Category Archives: energy conservation

Signs of the Times

I don’t know what to say about the fact that Kentucky’s Coal Museum is powered by solar panels but …. here it is, folks:

Tre’ Sexton said he was surprised when his company, Bluegrass Solar, was approached about the project. If there was one building in eastern Kentucky that wouldn’t have a solar-power system, you’d think it would be the coal museum, he said.

“Really the first time that I sat down and was talking about it with everybody, I was like…are you for real? They’re really going to go for this?” Sexton said. “I mean, that would be like showing up at a bank and they ask you if you’d mind taking some of this money out of the vault.”

But putting solar panels on top of the coal museum makes sense economically, Sexton said. Public attractions like this one can’t be profitable if they’re dealing with expensive electric bills every month. And people in eastern Kentucky are becoming more interested in alternative energy options.

There’s been a lot of discussion about coal and coal jobs lately, mostly because everyone always panders to coal states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania during election season. Both sides do it, and both sides are wrong. I mean, Republicans are the worst — Trump is famously making promises he can’t deliver, while Republicans are hanging sick retired miners out to dry. Democrats can be just as bad, though. Remember Alison Grimes, running for Kentucky Senate, criticizing President Obama on the loss of coal jobs? Her “concern” was such obvious bullshit, everyone knew it, and of course she got called on it.

Democrats and Republicans need to just stop this nonsense. These are not stupid people. They know their industry is dying. Stop promising to pull a Lazarus on a dying industry. It’s like it’s 1910 and politicians are promising to bring back wagons and farriers. I wonder how a politician of either party would fare if they came into coal country and said, “look, market forces have changed, coal has been replaced, let’s transition your economies to other industries with aggressive economic development and education programs.”

Would that get respect or a barrage of lying SuperPac ads? Probably the latter. That was basically Hillary Clinton’s message, and we all know how well that went over. Thing is, people just want to dream the impossible dream. Lie to me, please. Tell me that you can save my local coal mine, even if that one in Pennsylvania is shutting down. No, these people aren’t stupid, they’re desperate. Desperation is a hard emotion to address during a campaign.

But here we are. That the fucking Kentucky Coal Museum is being powered by solar panels because it’s more economical just says it all, doesn’t it? Coal has been dying for decades, and it’s not because of Obama or the EPA, it’s because of “market forces” and the damn numbers, folks. They don’t add up:

Coal mining jobs, meanwhile, have also fallen 70% since 1985, a loss of 120,000 jobs.

The coal industry has lost much of its customer base not because of regulations but because natural gas production has soared, pushing down the price of that cleaner source of electrical power.

In addition, falling costs for green energy, such as solar and wind power, have cut the demand for coal. So has a move by overseas markets, like China, to shift away from coal in an attempt to clean up badly polluted air.

Lots of people wonder why every election we pander to an industry that accounts for around the same number of employees as Whole Foods Markets:

It’s a good question. I have to say, this is an issue where both sides get it way wrong. I love the anti-fracking people on the left, you know, the ones who just couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s “pro-fracking” and that’s a dealbreaker. Well then, are you in favor of climate change? Are you pro-mountaintop removal mining? Because those are the choices right now. Coal is dying — has been dying, for decades — because natural gas is ascending, and we get natural gas from fracking. So pick your poison.

And yes, solar and wind are good options but we do not have the infrastructure to transition our entire economy to these sources overnight. Our grid can’t accommodate it right now. We need that “Apollo program for energy” that we’ve been promised, but it’s not happening yet. So it has to happen in bits and pieces. Like the Kentucky Coal Museum putting solar panels on its roof, or this coal operation in eastern Kentucky planning a solar farm on a reclaimed strip mine.

We pander to an industry that supplies fewer than 100,000 jobs because there’s a lot of history attached to it and it’s a cultural touchstone. Much of “coal country” is in a culturally rich part of the nation which has supplied America with its most beloved artists, music and literature.

I’m shocked that as much as we pander to this region, we haven’t offered any realistic plan to bail it out this time around. You know, like we did in the 1930s with the creation of TVA, or Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Maybe it’s a sign of our dysfunctional government that we just can’t do big things anymore.

Donald Trump can’t save the coal industry. Neither can Republicans. Nor can Democrats. Coal communities are going to have to find the answer within:

The old mind-set that the region needs a big jobs provider – like coal – is hard to break. Younger generations watch their parents endure unsteady employment and worry about their own prospects. Older generations can’t visualize a different way forward.

One mistake outsiders make, many here say, is thinking all this is actually about coal. It’s not. It’s more about the life coal provided. Where else could you earn $80,000 a year with a high school education or less?

“Embrace the change or be left behind,” says Jeff Combs of Hazard, Ky., standing outside a bed-and-breakfast on a hill overlooking the community’s nearly vacant downtown. “Be open-minded. Be open-minded to more.” Mr. Combs’s father, a former coal miner, implored him to avoid the mines. It was tough work, dangerous and unhealthy in the long term. Combs’s father was on disability in his 50s.

Is there a politician out there with the guts and fortitude to offer a little tough love? Who can say, point blank, times have changed and you have to change with them? Today’s jobs require education and skills, that’s just the reality. Gone are the days when you could drop out of high school and earn a good living in the mines. That’s over. Blaming treehuggers or liberals isn’t going to change that. But blaming others for things we feel powerless to change just feels so much better, doesn’t it?


Filed under energy conservation, energy future, environment, solar energy

Marsha Blackburn Gives The Worst Christmas Presents Ever

Seriously, Marsha Blackburn is an idiot. But this takes the cake:

“I will fight until the end so that people can keep their light bulbs and we’ll see what happens in the coming days. In the meantime, I am stocking up and filling my family’s Christmas stockings with light bulbs. Hope my friends in Tennessee are too.

I’m sure Marsha’s family is just thrilled. Light bulbs in my Christmas stocking! Can’t wait!

Moron. Yeah you enjoy those higher electricity bills, honey. And I’ve heard of First World Problems but this is one giant WATB:

Ed Forbes, a meat cutter who lives in Hendersonville, has both kinds of bulbs in his home. He was going to change them all out but then stopped.

“They may be energy efficient, sure, but what I dislike about them when they first come on is they’re very low light,” he said.

Oh whaaah. I have to wait three seconds for that really bright BRIGHT light! Life sucks! Socialism! And …. Obama! Pffft. You realize you come off like a giant, privileged ass, right Mr. Forbes?

Yeah, whine about how you’re inconvenienced by three seconds of dim light to the folks in Kingston, Tennessee who lost their homes to over a billion gallons of coal ash slurry three Christmases ago. Get over your damn selves, people. Some things are more important than your inability to adapt to a different kind of light bulb. You know what happens to creatures who don’t adapt? They die. Oh forget it, Ed Forbes probably doesn’t believe in science, anyway.

I addressed the false “light bulb ban” nonsense last summer, BTW.

Sometimes we Americans come off like a bunch of pampered, spoiled brats. This is one of those times. Hey Marsha Blackburn: try “fighting to the end” for jobs, why don’t you? Jobless claims are up in Tennessee and you’re worried about lightbulbs?


Filed under energy conservation, Rep. Marsha Blackburn

There Is No Light Bulb Ban

David Frum, who is a conservative, David Jenkins, writing at the conservative Frum Forum (h/t commenter Amy) tells Rep. Joe “I Apologized To BP” Barton and Michele “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann to shut their yaps on the non-existent light bulb ban:

There is no looming ban or phase out of incandescent bulbs. The entire hullabaloo is based on a fictitious claim manufactured by Barton.

All major lighting manufacturers, including Philips, Sylvania and GE, currently produce and sell incandescent light bulbs that meet or exceed the new standards (with no compromise in functionality). In fact, the lighting industry helped craft the 2007 legislation with the full understanding that they could produce incandescent bulbs that meet them.


In addition to claiming that the incandescent bulb is being banned and that we are all going to be forced to use compact fluorescent lighting (CFL), Barton is also saying that bulbs meeting the new standards are cost prohibitive.

Again, not true. A Philips incandescent bulb that meets the new standards currently sells for $1.49, lasts about 50 percent longer than older incandescent bulbs, and saves consumers more than $3.00 in energy expenditures. For four bucks you can buy an incandescent that lasts 3000 hours and nets you more than $10 in energy savings.

If you want to save even more energy you can buy CFL or LED bulbs. While LEDs cost more, the energy savings are about $150 per bulb and they last so long you might want to bequeath them to your children.

Frum Jenkins goes on to call Barton’s bill “irresponsible and embarrassing,” and “total lunacy.” He then informs us where this whole “light bulb ban” fairy tale came from in the first place: last year’s battle over the chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Barton’s rival Fred Upton had helped craft the lighting standards.

Is it me or does the U.S. Congress resemble junior high? We’ve got some important issues to address, it would be nice if there were some grown-ups around.


Some folks are peddling some nonsense about manufacturers’ inability to meet the new efficiency standards, but that is load of bullshit, because even the manufacturers support the law, something they wouldn’t be doing if they couldn’t meet the new standards:

The hubbub has been deeply irritating to light bulb manufacturers and retailers, which have been explaining the law, over and over again, to whomever will listen. At a Congressional hearing in March, Kyle Pitsor, a representative from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents makers of light bulbs, among others, patiently but clearly disputed claims that the law banned incandescent bulbs. He restated the law’s points and averred light bulb makers’ support for the law. As usual, it seemed as if no one was paying attention.

Last week, for example, in the middle of Lightfair, an annual trade show for the lighting industry, Philips unveiled a winged LED bulb with a promised life span of 25,000 hours and a price tag of $40 to $50. The Associated Press reported its cost as $50, and Fox News ran the story with the headline “As Government Bans Regular Light Bulbs, LED Replacements Will Cost $50 Each.” Mr. Beck, Rush Limbaugh and conservative bloggers around the country gleefully pounced on the story, once again urging the stockpiling of light bulbs.

Joseph Higbee, a spokesman for the electrical manufacturers association, offered his take on the situation: “Unfortunately people do not yet understand this lighting transition, and mistakenly think they won’t be able to buy incandescent light bulbs. This misinformation has been promoted by a number of media outlets. Incandescent light bulbs are not being banned, and the new federal energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs do not mandate the use of CFLs. My hope is that the media can help the American people understand the energy-efficient lighting options available, as opposed to furthering misconceptions.”

Once again conservativee are passing an ideologically-motivated law no one affected by it wants or needs. But that’s the conservative way.


Barton’s bill failed, spectacularly. Aww.


Filed under energy conservation, Rep. Joe Barton

Boycott Petroleum

Hey, Code Pink and the rest of you activist types, I love you dearly, you make me laugh and every time you try to arrest Karl Rove you make me want to pump my fist in the air and shout “hell yeah!” But the Boycott BP movement completely misses the point.

Please. Yes BP are pigs but so are Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and every other operation drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world right now.

Don’t boycott BP. Boycott petroleum!

Look, it’s just a fluke that this accident happened on a BP rig. It could easily have been another company’s operation. We could be making hilarious re-designs of the Chevron logo, not BP’s.

I realize in this modern age it is extremely difficult for consumers to single-handedly kick the petroleum habit. This is why we need our government to make strong, decisive, bold steps in this direction. But there are things we can all do to use less of the eco-disaster creating stuff.

I know we can’t all trade in our cars for EVs and hybrids (but those of you who can or are in the market for a new car might consider that). But we can all drive less, and drive more efficiently when we do use the car.

• Try taking one fewer car trip a day and see how that works. If you normally drive your car at lunchtime, try bringing your lunch to work, or walking to lunch. Try combining your errands so you take fewer trips. Car pool. Can you take a bike anywhere or use public transportation?

• Eat less meat. Yes, meat is destructive to the environment and uses a lot of fossil fuels. Mr. Beale and I are trying the Meatless Monday campaign. And let me tell you, it’s been a tough sell with my spouse, who a) doesn’t like vegetables and b) thinks if the plate doesn’t contain meat it’s not a meal (When I first mentioned Meatless Mondays to him he said, “so we eat fish?”). So I’m getting creative in the kitchen. He hasn’t divorced me yet, so maybe we can stick with it.

• Do you have an extra $4 a month? C’mon, you know you do. Buy a block of green power from NES. We buy 10 5 at our house (forgot we cut back when we had the solar panels installed). It’s a lot to add to the power bill every month, not everyone can do that, but surely you can find $4 in the sofa cushions. It’s a gallon and a half of gasoline. Maybe you can find it in what you save by not taking that extra car trip.

• Stop buying bottled water. Seriously, plastic water bottles are disgusting. Get yourself a stainless steel thermos and if your tap water tastes bad, put a charcoal filter on it.

• Raise (or lower) your thermostat. Open windows at night, close windows and blinds during the day. You will adjust, I promise you. Buildings don’t need to be cooled to meat locker temperatures in the summer.

Look, we don’t all have to live in tents and start churning our own butter. If everybody did just one extra thing I think it would have a huge impact.

This spill isn’t just BP’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault. We’re all responsible, every one of us.


Filed under BP, energy conservation, Gulf oil spill

Connecting The Dots

Someone has to. Guess it might as well be me.

Nashville, January 2010:

Nashville, May 2010:

It’s not just Nashville. One month ago, floods decimated New England. I don’t remember hearing about those floods in the news, either. But YouTube is full of shocking videos, like this one from Mystic, Connecticut and this one of a Rhode Island shopping mall under two feet of water. A friend who lives out there writes:

One of the worst things we had for weeks was the stench and everyone getting sick from bacteria in the air. Take care of yourself.

Something to look forward to, Nashville.

Drought and floods in India and China have resulted in a global cotton shortage, folks. That means no more cheap $10 T-shirts at WalMart and CostCo, not to mention a shortage of canvas tarps, cotton for industrial use and medical supplies.

It has contributed to the tensions between India and Pakistan. India has halted export of its cotton, forcing two-thirds of Pakistan’s yarn mills to close.

Farmers in Hawaii are cutting back production as much as 40% because of severe drought.

And as I mentioned last winter, there was massive drought in the Southern Hemisphere, causing severe crop loss.

We are 7 billion strong on this planet. Our thirst for oil has led us to interfere in the governments of foreign lands, even wage wars to access oil. Little surprise some people resort to desperate acts of terrorism.

We drill for oil in more extreme, dangerous places. Just one accident has destroyed a major food industry in this country. I doubt there will be much recovery of the shrimp and oyster beds in the Gulf. It’s not just the oil; the chemical dispersants they are using to contain the spill have unknown risks:

Chemical dispersants carry complex environmental trade-offs: helping to keep oil from reaching sensitive wetlands while exposing other sea life to toxic substances. The concoction works like dish soap to separate oil and water, but the exact chemical composition is protected as a trade secret.

Sure. Because where the public health and the continued existence of a major food source are concerned, what’s really important is protecting Dow Chemical’s (or whomever’s) copyright.

Someone in Washington needs to connect these dots. There is a clear and concrete line connecting our fossil fuel addiction, our resource wars, the pollution we are pumping into the atmosphere, our growing population, and the extremes of weather we’ve experienced. And by “we” I do mean that globally. We all cause the problem and we all suffer the consequenes.

We’re all in this together. We all share the same planet.

The cost of our inaction will be more floods, more drought, more political instability and more terrorism. We can get off this hamster wheel now, or we can keep running and running, expecting to get somewhere but not moving one inch. It’s all very plain and obvious to me. I can’t believe it isn’t obvious to anyone else.

It’s all connected, people.


Filed under climate change, energy conservation, Gulf oil spill, weather

>No Free Ride On The Karmic Carousel

>[UPDATE] 4:

Those regulatory whatchamacallits sure do come in handy:

Nevertheless, regulators in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil, in effect require them. Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.

The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

The post goes on to point out that “an acoustic trigger costs about $500,000.”

Of course, as previously mentioned, BP is spending $6 million a day on this spill … so far. And from the memory hole, it seems the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Division had a few other things on its mind besides saftey.


Fingers are pointing at Halliburton:

An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday.


The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week. The disaster, which killed 11, has left a gusher of oil streaming into the Gulf from a mile under the surface.

Which gets us back to where I started with this post.


Free hand of the market FAIL:

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the doomed rig lacked a remote-control shutoff device commonly used in other major offshore oil-producing nations.

Would be nice if we had some sort of protective whatchamacallit, some kind of thingie mandating oil companies drilling in public waters take every available precaution to protect the environment so multi-billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries aren’t destroyed.

Another “flaw.” Imagine that.


A temporary halt to new drilling has been instituted:

In a ‘GMA’ exclusive this morning White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod told me that in the wake of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, no expansion of off-shore oil drilling will take place until any investigation into how this spill occurred is complete.

Wonder how long that will last?


There’s always a Halliburton connection, isn’t there? A lawsuit filed by shrimpers names the company:

It also names Halliburton Energy Services and Cameron International Corp., which manufactured the blowout preventer that failed to cap the spill.

Thank you very fucking much. God I love the karma of this: Halliburton rakes in billions in Iraq War profiteering and now has to spend some of that fixing the mess it made in the Gulf of Mexico.

No one gets a free ride on the Karmic Carousel, people. This was absolutely, 100% predictable.

And I love how whenever a private company suffers a disaster we all pay to fix the mess.

Send in the U.S. Coast Guard! Send in the U.S. Navy! The EPA! Homeland Security! (Actually, it turns out there are 16 federal agencies involved in the effort.) Turns out Gov. Bobby Jindal “pleaded for federal help”; I wonder if he regrets scoffing at federal spending a few years back, or how he bragged about cutting Louisiana’s taxes six times–”including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state”?

Maybe he shouldn’t have ridiculed $8 billion for light rail projects around the nation, since such projects lessen our dependence on the very oil now washing up on his shoreline.

Yes, BP is spending $6 million a day on this disaster. Yes, President Obama says BP is responsible for the cleanup costs.

But I’m sorry, we’re all going to pay for this. We just are.

It goes well beyond the costs of the federal response. It’s bigger than the loss of wildlife. It’s the loss of an entire industry:

Louisiana has a $3 billion fishing industry—the source of a third of the seafood consumed in the U.S., according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, a state-run agency. Seafood caught here also helps underpin the economy of nearby states that process it, such as Alabama and Mississippi. The impact could be long-lasting and could be made worse by the fact that it’s spawning season for some fish and migration time for the young of some species of shrimp.

Hey guess what, solar power spilled all over my roof this afternoon and I didn’t need to call the fucking U.S. Coast Guard to help me clean it up. No local industries were harmed, either. What do you think of that?

Look, I’m tired of hearing people say solar and wind power aren’t developed enough to meet our energy needs. That’s bullshit. Seventy years ago this nation entered World War II and transitioned our economy to a war footing in a matter of months. Factories that once made consumer goods were suddenly making bombs and airplanes and materials for war, virtually over night. People rationed sugar and gasoline and turned their lights out at night. It was a massive national effort and it brought the entire country together in a display of patriotism wingnuts can only dream about today.

We can do this if we want to. Problem is, there’s no want-to. There’s too much money at stake. Too much greed. Too many Halliburtons profiting off of taxpayer-funded wars in the Middle East. Oil and coal get all sorts of federal concessions while solar and wind development get peanuts, so “free market” conservatives can then claim that alternative energy isn’t developed enough to stand on its own. Yeah, well that’s how it looks when you stack the deck and rig the books, isn’t it?

The dirty little secret is that this country has been in an energy crisis for 50 years now. No one talks about it, but it’s still there. We’ve had little shocks here and there, but we’ve always shaken them off. That was stupid, and short-sighted. It’s not foreign oil we need to wean ourselves from — most of that comes from Canada, anyway. We need to get off the oil tit in general. God isn’t making any more dinosaurs, the oil that’s left in the ground is more difficult and more expensive to access.

If we’d learned the lessons of the very first Arab oil embargo we wouldn’t be in Iraq today, and we wouldn’t be worrying about Gulf Coast fisheries being wiped out for the next few years. If, after 9/11, George Bush had told us to get off the oil tit instead of telling us to go shopping, we’d be well ahead of the game.

Stupid Americans, we never learn, do we? It feels so much better to tell ourselves we can “drill here, drill now, pay less.” When the truth is, oil refineries are cutting production or shutting down completely to keep prices high. It’s the end of the oil road, a dying industry’s last gasp.

Yes, our economy is dependent on oil, but it doesn’t have to be. Indeed, it won’t be for much longer. There’s no reason in the world why every rooftop doesn’t have a solar panel, and why electric cars powered at solar charging stations aren’t widely available by now. If we could transition the country’s economy for war in a matter of weeks, then we can transition away from oil, too.

If we see this for the crisis it is, of course.

If we learn the lesson from this latest emergency, so close on the heels of the West Virginia coal mine disaster, itself right on the heels of Tennessee’s coal sludge disaster.

Is anybody listening?


Filed under energy conservation, energy future, oil, solar energy

All Your Energy Are Belong To Us

Suck it, Yankees! Watch this, you stolid Midwesterners and effete West Coast elites! We Southerners are hongry and we will be satisfied:

Thirty-six percent of Americans live in the study region, which consumes an outsized portion—44 percent—of American energy. The area supplies 48 percent of the nation’s power.

Got that, y’all? In a recent study it was discovered that the “South,” a 17 state region which included Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and the District of Columbia, contains 36% of the country’s population but consumes 44% of American energy. Because the South produces 48% of the nation’s power it looks like we are a little greedy with the rest of the nation. Even worse, energy consumption in the South is expected to increase by 15% over the next 20 years.

But even worse from an energy consumption standpoint is our own State of Tennessee:

With a population of 6.3 million people, the State represents about 2.1% of the U.S. population, 1.8% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 2.3% of U.S. energy consumption (Figure 1). 3 Thus, compared to the rest of the nation, Tennessee has a higher-than-average level of energy intensity (that is, it consumes more energy per dollar of economic activity than most other states).

Unlike most states in the South that account for a disproportionately large amount of the nation’s industrial energy use, industry accounts for only 32% of Tennessee’s overall energy consumption. In contrast, its residential energy consumption as a percentage of its overall energy use exceeds that of the South and that of the nation (Figure 2).

Of course we do! Again, don’t blame us, blame the cheap energy we got courtesy of TVA. Houses were built leaky as sieves back during the post-WWII housing boom; no one bothered with something as silly as conservation back then, and why should they? Today those 1940s houses are charming but they’re also energy hogs (I live in one, trust me, I know.)

Although Tennessee has several important energy efficiency policies in place, we still lag far, far behind other states–indeed, we rank 38th for the adoption of energy efficiency policies, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

The reason this is important is not because saving electricity is a nice thing to do and we can all pat ourselves on the back and feel virtuous and self righteous. The reason it’s important is because, I repeat, we rank 38th out of 50 states and D.C. which means most of the rest of the county is leaving us behind. If we want to lure jobs and have nice communities and maintain a nice standard of living in this state then we need to be competitive, or the next Hemlock Semiconductor or Volkswagon will decide to locate its plant somewhere else. Someplace which has energy incentives in place, where cost of living doesn’t reflect high energy costs, and where workers can actually take a weekend fishing some place where the streams aren’t polluted with surface mining tailings.

Folks, the era of cheap energy is over. We now live in a world where demand is such that we are going to greater and greater lengths to generate the juice we need. At the same time we are living with a legacy of energy inefficiency and wastefulness from past decades. It’s all going to catch up to us in the next 20 years, unless we take action.

It’s time to get on board. As we become more energy efficient we can create jobs, boost the state’s economy, and protect our environment. None of that is going to happen if we keep sticking our head in the sand and acting like it’s 1965.

(h/t mistermix at Balloon Juice)


Filed under Earth Day, energy conservation, Tennessee

>Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

>Well okay, hate the player. Massey Energy and Don Blankenship are certainly deserving of our scorn. But while our hearts go out to the families of the West Virginia coal miners who lost their lives, and our anger is turned on Massey Energy, which appears to have bought every politician which has stood in its way, we all need to look in the mirror, too.

Coal produces 54% of our electricity in this country. Every time you flip a light switch or crank up the air conditioning or purchase another appliance, think about where we get the juice to power that equipment. Think about what you are doing to keep the Massey Energies of this country in business.

Look, folks: coal ain’t cheap, regardless of what TVA’s Tom Kilgore and the folks at Big Coal would have you believe. It just looks cheap because when they’re crunching the numbers, they only count part of the cost. They don’t factor in the cost of cleaning up all those leaky coal sludge ponds, and the environmental and health costs associated not just with coal burning but also things like mountaintop removal mining.

(And while we’re talking about this, good for Senator Lamar Alexander, who last year introduced a bill that would basically ban mountaintop removal mining. This is so huge and significant and Lamar deserves a flood of phone calls thanking him for taking this step. And every other senator needs a phone call asking them to support the Cardin-Alexander Appalachian Restoration Act.)

However, it’s not enough. We need to do more, and we need to do it faster. West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian states need to transition their economies away from the coal mines which have forced people to choose between poverty and poison. And some choice that’s been: these states are still among the country’s poorest. People need jobs but they shouldn’t have to choose between poisoning their communities and risking their lives just to put food on the table.

Hate the player all you want, folks. But the problem is the game.

There are things we all can do to cut our coal consumption. At the Beale household we swapped out leaky old windows. When we remodeled our house we purchased energy-miser appliances. I close our blinds in the summer to keep the sun out, which does an amazing job of keeping the house cool. We changed our light bulbs to CFL’s. We signed up for TVA’s Green Power Switch program. And lastly, we put up a solar array on our roof, so NES actually pays me. I am sure we still use some coal, but not as much as we used to.

If you need some ideas on simple things that can save you lots of money in utility bills, as well as the true cost of coal, check out the film “Kilowatt Ours.”

We aren’t perfect at the Beale household. Our house is old and there are energy leaks all over the place, especially around old door frames. We use way more electricity than we should. But it’s a start.


Filed under clean coal, energy conservation, energy production, Sen. Lamar Alexander

>Sending An Energy Message

>I’m trying really hard to get upset about the Obama Administration’s announcement that it would open up coastal areas to oil exploration. Obviously I think it’s a terrible idea, for all of the usual reasons. But I just don’t think this plan is serious. Maybe I’m in denial.

Most media folks seem to have bought the “we need to drill here drill now pay less” line the Administration is selling. From the New York Times:

The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

Let me be the first to call bullshit on that line of thinking. No, that’s not what the proposal is intended to do because it so clearly won’t do any of that. For one thing, oil companies are sitting on more offshore oil leases than they know what to do with. So don’t expect to see any oil platforms off the coast of Virginia any time soon; indeed, there will be windmills off the coast of Rhode Island long before Virginians need to worry about ExxonMobil drilling off their beaches. Aw heck, Virginians will see coastal wind farms long before they see oil platforms.

No one ever mentions this but that oil is too expensive to even think about pulling out of the ground until oil surpasses $100/barrel. That is, in fact, why it’s still there. For another, gas has been so cheap that the oil companies have been and continue to cut back on refinery production. I first wrote about the cut in refinery production to maximize profits last year; now, these cuts look to be permanent:

Energy companies are suffering huge losses from refining because of slumping gasoline use – a product of the economic downturn and changing consumer habits and preferences. Energy experts say refining cutbacks have already begun and will accelerate as corporations strive for profits.

Major refiners have been circumspect about their plans, saying they are considering options that could include closing refineries, selling parts of their operations, laying off workers or slashing spending.

“Refineries will have to be closed,” said Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “Unless this excess capacity is permanently shuttered, a recovery in refining margins is unsustainable.”

Apparently the nation’s appetite for gasoline and diesel have peaked. Cutting refinery capacity pretty much ensures that trend will continue, because it’s keeping prices high.

Meanwhile, gasoline is one of those commodities where what you pay at the pump is affected by more than just traditional supply-and-demand mechanisms. Speculation is rampant in the oil markets, unrest in the Middle East affects prices (though most of our oil imports come from Canada)–even hurricanes in the Gulf have caused gas prices to soar.

Opening up more offshore oil leases doesn’t change any of that, and everyone knows it. I happen to think it’s just more Kabuki Theater. While my in-box floods with alarming pleas for action (and donations) from MoveOn, Repower America, Firedog Lake, etc. about this oil drilling thing, I just can’t believe anyone thinks this is serious.

Most media outlets have suggested that the President’s drilling plan is also an effort to woo Republicans on cap-and-trade. Let me again call bullshit: Republicans have made clear they plan to sit on their hands until the midterm elections, and I don’t think Obama or his advisors are so dumb as to think opening the coast to oil platforms will change partisan politics in Washington.

No, I think this whole thing was planned to send a message to our “friends” in the Middle East, Venezuela, at OPEC, etc. I think we’re putting the world on notice that America won’t be pushed around from an energy perspective. It’s an energy declaration of independence, if you will.

Consider: while everyone was busy haranguing about the new healthcare law (heads up, folks! It’s not a bill anymore!) and its aftermath, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA have quietly implemented new vehicle fuel and admissions standards.

Such a thing has been long, long overdue. The new standards, summarized here, take into account new technology, like electric vehicles:

The most intriguing part of the whole thing? Fuel efficiency isn’t king–it’s all about greenhouse gas reductions. This is probably the EPA’s attempt at preparing for a future where most vehicles aren’t just juiced up by gasoline. Carmakers shouldn’t necessarily get off scot-free if their EVs are ultimately powered by coal-fired electricity plants, after all.

That’s certainly ingenious, and casts a far wider net than previous government fuel efficiency standards ever did. Coupled with the offshore oil announcement, the message this sends is that a) we are serious about conservation, and b) we can, will and are finding our own oil supplies, which we will tap if needed.

Of course, all of this comes as oil prices are rising, but note:

So far, though, consumption of gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil and jet fuel remains sluggish and markets are well supplied. The biggest sign of strength is from manufacturers using growing amounts of crude to restart the nation’s factories.

How cool would it be if our nation’s factories were able to reboot using energy-saving technologies and conservation mechanisms, enabling us to recover the billions of dollars we throw away each year on energy waste? Our manufacturing sector needs to get on board — and it is.

One of the hopiest-changeiest things I’ve seen in the past few years is the surge in renewable energy development. The economy is transitioning away from fossil fuels, not because the government is making us do it or because we’re facing an apocalyptic Mad-Max-style future without “the juice” or because people drank Al Gore’s Kool-Aid but because it makes economic sense. It’s where the money is. Eight years of Bush-Cheney and their oil minions couldn’t stop this train because the reality is that it is too expensive not to move away from the dead energy source that fueled our previous economic growth.

The future is green, not black. Everyone knows it, certainly our corporate overlords know it, and Newt Gingrich and Koch Industries stamping their widdew feet won’t change it. This is positive news, excellent news, because it means we aren’t doomed after all, and it means things like opening the Atlantic coast to offshore oil exploration when nobody seems to want or need the oil leases is just so much political theater.


Filed under energy conservation, energy production, gas prices

>And Yet, Gas Prices Are Dropping

>Amid all the discussion about energy policy in the last few days, one fact has been overlooked by virtually every single media outlet save CNN: Gas prices are dropping.

Today’s AAA Fuel Gauge Report puts the national average at $3.86/gallon for regular. Three weeks ago it was $4.11/gallon. That’s a 25-cent drop in just three weeks.

What happened? Did we open ANWAR to drilling? Build some new oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico? Have we drilled one new well or built one new refinery in the past three weeks?


How can that be! To listen to Big Oil’s supporters, the only way we can lower gas prices is to drill more at home. You know, this kinda pokes a hole in Newt Gingrich’s ”Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” balloon. Because we’re paying less and we haven’t drilled one new drop.


Bob Herbert put his finger on it in yesterday’s column:

In addition to the obvious need for more fuel-efficient vehicles, we should be demanding more efficiencies from utilities across the country; we should be requiring (as Senator Schumer has been pointing out) that states revamp their commercial and building codes; and we should be trying to weatherize homes from one coast to the other, including the homes of families without enough money to make such improvements themselves.

And, of course, there are the everyday good energy deeds that would help make a world of difference: car-pooling; taking public transportation when possible; using more efficient lighting; dropping the thermostat a couple of degrees; buying more efficient appliances; unplugging appliances that aren’t in use, and so on.

Prompted by high gas prices, Americans have already implemented these “everyday good energy deeds.” And it’s one of the main factors leading to this 25-cent drop in gas prices in just three weeks.

Look what we did without even trying, without even thinking about it. Imagine if we did think about it. Imagine if we decided to go after this “low hanging fruit in our economy”–the huge amounts of energy we’re just throwing away on a daily basis because of inefficient power plants, low-fuel economy automobiles, and the like.

No one is really talking about this, and there’s a reason. tapped into it with last week’s excellent article, “Why we never need to build another polluting power plant”:

Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that’s pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it’s able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.


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Filed under energy conservation, gas prices