On PointVincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, writes his On Point column most weekdays. He is also an author and freelance writer. Reach Vincent Carroll at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.
Carroll: Brownouts by design
The new energy economy is coming faster than you think — although perhaps not in the alluring form foreseen by green governors such as Bill Ritter and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with plentiful energy flowing from endless rows of windmills and solar panels strung across the fruited plain.
No, the new energy economy increasingly looks as if it may be a world of shortages and even brownouts, as well as electricity prices trending sharply higher.
If so, it will be the result of decisions we can see being made today.
The most dramatic such decision occurred just last week, when the top official in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied a permit to build coal-fired generators at an existing plant solely to prevent release of “carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” not because it would violate any existing air-pollution standard. His staff had recommended that the permit be granted.
Even before the Kansas decision, The Associated Press has reported, “At least 16 coal-fired power plant proposals nationwide have been scrapped in recent months and more than three dozen have been delayed as utilities face increasing pressure due to concerns over global warming and rising construction costs.” If the logic of Kansas’ top regulator is widely mimicked, permits for new coal generators will become as rare as the passenger pigeon.
Meanwhile, rising demand for electricity is already outstripping supply. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which takes no position on specific debates over generation or transmission, “Electricity usage in the United States is projected to grow more than twice as fast as committed resources over the next 10 years.”
Closer to home, the Colorado Energy Forum last year estimated that demand for electricity in this state would jump by 50 percent during the next 20 years.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesaler based in Westminster, is a partner in the Kansas project. “We proposed one of the cleanest coal plants that exist anywhere in the country,” spokesman Lee Boughey told me. And it’s not as if Tri-State is a coal-addicted, anti-renewables rogue. It supported this year’s bill upping the renewable-energy mandate in Colorado for utilities.
So what will be used as a substitute for coal if it is squeezed out as a baseload energy source, since wind and solar are not yet suited for the role? Perhaps nuclear will provide part of the answer, although the lead times and cost of building nuclear plants are staggering. Most of the other solutions often mentioned, notably “clean coal” technology involving the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, remain in the experimental stage.
No, the fallback baseload power source will almost certainly involve natural gas, whose price is higher and more volatile than coal, and whose supplies are already under pressure from rising demand.
Maybe the new energy economy should be renamed the newly expensive energy economy. At the very least the public should understand the trade-off in yanking plans for coal plants: that there is no such thing as a free green lunch when it comes to baseload power.
Using the right word
When University of Colorado President Hank Brown warned higher education commissioners last week that soaring tuition risks pushing some students into lower-cost institutions, with the result that “you’ll ghettoize those students,” the only black panel member told Brown he was offended.
But why? “Ghettoize” is found in dictionaries and is commonly used in much the way Brown employed it — meaning to isolate or congregate in a particular location.
And while ghetto was once a popular way to refer to black urban slums, it has a much older history that has nothing to do with America. In Europe, it referred to the quarter of the city where Jews had to live; there were major ghettos in Venice, Frankfurt, and a number of other towns.
Brown was not insensitive to use “ghettoize” as he did, and he shouldn’t shrink from using it again.
Vincent Carroll is editor of the editorial pages. Reach him at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.
CRUDE OIL HITS $92...
What, me worry?
Who needs energy, economic growth, jobs, incomes, low inflation and low interest rates? The only thing that matters is the size of your carbon footprint.
What's it going to take, $5 at the pump? Nurse Ratchet, the straight jackets please!Posted by on October 26, 2007 07:36 AM
Poor VC, cannot deal with the fact that the 19th Century energy economy is coming to an end.Posted by Oliver on October 26, 2007 08:00 AM
We agonize over a couple of coal fired plants when China installs a new plant every 3 weeks. That sucking sound is jobs leaving the USA for China. The new energy economy will be called the new expensive and intermittent economy because wind turbines and solar work just 33% of the time. Gas will be used to back up intermittent renewables and power baseload instead of cheap, reliable baseload coal. Hold on to your hats, huge increases in gas prices is coming very soon. With man made CO2 only 0.2% of total global GHG's, we will ruin our economy, lose jobs to China and have India style electricity availability for absolutely no benefit to the environment. Right on Vince!!!Posted by PAK on October 26, 2007 08:07 AM
Your electricity rates going up b/c of decisions like this? Thank the Democrats. Your heating going up because of the price of natural gas and the supression of drilling new wells? Thank the Democrats. Your taxes going up at the city (Denver's new bonds), state (Ritter's profligate spending) and federal. Thank the Democrats ... and the Republicans as to federal.Posted by TheNevilleChamberlainBrigade on October 26, 2007 08:21 AM
The Vince Carrol Chorus...Posted by Oliver on October 26, 2007 08:30 AM
Texas oil fields in the 1920's, that is what wind farms look like. And nothing lives there, nothing. But our myopic enviro fools voted for it without thought (as usual). We don't need to rape the environment to secure real dependable energy. But we have that vision of Texas oil fields. The more things change the more they stay the same.Posted by Tom on October 26, 2007 08:51 AM
You mean that politicians will influence companies to actively manipulate the availability of energy in markets...oh I don't know...like CALIFORNIA...simply for monitary and political gain?!?
Surely notPosted by jay on October 26, 2007 09:08 AM
First indications of the paranoia over purported man-caused global warming and fall out from that fraudulent awarding of a Nobel Prize to Al Gore.Posted by Mike West on October 26, 2007 10:17 AM
Vincent Carroll looks like a zombie in his headshot.
"Uhhhrrrrrr....... lower taxes for my fffflesh! Uhhhrrr!"Posted by on October 26, 2007 11:50 AM
No where in this screed does VC every mention efficiency. Off the shelf technologies whose energy savings pay for themselves in 2-5 years could reduce projected consumption by 10-20%. They're a lot cheaper than a coal plant and wont increase greenhouse gases. That's the cornerstone of the new energy economy.
VC and the Rocky is allergic to the lowest cost, most reliable source of electricity - Energy Efficiency.Posted by Matt on October 26, 2007 12:59 PM
Lowest cost to whom? Many of these technologies are expensive for the consumers right now. The ones that aren't, such as flo bulbs most of us have been using for years.
While I know of nobody who is against conservation and energy efficientcy, it is only one part of the the equation. Demand will continue to grow regardless.
Face it, we need more baseload generation and guess which folks are blocking it, as usual?Posted by RU Serious on October 26, 2007 08:22 PM
So much for the can-do Spirit of America.
We went from "Is it even possible to go to the moon?" to "The Eagle has Landed" in eight years.
We went from "A day that will live in Infamy" to VJ day in 4 years.
It used to be that we Americans prided ourselves on our innovative thinking and scientific acumen.
According to Vincent Carroll those days are behind us. We are not innovative. We are not cutting edge. We are simply too mired in our old ways to even try to invent new ways.
Carroll is not only a tool but he is a disgrace. He is a disgrace to all the Americans who never backed out of a challenge and who never accepted failure.Posted by D on October 27, 2007 11:32 PM
We just installed a huge solar system - thanks to all the poor people and apartment dwellers who are paying for it. Without the mandated rebates, the pay-out would be far beyond my lifetime. Thank you, Democrats and Socialists.Posted by Lis on October 28, 2007 11:51 AM
Leave it to a dumbass Republican to forget the issue being discussed and resort to finger-pointing.
Posted by I Hate Brainless Conservatives on October 29, 2007 12:44 PM
What's uglier, a monster windmill or an oil rig? Huge windmill farms in Minnesota are using the power grid to feed hungry California energy markets. That makes no sense, is inefficient, expensive and is environmentally offensive. California has no wind?
If state #1 has less prohibitive enviro laws than state # 2, then state #1 becomes a worker-slave for state #2? Does state #2 accept state #1's garbage and waste in return? If this trend continues, I can see America evolving into crazy-quilt of enviro-patches, with the nation divided into enviro-have's and enviro-coolies. And it looks like Arnold and Bill are clearly aiming at being "haves."
Not in my back yard, let my coolie carry my baggage.Posted by on October 30, 2007 08:46 AM
The US is committing sewer-pipes or down the drain baby, in the name of world health. Just watch how bad it will be when we are no longer a superpower and china and india own large parts of our country. Then they will build large dirty power plants just like they are now in their countries but those of us who are left will depend on their hand outs, if any, to survive. Don't be fooled we are on a slippery slope to becoming a third world country. because soon others will own this land of the good old USA. First the jobs then the land. Believe it or not !!!Posted by craynewhope on October 30, 2007 01:20 PM
There is a coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona, by Lake Powell, a huge recreational area. It is owned by the Dineh Indians, and all it gives off is water vapor. There is a mountain nearby where the coal is mined, and it is sent to the plant on conveyor belts. I was shocked the first time I arrived in Page, at night, and saw the water vapor in the air, thinking that it would consist of something very obnoxious. It doesn't. The air is totally sweet. The power is shipped to California on high tension lines. If the Dineh Indians can do it, so can the rest of us. This business of condemning an energy source just because it isn't Politically Correct stands in the way of our energy independence. If the Chinese buy up our land, they'll be putting coal-fired plants everywhere, and you won't have a say, and they simply do not CARE about air pollution. And we'll be overrun with terrorists. I find it outrageous that so many people shoot off their mouths without having a CLUE what they are talking about!Posted by Pat on October 30, 2007 05:22 PM
The U.S. needs to face the economic threat of China and India...FIRST. We need to keep as many jobs here as possible, and be able to provide affordable electrical power (just to name one)...FIRST. If we somehow manage this, then we can flutter about making everything " Wonderfully Pristine" just like when the pilgrims arrived. If we try to do it the other way around, it will not be pretty, just watch. The U.S. is in a struggle for its existence (at least, as it we have known it) yet we seem to have an almost unlimited supply of people whose reason for being is to come up with every possible impediment (aka regulation) to hamstring progress. Our opponents will not care about these volumes of regulations or our great intensions. They will view them as a weakness, and exploit them. What a shame it would be to be overwhelmed not by outside military force or lack of business skill, but by our own nonsense obstructionism.Posted by WT on November 4, 2007 06:27 PM