New Yorkers get a nuclear New Year’s present

❝ Entergy Corp. has reached an agreement with New York officials to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant in 2021, bringing an end to a long-running dispute over the future of the reactors located just 25 miles north of New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had pushed for years to close Indian Point because of what he says are radioactive risks it poses to the city. The company agreed to the shutdown as the plant struggled to compete with lower-cost energy sources, including natural gas and renewable energy. The closure completes Entergy’s exit from its merchant power business…

❝ Five nuclear plants have shut in the U.S. in the past five years with about 20 gigawatts of capacity expected to retire by 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Cuomo has supported measures that would keep reactors in upstate New York operating despite lower power prices. Workers will get access to retraining, according to the statement…

Entergy will take a non-cash impairment charge of $1.5 billion after tax in the fourth quarter of 2016. In addition, the company said it will record additional charges of about $180 million related to severance and other employee expenses through 2021…

❝ Meanwhile, environmental groups praised the landmark deal led by Riverkeeper, which has filed legal challenges to Indian Point and was part of the negotiations with the state and Entergy.

Ordinary folks keeping to their principles, willing to commit to the long fight against one of the most entrenched segments of American capitalism – get themselves a victory.

You know, living in a society generally governed by ideologues maintained in office by an ignorant electorate, it’s easy to let cynicism overwhelm the optimism derived from science, a liberal knowledge base and confidence in history’s advances. Best to get the word out and about when a long hard struggle heads into a win.

Milestone: In 2016, wind generated more power than coal in the UK

❝ During most years since the industrial revolution, the UK has relied on coal to produce the lion’s share of its energy (in the past 10, gas has been top some years, and coal others). But in just three years the dominance of the most polluting energy source has declined to such an extent that full-year figures for 2016 show it was overtaken by wind power for total power generation…

❝ The change is momentous, and by no means accidental. European policy has mandated for the closing or retrofitting of many coal plants, with the UK recently announcing all its plants would close by 2025. Some plants, like the UK’s Drax, the biggest coal power station in Europe, have responded by moving to the burning of wood — which has its own issues. The replacement of coal with cleaner ways of generating power is a key part of the global effort to fight climate change.

❝ In most countries with large populations, renewables still can’t provide enough constant “baseload” power to allow them to replace older technologies. Many countries, the UK included, are therefore moving heavily from coal to gas. Gas is still a fossil fuel, but it’s much less damaging to the environment than coal, so planners hoping to deploy more renewables can use it as a “bridge” to an even cleaner future. Other countries, like France, have invested heavily in nuclear as a means to move away from emissions-heavy power…

❝ And for its part, China is investing massively in renewable energy. It’s still heavily reliant on coal power, but it overtook all other countries to become the biggest spender on renewable technology in 2014, and recently pledged to spend $361 billion on the technologies by 2020.

Advancing such progress in the United States will come to a halt for the next four years – as far as federal projects and the Trumpublicans are concerned. That doesn’t mean a halt to progress. Cities, states and individuals will continue to demonstrate good sense – both in terms of environment and common $ense.

You should understand the Energy Department – even if Trump doesn’t

❝ When you hear the name “Rick Perry,” you might recall that time during the 2012 Republican presidential primary race where he forgot the name of a government agency he wanted to eliminate. After saying he wanted to ax the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, he blanked on the third. Later in the debate, he said that his forgotten target for destruction was the Department of Energy.

A responsible leader doesn’t forget the name of a government agency that he wants to shut down. A responsible leader studies the department in detail, learning all of the things that it does, and thinks about how things would change if the department were abolished. And so for Perry, that “oops” moment was enough to persuade voters that he lacked the firm grasp of the facts needed in a presidential candidate. He soon abandoned the race…

❝ In reality, the department was created in an effort to increase government efficiency by combining of a bunch of existing agencies. One of these was the Energy Research and Development Administration, the successor to the Atomic Energy Commission, which itself grew out of the Manhattan Project. That agency managed the U.S.’s nuclear weapons programs. This is still one of the Energy Department’s jobs — it includes the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the safety of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Let that sink in a moment…

The Energy Department’s roots in nuclear energy also show that it wasn’t simply a response to high oil prices. Government support for nuclear power boomed in the 1950s, when oil was cheap. The goal wasn’t to avert a fossil-fuel crunch, but to give humanity even cheaper sources of power.

❝ That’s still the department’s goal. As Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports, solar energy is now cheaper than coal power in many places, even without government subsidies, and is getting cheaper still. As a partial result of this technological improvement, coal is on the wane, while solar is booming. Scaling plays a huge part in this process.

Solar’s rise hasn’t come because of a fundamental technological leap, but because of learning curves. As production rises, prices tend to fall…

That means the Energy Department’s subsidy programs, which encouraged solar growth back before the economics made sense, probably had a hand in jump-starting the era of abundant energy that we now see stretching before us.

❝ More to the point, we should just stop rewarding intellectuals and politicians for casually calling for the abolition of government agencies in the absence of understanding what they actually do.

No doubt, my call is likely to fall on deaf ears, at least while the Trump administration is in power: Perry has…been nominated to head the Energy Department.

Noah Smith is one of the best and brightest of today’s young American economists. He is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion. He’s definitely worth following on Twitter @Noahpinion.

Examination of Arctic warmth leads straight to the expected cause


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❝ It normally takes many months to get a paper through peer review and into a journal, but a group of scientists has released their detection and attribution study early, and it’s a stunning indictment. We now know the culprit for the astonishing Arctic warmth of November and December. It seemed very likely that the guilty party was rising greenhouse gasses with Arctic amplification as the accomplice, and that’s JUST what the evidence shows. It’s overwhelming, and the defendants have no choice but to throw themselves upon the mercy of the court.

❝ The analysis shows that even in our present climate that is around a degree warmer than 1900, this heat is unusual, but would happen once every 50-200 years. The odds of it happening in the climate of 1900 are astronomically tiny, however, if we warm another degree, this will be a nearly commonplace event.

The study is here, and for those that do not want to read the whole thing RTFA for the conclusions.

❝ What this study took great pains to do was to show that this warmth is almost certainly not a natural oscillation in the Arctic climate. Such oscillations exist, but when they are subtracted out, this year stands out like a big red sore thumb. Chris Mooney at the Washington Post has a good summary of this study as well.

I’ll leave crayola-sophistry to the climate denial crowd. They have a good couple of years ahead with the government packed by both wings of the Republican Party.

Some facts take a really long time to sink in. Some bought-and-paid-for politicians never get it!

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Our latest creepy Republican liar-for-president is appointing one of the sleaziest and most corrupt public officials in the United States to head the Environmental Protection Agency. This is like appointing B’rer Fox to oversee hen-house construction. Backdoor guaranteed.

Scott Pruitt is known to take press releases from his Oklahoma oil and gas buddies and reprint them on his official letterhead as state attorney general – as if they were the product of his own research. Scumbag politician of the worst sort.

BTW, Snopes.com has already verified the article and searched deeper finding an article in Popular Mechanics that preceded newspaper coverage.

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Global gasoline demand has all but peaked

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❝ After fueling the 20th century automobile culture that reshaped cities and defined modern life, gasoline has had its day.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that global gasoline consumption has all but peaked as more efficient cars and the advent of electric vehicles from new players such as Tesla Motors halt demand growth in the next 25 years. That shift will have profound consequences for the oil-refining industry because gasoline accounts for one in four barrels consumed worldwide…

“Electric cars are happening,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in an interview in London, adding that their number will rise from little more than 1 million last year to more than 150 million by 2040.

❝ The cresting of gasoline demand shows how rapidly the oil landscape is changing, casting a shadow over an industry that commonly forecasts decades of growth ahead. Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second-biggest energy company by market value, shocked rivals this month when a senior executive said overall oil demand could peak in as little as five years.

The IEA doesn’t share Shell’s pessimism. While the agency anticipates a gasoline peak, it still forecasts overall oil demand growing for several decades because of higher consumption of diesel, fuel oil and jet fuel by the shipping, trucking, aviation and petrochemical industries…

❝ For Philip Verleger, president of the consultant PKVerleger LLC in Colorado and a veteran oil-market analyst, the IEA’s outlook is one of the more optimistic outcomes for the global industry.

“Refiners across the globe can only hope that this forecast turns out to be right — because all the indications are today that consumption is going to begin dropping not in 2030, but probably in 2020,” said Verleger. “It’s the best news a dying patient can hope to get.”

Just in case you wondered what the truly global giants of fossil fuels talk about when they tell each other the truth. Quit reading PR releases from the American Petroleum Institute, the Koch Bros. or their flunky on Fifth Avenue.

Finland is banning coal by 2030 and aims for carbon-neutral by 2050


Click to enlargeReuters/Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva

❝ Finland, which gets about 10% of its energy from coal, said this week that it will stop using the fuel by 2030.

The Finnish ministry of economic affairs and employment let slip the news when it released its climate and energy strategy…Plenty of other countries, including the UK and France, are slowly phasing out coal. But Finland’s commitment is more concrete. Canada too announced last week that it would phase out coal by 2030.

❝ Finland’s long-term goal is to become carbon neutral and — perhaps by 2050 — rely entirely on renewable energy, the strategy document said. In the nearer term, by 2030, as well as cutting out coal, it aims to increase the share of renewable energy in its mix by 50%.

Not that 50% is a big increase. Renewables like wind and hydropower are only a tiny fraction of Finland’s current energy mix, in contrast to its Nordic neighbors: Norway runs on 100% renewable power thanks to its geothermal and hydro resources, while Denmark and Sweden have both built a lot of wind infrastructure in recent years…

❝ The strategy said that new investment should not be made in coal, either to build new plants or refurbish old ones. The document will go to parliament on Nov. 30.

It’s even easier for me to be enthusiastic, now, about nations outside the GOUSA working creatively towards a healthier environment. Americans seem hellbent to stay on the downbound train.

Here’s why Trump can’t save jobs in the coal industry?


Completed in 1974, Monroe Power Plant will be the last one standing in 2030

❝ All year, Donald Trump has been promising to rescue the US coal industry by repealing various Obama-era pollution rules and ending the “war on coal.” And all year, analysts have pointed out that he probably can’t stop the collapse of the coal industry — since coal’s woes go far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency.

But if you want a perfect example of why Trump will struggle to bring back coal, just look at Michigan.

❝ Last weekend, the CEO of Michigan’s largest electric utility reiterated that his company is still planning to retire eight of its nine remaining coal plants by 2030 — whether or not Trump tries to repeal President Obama’s climate policies…

Gerry Anderson’s reasoning was simple. Coal is no longer the economic choice for generating electricity, due to relentless competition from cheaper (and cleaner) natural gas and wind power. In Michigan, a new coal plant costs $133 per megawatt hour. A natural gas plant costs half that. Even wind contracts now cost about $74.52 per megawatt hour, after federal tax credits. “I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant,” Anderson said.

❝ What’s more, Anderson added, surveys show that most of Michigan’s consumers want to add more renewables “if it can be done at reasonable cost.”

❝ It’s not just Michigan. This dynamic is playing out all over the country, as coal plant after coal plant succumbs to competition from cheap natural gas and wind. Over at Politico, Michael Grunwald estimates that US power plants are now on track to emit 27 percent less carbon dioxide in 2016 than they did in 2005.

What’s remarkable is that this is all happening before Obama’s Clean Power Plan even takes effect. That rule, which is still tied up in court, aimed for a 30 percent cut below 2005 levels by 2030. We’re almost there already. So it’s clear that scrapping the CPP, as Trump has pledged, won’t help coal power make a huge comeback.

Not that reason, efficiency and cost mean much to Republicans and other Trump Chumps. The vicarious thrill of turning back regulations designed to make life healthier for most folks is almost as visceral a pleasure as, say, machine-gunning a basket of kittens.

Canada will be rid of coal power plants by 2030


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❝ While US President-elect Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the coal-mining industry despite market forces favoring cheaper natural gas, America’s northern neighbor is pressing to move beyond the fuel that started the Industrial Revolution.

On Monday, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced a plan to completely phase out coal-burning power plants by 2030 — unless those plants capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

❝ In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all provinces would be required to implement carbon emissions pricing programs by 2018. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008, while Alberta will have a carbon tax starting on January 1. Ontario and Quebec are already operating carbon cap-and-trade schemes. Either sort of program will fulfill the requirement as long as the price per ton of emissions meets the federal standard.

❝ While Canada currently gets about 80 percent of its electricity from “non-emitting sources” (renewables and nuclear), it is aiming to hit 90 percent by 2030…to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels…

Bravo! Hope some of that good sense leaks over the border into the brains of American politicians, American voters.

Alaska Airlines flew a 737 across the country using wood chips

❝ On Monday morning, Washington state-based Alaska Airlines started the week off right. It sent a Boeing 737 jet on the first commercial flight partially fueled by tree limbs and waste wood from forests.

❝ The alternative jet fuel used on the flight from Seattle to Washington D.C. was produced through the efforts of the Washington State University-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and Gevo Inc., a private renewable technology company…

❝ Like corn, trees also produce sugars through the process of photosynthesis. These sugars can be converted into alcohol and then into kerosene or jet fuel. Wood is more expensive to convert, but it can be made into isobutanol, a particular type of alcohol that gives fuel more suited for aircraft engines.

The wood-based blend also brings some additional advantages. It doesn’t compete with food crops or the land used to grow them. Instead, it uses forest clippings that are typically gathered into a pile and burned. And if the conversion process gains more support, it could create new employment in areas that have lost timber industry jobs.

❝ Renewable jet fuel must compete on cost with petroleum-based fuels before airlines consider it for anything but the occasional stunt, but biofuel technology is fast catching up. And several airlines around the globe have committed to keeping the net carbon emissions from aviation neutral starting in 2020. That’s significant because jet fuel remains a huge source of carbon pollution.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Remember that song. Our politicians serenade us with it every few years when elections roll around. Most especially re-election, eh? Still seems to me our intelligentsia and outsiders with higher-than-a-6th-grade social pass are doing a better job at trying to fill the gap between quality jobs and minimum wage…than our bought-and-paid-for Congress.