent — with the decreased value being “tantamount to an inverse condemnation, or regulatory taking of private property rights.”

Simulation of what windmills may look it east of Searchlight and near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagle.

Newspaper column: Weaning from the power grid?

The one law the Nevada Legislature manages to pass every session is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Thus it is with its ongoing and pervasive attempts to micromanage the state’s electric power grid — acts that may unleash unanticipated disruptive forces — as reported in this week’s column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Since 1997 when the Legislature first approved a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — which now mandates 25 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass by 2025 — lawmakers have been crafting various schemes to dictate just what the power grid will look like decades from now.

Not only are there mandates, subsidies, tax breaks, incentives and federal land giveaways for those mammoth solar and wind farms, but similar giveaways are being offered for what the industry calls distributed energy resources (DER). These are primarily solar panels on the rooftops of homes, businesses and government buildings, as well as a few windmills.

Backyard solar panels.

Backyard solar panels.

By law, these distributive energy resources are tied into the NV Energy grid and their power generation is accounted for by “net metering,” which how much power was generated by the DER, how much was uploaded to the grid and how much was downloaded from the grid.

Such installations qualify for various subsidies and rebates, many funded by NV Energy’s ratepayers, that can cover as much as half or more of the cost of the installation, most of which are also exempt from property and sales taxes in Nevada. In a perverse way, the non-DER-using ratepayers are paying to allow DER-using customers to reduce their power bills.

This legislative meddling might have consequences undreamed of by lawmakers and regulators.

When the courts in the mid-1980s broke up Ma Bell’s monopoly and created regional Baby Bells, little did anyone anticipate then that technology would have done the job. Technical breakthroughs changed the way Americans communicate — cellphones, fiber optics, the Internet. Landlines are nearing obsolescence.

A report prepared for the Edison Electric Institute, an association of American shareholder-owned electric utilities, warns those shareholders that renewable DERs, if combined with breakthroughs in technology and the government-dictated distortion of the market, could face a similar outcome.

“Due to the variable nature of renewable DER, there is a perception that customers will always need to remain on the grid,” the January white paper says, noting the obvious fact solar panels work only so long as the sun shines. “While we would expect customers to remain on the grid until a fully viable and economic distributed non-variable resource is available, one can imagine a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent. To put this into perspective, who would have believed 10 years ago that traditional wire line telephone customers could economically ‘cut the cord?’”

The free market and technology could better plot the future of the electric power market, but the central planners in the Nevada Legislature think they are omniscient and omnipotent.

This home in Frederick, Md., is a net-zero energy house. (WSJ photo)

As if on cue, The Wall Street Journal is out today with a feature story on what it calls net-zero energy homes around the country and calls them a growing trend.

“Green” housing accounted for 20 percent of all new homes built this past year, the paper quotes McGraw Hill Construction as saying.

“So far, net-zero houses are only a fraction of the green residential movement, but other environmental features are becoming widespread. The government is fueling the trend with federal tax credits for things like insulation that reduces a home’s energy loss or geothermal heat pumps. Depending on where they live, homeowners can also claim rebates from their state, town or utility,” WSJ reports. (See above)

The paper said net-zero homes cost between 5 and 10 percent more to build, though one company reports it is building a five-bedroom, net-zero house that costs only 2 percent more.

The primary reason for the growing demand for net-zero houses, home builders told  WSJ, is a desire to cut utility bills, but also to counter future future energy costs and to become independent from the grid.

This is an animated rendering by a team of UNLV students called DesertSol. It is a net-zero energy vacation home and will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon this year:

Read my full c0lumn at Ely or Elko.

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All those wind turbines do more than ruffle a few feathers

This week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press, discusses one of the problems with wind turbines.

While making a presentation recently to a meeting of the Audubon Society in North Las Vegas, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Brian Novosak flashed on a screen in the darkened room a stark description of the fowl carnage taking place at the Altamont Pass Wind farm in the Diablo Range east of San Francisco — between 2005 and 2010, 55 to 94 golden eagles were killed each year, as well as upwards of 718 burrowing owls and up to 9,300 passerines (your basic songbirds).

Simulation of what windmills may look it east of Searchlight and near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagle.

“The Fish & Wildlife Service is getting more aggressive with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” Novosak said.

Closer to home is Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley Wind farm near Ely, where a golden eagle was recently killed.

A BLM spokesman said Spring Valley wind has a mortality threshold for golden eagles of one.

If another golden eagle is killed a Technical Advisory Committee will meet and recommend what mitigation to take, which could curtail operation of turbines or even shut down turbines.

The federal government’s disparate treatment of various industries whose operations have resulted in the deaths of eagles or migratory birds has become an issue of late. While an oil well driller was indicted for killing a single bird, owners wind turbines have been untouched.

This past week the Interior Department gave the go-ahead for a second utility-scale wind farm on public land in Nevada. This one is east of Searchlight, near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagles.

Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in the state Legislature to increase the percent of electricity that must come from renewable generation by 2025 from 25 percent to 35 percent — with no regard for cost or consequence.

This video is from 2007:

Read the full column at the Ely or Elko websites.

One stop shopping for all that’s wrong with wind generated electricity

Over the past couple of years, we’ve documented the fact that industrial-size intermittent renewable energy projects, especially wind turbines, can cause more harm than good — increase carbon emissions, kill jobs, increase power bills. All obtained from various sources.

Windmills near Kincardine, Ontario

Now, a Canadian professor of economics has put all this together in one letter to the Ontario Energy Board in Toronto.

Here are a few pertinent excerpts from the letter from Ross McKitrick, Ph.D. in economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario, addressing concerns about the feasibility of a proposed K2 Wind Power Project.

On the excessive cost and practicality of the project:

“Ontario already has surplus baseload generating capacity. In addition, wind output is out of phase with demand, peaking at hours and seasons when demand is at a minimum. Consequently Ontario frequently has to dump power on the export market at a substantial loss. Data available on the IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator) website (http://www.ieso.ca/), supported by findings of the AGO (Auditor-General of Ontario) report (p. 112) indicate that in every year since 2006, approximately 80% of the time that wind turbines have been supplying power to the grid, the entire output of the wind sector is surplus to current demand and has to be dumped on the export market. Because of the provisions of the Green Energy Act, the system operator is required to buy all available wind power at 13.5 ¢ per kWh, well above the domestic market price, and prices received for exported power are typically less than 4 ¢ per kWh (AGO 2011, p. 112). They are even negative at times, meaning we have to pay other jurisdictions to take the surplus power from us. The AGO estimated (p. 112) that from 2005 to 2011, Ontario lost $1.8 billion on these transactions. …”

Using wind turbines in a grid actually increase greenhouse gas emissions:

“Since wind energy is intermittent, additions of wind turbines to the system also require additional gas-fired power plants, with a capacity of about 50% of the rated capacity of the wind turbines, to be spinning in the background, providing constantly-variable offsetting changes in power output (AGO Report p. 91). Thus wind energy, as actually utilized, is not zero-emissions. According to calculations by the Wind Energy Task Force of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, continued expansion of wind energy, in the context of Ontario’s existing surplus of base-load power, will require replacement of non-emitting base-load sources (mainly nuclear) with a wind/gas mix. … The net effect of replacing nuclear with a wind/gas mix will be an increase in both criterion air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the canard that building wind turbines creates jobs, the professor concludes that they kill more jobs than they create:

“The Province claimed that the renewables strategy would create 50,000 new jobs. But the AGO found that 40,000 of these were at most temporary construction jobs lasting only a year or two at most. Also, evidence from other jurisdictions on which the Ontario policy was based showed that the increases in energy costs would dampen growth in other sectors to such an extent that for every permanent job created in the renewables sector, between two and four jobs would be lost in other sectors. …”

About the only thing the professor left out was all the bats and birds that windmills kill.

According to Basin and Range Watch, a dead golden eagle was found at the base of a wind turbine at the Spring Valley Wind farm near Ely on Feb. 25. The group’s website reports the find prompted federal agencies to demand the company survey all 66 turbines for dead birds.

“BLM says that the project has now ‘reached but not exceeded’ the take threshold for golden eagle of one take,” the group said. “If they get another take this may trigger curtailment and other measures.”

Fox News reported in December, “A study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that 10,000 birds — almost all that are protected by the migratory bird act — are being killed every year at the wind farm in Altamont Pass, Calif.”

Tell me again, Harry, how wonderful windmills are. Too bad you won’t be able to see those in Searchlight from your house.