Saturday, March 28, 2009

Implications of opposition to Green Power

Numerous people opposing green power production on the grounds that it is damaging to the environment - not that I have seen any substantive data from a project that has been received an environmental assessment certificate to show that run of the river power projects have negative environmental impacts. Andrew Weaver has a well written piece about the lack of data and scientific backing to the anti-green power people.

Various people say we should use less energy - fine, but the way to to do this is raise electrical rates to something crushingly high or to ration electrical power. Try selling the idea of paying $0.15 a KWh for electrical power in BC, not this is high enough to reduce demand enough.

There is a huge swath of electrical power in North America produced by coal fired power. To take this offline through conservation over 20 years means we would have to use 57% less electricity per person than we do now. This means no electrical heating - the most common heating source for renters. No plug in hybrids.

This is not to say that we should not work on conservation, though conservation will happen when we raise the prices of power, a lot. In most of the US the electrical rates are already much higher than here and consumption has not plummeted.

No green power here means the power has to come from somewhere else. The grid in North America, or I should say the three grids, are integrated across national and regional political boundaries. BC is not in isolation with respect to power, we are intimately connected to Alberta, the Western US and Baja California. That whole grid needs a specific amount of power. If it does not come from run of the river in BC, it will come from tradional sources like coal and natural gas or possibly some other sources, all of which are somewhere on the Pacific side of North America.

If we can nto be shown to be a source for a lot of green power through things like run of the river, other juridictions will seek other energy sources. Bruce Power has said they are going forward with plans to build a nuclear power plant near Peace River Alberta. Alberta released a report last week on nuclear power. Bruce Power is also looking at nuclear in Saskatchewan.

Ontario specifically has chosen to go further down the nuclear path because of the Kyoto Accord.

Few other renewable energy sources are as cheap as run of the river in BC. A number of them are not yet inexpensive enough to be able to compete with coal and other traditional fuels. The first wave energy operations are coming into being, but the costs remain high. The same with solar.

Wind is being roundly condemned by people as being ugly and intrusive on the landscape. Some people even claim health impacts from the wind turbines. Wind also remains expensive.

In the short term, that is the next five to ten years, lack of numerous run of the river projects in BC will lead to more natural gas fired power plants being built and coal fired plants continue operating. If the opposition does not end soon and if we see projects stopped, this will push more and more jurisdictions to build nuclear power plants.

So irrational opposition to green power here will have major energy policy impacts elsewhere. It also impacts the finances of the province of BC. Each Bute Inlet scale project, and we could easily have 100 or more on the coast of BC with no impact on wildlife, should annually net governments about $60 000 000 a year in taxes. I am only talking about watersheds that are currentlypart of the timber harvesting land base or are already within a developed region.

If we add 1000GWh of green power per year in BC for the next 20 years, the governments will have close to an extra $500 000 000 a year to spend. About 4% of the budget by then.

Since the gird we are part of is more north south and east west almost all of the revenues from green power would be money flowing from the US to Canada, helping with our national current account. We have to balance all the things we buy from the US such as food, computers, movies along with all the money we spend in the US. This is a good way for us to protect our macro-economic health and save the environment at the same time.

The construction of the projects are a large inflow of capital into BC. We are not asked to pay for the capital costs to build these projects as we are with government infrastructure. The influx of capital investment into BC will increase the net value of the province.

There are so many upsides. I am at a complete loss as to understand the rationale for the opposition.
One more article lately pointing out the irrationality of the people opposing green power claiming to be environmentalists. This was in the Toronto Star the other day:

Published on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by The Toronto Star

Yes, windmills and dams deface the landscape but the climate crisis demands immediate action

by Bill McKibben

Don't be too "Canadian" about the backlash - this is no time for Mr. Nice Guy

Watching the backlash against clean energy projects build in Canada has moved me to think about what Americans have learned from facing this same problem. I have been thinking and writing for several years about overcoming conflict-avoidance and the importance of standing up for "Big Truths" even at the price of criticizing fellow environmentalists.

It's not that I've developed a mean streak. It's that the environmental movement has reached an important point of division, between those who truly get global warming, and those who don't.

By get, I don't mean understanding the chemistry of carbon dioxide, or the importance of the Kyoto Protocol, or those kinds of things - pretty much everyone who thinks of themselves as an environmentalist has reached that point. By get, I mean understanding that the question is of transcending urgency, that it represents the one overarching global civilizational challenge that humans have ever faced.

In the U.S., there are all manner of fights to stop or delay every imaginable low-carbon technology. Wind, solar, run-of-river hydro - these are precisely the kinds of renewable energy that every Earth Day speech since 1970 has trumpeted. But now they are finally here - now that we're talking about particular projects in particular places - people aren't so keen.

Opponents of renewable energy projects point out (correctly) that they have impacts - there are (overstated) risks to birds from wind turbines, to fish from run-of-river hydro, that the projects mean "development" somewhere there was none and transmission lines where there were none before.

They point out (again correctly) that the developers are private interests, rushing to develop a resource that, in fact, they do not own, and without waiting for the government to come up with a set of rules and processes for siting such installations.

The critics also insist that there's a "better" site somewhere - and again they're probably right. There's almost always a better site for anything. The whole business is messy, imperfect.

If we had decades to burn, then perhaps the opponents would be right that there's a better site, and a nicer developer. There's always a better site and a nicer developer. But in the real world, we have at most 10 years to reverse the fossil fuel economy. Which means we have to do everything quickly - conservation and plug-in cars and solar panels and compact fluorescents and 100-mile food and tree planting. And windmills, windmills everywhere there is wind, just like off the shores of Europe.

Whatever natural endowments a region is blessed to have, these are the basis for your green economy: solar in the deserts, wind where it's windy, hydro where water's falling, geothermal if you've got it. Do it all, and do it quickly.

In the ideal world, we'd do everything slowly and carefully - but this planet is rapidly becoming the worst of all possible worlds, a place that before my daughter dies may well see temperatures exceeding anything since before the dawn of primate evolution. A planet facing hundreds of millions of environmental refugees as a result of rising seas, with heat waves like the one that killed 35,000 in Europe becoming commonplace occurrences.

The evidence gets worse by the day: already whole nations are evacuating, the Arctic is melting and we have begun to release the massive storehouse of carbon trapped under the polar ice. Scientists figure the "safe" level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 350 parts per million. This is the most important number in the world. Go beyond it for very long and we will trigger "feedbacks" that will result in runaway warming spiralling out of any human control and resulting in a largely inhospitable planet.

We are already well beyond 350 and accelerating rapidly in the wrong direction.

So when local efforts to delay or stop low-carbon energy projects come into conflict with the imperative to act urgently on global warming, they have to take second place. Because even if we win every other battle, if we lose 350, it won't make any difference at all. You can "keep" every river and bay and lake and mountain and wilderness, but if the temperature goes up 3 degrees globally, it won't matter. The fish that live there won't be able to survive, the trees that anchor the landscape will die, the coral reefs will bleach and crumble. Whatever the particular part of the world that we're each working on, it's still a part of the world. Global warming is the whole thing.

Believe me that I understand how difficult this is. I have spent a lifetime loving and fighting for the Adirondacks and other treasured areas. Perhaps you've spent your life fighting for birds, and I understand how wrenching it must be to acknowledge that "some birds may die from this wind farm." But what 350 forces us to say is: every bird, every fish, and everything else that we know, is fundamentally at risk in the next few decades.

In the name of birds, I want that windmill on my ridge. In the name of rivers, I want run-of-river hydro. In the name of wild beauty, I want that windmill out my window.

350 means it is too late to be arguing for theories or cool ideas. In the real world, the one where CO2 inconveniently traps solar radiation, you don't get to argue for perfection.

You can say, as opponents of clean energy projects have said, that we'd do more to fight global warming by improving gas mileage in our cars. You can say that we should insulate our homes and build better refrigerators. You can say that we should plant more trees and have fewer kids.

And you would be right, just as every Earth Day speech is "right." I've given my share of Earth Day speeches. And if we're to have any chance of heading off catastrophic temperature increase, we have to do everything we can imagine, all at once. Hybrid cars and planting trees, windmills, energy conservation, carbon taxes, emissions caps, closing the coal plants and pressuring our leaders.

I understand the opposition to clean energy projects. And I would have supported the opponents years ago - before climate science became clear. I live in the mountains above Lake Champlain, where the wind blows strong along the ridgelines. I'll battle to keep windmills out of designated wilderness if that ever comes up, but right now I'm joining those who are battling to get them built on the ridgeline nearest our home. And battling to see them not as industrial eyesores, but as part of a new aesthetic. The wind made visible.

The slow, steady turning that blows us into a future less hopeless than the future we're steaming toward now.

Bill McKibben is the author of many books, including his latest: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future [1]. McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and cofounder of [2].

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A very interesting approach to producing green power

I am across this interesting post at Tyler Hamilton's blog Clean Break. He is a reporter with the Toronto Star.

The company Riverbank Power has come up with an innovative pumped-storage hydro system, though they call it Underground Alternative Energy Production. The idea is to effectively use the movement of water into and out of an underground storage facility to produce electrical power. You let water run in during peak hours and peak demand and then you use the excess power, which is cheap, at off peak hours, to pump the water back out.

The technology to do this is clearly there, my question would be if the business case is there to do this. Is the differential between peak and off peak rates high enough to pay for the capital costs and cover the energy lost in the process?

I wonder if there are issues with storing the water underground in a created cavern and then returning it to the surface? What would the impact be on fish and wildlife? Would the water change in temperature and would that then be a problem?

I love it when people come up with interesting and innovative solutions, it is so much better than being opposed to everything and generally be negative and gloomy.

If climate change is happening, let us embrace it in the hope that it will bring us more and great wealth through the development of new technologies and new companies.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The scale of what needs to happen

At the moment the US produces a bit more than 2 000 000 GWh of power from coal fired power plants. If there is any serious thought to reducing CO2 emissions, then these plants need to be replaced.

If this is to be done over 20 years, this 100 000 GWh of new green energy each and every year. This means we need 30 Bute Inlet projects each year for 20 years just to replace US existing coal fired power.

I have not considered Canadian coal or and oil and gas power production.

BC can go a long way toward providing that power. 400 000 GWhs of green power over the next 20 years is possible here in BC. 800 000 is in theory possible. And this is all green power.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blog supporting the carbon tax

Lead the Way is a blog supporting the carbon tax in BC. I have been intrigued and interested in tax shifting as a way influence public policy. Carbon tax is such an obvious way to achieve reduction of emissions through higher costs and rewarding those that avoid making CO2 emissions.

I am firmly opposed to cap and trade systems because of the red tape involved with accurately monitoring it and the very high risk of unintended consequences.

I would support and expansion of the carbon tax to other green house gases and looking at industrial emissions of CO2 we are not yet capturing with the current tax.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What we eat and the impact on greenhouse gas

The New Scientist out of the UK has some interesting articles on eating meat and greenhouse gas emissions.

This first link is to a graph of what the average US family costs in GHGs due to food. What is important to see here is something I have known for sometime, transportation of food over long distances does not have a big impact. The methane is much more of a problem. The article is here.

Through that article I found this CO2 calculator for food - take it with a grain of salt because it is rather broad, but it is an interesting tool to look at.

The other interesting article is this analysis of what would happen if we backed off of beef and pork consumption. The article seems to say that by eating a low meat diet, we could reduce by 1/2 the costs of dealing with climate change by 2050. Low meat means 70 grams of beef a week and 325 grams of chicken or eggs. That is a burger every ten days and five eggs a week.

All in all, there is a lot more work being done on the greenhouse gas emissions that come from what and how we farm. It is becoming easier and easier to work out the impact of our diet. When I tried to work this out in the fall of 2007 there was not a lot of data I could access, but it was clear that meat eating was one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in my life.

Tseporah Berman on the Backlash Against Green Power in BC

Tseporah Berman wrote this piece on what is happening BC.

She went up Toba Inlet and checked out the proposed locations for the Plutonic Power run of the river projects in the area. She saw first hand that the project is not an environmental threat to the region.

To say that all run-of-river projects destroy rivers and are not ‘green’ is absurd. I’ve been up to Toba/Montrose with the Klahoose. I’ve seen how Plutonic’s operations are reopening tributaries and cleaning up the mess of crushed culverts and downed bridges that logging left behind. The same would hold true for other heavily logged areas like Bute Inlet. I was fully prepared to see impacts on the river and was pleasantly surprised to find that, contrary to the horror stories circulating, the water diversion is high up near the glacial outflow, above waterfalls (fish barriers) where there are barely even nutrients in the water. The salmon habitat and water flows remain intact. Most people won’t know this because it turns out I am the only environmentalist that has bothered to take the Klahoose up on their invitation to go and see it for myself.
For years environmentalists have been talking about respecting the First Nations and giving them say over their territories, turns out it this was all lip service that ended as soon as any aboriginals were not interesting in being 'noble savages'.

The Green Party and the NDP talk about the need for a green economy and for green jobs. Plutonic Power is doing what they are asking for. The BC Liberals have made it possible for businesses in BC to develop green power. If run of the river projects are not green enough to be part of the green economy, what possibly could be green enough?

The push for green businesses has worked, companies are willing to invest billions of dollars to make the environment a better place. They are willing to take more action to fight climate change through development of projects in BC than any government has anywhere in North America. The Bute Inlet project will displace 2 000 000 tonnes of CO2 per year - that is enough of a savings to offset the CO2 emissions of Kamloops.

We have reached a point in BC where the leaders on the environment in BC are businessmen and the main free enterprise party. If the environment matters to a voter in BC, the obvious decision on May 12th is to vote for the BC Liberals.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Economy Conference in Vancouver April 7th

I might go this, though I do not have the time to go......

Date: April 7. 2009
Time: 8:30am – 7:00pm
Location: 181 Roundhouse Mews, Downtown Vancouver

Green Economy Conference Agenda




Introduction and Overview - Tzeporah Berman


Keynote: Mark Jaccard


Expert panel A: Stimulating a green economy in BC


Participant working groups: What can local and provincial governments do to stimulate the green economy?


Lunch (onsite)


The Bill Good Show Live: guests Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey discuss green energy


Expert panel B: Green Energy in BC: The public policies we need


Green energy case studies: Haida Nation & NaiKun Wind; Klahoose First Nation & Plutonic Power


Participant working groups: What can local and provincial governments do to stimulate green energy development?


Review working group findings





Monday, March 16, 2009

Article in the Telegraph

There is an interesting article in the Telegraph the other day. It is clearly a climate skeptic article and I have no problem with that. I believe that a greater debate on climate change will give us more knowledge and this will allow us to craft the solutions that will make the most sense economically, environmentally and socially.

What concerns me is the degree of closed mindedness on both sides of the debate. In the comments on the article there is a person seriously suggesting that arguing against climate change should be a criminal offense. At the same time the climate skeptics depict the other side as the new 'communists'. It is unhealthy not to have a debate with both sides conceding the other side has validity.

I am not at all convinced that climate change is a catastrophic problem for us at this time. I firmly believe that we can spend the next ten to twenty years doing more research on the issue and work towards developing an approach that will make the most sense.

It seems to be clear that large scale greenhouse gas emissions are not a good thing for the world, but the timescale of the changes are not pushing us to dramatic and costly action now. We have time to develop new approaches and develop new technologies to deal with fallout of problems.

There are things that we can do now that do not cost us anything and therefore make sense no matter how serious climate change is. One of the changes is more fuel efficient cars. Growing our own food has many more benefits than reduction in CO2 production.

The biggest thing we can do that will not cost us anything is to develop a lot more run of the river hydro. It is competitive with coal and gas fired power, it needs no subsidies to be built. It also has no measurable environmental impact if it is done as we do it in BC. This is a industrial solution that makes sense now.

Carbon taxes also make sense because it moves taxation to an output that should be reduced in any case. Externalities such as waste are not regularly costed in our society and it means that we all bear the costs. By tax the carbon we will push companies to develop solutions that will lower their tax costs.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Economist On Carbon Capture and Storage

This is from this week's Economist. They are the single best media outlet in the world, they are never swayed by the idea of the moment. They look at the whole world each and every week.

This week that are taking a close look at Carbon Capture and Storage. I have 'borrowed' their editorial from the issue which has links to more inside the newspaper.


Climate change
The illusion of clean coal

Mar 5th 2009
From The Economist print edition
The world is investing too much cash and hope in carbon capture and storage

“FACTORIES of death” is how James Hansen, a crusading American scientist, describes power stations that burn coal. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned. That makes it a big cause of global warming.

But some of the world’s biggest economies rely on coal. It provides almost 50% of America’s and Germany’s power, 70% of India’s and 80% of China’s. Digging up coal provides a livelihood for millions of people. And secure domestic sources of energy are particularly prized at a time when prices are volatile and many of the big oil and gas exporters are becoming worryingly nationalistic. It is hard to see how governments can turn their backs on such a cheap and reliable fuel.

There does, however, seem to be a way of reconciling coal and climate. It is called carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration, and entails hoovering up carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of power plants and other big industrial facilities and storing it safely underground, where it will have no effect on the atmosphere. The technologies for this are already widely used in the oil and chemical industries, and saltwater aquifers and depleted oilfields offer plenty of promising storage space. Politicians are pinning their hopes on clean coal: Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, among others, are keen on the idea.

But CCS is proving easier to talk up than to get going (see article). There are no big power plants using it, just a handful of small demonstration projects. Utilities refuse to make bigger investments because power plants with CCS would be much more expensive to build and run than the ordinary sort. They seem more inclined to invest in other low-carbon power sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind. Inventors and venture capitalists, in the meantime, are striving to create all manner of new technologies—bugs for biofuels, revolutionary solar panels, smart-grid applications—but it is hard to find anyone working on CCS in their garage (although some scientists are toying with pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air instead of from smokestacks: see Technology Quarterly in this issue). Several green pressure groups, and even some energy and power company bosses, think that the whole idea is unworkable.

With the private sector sitting on its hands, Western governments are lavishing subsidies on CCS. Some $3.4 billion earmarked for CCS found its way into America’s stimulus bill. The European Union, which already restricts greenhouse-gas emissions through a cap-and-trade scheme, unveiled further incentives for CCS last year. Britain, Australia and others have also vowed to help fund demonstration plants partly because they reckon the private sector is put off by the huge price-tag on a single CCS power plant, and also in the belief that the cost of CCS will fall with experience.

The private sector, however, is reluctant to fork out not just because of the upfront cost of power plants, but also because, tonne for tonne, CCS looks like an expensive way of cutting carbon. The cost of it may fall, but probably not by much, given the familiarity of the technologies it uses.

Politicians should indeed encourage investment in clean technologies, but direct subsidies are not the way to do it. A carbon price or tax, which raises the cost of emitting carbon dioxide while leaving it up to the private sector to pick technologies, is the better approach. CCS is not just a potential waste of money. It might also create a false sense of security about climate change, while depriving potentially cheaper methods of cutting emissions of cash and attention—all for the sake of placating the coal lobby.