Southeast Idaho officials approve a big wind energy farm. AP

“Construction of a 150-turbine wind farm on 20,000 acres along Wolverine Canyon [Blackfoot Mountains] has been approved by Bingham County commissioners.”

The turbines would be 490 feet tall!! I wonder if there are any taller ones anywhere?

This project is remaking some traditional political alliances in the area. Leading the charge against the farm is Frank VanderSloot, owner of Melaleuca Inc.  He is a major Eastern Idaho Republican influential and a landowner in the area

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

48 Responses to Southeast Idaho officials approve a big wind energy farm

  1. avatar kt says:

    Ralph –

    Do you know if there are any public lands involved at all? Any rights-of-way across public lands?

    If so, has Pocatello BLM/Forest notified the public?

    ALSO – Check out the Times-News today. If anyone had any doubt that the big wind farm developers like RES UK are thugs – or that the Farm Bureau and cowboy friends of Otter were running this state – they’ve gotten themselves an IDFG scalp over China Mountain (Brown’s Bench). And if anyone had any doubt about just how much scientific fact/truth IDFG was allowed to speak – on ANYTHING -these days …

  2. avatar heather says:

    Hope the bats are not attracted to these monsters…

  3. avatar john weis says:

    Frank VanderSloot and his pals are right to be upset about the possibility that a landowner could use his private land for farming wind as well as cows. I would suggest the landowner buy a coal burning plant, or maybe use his water rights to run a nuclear plant instead of marring the Blackfoot skyline with unsightly windmills.

  4. avatar Save bears says:

    Is there any form of energy production that is acceptable to anyone here?

    I am just wondering, we have now condemned Hydro, Coal, Oil, Nuclear…..So I am just really wondering, it sounds like quite a few want to go back to the dark ages! Of course that is not without its downside either, you have wood smoke from your cooking fires!

    I would really like to see something that will be accepted, but based on what I have witnessed for the last 30 years, I don’t know that is possible!!

    By the way, there are ones that are taller, they are located in the North Sea!

    Yikes

  5. avatar Monty says:

    I just finished reading a more detailed report about this “wind farm” wherein it indicated that the 150 windmills will be located on 200 acres within the 20,000 acre area (of course there will have to be powerline corridors). Of course there will be roads and all of the land is private. Like Save Bears said, what form of energy is acceptable? When I drive along the Columbia River, in Oregon and Washington, the wind farms, with their current numbers, do not unduely distract from the scenery. At Tri City in Washington (Pasco, Richland, Kennewick) there is a wind farms to the south of these cities & again, they are not that bad looking. It all comes down to growth, more growth more energy development. For everyone who is “pro eternal growth”, they should visit India or China, with a similiar land mass as the US, to see if they would like this country with a population of 1.4 billion humans.

  6. avatar natehobbs says:

    There goes a bunch more of the trails I grew up riding on a mountain bike snowmobile, snowshoes, and 4×4 ect ect. The sunnyside farm took a big chunk out the areas we frequented..

    One of the first rules in wind power is NO ACCESS.

  7. avatar Wyo Native says:

    Nate, I don’t know hwo it will end up in Idaho with these Wind Turbines. But here in Southwest Wyoming we have had two seperate farms installed in the last few years; one around Evanston that is 300 turbines, and one where I live in the Bridger Valley that is 200 turbines, and we still have access to all the lands.

    In fact the amount of access to public lands is dramatically higher than before with the checkerboarded BLM land. This has happened because the land owners allow main access roads through their lands that are used to access the turbines, which in turn allowed more public access to landlocked public lands.

  8. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    I share Save Bears and Monty’s frustration. We can’t oppose everything, or we will win nothing. If enviros become nothing more than a group of Dr. No’s then they will inevitably lose all credibility and influence.

    I think this is already happening to some extent. It seems like the public is getting the impression that environmentally-minded people oppose absolutely everything. Even I am beginning to wonder if it’s true.

    The simple truth is that no kind of energy production is without negatives. You are a fool if you think the U.S. is going to stop producing energy sufficient to meet it’s needs.

    So, we need to decide on what kind of energy production we prefer. Oil, wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, hydrogen-based, natural gas, coal……….these are our current and future energy sources.

    Support one, or more, but don’t be so foolish as to oppose them all.

  9. avatar jerry b says:

    So what are the negatives associated with solar? It’s quiet, clean, abundant, and can be installed on existing structures.
    It also doesn’t require a cloudless, desert atmosphere. (Seattle is now installing solar panels on some of their schools). The solar industry is growing rapidly in states like Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, not to mention the Southwest.
    The problem here in Montana is that tax incentives are poor and we have a governor who is in love with coal. What’s the hangup in Idaho and Wyoming when it comes to solar?

  10. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    This is absurd –

    planning and design are is as important as technology – you don’t just say “i choose wind – have at it guys, whatever you say is fine !”

    similarly – if there is not resistance and demand for consideration/incorporation of externality costs (i.e. the loss of public access, the lost of wildlife habitat/wildlife, etc.) in these initial planning stages – then those values will never be incorporated equitably into the planning process and the decision-makers will never have any incentive to make wise planning and design decisions – they’ll just do what’s cheapest and most profitable.

    resistance to particular wind projects is not resistance to the inherent technology – it’s resistance to the process that holds profitability as a motive so far above our wildlife and wildlife habitat. There are appropriate places for these technologies to be deployed – but with limp noodle responses like “it’s wind – so it’s a go !” those considerations will never be made.

  11. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    jerry b.

    rooftops and backyards ARE indeed the appropriate places to deploy renewable technologies. it benefits everyone a lot more – everyone but centralized utilities – they are far less profitable to centralized utilities ~ especially when there is little to no criticism associated with putting them on wildlife habitat – instead the criticism is leveraged at those who would move for better planning and design – because the technologies are viewed to be inherently “green”.

    here’s another question – which coal plant is going off-line when these windfarms are built ?

  12. avatar Save bears says:

    Brian,

    Well based on your statements, I can see it will be generations, before this great rift that exists is crossed…

    By the way, I have seen some pretty strong resistance to solar as well, it just don’t seem to be a way to cross the rift..which really concerns me, not only now, but for our future.

    I can tell you this, there is no business in the world that is not going to put its profitability at the forefront! Knowing this, how do we work the details out?

    Your guess is as good as mine, but I do, hope one of these days we do…

  13. avatar sal says:

    But…

    Americans want it all.

    I think that there is a lot of that urban myth bull that stifles creative thinking in solar and wind power. Turbines sure look a lot better than those coal plants and coal mines and coal trains polluting along their paths…

    And the turbines don’t seem to fill the air with invisible poisons in steam and nuclear waste…

    Gosh, I guess that even the rural foilks are opposed to new ideas that would make their lives healthier and cleaner, and less dependant on resources we can’t have on demand anymore.

    Heaven forbid we should have to change our perfect american lifestyles to accommodate our perfect american hegemonic lives.

  14. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Oh boy. I am dismayed and surprised by some of these comments comments. As for the negatives regarding solar, California residents have sued each other over trees and shrubs blocking a neighbor’s panels. Solar is massively expensive, costing many times more in price of electricity generation.

    The panels take up enormous open space when you consider the size requirements for a solar generation plant on a commercial scale. Also, when you build these huge solar plants away from the current grid, which is where the best locations are, you then need very long and extensive power transmission lines to the places that are buying the electricity. This means new transmission corridors will cut through many private and public lands.

    This was specifically listed as a main impediment of solar plant’s construction and acceptance by T. Boone Pickens in his testimony to Congress.

    EVERY energy source presents many negative aspects. Energy production, of any kind, is a very resource intensive, costly, sprawling endeavour that carries with it environmental costs.

    And some of you sound like your energy philosophy rests on the assumption you can produce the nation’s energy out of thin air with no cost or environmental negatives whatsoever.

  15. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Brian Ertz said

    here’s another question – which coal plant is going off-line when these windfarms are built ?

    Wrong question. The question should be, how many future coal plants won’t be built if you construct wind farms today.

  16. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    resistance to solar that is deployed over 600,000 acres of public lands in the Mojave (2,000,000 acre potential) – lands that when left alone sequester as much carbon as temperate forests (not when churned up) – is good resistance. there is an ocean of real-estate on which those technologies can be deployed – it’s call LA – rooftops.

    the question is which business/industry do we want to put our resource into – large, utility scale wind and solar farms that cut further and further into the last wild places and cut the consumer out of the many benefits that these technologies promise ? or residential and commercial deployment of these same technologies that allow individuals and communities to deploy in a diversity of creative ways and service the actual communities in which they are deployed. That design models the adaptation of the natural world – leveraging the benefit and ensuring that the evolution of the technology works in a way that people are immediately aware of any environmental, social, or economic consequence and can adapt and make their own choices about what to deploy – and reap the benefits in their own communities.

    planning matters – planning matters – planning matters.

  17. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    SmokyMtMan :

    Wrong question. The question should be, how many future coal plants won’t be built if you construct wind farms today.

    if you keep feeding the idea that our energy problem is a problem solved via placating demand – you will never stoke the incentive to decrease consumption – that’s political incentive that is necessary as well.

    look before you leap.

  18. avatar jerry b says:

    SmokyMan……..Let’s hear your solution.

  19. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Conservation of energy is part of the solution, no doubt. However, one cannot actually believe that the future demand for energy in the U.S. can be met by improved efficiency and conservation alone.

    That is a fallacy. The truth is we have a population of 300 million today, and by 2050 it is projected to be 440 million. By 2100 the U.S. population is projected to be over 600 million. So, let’s move beyond this false belief that energy conservation has the potential to meet our future energy requirements. It doesn’t; not even close.

    So, what does the U.S. do to meet future energy demands? Increase energy efficiency and conservation measures. We must invest in solar power technology and reduce its current high costs down to where it’s competitive. Then build huge solar power generation plants that can power our homes. Invest in battery technology so that our cars and trucks can run on electricity (with enough power, speed, and safety to make them competitive with internal-combustion powered vehicles). Then we will be in a position to switch the gasoline consumption in our autos for electricity that is solar-generated.

    Build wind farms where they are practical and effective. In all the places that we can construct them. We must make a concerted and national attempt to wean ourselves from coal and gas as much as possible. We will always require oils and gas in industrialized societies; however, the objective should be to decrease that to the lowest point possible.

    This energy crisis we are currently in is only get to get worse, and worse, and worse. No matter how much we want future energy demand to decrease, it simply is not going to happen. It’s not possible with an ever-increasing human population and the fast and inevitable increase in the standards of living (domestically and globally). The solution has to be multi-faceted: we must conserve energy, increase efficiency standards, replace current energy sources with renewable sources to the greatest extent possible.

    What this requires: new and effective political leadership, new technological breakthroughs in solar and battery technology, massive resources dedicated to renewable energy on a federal, state, and local level, and a shift in how Americans use and perceive their energy consumption.

    Possible? Yeah. Likely? No comment.

  20. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Brian said:

    “if you keep feeding the idea that our energy problem is a problem solved via placating demand – you will never stoke the incentive to decrease consumption – that’s political incentive that is necessary as well.

    look before you leap.”

    So, you don’t think energy demand in the future will increase? Do you believe that it’s possible to decrease future energy demands?

    I would love to hear you expound on this a bit further, particularly in the context of an ever-increasing human population and economy.

  21. avatar Concerned says:

    I diverge and apologize – great discussion, but couldn’t resist.

    Stan Hawkins and Frank VanderSloot opposed to development?????

    NIMBY

    How may suffered impacts because of their political connection.

  22. avatar vicki says:

    Brian,
    Normally I agree with every word you say. But I am with SmokyMTMan on this one. In a perfect world people would stop wanting so much energy. But this world, and the people in it are so far from perfect that what you suggest is not possible.

    Placating demand, is not the problem. The problem is that many people don’t like what is being demanded.

    You say that there are rights involved, and wildlife and habitat needs to be conserved for the best interest of the public. Well, the fact is that according to voting records, the majority of the public sees energy as their right too-and they value it more than conservation. It is a sad statement, but you saying ‘don’t placate demand’ is as much denial as people saying Hitler never slaughtered Jews.

    Until you can figure out how to change human nature, you are going to have to figure out how to meet demand. Placated or not, demand is the economic driver. And in the case of energy, you can’t stop people from demanding it.

    There is going to have to be a compromise. Compromise means no one side gets everything it wants. SO each side will be unhappy about something. You say L.A. could house solar panels on houses….well I am sure many of those home owners would say “You don’t pay for my home, I own it, and what goes on my roof is none of your damn business.”

    They have just as much right of proprietorship over their own property as we all feel we have over public lands. Trying to force people who already own their houses to be subjected to panels placed mandatorily on their roof tops won’t fly.

    However, if you asked people to let them be put on, and in turn they pay a government subsidized (there is that nasty word again) loans that guarantee the payments for panels at an amount comparable to their current energy costs..or throw in a 10 year total 25000 dollar (just a for instance) tax credit that would be made payable straight to the lenders…..you might have a winning plan.

    If their were enough demand, and enough government contracts, solar and wind that could be used in back yards would become a more affordable option.

    Bottom line, until you make alternatives-any one of them- more affordable than the current money people expend for gas and electric, it won’t happen. Period. Until you make the transition easy for people, it won’t happen. Until you make people happy to do it and at a price that won’t make them starve….no go guys. That is what we all know as capitalism.

    You may not like wind turbines, but maybe people in LA don’t like panels on their roofs. There is no one right thing, there is only the options we have and the consequences each of them come with.

    No we shouldn’t say “it’s wind, so it’s a go.” And yes planning matters…planning went into every wind farm out there. You can try to plan for the most environmentally sound place to put the farms, but no place will ever meet everyone’s idea of perfect.

    By the way, the deserts you would plop solar fields into are also beautiful habitats, and just as worthy of being untouched as Wyoming, Idaho or Montana. They are some one’s idea of paradise too. And even if no one admitts it, there are negative effects with solar, and the building of those plants as well.

    So yes, everyone, what do we do? Saying no to all ideas and efforts will get you “NO”where fast, and dissatisfied even faster.

    Sometimes we confuse philosophical debates with what most people in the world see as a common sense issue. Arguing on behalf of what some people see as the right way is a waste of time when so many more people see another solution as the answer to their financial ruin.

  23. avatar vicki says:

    p.s. I don’t really think people just demand cheaper oil, they demand affordable energy. but when you live in a rural area because you can’t afford rent in the city, and your budget only leaves you with 800 dollars a month for gas and groceries for your three children….you will vote for more drilling if it means you get to feed your babies.

    The good old USA government is the only way that affordable enrgy is going to happen, from wind, solar, or anything else.

  24. avatar Save bears says:

    Vicky,

    I agree 100%, there is RIGHT, then their is REALITY, right now in the current situation the country is in, I think reality is going to win over right, every single time.., this process is going to take time, probably more time than the majority of us talking on this page have left, but I have faith that once the bridges are crossed and the rifts are filled, we will find a solution..

  25. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Vicki,

    Excellent post. Thank you for writing it.

    There is the world as we want it to be, and there is the world as it is. We must face some very painful realities if we are going to part of the solution to our energy woes.

    One of those harsh realities is that it will be almost impossible to prevent future energy demand from increasing. So, we must focus on producing that energy as environmentally sound and fiscally responsible as possible, while utilizing renewable sources as much as we can.

    A daunting task, no doubt. And at this point in time it costs roughly between $35,000 and $45,000 to install solar panels on your rooftop. it is easy to say that we should cover L.A. rooftops with them, but how expensive would that be? Where will that money come from? Who will we charge those costs to?

    At this point, solar is not economically feasible. It will require more research, funding, and resources to get solar where it can compete with other sources of electricity.

    So, that should be one of the first things our new President should do. The entire Federal government has to be behind this effort if we hope to make it a success.

  26. KT,

    Just getting back into this (I’m on vacation), the Blackfoot Mountains area is almost entirely private land.

    In a sense, we have been suggesting the agricultural marginal land is perhaps the better choice for a big facility like this instead of developers immediately casting their eyes on our public lands

  27. avatar Brian Ertz says:

    SmokyMtMan,

    i’d say demand for energy is surely likely to increase – sorta like my sons’ demand for candy seems to know no limit – the question is whether we decide to stoke and enable the perpetuation of exponential increase in demand by pretending like it’s cheap. Is fulfilling that demand without insisting on better, more efficient, more sustainable ways more important than the ecological sustainability of the resource choices (use, production and abstention) that we invest in? you seem to believe that demand is a priori – that we must maintain the status quo cost of the energy on the paper bill – despite the cost to other values. We’re not talking about either or – you know as well as I that conservationists are throwing the same brakes onto coal & oil – this is an important hesitation.

    right now – centralized “renewables” on public lands are being used to alleviate the tension/realignment toward monetary incorporation of ecological costs – maybe not even directly, but that is the consequence – the costs that we thought we could avoid on carbon are catching up to us. Do we honestly believe that displacing those costs into other arenas of our environment will be any different – that we can outrun them to any better degree ? No (there’s that word again). We are kicking those actual environmental costs to our children – that’s the proposition! i don’t think we have the right to do that – i don’t think we have the moral authority to do that – i think our model of energy production, not just the production technology – but the profit driven model ceaselessly chasing artificially cheap energy as a function of incentivizing unsustainable use has mucked things up pretty good – we’ve mucked things up good enough to cast doubt on our right, let alone competency, to kick these costs onto our children by pretending like this is a uniquely technological problem with a uniquely technological solution.

    Why is new technology with the same tired model just kicking the problem onto our children ?

    Because we depend on the integrity of our ecology and their services to a larger extent than just our atmosphere.

    I would love to hear you expound on this a bit further, particularly in the context of an ever-increasing human population and economy.

    This is exactly why I think we need to take a more robust and responsible stand against “placating demand” – against the proposition that our wasteful consumption is itself legitimization for more production. When I see an ever increasing human population and economy it makes me wonder – What good does it do to keep feeding this demand ? To keep our energy economy wasteful ? To put the value of energy in its use rather than in its conservation. Eventually – we’ll even run out of wind. Then, those economic “pains” associated with not placating demand will be experienced. What does it say about our generation that we honestly believe that we will escape the reality of relative scarcity of sustainable use of resource – of the need to use less, to put the value on abstention from use – and what does it say about us that we would rather put our children through the “pains” of waking up to and adjusting this model than begin to take a bit of it on at the root ourselves – to leave them with an infrastructure that’s a little bit less of an adjustment to actual sustainability – and leave them with denuded landscapes on top of it ? What does that say about our idea of reality and pragmatism ?

    And for the all important economic incentive – that thing which is alleged to motivate human-beings more than anything else – let’s use to to encourage less use by doing nothing more than being honest about the real cost. If we subsidize a demand premised on waste (i.e. when the deficit of supply is less than the rate of waste) – we don’t allow the market to work out those efficiencies by economically incentivizing that end of it. Gas is expense – people are using less. Would people use less if gas was not expensive ? Perhaps… would the rate of development of efficiency technology be as robust ? Probably not. This is another reason why hastily deploying renewable energy technology with externality costs to wildlife is unreasonable – because that’s an economically artificial cost of energy that inhibits the economic motive of development of efficiency technology and conservation that runs against the consistency of the economic imperative that you are using to justify the increase in production – especially when you admit that no fossil fuel energy plant will be taken off-line. and let’s be honest – in this political environment – there are a lot more wrenches to throw at a coal-fire power plant to inhibit that production anyway. when we produce energy to maintain this absurd cost – we incentivize consumption and conservation – that’s the nature of energy in our economy.

    This thought is not beyond the scope of the American people’s ability to understand and take on – especially now – but not with such apathy and cynicism – and certainly not with the consumptive-driven profit-motive eclipsing our wild lands and wildlife habitat as values that we keep in the forefront of our response. It’s not right that we lay down to that so soon – especially those of us so inclined to these forums as to constitute the base of our wildlife and wild-place conservation constituency. I may be whacked out of my mind (I entertain this though more than you’d think) – but I’m not willing to elevate my conception of the environment so far off the ground as to consider “Wind” or “Solar” inherently green when it hacks up our public land and wildlife habitat just the same as ORVs, livestock, oil & gas, etc. when deployed in the wrong way. Especially when there is too little left and so much real estate on roof-tops and degraded-beyond-restoration private ag land. I’m not willing to hand the keys of our children’s world over to the same people that drove us into this mess – simply because they advertise the idea that we’ve got no other choice.

    That’s not ok – in fact, it’s quite disappointing to see the economic obfuscation via subsidization of these technologies by way of churning public wildlife habitat into artificially low energy costs to facilitate centralized production. i’d rather we just invest in the sustainable deployment of these energies by subsidizing it out of the budget then hefting that onto wildlife and our natural environment. i’d much rather see the promise of these renewables realized on a much “cleaner” and deeper scale. our grid – our communities and sources of energy production could that this unique moment of political and conscious re-alignment to react to the energy and ecological crisis that we’re on the verge of experiencing by modeling the infrastructure of energy systems on the fundamental ecological principles/energy systems that have demonstrated over millions of years the ability to achieve sustainability ~ diversity, adaptation, evolution, efficiency, conservation, decentralization etc. ~ rather than model its infrastructure on what has taken a bunch of crooks less than a century to drive into the next mass extinction.

    i think it’s ok for the price of energy to be representative of the actual costs associated with its production – which is why i am in favor of internalizing/incorporating those costs into the monetary production costs. i don’t think it’s ok – especially for someone espousing free market principles – to advocate externalize those costs onto public land. in fact – i think that only when we allow ourselves to pay for the real ecological costs of our production of energy will we begin to approach a reasonable starting point at developing models and technological deployment of energy solutions that are both ecologically sustainable and economically viable. whether we like it or not – whether we pretend like its the case or not – those two things are ultimately the same thing – ecological sustainability and economic sustainability. we are not experiencing a free market – we are encountering a markedly obfuscated/contrived market that is reacting to economic models and incentives that are both not realistic and not representative of the consumer’s actual will – the real costs are being shrouded and externalized out of our communities and away from our consumption choices – into the middle east – into third world nations – onto the natural environment in some distant place – etc. How come it’s always the local communities that are more likely to resist nuclear energy ? even wind power or coal ? the same population that demands low energy prices is also against the war, wants to solve global warming, wants clean water/air, wants economic security in their local communities etc. but we are being told that we must choose between these values – or that one problem is so huge that we must forgo consideration for all of the others – even though if we used the motivation to deploy the very same technologies in a different way – we could solve so many more of those problems in the same swoop. perhaps because this is the model that we have followed — but it’s also the model that’s gotten us into this mess – the economic model and contrived/manipulated markets are as responsible for our woes as the particular technology that we use. divorcing our choices from their consequences is very profitable for a few people – but it’s not wise. Centralized “renewables” perpetuate this mistake.

    we need to find ways to reorganize these energy “markets” such that they are honest, they reflect and respond to the environmental conditions where they are, and all participants of this energy economy/ecology are as aware as possible of the actual costs. that’s how we make wise and sustainable choices. it’s easy for me to demand cheap energy when I don’t see that the waste equals denuded environments, heightened likelihood of war, etc. 500 miles away. that starts with bringing the production of energy as close to the point of use as is possible – and SmokyMtMan – we have the technology to do that right now – it’s the same technology. to me, that’s as much why renewables are a good idea as anything else. and i submit that we could generate the public will to do that in the short term if this utility scale, centralized production via foreign investment is not allowed to vent the political will and urgency of this moment by generating artificial competitiveness via externalizing their production costs onto the American people via public land subsidies and externalize costs onto the wildlife communities via degradation and fragmentation of the last remaining pristine habitats whether they be the Sagebrush Sea (wind) or the Mojave desert (solar).

    The only way to internalize any of those costs – to get these corporate shareholders to acknowledge the common values of wildlife and ecological sustainability beyond just carbon emission – is to re-introduce those costs in monetary and regulatory terms. That they understand – and that we have the ability to do. Regulatory wrenches and critical regard are all we have to do that – and I’ll say “no” all day long if it send that message – it’s an honest message and a worthwhile one.

    A daunting task, no doubt. And at this point in time it costs roughly between $35,000 and $45,000 to install solar panels on your rooftop.

    it’d be interesting to see how many rooftops would be covered with the billions of dollars of subsidy extended to corporate “renewable” firms that gets sucked into some profit-margin black-hole – or how many photovoltaic manufacturing plants might be built – or both.

    let’s be honest, energy has always been expensive – we’re just paying for that with a warming planet, war, environment, etc. in addition to the utility bill we look at each month. it is no more sustainable nor wise to use the same model to transfer that cost onto wildlife and public lands. eventually it’s going to bite back just like carbon is now.

    vicki, i’m not suggesting mandatory panels – i’m suggesting that if we were honest about the cost of producing energy, in many places – panels might be the cheapest source of energy for people in LA. That same person who doesn’t want their panel on the roof has no more right to demand that energy be “cheap” by plowing someone else’s backyard – especially when it’s commonly held – and by “common” I suggest that future generations have as much a “right” to it as we do. We don’t have the “right” to cheap energy by externalizing the cost onto future generations.

    Additionally, solar and wind in back yards could be an affordable option right now – putting it on public lands makes it less affordable to homeowners – because
    a) there’s a whole lot of subsidy being extended to centralized producers that is NOT being extended to families and communities and
    b) the demand is artificially-inflated given disproportionate demand for widespread deployment on public lands stoked by the choice to go utility-scale – and as we know, that higher demand for a panel means the price is higher — the question here is whether we steer government subsidy toward deploying it on roofs and in backyards and build that ecologically modeled (decentralized, adaptive, diverse, etc.) infrastructure now – or whether it’s steered to make centralized utility investors rich and wildlife habitat denuded – and
    c) the financial incentive to make individual deployment on the rooftop competitive per kilowatt is depleted because the end energy is artifically cheap given all of that superfluous responsiveness to the almighty “demand” to maintain waste that enabled production on public lands.

    when you live in a rural area because you can’t afford rent in the city, and your budget only leaves you with 800 dollars a month for gas and groceries for your three children….you will vote for more drilling if it means you get to feed your babies.

    Perhaps it is not reasonable to expect everyone to share my values – but I’ll say this – I have known poverty as has my family, deeper poverty than you describe – and that condition has taught me and my family that because the absolute absence of energy in our society is so rare – the real value of a light turned off for 1 hour is exactly equal to the value of it turned on for that same hour. It is no different with gallons in a tank. Is that so bad ? I would suggest not.

    I would further submit that a subsidized solar panel on the roof of this family’s house, priced to this family on a sliding scale – hell, at $800/month – give it to them for free – would be a hell of a lot more valuable to this family than any economic benefit of the subsidization of centralized corporate utilities will ever be to families in this condition. Subsidizing these utilities does NO GOOD for impoverished families as the utilities sell energy at market anyway. This would contribute to this family’s economic security, hedging them against the manipulated market valuation of energy which lines the pockets of solar and wind utilities held by corporate shareholders who demand market value without a tear in their eye – and hedging them against the volatile price of energy that is sure to come in the future. These folk might even find themselves secure enough to pursue an education – start their own business, etc…

    I agree 100%, there is RIGHT, then their is REALITY

    Admittedly, I’ve never been one for letting reality influence what i put my energy or advocacy behind – or rather – what i don’t put my energy or advocacy behind.

    On planning – a couple of anecdotes :
    Wind
    Between Mountain Home and Twin Falls Idaho, – along the freeway there is a place so denuded by livestock, fire, and subsequently cheat – that there is very little ecological value to the land and virtually no hope for restoration. Acres and acres. I hear that they irrigated out of the snake – but the energy to pump the water was prohibitive once the absurd waste of the endeavor to subsidize livestock became so clear that the plug got pulled. In fact, there are a couple of wind farms there now – and signs along the road warning of high winds. There is SO much space – “Open Space” no less 😉 . Put the blades there – it’s really close. But they’re not – they would rather cut into Brown’s Bench/China Mountain – pristine habitat on public land chasing these subsidies. That’s not right – but it’s what’s happening. And all of this for Las Vegas – wind in Idaho to lose efficiency across hundreds of miles a corridors ripping through the state of Nevada to fulfill the almighty demand of LAS VEGAS ! Now, if you believe that fulfilling energy demand in LAS VEGAS, a town where LIGHT POLLUTION is a real problem, is more important than pristine Idaho habitat – I don’t know what to say. And we’re supposed to shut our mouths about this and “not say ‘no’ to everything” because wind is inherently “green” or the crooks are threatening a coal plant instead ? NO

    Solar
    600,000 acres of Mojave Desert to be ripped up for solar (2,000,000 acre potential) — and get this, the Mojave Desert sequesters as much if not more carbon than temperate forests ! So let’s see – solar panels and infrustructure depreciating carbon sequestration potential of vast swaths of land – it ain’t necessarily a carbon source – but the mirrors take away a carbon sink ~ I guess with the Enron energy accounting this model of energy production employs it makes sense to some. and wildlife habitat – well, it’ll be interesting to study what 600,000 acres newly shaded in an ecosystem of light produces out of that bio-community. Is this “green” ? No, no, no – and again I say “no”. If you ask my sons – they’d tell you that’s my favorite word.

    Bottom-Line
    don’t let reality get you down.

  28. avatar vicki says:

    Brian,
    I whole-heartedly admire your stand, and the fact that you are trul committed to saving the economical and environmemtal future. That, along with ambition when coupled with common sense and the ralization that no solution is an over night cure, will surely lead to great things.

    I have absolutley no desire to build solar in the Mojave. Having grown up in Arizona, I can tell you that the desert is an extremely beautiful place, and without great changes, we will all be living in a voided land….without the beauty and with the waste land.

    However, what you do not address is what we can do now. I am sure thatif teh givernment handed out free electric timers for each room of everyone’s home…more folks would use them. That is not happening right now. I would love solar on my roof, but I don’t have 58 grand to place it there. If I had the means or ability to borrow it, heck I would already be solar. Wind in my back yard…same thing, with what money?

    I don’t encourgae you or anyone else to advocate nreasonable consumption of energy. I do encourage you to see that the present reality has nothing to do with what you, or I , have evry advocated. Don’t ADVOCATE wasteful use, but make dealing with it’s REALITY a part of the SOLUTION.

    I agree that we cannot ever go on using without caution based on want, but we should base use on real NEED. And a huge part of the problem is that , as Americans, we have an arifically sustained and ever inflated perception of what a good standard of living is.

    I can assure you that I too have had my years of extremely limited means. I struggle to this day. But the level of poverty had very little to do with how people’s priorities are determined. Ofcourse, wealthy people have little need to pick between things like gas, food, medicine, lights. But to those who are the vast majority, those choices are made every single day. …and given the choices they have, they will always go with the cheaper approach.

    If you ask me, there needs to be a well timed switch off. I mean this…
    Instead of providing families with energy assistance to pay a bill for heat or lights, or hand them housing assistance on an endless basis…give them solar panels and batteries. I am sure the landlords would not knock the increased value in their property. Pay their bill while installation occurs, then set them “free” from some of their financial burden.

    Start with our public offices, make government vehicles electric or at very least hybrids. (Ofcourse when the cars die we will have to deal with recycling or management of the wastes involved with the batteries.) Place solar panels on governement buildings. Put wind trubines in schools, and solar panels there too, it would be an immediate positive because schools use little energy after school hours anyhow…a positive model to show the world. Develope hyrid school buses, that not only charge while in service, but have solar panels that continue the charge while they are parked.

    Stop giving ranchers and farmers free subsidies, you can get them to agree to have wind trubines placed on their properties in exchange for the funds instead.

    Start with smaller communities, model them for the changes voluntarily. Then build on it. Go to the rural areas of states that receive the most Medcaid, Welfare, food stamps, etc. and put solar and wind in/on their homes first. That will relieve some of their financial burden. (Ofcourse these folks will likely be elated as they struggle to stay warm all winter.)

    The flaw to just saying “people will use less gas if they can’t afford it” was just proven. The prices drop when demand does. It just causes a yo-yo effect. But it is an artificial and very temporary slow down. People have to work, have to get to work, and have to pay whatever they have to pay to do that. They usually slow spending in other areas to the detement of the economy.

    No one would disagree (atleast no one with a brain) that consumption has got to slow down. But most would disagree that slowing consumption is the answer in it’s entirety. You can slow consumption by making technology that requires less of it.

    What about all those who will be unemployed by the energy slow downs…put them to work making cheaper panels, cheaper small turbines, installing panels and turbines, manufacturing hybrid batteries and cars. There is always an economic trade off, and it can be productive when done correctly.

    The problem with the ideals you have is that you won’t get many people to agree to go there with you. So why not change things with the aid of their blissful ignorance and tax dollars? One step at a time, one home town at a time, one new subdivision at a time, one day, month, year and decade at a time?

  29. avatar vicki says:

    By the way, Americans are beginning to place higher value on enviromental resources. They are voting to sustain more public lands. Not to mention that auto manufacturers cannot keep up with demand for hybrid vehicles, and those who don’t offer this technology are slowing production and posting low profits. These are positive trends. We could build on them.
    I see atleast three stories a week in the news about green cities or subdivisions.
    Bottom line get me down? No way, but I am diligent in my desires and efforts to see real change happen.
    So sorry for typos, bumpy ride in the car pool.
    Your boys are fortunate to have a dad who is both concerned for their future and teaching them to be concerned for their children’s as well. Have a good day!

  30. The debate about energy on this blog is already about a hundred times as intelligent as the debate among our presidential candidates.

  31. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Brian,

    Excellent post, thanks for the reply. I will respond to you later today when I have time.

    Ralph,

    I agree completely that this energy debate on this blog is much more honest and enlightening than the one our Presidential candidates are having. I really appreciate everyone’s input and opinion.

    There is no better way to form (or change) an opinion than with good and honest dialogue with those that agree with you, and with those that don’t agree with you.

    One of my favorite quotes: “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.” -David Hume

  32. avatar JEFF E says:

    Now for this commercial break,
    for any one curious to see what real wind farming looks like drive from Livermore, Calif to the bay area.
    wind turbines by the hundreds, maybe thousands, or soon will be. Good or bad? I don’t know. Now back to our main feature.

  33. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    Great read all of you . . lots of thought provoking stuff. My own take on wind farms comes from a place we called “the ponds” in the late 80’s near Palm Springs. It is a windy place that already has water holding ponds and they put in wind turbines . . so we noticed the wind there and it became a windsurfing hot spot until someone took a jet ski there and got hurt. The turbines were beautiful to me . . the blades looked like the sails on a America’s Cup race boat so clean and such a great shape. They made little noise, no air pollution, and people hardly ever went there so the desert animals were plentiful. Because they were unusual, they didn’t seem to mar the landscape. When I moved to the Columbia River Gorge I saw more of them, but it was the state of people’s private property that bothered me instead. . there are places where people have made fences out of old tires, mobile homes so stacked up with stuff that you can’t tell they are there. Housing here was quite sub-standard compared to other places in the country and, at first, I was shocked at how many people live in “trailers”. Now, I see that even though poverty has a lot to do with what people do or don’t do with their land, it is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to land to have a trailer (ok mobile home) on it. It is not a permanent thing and can be cleaned up. Now that more affluent people are moving here, big (4,000 sq ft) homes are becoming more common. When they are built the land gets completely moved, and the habitat wiped out. The man down the road living in a trailer still has the original landscape around him and the animals who always lived there. The one thing I can say about wind farms is they are not a permanent scar like some of the other forms of energy. If they prove to be a mistake, cleanup won’t be nearly as bad as Hanford, for instance.

  34. avatar JB says:

    People think conservation is just about behavior–about turning off the lights, inflating tires, etc. Folks, this is the fallacy! The extent to which most people engage in conservation is a direct function of how much energy costs. Conservation will only happen–let me reiterate, ONLY HAPPEN–when we have incentives to conserve. The biggest incentive for conserving energy is high prices.

    If we install huge wind farms and solar power plants we will–no doubt–get cheap, renewable energy. On the face of things, this is a very good thing. But there’s a downside. Cheap energy means more stupid building practices (e.g. uninsulated homes, large sprawling ranch homes), it means we have no incentive to drive less or turn off the lights, it means that manufacturers have no incentive to produce products that consume less electricity, and so on and so on. In short, cheap, mass-produced energy will actually discourage conservation.

    If, however, energy is produced at the individual level via passive solar, PV cells, personal wind, etc., then people will have an incentive to conserve energy. That is, if I am responsible for producing all the energy I consume I am going to find ways to consume less.

    Of course, this “personalized energy” model will not work for everyone, which is why I am still a firm supporter of solar, wind, and other so-called “alternative” sources of energy–even at a grand scale. However, it would be a monumental mistake to jump frorm mass-produced fossil fuels-based energy to mass-produced alternatives without the oversight of environmental review and without a thought to conservation. We need a balanced approach to energy production, not a quick fix that allows us to continue consuming energy at unsustainable levels.

  35. avatar vicki says:

    JB,
    I’d say I agree with you to some extent. But to say people will use energy without end is perhaps a bit inflated.

    Most folks probably turn off lights because it’s bed time, or the mood is better, or because they left the room, not because it’s cheaper. When you don’t hand someone money in the moment you don’t always consider the cost. Would we place coin operated meters on every house? That would be one wa to remind folks of the costs of their consumption and make them more mindful, but it is entirely unrealistic and won’t happen.

    It’s almost like disciplining a dog, If you beat the dog for something he did five minutes ago, he will have no idea what he is in trouble for. The dog will just assume he is abused and eventually run away, or bite you. What the dog won’t do is stop his bad behavior. If you catch him peeing on the rug and immediately put him outside every time, he will eventually learn to go outside to pee. But even that training is time contingent-so is conservation and change.

    By having the public place some energy production in their own back yard, you are reminding them of what they use.

    Furthermore, you can only consume so much electricity. If you make electricity cheaper, most people will likely consume the same amount as before. They consume electricity because they need it to operate very specific things, appliances, lighting, heat, televisions/computers. It isn’t like a sale on clothes, it isn’t like everyone will run out to the store like it’s a “day after Thanksgiving Sale” on electricity and buy it all up.

    Oil however, will continue to be consumed until it is all gone. The cheaper it is, the faster the consumption. And people keep buying it no matter what. They do buy it less though when prices are high. Why? Because even though they have to buy it in order to get around, they have an immediate reminder of what it costs when they pay for it.

    Conservation is only as valuable as the number of people who do it. So why not promote it, but work on making less energy necessary to run the things people use.

    Make a t.v. use less energy, like we make cars recharge with their own brakes…Make a hybrid vaccum that recharges when you pull it backward (Hey that is an awesome idea…any inventers wanting to use it-I said it first HA!), a refrigerator that uses the gasses escaping from the foods to fuel it’s self(man I am gonna be rich!!! ha.) How about we make a wind turbine that can be placed in windows, so it acts as a house fan while producing electricity? Or convert traditional attic fans to conduct and tranfer electricity to battery cells that can be used for household energy?( See, necessity is truly the mother of invention.)

    Simply put, we can’t consume what is not there. Oil is running out. But people still need to drive. So then what? We still have an entire country that is dependent on computers to run now, so what do we do about keeping the electricity flowing through them?

    Conservation is important, but it is not a solution in and of it’s self. So what do you do? Make all of the laternatives too expensive to try? We are already there. Make it less expensive to use alternatives and atleast you will have much more conservation and aperhaps healthier energy sources than we have now. (NOt to mention that it may actually aid in lessening our dependence on the very people who hate us abroad.)

    Just a few ideas-from the original but not always sane mind of Vicki.

  36. avatar vicki says:

    Ralph,
    I agree…maybe we should pass legislation to make blog discussions and public blog forums required before making environmental policies?

  37. avatar JEFF E says:

    http://cache.viewimages.com/xc/74171434.jpg?v=1&c=ViewImages&k=2&d=17A4AD9FDB9CF1932204034FA11B84B8CD0025FFB41E0299284831B75F48EF45
    Here is a small section of what I was refering to in my earlier post. It looks like this for miles as you go over Altamont pass Hope this link is good.

  38. avatar JB says:

    “…to say people will use energy without end is perhaps a bit inflated.”

    Vicki: Houses are growing in size as families shrink, demanding more energy to heat them. Without an incentive to conserve, we make them bigger and bigger and (to make them cheaper) we use less energy efficient materials. Fifty years ago we needed electricity to run televisions, radios, lights and a few appliances. Now we have dishwashers, microwaves, computers, printers, ipods, cell phones, digital cameras, wireless internet routers, and a host of other gadgets that consume energy. With expensive energy the producers of these gadgets will have an incentive to make them more efficient. With cheap, readily-available, mass-produced energy, we can (and will) increase our power usage indefinitely.

    “Most folks probably turn off lights because it’s bed time, or the mood is better, or because they left the room, not because it’s cheaper.”

    Great example. Walk down your street at night and look at how many houses have lights on in every room. They’re left on because energy is (still) relatively cheap, and thus people don’t have to worry about turning them off when they leave the room.

    “…you can only consume so much electricity. If you make electricity cheaper, most people will likely consume the same amount as before.”

    This is absolutely and unequivocally untrue. As I pointed out (above) we continue to make homes larger and LESS efficient and add an every-increasing set of energy consuming devices. Make no mistake, if energy is cheaper we WILL consume more.

    “Conservation is only as valuable as the number of people who do it. So why not promote it, but work on making less energy necessary to run the things people use.”

    Here we agree completely. By all means, promote conservation by every means necessary–especially by making homes, cars and all of our gadgets more efficient.

  39. avatar vicki says:

    JB,
    I understand the points you make. I guess I will respectfully agree to disagree. I don;t see how we could just use more and more…on what? You can only have so many light switches….well will see, that I know for sure.

    But we agree on efficiency, maybe we should also say that all new houses should be given less, fewer lights. and maybe we make all light bulds longer lasting and lwer wattage for efficiency. My oh my, we could come up with all kinds of stuff.

    This is progress in the making!

  40. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Let’s work from a few facts we can agree on. First, demand for energy will increase in the future. Regardless of conservation measures, increases in efficiency, conservation will not, in itself, be anywhere near enough to slow future energy demand.

    Second, the economic system the U.S. has worked under since 1607 is capitalism. This system is entrenched in our society, politics, and culture, and the U.S. will never adopt any other economic model. Continued economic growth is the God of capitalism, and this has provided Americans a rising standard of living for centuries. So, an expanding economy is the priority of our government and citizens. Always has been, actually.

    This government, and the U.S.’s business sectors will meet future energy demand. No matter what the consequences, no matter the price, we will provide energy to our future citizens. This energy will be produced somehow, somewhere.

    How many coal plants are under construction right now? According to the DOE, over 110 coal plants are either under construction or have received permits to build. We know there is a push right now for new nuclear plants. Many energy companies are also planning on building power plants fueled with natural gas.

    My point is simple: in the last 7 years alone, we have added 12% more electricity generation to our grids. We are adding more power generation every single year. Electric power generation is like the Terminator: it will not care, it will not pay attention to anything except it’s goal, and it will not ever stop. Not ever.

    So, let’s change the debate from whether we should increase energy production (because we always are doing that, every minute of the day, every day of the week, every year…..) to HOW are we going to increase our future energy production.

    As you read this, coal-fired power plants are going up all over the country. More are being proposed. Are we like Nero, playing the violin as Rome burns?

    We must replace coal and natural gas with solar and wind. We are going to increase our power generation in perpetuity, the only real question is how will it be produced?

    If we don’t produce our future electricity demands with solar and wind, that’s okay. They are building about 3 dozen new coal-fired power plants for us right now. It will be one or the other. It will not be “none of the above”.

    So, do you want coal and gas? Or do we want solar and wind?

    It’s your choice. But, make no mistake, these are the only choices for the future.

  41. Some people will change their energy consumption because they want to do the right thing, but changing the economic environment in which they make these decisions is more effective the personal conscience.

    The keys to changing the economic environment in which decisions are made 1. the price of energy; 2. the availability of alternatives; 3. non-monetary prohibitions or incentives established by the government and/or other authoritative institutions.

    I don’t think wind or solar power are going to be cheap, and conventional sources will continue to grow more expensive. Therefore, there will continue to be downward pressure on demand. The doesn’t mean demand will fall, but it won’t increase as rapidly as otherwise.

    No one likes to pay high prices, but the good thing about this is that you don’t have to convince people that energy efficiency is a good thing or politicians to pass laws. People change out of necessity when the negatives of continuing reach a certain level.

    Alternatives will emerge such as more efficient vehicles, housing, appliances. Housing will grow in more centralized way.

    The point of this will be that energy demand will not grow without limit.

    The worst thing would be passage of measures that continue to make energy artificially cheap. The best would be an energy tax that is rebated and so recycled. Of course, the best, the tax, is politically impossible given the current state of energy ignorance.

  42. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Brian said: “you seem to believe that demand is a priori – that we must maintain the status quo cost of the energy on the paper bill – despite the cost to other values.”

    My government’s policy positions, it’s citizens priorities, and our economy all are based upon the predication that demand for energy will always increase. And it always has, since 1607. With American population projected to be 600 million by 2100, how can it not increase?

    And I see little concern about ‘values’ in the press, our economic reports, in our politicians, or in our general citizenry. All everyone wants is a comfortable home and a steady supply of energy so they can keep their jobs and raise their families in a high standard of living.

    I don’t see “values” as part of the national debate on energy, unfortunately.

    Brian said: “but I’m not willing to elevate my conception of the environment so far off the ground as to consider “Wind” or “Solar” inherently green when it hacks up our public land and wildlife habitat just the same as ORVs, livestock, oil & gas, etc.”

    Every single kind of energy production is harmful in one way or another (some are harmful in MANY ways). By rejecting solar and wind, you are tacitly supporting coal and gas. We are building 35 coal plants right NOW, with another 80 or so approved for construction. While we reject solar and wind, coal is not even missing a step or a beat. The song goes on.

    Again, we will produce electricity one way or another. Right now it’s almost entirely coal and gas, and if you reject solar and wind, it will continue to be more coal and gas plants popping up all over the U.S.

    Is that your choice for future energy production?

    Brian said: “No one would disagree (atleast no one with a brain) that consumption has got to slow down. But most would disagree that slowing consumption is the answer in it’s entirety. You can slow consumption by making technology that requires less of it.”

    Yes, but the benefits of any energy conservation are lost in the meteoric rise in human population. And homes are bigger now, we all have a computer…..in other words, we use more electricity per person than our parents did. And our children will use more electricity per capita than we do. Especially if we start mass-producing electric cars, like is planned.

    Think of all the things that we possess today that run on electricity that our parents didn’t have. It’s a long list. And your children’s list will be longer than our list. Technology isn’t the answer, it cannot get us out of this hole we are digging.

    We should decrease consumption, except for that nagging and ever-present fact that our entire economy is based upon consumption. And I just don’t see the U.S. completely changing it’s economic model anytime soon.

    Brian said: “Now, if you believe that fulfilling energy demand in LAS VEGAS, a town where LIGHT POLLUTION is a real problem, is more important than pristine Idaho habitat – I don’t know what to say.”

    Well, you and I value that Idaho habitat more than the city of Las Vegas. But not the rest of Americans (and certainly not the citizens of Las Vegas). To them, that Idaho land is very pretty, but they will never see it, or visit it, and don’t we have enough National Parks, anyway?

    This is where some of us go astray. We make the mistake of seeing only the solutions that fit our criteria and environmental beliefs. We are the extreme minority. We are not in lock-step with the rest of society. Sometimes, we have to accept what we can get. Compromise.

    This is an ugly term when applied to the environment, and I don’t want to compromise our environment. But we have no choice. We are losing. While we debate this, coal plants are being built. By rejecting solar and wind, we are giving up and allowing coal and gas to win.

    Our society cannot afford that. Our wildlife cannot afford that. As you said, Brian, we are selling our children’s future for today. And we are selling it cheap. I can’t dispute this. But I recognize that we are not stopping it. Not even close.

    Will solar and wind hurt our environment? Of course. Will it hurt the environment more or less than hundreds of new coal and gas power plants? we have a choice to make. It’s an ugly choice.

    But we had better make it soon.

  43. SmokyMtMan.

    While I am not Brian, my comments above may be of some relevance to your coments just below them.

  44. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    Ralph said: “I don’t think wind or solar power are going to be cheap, and conventional sources will continue to grow more expensive. Therefore, there will continue to be downward pressure on demand.”

    Energy prices have generally always increased. Electric rates have certainly increased over time, as has oil and gas. There are fluctuations, of course, but today energy costs more than it used to. This is not new, and it has not reduced energy demand yet.

    So, why do we think increases in energy prices will reduce demand in the future, if it never has historically? As a percentage of personal income, energy is a very small part. I have read it averages 2-8% of income (depends on how much you make, of course). If other energy prices climb as drastically as oil, then yes, I agree with Ralph’s statement.

    But this meteoric rise in oil prices is actually rare in energy markets, and it already looks like this recent oil spike is subsiding. Electric rates depend upon coal, which is very abundant and cheap. I have read that the U.S. has enough coal to last 200 years. So, I don’t see the price of electricity ever rising so quickly that it kills future demand, or even prevents that demand from growing at the 2-3% per year it has always increased.

    Oil, on the other hand, may rise so fast that it slows or even stalls demand here in the U.S. However, the rest of the world is catching up to our standards of living, and their use of oil is really what driving the cost of oil. We don’t have much influence of the cost of oil like we do other sources of energy (gas, coal, and nuclear).

    For instance, the U.S. has reduced their daily oil use by 700,000 barrels a day in the past year. But Asia has increased their oil use by about 700,000 barrels over the same period. We cannot conserve our way out of the oil situation, can we? China and India are using far more oil every year as their economies modernize. Simply put, they will use the oil we don’t, so we will never gain much by conservation alone. Not anymore. Those days are long gone, obliterated by the global economy.

    In industrialized countries, we are totally dependent upon energy for our standards of living and our economy. In an ever-increasing economy such as ours, increased energy costs have been historically off-set by rising incomes. That is why we can afford to pay $1.00 for a hamburger that cost our parents 5 cents.

    No, Ralph, hoping that prices rise enough to kill demand is wrong, in my opinion. Electric rates depend on coal, and coal is cheap. That is why we are building so many new coal plants right now. Indeed, the DOE says that we have more coal-fired electric plants under construction or approved than we actually need.

    That tells me electricity will be cheap far into the future. Our government and economy demands a steadily increasing, dependable, and cheap supply of electricity.

    And that is exactly what we are getting.

    Is solar and wind expensive? You betcha. Will these 2 industries cost us a lot of public land and resources? You betcha.

    Now think of what those 110 new coal-fired power plants are going to cost us. In terms of the environmental costs, local and regional pollution, climate changing gas emissions, which is more favorable?

    Make no mistake, they are going to build all the new power plants that America needs. The question is do we want coal and gas…….or wind and solar?

    That choice is stark, and it’s the only choice we currently have.

  45. avatar JB says:

    “I don’t think wind or solar power are going to be cheap, and conventional sources will continue to grow more expensive.”

    “Is solar and wind expensive? You betcha.”

    Solar and wind may have high initial costs, but you can’t possibly think the long term costs of using these technologies will be anywhere near what it costs us to use oil, natural gas, and coal?

    Think for a moment what it costs to get coal. You have to locate it, determine if the source is cost effective to extract, dig it out (which often requires ripping the tops off of mountains), transport it, and then burn it (and then go looking for more). Contrast this admittedly simplified production process to that of wind or solar, where one literally erects and maintains the structures that produce energy (and the lines to carry that energy)…period. Which do you think will be cheaper over the long run?

    SmokyMtMan: I agree with most of what you’re saying. However, I think you’ve erected a straw man. I don’t think anyone here is opposed to solar and wind over nuclear and fossil fuels (please correct me if I’m wrong). The question is, will we take the time to implement these technologies correctly, or will we forgo environmental review in our rush to embrace alternatives. I am a proponent of alternative energy, but I believe we need to take the time to do it right. the first time.

  46. avatar SmokyMtMan says:

    JB,

    Electricity costs:

    Coal: $20-$30 per megawatt
    Natural gas: $45-$60 per megawatt
    Solar: $180 to $230 cents per megawatt

    Coal represents about 78% of all the fossil fuel reserves in the world. It will be very difficult to transform our nation’s electricity grid to an alternative fuel-based one. The costs of coal are so inexpensive in relation to other electricity sources, that it is of little surprise we are quickly building dozens of new coal-fired plants today, with over 100 more approved and ready for construction. Coal is extremely plentiful, cheap, and easily attained.

    There is no doubt that right now, over the long run, coal is the cheapest source of electricity in the U.S. Period. If you don’t calculate the costs from climate change, that is. Or the pollution that coal causes. And, unfortunately, there is no mechanism in the U.S.’s economic model that does take those things into consideration.

    We are not going to transition to a new, very expensive energy source without a lot of political motivation. We are currently dragging our feet, essentially. The impetus to transition to solar is not commensurate with the need to do so.

    We all know what a coal-based energy grid is doing to our planet. We cannot afford to keep walking down this road.
    I agree most on here probably agree with that; however, there are some that have voiced opposition to new, large, and sprawling power plants in wild public areas. Also, some have difficulty accepting all the new power transmission corridors that will be needed.

    Brain has eloquently expressed his reluctance to build huge solar plants in the Mojave (one of the most promising locations in the U.S. I am sure many have such reservations.

    JB said: “I believe we need to take the time to do it right. the first time.”

    Well, I hope we have the time you ask for. Personally, I think time has essentially run out on us. I fear it’s too late. Climate change is already upon us. Coal is so entrenched in our energy sector, so cheap, so dependable and domestic, that I fear we will never transition away from it.

    It’s 2008, and all we are doing at this late stage is TALKING about solar. Where is the action?

  47. avatar JB says:

    Smoky:

    I’d be interested to know how the figures you cited were calculated. A quick search revealed that the prices cited for the production of wind and solar vary widely. The search also found this interesting blog (http://solveclimate.com/blog/20071219/1-watt-itunes-solar-energy-has-arrived).

    Think on this. Every day we wait, solar becomes more efficient and cost effective, while coal becomes less and less plentiful. It will be cheaper in the long run–especially when you calculate in environmental costs.

    Look, I’m with you; I want solar power yesterday (frankly, I’d like to find the right combination of alternatives to allow me to go off the grid). But if we are going to mass produce it, then let’s make sure we do it right. What alternative power doesn’t need is another ethanol–at least (I think) we can agree on that.

  48. avatar cobra says:

    I can remember when I was growing up my folks were always on us kids to turn off the lights when you leave the room, turn off the t.v. if your not watching it, keep the heat down unless we are home and all kinds of things like that to save money. Dad taught high school and then went into administration and mom had different accounting jobs while I was young. We all know that teachers didn’t make much and my parents always tried to save when they could. I think alot of us need to start teaching the younger and some older generations that simple things like turning off te lights and other things if your not using them can help. Seems to me like we have turned into a very wasteful society. I also wonder with all of our technology why we can’t or won’t come up with a way to burn coal cleanly. It’s not like we can change tommorrow, wish we could but we can’t, so maybe try to come up with ways to use fossil fuels that are clean and then really work on the alternatives. I’m a general contractor/carpenter and have looked into solar and wind power for some of my clients homes but it’s just so expensive for most of them that there is no way that they can build the home they want and afford the solar or wind. Gotta go, have to tell my youngest to turn off the lights, t.v. p.c., i-pod, stereo, dvd, etc. etc. etc.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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