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Forget "No oil for pacifists" -- it's time for "no energy for liberals!"

Recently, I discussed the importance of oil to our whole civilization. It seems like every time the price of oil goes up, everyone starts screaming for "alternate energy" sources.

But it seems that every time we look into alternate forms of energy, one or more liberal groups jumps up and howls in protest.

Let's look at a few of the power-generation methods that have been derailed:

1) Nuclear Power.(fission) An astoundingly efficient way of generating electricity, with an admirable safety record: in about 50 years of use, only a single major accident, and one near-major accident. Yet no new plants have been built in about 25 years (I think New Hampshire' Seabrook Station was the last), and some of the oldest ones are running out of usable life.

2) Wind Power. Recently, developers proposed a series of windmills to be placed in the ocean off Cape Cod. The environmental impact would have been minimal, but Cape residents (notably among them Senator John Kerry) denounced the windmills because it would disrupt the ocean view that they pay so dearly for.

3) Hydroelectric Power. Harnessing the energy in waterfalls and damming rivers for electricity is an old, well-established technology. The energy waiting to be harnessed is tremendous, and it's also incredibly safe. But damming a river changes its ecosystem, and the environmentalists go absolutely bonkers if a two-inch-long fish might be inconvenienced. The rivers must be left alone, and all the energy must be allowed to continue untapped.

4) Solar Power. This one has very few drawbacks, as Paul pointed out this week, but it takes a huge amount of land in very specific areas (they have to receive a great deal of sunshine, for starters). The integrity of those areas is staunchly defended by the environmentalists, and the solar grid's potential for disruption other forms of wildlife will, eventually become an issue. bullwinkle might have been facetious when he predicted that the first roasted bird would become a martyr for the environmentalists, but there's a strong element of truth behind it.

Finally, while I don't quite grasp why the price of gasoline has shot up so much recently, one plausible explanation I've heard is that the bottleneck isn't in the supply, but in our ability to refine it. From what I've heard, our refineries are operating right now at pretty much their maximum ability. Meanwhile, demand is showing no sign of easing, and there are absolutely no plans to build new refineries or in other ways increase capacity. And why are there no new refineries being built?

Because refineries are big, ugly, smelly, messy, and gross. Nobody wants them around, so nobody allows them to be built near them. Oil refineries are the sewer workers of the industrial world: nobody respects them, nobody likes them, nobody wants to think about what they do because it's too disgusting, but if it wasn't for them our civilization would crumble.

Robert Heinlein coined what he called the TANSTAAFL principle: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. There's no such thing as "free" energy; there's a price to be paid no matter what. We need to take a cold, calculated look at just what we need and figure out what price we are willing to pay; we've had decades to shop around for that fantasy "free energy" source, and we're still hungry.

And for those who say that they don't want to pay the price, they're welcome to simply stop using energy. No electricity, no gasoline, no heating oil, nothing that they don't generate themselves.

I hear Ted Kaczynski has a cabin available for rent...


Comments (24)

On the wind farm issue off ... (Below threshold)

On the wind farm issue off the Cape, to their CREDIT, the Conservation Law Foundation continues to be an outspoken and substantive supporter of the project, while the pseudo-greenies say "oh, well...we support wind power, but this is an unsuitable location." I love this issue because it seperates the genuine from the phoney (e.g., Jawn Kerry).

Or in Kerry's case, the vie... (Below threshold)

Or in Kerry's case, the view his wife's late husband paid so dearly for...

As for the refineries, it's no joke about the smell. A while back, I had to drive out to Donaldsonville to do some contract work for State Farm. First time out there I'm toodling along on the fog and wondering just what was wrong with my car until I was above it on the bridge & could see the refinery. Smells like your "Check Engine" light is about to come on...

Thats the smell of jobs and... (Below threshold)

Thats the smell of jobs and money where I come from. You get used to it a lot quicker than get used to being hungry.

There's an awful lot of des... (Below threshold)

There's an awful lot of desert land in Nevada and Arizona that no one's using. Good place to put energy-production facilities. I mean, hell, if the co-writer of Relic can dump an amusement park there in Utopia, then why not?

Actually, nuclear (f... (Below threshold)
William Cook:

Actually, nuclear (fission) reactors are astoundingly *inefficient* in engineering terms. The amount of energy actually produced for use on the power grid is a relatively small fraction of the energy produced by the fission reaction.

That is not to say that it is a BAD form of energy production: to the contrary, it is efficient in terms of cost, it produces no harmful gas emissions into the atmosphere, and it is not subject to shortages.

There are challenges to eac... (Below threshold)

There are challenges to each of the energy sources you mentioned that generally get little mention.

1) Nuclear - The rarely discussed challenge for nukes is that it takes both a strong technical population base and uncorrupted oversight. That is not a problem for nations like the US, Germany, Britain, France, Israel, Japan, and some others. However, in Third World nations it is. Such nations have a limited population of technical professionals and nukes soak up too high a percentage to be sustainable in the long run. Those same folk are needed to conduct/manage telecommunications, manufacturing, urban projects, resource extraction, etc. Similarly, the absence of strong controls and the money flow of a nuke (e.g., substituting substandard parts for high quality ones) make money diversion and feather-bedding almost irrestible to a "poor" nation's newly empowered managers.

2) Wind - Conkrite's inane rambling about the off-shore New England towers was funny, but wind, ocean current, and ocean differential temperature power sources may be environmentally dangerous. Already, some early studies have shown that wind towers aridize the land beneath them by mixing drawing moisture out of the top soil layers. The larger threat, however, stems from the TANSTAAFL you cited. Consider that bulk power is many, many thousands of megawatts (one nuke is 1000 MW electric, but that means over 3000 MW of thermal energy). To get that much power from harvesting wind/current/thermal energy, I think climatology change is quite possible. For example, one calculation effect theorized was the "turning off" the Gulf Stream. The effects of that include rendering Iceland and Britain virtually not habitable.

3) Hydro - Unfortunately, most of the hydro power in the US has already been tapped. For example, Duke Power once proclaimed that the Catawba River was the "most electrified river per foot of head in the world." (I think those are the exact words, forgive me if I erred a trifle.) The % they gave was something like 87% and they added that to capture more would require flooding great expanses of the Piedmont Carolinas. Thus, thrusting environmentalist concerns aside, hydro will not help much, except in place like China's 7 Gorges, or the like, where hydro has yet to be tapped.

4) Solar - Solar actually comes in many "flavors," so one must be careful when one discusses it. The bulk energy solution offered by solar is the photovoltaic conversion directly to electricity. Other solars do not help much here, as heating bath water or renewable veg-alcohol and the like do not run factories, etc. What are those photovoltaic collectors made of? How much energy to make them? And, perhaps most importantly, "What are the manufacturer waste streams?" (especially versus how long the collectors themselves last) Not only must the costs to make and the efficiency to operate need to be considered, but the solar waste issue needs to be considered. This is why the struggle for new materials is so intense. The early collectors with the most efficiency promise took the most energy to make and produced the worst waste streams.

"Finally, while I don't qui... (Below threshold)

"Finally, while I don't quite grasp why the price of gasoline has shot up so much recently, one plausible explanation I've heard is that the bottleneck isn't in the supply, but in our ability to refine it."

My father is a plant manager at Citgo Petroleum in Louisana. Citgo, like many other Refining corporations has not built a new refinary in 50 years. It costs too much. Meaning because of the enviromentalists lobbying, to build a new refinery they would have to buy off everyone in the government. His refinery is running around 110% right now and like many of the other refinerys, if something goes down - it will be sometime before they can get back up to full capacity again.

Nuclear is the key here. F... (Below threshold)

Nuclear is the key here. France draws 75% of their electricity from nuke plants.

Bush's suggestion that clos... (Below threshold)

Bush's suggestion that closed military bases might be re-used as refineries should bear some serious looking-into. Many (not all) of those bases are in areas removed from population centers, to minimize the "not in my backyard" reaction; many are already-existing sprawling comlexes with road access, plumbing, power, etc. in place; and surely the fish and birds nearby who would be made nervous by a refinery have already either relocated or gotten used to noiuse and smell and traffic.

The refinery situation has gotten so bad in this country that we are now importing REFINED fuel, not just crude oil, and the refined products are much more expensive to import.

If you think gasoline prices are high now, watch out for natural gas prices over the next few years. Of course, we can't drill our own resources in the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska, even though the 2% of the wildlife reserve where drilling would occur was earmarked for drilling from the very creation of the reserve.

We need a list of those who unreasonably oppose energy development. When the heat and fuel runs out, they should be the first ones cut off.

Chicago Tribune, August 16,... (Below threshold)

Chicago Tribune, August 16, 2005, had a wonderful and positive article in on the front page of its TEMPO section on a wind power generator. The critter was 30 stories tall and had three 76-foot blades.

Let's look at rest of the math.

It cost (per the article) a bit over $1.1 million and had (again per the article) produced a gross of 646,397 KW-electric-hours in about 8 months (from January 22, 2005 to the article deadline). That works out roughly to about 1,000,000 KW-electric hours or 1000 MW-electric-hours per YEAR.

A nuclear power plant puts out ~1100 MW-electric-hours per HOUR!

Are you still there?

So, it would appear that to scale up that windmill to one nuclear power plant equivalent (~1100 MWe), one would need more such windmills than there are hours in a year (365 x 24 = 8,760 and then x ~1.1 = ~10,000).

That's about 10 THOUSAND windmills, each 30 stories tall to replace ONE nuclear power plant.

Now, multiply ~10 thousand windmills times $1.1 million per windmill to get the monetary cost, and one gets something like $10 BILLION dollars to replace one nuclear power plant.

So, now, would 10,000 windmills change the climate any? And keep in mind, that's just ONE nuclear plant. Simply to displace all current nukes with wind, one would have to replace 100 nukes. Now we're up to 1 MILLION windmills.

Why are you blaming "libera... (Below threshold)
Just John:

Why are you blaming "liberals" for the dearth of nuclear plants? I think it would be more appropriate to blame capitalists. If the economic benefits were greater than the risks and costs, you can be sure they'd be built. The same with refineries.

"There's an awful lot of de... (Below threshold)

"There's an awful lot of desert land in Nevada and
Arizona that no one's using."

Nevada is not acceptable. Any big projects there
would disturb the UFO migration of extra-terrestrials
to Area 51.

Just John:Capitalist... (Below threshold)

Just John:
Capitalists would love to build nuclear power
plants. The problem is that it now costs $billions
just to get through the red tape created by those

There's an awful lot of ... (Below threshold)

There's an awful lot of desert land in Nevada and Arizona that no one's using. Good place to put energy-production facilities.

You still have to "wheel" the power to where it's used, which over long hauls makes the economics disadvantageous. This alone is why we'll never see a significant amount of power generated in the desert.

Regarding wind farms, you forgot to mention that environmentalists are also complaining that birds get killed in wind farms at a rate far greater than non-wind farm areas. Imagine that.

The LOONY LEFT has always f... (Below threshold)

The LOONY LEFT has always found a way to arrive "en masse" to protest virtually all methods of producing energy. The questions that is never asked by their buddies in the "elitist media" are:

1. What eneergy resources are used by the protesters? How did you get here? How far did you travel? What resources were consued in that transportation? What resources are you consuming while here? What resources are used by the "elitist media" to spread your message?

2. How can these morons demand that resources not be used for the benefit of the country when they use similar resources just to protest?

3. How can all of these people spend so much time protesting - in other words, WHO provides their financial support? How many of these protestors are "professional protestors"? Always available for a protest, any where, any time.

4. Do these protesters EVER take a bath or practice any type of hygiene? Many give the appearance of being totally filthy, unkempt and nasty.

The NIMBY argument needs to... (Below threshold)
thomas D:

The NIMBY argument needs to be re examined. I understand not wanting a refinery next door, but that does not give me the right to stop somebody from using their property in any manner. We have city slickers moving to the country and trying to shut down farms because of the noise and aroma. Community groups dictating what color you can paint your house. Farmers having to leave 50 feet setback so cattle hooves wont erode a stream. All of these are examples of the use of force( ie the government) telling somone they can not do something.
I am an ex navy nuke, and yes we need nuclear power- to charge our electric SUVs ( gettting them to market and developing efficent batteries , reclaimation of spent batteries and minimizing the enviro impact is the callenge for the auto makers). We need to work on improving solar electric geneation- How many square mile of roofing surface are available? every watt geneated is a little bit of oil saved.
We need to start looking at costs, The extra wrapper or plastic stock used in packaging may only cost a few fractions of a cent, but it uses a bit of oil and a lot of energy to make, transport and dispose of.
I support Pres. Bush 's energy program and wish we would explore more forms of workable alternative energy. I may come of sounding like an enviro wacko, but am really so conservative that I hate the waste
( What a rambling post :-)

Actually Just John is right... (Below threshold)

Actually Just John is right, the "capitalists want government subsidized insurance protection in case of a nuclear accident which was approved BTW in the latest version of the energy bill. I find that kind of funny because the power companies are so damn sure that an accident is only a very remote possibility, but they will not gamble with their own money on it. Makes you wonder.

As far as refineries go environmentalists have nothing to do with it, oil companies are not going to make the capitol investment simply because as prices go higher demand will go down rendering the new plants unable to pay for themselves over the long haul. Think about it, they would be investing huge sums of money to increase production and lower the price of the refined product. Why would anyone do that?

Finally the cost associated with production of refined product is a very small % of the total price of gas, the crude and state and federal taxes make up the bulk, environmentalists really don't have an impact, that is just a red herring for those who don’t know enough about the issues, which seems to be most people here.

Environmentalists are certa... (Below threshold)

Environmentalists are certainly responsible for the need for "boutique" blends of gasoline, though. There are now something like 25 different "flavors" of gasoline that need to be refined to meet national demands. Those flavors are not interchangeable. So if the refinery blending for Minnesota markets goes down, it can't be replaced with California's blend. This is grossly inefficient and demonstrably raises the price of gasoline at the pump.

Petroleum supplies are fungible, globally. They cease to be so once they hit the refineries.

oil companies are not go... (Below threshold)

oil companies are not going to make the capitol investment simply because as prices go higher demand will go down

What? You mean it's true that you don't make more money selling less product?

Of course, from what I've read we do have sufficient refining capacity -- except that the designer-blend requirements create a seasonal bottleneck that adds to the upward price movement normally strikes gasoline during summer.

And I rather suspect the refiners are holding off on building new refineries in hopes that the designer-blend requirement will go away. If they build, and the requirement is repealed, the result will be excess capacity, which is even worse for them, economically, than the status quo.

As for why Congress hasn't taken action on the blends issue, well, they also haven't held the Administration's feet to the fire on immigration, so...

One quibble:"... o... (Below threshold)

One quibble:

"... oil companies are not going to make the capitol investment simply because as prices go higher demand will go down"

I think "capitol investment" is lobbying, and I think they do it no matter what. ;-)

"Think about it, the... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

"Think about it, they would be investing huge sums of money to increase production and lower the price of the refined product. Why would anyone do that?"

To sell more product and make more money. Wal-Mart and McDonalds would be examples if you are limited in your ability for abstract thought.

I hate to get all conspiratorial, but why won't our educational system teach economics?

In a neighboring town, an e... (Below threshold)

In a neighboring town, an energy company was putting up "test blades" to test the feasibility of wind power in the region, and the Sierra Club stepped in, claiming that it destroys wildlife and birds, and lowers property value. Gee, I'm glad they're so concerned about the property value of the middle of nowhere. I'm also glad they care about birds, who are "too dumb to avoid the blades"; yeah right.. do some research on this and you'll see it's just not true, with proper planning and placement of the blades.

Gah. People want some guilt-free, pollution-free, by-product-free source of energy, and short of cold fusion, they ain't getting it. They should let us know when they get that going. Oh wait, they're not putting their money where their mouth is? Nevermind.

The last nuke plant built i... (Below threshold)

The last nuke plant built in the US - and the largest - is outside Phoenix, AZ at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. 3 reactors I believe. It was finished in '88. Each reactor has a 1,270 MegaWatt capacity. It covers 4,000 acres (a little over 6 square miles).

As another environmental benefit - one particularly suited to the local environment - it utilizes treated sewage for cooling water, recycling 20 billion gallons of water per year.


Quote: And for those who sa... (Below threshold)

Quote: And for those who say that they don't want to pay the price, they're welcome to simply stop using energy. No electricity, no gasoline, no heating oil, nothing that they don't generate themselves.

I agree.

The hypocrisy of the LLL's is astounding when it comes to this subject.

The Sierra Club is against all sorts of things because it "harms the environment" yet they are against taking down the dam on the Hetch Hetchy because that provides water to San Francisco.

The LLL's screech "No Blood for Oil" yet they are some of the largest consumers of it. They seem to think that only "gas guzzling SUV's use petroleum products. I guess they can't make the cosmic connection that plastic is also a petroleum product and they use alot of that. Everything from their Starbucks cups to their fancy bicycles to their polarfleece jackets to their IPods to the syringes they use to shoot their drugs up with have petroleum products involved in their manufacture. They also love to use their computers, which are made out of plastics. If you want to see one of these people squirm suggest to them that perhaps they should practice what they preach. In essence they should go back to a 17th century agrarian lifestyle if they don't want the word hypocrite behind their names. They should grow their own food, make their own clothes with plant and animal products, use Horses for transportation, use candles or oil lanterns for light, never use any form of public transprotation such as buses or airlines, turn off their computers. Oh, the howling that erupts from them is a sight to behold if you do so, especially if you suggest to them the first thing they can do is to shut their computer off and recycle it.

On another related note...

I was at the stoplight at the corner of Westheimer and the west loop in Houston the other day in my Honda Civic (33/38mpg). In front of me was a Jeep Cherokee with a BIG Code Pink(o) window sticker on the back window along with the usual anti Bush and other LLL bumperstickers including a "No blood for oil" one. I laughed my ass off at the sight of that! I guess they were going up to Crawford where it seems them and the rest of the LLL's hate SUV's unless THEY are driving them, they seem to especially like Chevy Suburbans. Hypocrites! If they truly believed what they preach then perhaps they should quit using so much oil themselves.






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