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Foul Winds for Alternative Energy:

Renewable energy sources offer many potential environmental benefits, including the reduction of air pollution, carbon emissions, and other consequences of energy extraction and production. To date, however, many renewable energy sources have had difficulty breaking into energy production markets. Despite decades of federal subsidies and other support, it often remains difficult to offer renewable energy at a competitive rate.

Many argue that the best way to promote renewable energy sources, such as wind power, is to offer yet more federal subsidies, tax incentives, and the like. In this article on NRO — another contribution to NRO's "Energy Week" — I suggest a different tack: Reducing regulatory obstacles to alternative energy projects. One of the largest hurdles for major wind projects, for example, are regulatory requirements that increase costs, induce delays, and offer NIMBY activists opportunity to strangle such projects in the crib. Though well-intentioned, some of the regulatory requirements imposed on wind, wave, and other power projects have the effect of stalling the advance of alternative energy technologies. I conclude:

Alternative energy advocates often bemoan the lack of a "level playing field" for renewable energy, recommending additional federal subsidies as the solution. Yet renewable energy sources already receive generous financial support from the Department of Energy and other government sources. In practice, such funding does little to bring commercially viable facilities on line.

To promote alternative energy development, there's no need for more handouts. Instead the government should get out of the way. If the goal is to increase actual alternative energy production, and increase the proportion of renewable energy that supplies electricity to American consumers, the best thing the federal government can do is reduce or remove regulatory obstacles to energy entrepreneurship and innovation. If renewable energies are to capture a sizable share of the energy market, what they need, more than anything else, is regulatory room to compete.

UPDATE: Well, it did not take long for me to receive hate mail for this article. A representative of the Industrial Wind Action Group, an anti-wind power organization, has already e-mailed to say my article is "uninformed babble" consisting of "easy recitations borrowed from the renewables industry." Given my criticism here and elsewhere of federal renewable energy subsidies, I am sure that the renewables industry has a different take.

loki13 (mail):
I've got an idea?

How about increasing the taxes on current traditional sources of energy (oil, natural gas, coal, aka carbon) to force the market to correctly price the externalities associated with them?

You know?
Pollution.
A massive defense budget.
Subsidies currently going to carbon-friendly policies.
etc.

Too Pigovian?
9.28.2007 11:59am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
You also seem to be implying that citizens should not have the right to object to projects they don't like. Just shut up and quit whining, we know what's best for you.
9.28.2007 12:11pm
Houston Lawyer:
Just look to The Wall Street Journal today to see the externalities associated with alternative energy. The ethanol demand is driving up the cost of grains world-wide.

So we are driving up food costs for the very poor in order that the rich can feel better about the fuel they burn in their SUVs. How many people need to starve to feed this conceit?
9.28.2007 12:14pm
Bob Montgomery:
Well, it did not take long for me to receive hate mail for this article. A representative of the Industrial Wind Action Group, an anti-wind power organization, has already e-mailed to say my article is "uninformed babble" consisting of "easy recitations borrowed from the renewables industry."

Unless the mail was much more strongly worded than indicated, it is probably stretching too far to call it "hate" mail.
9.28.2007 12:15pm
Keith Jackson (mail):
Houston Lawyer:

I think the real problem is that corn-based ethanol is neither a renewable energy form, nor an alternate energy form. Since it requires just about as much energy to make corn-based ethanol as is derived from the end product, the process essentially does not bring fuel to the market. (If all the machines used to make it run on ethanol, then all of the crop will go towards powering the production of the next crop.)

Also, the comment is concerned with regulatory hurdles. As such, I would humbly suggest that a discussion of ethanol is off-topic, as I am not aware of many/any regulatory hurdles in planting a corn field.
9.28.2007 12:28pm
Orielbean (mail):
Can someone set me straight on the whole ethanol issue? Is it a green tech with no pollution, or is it less pollution than burning gasoline / diesel / coal? I don't quite grasp the appeal yet other than the fact that we have lots of farmland and not as many oilfields... And what about electrical power from tidal generators. Those tidal forces seem to be way more consistent vs wind or solar, and also you would not need a giant windmill stinking up your view... Any ideas on that front?
9.28.2007 12:29pm
wfjag:
"One of the largest hurdles for major wind projects, for example, are regulatory requirements that increase costs, induce delays, and offer NIMBY activists opportunity to strangle such projects in the crib.

While it is true that regulatory requirements, often used by "NIMBY activists" are a major hurtle, that's true for any project of significant size. The proposed oil refinery 40 miles from Yuma, AZ, has been delayed for about 10 years in this way, although EPA apparently has no objection to it and the state of AZ issued an air emissions permit with the most stringent requirements it have ever issued. The proposed windmill electric generating farm off the coast of MA has run into strong opposition since it would spoil the view of some families with strong political connections.

If regulatory requirements should be reduced, then they need to be reduced for all permit applicants. If not, then there appears to be no valid reason to reduce them for some project that proclaims itself to be "alternative" (a term not defined in any enviromental laws or regulations that I am aware of).
9.28.2007 12:35pm
the birds (mail):
Imagine, you're just flying along eating bugs(a highly desirable activity from your point of view(and ours)), focusing on the small and close, and WHAPP! you're dead. Not a pretty picture.
9.28.2007 12:36pm
RMCACE:
Why not remove some these regulatory hurdles of which you complain and keep the subsidies (which are needed because the alternative energy programs have higher costs). You seem to link the subsidies and regulatory hurdles as if they were inextricably linked. Do you have any empircial evidence (not anecdotal like Cape Wind) that clean energy would do any better under your proposal?
9.28.2007 12:50pm
eforhan (mail):
As Keith Jackson mentioned, it takes as much energy to produce ethanol as is derived from it. E85 would actually increase smog and give you a reduction of 25%-40% MPG.
9.28.2007 12:52pm
springjourney (mail):
I can offer only one Solution.
Stop making SUV, that is it.
9.28.2007 12:56pm
anonthu:
Orielbean,

burning corn-based ethanol in your vehicle is "carbon-neutral" in the sense that you're simply releasing CO2 which was previously sequestered by the corn plants.

But, as pointed out by eforhan, you have to use energy to extract ethanol from the corn. The question is (and there is still quite a bit of debate on this), whether the energy consumed and the carbon dioxide released in the process exceeds that for producing &burning traditional fossil fuels. Obviously, of course, burning fossil fuels in your vehicle is not carbon neutral because you're taking carbon which was previously fixed and releasing it to the atmosphere as CO2.

Ethanol does burn "cleaner" than traditional gasoline, but you will get lower MPG with ethanol because of its lower combustion energy.
9.28.2007 1:13pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
By the same token, we should all get rid of our windows. Look at me... I'm arguing with a pidgeon...
9.28.2007 1:14pm
Dick King:
To get rid of SUVs we would need a crisp definition.

Legislating out SUVs seems tinkery to me, and there are commercial needs for SUVs and light trucks, but there are some legitimate safety concerns. I would not be adverse to require a special drivers' license for vehicles with more than a certain weight and/or a center of gravity above a certain height. The driver would need to demonstrate the ability to run the vehicle safely through an obsticle course.

-dk
9.28.2007 1:19pm
Kazinski:
Wind farms are big ugly and stretch for miles. That said, I am not against them if they are not subsidized.

As I pointed out in an earlier thread, new research indicates that bio fuels (specifically bio diesel, but I suspect the same holds true for ethanol) produce up to 3 times more net greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. It is true that the actual burning of bio diesel produces no net CO2, but farmland fertilized with nitrogen produces NO2, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. The study also assumes that if the farmland was not being used for crops it would be used to grow trees as a carbon sink.

Lets just stop the subsidies, they are doing more harm than good, and they tend to get a life of their own independent of the original rational. I'm sure there were good reasons at one time for tobacco, sugar, cotton, honey, wool etc. programs, but they tend to continue long past the time that they make any rational sense.

Springjourney:
you may be comfortable in a society where the government or special interest groups can just ban things that they find morally troubling, but I don't. Where is it going to end? SUV's, Smoking, Drug use, abortion, football, eating meat, owning pets, vacation homes, air conditioning, air travel, bottled water, voting Republican. Lets ban it all.
9.28.2007 1:29pm
Ben P (mail):
What about the subsidies that the carbon producing industries get?

If we're against increasing taxes on fossil fuels to account for exernalities, and against increasing subsidies to renewable companies. Why not cut the subsidies to the carbon producing get. Oil Companies are still very heavily subsidies. So are many power companies for that matter.


Of course this would increase the short term cost of energy and fuel. But I think it would level the playing field.

that seems to be the point. Some time ago I read a book that suggested the break even point when renewable sources woudl start to be profitable was when oil was about $75-80 a barrell.

We're there now, but it's not been long enough for really long term change to kick in. But there's definitely indications people are starting to view it that way.

If the price of energy becomes unsubsidized, that would allow the free market to hasten the transition, at a cost of popular discontent and economic harm of increased price for an essential commodity.
9.28.2007 1:40pm
anonthu:
but farmland fertilized with nitrogen produces NO2, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2

Sorry to nitpick, but I think you mean nitrous oxide, N2O. Nitrogen dioxide, NO2, is not a greenhouse gas.

Natural sources of N2O actually exceed anthropogenic sources, but N2O is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2
9.28.2007 1:41pm
Hattio (mail):
Kazinski,
I agree with you (in your reply to Springjourney) that the government should not ban everything it dislikes. But, for me, I would only have mild heartburn about two things on that list (football and owning pets), and only strenuously object to one (eating meat). Maybe you should give examples that liberals would generally find objectionable. Banning VW's, Patchouli oil, jam bands, and hiking boots.
9.28.2007 1:42pm
Ben P (mail):
also as a random point


Wind farms are big ugly and stretch for miles.



I happen to think Coal Plants are pretty ugly too, and you can often see the smoke for miles.

Does this really provide an advantage either way?
9.28.2007 1:50pm
aces:
As Keith Jackson mentioned, it takes as much energy to produce ethanol as is derived from it. E85 would actually increase smog and give you a reduction of 25%-40% MPG.

Whoa Nellie!!!
9.28.2007 1:51pm
Bottomfish (mail):
No one so far has pointed out that none of the major alternative power sources, wind, solar, and tidal, work consistently at most times and places. Obviously, for wind, you need a good wind; for solar, you need sunshine; for tidal, you need a place where the tides have sufficient height. A fossil fuel plant needs at most a rail track to deliver the coal or oil. Even if the cost per unit issue were solved alternative power would still have to deal with this.
9.28.2007 2:14pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Let's ban rap music, or at least tax it heavily to offset the external cost of all the hearing loss it causes. We would also get a significant decrease in noise pollution. If windmills are offensive to the eye, then surely rap music is offensive to the ear.
9.28.2007 2:14pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Wind farms are big ugly and stretch for miles.

Personally, I think wind farms are cool. But that's just me.

No one so far has pointed out that none of the major alternative power sources, wind, solar, and tidal, work consistently at most times and places.

This is true. But certain alternatives are suited to certain areas. You can be pretty sure you are going to get a pretty steady supply of wind for the Permian basin wind farm along I-10 in Texas--and I bet it will still be windy there long after they have sucked the last drop of oil out of the Odessa fields. And if you have a solar array outside of Phoenix, dollars to donuts you are going to have 340+ days a year when it will be going full tilt--and it will most certainly be working on peak demand days. If you are smart, you consider these things before you site your project. It wouldn't be a very prudent move to build a solar project in Seattle.
9.28.2007 2:25pm
Ben P (mail):

No one so far has pointed out that none of the major alternative power sources, wind, solar, and tidal, work consistently at most times and places.


But by the same token, wind sun and tide never change price.

I would rather imagine that it was easier for the owners of Oil Burning Power Plants to make a profit when Oil was $30 a barrel than when it is $70. The market's not terribly elastic, but there is some give there, and people do complain about it a lot.


Also, I don't know how much this can resolve the issue, but again I would imagine that siting plays a very important role in that problem. You don't put solar plants in washington, you put them in Arizona or Southern California. But a tidal plant might work in Seattle.

You don't put wind plants in the southeast, you put them in North Dakota or somewhere else with a lot of wind.


I'm not saying slack offs are not a problem, but if the proper precautions are taken as well. (enough redundancy and or backups to handle the occasional slack offs) it merely becomes another price issue. How much of one I don't know.
9.28.2007 2:26pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
OrielBean wants to know, in effect, why all these politicians are pushing ethanol when it doesn't do anything to solve the perceived problem and may make the energy problems worse while having the added benefit of driving up most food staple prices for everyone in the world.

The answer is simple. FARM SUBSIDIES. Politicians from both parties love buying votes and power with other people's money. Laws that mandate ethanol usage drive up corn prices providing higher profits and cash flow to farmers (i.e. its another form of a farm subsidy). They also get to brag they are doing something about energy problems while actually making things worse. They count on the media to be either stupid enough to buy this or blinded enough by their anit-oil, anti-big business left wing tendencies to not care to know or report the truth about ethanol.

We need more drilling for oil in this country and off shore. We need a Manhattan style/Kennedy put a man on the moon style commitment to a well funded and staffed government project to develop new science for new forms of energy. We need to get regulation out of the way as the Professor argues. We need more refineries. We need more NUKE plants. We need many more NUKE plants. We need to take out Iran's refinery and maybe their oil production facilities to deny them cash to pay for their mischief (oops I digress).

Says the "Dog"
9.28.2007 2:26pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
To get rid of SUVs we would need a crisp definition.

Actually, there is a crisp definition. The reason SUVs (and minivans) are so popular is that in the early eighties Detroit discovered a loophole in the CAFE standards the could (literally) drive a truck (or SUV) through.
9.28.2007 2:30pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The answer is simple. FARM SUBSIDIES.

It's actually more complicated than that. Because Detroit can make engines that burn E-85 fuels (basically all they have to do is mess with the timing and change some plastic components and seals) a lot easier than actually investing in improving fuel economy or researching alternative fuel vehicles, they also are big supporters of ethanol.
9.28.2007 2:35pm
People Power:
Need for an alterative source of clean energy + mandatory national service = human-powered turbines. Lets put America's 18-20 year olds, who are physically strong, to work on a project that will really benefit all of us.
9.28.2007 3:10pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):

Need for an alterative source of clean energy + mandatory national service = human-powered turbines. Lets put America's 18-20 year olds, who are physically strong, to work on a project that will really benefit all of us



[sarc] Even better, why don't we have everyone who is obese have to operate bicycle - based generators for 4 hours a day until their BMI is under 25? free power AND a reduction in health care costs to us all! {/sarc]

heh
9.28.2007 3:22pm
Elmer (mail):
I think this desire for alternatives to oil is irrational. I saw a documentary, "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome", about a region that had been devastated by global nuclear war, yet still had enough gasoline to allow people to drive around the desert continuously for no apparent economic or dramatic benefit. If they still had enough fuel, we need not worry.
9.28.2007 3:33pm
springjourney (mail):
First most important step - increase taxes on SUV.
Second very important step - reduce tax for employers that allow their employees telecomute.
Those two steps will eliminates our dependence on foreign oil completely.
9.28.2007 3:46pm
jj1 (mail):
What is the big deal about SUVs? I drive an SUV that gets the same milage as a mini-van. Shouldn't we then ban minvans too.?

I also live 4 miles from my office so my commute is short. What if I think it wastes energy if someone commutes over 15 miles? Maybe they should face a tax until they find a job closer to home? I don't travel a lot on planes. Why don't people who take trips for pleasure 3-4 times a year become villians? They waste as much gas as SUV owners for no obviously necessary purpose except personal pleasure.

The fact is that energy usage is up because more and more people in the third world have become capitalists and entered the middle class. In doing so, they trade in bikes for cars and air conditiores, just like we do. Maybe we should suggest to them that they resocialize their economies as a way to limit energy usage?

SUVs have as much to do with it as my neighbors trip to Europe to see his relatives.
9.28.2007 3:58pm
Orielbean (mail):
Not only that Elmer, but they had muscle cars and hot rods and sweeet choppers too!
9.28.2007 4:01pm
Horatio (mail):
Imagine, you're just flying along eating bugs(a highly desirable activity from your point of view(and ours)), focusing on the small and close, and WHAPP! you're dead. Not a pretty picture.


Vinny Gambini: What about these pants I got on? You think they're okay?

Mona Lisa Vito: Imagine you're a deer. You're prancing along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water - BAM. A f***in' bullet rips off part of your head. Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ask ya, would you give a f**k what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?

Birds or people - I vote for people
9.28.2007 4:09pm
Elmer (mail):
We import 60% of our oil. Confiscation of all SUVs, while forcing their previous owners to walk, bike, or telecommute, along with zero employer taxes for telecommuting employees, will not eliminate 60% of demand.

There are only two things that could significantly reduce our demand: a huge improvement in engine efficiency, and widespread actions by individuals to reduce their consumption, such as carpooling, selecting cars based on decent gas mileage rather than maximum power and bulk, or just not driving all the time. Since Al Gore has yet to convince Al Gore to conserve energy, I think we can forget the whole personal responsibility angle and just wait for technological salvation from above.

I'll quit for today, as I'm getting dangerously close, or past, the annoying dinner guest standard of VC.
9.28.2007 4:20pm
Guest12345:
Can someone set me straight on the whole ethanol issue? Is it a green tech with no pollution, or is it less pollution than burning gasoline / diesel / coal?


Hard to say for certain. But it looks like there's a chance that it's more pollution.

Sorry for being off topic.
9.28.2007 4:25pm
quasimodo (mail):

The fact is that energy usage is up because more and more people in the third world have become capitalists and entered the middle class. In doing so, they trade in bikes for cars and air conditiores, just like we do. Maybe we should suggest to them that they resocialize their economies as a way to limit energy usage?


Bing bing bing ... we have a winner. the real reason energy prices are up.

banning SUVs won't solve anything ... it'll only make command economy types feel good. And, btw, my 7 passenger minivan gets about the same mileage as my small 4 seater car

Ethanol also won't solve anything. You don't get enough return for the energy investment and the human cost is very high when compared to the limited energy benefit you do get.

more NUKES, less NIMBY, and remember: No good deed goes unpunished - every solution will have negative consequences. We need to learn to deal with them.
9.28.2007 4:30pm
Randy R. (mail):
What exactly ARE these mysterious regulations that Prof. Adler talks about? I'd like to know what he proposes getting rid of to promote alternvative energy.

I'm sure we'd have a healthy debate as to whether eliminating any specific reg would actually help alt. energy.
9.28.2007 4:34pm
TomH (mail):
Environmental regulations. There are LOTS of them and you can usually find one to suit any situation, picking form Clean Air, Clean Water and that oceans and coastal waters Act I can never remember the name of. Not to mention State Environmental Quality Reviews, proabably as powerful, if not more powerful that the Federal law in many cases.

All of these things have the right spirit, trying to keep our nest clean, but tend to lack balance.
9.28.2007 5:36pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
You also seem to be implying that citizens should not have the right to object to projects they don't like. Just shut up and quit whining, we know what's best for you.
Everybody has the right to object. That's the first amendment. He seems to be stating -- not implying -- that citizens should not have the right to interfere in projects they don't like.

But you're a little confused -- it's the people who are objecting who think they know what's best for everyone. That's why they're trying to use the guns of government to prevent the projects from proceeding.
9.28.2007 5:44pm
bellisaurius (mail):
I guess I just hate rules making locals/condo associations/etc.. I like to be able to do with my property as I wish as long as I don't directly injure theirs.

I like the idea of a streamlined public hearing process. Not for the purposes of eminent domain, but for the usage of said property already gained, and including things that are also unpopular such as nuclear industry as well.

How would it work out in practice, though, John? No hearing, a braoder swath of people represented, thereby minimizing the effect of the immediate locals?
9.28.2007 6:09pm
davod (mail):
Oil is the most fungible of fuels.

Cafe standards did affect the number of SUVs and minivans being purchased. The standards reduced the size of cars to the level they were not big enough for the normal size family and its acutrements. The higher accident death rate of those in smaller cars didn't help matters either.
9.28.2007 6:59pm
trotsky (mail):
An anti-wind lobby ... now I've seen everything.
9.28.2007 7:18pm
New Pseudonym (mail):
Right on Trotsky!

Why has no one mentioned hydroelectric power? Did the TVA dam up every river that flows downhill? Seems to me there are a lot of dams intended solely to provide water for population centers. Couldn't the small downflow produce power and the water be taken off downstream? I don't know, I'm not an engineer -- just asking.

Also, how about limiting suits under the Environmental Protection Act? That's how the NIMBY folks get to block tapping in to wind, solar, or carbon resources, even if they lose -- they delay. Then it's time for a new lawsuit on slightly different grounds.
9.28.2007 8:07pm
dfolds:
The political strategy for alternative energy is straightforward. To create the market for alternative energy sources in internal combustion engines, we have to create the supply chain. This will be done, politically, by benefiting farmers (directly) and agribusiness in general. Once there are sufficient cars that can run on petroleum-based fuels or alcohol-based fuels, the market forces will take over, and alcohol will be obtained from more economical sources. Oddly enough, though, the price of oil will come down -- perhaps enough to defeat alcohol-based fuels, at least temporarily. Subsequently, we will switch to hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen will come from hydrocarbons (oil, probably) but will be pollution-free. Other sources of energy (for the electrical grid) aren't really needed -- nuclear energy can supply all we need. All we really need for other alternate sources is solar-charged batteries for devices that aren't plugged into the grid and don't need enough energy to justify an internal combustion engine.
9.28.2007 9:49pm
Ben P (mail):

What exactly ARE these mysterious regulations that Prof. Adler talks about? I'd like to know what he proposes getting rid of to promote alternvative energy.


Someone mentioned most of them already. But also regarding nuclear plants, which although not strictly renewable are atmospherically cleaner, there are a huge number of blocks in the way toward building new plants.
9.29.2007 11:02am
wfjag:
Randy R.:
"What exactly ARE these mysterious regulations that Prof. Adler talks about? I'd like to know what he proposes getting rid of to promote alternvative energy."

To stop a project you don't like, the best place to start is usually with NEPA (National Enviromental Policy Act). It's a procedural law, mandating that Environmental Impact Statements be done for major projects, including private projects that will require gov't permits. Even if NEPA doesn't apply there will be a state law analog. Almost always the EIS can be challenged for either not considering or failing to adequately consider some issue. You can always make up an issue that wasn't considered if the EIS is well done. You're not really trying to stop the project, you're just trying to delay and delay and delay it, until the investors or gov't agency get tired of the delays until they abandon the project (investors finally decide they should invest their money elsewhere and make a Return on Investment, and gov't agencies get tired of going back to Congress to have the appropriation re-passed).

This strategy has been used many times quite successfully. The Rotterdam-style gates proposed for the mouth of the lake into the Gulf to protect New Orleans from flooding by a storm surge was successfully killed this way, by repeated challenges on the grounds that the EIS failed to adequately consider impacts on wetlands.

If/when the EIS finally passes muster after judicial reviews and appeals, then you start challenging individual permit applications. Air emissions, waste disposal, disturbance of archelogical sites (native American artifacts are found all over, and finding a few arrowheads can force the permit applicant to shut down all operations until a complete survey is done by a university, whose work is paid for by the applicant), stormwater run-off controls during construction and after project completion), etc. If you're lucky you'll find some cute critter that will be endangered or threatened. But, even if the critter or plant isn't cute, maybe it will have a cute name, like "quill wort."

Also, challenge the financial assurance arrangements - liability coverage for "environmental damages", seek to require all of the principals, officers and directors of the permit applicant and parent companies sign personal guarantees (which will really mess up their personal credit), and the financing documents (even if you don't get changes required in the financing, such as making the lender to assume the potential liability for environmental damages, lenders go off the deep end when you start subpoening the financing documents and depose their officers).

You can, and I have, delay a project for years by challenging each of these.

Don't forget about the PR campaign -- "environmental justice" is a great phrase for TV and newspaper headlines. A few cute babies and children who are scrubbed and in their Sunday best, while parents chant "We want environmental justice for our children" and "We don't think [name of lender or lender's CEO] cares about environmental justice and our children." The last thing a bank CEO wants is a microphone stuck in his face and being asked about why he doesn't support "environmental justice." If you're lucky he runs to an elevator and all that gets caught on camera -- which image will be run and re-run when the official statement is released.

Who pays for this? Competitors, who set up "citizens groups" front organizations, are frequently interested. "Local Citizens United for Environmental Justice", a non-profit corp., whose actual backers are never a matter of public record, is a typical approach.

FYI Randy: The lawyer should never be the spokes person. An overweight white guy in a suit is the wrong image. You want babies, kids, moms and people in wheelchairs with hand-drawn signs. Google "astroturfing" for ideas. In short, Randy, stop thinking like a lawyer. A P.T. Barnum mind set is more appropriate.
9.29.2007 12:07pm
TJIT (mail):
Ben P said
I happen to think Coal Plants are pretty ugly too, and you can often see the smoke for miles.
One coal plant can produce much more electricity in a much smaller area then wind power can. Coal plants may not be pretty but because of the scale of power production they have a much smaller total visual impact.

Additionally, wind turbines are tall and require FAA lighting (strobes and red lights) which has a substantial visual impact at night. Once again when you consider the amount of power produced wind power has a much bigger visual impact at night over much wider areas then the coal plant does.
9.29.2007 12:08pm
TJIT (mail):
Jonathan Adler,

I read your article on NRO, it did a good job illustrating the many obstacles regulatory actions provide to installing renewable energy facilities. These same obstacles have been used against other business for decades.

If regulations are to be relaxed the changes should apply uniformly to all businesses, not just "renewable energy" projects.

The irony of environmental regulations being used to kill renewable energy projects the environmental community likes does provide an interesting spectacle.
9.29.2007 12:41pm
TJIT (mail):
This is a government giveth and government taketh away process.

Governmental regulations may serve to kill some renewable energy projects. However, if it were not for governmental tax policy and subsidies most of the "renewable energy" projects would not exist.

Opposition to wind power would not be an issue for discussion because utility scale wind power projects would by and large not exist if it were not for government policies that drive wind power construction.

I am relatively confident that if you looked at the staff working on a utility scale wind power project there are more investment bankers, attorneys, and accountants then engineers.

Their entire purpose will be to build a business entity that allows it to harvest and monetize the government policies that drive utility scale windpower development.
9.29.2007 12:57pm
KenC:
Federal subsidies for the oil industry from the Bush administration have been to date at least $450 billion, and, at last count, 3801 dead (U.S.). That would buy an awful lot of wind mills, geothermal plants, and battery research. Special added bonus, no dead.

Federal subsidies for coal, and more direct subsidies for oil, are much smaller: only about $6 billion annually. Yet somehow, despite subsidies for renewable technologies that are a whopping 7% of this, wind power capacity is only increasing in the double digits annually. Clearly, deregulation is the answer; perhaps a wind tower in Johnathon Adler's backyard?
9.29.2007 4:25pm
Toby:

What exactly ARE these mysterious regulations that Prof. Adler talks about? I'd like to know what he proposes getting rid of to promote alternvative energy

There is also the large mish-mash of grid operating regulations that are state by state based upon decisions made by Utilities Commissions. In my state, Utilities Commissioners are apointed either as social justice lagniappes or to keep someone quiet about whered the bones are buried by the legislature.

This is often under the cover of discussions of a "Natural Monopoly". Well if there was a natural monopoly worthy of a regulated rate of return, it would surely be kept out of nearby markets. Think of the complaints of Microsoft including Media Player in the OS, and ask yourself under what *cohernet* economic theory involving the required regulation of natural monopolies would the regulated activity be allowed to cross-subsidize home utilities, saw grass research, all kinds of far from the regulated activity behavior. This suggests that the power companies don't believe it; the rest should let it go.

One effect of the utilities commissions' simple minded model is that the actual large costs of providing commodity power irrespective of temporal scarcity are bundled into some large cost recovery model that is inherently hostile to innovation. Covering up these true swings in demand by inhibiting proper pricing means that the markets for consumer-based demand control have not developed, although with modern technology they surely could.

We also have the technology to decouple retail generation markets from transmission. This would allow the substantial number of people who are willing to pay a premium for power that meets their desires - which would incentivize further development of alternative energies and decouple new technology gernation from cost recovery of older investments.

These markets cannot develop without the information to drive them. In most of the US, it is still controversial to demand direct access to AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) data. Power Companies have convninced the Utilites Commissioners that consumers might "misinterpret" such data.

The most serious regulation, though, is our own minds. Emotionally, consumers still treat power like theu did telecommunications before the break up. "If something breaks, how would I get my black hand-set replaced?" The power company does not need to be the soup to nuts providers that they currently are. Until we, the public recognize this, the Utilities Commissions will continue to not understand it.

Long term, market incentives will drive homes, office buldings, and neighborhoods to microgrids as described by the Galvin Electricity Initiative. (www.galvinpower.org) This will free the grid from providing always on instant availability which will allow it to be re-engineered to better handle renewables. Think of the Grid as "The thing you buy power from when the price is right" rather than as "the source of all power". This transition is required for anything like what we call "The Hydrogen Economy" to develop, whether it uses Hydrogen or some other media for energy storage.

If you want to understand this quickly, in the modern grid model, if you bring on-line an "unreliable" power source, someone else must identify a paired resource, a power plant spun up 7x24 but not under load, to take over if the "wind dies" That requirement, driven by our current bad market models and they technology choices dictated by them, both dating from the 1930s, and reflective of the technologies and social theories of the 1930s, creates what is effectively a large tax on all "non-reliable" power sources.
9.29.2007 6:35pm
K Parker (mail):
Elmer,

I've never heard of "Mad Max", but if it is, as you say, about a "region that had been devastated by global nuclear war", then I'm sorry to inform you that it was fiction, not a documentary.
9.30.2007 12:44am
Eli Rabett (www):
The environmental footprint of any energy source has to include the entire process, e.g. for coal, the mine, the tailings, etc. Same for wind and solar.
10.1.2007 2:54pm
Elmer (mail):

I've never heard of "Mad Max", but if it is, as you say, about a "region that had been devastated by global nuclear war", then I'm sorry to inform you that it was fiction, not a documentary.


With my own eyes I saw Tina Turner and Mel Gibson, along with a couple busloads of extras, chase each other around the desert for hours. Everyone was badly overdressed: Mel in leather, Tina in feathers and who knows what else, and the extras in lots of rags. I can understand your point about nuclear war, as I can't recall seeing anything like that on the History Channel, but I still think it was a documentary, because there was no plot to speak of.
10.2.2007 12:08am
TokyoTom (mail):
Jon, good post, and good additional info from wfjag and Toby.

Of course we should hack back on all subsidies, as well as various regulatory hurdles. But in order to have menaingful reform, we should also recognize why things are the way they are, and the incentives that various actors in this mess have to change their approaches.

We are definitely over-regulated and have a hard time rolling back regulation - because the feds and state governments like to have something to do and being the power brokers in what are (because of regulations) inescapeably political battles. Corporations have a large degree of responsibility in this, as they often turned to legislatures to avoid common law liability (under lawsuits by injured persons) for their actions. Increased legislation and regulation has undercut direct remedies under tort law, and interferes with the abilities to project sponsors and affected individuals to cut private deals.

So how do we get back to a system that is involves less political contention and less central direction? A key has to lie in finding ways to compensate NIMBYs - who often have a legitimate complaint - who might then even have incentives to support projects and get them more speedily approved and to provide push-back against other protesters. Federal and state NIMBY laws could set up standardized payments for various types and sizes of projects, with eligibility based on various criteria.

This would help address several aspects of the deregulatory problem, not least of which is finding something for governments to do, other than stepping out of the way.
10.3.2007 6:33am