By Dr. Robert Applegate
The opening scene of the documentary Pandora’s Promise brings viewers face-to-face with nuclear power plant protestors screaming scary things like “the nuclear industry is a death industry.” Then it moves to a nuclear energy supporter walking around the destroyed nuclear power plant in Fukushima with the filmmaker Robert Stone asking are you still “pro-nuclear?”
At this point I was unsure where this film would take me. If this was a movie really about how nuclear power is clean and safe and our only option to combat climate change, or was this more of a movie trying to balance opinions rather than present fact. When the movie did jump into the facts of nuclear power, it did not disappoint. Explaining, for example, that one pound of nuclear fuel (about the size of your finger) holds the same amount of energy as 5000 barrels of oil.
The movie provides an overview of the origins of the hysteria over nuclear energy. It exposes the baby boomers who came of age during the height of the Cold War with elementary school duck-and-cover drills just in case the Soviets dropped the bomb. As a result, an entire generation, arguably the most influential generation, associated the word “nuclear” with bombs and destruction. Add this irrational fear to the lack of understanding of how and where electricity comes from, and the nuclear power industry was set up for failure by the 1980’s.
Pandora’s Promise does a decent job of talking about how the accessibility of energy is directly correlated to quality of life. People live longer and better lives when they can access power easily and inexpensively. Stone should have made this a bit stronger, especially since the movie is directed at environmentalists and why they need to reexamine nuclear power as an option to improving the quality of life in the developing world. The two billion people globally without electricity don’t just need a clean environment; they need access to clean, reliable, and affordable power.
My favorite part came when Stone tours the globe with a dosimeter (a radiation-meter), showing people what physicists know; radiation exists naturally everywhere and in everything, and our bodies deal with it every day with no increased cancer risk. What’s funny, and trust me the irony is not lost on physicists like me, Stone even shows a group of protesters having a “banana break” in which one is handing out bananas to eat while they are screaming about the horrors of radiation. Many people, except misguided protestors, know that a Geiger Counter (a machine that measures radiation) next to a banana is quite noisy because bananas have a lot of naturally occurring radiation.
Contrary to popular myth, deaths from nuclear power are incredibly low. No one in the U.S. has died from a nuclear power related accident, including any radiation leaks, and this is pointed out in the film. Roughly 50 people did die at Chernobyl as a result of the accident there, but that isn’t even close to the nonsensical “millions” number that one protester cites. The film crew braved Chernobyl revealing how the plant kept working nearly 10 years after the accident and how people went to work every day there with no increased cancer risk.
Stone also addresses the difficult topic of nuclear waste with a straightforward quote from an environmentalist who flat out says, “Nuclear waste is not an environmental issue” because there is simply very little of it.
The movie has an optimistic ending, talking about the future and how the newer reactor designs are incapable of melting down. Peaceful nuclear power is helping to reduce the number of nuclear warheads through recycling – 16,000 in the past 10 years recycled and now used to power cities. Bottom line: don’t fear nuclear power. We need it to combat carbon emissions and raise two billion people out of poverty.
I know this is tough for old-school environmentalists but Pandora’s Promise tried to be gentle with this message to the eco-left: your heart is in the right place, but your facts are wrong. Please reexamine your point of view, and you will change your mind. Do it for the sake of the kids you are trying to save.
To hear more about my take on Pandora’s Promise, listen to my review on the Amy Oliver Show on News Talk 1310 KFKA.
Now, go hug a nuclear power plant operator.
Dr. Robert Applegate has a PhD in Applied Physics from the Colorado School of Mines, has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is an advocate for science in public policy.
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation
A contentious battle between anti-fracking activists such as Our Broomfield and supporters of the energy gathering method, including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, will have to wait just a bit longer for the dust to settle in Tuesday’s election.
Broomfield’s Question 300, a 5 year prohibition on the use of hydraulic fracturing and associated activities, will go to an automatic recount some time next week depends on the outcome of settling the remaining outstanding ballots. The measure was defeated by a mere 13 votes in the initial count:
Yet there is a wild card in the recount process — there are still eight days for military and overseas ballots to be returned, and deficiencies in some Broomfield ballots, such as questions about signatures or first-time mail voters who did not include a copy of their ID — need to be addressed. Those ballots could change the final tally and impact a recount, said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
If such a small margin remains, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office told the Broomfield Enterprise an automatic recount would be triggered, using the “one half of one percent difference” rule.
The proposed fracking bans elsewhere across the state–Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder–amounted to public relations window-dressing for anti-fracking activists in areas where hydraulic fracturing typically has not occurred in the past, or where the possibility of new developments would soon take place.
“Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic votes. Lafayette’s last new well permit was in the early 1990’s and Boulder’s last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999,” Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Tisha Schuller told The Colorado Observer.
As for Fort Collins, The Coloradoan blasted the measure there in a pre-election editorial for making the city a “pawn” in a “potentially costly environmental position statement” that “smacks of agenda-based partisanship” in a city that has few natural resources and is already ninety percent off limits to oil and gas development, even before the 5 year moratorium goes into effect.
Following the passage of the three measures, the Denver Post expressed disappointment in what it dubbed an “irresponsible agenda” in the form of the anti-fracking opponents’ real desire for a complete ban on hydraulic fracturing, disguised as local grassroots referenda.
“Symbolism needn’t be coherent,” the Post said.
Neither was the reaction to support of hydraulic fracturing when Zev Paiss, part of Frack Free Boulder, equated families who depend on natural resource development to terrorists:
“The scientists and their families who work on weapons of mass destruction depend on that regular paycheck too.”
In addition, that irresponsible symbolism will likely trigger big dollar lawsuits from the state:
Gov. John Hickenlooper told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd he will sue any community that bans fracking. He says the state constitution splits surface and mineral rights and bans violate that. State law also gives the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission rule-making authority, not local governments.
That didn’t seem to faze anti-fracking activists like Josh Fox, who tweeted:
— Josh Fox (@gaslandmovie) November 6, 2013
That the symbolic fracking war pitted David–grassroots, underfunded fracking opponents–against the Goliath known as the oil and gas industry became part of the campaign narrative in all four measures, something the Wall Street Journal noted:
Colorado, with its long history of energy extraction, would be a bigger test of whether the oil and gas industry and its supporters can surmount growing opposition from some communities and national environmental groups.
As Colorado Peak Politics concluded, the successes emboldened not a rag-tag coalition, but a mightily funded effort to launch “frack wars across Colorado.”
Those big dollars, in a post collected by Peak, point to under-the-table, “dark” money being spent to support the bans. The decentralized attacks on fracking in Colorado can be traced, in part, to smoke-and-mirrors, DC-based outfits like Center for Western Priorities, according to the Washington Examiner.
With both sides claiming victory–and with Broomfield’s results hanging in the balance for a few more weeks and possible lawsuits looming on the horizon–2013’s fracking bans may only be a prelude to more municipal proposals, and possibly a statewide measure in 2014, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Filed under: Archive, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
DENVER–After a slight delay due to the government shutdown in early October, the Environmental Protection Agency began its 11-city “listening tour” seeking input on carbon pollution regulations last week, with an all-day session schedule for Denver on Wednesday.
“The agency is expected to solicit ideas on how best to regulate carbon emissions from the more than 1,000 power plants now in operation – the cornerstone and arguably the most controversial part of the Obama administration’s strategy to address climate change.
The EPA will use a rarely employed section of the federal Clean Air Act, known as section 111(d), and will rely heavily on input from states to craft a flexible rule that can be applied to states with different energy profiles,” Reuters reported.
Session attendees wishing to offer comments will be afforded three minutes to speak at the regional listening sessions, and will include speakers from think tanks, government agencies, state officials, and business groups supporting and opposing the EPA’s planned regulation.
A variety of carbon-cutting schemes–some already in place in a number of different states–will be defended against questions of affordability and reliability of electricity offered in its place, according to reports.
Critics have blasted the EPA for skipping states that power their electricity needs with coal, The Hill reported earlier this month.
House Republicans criticized the EPA decision to hold the meetings at the EPA regional offices, claiming that the EPA was “conspicuously” avoiding coal-heavy states.
“Despite being the most impacted, all of these states are missing from EPA’s tour schedule. That means Americans that may be the hardest hit by EPA’s regulations will need to travel hundreds of miles to ensure their concerns about electricity prices and the impacts on their jobs are heard,” the Republicans wrote.
The EPA will be holding sessions in Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia–each in a state in the top 10 of coal production in 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Colorado houses the Region 8 EPA office and ranked 11th in the 2011 figures. Wyoming, which will not host an EPA listening tour stop, ranked first, with approximately 40 percent of the nation’s coal output that same year.
There will be no EPA listening sessions in West Virginia or Kentucky, the second and third-ranked states. Those three states combined to produce 62.2 percent of U.S. coal production in 2011.
Groups opposed to the EPA’s plans will be hosting a rally dubbed “Enough Already” on the west steps of the state Capitol at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Groups include the Independence Institute, Colorado Mining Association, and a variety of other organizations. A complete list of speakers is available via the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
Anyone interested in attending one of the remaining sessions can sign up here.
By Robert Applegate
Amid the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) latest report1 on the land requirements of solar power generation, others are taking a look at what is really required to power homes using solar and wind and comparing that to another carbon free source, nuclear power generation.
A nuclear power plant, the biggest reactors currently available would take up less than 2 square miles and produce 3200MW of power.2 To achieve this same power output from solar would require 292 square miles, 146 times the amount of land required for a nuclear plant.2 A wind farm would need to be 832 square miles, or 416 times the land to create the same amount of power of the nuclear plant.2 To put this into perspective, the land footprints are shown over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island, where the blue is a nuclear plant, the yellow a solar farm, and the green a wind farm all of equal capacity.
Land footprints of a nuclear plant (blue), solar array (yellow), and a wind farm (green) all of equal capacity (3200MW), over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island.2
1 NREL Report Firms Up Land-Use Requirements of Solar. Study shows solar for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres. July 30, 2013. http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html
2 What Does Renewable Energy Look Like? Clean Energy Insight, 10 Apr, 2010. http://www.cleanenergyinsight.org/energy-insights/what-does-renewable-energy-look-like/
I was on the Joe America radio show this past Saturday. Check it out! We had an interesting discussion covering fracking, energy, and environmentalism. I had a great time!
The link to the June 1 recording is on the bottom of the radio show’s webpage:
Or you can find a direct link to the recording here:
Fracking has been an incredible boon for everyone in the United States. For the first time in decades, heavy manufacturing companies, such as Nucor Steel, are coming back to the United States to take advantage of low energy costs. The rest of the world stands to benefit from fracking, too. Fracking has the potential to free eastern Europe from its dependence on Russia’s gas supply, and the political bullying that comes with it. Japan and China can lower their natural gas costs, which are currently four times what we pay in the United States. In Africa, where poverty and disease go hand in hand, cheap energy can help to fuel and build the water purification and modern sanitation systems we enjoy in the developed world.
What makes people like Josh Fox–the director of “Gasland”–so scary, is that they have found a way to fight this amazing, life-promoting technology while evading honest discussion. They have developed and mastered the art of making terrifying “documentaries” using film techniques straight out of Hollywood horror films. Let me explain.
Last night I saw the sixth-ever showing of Fox’s newest film, “Gasland Part II.” The sequel did not disappoint. Just like the first film, the sequel showed Fox’s mastery of the techniques used by modern low-budget horror films. Borrowing a technique from the famous zombie apocalypse thriller “28 Days Later,” “Gasland Part II” begins with a rapid succession of choppy, blurred TV clips, over a crescendo of deep base tones resembling an ever-accelerating heartbeat. Then, the moment the audio and visuals hits their climax and the audience could not possibly take anymore, there is a sudden, abrupt and eerie silence. This leaves the audience in temporary state of extreme psychological discomfort, like the feeling of someone groping around in a pitch-black unfamiliar room. Now they are ready for Josh Fox to show them the light.
These techniques are not limited to the beginning of the film; Fox uses them throughout. Later, while showing flames coming off the top of a water well, a deep rumbling base sound swept through the room like what you would hear while watching a space shuttle launch in an IMAX theater. It was a loud, deep rumble, making it feel like the whole room was shaking. Of course, the real sound of the flame had been dubbed over using film editing software, which just shows another way in which Fox effectively uses his “artistic license” to shade the truth.
Another technique that caught my attention was the way Fox juxtaposed images of children with images of heavy machinery, making it seem as though we have to make an either-or choice between children and industry. This was straight out of the Hollywood blockbuster “Terminator II,” where images of children’s playgrounds and the sound of children laughing are contrasted with those of an industrial wasteland future dominated by killer robots. Truthfully, Fox does not go to this extreme–that would be too obvious–but the sheer amount of footage showing children walking up to well sites and posing before bulldozers would be inexplicable if it were not meant to give a similar impression: “Machines or children? Which side are you on?” (There was even a unexplained clip showing a three-legged dog. How can you not feel sympathetic toward a three-legged dog? But how many audience members will stop to wonder what that has to do with fracking?)
What astounded me most was not the techniques themselves but seeing their effect on the audience. At one point the audience was so worked into a fervor that there was a sudden outburst of boos and yelling triggered by a clip of Obama announcing an “all of the above” energy strategy. For the first time in my life, I actually heard someone (sitting somewhere to my left) let out an angry hiss. When I first read George Orwell’s book, “1984,” I remember thinking, in response to a scene where fictional characters hiss out at images of a character Emmanuel Goldstein, “the Enemy of the People,” that it sounded absurd. “Hissing?,” I thought, “Who hisses? That’s weird.” But apparently some people do, and I’ve just been watching the wrong films with the wrong crowds.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do about these kinds of films or how to protect audience members from the kinds of psychological manipulation they employ. In this case, I stood up during the Q&A and urged people to watch “FrackNation,” a more honest pro-fracking documentary, but I’m not sure that alone was enough. Maybe I’ll have an actual horror film director take a look at Fox’s methods to verify and make clear that this is what he is doing. If anyone has some better ideas, please feel free to share.
It seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded by the University of Colorado-Denver. This week, the UCD School of Public Affairs announced that former EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin will be one of the winners of its 14th Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Awards. It’s a curious choice, in light of the fact that Mr. Martin resigned from his EPA position last February amidst scandal.
It’s a story we covered on this blog. Mr. Martin used to work in the administration of former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. He was the key player in the implementation of the New Energy Economy. From a Colorado Open Records Act Request, we learned that Mr. Martin conducted almost all his official state business from private email accounts. In 2010, Mr. Martin was tapped by the Obama administration to head EPA Region 8, which has jurisdiction over Colorado. Two years later, we performed a Freedom of Information Act request to discern the extent to which he still conducted public business on private accounts. After being stonewalled by EPA, we sued. In the course of that litigation, Mr. Martin misled the EPA, the Department of Justice, and a federal judge about his use of private emails. Specifically, he told the court that, “I have not used this or any other private email account to conduct EPA business.” It turns out this wasn’t even remotely true. Then he resigned.
Unfortunately for Mr. Martin, his resignation didn’t end his troubles. Both the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and the House Oversight & Government Reform are engaged in an ongoing investigation into why Martin believed that it was ok to use private emails to conduct public business, and then hide these emails from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because now a chastised Mr. Martin seems intent on throwing his former EPA managers under the bus. Under recent questioning from the Congressional Committees, Mr. Martin passed the blame to his superiors, saying that he “wasn’t aware until very recently of the [EPA's] strong preference [to only use work e-mail].” Moreover, he said he did not know “until very recently” that e-mails in his non-official account could have been considered federal records and was never instructed that these e-mails should be forwarded to his work account in order to preserve them as records.
Mr. Martin’s account is not terribly believable. After all, he produced his non-official emails in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request; Why, then, would he think that these records are shielded from a Freedom of Information Act request. Also, he’s a lawyer. He should know better. It’s also a self-serving account. He’s basically saying that, ‘It’s not my fault, because I didn’t know (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding).’
However implausible it is that Mr. Martin thought that using a private account shielded him from transparency laws, his testimony before the Congressional investigators could prove very damning to the EPA. I don’t doubt for a second that Mr. Martin knew what he was doing was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that EPA higher-ups never instructed him that emails in his non-official account are subject to information requests. FOIA training is supposed to be mandatory. Its absence in the case of Mr. Martin is a further troubling sign of this EPA’s aversion to transparency.
In any case, I’m sure that Mr. Martin will be the first-ever recipient of an Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Award who is also part of an ongoing Congressional investigation of EPA.
According to Xcel Energy’s regulatory filings, the utility spent $275 million in ratepayer subsidies for customer-sited solar panel systems from 2008-2012.*
That breaks down to:
Cost of these solar subsidies for each of Xcel Energy’s 1.4 million Colorado customers.
Percentage of Xcel Energy customers (approximately 9,200) that benefit from lower electricity rates by having subsidized solar panels installed on their property. Although only a fraction of 1 percent of Xcel Energy customers benefit from solar subsidies, 100% of customers pay for the cost of these subsidies.
Cost in Xcel Energy ratepayer subsidies for each of the 3,600 employees that work “throughout the value chain” of Colorado’s solar industry (job numbers are from the Solar Energy Industries Association).
Capital cost per kilowatt capacity of the solar panels subsidized by Xcel Energy ratepayers.** This compares to $2,040/kilowatt for the 750 megawatt Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo,*** and $1,400/kilowatt for a combined cycle natural gas plant.
*See page 1, final column of Xcel Energy, December 2012 RESA budget Report, filed 2 February 2013.
**Capacity of Xcel Energy’s distributed generation solar panel assets—44.9 megawatts—was taken from Section 2.11 of the Technical Appendix to Xcel Energy’s 2011 Electric Resource Plannb (page 341).
***The Comanche 3 cost data is derived from following assumptions: Capital cost–$1.3 billion; and capacity 637 megawatts (85% capacity factor of 750 megawatt nameplate capacity).
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
The impact of SB 252, a bill to raise the renewable mandate on rural electric cooperatives, will be devastating to rural Colorado according to Dr. Roger Bezdek, Founder and President of Management Information Services, Inc. Bezdek released a report titled “The Economic and Jobs Impact of the Proposed Colorado RES” that predicts that, if passed, SB 252 will raise significantly the state’s unemployment rate and electric rates, which directly contradicts what bill sponsors Senate President John Morse and Senator Gail Schwartz have been arguing.
According to Bezdek’s report:
- At present, Colorado’s unemployment rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s unemployment rate would increase to about 15% above the U.S. average.
- However, job losses resulting from the RES, would be largely concentrated in the predominately rural areas served by the electric coops – many of which are already suffering economically.
- The unemployment rate in these areas would increase substantially and would be more than 1/3 higher than the state average and more than 50% higher than the national unemployment rate.
- At present, Colorado’s average electric rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s overall average would increase to above the U.S. average.
- However, with the RES, the average rate to the predominately rural customers served by the electric coops would increase significantly and would be about 14% higher than the national average.
Bezdek draws on 30 years of experience in “research and management in the energy, utility, environmental, and regulatory areas, serving in private industry, academia and the federal government” and provides a grim forecast for those co-op members living on a fixed income. They will see their residential rates go up $20 per month.
Sure seems like a war on rural Colorado.
By Brandon Ratterman
Colorado is having trouble defining hydroelectricity. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it to be a renewable resource, and the Colorado Energy Office calculates hydroelectric power’s emission rate as equal to wind and solar. Despite these two distinctions, Colorado’s renewable energy standard defines hydroelectricity as renewable only if the generating facility is newly constructed with a capacity of ten megawatts or less, or constructed before January 2005 with a capacity of thirty megawatts or less.
Colorado has 1169 megawatts (MW) of existing hydroelectric capacity. Of that total, 82 percent is generated at facilities with a capacity over 30 MW—meaning it is not “renewable” unless the facility was built in the past eight years. Unfortunately, most facilities do not meet this requirement
According to the most recently released figures, renewables other than hydro produce 9.8 percent of the total net summer electricity capacity. If the total 1169 MW of existing hydro capacity were considered renewable, hydroelectricity would contribute another 8.5 percent of capacity. Instead, only 4.8 percent of hydroelectric power is considered renewable.
Under the current format Colorado will have to fill renewable portfolio standards largely without the help of hydroelectric generation. Unfortunately, this is increasing the costs of the renewable portfolio standard.
At 11.06 cents per kilowatt-hour, Colorado ranked 21st highest nationally in average residential electricity rates according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That may not sound too bad, except that the state is well above the average for all Mountain West states. In fact, Colorado has the second highest rates in the Mountain West, just behind Nevada, which actually saw a decrease last year in its residential electric rates.
Furthermore, Colorado has higher rates than any of its neighboring states. Outside of the East Coast, the only states with higher rates than Colorado are Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, Alaska and Hawaii.
As was proved in the 2012 snapshot of Colorado’s new energy economy, these high prices are due largely to lawmakers using the RPS to support the wind and solar industries. In 2012 alone Xcel Energy customers paid an extra $343 million for what ended up being mostly surplus electricity.
If high prices are the intent of Colorado’s energy policy, expect those figures to get much worse in the coming years as the state moves closer to the legislative mandate of 30 percent renewable portfolio standard, which is heavily tilted toward wind. However, if self-described environmentalists and the Colorado Energy Office truly care about the environment and economic sustainability then they should embrace hydroelectric power regardless of when it was built, but don’t hold your breath waiting.