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Libertarian Leanings

Libertarian Leanings is a new column by by Peter Burrows, who blogs at silvercityburro.com and can be reached at elburropete@gmail.com.

It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Grant County Beat.

Reply to Steve Fischmann

1) In my article I wrote: "Fischmann made the incredible statement, as reported in the Beat article, that storage was 'substantially cheaper' than natural gas-generated electricity, currently the cheapest fossil fuel-based electricity."

The Beat's quote in its 5/16 story was incomplete. The Daily Press's 5/12 article quoted Fischmann as saying, "There is recent bidding in Colorado to provide energy credits. Wind plus storage and solar, plus storage was found to be substantially cheaper than the cheapest natural gas."

My apologies to Mr. Fischmann. I should have realized that no one on earth would claim storage alone was cheaper than natural gas.

To quote my 5/19 correction: "Regardless, since the amount of storage included in those bids was not disclosed, and since the bids were only 15-20% higher than stand-alone solar and wind, one commentator wisely noted that there was probably 'only a limited amount' of storage involved."

2) In my article I wrote: "Fischmann doubled down, claiming there was a large-scale storage project underway in New Hampshire that subsidizes homeowners because it saves the utility money."

Mr. Fischman says he did not say that, rather that he said, to quote from his letter today, "that both Vermont and New Hampshire had successful projects they are planning to expand."

The Beat quotes Fischmann as saying, "There are large-scale storage projects. In New Hampshire they are giving incentives to home owners and subsidizing them because they save the utilities money."

Interested readers will have to go to the Daily Press recording of the forum to get Fischmann's exact quote. I guess "large-scale" is the contention. I'll concede the point. Interested readers may also want to google the article I referenced, "Liberty Utilities Proposes Battery Program for Lebanon, Valley News 4/4/18." That article will reveal this is a hugely subsidized small-scale experiment in distributed storage.

3) In my article I wrote: "Fischmann also claimed that San Antonio, Texas, was getting cheap energy from Austin Energy, 'which is 50 percent renewable'."
Fischmann claims he did not say that, but he did admit that he had said Austin Energy was at 50 percent renewable. "I was slightly off. They will be at 50 percent by 2020."

Here's the Beat's version: "Fischmann: I have a suggestion that we learn from successes, not just failures. San Antonio, Texas, has cheap energy through Austin Energy, which is 50 percent renewable."

I'll concede Steve is correct that he did not say San Antonio was buying electricity from Austin. I'm not going to watch the video to confirm this.

Enough.

The issue in this little tempest-in-a-teapot is the cost of storing electricity from renewable sources, specifically solar and wind. In my article I quote the investment banking firm Lazard, a big backer of renewables: "Although alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems will not be capable of meeting the base-load requirements of a developed economy for the foreseeable future."

It is entirely possible that with enough transmission lines, solar and wind can be hooked up over a large enough geographical area to provide enough electricity for a medium sized city. To say NO storage will be necessary because when the sun doesn't shine, the wind is blowing, is far-fetched even for an "eco nut," a term I have never used.

What would be the cost for such an effort? How much would such a scheme cost for New York City, Chicago, even Albuquerque? How about for the entire country? How about with zero subsidies?

Mr. Fischmann asserts that the cost of storage is falling fast and "the reliability of battery technology is improving so rapidly that you can toss past assumptions out the window."

Fine. How about assumptions in the here-and-now?

One would assume that there are no coal plants being built anywhere in the world thanks to the economics of renewables. One would be wrong. Technologically advanced nations such as Germany and Japan, and many others not so technologically advanced, are building new coal-fired generating plants.

One would assume that large storage battery prices are falling. Not yet. Tesla just RAISED the price of its PowerWall battery from $5500 to $5900. (Interested readers can google "Tesla Australia Battery" to determine if I have been guilty of "horrifically misleading" estimates of storage costs. Tesla is successfully operating these huge batteries, but "cost" is the issue.)

One would assume that where renewables are growing in use that utility bills would be decreasing in cost to consumers. Where? Not in Germany, Denmark, California or New Mexico.

Finally, my thanks to Mr. Fischmann for his review of my article. He was correct to raise those points that were inaccurate. However, his continued uncritical support for renewables and storage as viable for TODAY is why I'm still voting for Sandy Jones!

 By Peter Burrows

5/19/18 elburropete@gmail.com

My subconscious has been grinding away for couple of days about something I wrote in my article on the PRC elections. I rechecked, and sure enough, I had made a big mistake when I wrote that Xcel Energy had received bids for wind-plus-storage electricity and solar-plus-storage electricity at 21 cents and 36 cents per kWh respectively.

The proper numbers should have been 2.1 cents and 3.6 cents per kWh, which explains the enthusiasm those numbers generated in the press, as they are far lower than what would be expected of bids that included storage, even after the 30% investment tax credit.
Regardless, since the amount of storage included in those bids was not disclosed, and since the bids were only 15-20% higher than stand-alone solar and wind, one commentator wisely noted that there was probably only "a limited amount" of storage involved.

By Peter Burrows, elburropete@gmail.com - silvercityburro.com 5/18/18

I attended the forum last week for the two Democrats running in the primary for Public Regulations Commission, District 5, Stephen Fischmann and incumbent Sandy Jones. The Grant County Beat and the Daily Press covered the meeting with excellent articles.

As would be expected at any forum of Democrats, both candidates made ritual genuflections at the altar of "the little guy" and then proceeded to defend a program, net metering, that favors wealthy electricity users at the expense of all other rate payers. (See my recent article, "What is 'Net Metering' and Why Should You care.")

by Peter Burrows 5/10/18 elburropete@gmail.com - silvercityburro.com
 
Last March, New Mexico's Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill that would revise the Renewable Fuel Standards to virtually eliminate blending corn ethanol into gasoline. It would drop the current 10 percent standard to 9.7 percent and begin a ten-year reduction of the required use of corn ethanol from 15 billion gallons in 2018 to 1 billion by 2029. The Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation strongly support the bill.
 
This is very good news. The evidence has been piling up for over 20 years that using corn as a biofuel source has been wasteful, unnecessary and counter-productive. Here's what Michael Bruce, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said about the proposed bill and its supporters:
 
"The Sierra Club applauds Senator Udall, Congressman Welch, and all the members of Congress who are putting common sense first rather than continuing to permit a dirty and destructive policy to remain intact. Instead of continuing to play political games with our environment and public health, these legislators are moving policies that will help undo the damage caused by the ethanol mandate. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately rather than continuing to push false theories about ethanol."
 
As the saying goes, "Strong letter to follow." The above statement could have been made 10 years ago, but hey! Better late than never.
 
One of the "false theories about ethanol" was that its use would reduce CO2 emissions. Study after study has shown just the opposite: producing and using corn ethanol actually increases CO2 emissions. Furthermore, using corn has increased the world-wide cost of food by billions of dollars while increasing, not decreasing, the cost per gallon of gasoline.
 
The conclusion that ethanol increases CO2 emissions is what has earned the environmentalists' wrath. In the Church of Global Warming, to increase CO2 emissions is to sin. The fact that it is also very costly is of no concern. After all, they have a world to save.
 
To that point, Udall's bill maintains a cellulosic biofuel mandate. Cellulosic biofuel uses waste organic plant material, from corn stalks to grass clippings. In theory, it's a good idea, but the reality is that It is ridiculously expensive. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 mandated a goal of 9 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2017. The actual production: 540,000 gallons.
 
This lack of cellulosic ethanol didn't deter the EPA from attempting to punish refiners of gasoline for not using the mandated cellulosic feed stocks that did not exist!! Fortunately, that EPA effort was struck down by a federal court.
 
To Udall's credit, his bill eliminates the ridiculous cellulosic ethanol mandated by EISA, which rises to 21 billion gallons in 2022, and replaces that with a cap of "only" two billion gallons, which doesn't have to be reached until 2037, at which time the mandate ceases to exist. I think this is essentially a small concession to the ethanol "true believers" to get their support for the overall bill.
 
Regardless, Udall's bill is a big first step toward curbing an industry, ethanol, that would not exist in anything near its present size without government mandates and subsidies. Will Udall's bill get through Congress? It will face opposition from the owners of the over 200 distilleries that have been built to produce ethanol, and opposition from thousands of corn farmers.
 
Even if Congress can overcome the millions that will be spent to stop Udall's bill, President Trump, wearing his RINO hat, has said he will "protect" the corn farmers. "Corn farmers" of course means Iowa, and Iowa means "first primaries," which in turn means, "Kiss those corn farmers' tractors, cows and asses." A wag once noted that if Florida had the first primaries, we'd be making ethanol out of orange juice.
 
You're probably thinking, "OK, Burro, what's all this got to do with New Mexico." Here's the answer: Every politician in New Mexico, regardless of party, top-to-bottom, thinks that New Mexico has a great future with renewable energy. All the winners and losers in the upcoming primaries, all the winners and losers next November, all of them, will tout solar panels and windmills as great businesses for New Mexico's future. If you know of one who doesn't think that, please tell me who. Please.
 
You're thinking, "Well, what's wrong with that?" What's wrong is that, like the ethanol industry, windmills and solar panels are almost wholly dependent on government mandates and subsidies. I would guess that solar is about 90% dependent on government, and wind 100%.
 
The second or third largest owner of windmill farms in America is Berkshire Hathaway. The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway is life-long liberal and mega-billionaire Warren Buffett, who is famous for his blunt-spoken opinions. Without tax credits, he said, wind-generated electricity "doesn't make sense."
 
Without those tax credits, New Mexico has no wind farms and no future as a big producer/exporter of windmill electricity.
 
At this point, some of you are saying, "But Burro, New Mexico is so sunny! We should encourage people to put solar panels on their roofs, in fields, on buildings, along the road sides, everywhere! And then we could export all that solar electricity which would save the world from global warming and we'd get rich in the process!"
 
The problem with that fantasy is the hard reality of costs. Even if solar electricity was free, which it isn't, the cost of storing solar electricity so it can light your house at night is very expensive. Tesla, the electric car company, is a leader in battery technology and recently completed a project Tesla's owner, Elon Musk, called the "world's largest battery."
 
It is a $50 million electric storage facility in Australia that will power 30,000 homes for — Drum roll please — one hour. There are about 7,500 homes in Grant County, so Musk's "battery" would provide us four hours of electricity. If we only occasionally had a cloudy day and never had two cloudy days in a row, we would need 36 hours of storage. (No sun from 6 PM through 6 PM the next day is 24 hours, and until 6 AM the next morning is an additional 12 hours.)
 
That means we would need nine of Tesla's batteries at a cost of $450 million. Financed at 5% and depreciated over 20 years, or 5% per year, means this "battery" will cost Grant County $45 million per year. The cost per 7,500 households would be $6,000 per year, or $500 per month.
 
How does $500 per month compare to your current electricity bill? This is with only 36 hours of storage when at least triple that would be needed. This is with zero cost electricity, i.e. free solar panels that last forever, producing electricity with no transmission costs on free land that is not taxed.
 
Last year, a couple of New Mexico's legislators proposed that 80 percent of NM's electricity be from renewables by 2040, a huge increase from the 20 percent mandated by 2020. Some environmentalists want to be 100 percent by 2035. Either option would require massive amounts of storage and a massive increase in your electricity bill.
 
Someday, I don't know when, even in New Mexico it will be recognized that renewable energy is ridiculously expensive. When that day comes, and it will, wind and solar will face a "Udall bill" that will end mandates and subsidies. Does New Mexico really want to invest its future in industries that depend on subsidies and mandates that will someday end?

 By Peter Burrows 5/4/18 elburropete@gmail.com - silvercityburro.com

To encourage homeowners to install solar panels, most public utilities, including Public Service of New Mexico (PNM), are required by law to pay homeowners for any excess electricity the solar panels produce. This doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, the excess electricity is fed into the utility's grid for sale to other customers.

Imagine that homes with solar panels have two meters, one that measures the electricity coming into the home from the electric utility, and another that measures the excess solar electricity that goes into the utility grid on those occasions when the solar panels produce more electricity than is being used. The net of the two is the "net metering" that determines the electric bill.

by Peter Burrows 3/14/18 elburropete@gmail.com - silvercityburro.com

Last month's horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, elicited the usual storm of hysterical cries to "do something." Most of the "somethings" proposed would in fact do nothing.

 By Peter Burrows 3/5/18 elburropete@gmail.com -- silvercityburro.com

Somebody once described the Republicans and the Democrats as "the stupid party and the evil party." That's a little unfair to the Republicans, as there is plenty of nonpartisan stupidity to go around, but last week the Republicans owned the title. No contest. Two examples:

First, Republican Lt. Governor John Sanchez visited Silver City to talk to local officials about the Air Force's proposed Gila Wilderness flyovers. He then spent an hour or so with local Republicans. At that meeting, he lamented to some of us about what a money loser Governor Bill Richardson's Rail Runner had proven to be.

By Peter Burrows

I think the most amazing story of the Winter Olympics was the Gold Medal win by the U.S. men's curling team.

Curling is not a sport that gets much respect from people who don't know anything about the game. The very name, "curling," is faintly effeminate, something to scoff at. How could a game called "curling" be anything somebody would WANT to do, especially a man? I bet if it was called "Ice Hammer" it would get a lot more respect.

Live from Silver City

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