Free Markets, Free People

solar power

Obama plans to carpet the West in solar projects

But open the same amount of federal land to fossil fuel exploration and exploitation? 

Nope.

Instead, we get this:

The Obama administration will open public lands in six Western states to more solar projects as part of a solar energy road map it publicized Tuesday.

The Interior Department set aside 285,000 acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah for the initiative. Firms can apply for waivers to develop projects on an additional 19 million acres.

Imagine 19 million acres covered in solar installations.  That won’t have any environmental impact on eco-systems, will it?

And if it does, well, they’ll just “waiver” them, because, you know, this is a favored industry.  Regulation?  Yeah, most likely not at all as stringent as those applied to those old “dirty” fuels. 

Which brings us to an ironic point.  Remember in years past when we fought against the dumping of government subsidized products from other countries on our shores.

Guess what?  We’re now the target for much the same argument:

China’s Commerce Ministry said Friday that it is investigating possible solar equipment subsidies by the U.S. and South Korea and their impact on Chinese manufacturers, widening a trade spat at a time of oversupply and weakening demand for solar power equipment.

The ministry has launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy probe into polysilicon imports from the U.S., as well as an anti-dumping probe into imports from South Korea, it said in separate statements on its website.

Yes I know, China is as hypocritical as they come, but, apparently, so are we.

It’s called crony capitalism (or as mentioned previously, venture socialism).  Again government, using your money, is subsidizing an industry that can’t make it alone because in reality there’s no market demand for their product. By subsidizing them, government is socializing their losses.  This administration has heavily subsidized the domestic solar industry (and even then we see industry business failures right and left) and is forcing a product on the market to satisfy a political agenda even when alternate and more viable (but unfavored) products are available much more cheaply.

The administration has since approved 17 major solar projects on public lands producing about 6,000 megawatts of power, Salazar said.

“We have made huge strides in the last three-and-a-half years, but we realize we are only at the beginning of this effort and that there’s a lot more to do,” Salazar said. “I have no doubt that the United States will lead the world in solar energy development.”

My guess is those 17 solar projects will end up on more acreage than has been approved by the administration for oil exploration.

“Huge strides”?  Not in any market sense.  What he’s talking about is the administration making “huge strides” in forcing a product into a market that is not in demand by that market, ignoring the environmental impact of such projects (even while being more restrictive on fossil fuel development) and generally playing the “central planning” game.  Government knows better than you and the markets about what we need, or didn’t you know that?

Sort of reminds me of those new light bulbs they forced on us which are now being found to cause skin damage due to UV light leakage.

But hey, I’m just a prole, what do I know?

Oh, and here’s where you have to read between the lines.  Note the spin involved in this sentence:

The areas selected in the plan minimize “resource conflict,” Salazar noted, meaning they avoid regions where solar development would edge out exploration for other natural resources.

What that also means is the administration has successfully exempted up to 19 million acres of federal land from fossil fuel exploration.

And:

The plan released Tuesday would expedite solar project approval while cutting some up-front costs for developers, Steve Black, counsel to the Interior Department, said Tuesday.

Translation: The favored industry will get favored treatment all paid for by your dollars (or borrowed ones, most likely).

Environmental groups?  Forget about it.  You haven’t a chance on this one.  You’’ll be steamrolled just like the rest of the country.  Save your money and effort for something you can tie up and delay – anything to do with fossil fuels.  You know, the life blood of our commerce?

Yeah, concentrate there.  The administration will be glad to help.

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Crony Capitalism is phony Capitalism–example 6,981: solar subsidies

Via Hot Air is an article by Bjorn Lomborg in Slate.  It reviews the subsides of German toward “green energy” and how that has worked out for them.

Lomborg points out that when the global warming scare was at its height, Germany bought in, hook, line and sinker.  And, as is their way, decided they’d become the “photovoltaic world champion” as it switched to solar power.

How much did the German government commit to this pursuit of clean and green?  $130 billion dollars.

What happened when this tax payer funded gravy train left the station?

Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed “acceptable.” It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.

Because, you see, solar power is more expensive than that nasty fossil fuel generated energy.  Details, details.

Anyway the government handed out $130 billion in subsides, German’s responded and the net result was a huge drop in greenhouse gasses, namely CO2, right?  Yeah, not so much:

Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly 8 million metric tons—or about 1 percent – for the next 20 years. To put it another way: By the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.

Reality … what a slap in the face that must have been.  Suddenly, the German government gets “religion”:

According to Der Spiegel, even members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staff are now describing the policy as a massive money pit. Philipp Rösler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, has called the spiraling solar subsidies a “threat to the economy.”

But, as usual, the German government had to learn this the hard way. Markets, we don’t need no stinkin’ markets.  For a $130 billion dollar “investment”, Germany now gets 0.3% of its total power from solar.  Any guess why governments should steer clear of picking winners and losers?

The German government has burned $130 billion to raise the average power bill by $260 a year and delay the dreaded temperature increases by … 23 hours.

Brilliant!

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Quotes of the Day–Green Jobs edition

Another “told you so”:

WHEN is a job not a job? Answer: when it is a green job. Jobs in an industry that raises the price of energy effectively destroy jobs elsewhere; jobs in an industry that cuts the cost of energy create extra jobs elsewhere. You will hear claims from Chris Huhne, the anti-energy secretary, and the green-greed brigade that trousers his subsidies for their wind and solar farms, about how many jobs they are creating in renewable energy. But since every one of these jobs is subsidised by higher electricity bills and extra taxes, the creation of those jobs is a cost to the rest of us. The anti-carbon and renewable agenda is not only killing jobs by closing steel mills, aluminium smelters and power stations, but preventing the creation of new jobs at hairdressers, restaurants and electricians by putting up their costs and taking money from their customers’ pockets. –Matt Ridley, City A.M., 15 December 2011

And:

The parallel-energy universe known as renewables, a place where dollars and economic theory know no bounds and make no sense, looks increasingly like a bubble set to collapse. Or, as I wrote here back in March of 2010: “That eerie hissing you hear may well be the air beginning to seep out of the green energy bubble. The sound is similar to the pfffffft and sshhhhsssssp noises we heard in the early days of the dot-com bubble collapse or the subprime mortgage meltdown.” –Terence Corcoran, Financial Post, 15 December 2011

But our rulers know better, don’t you know?  That’s why they do so well picking winners and losers (I assume I don’t need to deploy my sarcasm tag here):

Workers in Germany’s once booming solar energy industry face a shakeout of major proportions following declines in the price of solar panels over the past year. A decision by the German government earlier this year to phase out nuclear energy has done little to reignite the sector. The resulting power gap is likely to be filled by coal and gas rather than solar and wind energy. – Sarah Marsh and Christoph Steitz, Reuters, 15 December 2011

For instance:

Solon’s insolvency filing is likely to be followed by other high-profile German solar company failures, analysts said, as the blood-letting in the global industry intensifies. Shares in Solon plunged 58 percent on Wednesday after the solar module maker announced the filing late the previous day, becoming Germany’s first major casualty of a crisis in the sector.  “Solar managers and experts warned already about further bankruptcies,” a Frankfurt-based trader said. Christoph Steitz, Reuters, 14 December 2011

Like the man asked, “when is a job not a job?”  When it kills other jobs and has to be subsidized by government to continue to exist.

But, you know, that’s old fashioned thinking — just like it was when the dot.com bubble was building.  The laws of economics seem to always enforce themselves on an apparently unsuspecting or willfully ignorant elite don’t they?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Pimping solar power

There’s no question that alternative and renewable fuels and energy sources are the way to go – if they’re feasible.  Solar, wind, geo-thermal and others all promise clean and renewable energy for our future.  But one of the more irritating things concerning some of those energy sources are the claims that they’re technologically ready for prime time.  Geo-thermal being the exception (but a very minor source), wind and solar aren’t at all where they need to be to provide for the energy needs of the world.  That doesn’t stop the usual suspects from implying they are.

One of the recent stories that helped blunt those sorts of assertions was that of Spain’s attempt to go green.  The result was a loss of jobs and heavy subsidies for the solar power industry.  Well apparently it is time to resurrect Spain and the solar industry and the New York Times obliges:

Although Spain’s long-term goal had been to produce 400 megawatts of electricity from solar panels by 2010, it reached that milestone by the end of 2007.

In 2008 the nation connected 2.5 gigawatts of solar power into its grid, more than quintupling its previous capacity and making it second to Germany, the world leader. But many of the hastily opened plants offered no hope of being cost-competitive with conventional power, being poorly designed or located where sunshine was inadequate, for example.

That’s wonderful, but in 2009, Spain’s power demand declined by 4.3% to 251,305 GWh.  So while solar is a least contributing, it’s not contributing much. And there are still serious and obvious problems with solar power. The example used comes from Florida:

Across 500 acres north of West Palm Beach, the FPL Group utility is assembling a life-size Erector Set of 190,000 shimmering mirrors and thousands of steel pylons that stretch as far as the eye can see. When it is completed by the end of the year, this vast project will be the world’s second-largest solar plant.

But that is not its real novelty. The solar array is being grafted onto the back of the nation’s largest fossil-fuel power plant, fired by natural gas. It is an experiment in whether conventional power generation can be married with renewable power in a way that lowers costs and spares the environment.

The fact that they’re experimenting with solar is a good thing. It needs a lot of that. However the fact that this covers 500 acres of land is notable. 500 acres. It is the world’s 2nd largest solar array. And its contribution? At its peak, it will produce 75 megawatts of power. That’s about enough to power 11,000 homes.

Sitting right next too it is a natural gas fired power plant. In fact, that’s the plant on which these panels are grafted. It covers far fewer acres than does the solar array and it produces 3,800 MW of power – enough to power 557,333 homes.

The difference couldn’t be more obvious. Solar is much too inefficient in terms of power provided/land use to be practical as a stand alone source. To produce the same power the gas fired plant does would require an array that covers over 25,000 acres.

And there are other drawbacks as well.

This project is among a handful of innovative hybrid designs meant to use the sun’s power as an adjunct to coal or gas in producing electricity. While other solar projects already use small gas-fired turbines to provide backup power for cloudy days or at night, this is the first time that a conventional plant is being retrofitted with the latest solar technology on such an industrial scale.

The project’s advantages are obvious: electricity generated from the sun will allow FPL to cut natural gas use and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It will provide extra power when it is most needed: when the summer sun is shining, Floridians are cranking up their air-conditioning and electricity demand is at its highest.

The plant also serves as a real-life test on how to reduce the cost of solar power, which remains much more expensive than most other forms of electrical generation. FPL Group, the parent company of Florida Power and Light, expects to cut costs by about 20 percent compared with a stand-alone solar facility, since it does not have to build a new steam turbine or new high-power transmission lines.

“We’d love to tell you that solar power is as economic as fossil fuels, but the reality is that it is not,” Lewis Hay III, FPL’s chairman and chief executive, said on a recent tour of the plant. “We have got to figure out ways to get costs down. As we saw with wind power, a lot has to do with scale.”

In other words, solar has a place as an add on, an adjunct, a gap filler for peak times (if it is sunny), but as a stand alone, the technology is not ready for prime time. As noted most stand-alone solar arrays have small gas-fired turbines to provide backup for cloudy days an night. And those backups are used – a lot.

It also requires heavy government subsidy since the cost of producing solar power is so high (inefficiency due to technology and its limitations on cloudy days and obviously, at night).

The whole point of this is to get real about the alternatives and understand that while everyone would love to see them come into their own as dependable sources of energy that can replace dirtier sources, the technology doesn’t yet exist. Until it does, I’m not at all ready to trade the eye-pollution of acres and acres of solar panels for a few megawatts of power – not when we’re the largest producer of natural gas (the cleanest burning fossil fuel we have) in the world.

When solar is ready (and that means dependable and steady power on the minimum of land) I’m ready to see it deployed. But until then, if it’s going to be pimped, it would be nice if those pimping it would include the good, the bad and the ugly when they talk about it. Of course if they did that, it wouldn’t be pimping, would it?

~McQ

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