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Fossil Fuel Electric Generation Economics was Re: [at-l] Beware . . . . PC's

#### CAUTION: This is as short and jargon-free as I can make it, but it's still rather long. Skip to the bottom for the short view. 
>>> "Coosa" <coosa@fox21.net> 03/15/00 09:16PM >>>
Anyone seen the newest issue of Backpacker Magazine?  Thom Hogan's editorial <snip> states that part/most of the reason for the haze in the sky on his 2050 ThruHike is because the fossil fuel power plants never could be completely replaced by other means of electricity because so many people insisted on having PC's everywhere they went.  All that electricity has to come from somewhere for them to run.  Everytime a new form of energy was discovered, there was too much demand for existing power and the older plants could never be phased out.

### Response from Thomas E. McGinnis, economist in the Electric Division (Thank God) of the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor's Office:

1) Unfortunately, Coosa, the good Mr. Hogan is way off. He's parroting Sierra Club enviro-beef mouthed for way too long, being either ill-informed and untrue, or out-of-date and untrue. (I personally have a major beef with this because it dilutes other *meritorious* efforts. "Boy who cried 'Wolf'" and all that.)
2) Emissions-wise, to make a long story quite short, private motor vehicle transportation is by far the greatest class of contributor to air pollution in the US. Fossil fueled power plants are now under the even greater "Phase II" restrictions of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, covering particulate, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides. Power plants are a relatively easy target, as there are only hundreds of them in the US of A. Of automobiles, the numbers are in the millions, and the US Congress decided to "protect" the American consumer from the costs of emissions reduction by concentrating on the greater impact of reducing emissions from power plants. As an economist, I have to agree with that choice, though I wish we'd held out for more serious "US fleet" reductions.
3) Our society — our homes, manufacturing, and retail businesses, schools and hospitals all, are increasingly electrified. Electricity is a multi-use, infinitely controllable, commodity form of energy; its generation will see fundamental change in the next twenty years; its retail sale will see fundamental change *completed* in the next ten. (High-cost electricity states say "Yea-ah!") All of this means, as you note from Hogan, that electricity demand is climbing not only from increases in our population, but increases in our increasingly electrified lives, too. The upside, from a treehugger's perspective, is that it *does* remain easier to regulate a limited number of power plants than the much broader consumer level of things.
4) a) "New Forms" of generating electricity are relatively uncommon; they are NOT everyday occurances; their proliferation is driven by their per-unit costs to generate.
b) Power plants ARE phased out all the time; their "retirement" is driven by their per-unit costs to generate. (You've heard something like that recently, haven't you. It's a balance thing....) A typical fossil fuel power plant in the US was built in 1955, to go 50 years, generating 400,000,000 watts (running perhaps 400,000 computers with 1000 watt power sources). Well, here we stand in Y2000, and the plant's retirement is now slated as perhaps 20 years out, and it's producing 350 megawatts economically, and runs LOTS cleaner than when it was built. What happened? Well, the plant gets periodically taken out of service for overhauls which may just inspect, or may involve major rebuilding of the internal guts, but essentially, the plants need to be made *good to go* with a huge emphasis on reliability. Further, it is now producing 12.5% less electricity than at start-up in order to run the power hungry pollution control devices which insure long-lived clean operation. This all means that a plant with a start-up expected life of, say, 50 years, might well hit that 50 year mark with an easy *useful*service* life expectation of another 20! THIS is why plants continue in service. And when the expectation of reliable, economical service *cannot* be maintained, the plant gets "retired." (No party here; imagine having your retirement date approach with the roar of bulldozers and wrecking balls aimed right at you. Ewww.)
To recap:
1) Hogan (and the Sierra Club) are diluting real issues by furthering the same old "Cry 'Wolf!'" stuff. It's a shame.
2) Cars/trucks pollute more than power plants. Have since before the debate on (what resulted in) the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 — 1985 or so.
3) We are ALL contributing to this, as population increases, and as our per capital electricity consumption increases.
a) There has been little fundamental change in electric generation technology in a hundred years. Lots of refinement; little fundamental change. Costs drive everything.
b) Power plants ARE retired; happens all the time. Costs drive everything.
So! What can we all do about it?
1) Tune yur dang car!
2) Utilize public transportation.
3) Walk.
4) Phone for prices before you shop for prices.
5) Utilize the (more expensive) "green power" options in your electricity billing, as/when they become available. Call your utility if they're not.
6) Buy yourself a dang compact flourescent bulb, AND utilize it properly.
7) Hug yourself, hug a loved one, hug a tree.
8) Fight misinformation, no matter how well meant. (Cynics: realize that some people make a good living off of preying on your agapetic fears.)
9) Hike. Write your state and federal representatives on what you see, and what you don't.
10) Hike.
Have just tremendousness,
Minny McTogs,

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