Cadmium in CO: useful and highly toxic

February 15, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE 

Cadmium 101

By Syndi Nettles Anderson, guest writer for the Independence Institute Energy Policy Center

Earlier this week Todd Shepherd of Complete Colorado reported that before thin-filmed cadmium-telluride solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar declared bankruptcy it was the subject of a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) investigation after an anonymous tip raised concerns about cadmium contamination.

Shepherd provided documents showing that the now abandoned Weld County plant produced monthly 630 pounds of highly toxic cadmium waste that was shipped to Deer Trail in Arapahoe County for storage.

Because of the recent interest in cadmium, below is a primer on the rare earth element used in so many products besides solar panels.

Useful Cadmium

Cadmium, one of the 17 rare earth elements (REE), is a soft silver-grey metal, commonly found in ores containing zinc.  Products that use significant cadmium include rechargeable batteries, solar cells and protective steel coatings. Recently cadmium has been priced about a dollar per pound.

Cadmium is a byproduct when zinc is refined from zinc ore, or recycled from nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries.  The largest producers of cadmium are China, South Korea, Japan and North America.  The concentration of cadmium in the earth’s crust is between 0.1 and 0.5 parts per million (ppm).[1] This is about one hundred times more common than gold.

Cadmium is very useful in rechargeable batteries and solar cells.  In the U.S., about 27 percent of cadmium-nickel batteries are recycled, which requires batteries to be taken apart.

However, cadmium is also very poisonous.  Exposure is most dangerous when breathing in dust or vapors containing cadmium.  Other methods of exposure are also dangerous, as cadmium can be absorbed through the skin or by ingestion.[2]

Cadmium Toxicity

People can absorb cadmium through inhalation, absorption or by eating it.  The cadmium is transported through the body by blood cells and plasma.  Cadmium goes into the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure. Before toxic levels are reached, kidney function will start to deteriorate.  Generally a third to half of the cadmium that is in a body will be found in the kidneys.  Cadmium will also move to the liver and muscles.  In the liver, the half-life of the cadmium is 5-15 years, in the muscles-30 years and in the kidneys 10-30 years.[3]

During ore smelting processes, cadmium is released into the air.  It may also be released into the atmosphere by burning cadmium-containing garbage.  Cadmium exposure can cause throat and lung irritation.  Lower levels of exposure also cause shortness of breath, and with prolonged exposure resulting in bronchiolitis and emphysema with lung damage, bloody coughing, and accumulation of fluids in the body.  One highly concentrated exposure can cause lifetime damage to lungs. [4]

Metal fume fever can be caused by inhaling cadmium during the welding and metal heating processes of older silver solder.  Metal fume fever can cause flu like symptoms with fainting, sore throats, coughs, and headaches.  Working with cadmium requires extremely well ventilated areas, respirators, and extreme care.  Regular blood and urine checks are required to monitor the amount of cadmium that can get into the body. [5]

Phosphate fertilizers, sewage sludge and contaminated water can deposit cadmium into food sources.  Growing rice and wheat can absorb Cadmium.  Large ocean fish can also take up a lot of cadmium.  Smokers also intake cadmium into their bodies and have about double the cadmium levels that non-smokers have.  Cadmium is associated with breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and kidney dysfunction. [6]

Cadmium regulations

As a result of the increased awareness of the danger of cadmium to humans, the EPA released a new report December 3, 2012, expanding the regulations and proposing new regulations regarding cadmium.

This final rule requires manufacturers (including importers) of cadmium or cadmium compounds, including as part of an article, that have been, or are reasonably likely to be, incorporated into consumer products to report certain unpublished health and safety studies to EPA. [7]

Occupational Safety Health Association (OSHA) also highly regulates workers contact with cadmium stating,

Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.

Requirements to protect workers from cadmium exposure are addressed in specific OSHA cadmium standards covering general industry (1910.1027), shipyards (1915.1027), construction (1926.1127) and agriculture (1928.1027).

In conclusion, Cadmium is critical to the solar cell and rechargeable battery industry but extreme care must be taken to prevent cadmium from getting into the air, water or plant life.  Cancer, lung damage and kidney failure are real risks for cadmium exposure.


[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust

[2] Wilburn, D.R., 2007, Flow of cadmium from rechargeable batteries in the United States, 1996-2007: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007–5198, 26 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5198/.

[3]http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=preambles&p_id=819

[4] http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/cadmium/index.html

[5] http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg391.pdf

http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=preambles&p_id=819

http://www.idph.state.ia.us/idph_universalhelp/MainContent.aspx?glossaryInd=0&TOCId=%7BC4C015CD-697B-4E22-85F7-29A0D6A4373F%7D

[6] Common environmental contaminant, cadmium, linked to rapid breast cancer cell growth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/04/120423184203.htm

American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2012, March 15). Dietary cadmium may be linked with breast cancer risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/03/120315094506.htm

Cell Press (2012, September 12). Studies shed light on how to reduce the amount of toxins in plant-derived foods. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/09/120912125517.htm

[7] http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/FR-2012-12-03/2012-28840/content-detail.html

SB 178: sordid tale to increase renewable mandate

April 28, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365, New Energy Economy 

“One hundred nine days into a 120-day session you introduced major [energy policy] legislation,” Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction) skeptically asked of SB 178 sponsor Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo).

Sen. King’s skepticism is justified because SB 178 is a significant policy change that increases Colorado’s renewable energy mandate by 20 percent.  Because renewable energy is not competitive with traditional fossil fuels, supporters of the mandate originally included a multiplier to make it more palatable when advancing prior legislation to increase the mandate.

Under current law, for every kilowatt-hour of electricity provided by a renewable resource it counts as one and one quarter hour toward Colorado’s 30 percent renewable mandate. In other words, Colorado’s actual mandate is 24 percent.  SB 178 REMOVES the multiplier, raising the mandate significantly and, ultimately, electricity rates.

During testimony on Tuesday, April 24, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the sordid legislative tale of SB 178 began to unfold. It has been dubbed “son of 1365,” referring to the collusion and fast tracking of Colorado’s infamous fuel-switching bill passed in 2010.

Winners

Renewable energy companies are win big with SB 178 because utilities will be forced to either “build more or buy more” renewable energy. No shock that wind and solar advocates testified in favor.

New Energy Economy advocates who still believe that wind and solar are commercially viable energy sources, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary also win because SB 178 continues to fuel their green fantasies.

Xcel Energy doesn’t show up on a search of lobbyists for and against SB 178, but a number of sources tell me that Colorado’s largest investor owned utility (IOU) has been working hard on this bill at the state capital. Why? Because Xcel has banked significant renewable energy credits (RECs), which they can sell to other utilities in order to meet the higher standard. Also, as energy rates go up, and they will under SB 178, Xcel makes more money because the Public Utility Commission guarantees Xcel’s rate of return. (Example: 10 percent of $100 is a lot more than 10 percent of $75)

The Chinese will be big winners – yes, the Chinese. The more we rely upon wind and solar as a source of energy, the more dependent we become on the Chinese who control 95 percent the world’s supply or rare earth minerals necessary to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines.

Losers

Consumers and the economy will lose big. Representing Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s second largest IOU, Wendy Moser testified against SB 178 because Black Hills estimates rates will rise 25 percent in order to pay for the increased mandate.  The increase will stifle all economic activity because energy costs will needlessly take a larger percentage of consumers’ and businesses’ budgets.

Large energy consumers such as mining companies and heavy manufacturing which are energy intensive will lose big because their cost of doing business will go up and make them less competitive.

The environment is also a loser; as we have documented renewable energy is neither clean nor green. In fact, if Colorado exacerbates reliance on China, we fuel the pending ecological disaster.

Highlights from testimony on SB 178

  • Supporters call eliminating the 1.25 multiplier “leveling the playing field” because it’s time renewables compete in a “free market.” Advocates repeated these catch phrases numerous times, and I assume they did so with a straight face (I only listened to testimony).  If they truly believed in a free market, the discussion would be about eliminating the 30 percent renewable mandate rather than just a multiplier.
  • Supporter Neal Lurie from the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (COSEIA) had the audacity to call eliminating the multiplier good for transparency for consumers. Just a year ago, COSEIA testified against SB11-30 transparency for ratepayers, Senator Scott Renfroe’s bill that would have required IOUs such as Xcel to disclose the actual cost of electricity by fuel source on a quarterly basis.  Lurie and COSEIA don’t want consumers to know the real cost of renewable energy because they know it far exceeds the misleading “2 percent rate cap.”
  • Black Hills and Tri-State Generation, electricity provider to numerous local co-ops, combined represent roughly 1 million ratepayers in Colorado. Yet bill supporters never consulted either company about SB 178.  These two power providers did not find out about this attempt at massive policy change until a few days before testimony. Thank you to Senator King for repeatedly bringing up the timeline.
  • The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) continues the 2 percent rate cap sham that we have discredited on numerous occasions. The total cost of renewable energy is not contained within the two percent rate cap on consumers’ bills, see the paper I co-authored with William Yeatman “The Great Green Deception.” Updated figures and brief explanation of how Xcel avoids the 2 percent cap are provided below.*
  • Gene Camp of the PUC initially testified that raising the mandate by 20 percent would have no impact on ratepayers’ electric bills. Following a discussion of what will happen to the two percent rate cap, Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) pressed that increasing the amount of energy derived from a more expensive fuel source will increase rates. Silence befell the room for 5 or 6 seconds before Camp then responded that it’s up to legislature because he is unsure what will happen.
  • Attorney General John Suthers’ office testified in favor of SB 178 because the current multiplier applies only to Colorado produced renewable power and may be unconstitutional. When Senator Lundberg suggested that Colorado extend the multiplier to all renewable power producers regardless of location, the AG office agreed that likely would satisfy the constitutional issue.
  • Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) wondered why no one caught the constitutional conflict before.
  • Sen. Lundberg did offer an amendment to extend the multiplier to all states and save consumers money, but it was defeated.

Like HB 1365, SB 178 makes a mockery of the legislative process. This bill smells dirty. Introduced at the last moment and key stakeholders were not even invited to participate. It’s a disaster for Colorado ratepayers. It’s not about consumers or markets or leveling the playing field, SB 178 is about enriching the eco-left and Xcel Energy.  That’s no shock because whatever Xcel wants, Xcel gets.

*The following comes from an op-ed I co-authored with energy policy center colleague Michael Sandoval and originally published in January. It provides a brief summary of how the PUC allows Xcel to avoid the two percent rate cap.

It is true Xcel stayed within the two percent rate cap line item labeled the Renewable Electric Standard Adjustment (RESA) on customers’ electric bills. But it is not true that the RESA represents the real, total cost of renewable energy to Xcel ratepayers, and Bakers knows it.

Two years ago in the “Great Green Deception,” the Independence Institute exposed how the PUC allows Xcel to hide the real cost of renewable energy by utilizing two line items on a ratepayer’s bill.  Customers pay two percent of their bill through RESA, but the balance of the total cost of renewable energy is captured through another fund – the Electric Commodity Adjustment (ECA) – that is likely the second largest line item cost.

The practice continues today as Xcel’s Robin Kittel explained in direct testimony to the PUC regarding its 2012 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan. According to Kittel, Xcel recovers the cost of renewable energy “through a combination of the RESA and ECA.”

The ECA is NOT subject to the legislatively mandated two percent rate cap. The Public Utility Commission staff’s William Dalton acknowledged the PUC’s role in confusing the public about the rate cap in his September 2009 testimony before the commission:

“This could be a point of confusion to ratepayers and other interested parties…The costs above the retail rate impact limit are recovered through other Commission approved cost recovery mechanisms, primarily the ECA. [Emphasis ours] Once the renewable energy resource cost recovery is allocated to the ECA, cost recovery of these resources is no longer subject to retail rate impact criteria or cost cap.”

According to Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Compliance Plan, ECA costs were $35,280,340 in 2011, but will explode by more than 1000 percent to $354,819,209 in 2021 (thanks also to Colorado’s $20 per ton “phantom carbon tax”). Yet Xcel and Baker [PUC Commissioner Matt Baker] can claim to be within the two percent rate cap for the RESA.

It is easy to be angry with Xcel for all the cost shifting shenanigans, but the blame should be placed on lawmakers and PUC commissioners.

Obama and China: best friends 4 ever

February 6, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

This column appeared originally on Townhall Finance.

Obama is China’s best friend

By Amy Oliver Cooke and Michael Sandoval

When it comes China, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech last month was nothing more than a rhetorical exercise from the political pied piper, who, along with his supporters, believes his own words magically alter reality. He is oblivious to his own hypocrisy and frighteningly disconnected from the consequences of his policies. The Chinese probably love him for it.

Obama spoke of “American energy,” but his policies encourage reliance on unpredictable regimes like China and turn away from friendly trading partners.

Obama spoke of fairness, criticizing China for subsidized manufacturing while his policy is to heavily subsidize industry with money borrowed from China.

His references to China appeared weak in the wake of China’s strategy to influence U.S. economic and military policy and to control the world’s energy resources.

The first found the president employing one of his favorite themes of late – fairness.

And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules. We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration _- and it’s made a difference. (Applause.) Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.

Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.

Fortunately, Obama, the economic superhero, saved us from those unfairly imported Chinese tires, but he fails to recognize the hypocrisy of his criticism, which brings us to the next reference to the one Bryan Ritterby and America’s “heavily subsidized” green industry.

Paying lip service to the justifiable outcry over the $535 million taxpayer-funded Solyndra bankruptcy, Obama promised to continue spending money we don’t have by pouring tax dollars down the renewable money hole.

Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.  I will not walk away from workers like Bryan.  I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.

Wasteful and heavily subsidized at home is acceptable but considered unfair if the Chinese do it.

Beijing probably doesn’t care. China couldn’t ask for a better friend in the White House. Obama’s strategy on spending and energy have weakened the U.S. and strengthened the Chinese.

Debt and Spending

Obama may believe the threat of his “Trade Enforcement Unit” has the Chinese, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, shaking in their Mao suits, but remember that late last summer, following the U.S. credit downgrade, it was the Chinese warning the U.S. that the “good old days” of unmitigated spending were over, as Reuters reported:

‘The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone,’ China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the same commentary, “China called on the United States to ‘cure its addiction to debts’ and ‘learn to live within its means.’” More frightening because we owe so much to the Chinese, they are emboldened to reprimand the U.S. on defense spending:

‘China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,’ the commentary said.

If no substantial cuts were made to the U.S. gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs, the downgrade would prove to be only a prelude to more devastating credit rating cuts, which will further roil the global financial markets all along the way…

We’ve used China as our payday lender to point where it has the right to demand we get our fiscal house in order by slashing spending in areas where it would be most beneficial to China.  Obama responds with a threat to put China in the trade time-out chair.

Unfortunately, the Chinese are correct; the U.S. must address its deficit and debt crisis including cuts to defense spending, entitlements, and energy investments. At the same time, the Chinese are increasing their military spending, growing their sphere of influence in North America, Africa, and the Middle East, and expanding their control over global energy resources.

Fossil Fuel Energy Policy

Quick, which country exports the most barrels of oil to the U.S.? If you answered Canada you are correct. When Obama and others demagogue “foreign oil,” they besmirch our friendly neighbors to the north.

While Obama and his eco-irrational supporters fret over “foreign oil” and carbon footprints, China is eagerly expanding its energy footprint in North America as the Wall Street Journal recently reported:

After tiptoeing into North America in recent years, Chinese companies have ratcheted up their energy deal-making as unconventional extraction methods—from oil sands to shale gas—have transformed the continent’s energy market.

Obama’s disastrous veto of the Keystone Pipeline served as a warning (and an insult) to Canadians who called it “a slap in the face to Canada…making Canadians rethink the relationship that they should break their dependence” on the U.S. and look to China as a willing trade partner, as Bloomberg reports:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is gaining support among Canadians for his plan to ship oil sands crude to China after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Chinese will buy what Obama doesn’t want, which is why Harper is headed to China where he will meet with President Hu Jintao and likely “tout Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would let crude flow to Asia from Alberta’s oil sands via a Canadian port.”

The Chinese aren’t just looking to secure imports of Canadian oil; they want ownership so they can have more influence over global supply and demand. “Two of the largest acquisitions of Canadian oil and gas companies last year were driven by Chinese companies,” totaling more than $2 billion each.

Remember, Chinese companies are state-controlled, and they’re after more than just Canadian resources including U.S. reserves and technology according to the WSJ:

Recent government estimates indicate that China might have more gas locked up in shale than the U.S…Chinese companies have bought front-row seats in the U.S. development boom by paying billions of dollars recently for stakes in oil and natural-gas projects across America, from Michigan to Texas.

Those “front-row seats” are the perfect place to learn our technology, which they intend to take back home. When Obama and environmental left regulate hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling out of existence under the guise of “safety”, the Chinese will be well-positioned to expand drilling in China and other countries that wish to take advantage of their natural resources.

Renewable Energy Policy Leans Heavily on China

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) December 2011 “Critical Materials Strategy” update continues to acknowledge the stranglehold on rare earth elements (REE) production by China—the country provides 95 percent of the REEs currently mined, processed, and fed into the global supply chain for a variety of technological purposes. The DOE report targets the use of REEs in many forms of renewable energy applications, especially the permanent magnets used to generate energy in wind turbines, or propel electric drive vehicles.

The DOE’s market assessment contains cautionary language due to the lack of “opacity” or transparency from the Chinese near-monopolies on many of the REEs critical to global (and U.S.) technological demands:

As producer of more than 95% of the world’s REOs [rare earth oxides], China has the ability to significantly influence market dynamics. Its imposition of quotas and export duties has decreased supply and caused increases in the prices of a number of rare earth elements. At present there is little clarity or predictability about China’s rare earth production and export policies, which sends uncertain supply signals to the market and can disrupt future investment decisions by downstream consumers. Additionally, there are significant data gaps or uncertainties with respect to Chinese reserves and resources, production and consumption. Some of this information is collected by China’s government ministries, but it is not disseminated.

Centralization brings the ability to manipulate the market, as China has done, by reducing rare earth exports at its discretion, in an effort to control prices.

But centralization by a handful of producers within China, combined with the growing vertical integration of multiple steps of the production process, further concentrates the production of REEs. The DOE’s own estimates of barriers to entry for new REE sources put the development of so-called “greenfield” projects at more than $1 billion each, with at least ten years or more required to bring products to the supply chain at the “upstream”—later stages—of production.

Capital investments and permitting waits notwithstanding, rare earth-related human resources have disappeared within a generation. In just the past 30 years, the DOE acknowledges the technical expertise related to REEs once possessed by the U.S. has eroded by an astounding 94 percent:

As the United States was once the world’s leading producer of rare earth materials, the United States was also once a leader in rare earth technical knowledge.

It is estimated that prior to 1980 rare earth mining and related industries employed approximately 25,000 people in the United States, with 3,000-6,000 holding college degrees in science or engineering. Current estimates are that 1,500 people are employed throughout the U.S. rare earth industry including 200-400 persons holding college degrees in science or engineering (Gschneidner 2011).

Green Not So “Clean”

Proponents of renewable technologies tout the “clean” nature of the energy sources—wind turbines and thin-film solar cells—that require a great deal of REEs in the critical components that generate the energy output, including known carcinogens like cadmium. Chinese standards of environmental concern are, to say the least, not exactly Greenpeace-friendly, and a recent spill in southern China affected enough residents that the mitigation efforts to contain the contamination garnered international news at the end of January—via the New York Times:

Officials in southern China appear to have averted environmental calamity by halting the spread of a toxic metal that had threatened to foul drinking water for tens of millions of people, the state media reported Monday.

Officials said they had successfully diluted the concentration of cadmium, a poisonous component of batteries, that [sic] has been coursing down the Longjiang River in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Used in a variety of applications, including solar cells and batteries, cadmium is a toxic metal, and “poisoning can cause kidney and liver damage and weaken bones.”

China’s less-than-sterling ecological record has produced this result:

Despite what appears to have been a disaster avoided, the episode highlighted China’s continuing struggle against contamination of its waterways. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has acknowledged that half the nation’s rivers and lakes are unfit for human contact, and news reports of chemical and oil spills are commonplace here.

According to the research of Nanjing Agricultural University, ten percent of the nation’s rice supplies “contained excessive cadmium levels,” with some southern provinces observing 60 percent of their rice samples exceeding national standards for potential cadmium poisoning.

In other words, President Obama’s call for lowering foreign dependence on oil in turn increases foreign dependence on REEs controlled by China. This requires the cooperation of Chinese-based companies with little in the way of demonstrated business transparency and Chinese government regulatory agencies more concerned with covering up ecological disasters than the health of their people. Unless forced by the sheer magnitude of potential harm, as the above spill would have affected millions downstream in places like Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Western media rarely reports such ecological contamination.

China’s state media heavily censors outgoing information, and regularly downplays events that would rival the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico—as it has done here.

Obama would merely seek to exchange one dependency—petroleum—for another—rare earths. Only this time, the supply chain is concentrated in one country, rather than distributed among several.

Conclusion

Chinese investors continue to snap up struggling U.S. renewable energy companies like Colorado-based Ascent Solar, which narrowly averted a Solyndra-like collapse by pulling its $275 million DOE loan guarantee application in 2011.

Obama’s administration has not only subsidized many of his top bundlers’ investment vehicles, as they did with Solyndra, but provided incentives in the form of tax credits, loan guarantees, grants, and other subsidies to renewable energy companies that are charged to the nation’s credit card through debt issued, you guessed it, to China.

The Chinese can afford to subsidize their own renewable companies and undercut U.S. competitors, something that Obama decries, when the U.S. provides them a steady flow of green, renewable cash.

They are probably hoping for four more years.

Amy Oliver Cooke is the founder of Mothers Against Debt. She is also the director of the Colorado Transparency Project and the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute. She can be reached at amy@i2i.orgMichael Sandoval is the Managing Editor of People’s Press Collective and a former political reporter for National Review Online.

What being “green” says about you!

December 18, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

This may be the best column that Michael Sandoval and I have ever written. First, we use the Environmental Protection Agency’s own report to expose how “green” technology actually is polluting, not saving, the planet. Second, what does the need to be “green” say about those who advance an energy policy that makes no sense economically or environmentally? Please check out our latest for Townhall Finance titled “Green Technology that Pollutes the Planet,” or the text is also provided below.

Eco-evangelicals: Sanctimonious green technology that pollutes the planet

By Amy Oliver Cooke and Michael Sandoval

In previous columns, we’ve exposed that “renewable” technology is neither renewable, nor clean, nor green because it relies upon rare earth elements—it’s also neither cost effective nor efficient but that’s another column. Currently the Chinese have a stranglehold over all phases of rare earth production, including mining, processing, and refining. China accounts for ninety five percent of the world market in rare earth elements (REEs).

With virtually no regulations or concerns over worker safety, the Chinese monopoly has resulted in an ecological disaster.  Sites such as those in Baotou, Inner Mongolia make the Love Canal, the impetus for the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Superfund,” look like Rocky Mountain National Park.

Finally, we’ve been able to quantify the pollution of some green technology sectors in a way that makes sense to the average American family sitting at their kitchen table.

The Math of Pollution

The U.S. Department of Energy, in studying the reductions of REEs available in the world market due to Chinese cutbacks, has identified the seventeen elements as “key” and “critical” to ongoing technological development, including use in electronic components for defense purposes, but also for the “clean” green energy sector.

The DOE’s efforts prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the development of REE resources here in the U.S., paying particular attention to the economic feasibility but also the more important question of—you guessed it—environmental impact.

In its August 2011 study, “Investigating Rare Earth Element Mine Development in EPA Region 8 and Potential Environmental Impacts,” the EPA reported on several sites located in the intermountain West, from Idaho to Colorado, which could become only the second REE mining operation in the entire country.

The study also reported extensively on the possible sources of contaminants and waste byproducts associated with all mining, and especially those concentrated in REE-related extraction.

In the section titled “Potential Risks to Human Health and the Environment,” the EPA reports that:

…every ton of rare earth elements produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms of fluorine and 13 kilograms of flue dust. Additionally, sulfuric acid refining techniques used to produce one ton of rare earth elements generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters of gas laden with flue dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid. Not only are large quantities of harmful gas produced, alarming amounts of liquid and solid waste also resulted from Chinese refining processes. They estimate at the completion of refining one ton of rare earth elements, approximately 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water and about one ton of radioactive waste residue are produced. The IAGS reports China produced over 130,000 metric tons of rare earth elements in 2008 alone (IAGS, 2010). Extrapolation of the waste generation estimates over total production yields extreme amounts of waste. With little environmental regulation, stories of environmental pollution and human sickness remain frequent in areas near Chinese rare earth element production facilities.

So for each metric ton of REEs produced, an equal amount of radioactive waste is also produced. At approximately 2,204 lbs, that’s about the weight of an average sedan. As for those 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water, just think of a swimming pool measuring thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide by six feet deep. That’s approximately 20,000 gallons of acid water. Just remember, China produces 95 percent of all REEs in the world—so that’s more than 130,000 swimming pools.

To further the perspective, each 3 MW wind turbine requires two tons of REEs for the permanent magnet that converts wind into electricity. So much for “clean.”

The EPA report continues:

As discussed, mining and refining processes can introduce radionuclides, rare earth elements, metals, and other potential contaminants into the environment at unnaturally high rates. Once introduced into the environment, the potential contaminants can be redistributed through the three ‘environmental mediums.’ These three mediums include air, soil, and water. Living organisms depend on environmental mediums with stable chemical properties for their survival. The release of the possible contaminants from rare earth element production could alter the properties of the three environmental mediums.

The Chinese have labeled areas around rare earth mines, like Baotou, as “cancer villages.” To call the situation a “human sickness” is like calling Hurricane Katrina just another rainstorm. The toxic bi-products literally kill everything – animals, vegetation, and people by contaminating the air, soil, and water.

Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt, crimes against the environment

A hybrid-owning friend labeled Amy’s 2001 Jeep Cherokee “earth cancer.” The assumption that a hybrid is eco-friendly has been one of the greatest propaganda campaigns of our time.

Let’s return to the EPA report:

Permanent magnets represent the staple clean energy technology of future green economies. They constitute main components of lightweight, high powered motors and generators due to their production of a stable magnetic field without the need for an external power source. Permanent magnet motors power contemporary electric, hybrid electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, while permanent magnet generators produce electricity from wind turbines (USDOE, 2010). The key element derived samarium-cobalt permanent magnets dominate rare earth technology because they produce a magnetic field in a much smaller size. The samarium-cobalt permanent magnet also retains its magnetic strength at high temperatures making it ideal for clean energy and even military applications, including precision guided munitions and aircrafts (IAGS, 2010).

Permanent magnets work in conjunction with high efficiency rare earth based batteries to store energy in electric, hybrid electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (USDOE, 2010). Current generation hybrid electric vehicles use a battery with a cathode containing a host of rare earths including lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, praseodymium, and cobalt (Kopera, 2004). Each hybrid electric battery may contain several kilograms of rare earth materials (USDOE, 2010). Plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles require even greater storage capacity and higher power ratings than typical hybrid vehicles. In light of this, automakers will likely use the lithium ion battery, increasing demand for yet another key element. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory estimated one lithium ion battery contains 3.4-12.7 kilograms of lithium depending on proprietary design (USDOE, 2010).

Through November 2011, 237,707 hybrid vehicles were sold in the U.S. with the Toyota Prius leading the pack with 119,459 vehicles sold this year.  Hybrid’s “green, clean” technology requires between 20 -25 pounds of rare earth elements, twice that of regular vehicles.

Thinking electric such as Chevy Volt? So far in 2011, auto manufacturers have sold 15,068 electric vehicles in the U.S., and each one requires 10 pounds of rare earth magnets.

That means that through the end of November, hybrids and electric vehicles sales consumed between 4,904,820 and 6,093,355 pounds of rare earths. That’s somewhere between 2,452 and 3,047 tons.

If processing one ton of rare earth elements produces approximately 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water and about one ton of radioactive waste residue, then hybrid and electric vehicles alone produce between 183,900 and 228,525 cubic meters of acidic waste water and between 2,452 and 3,047 tons of radioactive waste.

A little conversion: one cubic meter is roughly 264 gallons. On the low end, that’s enough to cover nearly 150 football fields with toxic waste water a foot deep. Or put another way, the more than 48,550,000 gallons of fouled water from alternative vehicles is equal to the annual household usage of 445 families of four. That’s just one toxic byproduct. There are many more.

To add insult to ecological injury, these cars are expensive and don’t perform or handle very well.  And owners still need fossil fuels either to run them (oil, gasoline) or for the electricity to charge them (coal). So why on earth would anyone buy one?

In your face

Apparently hybrid vehicles owners don’t really want to save the world, they just want to look like they do.

The New York Times reported in 2007 that the number reason why people buy the Toyota Prius is “it makes a statement about me.”

“‘I really want people to know that I care about the environment,” said Joy Feasley of Philadelphia, owner of a green 2006 Prius. ‘I like that people stop and ask me how I like my car.’”

And Mary Gatch of Charleston, S.C., explained, “’I felt like the Camry Hybrid was too subtle for the message I wanted to put out there…I wanted to have the biggest impact that I could, and the Prius puts out a clearer message.’”

“The Prius allowed you to make a green statement with a car for the first time ever,” said Dan Becker, head of the global warming program at the Sierra Club (and yes, a Prius owner).

Translation—what the fine folks quoted in the Times are really saying is, “My image as an eco-conscious consumer is more important than the actual images of environmental degradation no one ever sees.”

Of course, it also helps when green Kool-Aid drinking Hollywood celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Bill Maher make their planet-saving statements driving the Pacific Coast Highway in their eco-polluting hybrid.

Conspicuous conservation

It isn’t just hybrid owners that are sanctimonious eco-evangelicals. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explains that being green is a status symbol of both wealth and altruism.

Given the relationship between self-sacrifice and status, costly signaling theory suggests that people might engage in costly pro-social behaviors such as environmental conservation particularly when they are motivated to attain status. Because the purchase of green products enables a person to signal that he is both willing and able to buy a product that benefits others at a cost to his personal use, activating a motive for status might lead people to engage in conspicuous conservation—public pro-environmental acts.

It gets worse. Eco-evangelicals want to spend more not less. They simply can’t be trusted on cost effectiveness.

Additional findings showed that status motives increased desirability of green products especially when such products cost more—but not less—relative to non-green products. In line with costly signaling theory, buying inexpensive green products can undermine a person’s ability to signal wealth. This finding suggests that green products such as the Toyota Prius might be selling well not despite their premium price tag but perhaps in part because such products are more expensive. Indeed, 40% of hybrid owners indicate that they bought a green car as an alternative to a traditional luxury car such as a BMW.

They’ll have to be prepared to pay given China’s decision to further reduce the world supply of REEs. The New York Times characterized the jump in prices for just one common “green” technology—compact fluorescent lightbulbs:

General Electric, facing complaints in the United States about rising prices for its compact fluorescent bulbs, recently noted in a statement that if the rate of inflation over the last 12 months on the rare earth element europium oxide had been applied to a $2 cup of coffee, that coffee would now cost $24.55.

In other words, forget reason, forget economics, forget the environment; we’ll pay more for everything – energy, a car, light bulbs, or hair products – if we think the world will know that we can afford to be green.

Not actually “green,” mind you.

National security versus “green economy”

Pollution aside, the U.S. relies upon these rare minerals for everything, including iPods, laptops, solar panels, windmills, alternative fuel vehicles, and advanced military weaponry.  While the demand and price have gone up, China has strategically limited the supply. It is building it’s own supply while cutting production to roughly 70 percent by 2015.

This situation has the federal government worried. The EPA reports that the Department of Energy is “concerned the rising demand for key elements in electronic and military sectors could hamper the growth of the U.S. ‘green economy,’ or an economy based on renewable energy.”

The real worry should be whether or not the world believes we can afford to waste money on “green” technology. Our reputation is at stake. What will the rest of the world think of us?

Even though estimates put total U.S. reserves around 13 percent of known REE resources worldwide, the first (and only) U.S. mine expected to be anywhere near production of REEs, Mountain Pass, was only just granted permission by the U.S. government this month to begin exploration, with actual extraction not set to begin until 2012. A second possible site located in Wyoming has been identified by the EPA as holding production potential, but is many years away from completing the myriad required impact statements and permit approvals. Among the biggest concerns surrounding the Wyoming site? Airborne radionuclides and waste water associated with the chemical refining process.

So for the next few years at the very least, China will continue to control the REE market while other countries, including the U.S., ramp up exploration and possible production of the elements and their known pollutants and waste material byproducts.

Blasphemy

The age of “conspicuous conservation” will have to compete with more important things such as national security, as much of our high tech weaponry requires rare earth minerals. The demand for “green” will also compete with our love of gadgets such as iPods and computers, and with those civilization-required things like lighting, batteries, and basic electricity.

The new “high efficiency light bulbs” require rare earths while old fluorescents did not—to make them more “visually pleasing.” At least consumers face a temporary reprieve of that particular government mandate, with the ban on “non-green” incandescent light bulbs commuted for at least a little longer.

While alternative vehicle owners, solar panel supporters, and wind turbine advocates may feel better about themselves, they’re actually polluting the planet with their “clean/green” technology. Advancing these policies is beyond irresponsible, especially when the foundation of the “clean” scheme is revealed.

This green hypocrisy has Mother Nature crying out for a separation of earth and state.

Amy Oliver Cooke is the founder of Mothers Against Debt (www. Mothersagainstdebt.com). She is also the director of the Colorado Transparency Project for the Independence Institute and writes on energy policy.  She can be reached at amy@i2i.org. Michael Sandoval is the Managing Editor of People’s Press Collective and a former political reporter for National Review Online.

Dispelling the Myth of “Clean” Green Energy

December 9, 2011 by admin · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

By Michael Sandoval

Clean Water Action’s Gary Wockner plays the card in his Denver Post guest editorial that is usually intended to end any debate between advocates of renewable energy technology and those in favor of continuing the exploration of fossil fuel resources–”What are the environmental impacts?”

Typically, readers are treated to some sort of facile environmental comparison between say, coal power and wind turbines:

Wind_Power.119151042_std
Screen shot 2011-12-09 at 1.05.24 AM

Casual readers are expected to deduce that in comparison to coal power, wind power generation is nearly neutral environmentally–aside from being “20-story high Cuisinarts” for flying animals like birds and bats.

Just a bad website oversimplifying. Ok. The American Wind Energy Association has this to say in its teaching materials intended for K-2:

“As long as the sun shines there will be wind moving across the earth. Wind is called a renewable energy source because solar energy makes wind all of the time. We will never run out of wind.

Wind turbines do not burn fuel, so they do not pollute the air. Wind is a safe, clean energy source for making electricity.”

Ok, we’re talking 7 year olds. What about high school seniors?

Nope:

“Wind is energy in motion—kinetic energy—and it is a renewable energy source. Along with wind, renewable energy sources include biomass, geothermal energy, hydropower, and solar energy. They are called renewable because they are replenished in a short time. Day after day, the sun shines, the wind blows, and the rivers flow. Renewable sources only make up seven-percent of the United States’ energy portfolio. We mainly use nonrenewable energy sources to make electricity.”

The education materials provided by the AWEA ignore completely the production of the permanent magnet (labelled “generator”) that converts wind, rather inefficiently, into electricity. While the mechanics of the conversion are explained, the manufacturing process of the magnetic generator has been elided.

Conveniently, these renewable energy industry lobbyists have carefully omitted the one very glaring portion of wind energy production that is most environmentally unfriendly: the creation of the wind turbines themselves. It’s as if they sprout up, pre-fabricated and ready to generate power, from a Dutch wind turbine bulb farm.

Aside from the rather obvious environmental cost of transporting the various large windmill components to their often remote final destination (wherever wind is deemed sufficiently consistent), it is in the actual creative portion of the wind turbine–the parts that convert the rotation of the turbine’s blades into energy–that the true environmental impact can be found.

In a few words? Rare earth elements. Simply put, without REEs, many of the most crucial components of most renewable energy platforms do not exist. REEs are the sine qua non of the “New Energy Economy,” and their production has been obfuscated by the most ardent green proponents.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in the report “Investigating Rare Earth Element Mine Development in EPA Region 8 and Potential Environmental Impact” (PDF) dated August 15, 2011, outlines a few of the specific uses of REEs over a range of “renewable” products, including wind turbines, hybrid vehicle batteries, lighting, and other electronics:

“Permanent magnets represent the staple clean energy technology of future green economies. They constitute main components of lightweight, high powered motors and generators due to their production of a stable magnetic field without the need for an external power source. Permanent magnet motors power contemporary electric, hybrid electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, while permanent magnet generators produce electricity from wind turbines (USDOE, 2010). The key element derived samarium-cobalt permanent magnets dominate rare earth technology because they produce a magnetic field in a much smaller size. The samarium-cobalt permanent magnet also retains its magnetic strength at high temperatures making it ideal for clean energy and even military applications, including precision guided munitions and aircrafts (IAGS, 2010).

Permanent magnets work in conjunction with high efficiency rare earth based batteries to store energy in electric, hybrid electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (USDOE, 2010). Current generation hybrid electric vehicles use a battery with a cathode containing a host of rare earths including lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, praseodymium, and cobalt (Kopera, 2004). Each hybrid electric battery may contain several kilograms of rare earth materials (USDOE, 2010). Plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles require even greater storage capacity and higher power ratings than typical hybrid vehicles. In light of this, automakers will likely use the lithium ion battery, increasing demand for yet another key element. Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory estimated one lithium ion battery contains 3.4-12.7 kilograms of lithium depending on proprietary design (USDOE, 2010).

Perhaps the fastest growing consumer of rare earth material is the phosphor production industry. In 2008, phosphors alone accounted for 7% of all rare earth usage by volume and 32% of total rare earth value. Phosphor materials produce luminescence essential to today’s lighting technologies. Older generation fluorescent lighting used no rare earths, but rare earths make current fluorescent lighting phosphors more efficient and visually pleasing. Specific rare earths responsible for this include lanthanum, cerium, europium, terbium, and yttrium. Fluorescent lighting phosphor usage is expected to rise by 230% over current levels due to USDOE mandating increased efficiency ratings. Mass quantities of similar phosphor materials are produced for application in television screens, computer monitors, and electronic instrumentation, increasing demand for rare earth based phosphors (USDOE, 2010).”

Just as wind turbines don’t magically sprout from the ground, rare earth elements require extensive mining and refining processes pose significant environmental impacts–significant enough for the EPA to stipulate the each step of the destructive extraction, chemical processing, toxic tailing and contaminant disposal, and transportation. REEs are often derived as byproducts of other mining operations, as most REE deposits are not economically viable on their own, due to their, erm, rarity.

The EPA details the specific byproducts of the production of REEs, and they’re not very “green”:

“According to the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, every ton of rare earth elements produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms of fluorine and 13 kilograms of flue dust. Additionally, sulfuric acid refining techniques used to produce one ton of rare earth elements generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters of gas laden with flue dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid. Not only are large quantities of harmful gas produced, alarming amounts of liquid and solid waste also resulted from Chinese refining processes. They estimate at the completion of refining one ton of rare earth elements, approximately 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water and about one ton of radioactive waste residue are produced. The IAGS reports China produced over 130,000 metric tons of rare earth elements in 2008 alone (IAGS, 2010). Extrapolation of the waste generation estimates over total production yields extreme amounts of waste. With little environmental regulation, stories of environmental pollution and human sickness remain frequent in areas near Chinese rare earth element production facilities (Figure 21). United States government agencies, including EPA, can learn a lot from China’s environmental issues related to rare earth element production.

As discussed, mining and refining processes can introduce radionuclides, rare earth elements, metals, and other potential contaminants into the environment at unnaturally high rates. Once introduced into the environment, the potential contaminants can be redistributed through the three “environmental mediums.” These three mediums include air, soil, and water. Living organisms depend on environmental mediums with stable chemical properties for their survival. The release of the possible contaminants from rare earth element production could alter the properties of the three environmental mediums.”

“Extreme amounts of waste.” These are not the words of a report from a think tank in the pockets of “big oil,” Mr. Wockner. Apparently the proponents of wind power that produced the earlier images somehow missed this report.

There are no “green” mulligans for renewable energy, it seems. But if pictures are worth a thousand words, then video is even better (including a cameo from Vestas, which coincidentally has four wind turbine factories and an estimated $1 billion investment in Colorado at the moment):

“Green campaigners love wind turbines, but the permanent magnets used to manufacture a 3 MW turbine contains some two tons of rare earth,” says the reporter.

Using the EPA’s numbers, each turbine in a windmill farm produces approximately 20,000 cubic meters of toxic gases, 150 cubic meters of acidic waste water, two tons of radioactive waste residue, plus a variety of other harmful dusts and chemical byproducts. Perhaps the largest wind farm in the world, the Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, houses more than 600 wind turbines stretched out over 400 square kilometers. Quick mathematical calculations reveal that the environmental impact of these wind turbines is somewhat greater than just a bird blender. The American Wind Energy Association estimates the output of wind power in the U.S. at more than 43,000 MW through the 3rd quarter of 2011.

Roscoe Wind Farm as seen from Google Maps:
Screen shot 2011-12-09 at 2.03.22 AM
Screen shot 2011-12-09 at 2.03.40 AM

In the embedded video, Zhao Zengqi of the Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earth acknowledges the environmental impact of the production of the permanent magnets that comprise the “green” wind turbine technology. “The environmental problems include air emissions with harmful elements such as fluoride and sulfur, waste water that contains excessive acid, and radioactive materials too. China meets 95 percent of the world’s demand for rare earth, and most of the separation and extraction is done here, so the pollution stays in China too,” said Zhao.

China’s monopoly (which they threaten to enforce through decreased production of REEs) has forced the most damaging aspects of wind power out of sight and mind. But the planned reductions have pushed the U.S. to consider its own strategic defense implications–hence the EPA report–and push more homegrown REE mining projects, including the possibility of opening mines in Colorado.

As Jim Burnell, a senior geologist for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources told the Post in January, “There’s no such thing as no-impact mining. You can’t promise that.”

Not even when you’re “green,” Mr. Wockner.

Like their renewable cousins, solar modules, wind turbines are anything but “clean” and “green.” The EPA report examined the potential risks to air and soil quality, and particularly to water contamination:

“Water represents the environmental medium of overall greatest concern at Bear Lodge. Not only can the possible contaminants go into solution, a great deal of water is consumed during rare earth element mining and processing. Such issues generate both water quality and quantity concerns that will heavily depend on what management practices are put into place.”

The EPA strongly urges appropriate environmental mitigation efforts, pointing to the harmful effects of REE production that include cancer:

“The possible contaminants cause negative effects towards aquatic and terrestrial organisms in addition to humans. Some of the radionuclides and metals contaminants are even classified as human carcinogens by international and federal health agencies. Others possible contaminants increase the mortality rates of aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Cooperation between all government agencies designed to protect the environment and companies responsible for rare earth element production will prove invaluable in ensuring these operations do not pose a threat to human health and the environment in the United States . . . Areas of China have suffered the consequences of haphazard rare earth element production.”

Given the combination of China’s stranglehold on REE extraction and delivery, and the gross environmental negligence it allows such production to operate under, wind turbines for the foreseeable future will continue to be manufactured at less than “green” standards.

Environmental advocates like Mr. Wockner will quickly point to Vestas as an outstanding local alternative to the new exploration in Northern Colorado. Given the precarious nature of the wind energy sector sans FTCs and the turbines’ established environmental cost, a more proper evaluation comparing energy “futures” can be undertaken. The EPA’s report, combined with the realities of REE production, indict nearly every renewable energy platform due to the centrality of REEs as part of the actual energy generation or storage mechanism in each, respectively (magnets and batteries). These impacts can only be projected to increase given government pushes to expand renewables as part of state or national portfolio standards.

Wind power is only reliable 32 percent to 42 percent of the time. Fully diversified energy portfolios requiring significant amounts of renewables, therefore, necessitate significant backup capacity to bridge wind power’s production shortfalls. Furthermore, subsidizing failure is bad enough; subsidizing environmentally degrading platforms that could virtually disappear overnight without lucrative federal tax credits coveted by crony capitalist players is even worse.

Let us return now to the question posed by Mr. Wockner: “What are the environmental impacts?” As demonstrated here using the EPA’s own report, the environmental impact of wind alone is nowhere near “neutral” as some in the renewable energy cheerleading camp would like consumers and taxpayers to believe. Through rhetorical kabuki, they dress up or eliminate the actual manufacturing steps in the process of wind or solar production, skipping straight to the energy generation portion of the renewable unit’s life cycle and then conduct their comparison.

Dispelling the myth that “clean” and “green” energy is produced without environmental impact is critical for establishing a level playing field for comparison between renewables and fossil fuels.

Michael Sandoval is the Managing Editor of People’s Press Collective and a former political reporter for National Review Online.