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Earth Power

The EPA Carbon Plan: Coal Loses, But Who Wins? 268

Lasrick writes: Mark Cooper with one of the best explanations of some of the most pressing details on the new EPA rule change: 'The claims and counterclaims about EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards have filled the air: It will boost nuclear. It will expand renewables. It promotes energy efficiency. It will kill coal. It changes everything. It accomplishes almost nothing.' Cooper notes that although it's clear that coal is the big loser in the rule change, the rule itself doesn't really pick winners in terms of offering sweet deals for any particular technology; however, it seems that nuclear is also a loser in this formulation, because 'Assuming that states generally adhere to the prime directive of public utility resource acquisition—choosing the lowest-cost approach—the proposed rule will not alter the dismal prospects of nuclear power...' Nuclear power does seem to be struggling with economic burdens and a reluctance from taxpayers to pay continuing subsides in areas such as storage and cleanup. It seems that nuclear is another loser in the new EPA rule change.
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The EPA Carbon Plan: Coal Loses, But Who Wins?

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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @06:32PM (#47285427)
    Why is the government supposed to pick winners?

    I was under the impression that public health was a principal concern, not determining which industry gets to make windfall profits for the luck few that manage to hold stock.

    What I think needs to happen is for power-generating companies to not also own the power grid. That's one of the problems right now with trying to get residential solar adoption going- the power companies want to throw up roadblocks to anyone else putting solar on and tying to to the grid. The "buy" excess power at the lowest possible price (ie, about what someone would pay for power if they have a time-of-use plan, if they were using their power in the middle of the night when demand is bottomed out) and they want to charge solar-producing customers extra fees to even be connected to the grid.

    Power companies at least need their power generation units and power distribution units to be separate items on the customer's bill. That should hold true for all customers, even those that don't produce power themselves. Everyone should be charged the same grid connection price (relative to the kind of connection they have, a residential or light commercial 240V single phase center-tap-neutral should cost less than a 460V three phase industrial or commercial connection) and then their power's metered cost should be line-itemized separately. If a customer produces more power than they use, that should reduce the price they pay for their grid connection, and if they produce above and beyond that then they should receive payment, instead of a bill.

    I am fairly heavily convinced that regulation like this would do wonders for residential solar adoption, which then do wonders for reducing fossil-fuel generation, at least in Southern states where peak demand is during daylight hours.
  • Peak? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stomv ( 80392 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @07:45PM (#47285869) Homepage

    Peak demand isn't as close to daylight as you might expect in the South. In fact, many systems are winter peaking (central Florida and Appalachia come to mind). Those systems peak winter 7-10am. Sure, the sun is just starting to come up, but PV isn't going to have a significant impact on that peak. Similarly, peak is 3-6pm. PV produces it's best power at high noon. As more PV comes on the system, the "net"-peak will push to 4-7pm, then 5-8pm. Again, solar contributes to meeting some of that peak, but depending on geography it isn't always going to align as well as you might think, including in the south.

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @08:34PM (#47286191) Journal

    In addition, if the coal-fired plants are removed from the equation before replacement sources of power are in place, there will be power shortages.

    When the Clean Air Act was amended in the 70s, coal plant emissions were grandfathered in.
    The assumption was that, over time, the plants would either be retired or brought into compliance as major upgrades were made.

    Except there was a loophole of sorts... plants did not have to comply with the new emissions rules if their upgrades were less than XY% of the plant's value. The result was that plant operators never ever made any major upgrades. Instead, they used incremental upgrades in order to stay under the legal requirements for coming into compliance.

    The end result is that most coal plants in America date back to the 1970s, specifically because of this regulatory loophole.
    I have little sympathy for an industry that could have spent the last 40 years reducing their emissions.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @10:49PM (#47286725) Journal

    > in Southern states where peak demand is during daylight hours.

    Specifically, 11AM-2PM. Human eyes see brightness log(n), so we don't realize that the sunshine is a hundred times brighter at some times than at others. It would suck if noon appeared to be a hundred times as bright as morning, so our eyes compress the difference. Solar panels DO notice that, and don't produce much at all during what we call daylight 7AM-10AM and 3PM-8PM. Same with cloudy days. What looks to be a little bit less bright is actually FAR less energy.

    So what you end up with is "southern states, for a few hours per day while everyone is at work, on sunny days". Peak usage in most cases when people get home from work, turn on the TV and start cooking dinner. At that time, there's no solar available. Also in the morning when everyone is rushing around blow-drying their hair, microwaving breakfast, etc. Solar is AWESOME in theory, at first glance. Beyond that first glance, looking at the details, it starts to look like we've wasted a few billion dollars that could have saved about 200 million hungry people.

  • by drfred79 ( 2936643 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @11:21PM (#47286839)

    Perhaps it would be worth it to make the distribution grid a public utility - as you say it's already paid off, often with the aid of large government subsidies. If the power companies wont play fair with independent power generation and storage entrepreneurs then perhaps it's time to cut them out of the equation. Inform them the cables have been claimed via eminent domain and will be paid for at an amount of (materials - subsidies) amortized over the next N years. They still control the bulk of power generation, at least at first, and get paid the same rates as everyone else. It would probably raise energy prices at first, but I don't see any way to get off fossils that doesn't, and it would facilitate a much faster and market-driven adaptation period.

    You're forgetting the huge legacy maintenance costs. PG&E is scared shitless because the price they've been charging customers has been below the cost necessary to maintain leaky natural gas pipes. PG&E had to raise rates and is now undertaking a massive generational renovation process. The grid takes a constant life cycle maintenance plan. The fixed cost of installation is minuscule and already the risk had been borne by the installer. That's like the government saying "this Gmail experiment worked; Google thanks for the memories, eminent domain bitch."

    First of all, I don't think you know what the word subsidies means. Credits and subsidies are two different devils. I honestly think someone smart explains this for each overreaching governmental naysayer. Subsidies is what solar panel producers, like Solyndra, receive. They are cash money and they are given to companies to distort the energy market. Credits are money you have earned that you don't have to pay to the government. You are paying the government less money you have earned. Its an offset to tax. Tesla makes a larger proportion of its revenue from subsidies and credits. If we were to equally apply your winners and losers strategy to all companies, lets start with companies that receive more of their revenue from the government than they do from actual sales. That's fair right? Nationalize a company that makes over 51% of its revenue from profiteering off the government?

    But let's be honest with ourselves. You're not looking for equality in the name of the law. You support crony capitalism "for the right reasons." Playing fair has a lot of meanings. One definition of playing fair is not hiring lobbyists when you can't compete in a fair capitalist market. Another one that is much more subversive is a fair price. That's the fair you mean. When the government has already picked its winners and losers the producer who charges the lowest energy cost to the poor is not always the winner. You're interested in factoring in government kickbacks.

    Let's do a Reductio ad absurdum. The producers aren't playing fair. They are charging the price of their costs plus profit plus government interference. Well since you plan on setting prices for the cost of energy all businesses are going to go out of business unless the government forces the cost of the inputs, oil, natural gas, silicon, et al. You can't just set the price of the end result. So let's go farther, to retrieve these natural resources takes capital and labor. Guess which one will be less costly to cut over the long run? I can make an automated natural gas miner a lot more economically efficient than I can cut the wages of employees.

    Suddenly we not only have a cut in the labor force but we've subjected the poor to higher energy costs. Is that the end game? Because at this point I kinda feel that we're intentionally keeping the poor poorer with this false effort to man-make the temperature the same. Oh wait? Even if we enact these changes we don't expect to change the direction of the climate's increase (which hasn't increased for 20 years)? Wow than go ahead and explain sustaining the proletariat to me. Because you are better at it with government fiat than any capitalist selling $2 cream cheese at Walmat ever could be.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday June 21, 2014 @05:02AM (#47287537) Homepage Journal

    China is investing far more in renewable and clean energy than most western countries. Only Germany can really hold a candle to them. They have vast amounts of wind, solar PV, solar heating and, if you count it as clean, nuclear already in place or being built.

    China has a long way to go, sure, but they are doing it. Part of the reason is to shake off their bad image, part of it is to look after the people (despite the propaganda they do try to make things better for citizens) and part of it is because the EU demands they clean up if they want to sell us stuff.

Have you ever noticed that the people who are always trying to tell you `there's a time for work and a time for play' never find the time for play?