Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where Does Geothermal Fit In?

We have mentioned the geothermal source of energy briefly in earlier editions but we’ve been asked does it really qualify as a renewable source of energy? The answers are interesting and manifold.

To begin with the first answer is “Yes Virginia Geothermal energy is renewable.” And that’s so because its heat is coming from the Earth itself and until the Earth cools it will be a source. That’s a long time off. Not to worry.

But how is the heat generated and how does it get to the surface? There are a number of theories offered by a number of respected scientists ranging from a continuing process of nuclear decay to friction between the layers of the earth’s outer core.

Regardless of the cause, it is clear that the magma down there is plenty hot: between 1,292 and 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit (700-1300C).

And where it comes closest to the surface it is second only to hydropower as the cleanest natural source of energy for generation of electricity and other processes that require heat.

We have said earlier that if all the potential sources of hydropower were developed, there would be no longer a need to burn coal in the United States. According to the Earth Policy Institute, “Originating from the earth’s core and from the decay of naturally occurring isotopes such as those of uranium, thorium and potassium, the heat energy in the uppermost six miles of the earth’s crust is vast – 50,000 times greater than the energy content of all oil and natural gas resources.” (Italics ours)

A number of countries located on what is called the “Ring of Fire” (the name for an area of high volcanic activity around the basin of the Pacific Ocean) are rich in geothermal energy – including the United States. There is another “hot spot” in the Great Rift Valley in Africa.

The answer then to our original question is that worldwide, 39 countries with a total population of over 750,000,000 people have geothermal resources capable of meeting all their electricity needs.

Here again, it will take the maximum efforts of an enlightened population, through their elected or appointed representatives, to insist on the replacement of the politically entrenched Oil, Coal and Natural Gas Industries with the natural, clean and endless supply of power provided by earth since its creation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Smyth vs. Ames, US Supreme Court 1898

Does It Still Apply?

It was certainly a long time ago. And it’s a bit of a story about how a Supreme Court decision having to do with railroads wound up having a lot to do with the proper operation of public utilities, particularly electric companies.

The fact is that the decision in this case led to the basic organization format for all American public utilities. The case itself was concerned with Supreme Court voiding a Nebraska railroad law, finding that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that it takes property without due process of law.

Nebraska tried to control the rates of the railroads without regard to the fact that such control could make it impossible for railroad to be able to afford to stay in business.

The portion of the Court’s decision that impacted on the public utility electric service companies was that the utilities were guaranteed a rate of return based on the company’s “Rate Base.” That term is defined as “all things used and usable necessary to provide the service to the public.”

The rate of return in each industry was left to the public utility commissions in the various states which held public hearings prior to the establishment or change in the utility’s rate base from time to time. Consumers, through various associations, often had much to say at the hearings and had considerable impact on their commission’s findings. (See Owner’s Committee on Electric Rates in New York)

All of this worked well in the public interest until the late 1990s when the practice that came to be known as deregulation came into being. It was felt that competition in the supply of electricity would benefit consumers and so suppliers from outside the various franchised areas were allowed to bring in power at “lower” rates.

Trouble was, and is, these rates are not as clearly subject to regulation because they were – Deregulated. And naturally a large number of potential suppliers entered the marketplace.
The upshot is that it appears that Smyth vs. Ames hasn’t carried over to the deregulated marketplace. On the other hand, it seems the market has been controlling itself – as capital markets are supposed to do. Deregulated rates, where no cap exists, has seen costs rise anywhere from 13% to 55% - and yes, the customer can go back to the original regulated supplier. However, sometimes there’s a charge for “going home.”

There will certainly be more on this subject as time goes by and once again, it will require an organization of ratepayers to go to work

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Government Dams

(Or more dam government?)

Following the case of Vermont’s Community Hydro and all the problems of getting permits to do the right thing- that is to develop enough hydropower to replace the pollution generated by the oil and coal industries- we started looking around.

And we found that there are locations throughout the nation where small hydroplants can be created and we didn’t have to look far for a perfect example of a lost – or at least delayed - opportunity to activate such a plant.

This one is in Connecticut, a few hours away from Vermont’s abundant hydro potentials.
The Collinsville section of Canton, CT is a typical New England factory town most of which was built to house the Collins Company which operated from 1826 to 1966. Like so many other factories in the northeast, water power was the main driving power.

Two dams were built in Collinsville in the 18th and 19th centuries to provide that power.
While the dams are now owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) FERC issued licenses to a private company, Summitt Hydropower, to update the dams to generate electricity. So far so good.

However Summitt’s license stipulated that construction begin by 2005 and when Summitt failed to proceed with the construction the license was rendered “moot.” Now in order to extend the license to the town, federal legislation is required.

Congressman Christopher Murphy has taken on the challenge to obtain the appropriate legislation so that the dams, when properly retrofit would produce enough electricity to power about 2,000 homes.

The congressman’s effort began in January of this year and so far no results. And it should be no surprise that general opinion is that getting the government to act is only a sure thing if a war is concerned.

The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of small potential hydropower locations to be found all across the nation. And perhaps we can find more legislators, federal and state who will get involved in the way that Congressman Murphy and CEO Barg or Vermont have and that they work to get the government “red tape” and unnecessary controls over the development of clean energy removed. We can only hope.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

All That Water – Behind a Government Dam

We have looked for the water needed to make enough power to replace all that burning coal that pollutes the atmosphere as well as the ground. We have found enough to do just that and more – such as provide clean drinking water at the same time.

But what about the statement that the government is getting in the way of using the hundreds of thousands of water sources that could be used to generate power? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Lori Barg, Chief Executive of Community Hydro in Plainfield, Vermont, has been encouraging developers to use the small hydropower techniques for harvesting energy from moving bodies of water – especially horizontal movement. She states that these methods should be a priority for every state.

She reports that her state hasn’t had a new grid-connected hydroelectric facility built in 20 years because of the “….slow, expensive permitting process that makes projects economically unfeasible.” She calls this problem “a project killer.”

And we submit that the combination of the oil/coal self-interests and the ignorance of the subject displayed by those portions of the government, federal and local, that should be on top of the problem are committing a serious, if not criminal, action against the health and safety interests of all the people.

Further, according to Barg, “Obtaining federal and state permits can add $2,000 per installed KILOWATT for a small hydro system.” She further states, “Obtaining the necessary permits is such a deterrent. It’s important to have regulations, but I find myself having to go through 12 different agencies just to get a project off the ground. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not allowing Vermont to develop its abundant hydro resources.”

And this is true all over the country.

As we have pointed out before, there is at least a 100 Gigawatt source of power out there, undeveloped and whose development would threaten no one.

All this reminds us of the argument that the government should create a program to cure cancer. To that came the answer that “if the federal government had been made to be responsible to develop a cure for polio, you would have a 21st century first class iron lung but not a vaccine.” Who said that? The president of the American Cancer Society.

There are some things the government should have no business meddling in
The replacement of dirty energy with clean energy is one of them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Where is all that Good Water?

…And some to be made good

If there ever was a vital subject that developed more conflicting opinions it is the subject of the supply of clean water in the United States. Some say it is nearing it s limits. Some say there are untold and unlimited sources. Some say the ocean is the answer.

To one extent or another – they are all right. It depends on where you are standing when you make your appraisal. And it also depends on what you need that water for; drinking, making electricity, running a factory?

To make matters worse – as if they could be – the TV and radio waves are inundated by commercials from the coal and oil industries telling the worlds how their huge investments in developing clean energy from their fossil findings will save the earth.

We, the government and the people, are in denial.

Seventy Five percent of the earth is covered in water. Together with clean air, clean water is essential for human life. And contrary to the fossil industry proponents, there is enough water to produce all the electricity needed in the US and in many other parts of the earth.

It appears that some very misleading statements about the past, present and future of hydropower have been deliberate. The purpose has been to paint the hydro industry as “fully mature” and not able to add a significant amount of additional capacity rapidly.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As we have pointed out before between the total of current hydropower in operation in the US and Canada plus the additional hydropower that can be developed in both countries -right now - there would be enough electricity produced to replace all the processes that require the burning of coal; not only power plants but all other coal-based processes.

So where is it? It is everywhere. In every state. A report from INL* in 2006 identified 130,000 stream reaches suitable for “… projects between 10 Kw and 30 Mw and estimated to hold 100,000 Megawatts of annual capacity.” That’s 100 Gigawatts and the total coal capacity of the US is only 313 Gigawatts. These numbers are interesting but what is more vital is the manner in which government interference is keeping the small hydropower developments in a freezer. We’ll examine this problem next.

*(INL is the Idaho National Laboratory whose Water Energy Program is impressive)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Salt in the Water? What about Gold?

Setting aside the recent humor that said “Water is gold” and that “Water is the new Oil” there is much to learn - and use -from what is commonly called Sea Water. Sea Water, or ocean water, contains a myriad of elements in varying amounts. Some of it is recoverable and can be obtained from the effort of desalination while providing clean drinking water.

But gold? Well, it is surely there together with practically every other element we know about. (When the Lorson companies were at their early days the table of known elements was 90 or so. It is now at least 118 and growing.)

Of course the main elements found in the ocean are Oxygen, Hydrogen, Chlorine and Sodium with minor amounts of Magnesium, Sulfur, Calcium, Potassium, Bromine and Carbon. These are followed by a skillion tiny amounts of the rest of the elements – including gold!

Just to put things in perspective, one would have to process 1,000 tons of sea water to obtain 1 gram of gold. Not a very likely cause for a gold rush. Not for gold itself, but wait – sea water itself might be considered a form of gold by being the source of a number of elements vital to human life.

As Darwin pointed out, evolution is no accident. This becomes clearer when looking at the Major elements contained in the human body: Magnesium, Sulfur, Calcium, Phosphorous, Sodium, and Chlorine. Sound familiar? These are followed by micro amounts of Iron, Copper, Manganese, Iodine and many others.

So we come to the gold value of sea water. That would, of course, be the use of Sea Salt as a commercial product. And we also come to an argument with the AMA in its total condemnation of the excessive (!) use of salt.

So it becomes necessary to distinguish between “table salt” which is “highly refined, chemically cleansed and unfriendly to the human body” and “unrefined sea salt, a naturally occurring complex of sodium chloride, which includes major minerals such as calcium and magnesium and a complete complement of essential trace minerals, This is the form of salt the body is designed to utilize – having been the salt choice since humans first walked the earth. On the other hand refined table salt is a modern invention….the human body doesn’t like it.” All this according to Saltistry of Los Angeles CA., peppered with a little common sense.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Who Are the American Energy Enemies?

For our purposes, the “enemy” is anyone or anything that delays the conversion of the World’s energy usage from dirty and polluting to clean and life-supporting. That, of course includes a lot of American commercial entities that hire a great number of people. But it also includes a lot of honest but uninformed citizens.

The Oil & Gas Industry employs 1,838,000 people. It also claims that there are 4,066,000 indirect jobs created by the oil and natural gas industry. This latter amount could be transferred to other energy sources.

Coal employs maybe 40,000 miners and a large number of indirect jobs; rail and other forms of delivery; not to mention attempts to “clean” the product.

But, according to a recent New York Times article, “Oil Giants Loath to follow Obama’s Green Lead.” Both Royal Dutch Shell and BP have been giving up their efforts to develop clean renewable energy and refocus on the cleaner, if possible, petroleum products such as ‘biofuels.’

Their main and brutally strong argument is that if the oil and coal industries are “shut down” literally millions of Americans will be put out of work.

The deliberate effort to use fear, even terror, especially in the current financial situation, includes a major effort to denigrate the huge possibilities for clean and inexpensive energy through hydropower.

Solar, Wind and Geothermal are all good sources of clean energy, although in some forms quite expensive.

But Hydropower is clean, cheap and has a lot greater, even huge, unused potential than people have been allowed to believe. That includes jobs for those who would be let go by the oil and coal companies. And it includes many small unintrusive local hydroplant locations close to home for many.

In Civics, our students are taught that the United States is not a democracy, it is a republic. The people don’t make laws and decide policy. They elect representatives, electors, to do that work for them.

And it is the representatives, senators and elected administrators who have failed to recognize the depth of the current energy crisis and failed to summon up the courage to defy the lure of the big money campaign contributors and act in the public’s vital interest.

In the words of cartoon character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”