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Wrongly Justifying Electric Car Tax Breaks

Math errors. Exaggerations. Phony metrics. Trickle-down economics. The recent e-mail from JJ McCoy of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association to the legislature has it all.

Electric car advocates in Washington State are again asking for a sales tax break on top of the existing federal tax credit they receive of $7,500. Their sales tax break costs the state about $10 million a year. To put that in context, that is about one-quarter of the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board’s annual funding.

Put simply, when McCoy’s math is corrected, the environmental value of the $39 million tax break is only $2.6 million — a waste of $36.4 million — not the $18 million benefit he wrongly claimed.

As we’ve pointed out, these tax breaks go predominantly to the wealthiest 10 percent — people who are not price sensitive and would have likely purchased an electric car anyway.

Even worse, much of the argument in favor of extending the sales tax breaks is not only wrong, it contradicts other claims electric car lobbyists make.

Case in point is the e-mail sent by JJ McCoy, lobbyist for the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association and Northwest Energy Coalition. It demonstrates how far those lobbying for these wasteful and ineffective subsidies have to go to assemble an argument.

Here are the claims made by McCoy and the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, and the reality.

Claim: If the sales tax exemption is allowed to expire, Washington’s market share for plug-in vehicles will drop 63% — that, according to a study by the Keybridge Economic Group, led by former Clinton Council of Economic Advisors Robert Westcott, PhD.

Reality: Actually, the Westcott study does not prove sales would fall this much — it simply assumes it. They write “sales in Washington are assumed to drop from 1.2 percent of total vehicle sales to just 0.5 percent of sales” [emphasis mine]. They get the 0.5 percent figure by using the Oregon level of 0.8 percent and then adjusting downward. Why? The study authors don’t explain. They simply say, “several state-specific factors have created a particularly conducive environment” in Oregon, but don’t explain what the factors are.

McCoy uses this phony math to claim the tax breaks increase sales by 2,100 cars a year. If we use the actual Oregon level as a baseline, the number is 1,111. Even this number is exaggerated. Washington’s median income is about 15 percent higher than Oregon’s, offering a much better environment for buyers with disposable income to buy expensive, luxury cars.

Even with McCoy’s completely unsupported assumption, however, his math does not add up.

Claim: Each of those 2,100 extra cars, powered by Washington’s very clean grid, will avoid nearly 5 tons of carbon emissions annually compared to the average 25 mpg gas car.

Reality: This math is completely inaccurate. Who says so? The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association itself. Its own “EVangelism” flier says electric vehicles would avoid 4.2 tons of CO2 emissions compared to a 23.6 MPG car, or 3.8 tons compared to a 25 MPG car — about 25 percent lower than what McCoy told legislators.

Claim: That’s nearly 75 tons over the 15-year life of the car, and may even be more…

Reality: The Westcott study, the one McCoy cites just two paragraphs earlier, says the average lifespan of an electric vehicle is 12 years, not 15 years. Again, McCoy contradicts his own source studies to exaggerate the benefits of an EV by another 20 percent.

Using McCoy’s own calculations of 3.8 tons per year and a 12-year lifespan, the actual amount of CO2 avoided would be 45.6 tons per year (assuming the grid is 100 percent clean, which it is not). That is 40 percent less than McCoy’s exaggerated e-mail claimed.

Claim: Those avoided emissions are worth $57 million using OFM/Commerce standard methodology for valuing the Social Cost of Carbon (currently about $65 per ton).

Reality: McCoy makes numerous mistakes here.

First, the Social Cost of Carbon is not $65 per ton, it is $65 per metric ton — which reduces the cost by about ten percent (even that number is about five times higher than the EPA calculates). The cost of carbon is universally calculated in metric tons. He doesn’t seem to know the basics of carbon economics.

Second, his own math doesn’t add up to $57 million. He claims, wrongly, that the benefit would increase EV sales by 2,100 cars per year for four years — 8,400 cars. He claims, wrongly, that each car would reduce CO2 emissions by 75 tons over its lifetime. And he claims, wrongly, that each ton is valued at $65. So, the four year total should be 8,400 x 75 x $65, which equals $40,950,000, not $57 million. He’s off by another 22 percent.

But, as we’ve seen, even $40,950,000 is a significant exaggeration. Using the accurate numbers, the total is 4,444 x 45.6 x $59, which equals about $12 million — about one-fifth the amount McCoy claimed.

Again, that calculation uses McCoy’s own numbers cited elsewhere. Using his numbers, he is off by 79 percent.

But it gets much worse.

The key is not the social cost of carbon, but the amount it costs to reduce a metric ton of carbon using other approaches. For example, investing in efforts to reduce methane emissions from landfills costs about $13 per metric ton on the open market and can go down as low as $3. McCoy wants the state of Washington to spend $65 to get what it can receive for $13. If climate change is really as threatening as he and others claim, why would he be willing to waste 80 percent of the money spent to reduce carbon emissions?

Using the market price of carbon reduction, the actual carbon-reduction value of the EV sales tax break is a paltry $2.6 million over four years.

Claim: This is a surplus value of $18 million over the $39 million that HB 2087 will reduce state and local revenue by over its 4-year duration.

Reality: Using the correct calculation, it is actually a loss of $36.4 million to subsidize wealthy electric car buyers. Put another way, for every dollar the state provides subsidizing electric cars to reduce carbon, more than 93 cents is wasted. Nobody who is serious about cutting carbon emissions would advocate such a wasteful environmental policy.

A similar version of this blog post appeared at the Washington Policy Center.

How We Misjudge Costs and Benefits with Energy Efficiency

Imagine walking up to someone sitting in a Lexus and offering a $5-an-hour job flipping burgers. How many people do you think would accept? Probably none.

Yet, I often see people waiting at Costco for half an hour to save 10 cents a gallon on gas. Even for the owner of an SUV with a 20-gallon tank the savings amount to two dollars, or just $4 an hour. The burger-flipping job would be a better use of their time!

A key mistake people make when it comes to energy efficiency is overestimating the benefit of some strategies, spending a dollar to save a dime.

For example, some argue we need so-called green construction standards like LEED. Government mandates, like LEED rules, are very expensive, and even when they do save energy (which they often do not), the savings realized are so small they rarely make sense.

Still, some argue if it can be shown to work anywhere, it can be made to work here. But in the U.S., electricity costs about one-third what it does in Germany, even when you include the environmental costs. Expensive green buildings may make sense in Germany but are often entirely wasteful here.

If consumers want to save money, they should do a careful analysis of the costs and savings when seeking to be more efficient. If our goal is to help the environment by saving energy, we can afford to be less picky, but it would probably be better simply to buy renewable energy credits or invest in carbon-reduction projects. We’ll get more environmental bang for the buck.

My advice is to skip the gas line, pay a few cents more and spend the day at the beach.

from the Wall Street Journal

Nationwide Survey Shows Dramatic Improvement in Honeybee Health

During the last week, there has been a great deal of attention to a study claiming pesticides are responsible for an increase in honeybee hive death. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), beekeepers and scientists have been working to find out what is to blame for the trend.

What has been ignored, however, is recent good news about CCD. A recent study by Bee Informed, a nationwide survey of beekeepers, the percentage of hives that died over winter fell from 30.5 percent in 2012-13 to 23.2 percent last winter, a 25 percent reduction in hive mortality.

The survey is extremely robust, covering an estimated 20 percent of all hives in the country.

This undermines the claim that pesticides are to blame for CCD. Unless pesticide use dramatically declined last year, which I am certain it didn’t, it is hard to cite pesticide use as the cause of the reduction in the first place. The most likely explanation for the improvement is that beekeepers are managing other risks, like varroa mites, that contribute to CCD. Such a significant decline in winter mortality indicates beekeepers are effectively changing their management techniques in response to losing hives.

It also shows how hyperbole about honeybees is harming thoughtful discussion about the causes of CCD. The Discover Magazine blog about the pesticide study concludes with this ominous paragraph:

CCD threatens not only bees but entire economies and the world food supply. Honeybees pollinate about a third of crops worldwide and, according to some estimates, as much as 80 percent of U.S. crops.

This is pure hyperbole. Total honeybee populations in the United States are actually increasing. A reduction in hive mortality will help this trend. Beekeepers are responding to CCD by increasing breeding. For example, one of my two hives died over the winter, but I will have four hives this year because I am buying newly bred bees and splitting one of my hives into two. Others are doing the same, which is actually increasing the number of pollinators.

Additionally, noting that farmers rely on honeybees is evidence that farmers are careful about using pesticides. Many who blame pesticides for CCD claim farmers are glibly using pesticides that harm the very honeybees they rely on for pollination. The supposed villains of the pesticide narrative, carless farmers, are the ones with the most to lose.

There will, undoubtedly, be calls for politicians to do “something” about CCD. This national study, however, shows that beekeepers are better at finding effective techniques to keep their hives alive and their honeybees pollinating our crops and flowers. Not to mention making honey.

Shift from politics to the free market for true energy sustainability

Politicians like to argue that only they can guide effective energy and environmental policy for the future. The record, however, is quite different.

Nothing demonstrates the contrast between energy policy run by politicians and one guided by a free market than the tale of the electric car versus the hybrid.

In an effort to push electric car technology, California passed a requirement in 1990 that ten percent of cars meet “zero emission” standards. Recognizing that technology wasn’t emerging, the state changed the rule in 1996 to allow a slower “ramp up” to the target. The state changed the rule again in 2001, “recognizing constraints due to cost, lead-time, and technical challenges.” Passing a law requiring a technology to exist wasn’t going to make it real.

That continued to be the case. The law was changed again in 2002, and 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

In the late 1990s, Toyota and Honda went a different route, releasing hybrid vehicles. They became so popular that the Prius is now the symbol of environmental consciousness.

The contrast is clear. Politicians pushed a failed technology while companies that had to deliver a viable technology created the car that came to personify environmentalism. The irony is that many who drive hybrids support policies that failed while opposing the very approach that created the car they love.

This isn’t a unique story.

While many hotels encourage guests to reuse towels, saving water and energy, Westin hotels use a different approach. Guests who decide not to have their room made up receive a certificate for five dollars or Starwood rewards points. By sharing the financial benefits of reducing resource use, Westin significantly reduced its water use. Westin provided a personal incentive that paid off significantly – financially and for the environment.

As these examples demonstrate, free-market environmentalism is more effective because it takes advantage of millions of personalized decisions that are more effective at delivering environmental benefits. There are several reasons why.

First, free-market approaches make people accountable for the success or failure of their actions. When people waste energy, they pay the price and can work to avoid those costs.

Politicians, on the other hand, can blame others for failure. They can claim success where none exists. They manipulate the rules to favor political interests over environmental effectiveness. Prior to the massive economic slowdown, most European countries were above the carbon reduction targets set in the Kyoto Protocol in part because free credits had been granted to politically favored industries.

In my home state of Washington, more than 30 cities signed a promise to meet the Kyoto targets. By 2012, none had met their promised targets and fewer than half had taken any steps to achieve that goal. For politicians, the press release mattered more than environmental results.

Individuals don’t have that luxury. Waste resources and pay the price.

Second, free-market approaches are more sustainable.

Political approaches rely on large government budgets for big programs. Neither of these is sustainable. Budgets are limited and subsidizing wind, solar and other politically popular approaches cannot continue forever.

The free-market, however, is focused on doing more with less. While some sneer at the word “efficiency,” equating it with “greed,” they should really recognize it for what it is – minimizing resource use. Would people prefer inefficiency and waste?

What’s more, technological gains can’t be repealed. As more efficient approaches are developed, they raise all boats.

Some argue that such improvements create Jevon’s Paradox, where the ease of resource use encourages more resource use. Recent experience, however, demonstrates that it is not entirely correct. England, for example, uses fewer total resources today than a decade ago even though people are wealthier on average.

Finally, the free market has the advantage of diversity that government approaches can never match. For some, energy efficiency means buying a smaller car. For others it means telecommuting. For others more insulation. Only individuals know which approach will work for them. Only they have the information, and incentives, to make the incremental changes that are most effective, reducing resource use over time.

Politicians, however, like big, flashy projects. Those one-size-fits-all solutions are rarely effective and they spend huge sums of money for small environmental benefits.

Some respond that markets don’t capture all costs, especially where there is a tragedy of the commons. They argue that such circumstances require politicians to intervene.

While such situations must be addressed, political approaches often fail. As Nobel Prizewinning economist Elinor Ostrom noted, the best solutions are often collaborative approaches among interested parties rather than imposed by politicians.

Political solutions are seductive. It is simple and emotionally satisfying to require others do what you think is best. In the real world, however, political solutions frequently fail, prioritizing image over results.

Free market solutions, are more effective because they punish failure, provide incentives to do more with less and use localized information that politicians can never have. Unleashing the power of the market is critical if we are truly to make progress on energy and the environment.

Todd Myers, Director of Environment,  This oped was published on Global Affairs Initiative’s website on November 19, 2013

How the Environmental Left Became the New Climate Deniers

“By every measure, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises the level of alarm. … Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.”
- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, 2007

When the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report in 2007, the response of the environmental left was histrionic. Just two years earlier the IPCC had shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its work assessing climate change. Those on the left claimed the IPCC’s international mandate to be so clear they called its findings the “climate consensus.” They declared the debate over, demanding that politicians act according to the IPCC’s scientific findings.

Those who did not honor the IPCC’s science, they said, were dooming future generations to environmental collapse. People who questioned the authority of the IPCC, they said, had the mentality – and morality – of holocaust deniers.

Now, six years later, the IPCC has released a new assessment of climate change, with new calculations of potential global temperature increases, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other impacts. Because the new predictions are less dire than in the past, the IPCC’s old fans have suddenly become the new climate deniers, calling the IPCC’s latest report “political” and ignoring its key findings on a number of important issues.

The dramatic about face, coming after attacking those had who questioned the last report, demonstrates that much of what is said about climate science in the political realm is just that – political. Rather than follow the science, politicians, journalists and some in the general public prefer to play games, denying today what they said was undeniable yesterday.  Specifically, the environmental Left is denying the IPCC’s new science findings in three key areas.

Temperature Increase

Writing in the Wall Street Journal just before the release of the new IPCC report, actress Darryl Hannah, who is frequently joined by climate scientist James Hansen at protests, claimed “There’s also a consensus that we must act urgently, if we are to avoid a 4-degree Celsius raise.” Her claim, however, is simply incorrect. It was wrong before the new report and is more clearly so with the latest consensus science.

The latest projection of the IPCC for temperature increase under the most likely scenario (comparable scientifically to the standard the IPCC used in 2007) is 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. This is less than half of what Hannah claims. In fact, the median projection for the most extreme scenario, is 3.7 degrees Celsius. Her projection is even beyond that.

Hannah herself, of course, can’t be blamed. She is just listening to James Hansen, as do many people on the left. Rather than listen to the “climate consensus,” the left listens to Hansen, ironically calling him the “most prescient climatologist,” even as he attacks the IPCC’s own “climate consensus.”

Sea Level Rise

Recently, the group Earthjustice warned of “sea levels rising dangerously fast,” claiming that, “The IPCC projects sea-level rise of 5–6 feet by 2100.” In Washington state, the left-leaning Sightline Institute was more modest, claiming only that “the world’s leading climate scientists warn of the sea level rising by three feet by 2100.” Northwest NPR asked how Seattle “would be affected if sea levels rise 1 foot by 2020.”

None of these dark predictions are accurate. All projections are above the highest increase forecast under the IPCC’s most extreme scenarios.

Under the most likely emissions scenario, sea levels will increase about 18 inches. The most extreme scenario projects an upper limit of sea level rise of 32 inches by 2100 – less than the three feet claimed by Sightline and less than half of Earthjustice’s phony statistics. NPR’s estimate is wildly exaggerated, more than ten times the IPCC’s estimate.

Ironically, the IPCC actually increased the sea level projections by five inches in this latest report. The 2007 report called 13 inches the most likely scenario. Even with this increase, however, many on the left still exaggerate the data.

Ocean Acidification

The portrait painted by a recent Seattle Times series is stark. Oceans acidifying at an alarming rate due to increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Times claims “carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions has turned” the waters along Washington’s coast “lethal,” noting that “plummeting ocean pH in 2008 and 2009” caused oyster die-offs. During that time the measure of acidity, pH, in the ocean fell by about 0.1 per year, which they attribute to human-caused carbon emissions.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has made similar claims. Inslee argues, “We know that two of the most challenging threats we face to our environment are climate change and ocean acidification.”

The problem is that less than one percent of this acidification can be attributed to CO2 emissions at all. As the IPCC reports, “The pH of ocean surface water has decreased by 0.1 since the beginning of the industrial era.” The acidification The Seattle Times attributes to carbon emissions annually is actually the amount that has occurred over the course of more than 100 years.

If The Seattle Times and the Governor want to argue that CO2 impacts are 100 times more powerful in Washington state, they are free to do so. That, however, is extremely unlikely and would be tantamount to arguing that the climate consensus holds true everywhere but in their back yard.

Denying the IPCC

Some on the left have realized their cataclysmic projections are no longer in line with the consensus science. Instead of adjusting to the new information, however, they have turned to undermining the IPCC.

Having received a leaked version of the 2013 IPCC report, the New York Times took to chipping away at the IPCC’s credibility even before the report’s formal release. One columnist accused the IPCC of “bending over backward to be scientifically conservative,” claiming the U.N. agency was intentionally low-balling the projections for political reasons.

Another left-wing environmental activist was more blunt. Commenting on the CleanTechnica blog, one solar energy advocate argued “the IPCC report is more of a political document than a scientific one.” Ironically, that is exactly the view of the best-known climate “denier,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  Senator Inhofe told an audience in 2007, prior to the last IPCC report, that, “This is a political document, not a scientific report.”

Instead of adjusting environmental policies to fit the new science in ways that will help the planet, many on the left are clinging to their older policies and catastrophic predictions, rejecting the very consensus that used to be their life ring. Having cast off from their scientific tether, they have set out into the open ocean, hoping that political winds will carry them where they want to go.

Of course the term “denier” itself is an obnoxious and insulting term, designed to shock those who disagree into a defensive posture. Yet, while some on the right never believed the IPCC’s claims to begin with, the left’s denial is particularly stark.  The left has abandoned the IPCC only after years of touting the agency’s unshakable standard of excellence. What changed was not the IPCC’s standards but its conclusions. New science sparked the left’s new denial.

The new, left-wing climate science deniers have made it clear they were always more interested in suiting the science to their pre-determined politics.

Inslee Proposal to Combine Cap-and-Trade and Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Is Costly and Ineffective

When Governor Inslee signed the regional climate agreement last week, it included two policies he had already advocated publicly as part of the Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup (CLEW) process. It called for a cap-and-trade system and a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) which would require fuel to have less carbon per gallon than standard gasoline (among other things). Including both of these policies, however, makes it more expensive to reduce carbon emissions while doing nothing to increase those reductions.

First, cap-and-trade itsself is a poor approach for many reasons. For instance, I agree with Peter Orzag, President Obama’s first budget director, that a cap-and-trade system costs more to achieve the same carbon reduction goal. This is especially true in Washington where the carbon intensity of our energy is dependent on snowpack. When we have low-snowpack years, Washington could rapidly run up against an inflexible cap as we purchase natural gas electricity to replace hydro power, causing the cost of carbon permits to skyrocket and driving energy prices up.

This is precisely why the Congressional Budget Office, led by Orzag at the time, concluded “Analysts generally conclude that a tax would be a more efficient method of reducing CO2 emissions than an inflexible cap.”

Second, for all its problems, the one benefit of a cap-and-trade system is that it sets a goal but allows every covered business and individual to figure out how best to achieve that goal. How that happens is different for everyone and each will find the least expensive and most effective way to cut emissions.

Adding an LCFS or any other regulatory policy, however, undermines all that. Adding an LCFS removes flexibility, saying “we want you to meet the goal by using this particular appraoch whether or not that works for you.” It does not increase total reductions because the cap stays the same. It simply requires everyone to meet the same carbon reduction goal in a more restrictive way. Even worse, the LCFS is one of the worst possible ways to reduce emissions, as the report to the Governor’s climate workgroup shows.

Combining these policies, as Inslee wants and the Pacific Coast agreement requires, compounds these problems. The combination does nothing to increase emission reduction but does increase the cost of achieving those reductions. It is the worst of both worlds.

One argument may be that the LCFS must be added because the cap-and-trade system wouldn’t cover auto fuels. That makes no sense either. If cap-and-trade can cover natural gas for heating, it can cover auto fuels. And, as I mentioned above, applying cap-and-trade on Washington’s electricity would risk significant price volatility for electricity. Applying cap-and-trade to electricity but not to auto fuels would be using it in the worst possible way.

Even more ridiculous is that biofuel companies, who would be the primary beneficiary of an LCFS, already receive a wide range of subsidies. Taxpayers already pay for huge federal subsidies. The federal government requires oil companies to buy biofuels. Washington state requires all motor fuels to include biofuel. Washington state has also given cheap loans to biofuel companies — loans that ended up in default, yielding no environmental or economic benefit but costing taxpayers. None of this mentions the environmental damage from corn-based ethanol or the federal requirement that oil companies buy cellulosic biofuel which does not even exist.

Why do we believe that one more regulation favoring biofuel corporations will make the difference?

As was noted at the CLEW meeting today, Washington’s effort to assess the most effective ways to reduce carbon is unique in the country. Typically, climate policies have been chosen for their sex appeal rather than environmental effectiveness. The Governor’s proposal, however, abandons the very thing that makes this effort unique and worthwhile, ignoring the very research that was at the center of the Governor’s own legislation.

The members of the CLEW should follow the data and reject this costly and ineffective approach.

Solar Panels Create Less Heat Than Solar Energy Activists

This week, the Wall Street Journal is publishing four pieces I wrote addressing various aspects of energy and environment policy. You can read them all at the WSJ Experts page. There are some nice pieces by others as well, so it is worth a look at all of the articles.

My first piece of the week, however, has caused the most stir. I argue that solar energy is extremely inefficient and a very poor way to reduce carbon emissions. There are a number of comments attacking my argument and I thought I’d address them here since they are typical of the arguments made for solar energy everywhere, even in Washington state.

First, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) goes the typical route, accusing the “Washington Policy Institute” of partnering with “climate contrarian groups.” Their critique would be more persuasive if they could actually get the name of our organization correct.

Someone we did partner with this year, ironically, is Governor Jay Inslee, whom the greens call the “greenest governor in the country.” He included one of our ideas in his climate bill and we testified in favor of that bill. Perhaps he is now considered a “climate contrarian.”

The UCS also doesn’t like the fact that I have criticized the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The UCS defense of the Agreement is evidence they don’t care about actually reducing carbon emissions. The Mayors’ agreement was long on promises, but failed to produce any real results. In fact, Seattle, where the agreement started, failed to meet the promise to meet the Kyoto targets promised in the agreement.

It gets worse. In Washington state, for example, none of the Mayors who signed the Climate Protection Agreement met the goal. None. Instead of complaining about the lack of results, however, the UCS defends the mayors whose policies wasted time and money. What matters, the effective climate policy or politics? The UCS chooses politics.

Second, some of the comments question my motives, accusing me of being paid to oppose solar. This is nonsense, but it is a throwaway line and easier than arguing the data. Ironically, many of the commenters admit working for solar manufacturers or installers. Who is really being paid off here?

Third, many comments note that the price of solar is declining rapidly. This is true. The problem is that the cost is still extremely high. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) note the price of solar continues to be much higher than other renewables. McKinsey and Bloomberg New Energy Finance both say the cost of solar compared to other carbon-reduction strategies is very high. That may change, but solar is still nowhere close. Spending scarce resources today in the hope that it will pay off sometime in the future runs counter to claims by climate alarmists that “we have no time to lose” in cutting carbon emissions.

Other critics play with the math and claim my sources (like the EIA) are wrong. They are free to look at the studies I cited. The math in the rebuttals, however, ignores one source of subsidy or another: federal production tax credit, state-based subsides, utility subsidies, renewable portfolio standards, etc. For example, in addition to the federal PTC, Washington state pays more than 50 cents a kWh for distributed solar energy. If, as some claim, solar subsidies are small, why pay seven times the going rate for solar energy and waste so much money for so little energy? The clear reason is that such enormous subsidies (on top of federal subsidies) are required to make solar pencil out.

Some make claims like “I am making money on my solar panels,” ignoring that it is subsidies, not the underlying technology, that is earning the revenue. The fact that they are making money is testament to political largesse, not solar energy’s viability.

Interestingly, some of the comments claim I have no source for my arguments, while others question my sources. It is either one or the other.

Even those who claim to look at my sources (like the UCS), still don’t claim solar has parity with other renewables. The UCS claims utility-scale PV, as opposed to rooftop solar, is better then nuclear (others, like the EIA, disagree). Even if that is true, however, the most efficient form of solar energy is still more expensive than other renewables. If you care about the environment, you want to put money where we receive the greatest carbon reduction for every dollar. Solar, especially rooftop solar, fails this test badly and wastes huge amounts of money that could help the environment.

They, and others, also claim solar is comparable in price to “peak power.” This is telling because it admits how expensive solar is. Peak power is the most expensive. By comparing solar to the most expensive form of energy, they admit solar is very expensive. They are still incorrect, but even making this argument indicates the games that have to be played to justify solar’s cost.

Next, some ascribe positions I do not hold. Many accuse me of supporting subsidies for fossil fuels. This is false and is made without any basis for the claim. My support of a price on carbon should settle that, but glib accusations are easier than research.

Finally, some are incredulous that I claim “solar energy is one of the worst ways to reduce carbon emissions.” How can that be since it is carbon-free?

The simple answer is that it costs a huge amount to produce a kilowatt hour of solar energy and displace a carbon-emitting kilowatt hour. Every ranking of various approaches to cutting CO2 place solar power as a high-cost, low reduction approach. Essentially, we are paying a dollar to get a dime. True environmentalists demand every dollar spent to reduce emissions yields the maximum reduction. Phony environmentalists are satisfied with efforts that appear to be addressing the problem even as they fail.

Politicians love to spend huge sums of money on solar energy. It is an easy political win. The environment, however, doesn’t care about politics. Massive solar subsidies do more for politicians than the environment.

 

Dept. of Energy’s Claim About Climate and Hydro Doesn’t Hold Water

The U.S. Department of Energy yesterday released a report on “Impacts to the Energy Sector from Climatic Conditions.” It notes “climate change is happening — and the effects are already being felt across the country.” The report examines how “decreasing water availability” and other impacts are harming energy production.

This claim caught my attention:

Columbia River, Washington
Summer 2010

Below normal precipitation and streamflows in the Columbia River basin resulted in insufficient hydropower generation to fulfill load obligations for the Bonneville Power Administration. As a result, BPA experienced a net loss of $233 million, or 10%, from the prior year.

The reality is exactly the opposite. During the past few years, Pacific Northwest dams have actually had to deal with excess water flow and hydro power.

In the fall of 2010, Oregon Public Broadcasting highlighted the problem. Their story noted “When a string of storms hit the Northwest this spring, there was so much water in the rivers — and so much wind along the gorge — more power was being produced than the BPA could sell.”

The same thing happened in 2011. Federal Regulators found that BPA had so much water that it had inappropriately violated wind-power contracts, refusing to take energy because of the hydro surplus. The Seattle Times reported, “For Bonneville, the toughest challenges have come in the spring and early summer when snow melts increase river flows and blustery winds boost wind production. Also, to protect migrating salmon, more water is run through the turbines rather than over the dams.”

Part of the problem, ironically, is that there is currently an overcapacity of wind power and utilities are required to purchase wind energy to meet state-mandated requirements. When a surplus occurs, BPA is forced to choose between paying companies to use energy (reducing the oversupply) or violating wind-power contracts to prevent excess energy from going on the grid they control.

Another reason there is an oversupply of hydro power, as the Seattle Times notes, is that excess streamflow must be run through turbines, generating excess electricity, because spilling water harms fish. Environmental requirements to protect fish end up creating excess energy that contribute to the oversupply.

The DOE is also engaging in cherry picking by choosing 2010 and ignoring other years.

Below are the streamflow forecasts for the years 2008-2011. Note that 2010, the year DOE highlighted, was the worst year. As you can see, 2011 streamflows were significantly above normal.

The Department of Energy is very inconsistent in the years it chose for the graphic. In Kansas it chose July of 2012, but in Nebraska it chose 2006, in North Carolina it chose 2007, for Texas it is 2011 and in Florida it is 2004. Instead of looking at trends, DOE chose the particular year that suited their narrative, ignoring all other data.

In the Pacific Northwest, it not only ignored the trend, it ignored the reality on the ground that in 2010 hydro power was available in excess rather than scarce.

This is only the latest example of agencies ignoring the science and data to push a political agenda. Bad science, however, leads to bad policy and there is increasing skepticism about climate policy as the false narrative used by politicians and political agencies is visibly at odds with reality.

2011 Streamflow Forecast 2010 Streamflow Forecast 2009 Streamflow Forecast 2008 Streamflow Forecast

Some Environmental Reading for the Long Weekend

Here’s a grab bag of stories to read while recovering from the brat and steak you ate yesterday. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Using the Free Market to Save the Rhino

Here’s a great (and moving) piece from NPR’s Planet Money on a proposal to encourage the breeding of rhinos in an effort to flood the market with rhino horn (which grows back) and undermine poaching by driving prices down. At the current rate, poaching will cause a decline in the rhino population in 2016.

There is debate about whether this is the correct strategy or whether we should further stigmatize the use of rhino horn as a traditional medicine. I say both. If breeding rhinos fails to drive prices down, we are still increasing the population. If we put all our efforts into increasing the stigma of buying rhino horn fails, we’ve lost ground with no backup plan.

Here is the audio. I warn you, the beginning of the audio includes a rhino being shot and crying for help. It is really heart-rending. But the story is excellent and worth listening to.

When Government Fails, Free-Market Environmentalism Is There To Pick Up The Pieces

Here in Seattle, we have a taxpayer-funded county employee, who calls himself the “Eco-Consumer,” whose entire job is to spread left-wing environmental messages Last month we noted that the taxpayer-funded “Eco-Consumer” lamented the fact that car sharing programs might take people off taxpayer subsidized buses even though the Smart Cars of Car2Go are likely as efficient as buses per passenger.

Now, with the transit strike in San Francisco shutting light rail down, car sharing programs are booming and providing an alternative to transit. As the Associated Press reports:

Avego is one of many startup rideshare companies marketing their services with gusto after this week’s strike by the workers who transport more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco.

Sign-ups jumped from hundreds before the strike to thousands over the weekend, said Paul Steinberg, Avego’s director of operations for the Americas. “We’re getting creamed,” he said.

The online rideshares, peer-to-peer taxis and carpool apps have faced criticism and calls for bans because they compete with taxis. Some offer prescreened cars owned by professional drivers with black sedans or SUVs, while others provide ways to find commute partners and share the travel costs. Some of the services get around safety regulations and government fees by offering a donation-based system.

The problem with relying on government is that you can’t rely on it. By giving people personalized options to commute, car sharing and other free-market approaches are filling in for commuters where the transit strike has failed commuters.

You can read the whole article here.

An Environmentalist Does the (Ugly) Math on the Impact of Local Food

One of the most persistent beliefs of the environmental left is that buying local food is good for the environment. The evidence, however, shows that buying local produce often is much worse for the environment. A piece from earlier this year does the math and, again, finds that buying local food can be much worse for the environment. The author notes:

I have no idea where my food comes from, but I hope it’s shipped by rail from a California factory farm. Don’t get me wrong—I’m an environmentalist, not an agribusiness executive. But I’m an environmentalist who can do math, and the numbers on locavorism, like much else in green-urbanist food ideology, don’t add up.

He notes that efficient transportation over long distances can use much less fuel than inefficient, short trips.

A typical semi truck, meticulously packed and scheduled by corporate bean-counters, will carry 20 tons of food six miles or so on a gallon of diesel—that’s 120 ton-miles per gallon, in the jargon of freight fuel-efficiency. A freight train gets a whopping 480 ton-miles per gallon. Compare them with, say, the local farmers at the Union Square Greenmarket, whose light trucks and vans typically haul more dead weight—farm-stand, vehicle and driver—than produce. The most fuel-efficient farmer I talked to there reckoned that at peak harvest he burned nine gallons of diesel to bring two tons of potatoes 127 miles from Roscoe, N.Y., for an efficiency of 28 ton-miles per gallon. Hauling each spud from upstate thus requires as much fuel as moving it 585 miles by corporate semi or 2,340 miles by rail.

This doesn’t even get into the issue of growing food where the yields are best. Transportation accounts for 10 percent or less of total energy in growing food, so growing where yields are high is far more important.

As always, I have to make it clear that if you want to buy local food for whatever reason, that is fine by me. I visit my farmers’ market almost every week. I keep my bees at a small local farm and I am very happy to do so.

If, however, you are buying local food because you believe it is saving the planet, you probably want to rethink that. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Advocates of the Climate “Consensus” Ignore It When It Becomes an Inconvenient Truth

A web site called “Information is Beautiful” has an infographic it claims demonstrates the damage being done by carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. The graphic, however, shows how disingenuous the environmental left can be when it comes to climate science. Rather than using the “consensus” science, the graphic goes out of its way to cherry pick data from a range of sources. Ironically, some of the sources used contradict other sources.

For example, look at this estimate of sea level rise from the graphic.

Climate Change Graphic

The graphic claims sea levels will rise more than 33 inches by the end of the century, calling it “inevitable.” The source for this claim, however, is not the “consensus” science of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The source they list is a study from Vermeer and Rahmsdorf. SeaLevelStudyIronically, that study specifically admits it is out of the mainstream when it comes to sea level projections. They include this graphic (right) showing how different their projections are from the IPCC’s projections. Along the right hand side of the chart, the study’s authors list the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (listed as “AR4″ in the graphic). Note that the projections in the study, repeated in the graphic, are much higher than the IPCC’s assessment.

The irony is that the “Information is Beautiful” web page with the graphic specifically cites the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007″ as a source. Given the chance, however, the graphic designer ditches that source in favor of a more alarmist study. The creators of this graphic have chosen their source not because it is consensus science but because it is alarmist. Politics trump science.

Of course the creators of the graphic would respond that the study on sea level is more recent than the IPCC report. They would claim it is “newer” science and therefore more accurate. That, however, is a phony excuse because elsewhere in the graphic they use sources that are older than the latest IPCC report.

For example, the authors claim certain cities would be “drowned” by 2100. The source is not the IPCC but the “Stern Review,” a report from the U.K. government published in 2006 prior to the most recent IPCC report. The Stern Review has been widely criticized for doing much of what the “Information is Beautiful” graphic does — using cherry-picked and outlying science rather than the consensus science.

Perhaps the best example of choosing old and politicized claims over the scientific consensus is the claim about increased rainfall. The graphic claims an increase of “heavy rain over land” of 7% is inevitable. The source? A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2011. They didn’t use the consensus science, but instead selected a highly biased and politicized source. They also claimed that hurricanes will become more destructive, saying a 7.5% increase in “hurricane destructiveness.” They cite the Natural Resource Council Report as the source. But before we even look at the actual consensus science, the number “7.5%” should raise a red flag. Using decimal points in an area where there is a great deal of uncertainty shows false precision.

Contrast that with a more recent, 2012, report by the IPCC itself on extreme weather and climate change. In contrast to the Information is Beautiful claim, the IPCC reports there is “low confidence in projections of changes in large-scale patterns of climate variability. Confidence is low in projections of changes in monsoons (rainfall, circulation) because there is little consensus in climate models regarding the sign of future change in the monsoons.” (Italics in the original) In other words, the IPCC says it is hard to know what the impact will be on the impact of hurricanes. In contrast with the false precision of the graphic, the IPCC admits it doesn’t even know whether the number and intensity of hurricanes will increase or decrease.

The most common source cited by Information is Beautiful, in fact, is not a scientific source at all but Mark Lynas’ book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.” Interestingly, Lynas is most known recently for his abrupt reversal on the issue of biotechnology crops, now arguing that opponents of such foods are anti-science.

The environmental left loves to lecture about their adherence to the consensus science, but graphics like this show their commitment to honesty is pretty thin. Given the chance to distort the science, they hide behind infographics like this one that ignore the consensus and cherry-pick the most political and alarmist claims.

Such manipulation isn’t an error. It is dishonest and is fundamentally disrespectful of the scientific process.