Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Energy Agenda

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have an oped in today's LA Times that posits the theory that environmentalists got complacent and read too many "of their own press clippings," allowing conservatives/Republicans to coopt the entire energy agenda.

By focusing like a laser beam on price and supply issues, the right made energy a pocketbook, rather than an environmental issue, and-- so say Nordhaus and Shellenberger-- that has dealt the green energy agenda a serious body blow.

With the ban on offshore drilling expiring tonight at midnight after Democrats were forced to cave, the thesis seems to have some creedence.

The green bubble bursts [Los Angeles Times]

Monday, September 29, 2008

Storing Renewable Energy

Discover Magazine has a cool piece abou thte Vanadium battery-- a massive, rechargable battery that will-in theory-- make alternative energy generated by wind and solar dispatchable.

One of the knocks on this kind of alternative generation has always been that sunshine and wind are unpredictable so the ability to store massive amounts of energy greatly enhances long term feasibility.

According to Discover:

"A traditional battery, such as the familiar AA dry cell, holds electrolytes in its own sealed container. But the vanadium battery is a flow system—that is, liquid electrolytes are pumped from external tanks into the stack, where the electricity-generating redox reaction takes place. Want to store more power? Use bigger tanks. The bigger the tanks, the more energy-rich electrolytes they can store.

The downside is that flow batteries tend to be big. It takes a flow battery the size of a refrigerator, incorporating a 160-gallon tank of electrolytes, to store 20,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power a full-size HDTV for about three days. This is because the energy density in the liquid electrolytes is relatively low compared with that of the chemicals in lithium-ion batteries. (Energy density is a measure of the amount of energy that can be extracted from a given volume or mass of a battery.) For this reason, flow batteries are unlikely to be found in mobile applications, like laptops or electric cars. In those cases the battery of choice remains lithium-ion, which has an energy density five times that of vanadium."

The Element That Could Change the World [Discover Magazine]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Keeping Up With The Joneses

SMUD has come up with a new way to incentivize customers to conserve electricity: competition.

But not the "Republican party, free market [when it's convenient and doesn't involve Wall Street tycoons], laissez faire" kind of competition, but good old fashioned, "I'm better than my neighbor and I can prove it" kind of compeition.

SMUD is in the midst of a yearlong experiment in which it identified 35,000 homes of similar size and with similar heating systems. Every month, it sends an energy report card to each home, showing the customer how much energy they used compared to the average consumer. Homes in excess of the average get a frowning face, while homes beating the average get a smiley face.

Sounds pretty harmless (and perhaps ind of dumb), no?

Well, not surprisingly, the recipients of frowning faces are sounding off in Chris Bowma's piece in today's Sacramento Bee. They note that it is impossible to make fair comparisons among a disparate group of households, and that SMUD is treating them likd children, etc.

But, SMUD says the effort is working, with energy consumption going down every month as people seek to outperform their neighbors.

Sadly, though, as innovative as this program sounds, no administrative agency like SMUD can pull something like this off without a healthy dose of brueacracy. In the Bee's write-up, the program materials were described thusly:

""Every element of the report was researched, every word and graphic in the report was tested with real customers in home interviews that lasted several hours," Crawford said."

That sounds efficient.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Your Prius Is a Dinosaur

SDGE's new study of plug-in hybrid cars reveals that PHEV's are 60% more fuel efficient than regular hybrids and 205% more fuel efficient than regular gas guzzlers.

The PHEV's in the study got 67 mpg, and can be recharged in three hours using a 240 volt outlet. The study estimates that right now the grid could handle 4 milllion vehicles charging overnight when demand is lowest. PHEV's are expected to hit the retail market in 2010.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cap & Trade

Seemingly lost among the saturation coverage of the Wall Street Bailout have been some fairly important development on the energy front. The Senate has extended solar tax credits and the offshore drilling ban is headed for extinction, and yesterday the Western Climate Initiative formally put forth their cap and trade plan.

Similar to the Wall Street Bailout, the WSI "plan" is really more of a concept and the devil truly is in the details. Each of the participating seven states and the Western Canadian provinces will have to make up their own rules when it comes to the new carbon trading system, which means the rollout promises to be anything but smooth.

Environmental groups are guardedly optimistic; business groups say the sky is falling and that the system will make energy less affordable (but they say that about everything...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Tide Still Hasn't Turned for Wave Energy

The New York Times has an update piece on the state of wave energy technology. While more government and private venture money is being pumped into wave energy ventures, they are still hampered by the usual setbacks-- malfunctioning or damaged equipment, environmental and use restrictions, etc.

The Times notes that:

"Ocean power has more potential than wind power because water is about 850 times denser than air, and therefore packs far more energy. The ocean’s waves, tides and currents are also more predictable than the wind.

The drawback is that seawater can batter and corrode machinery, and costly undersea cables may be needed to bring the power to shore. And the machines are expensive to build: Pelamis has had to raise the equivalent of $77 million."

Also on the table is "ocean thermal" technology which relies not on the movement of water, but the difference in temperature between the surface and the deep.

Monday, September 22, 2008

One Man's Take on the Need for Nuclear Power

Ok, this has nothing to do with our energy woes in California, but a colleague from back East sent this to me. Douglas Turner, a columnist for the Buffalo News, makes the case (in highly partisan terms) for nuclear power.

Nothing terribly new from an argument perspective, but any column that has the word "bongs" in the opening graf is one that needs to be shared!

I've cut and pasted it below:

U. S. must pursue nuclear power now
Douglas TurnerUpdated: 09/22/08 6:44 AM

WASHINGTON — On energy policy, Democrats are offering the nation only Woodstock fetishes like bongs, beads and sideburns instead of solutions to a worsening crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, has already cut funding for the Yucca Mountain, Nev., long-term storage facility for nuclear wastes.

Hunkering down with Reid in the commune last week was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, whose “energy bill” offered no real avenues for new sources, but plenty of empty comfort for environmental Luddites.

The Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, promised to shut down Yucca Mountain. He’ll throw away the $8 billion already spent there. And what will Obama do with the $27 billion that electrical ratepayers have already collected for its operation?

If Obama is elected, those 275 glass logs holding high-level nuclear waste that are sitting on railroad cars near the West Valley Nuclear Demonstration Project in Cattaraugus County will just stay there. Maybe forever.

Perhaps then the Democrats will start a program to buy used bicycles from the Chinese, and charcoal space heaters for Americans who can’t afford to pay their soaring oil or electric heating bills.

That is, if electricity is a reliable source of energy in New York State in the future. Max Schulz, a researcher for the Empire Center, said demand will so outstrip electric supply in a decade or two in New York State that we may “not be able to turn on the lights.”

New Yorkers already pay the third-highest electricity rates in the nation, after Hawaii and Connecticut, Schulz’s report shows. New York pays 16 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the national average of nine and half cents, and three times the rate in Idaho.

New York’s electric rates took a hike after hysteria over the accident at the nuclear plant at Nine Mile Island, Pa., prompted then Gov. Mario Cuomo to shut down the $6 billion nuclear power plant at Shoreham, Long Island.

Last year his son, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, joined then Gov. Eliot Spitzer to oppose a license extension for a nuclear plant that has run without incident since 1974. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, also sounded alarms about safety at the plant, Indian Point.

Democrats never waste an opportunity to exploit the legacy of fear about nuclear energy, while the rest of the world moves ahead.

While Democrats spurn energy options, the People’s Republic of China is sprinting to build new nuclear plants to supply energy for factories it has taken from America. The PRC, using French and Canadian technology, has six nuclear plants under construction, and a dozen more nearing the building stage.

France reacted differently to the Middle East oil shocks of the 1970s than we did. Because France developed technology for safe plant operation and waste disposal, its 59 nuclear facilities now provide 75 percent of the nation’s energy.

France is the world’s largest exporter of electricity, and makes more than $4 billion a year from sales. France also enjoys the industrial world’s lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions.
Cheap, safe, profitable and environmentally sound energy.

Contrast that with Spitzer’s plan to bar nuclear power plants from streamlined construction permitting. There’s been no change in state policy since Spitzer’s fall, and none here.
Tossing a bone to her San Francisco district, Pelosi virtually forbade the House to include nuclear power in the energy bill.

Many well-meaning people flocked to the anti-nuclear movement after Nine Mile Island and Chernobyl. But blind opposition to all nuclear power has since morphed from a cottage industry into a leftist power bloc, whose influence must be broken.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weaning California From the Grid

Calling it " single roadmap to achieve maximum energy savings across all major groups and sectors in California," the PUC yesterday adopted the Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan.

The plan seeks to make all new residential construction zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial construction zero net energy by 2030. (Zero net energy means a home or building would not pull power from the grid, but rather be entirely self-sufficient through the use of things like rooftop solar panesl or other generation technologies.)

In published Q&A, the PUC makes the claim that for every dollar invested in alternative energy, $2 are saved by not investing in new power plants or transmission lines, and it claims that all of the major utilities support the new plan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are a Personal Problem

When you talk about carbon footprints and the Kyoto Protocol, giant exhaust-belching industrial smokestacks come to mind, but if a new University of San Diego study is to be believed, greenhouse gas emissions start at home.

According to the USD study, 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego county come from home energy consumption and personal vehicle use by the 3.1 million people who call San Diego home.

According to the Union Trib:

"San Diego County released about 34 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2006 – an 18 percent increase over 1990 levels. The number is in line with population growth for the period.

The region's per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases are slightly lower than California's and just half of the U.S. average. That's largely because of San Diego's mild climate and its limited reliance on coal for power."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Drill Baby, Drill! (Or perhaps not.)

So the long-awaited offshore drilling bill passed the House last night, 236-189. Its fate is unknown in the Senate, but the White House has made it clear that it will likely veto the legislation should it reach President Bush's desk.

The bill allows for drilling 50 miles off the coast-- with the adjacent state's approval-- and 100 miles offshore regardless of the adjacent state's position. As the vote count would suggest, Democrats and Republicans are not even close to being in agreement on this one.

Republicans claim that the mileage requirements in the legislation will put drilling too far away from where the oil actually is, and the bill's failure to share royalties with the adjacent states does away with any incentive for them to approve drilling.

And of course, the 800 lb. gorilla of issues in the bill is tax breaks for oil companies-- Democrats want to eliminate them, Republicans don't.

No telling what the Senate will do, but, as the Wall Street Journal notes:

"If members of Congress and the White House can't agree on a drilling plan, it could lead to a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over legislation needed to keep the government running past Sept. 30, as the drilling ban is part of the expiring bill that funds the government..."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Freeman: Put Humans on the Endangered Species List

At the risk of beating Props 7 & 10 to death, I would point you to David Baker's article in today's San Francisco Chronicle. He piles on with the rest of the world, pointing out the flaws in these two measures.

The piece reinforces what we already know-- that both are designed to sound like environmentally friendly plans for alternative energy development, but both include a lot of "fine print" that should be required reading.

According to Baker, the measurs "have left a sour taste in the mouths of many environmentalists, consumer advocates and utility executives."

That's more or less everyone.

In addition to being yet another good primer on 7 &10, the article comtains this gem from the venerable S. David Freeman:

"We've got to develop a sense of urgency... We're at the stage where I think the human race should be added to the Endangered Species Act."

With hype like that, it must be election season...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tehachapi Transmission Project Running Into Local Opposition

The knock on alternative energy generation projects has always been that, while you may be able to generate power, you still need to transmit it and, usually, that is not an easy or cheap process.

Exhibit A: The $2 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project. The power is generated in the middle of nowhere by windmills. The transmission lines were going to run smack dab through Chino Hills, past 1,500 homes until the City sued Southern California Edison saying that new lines were ugly, they devalued nearby homes, and thier electromagnetic fields posed a health threat.

The City says it could re-route the transmission lines throught parkland for $50 million of Southen California Edison's dollars, but the utility begs to differ, SCE says that estimate is about $100 million light.

The City calls its proposal the "21st Centuty Green Partnership". "Elements of the city proposal include construction of a wildlife crossing under Highway 71 from the park into the Prado Basin, habitat restoration, removal of about 14 miles of active and inactive high-voltage power lines from the state park, and moving lines and towers away from ridgelines and other prominent areas to improve the public's view."

Everything is on hold pending a hearing in Spring or Summer.

Energy path fight [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin]

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Smart Money Is On Thin Film Solar

If thin film solar technology is the future, then apparently "the future is now." A handful of companies are raising boatloads of venture cash to promote and produce the technology.

Accordinng to CNET.com three companies-- SoloPower, NanoSolar, and AVA Solar have raked in more than $600 million among them.

In a post from last year, Treehugger.com gives a good primer on thin film solar:

"Thin film solar modules don’t use the costly, and limited, silicon that we are used to. The technology is based on CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) arranged on a flexible backing, suitable for not only the tops, but also the sides of buildings, tinted windows, cell phones, notebook computers, cars, and even clothing. Thin film solar panels are “printed” onto the rolled backing, eliminating many of the highly energy and chemical intensive processes that are typical in convention PV manufacture"

According to the CNET report, thin film solar production is expected to double every year for the next three years, with 50% profit margins, compared to 15% margins for traditional silicon photovoltaic cells.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Lotta Green

Ecoworld.com throws out some staggerling large numbers in its editorial about the true impact of California's quest for generating as much as 25% renewable power.

To hit Prop 7's goal of 50% renewable by 2025, approximately 500 gigawatt hours of renewable power will be required daily. To put that in perspective, 500 gigawatt hours of wind power requires an investment of $300 billion; solar would cost even more (but costs are likely to come down over time). And this doesn't even touch the cost of storage infrastructure:

"In California the demand peak is around 50 gigawatts, and the off-peak minimum can get as low as 20 gigawatts. The time of peak demand is between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., when appliances are operating along with flat screen TVs and PCs. During this period, when the sun is down and the wind yields aren’t yet at maximum output, at least 25% of California’s daily electricity draw is consumed, about 250 gigawatt-hours. It is reasonable to assume most of the renewable energy used to fulfill this demand will have to come from stored wind, and stored solar. So what would it cost to store 100 gigawatt-hours of energy?

Yesterday we had the opportunity to speak briefly with David MacMillan, CEO of Megawatt Storage Farms, Inc., a company that is developing large scale electricity storage using NAS (sodium-sulphur) batteries. He claims that “not including site acquisition and preparation,” storage technology using NAS batteries would come to about $350,000 per megawatt-hour. This means the cost to load balance California’s grid, should 50% of her energy come from solar or wind sources, would probably run about $35 billion dollars. This figure doesn’t include transmission upgrades, nor does it include site acquisition and preparation..."

To quote former Sen. Everett Dirksen, " A billion here, a billion there-- pretty soon it adds up to real money."

Megawatt Storage Farms [Ecoworld.com]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Truly Green Alternative Fuel

After searching online for airfare deals for Thanksgiving trip (they don't exist, trust me), I am officially 100% in support of anything that makes air travel less expensive. Even jet fuel made from algae.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a piece today about a Bay Area company, Solazyme, that has found a way to turn algae into jet fuel. The process is described as follows:

"The company genetically modifies algae from around the world to consume a wide range of feedstocks, such as wood chips, switchgrass and sawdust. When the algae consume more of these substances than they immediately need, they produce oil as an energy storage mechanism. "

Given that we are already making cellulosic fuel from things like wood chips and sawdust, the algae kind of seems like a middle-man here, but I'm certain there has to be more to the process that makes the algae an important piece of the equation.

Solazyme President Harrison Dillon notes that the fuel has passed all of the required test to be used for jet fuel.
However, ne note of caution to Mr. Dillon: When you'r trying to sell the public on a revolutionary new alternative fuel such as one derived from algae, don' ever, ever say, "Planes will fall out of the sky if you don't have a high-quality fuel that meets strict standards." People will be much less likely to accept your product, your assurances about its quality nothwithstanding.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Long Beach To Open The Spigot...

Trivia time: Where is the third-largest oil field in the lower 48 United States?

Answer: Long Beach. Actually, the Wilmington field stretches from San Pedro to Seal Beach, but Long Beach is ground zero for plans to revive the aging field where production has waned due to the perceived high cost of squeezing out the remaining crude.

Now that oil prices are in triple digits, though, it makes more sense to go back into the field and thanks to a bill pushed by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, that appears likely to happen. Negotiations are underway with Occidental to jump start production.

Using directional drilling and 3-D imaging, extracting oil is much more viable than it has been in the past and estimates are that output could increase by 63%, creating about $1 billion in revenue for the City and the Port of Long Beach.

Of course there is the usual environmental opposition, as well as some allegations of a legislative sleight of hand to get the authoring bill passed, but urban drill sites are nothing new in Southern California and heaven knows we need the oil.

More as this develops...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Looking Ahead

The following is a reasoned, thoughtful commentary from Ken Silverstein, the Editor of Energy Biz Insider:

September 8: Energy Risk - California's Laws

California's trend-setting energy and environmental laws are a noble but risky effort. While they are serving to create a new economy, the rules may also be hamstringing some utilities and businesses.

Green energy experiments are not new to California, but this undertaking is more aggressive. The state, which now gets 11 percent of its power from renewable energy, has always taken a progressive posture toward expanding its sustainable base. The problems, though, are that wind and solar resources are limited while the cost of compliance may be too high for some.
California is the first state to set a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The law, which took effect in 2007, requires utilities and refineries to quantify their levels of greenhouse gases.

By 2011, the California Air Resources Board must write the rules for industry to live by -- essentially reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels and to do so by 2020. That would amount to a 25 percent reduction from today's levels. By 2050, the state's goal is to cut such releases by 80 percent.

"As the popularity and importance of these renewable portfolio standards have increased, so too has the need to keep up with the design, early experience, and projected impacts of these programs," says Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. He adds that existing renewable portfolio policies in the 26 states that have enacted them would require roughly 60 gigawatts of new renewable capacity by 2025, which is the equivalent of 15-percent of projected electricity demand.

But these goals coincide with other projections. In California, the population is expected to increase by 47 percent over the next couple decades. A San Jose Mercury News story laid out the challenge by saying that California produced 426 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 1990, or more than 31,500 pounds for every person in the state. By 2020, the state needs to slash that to 21,400 pounds per person.

The challenges are already mounting. Automobiles, for example, are responsible for about 20 percent of all the state's greenhouse gas emissions. But the federal government and manufacturers are currently battling California as it relates to tailpipe emission rules adopted in 2002.

"As the world leader on climate change, we must do as much as possible," writes California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Beyond the renewable portfolio standards and tailpipe regulations, the state plans to reduce greenhouse gases by growing trees and mandating energy efficiency rules for all commercial buildings.

Change Happening

Proponents of the law say that the technologies currently exist to cut all harmful pollutants, particularly carbon emissions. Voluntary efforts won't be as effective as tough regulatory standards, they add, noting that law will create opportunities. That is, when companies have to reduce emissions, they buy the most state-of-the-art equipment. That, in turn, creates jobs while promoting a healthier environment.

Last year, more than $100 billion was spent on renewable energy around the world. A study by University of California at Berkeley says, furthermore, that California's initiatives will prompt the development of efficient machinery, energy saving appliances and the development of new renewable energy sources. That will produce 89,000 new jobs in California and add $60 billion a year to the state's economy.

Meanwhile, other laws give the state's energy commission the authority to regulate all long-term procurement contracts. Now, one-fifth of all California's power is imported. And some of that comes from coal-fired plants in neighboring states that are not as clean as modern gas facilities. So, if suppliers want to sell into the California market, they would have to adopt the latest and greatest coal technologies.

To be sure, the rules could turn out to be devoid of real change. Critics say that they will end up costing consumers more and will subsequently drive out large employers that find the laws too expensive to comply.

Take the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which depends on coal-heavy Nevada and Utah to provide half of its electricity needs. The utility, which serves about 4 million households, says that its overall costs could rise by $700 million a year under the law that may institute a cap-and-trade system. That, in turn, would force the utility to buy credits from those businesses that can meet greenhouse gas limitations -- money that the utility says would otherwise be spent on expanding environmentally friendly programs.

But the transformation is happening. Addressing climate change is atop many political agendas. Collaboration is therefore the key. Businesses must not be bullied, but they must be persuaded to re-think the way they do business and to modernize their processes in an effort to become cleaner and more efficient.

"The longer that business as usual goes on, the more difficult challenge it becomes," says Chuck Shulock, manager of the greenhouse gas reduction program for California Air Resources Board, which is charged with making sure the state reaches its carbon-cutting goals. "It's a question of sort of turning a very large ship," he adds, in the San Jose Mercury News.

California's approach to crafting energy and environmental laws is bold. And while its success is far from certain, it is setting a general path that other states and regions are beginning to follow. The new energy economy will subsequently become more focused and provide the mechanisms by which to achieve some of these goals.

Energy Risk - California's Laws [Energy Biz Insider via riskcenter.com]

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Richmond Refinery Saga Continues

Communities For A Better Environment has filed suit in Contra Costa County Superior Court seeking to overturn the EIR for the expansion of Chevron's Richmond refinery. The EIR, which was three and a half years in the making was approved by the city of Richmond in July.

CBE argues that the refinery expansion will increase toxic emissions by a factor of 5%-50%. Chevron counters that the new equipment, which will allow it to process 1,000 gallons of higher sulfur crude a day, is more technolically advanced than older equipment and that will mitigate any extra pollution.

The Richmond refinery is the biggest in the region and supplies 25% of Northern California's gasoline.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

One Man's Take On the Cost of Gasoline

Santa Clara University's Fred Foldvary has it all figured out-- the way to lower the cost of gasoline by replacing excise taxes with "pollution fees," eliminating state and federal regulatory barriers to new refinery construction, and blowing up the ethanol subsidy. It's all there.

I'm not sure how politically viable the plan is, but it is comprehensive:

How to bring down the cost of energy

We can’t reduce the price of oil, but we can reduce the cost of gasoline and other fuels. Californians pay more for gasoline than the national average because of federal regulations, and Americans pay much more than necessary for energy because of taxes and restrictions that pump up the costs.

Speculators have been blamed for driving the price of oil up to $140 or more per barrel, but if that is the case, there is a simple remedy.

The big users of oil, such as the airline and trucking industries, could sell oil futures contracts and drive the price down. The fact that there evidently has been no movement to do so indicates that the price of oil is up because of greater demand and limited supply.

The price of oil for Americans is also up because the exchange value of the dollar has fallen. We can’t change the global price of oil, but we can indeed change the price of the end product—fuel for our cars.

Here are the interventions that needlessly make gasoline excessively expensive and some suggested remedies:

1. The federal Clean Air Act requires that some areas of California and other states use reformulated gasoline with specific additives.

The price of gasoline in California is about 45 cents higher per gallon than the national average because of these federal regulations.

Gas additives are supposed to produce less smog, but the regulations backfired when the MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) additive leaked into the state’s underground water. MTBE has been phased out, but other additives have replaced it, so with these regional requirements there still is no national market for gasoline.

The federal Clean Air Act should be amended to eliminate the rule that requires gasoline additives. The price of gasoline in California would then fall to the national average.

2. Air pollution is a real problem, but the efficient way to handle it is by charging polluters for the damage rather than regulating gasoline and cars. California’s smog tests and federal regulations on cars and fuel should be replaced by pollution charges.

The state should install remote sensors that measure the actual pollution of drivers, then bill the biggest polluters. Those who drive relatively clean cars would be spared the expense of smog tests and taxes. There would also be a market for additives and engines that reduce pollution and an incentive to use them voluntarily.

3. The federal excise tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon; the state tax is 18 cents per gallon; and the state and local sales tax is on the total price, including the excise taxes.

There is a sales tax on the excise tax! We can cut the price of gasoline by replacing all these taxes with pollution charges that would reduce the cost of gas for everyone except the biggest polluters.
Eliminating taxes and restrictions also would enable folks to use cheap vegetable oil and grease for fuel, slashing costs by more than half.

4. Traffic congestion wastes gas. The remedy is tolls just high enough to eliminate congestion.

The tolls would be levied using electronic devices such as the FasTrak used for bridge tolls. Carpool lanes would no longer be needed, since the tolls would generate an efficient use of streets and “tollways.” Bridge tolls also should be changed to congestion pricing.

5. Federal and state restrictions on building new refineries should be eliminated. That would increase the supply of gasoline, reduce imports, and bring the price down.

6. The government should stop subsidizing ethanol and other alternatives to oil and gasoline.

The market will discover the most inexpensive sources of fuel reflecting true costs when taxes and restrictions on gasoline are eliminated.

7. Jitneys and vans should be legalized and given “curb rights,” or places for them to pick up passengers. They would provide flexible alternatives to cars and reduce gasoline consumption.

We can see that multiple state and federal regulations and restrictions needlessly make gasoline much more expensive than a truly free-market price based on real costs. The remedy is to replace taxes and restrictions with tolls and pollution charges and to liberate the market to let it produce fuel much less expensively than in today’s state-distorted energy system.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Assigning Blame for the San Diego Wildfires

Cal Fire is already on record implicating SDG&E transmission wires in last year's San Diego wildfires, now the Consumer Protection & Safety Division of the state utilities commission is out with a 35 page report that also blames the utility (as well as Cox Commuications) for the fires. The report also accuses SDG&E of not cooperating with the investigation, although the example cited in the Union Trib's account seems pretty thin:

"Investigators singled out SDG&E for delaying the final report, saying the power company failed to fully cooperate by not making witnesses and evidence available.

One utility official “instructed me to contact SDG&E's attorneys to determine when CPSD staff would be allowed to interview SDG&E personnel,” lead investigator Mahmoud Intably wrote."

When you are being accused of starting a massive wildfire, I don't see what is so unreasonable about running requests to interview witnesses and provide evidence through your lawyer. That's pretty much common sense.

Not surpirsingly, SDG&E has called the report-- which recommends that the PUC investigate further violations-- complete bunk.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Considering 7 & 10

Renewable Energy World digs into Props 7 & 10 and notes that "With support for renewable energy and clean transportation at an all-time high, the initiatives on the ballot this year seem like shoo-in. But as concerns grow over their potentially negative impact on the state's market, the choices for Californians won't be easy."

On Prop 7, REW quotes backers as saying the measure would create a "renaissance" in California, and detractors pointing to sloppy language in the measure's drafting that makes certain key points ambiguous at best.

As for Prop 10, opponents continue to paint it as a big pay-day for the natural gas industry, but Todd Campbell of Clean Energy Fuels calls the measure, "a Manhattan Project for a whole host of high-efficiency and low-carbon cleanalternative fuels". Clean Energy Fuels' most prominient Board Member is T. Boone Pickens, who many argue stands to win big through investments made by his hedge fund, BP Capital.