Tag Archives: energy transition

Diablo Canyon Shutdown Scuttled for Now

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station has been given a new lease on its half-life. Biden and Newsom likely looked at the 2024 election and said they wanted nothing to do with higher energy prices, keep Diablo Canyon open, kick the can down the road, we’ll shut the hazardous site after the next election, even if each and every electron out of this facility will be the high-cost leader in the diverse energy market.

Water Grabbing is Over

Renewable energy is the low-cost leader, end of story, stop pretending. Decommissioning Diablo Canyon will require decades of time and a tsunami of funding— $10’s of billions. We don’t need to worry about mad Russian’s invading from our southern border, our domestic saboteurs have proven plenty willing to exploit our vulnerabilities, blowing up the filibuster is known as the nuclear option, it gets its name from a facility like Diablo Canyon.

Things I wish we could control are the amount of energy crypto currencies have been using in their coin minting process. I’d have shut them down forced them back to the drawing boards and demanded they come up with a less energy intensive method creating coins. Color me skeptical, but the digitally minted out of thin air coins don’t impress. A properly trained fiduciary would never sign off on such a reckless investment.  

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station

California’s Central Coast is one of our state’s most livable. Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach have no real corollary, not Los Angeles or San Francisco have on offer such ideal weather. Nothing is perfection, but traffic here is tempered by its distance from both the major metropolitan regions. 

What’s on the drawing boards along this stretch of coast is the deployment of offshore wind turbines. Turbines will be over the horizon; the whole idea is that you won’t see anything. Wind turbine service technicians will live here, they will by boat be sent out off the coast to regularly service the turbines. Other workers on shore will provide continual maintenance to the batteries that will store the energy. You want really good news, we don’t have to invent anything to secure this renewable future. 

Morro Bay, California

Controllers will manage power distribution from computers, a lot of time and research has been spent developing the necessary storage capacity so that our energy system will operate across a wide range of circumstances. CalPoly San Luis Obispo’s graduating engineers will find an abundance of work here. 

In Delta, Utah excess renewable energy will be used to produce carbon free hydrogen. Below ground here are some of the world’s largest salt caverns where the hydrogen fuel will be stored. The hydrogen powered electric power station will spool up and send electricity across the west to help the grid meet the demand. Think of the hydrogen in Delta, Utah as the result of the stored energy produced by wind offshore near Morro Bay.

Delta Utah’s Intermountain Power Station

If you are wondering about how reliable offshore wind is here on this section of coast, you can stop wondering, the resource is off the charts. If you took all of the sailors in California, you will find only a small fraction of these sailors willing to risk messing with this section of coast. Why might you wonder? Because the wind blows hard. 

Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratories is here in California. Nuclear weapon design happens here. You can go to UC Berkeley and become a nuclear scientist. What I’m saying is there is a powerful constituency still convinced in the efficacy of nuclear power. My argument isn’t technological, their engineering prowess isn’t my objection. The problem I have is with the variability of human beings. Most of the time most people remain dedicated to doing their best, but too frequently a more feral political animal arises and some of humankinds most irresponsible may find a path to seizing political power. Nuclear technology demands a constancy of good conduct, and this behavioral consistency is beyond the reach of our species.

Renewables are the future. Scientists at MIT have developed a drill bit that punches through materials using a technology that harnesses energy from microwaves. Shallow wells into the ground are well suited to be punched using conventional drilling technology. Once down where things start getting hotter and harder, that’s when this new technology does its best work. An experimental well is being punched right now. Steam will be brought to the surface to spin turbines. Geothermal power is common in Nevada where geothermal sources come closer to the earths surface. If we can reliably punch wells anywhere the world we will have found an off ramp to the dependency on fossil and nuclear fuels.  A decentralized energy system will put an end to the economic problems created by spikes in the cost of fossil fuels.

One of the factors that raise the costs of producing laboratory grown meat is electricity. It may seem quixotic, but it is just over the horizon. In 2023 you will be able to go to restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area where chefs will treat you to chicken grown in the lab.  This may not seem central to our survival, but my prediction is that it will be a key technology.

Bridging the Gap

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for the 2022-2023 rainy season promise much more of the same. In other words, our drought here in the American West continues. Water scarcity is stressing communities that are agriculture dependent. Over the last century California has developed the most expansive water distribution system in the world. There is no other place in the world with as many reservoirs, aqueducts, and irrigation canals. The key to our future is using less water to make more food. Like everything economic these changes will produce a new set of winners and losers. 

I like democracy and I like leadership to face the citizens in free and fair elections. Our transition to a renewable energy economy, to an modernized more water efficient food production system, rolling out these new systems, reinventing how our economy is powered, how we distribute our water, these are fundamental building blocks. We do this right and we’re going to walk back the world from the edge, and if we don’t get this right, we’ll suffer the consequences. Time is of the essence, there is not a second to lose. 

It’s just a guess on my part but keeping Diablo Canyon open a little longer looks like a bet to buy more time, to keep things going in the right direction, to not sending the economy into a self-inflicted energy price spike. All of the technologies I’ve written about will prevail in time, as they are deployed over time, and it is this timeline, this managing the energy transition that is civilizations great challenge. 

Coal miner’s slaughter

Coal miners’ number fifty thousand across the United States. Backs against the wall, days numbered, the future isn’t included. Hard rock hard times are in a head on collision with the 21st Century.

Musical chairs, the party game favorite, when the music stops everyone is scurries to find an open chair, mining companies are desperate to not be caught holding the bag of debt when the music stops and there’s one more seat missing, one more loser, one more player told to step aside.

In the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains there are men having shots of whiskey after swing shift, to take the edge off. Meth runs rampant in the lunch bucket working class crowd, there are enough fatal fentanyl overdoses to fill a football stadium, divorce rates are holding steady, more and more people don’t bother getting married.

From the pages of Oil City News, “Rocky Mountain Power, notified the Wyoming PSC that it was considering early retirement of several of its coal-fired power units in the state because they are becoming more costly to ratepayers than investing in new renewable energy generation.”

Fossil fuel revenue streams are drying up. Bankruptcy is all a coal mining company can do. Go to court, put the assets into receivership, sell off what you can, hope there’s enough money to deal with the tailing ponds, clean up the surface water, pray you haven’t polluted the ground water, maybe there’s enough money to pay the promised pensions and health care, likely not, like any corporate entity you run the business for profits now, when a mining operation is coming up short you know who’s going to get the shaft?

Lighthouse Resources owns Decker coal mine just north of the Wyoming border in Montana. They’re playing the bankruptcy card. About 150 United Mine Workers Union members are being setup for the deal breaking.

Spring Creek Mine is 16 miles north of Decker. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC in all their infinite wisdom decided to buy this stranded asset. Appears the NTEC’s governing board is packed with executives who didn’t the get the memo, that coal jobs aren’t coming back, the starless rocks got no future, and it is time to stop hating on renewables.

Across the United States the unavoidable fate in the coal baron bankruptcy business is the last 75 coal fired power plants are slated for shutdown. That’ll close most of the mines, some metallurgical coal might hang on for making steel, until green hydrogen comes online, then they’ll shutter those mines too. Until about yesterday forecasts pegged the end of coking coal in 2050, but that estimate is likely to revised, the sharper analysts figure decades sooner.

Pueblo, Colorado has a steel mill coming online, technology is old school, they’ll use coke fuel with some more up to date tooling. New operation will manufacture railway track, figure enough work for 1000 United Steel Workers. Net gain will zero out when they shutter the last of the down on their luck city’s coal fired power plants. Pueblo can’t catch a real break, if ever a place needed to be rescued from the forces of change this Southern Colorado outpost would be a prime candidate.

Bumper sticker sloganeering, the illegitimate brainchild of Frank Luntz focus group tested efforts to smear job losses on climate change policy doesn’t do much to fix our nation in the midst of a major energy transition. Exxon’s kicked off Dow Jones because there is no future for oil, it’s all stranded assets and pattycakes with Putin, and that’s good until it isn’t, can you say plutonium?

Millions of acres devoured by wildfire, category five hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, an ever-expanding population colliding with an ever-decreasing water supply is deserving of our attention.

The insurrection of January 6th was not funded by fossil fuel industry, but Open Secrets estimated that in 2020 Big Oil donated $11million to Democrats and a grand total of $59 million to Republicans. Let that sink in for one hot second. Add banking, pharmaceuticals, health insurance, transnational agriculture, and there’s the consolidated force of special interests gumming up every road in or out of our nation’s capital.

Leadership means getting out in front of the climate emergency. Had our nation only mustered the political will to pass a carbon tax we would have the money in hand to help the United Mine Workers today. The long put off unavoidable moment has arrived, the transition is underway, we can’t afford to blow it now.

winds of change blowing into wyoming

As Time Goes By

Out here on the western frontier, where the deer and the antelope roam there remain 33 coal fueled electric power stations. Wyoming is top mess maker, operating a dozen of these dirty devils. Toss in bait of federal tax subsidies, add lobby shops sprinkling magic money dust and Wyoming can’t put the demon coal habit down even though it takes 700 lbs. of coal to power a 100-watt lightbulb for one year.

Coal burning power stations employs people. A good paying job in Wyoming is a miracle unto itself. Hard to imagine now, but in 1886 Wyoming was the first state in the union to give women the right to vote. There was no choice. Had they not counted the women there were not enough voting men to qualify the state for entry into the United States.

Modern day Wyoming voters have shifted to the right, hard right, to the radical right. Half of Wyoming’s land is owned by “we the people,” a much smaller fraction by the state, and right on schedule the mining, livestock and timber industry all remain discontent by the regulatory restraints regulation places on their activities.

Butting Heads Against the Hard Rock

Outdoorsmen flock to Wyoming for hunting and fishing. Real estate around Jackson Hole is sky high. If you can find happiness in Casper, some do most of the rest struggle, somewhere $200,000 will get you a decent home. Wages for labor are lower than they ought to be. Libertarians pass through their resentments of governance blaming distant bureaucrats for all that ails folks here. Gas, oil and coal subsidies, federal tax dollars, inbound to Wyoming somehow escape libertarian criticism.

Wind power is coming on strong. Measured by megawatts the wind has some distance to go to catch up with coal. Nevertheless Wyoming has a lot of wind, it is renewable, you don’t have to dig it out of the ground, put it on a train, unload the rock onto a conveyor belt, burn it, shoot much of out a smokestack, then find you have no cheap or easy means of getting rid of the coal ash that remains a biohazard to the citizens for decades. You try to bury it one place or another, you go bankrupt trying, while all that free clean abundant wind keeps blowing free and easy past higher priced fossil fuel by leaps and bounds.

Politically even if coal, gas and oil are losing the fight against renewables for producing the cleanest, cheapest energy money can buy it still is causing economic disruptions that all of us will need to address. January 6th, 2021 matters in this calculation. Coal plants are going to be shut down, wind and solar facilities are going to be opened. The largest coal power plants employ 100’s of people that are going to lose jobs. This is steady work at a good pay rate. Coal provides a community with economic stability.

Emptiness- My Beautiful Reward

Bigger financial institutions are the most frequent players in the funding of generating stations. There is good reason. A bank can plug numbers into a spread sheet, this many megawatts, produced night and day, twenty-four-seven, year in and year out, ratepayers with almost no other choice than to take what they can get, works out on paper in the banking business to be as sure thing as a money-making proposition can be.

Ramping up drilling in the Powder River Basin, 5000 leases have just been fast tracked, fire hosed and blessed by Texas tea black bullion barons, billions of dollars in federal subsidies, regulatory agencies sitting on their hands, a whole lot of down on their luck drillers are lining up for a piece of the action.

This isn’t champagne, caviar or wing nuts over Yellowstone. This is not a free market economy. This is crony capitalism, regulatory capture, where the favors are doled out to the most favored.

Private equity, Wall Street, the “too big to fail banks” are all becoming reluctant players. Investment dollars are getting harder to come by because the price of renewable energy is down, and that cleaner cheaper thing is, if you didn’t know it, a better thing.

There are fewer Democrats in Wyoming than there are grizzly bears. Republicans in Cheyenne like playing hard ball, deregulate industry, say not one word about federal fossil fuel subsidies, cut the state budget, then cut taxes more, then cut them again, trigger fiscal crisis, then snarl and bark about how government doesn’t work.

What we can do is end the federal fossil fuel subsidies that keep going to Cheyenne. Switch federal tax incentives to the low-cost leader in energy, that would be solar and wind, launch a reality based economic transition program. Help Wyoming’s workers first, the fossil fuel companies second. Then, start a dialogue with the state’s politicians. Wyoming is windy. A redesigned electric power grid is needed, those are all good paying jobs.

Coal is not coming back. Nuclear power is way too expensive. By 2025 the best Ford pickup money can buy will be electric. Miners in Wyoming will be repurposed. National security will require domestic sources of lithium, copper, and manganese be developed.

I’m not kidding, it’s going to be good

We will need leadership in Wyoming to sit down at the negotiating table. Republicans need to look to the energy future. Modernizing our energy system, setting our nations table, setting a course for a cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, world class competitive electric energy supply will pay our people back many times over. World class infrastructure means providing America with the chance to remain a world class economic powerhouse. I’m good with some progressive policies mixed in with conservative ideas too. What we need is a bipartisan agreement to follow the facts wherever they may lead us. Renewables are cheaper and not helping the citizens make it through the energy transition is unaffordable. We can’t squander our most precious natural renewable resource, our people, for the sake of ideology, because we slam the brakes on last century’s oil economy. We all make a decision together, that we all agree that we can’t leave our citizens behind. If this was poker, done right the energy transition is a winning hand. Better times and brighter less expensive lighting is just ahead.