April 18, 2012

A Dark Day for Solar Power

FROM-American Spectator

"Renewable" energy subsidies have become an unaffordable feel-good luxury.
First Solar Corporation was indeed first at something: It was the first solar company to lose more than $15 billion of market value. FSLR's stock plummeted from $140 per share a year ago, and $170 a few weeks before that, to under $21 per share early this week before rebounding modestly on Tuesday. In fact, $15 billion substantially understates the peak-to-trough drop in the company's value, as the stock traded above $250 per share for most of 2008, briefly peaking over $300. As of Tuesday, the company's value was just under $2 billion; at its all-time high stock price, that number was over $25 billion.
In a press release on Tuesday morning, the company announced that a massive decline in its business, especially its European business, will cause it to record about $300 million in restructuring charges while firing 2,000 employees, about 30 percent of its total work force. This is due primarily to Germany's recently cutting its solar subsidies, following a similar move in Spain.
According to the company's Chairman, Mike Ahearn: "After a thorough analysis, it is clear the European market has deteriorated to the extent that our operations there are no longer economically sustainable, and maintaining those operations is not in the best long-term interest of our stakeholders."
Further: "The solar market has fundamentally changed, and we are quickly adapting our market approach and operations to maintain and build upon our competitive advantage," said Ahearn. "After a period of robust growth, First Solar is scaled to operate at higher volumes than currently exist following the reduction of subsidies in key legacy markets. As a result, it is essential that we reduce production and decrease expenses to reflect the smaller volume of high-probability demand we forecast."
As usual, one has to wonder about certain stock analysts, with one firm reiterating a buy (how much has that cost the firm's clients so far?) and Goldman Sachs cutting from buy to hold (in a business where "better late than never" is not a wise approach). Amusingly, the Goldman analyst's cut preceded the stock's biggest percentage gain in months, as "short covering" and a sigh of relief that the company is at least recognizing that its business is a shadow of its former self brought buyers into the game. (Fully one third of the company's "float," the number of shares issued and available to trade, has been sold short, representing bets on the stock price falling.)
As worldwide government balance sheets have worsened in recent years, "renewable" energy subsidies became an unaffordable feel-good luxury. Particularly in the U.S., with our massive natural gas supplies, it is unlikely that solar power could ever be a competitive electricity source in terms of cost per kilowatt-hour without even larger subsidies than we have already seen -- and which are not likely to be tolerated by voters in this time of Solyndra and trillion dollar deficits.
There are physical limits to improvements in solar technology so that Moore's Law, which has described improvements in computer technology (or more specifically transistor density) over recent decades, does not apply despite the use of silicon in both. Gains in solar efficiency, both in how well panels work and how much it costs to make them, are limited by laws of physics, at least with all current solar technology. In other words, most of the gains in the price of solar electricity generation have already been achieved, and the industry still cannot compete without subsidies.
Most Americans probably know that "renewable" energy sources receive handouts of taxpayer money. These are true subsidies, not the common tax deductions used by oil companies, along with many other companies, which the left terms "subsidies." But do we understand the scale of these numbers and how fast they have been growing?
According to the Institute for Energy Research, subsidies for renewable energy (related to electricity generation) jumped 186 percent during the three year period from FY 2007 to FY 2010. Wind was the dollar leader in terms of picking taxpayers' pockets, going from $476 million in 2007 to $5 billion in 2010, making it the largest energy subsidy recipient. (Nuclear power came in second, at half the level of wind, and coal came in third, at less than one quarter the level of wind.) Solar, in fourth place in absolute dollar subsidies, made a very large percentage jump as well, going from $179 million to $1.1 billion over that same time frame.
The above data only include federal subsidies, however. Solar power receives state and local subsidies, including from utilities which pass those costs along to ratepayers, far more than other sources of power. In fact, there is a whole database of "State Incentives for Renewable and Efficiency," where you can find your particular state's waste of money on the solar swindle.
What really demands examination, however, is the subsidy per amount of electricity produced, and by that measure solar is the undisputed champion. Consider the top four recipients of subsidy dollars: wind, nuclear, coal, and solar: Coal's subsidy equates to 64 cents per megawatt hour and nuclear comes in at just over $3. Wind subsidies cost a shocking $56 per megawatt hour. But even that is a tremendous bargain when compared to solar which -- and again this is only the federal subsidies -- costs taxpayers $775 per megawatt hour. (What wind lacks in apparent costs, it makes up for in slaughter of birds, showing the true hypocrisy of so-called "environmentalists.")
A 2010 study by the Commonwealth Foundation of electricity costs in Pennsylvania showed that in 2009, electricity generated by wind cost 150 percent of the average electricity cost in the state while solar-generated electricity cost an incredible 706 percent of the average. Furthermore, while natural gas and oil prices declined from the prior two years, solar and wind power costs jumped 65 percent and 92 percent, respectively.
Another IER analysis determined that states which require a certain percentage of their electricity production to come from renewable sources have electricity prices "nearly 40 percent higher than states that do not have similar mandates."
Natural gas is more difficult to export than oil or coal because it has to be compressed or liquefied before it is shipped. But at a 13-year low price of $2 per million BTUs, the cost is so low that more international trade in natural gas will become economical, putting even more pressure on solar and wind power and highlighting the absurdity of subsidies, even without travesties like Solyndra.
Highlighting this near-revolution in energy markets, Cheniere Energy announced on Tuesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved its Sabine Pass liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Louisiana, making it the nation's first approved large exporter of natural gas. Two other companies, Sempra Energy and Energy Transfer Equity, also aim to build export facilities in Louisiana. Sempra announced on Tuesday that it will spend $6 billion on its liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal, which will be able to export 1.7 billion cubic feet of LNG per day beginning in late 2016.
Tuesday was a dark day for solar power, though a day that was obviously on the horizon. At least it would have been obvious to anyone willing to admit that solar (and wind) has only gotten as far as it has due to massive subsidies implemented by government members of the Cult of Global Warming, also known as the Algore Enrichment Society.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most committed, unquestioning (two of the several traits of cult members) followers of the Cult such as the Sierra Club -- a group with enough political clout, along with its co-religionists, to convince Barack Obama to block the Keystone XL pipeline -- are already opposing LNG exports. (According to energy author Robert Bryce, the amount of energy that the pipeline would transport in any given time frame would exceed the total energy produced by all solar panels and all wind turbines in America, combined. So much for an "all of the above" energy strategy.)
Like Energy Secretary Steven "I don't drive a car" Chu, these are people for whom adherence to the Cult trumps the ability of ordinary Americans to affordably cook their food, turn on their lights, or heat their homes. This comes from the top, of course, as Barack Obama has made no secret of his desire to make electricity prices "necessarily skyrocket." If that is your goal, requiring solar power to be an important part of the national energy mix is a great start.
Staying in the realm of economic know-nothings, House Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA), with unfortunate moral support from T. Boone Pickens, says that we should not export natural gas because it might increase prices here. They ignore that foreign substitution of natural gas to replace oil or coal for electricity generation will lower the prices of those other commodities, as well as lower the atmospheric carbon dioxide (aka "plant food") concentrations that seem to concern them so greatly. They also ignore that even if natural gas prices doubled from here, it would still be a cheap form of energy, especially compared to the cult objects of solar panels and "bird blender" wind turbines.
First Solar's troubles remind us of Herbert (father of AmSpec's own Ben) Stein's wisdom that "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." When it comes to subsidizing renewable energy, we are now witnessing the realization -- including remarkably by European governments -- that the subsidy insanity cannot go on forever.

The Answer Really Isn't Blowing in the Wind

FROM-American Thinker

 By William Sullivan

 Ninety billion is a rather large number. To get a gauge of just how large, consider that 90 billion minutes ago equates to roughly 171,090 years, the moment in history when scientists believe our ancestors began preening their bodies of lice.

 Three hundred thousand kilometers per second is the speed of light. We all know that's pretty fast. Well, 90 billion kilometers per second is the speed of light-squared.

 And the vast, seemingly infinite yonder of the entire universe, some scientists postulate, is 90 billion light-years across.

 In the natural world, 90 billion goes a long way. But as we've discovered, a $90-billion investment to subsidize renewable energy sources in the natural world does surprisingly little. This amount, allocated in 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to subsidize green energy initiatives, has thus far yielded today's bustling "renewable-energy sector" that employs roughly 140,000 Americans. And even that dismal figure is wildly inflated. Consider that according to Hans Bader of the Examiner, "most of America's existing green jobs predate the Obama administration, which did not create them."

 That is not to say that this investment our politicians made on your behalf did not have positive results -- it just didn't have positive results for you. In the first year of this green stimulus, an estimated 79% went to foreign nations; among the larger of these payments went to Babcock & Brown, an Australian company that went bankrupt just two months after the passage of the stimulus bill. Couple this fact with notorious domestic failures like Solyndra and Beacon Power Corp., and the obvious conclusion is that this administration's green energy initiative has been a spectacular failure to this point.

 But in no other floundering green energy sub-sector is that failure so strikingly apparent as in wind energy. According to Andy Sullivan of Reuters, the wind industry has actually "shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has doubled." Andy then takes the liberty of giving us context for those results by reminding us that meanwhile, "the oil and gas industry has added 75,000 jobs since Obama took office." And one can only imagine how much larger that figure could be if the president had not cauterized job growth in that time frame with a senseless drilling moratorium to appease environmentalists.

 To punish their success, the Obama administration is now seeking to hamstring the oil and gas industry further with a bevy of new taxes. The clearly impotent wind industry, on the other hand, may enjoy continued subsidization to the tune of $3.5 billion per year. Of this prospect, Louis Woodhill of Forbes has a different suggestion for Congress. "First, we end the subsidies" to the wind industry, he says. He continues:
This will stop new turbines from being built, and, over time, cause all of the existing ones to shut down. Second, we allow the free market to replace the electricity obtained by wind energy with power produced by burning cheap natural gas. Third, we hire 17,500 unemployed veterans at $100,000/year each, and put them to work as snipers to kill the 400,000 birds (including 70 golden eagles) that are now hacked to death by wind turbines each year. Voila, the same results as wind power, and a savings of $1.75 billion/year for the taxpayers.
Clearly, the devotion to wind power is not due to the fact that it's a lucrative investment. It's a Western fallacy that is the fiscal equivalent of selling your home to buy a much less efficient one for twice the price. And beyond being economically wasteful, global events have proven this fallacy to actually be deadly.

 In The Independent, Kevin Myers relates that on a weekend in late January, widespread blizzards hammered Europe. During this time, the Russian natural gas company, Gazprom, was unable to meet the demand, and 300 people died in the conditions. He asks, "Did anyone even think of deploying our [Europe's] wind turbines to make good the energy shortfall from Russia?"

 "Of course not," he says. "We all know that windmills are a self-indulgent and sanctimonious luxury whose purpose is to make us feel good. Had Europe genuinely depended on green energy on Friday, by Sunday thousands would be dead from frostbite and exposure."

 Europeans, like American environmentalists, have an affinity for anything green. But that warm and fuzzy feeling that they get when they think about the good that wind turbines do for the planet will not keep them warm and "alive" when natural disasters strike and reliable electricity is the difference between life and death. Wind, he says, is "not so much a Renewable as it is an Unusable, and also an Unpredictable, an Unstorable, and - normally when it is very cold - an Unmovable."

 In frigid temperatures, wind typically does not blow, meaning turbines do not generate power in such conditions. Even when wind is generating power, there is a need to plan for the risk of those times it does not, meaning that you will still have to create "a parallel and duplicate energy supply to provide cover for when the wind stops." So the only way to possibly view wind power as a reliable energy source is to have another, more reliable power source readily available with a greater potential for delivery. And that should immediately raise the question as to why unreliable wind power is expected to be relied upon at all.

 Europe's devotion to the doctrine of environmentalism has compromised its energy independence -- much like American devotion to environmentalism has compromised America's energy independence through environmentally justified sanctions on domestic drilling. "To play such games with our energy systems to satisfy the whimsical gods of climate change," Myers offers, "is as intelligent and unscientific as the Aztec sacrifice of the young."

 And he is right. Thankfully, we in America have not become so devout in our efforts to appease the gods of climate change, and legislatively, we are in an earlier stage of transition to these inefficient and costly "renewable" systems. We can only hope that the winds of change are blowing in 2012, and with them we can put an end to the crippling subsidization of "renewable" systems like wind power -- until such time that free-market innovations dictate that they can be a viable addition to our energy infrastructure.

April 16, 2012

The Capricious Dr. Hansen

FROM-National Review
By Charles C. W. Cooke In 1988, the longtime head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) gave an explosive performance in front of the U.S. Congress’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee, during which he claimed that America and the world were on the brink of disaster. The earth’s surface temperature, Professor James Hansen contended, was rising in concert with carbon dioxide emissions, and the consequences would be increased drought, rising oceans, and an average rise in global temperature of ten degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. If the United States government did not act now, it would be sanctioning catastrophe, he warned. With this testimony, invited by the committee’s chair, Senator Al Gore, Hansen effectively started the modern climate-change movement.

 Professor Hansen came across as a scientifically minded Inspector Poirot, assembling the family in the library to explain how the murderer among them had hidden his crime. But within ten years, he had morphed into the hapless Inspector Clouseau. His own NASA weather satellites — the most accurate barometers of global temperature — showed that, despite his eschatological forecast, the Earth had warmed very little.

 So little, in fact, that Hansen retracted his prediction in 1998, conceding that he’d failed to take into account that forests, the soil, and the ocean absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide. “The forces that drive long-term climate change are not known with accuracy sufficient to define future climate change,” he acknowledged. In 2001, his U-turn was complete: Far from the ten degrees of change predicted, global temperatures would now rise by 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit, he wrote. Thus, the man who once urged an unimpressed Reagan administration to do its bit to “save the world” now stood against Kyoto because “it targets the wrong gas.”

 There is nothing wrong with a scientist repeatedly changing his mind — that is part of the game — nor should America’s researchers apologize for repeatedly altering their predictions as new evidence comes to light. In fact, given the sheer size of the issue, such movement is inevitable. But it all gets rather tricky when massive government programs are promoted and adopted on the back of inconclusive evidence, and it gets especially tricky when the imprimatur of a well-respected organization such as NASA is dragged into the fray and deployed to lend unassailable credibility to nascent and unproven ideas. It is one thing for a scientist to cook up ideas with abandon, but quite another to do so with the papers stamped by the government.

 In the words of this week’s strongly worded letter from 49 former NASA scientists and astronauts, publicizing the trial-and-error process in this way does “damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.” When any respected organization takes “an extreme position” and includes “unproven and unsupported remarks” in its public utterances, it is gambling recklessly with fate — and the stakes in this gamble, it turns out, have often been described by Hansen in terms rather unsuitable for the head of a government agency, especially when the topic is as vast and uncharted as climate science. Yet, in 2006, Hansen called climate change “a moral issue on a par with slavery,” labeled coal trains “death trains,” and asserted that they would be “no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.” Continuing the drama, Hansen was arrested last summer outside the White House for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. It is unsurprising that many at NASA have criticized “ the GISS leadership” for overconfident pronouncements when, they point out, “the science is NOT settled.”

 In response to such criticism, Hansen has often complained he’s been censored, noting that staff reviewed his work after an inflammatory lecture at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. But he appears not to grasp that having a platform such as GISS requires that you assume a corporate editorial responsibility. Nor does he see that government employment entails an implicit obligation to err on the side of caution. This, and not Hansen’s various scientific conclusions, is why New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin — who agrees with Hansen on the scientific questions — complained that “Dr. Hansen has pushed far beyond the boundaries of the conventional role of scientists, particularly government scientists, in the environmental policy debate” and why many more of those on his side of the fence seem to worry about his proclivities.

 If this week’s letter from 49 former NASA scientists to the agency’s current head does nothing else, it should put paid to the popular lie that only rubes and antiscience types could possibly continue to question what is allegedly settled science. The world around us is extremely complex and our understanding of it limited. Professor Hansen is undoubtedly a talented scientist, and he is entitled to his conclusions; but it would behoove both his agency and his colleagues if he showed a little modesty. NASA’s reputation depends upon it.

April 4, 2012

Climate Change, Act Three

FROM-American Thinker

By Jeffrey Folks

Once upon a time, it was the contention of global warming alarmists that the earth was getting warmer -- a lot warmer. Now, after decades of such claims, the evidence points to a world that is, for the present at least, growing colder. When that fact became evident, alarmists shifted the ground of their argument. The earth's climate was not necessarily getting warmer; it was just "changing," and that was somehow a bad thing. No matter that the climate had been changing for more than four billion years, ever since the earth's formation.

Not to be deterred, climate alarmists insist that the climate is changing in new ways -- for example, in the "extreme weather" that has purportedly struck the U.S. since 2005. Focusing on Hurricane Katrina in that year and an outbreak of deadly tornadoes in 2011, alarmists contend that the weather is becoming more extreme and that climate change is the cause.

The facts undercut this claim. Only one hurricane has made landfall on the U.S. mainland since 2005, while tornado deaths in the 2000s were the least of any decade on record. Heightened media coverage of extreme weather events, not the weather itself, has made it appear that climate change is reaching epic proportions.

This is precisely the intent of such coverage: to manufacture a crisis so as to facilitate government takeover of large segments of the economy. In reality, the climate is no more extreme than it has been in the past. The deadliest hurricane in American history remains the great Galveston storm of 1900. The worst tornado was the Tri-State storm of 1925, which killed nearly 700 persons. The Joplin tornado of 2011 was the only U.S. tornado to kill more than 100 persons since 1953. It is true that lower death tolls are mostly the result of improved forecasting and warning systems, but if climate change really were producing monster storms of Al Gore proportions, death tolls would be higher than they are. The fact is that there were F-5 tornadoes in the past, and there are F-5 storms today. Today's storms are no stronger or more destructive than in the past.

The plain truth is that there has been no documented increase in the severity of storms in the U.S., or anywhere else, as a consequence of climate change. There has, however, been an explosion in the intensity of media coverage devoted to extreme weather events. (There is even an "extreme weather channel" for kids.) NBC news has its own Chief Environmental Affairs reporter, Anne Thompson, who is not shy about linking extreme weather events with climate change. Practically every story she has filed harps on the climate "crisis," pointing implicitly to the need for heightened government regulation of carbon-emitting industries and commerce -- which is to say, the entire global economy.

I suspect that correspondents like Thompson know well enough that in reality no such extreme weather crisis exists. That does not stop her and others from filing stories that purport to show polar bears drifting off into the sunset on melting chunks of arctic ice. One could feel sorry for those bears were it not for the fact that they can swim for up to 40 miles in the open sea. It's unlikely that they would allow themselves to be carried off to Havana.

Despite all that the media can do to maintain the fiction, the public is catching on to the climate change hoax. Every year, NOAA predicts a "more active than usual" hurricane season, and every year they are proven wrong. Come to think of it, how can it be that every year is "more active than usual"?

The American people are wising up to the climate change fraud. But climate change is a vast enterprise with trillions of dollars at stake. So what is a global warming alarmist to do?

One approach is to bury his head in the sand and deny reality, which is what the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has decided to do. In its latest report, issued on March 28, the IPCC has largely abandoned talk of global warming mitigation and shifted instead to what is termed "disaster risk reduction." That is to say, reductions in greenhouse gases are not really going to affect temperatures, as the IPCC claimed in 2007, but with a wink and a nod we're going to assume that rising temperatures, which have actually been falling since 2002, are responsible for every severe storm in the next few decades. And since the IPCC is determined to remain in business and continue attempting to control the affairs of national economies around the world, we're going to focus on risk mitigation.

It seems that the careerists at IPCC still think they can get away with flogging the dead horse of "extreme weather." More savvy alarmists, such as those in the American media, have decided that this will no longer do, and it's time to shift the terms of the debate.

The latest claim is not that the weather is warming or even that it is growing more extreme -- it is that it is growing more variable. And that variation is just more proof of climate change, according to Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research of Massachusetts. This year, winter temperatures in the eastern U.S. have been among the warmest on record. In Europe they have been among the coldest. Isn't that proof of climate change?

Well, no. It is proof that if you roll the dice a thousand times, you will probably come up with snake eyes twice in a row. Or an extremely warm winter in the U.S. accompanied by a cold one in Europe. Or any number of other "extreme" combinations, all of them the product of natural causes.

For the left, however, any sort of variation in the weather is evidence of climate change, and climate change is grounds for government takeover of the global economy. If it is warm in Boston but cold in Budapest, that is grounds for cap-and-trade. If a tornado strikes somewhere in the Midwest this spring, but not in the South, that is a basis for EPA regulation of the energy industry. If it strikes the South but not the Midwest, that is also grounds for government control. If it is drier in the West than the East, that is a catastrophe. If the wind blows in Wisconsin but not in Washington State, it's climate change at work. That is how desperate the left is to control the global economy.

Ultimately, of course, none of this has anything to do with the climate. Any rational human being, and even the irrational ones on the left, knows well enough that there have always been variations in the climate. In recent decades these variations have been minor and benign compared to changes that have taken place in the recent geologic past (for example, the Great Ice Age).

It seems, however, that the left is not really concerned with the facts. What they are really focused on is power. Ever since Marx published his Communist Manifesto in 1848 -- well before that, in fact -- the left has sought totalitarian control over the means of production, and indeed over all aspects of human life. Modern-day practitioners such as Barack Obama know that the best way to bring about increased regulation, and thus control, is through the fiction of a crisis that can be addressed only by government.

The only problem with that is that the climate is not changing -- not to any perceptible extent. But it is variable, and that is likely to be the message of climate alarmists for some time.