Beyond the Cusp

May 19, 2014

Does a Renewable Energy Source Exist to Replace Coal?

There are rumors that President Obama actually desires making coal use for generating electricity or powering anything from locomotives to furnaces unusable by regulating and adding governmental costs making it financially unfeasible. So, that begs the question of what in the universe can we find to replace coal to produce the almost sixty percent of electricity currently facilitated by coal. There has been the suggestion that these coal fired plants could all be converted to natural gas. Besides the enormous expense of switching from coal to natural gas being prohibitive, not all the coal plants are capable of being easily transformed to coal and others might be more readily and financially affordable to switch to oil fired plants, also a target of the ecological lobby for extinction right behind the death of coal, so that would only be a temporary fix at great expense. Replacing the coal plants with nuclear fueled generation plants would take far too long to bring then on-line and producing as the first set of new regulations and fees on the coal plants are set to be applied this year. President Obama fully intends to keep his promise to make coal too expensive to be a viable fuel for electrical generation. The drive to force the United States to reliance solely on renewable energy production is well on its way to fruition. Coal is simply the first step and it will only be a matter of time before all carbon fossil fuels will be regulated and financially pressured out of business. So, what do we use that is reusable to produce electricity in the future or do we simply return to a pre-electricity society and using candles to light our homes at night and sweaters and blankets to warm us in the cold of winter?


The claim that solar power has become viable is a bunch of eco-propaganda. Hydrogen powered plants are not feasible as it is still far too energy intensive making the hydrogen in quantities necessary to generate sufficient electricity to meet the current needs, let alone the likely increase in the future. If fusion power had been made even possible it might have provided a sufficient alternative to coal. The real problem with finding an alternative to coal is the simple enormity of the demand as there does not yet exists any eco-friendly fuel that could even be considered a viable or available alternative. The one renewable source of fuel that currently exists is the venerable tree but even wood could not be renewed fast enough to actually serve the purpose. There would be other side-effects to attempting to use trees as a replacement and renewable fuel source for coal; it would not leave any wood for furniture, boats, baseball bats, crochet mallets (not an earthshaking loss) or numerous other items many of which are enhanced by the beauty of wood with its natural grains and other qualities. Wood from trees provides a building material unequalled and unreplaceable for many numerous applications. Simply burning trees to make electricity would first of all still produce the same pollutants as coal, as trees left to age deep underground long enough might become the coal in the future, and secondly would denude the world’s forests in a very short time thus making trees actually not workable as a renewable fuel source. Maybe we need to slow down just enough to realize a workable and affordable plan to replace coal as the main provider of electrical generation and phase it out rather than tax and regulating it out with no plan in place to allow modern life to continue. Do we need to find a cleaner fuel than coal? Probably, but coal has been made cleaner and many, if not most, coal fired plants have been modernized and are far cleaner than they were just twenty years ago. Technology has been working to find cleaner and renewable energy sources and will, with time, find the next fuel source. Until that discovery has been made and a reliable and affordable replacement fuel is found, it might be prudent not to burn down the bridges to coal power quite yet. The other thing that needs to be kept in consideration, coal is one of the most cost efficient methods of producing electrical power and without coal fired electrical generation much of the newly developing nations would not have the electrical power necessary to continue their evolution to modernity. With time and the added affluence that will come with advanced abilities and technologies these nations too will transfer to cleaner energy generation. The one truth we have learned from the experiences of European nations, the United States and the rest of the first world nations are that with affluence and advancing technology the amounts of pollution produces as a byproduct of industry and power generation steadily decreases. Should governments apply pressure to facilitate the switch to cleaner energy? Yes, but not at such a price as to make life so expensive that the level of comfort for the majority of the people is destroyed because power becomes too costly. The idea is to progress as quickly as possible without leaving any large numbers of people behind and unable to adapt to the new energies. Time, effort, research and eco-friendly considerations are necessary for progress in energy generation but so is compassion, economics, feasibility studies and a steady, methodical, well-thought-out setoff plans is also necessary if the entirety of society is to be brought into the new eco-energy age as a whole, and that should be the plan, not just a bull-rush, damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead.


Beyond the Cusp


May 15, 2014

Is the United States the Global Pollution Giant Eco-Fanatics Claim

Have you ever got trapped into a discussion on how homogenic global warming is almost completely the fault of the United States and if the United States would simply end its use of fossil fuels the world would become a pristine wonderland? Unfortunately, I have been around long enough to have witnessed the pollution which existed all the way back in those primitive years of the 1970s. Back in that almost Paleolithic era I had a part–time job driving an airport limousine service van from Ft. Collins to Denver’s Stapleton International Airport and as such was often treated during the summer to witness what could only be described as a thick reddish-brown bowl of inversion trapped air over Denver upon clearing the final hill before descending into the bowl which Denver sits right in the middle. The air seldom had an offensive aroma which was overly present but the visage of the haze day after day was telling. This was during an era when Denver had actually exceeded Los Angeles as possessing the worst air pollution in the continental United States. Today the worst of the worst in the United States would have virtually no visible pollution compared to my Denver of the 1970s and much of the air pollution in the United States has been cleared away. The coal and other electricity producing plants have carbon scrubbers and numerous other pollution devices and many of these were put into service even before required by the government and solely in response to citizens’ demands.


When I attended a somewhat well-known nameless university in Cleveland in 1969-70 I got to witness one of the strangest and most spectacular effects of water pollution, the Cuyahoga River literally burning and the fire departments being incapable of fighting the flames as water did nothing to diminish the flames. Come-on, it was a burning river; water does not provide an appropriate solution for every kind of fire. Eventually, after a few days, the Cuyahoga River burned itself out and we had to stop roasting hotdogs on the end of very long radio antennae much to the dismay and disgust of the firefighters. By the way, only the bravest or most fool hardy actually ate the hot dogs, it was mostly a college fun thing that makes far less sense than it did at the time. Tell me you have never done something that you later claimed seemed like a good idea at the time. The point is that rivers no longer catch fire in the United States and both the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie which it feeds are not the polluted fish free waterways they were back then. Even the most ardent skeptic would have to admit, should they choose to be honest, that the United States has come a long way in addressing pollution and is no longer anywhere near being the world leader in placing pollution in the air, water, or most other forms of pollution.


The problem the United States and much of the longstanding industrial nations have regarding pollution is that they are still the favorite targets of the majority of ecology and anti-pollution activists, while the real largest polluting nations such as China, Brazil, India and other up-coming relative newly industrial nations are so more polluting that they could form a league of their own. In many of the largest industrial cities in China people wear HEPA-filter masks or similar air-filtration devices simply to go outside as the levels of air pollution are that dangerously high as to threaten health and possibly lives. The recent Olympics held in China required the near shutdown of the vast majority of manufacturing for weeks before the events in order to make the air and environment sufficiently clean as not to threaten the health of the participants and spectators. In Brazil the burning of rain forest timber lands in order to clear away lands to facilitate additional farming is one of the greatest destructive forces in the world. The favoring of holding demonstrations and large conventions decrying the high levels of pollution are held and aimed at the most developed nations for a simple reason, the comfort and accommodations are vastly superior and the air is breathable. These nations are also mostly open democracies where the ecology demonstrators are less likely to be imprisoned for insulting the government or the national leadership where in many of the newly industrialized and non-industrialized nations where the pollution levels are far worse these things would cause a nasty situation for these well-meaning creatures of comfort. To be completely honest, if I were going to hold some demonstration and my choices of location to protest were between Beijing and Las Vegas, well, let’s just say that would be a non-contest.


Are there still places and items where the leading industrialized nations could improve? The obvious answer is, of course, things are nowhere near as dire as they were fifty years ago. In today’s world the areas which need to address their levels of pollution where it would provide the most significant improvement are not the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and most of Europe but are in much of Asia, South America, Mexico, Africa and the rest of the developing world. So, perhaps the question we need to ask is what can be done that will provide the most bang for the funds invested and how to go about forcing change. Believe it or not the most productive route might actually be nothing more than giving the actual areas which require the greatest attention the most press coverage but done without attempting to fine or punish but to simply reveal the problems. Believe it or not, most governments are not interested in murdering their work force through overt pollution and unsafe levels of toxins in the workplace. But the fastest and most efficient route to alleviating these problem areas is not necessarily through bringing them before international courts or agencies and assigning huge fines for clean-up operations but to allow progress and technology to address the situation just as was the major factor in the more advanced nations. Recent history has shown that with advanced production techniques and advances in production methods and energy production comes a lessening of pollution and that this becomes not only a byproduct of improved technology, but in time becomes an aim and goal of the technological improvements. Setting standards is a laudable function providing these are presented as goals and levels of respected achievement and not utilized as a punitive measure and a means of levying fines and acquiring wealth at the developing nation’s expense. Those same profits which would be stolen through punitive actions could be better invested in improving technology and production techniques and energy generation and these investments will produce far more results than any fine could produce. Reducing pollution worldwide is something which is far more easily advanced through cooperation and sharing those technologies and methods which are most efficient at reducing emissions and other pollutants than is punishing companies and nations vindictively rather than lending a hand up and providing improved technologies and techniques. So, perhaps instead of the next big conference or demonstration blaming the most modern nations for a problem which they have largely addressed already, we should assist those nations where efforts would produce the greatest gains and lead them forward through our examples and not our condemnations.


Beyond the Cusp


July 28, 2010

The Bottom Line Problem With the Carbon Tax

There are a number of things that are simply wrong about the carbon tax. Yesterday we had an article titled Hot Enough For You Yet? giving some overview of general reasons the carbon tax is bad for America. Today we will get into some particular examples where the carbon tax is just plain wrong.

The first example will demonstrate how the carbon tax discriminates against small local companies. For our example, we have two companies that make, what else, widgets. The first company, let’s call it Wally’s Old Style Widgets in central Alabama, makes approximately 25,000 widgets per year using one-hundred year old equipment that make a heavier and longer lasting widget. The other company, we’ll call it Super Modern Widget and Other Gadget Conglomerate of Oregon, makes 100,000 widgets per month along with numerous other products with two-year-old state of the art equipment. Before the carbon tax, both company’s widgets sold for about the same price in central Alabama and though Wally’s Old Style Widgets were a slight bit higher in price, the companies in central Alabama also had older machines that were already set-up to use Wally’s Widgets. So, for them everything was simply fine.

Along comes the carbon tax. Right off the bat, in an honest attempt to comply with the new carbon credit regulations, Wally invested some hundred thousand dollars in scrubbers and other pollution and carbon reducing equipment. This had to be reflected with an increase in the price of his widgets. On top of this, while his competitor across the country in Oregon did not need to modify his equipment one iota and still managed to get paid for his excess carbon credits while Wally had to buy carbon credits or replace every piece of his equipment. Since the latter would have bankrupted his company, he did the best he could with a bad situation. As time passed the price on Wally’s Widgets kept slowly increasing as the government charged more and more over time for carbon credits. Very soon, Wally’s Widgets now cost twice that of his competitor, Super Modern Widget et al even after shipping costs. One by one, all of Wally’s customers had to stop buying the locally made Widgets, as they became cost prohibitive and buy the lighter and more fragile Widgets from Oregon. End of story is the small local business was run out of business simply because he served a local need and was not big enough to not be allowed to fail.

Our next example, we will have two companies who both make millions of widget fasteners. Both companies have modern equipment. The only difference is one company makes their widget fasteners from stainless steel and the other from a rubber and epoxy mixture. The advantage of the stainless steel is longer lifespan and a tighter fit while the rubber and epoxy fastener makes less noise and needs less lubrication though not lasting as long or making as firm a connection. For many uses of widget fasteners, the difference is not significant. But in high stress applications the stainless steel fasteners outlast the rubber and epoxy by almost a two to one difference thus even though the stainless steel cost 25% more, they are the better more cost efficient fastener.

Along comes the carbon tax. Needless to point out that the rubber and epoxy mix fasteners do not require smelting and are made from simple high-pressure injection molding and a 12-hour curing time. The stainless steel require smelting the steel, mixing in the custom combinations for each type of steel, then pouring the molds and curing. The steel requires, by comparison, a carbon intensive procedure and thus is hit harder by carbon credits. Eventually, either the price of items requiring the stainless steel fasteners are going to get far more expensive, or everyone will need to settle for an inferior product where due to cost the stainless steel product has been priced out of consideration.

The last examples are two identical companies who do yard care. This example requires we look at the situation without carbon tax and with the carbon tax. First without the tax. The first three years these two lawn care companies compete, they each increase their business by 12% per year. After three years, one of the companies decides to double their advertising dollars and as a result, they now grow at 20% per year while the other drops to only 9% profit. The company advertising gets the increase of their investment and the other company takes a hit for not keeping up.

Now add in carbon tax. Once again, the two companies both go with 12% gains for three years. The government computes their allotted carbon ration to reflect exactly that 12% annual increase. Now when the one company increases their advertising dollars and realized a 20% yearly increase the government penalizes them for going over their carbon allotment. Meanwhile, the company that only increased at 9% will receive money for their unused carbon credits. The basic result is some of the monies made with the increase in advertising from the more aggressive company will be taken by the government and given to his competitor who was less aggressive. To me, that is just plain wrong.

Beyond the Cusp

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