March 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: EPA’s McCarthy ‘good news about Gold King’; a Tesla will improve your ‘quality of life’

Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy: “But, the good news about Gold King is that, you know, it really was a bright color, but the bright color was because the iron was oxidizing. It meant we had actually less problem than how it usually leaks, [laugh] which is pretty constantly, and so it was only a half a day’s release of what generally comes from those mines and goes into those rivers.”

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch had more on the story:

The EPA-caused spill unleashed the equivalent of “9 football fields spread out at one foot deep” for a couple hours, according to a report by University of Arizona researchers.

Mine waste from Gold King was only coming out at a rate of 112 gallons per minute in August 2014. After the spill, wastewater was coming out at a rate of 500 to 700 gallons per minute.

While there have thankfully been no reported short-term health problems from the spill, experts are worried the toxic metals, like arsenic and lead, that leaked from the mine could pose long-term health problems.

“There is a potential for such sediments to be stirred up and metals released during high water events or recreational use,” University of Arizona researchers wrote. “The metals could become concentrated in fish that live in the river and feed on things that grow in the sediments. Metals in the sediments could seep into the groundwater, resulting in impacts to drinking and irrigation water.”

And the question of culpability for the EPA remains, as a House committee finds additional evidence implicating the agency directly:

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, cornered Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday over an email he says contradicts her statements that a toxic mine spill the Environmental Protection Agency caused last year in Colorado was an “accident.”

The mine blowout released 3 million gallons of heavy-metal-tainted water into the Colorado Animas River and the waterways of New Mexico and Utah. Bishop’s committee recently subpoenaed the Interior Department in February to provide it with email communications between Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of what they received back was completely redacted, Bishop said. But one email that Interior sent to the panel, unrelated to the subpoena, was revealing.

The email shows “that less than 48 hours after the blowout, your employee in Colorado talks to the EPA official in charge, and then emails all senior leadership at [the Bureau of Land Management], and basically says that EPA was deliberately removing a small portion of the plug to relieve pressure in the mine when the blowout occurred.”

***

ICYMI: Energy Policy Center associate analyst Simon Lomax’s latest column:

It was a rare moment of honesty from an environmental activist: “It is not easy to talk about the kind of massive changes that we need to make; about how we think, about what we eat, where it comes from, how we entertain ourselves, what kind of holidays we take,” said Kumi Naidoo, former executive director of Greenpeace International. “All of these things actually are very painful to talk about.”

Naidoo, who led Greenpeace for six years before departing late last year, made these remarks in mid-February at a climate-change forum in Germany. He was answering the question of an Icelandic official, who wanted to know why governments aren’t doing more to crack down on “meat consumption,” and other economic excesses that produce greenhouse gases. “We have to change the way we consume,” the official concluded at the end of her question.

On the same panel, three seats across from Naidoo, sat U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As the former Greenpeace activist wrapped up his answer, the American lawmaker saw his climate and energy talking points going up in flames, and tried to get back on message.

“Let me just push back very gently on one point,” Whitehouse said, in comments first reported by The Harry Read Me File. “I don’t want to leave the impression that mankind must suffer in order to make these changes. The changes in consumption can actually be enjoyable and beneficial.”

Then he offered an example: “If you trade in your Mercedes for a Tesla, your quality of life just went up.”

Read it all here.

***

Have not had much on wind energy in a while, and the latest headline is somewhat revealing–wind sources acknowledge their lethal impact on birds, and propose to use technology to shut them down whenever a bird is nearby, making the energy source even more erratic and intermittent, not to mention the wear and tear of stop/start on the turbines themselves:

What if a wind turbine knew to shut down when a bird was too close? That vision is the goal of ongoing research in Golden, and birds themselves are helping to develop a solution.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been conducting avian research alongside various industry partners to drastically reduce avian deaths by wind turbine collisions.

Colorado has 1,916 operating wind turbines statewide, placing it eighth in the nation for the number of turbines within a state.

Although those wind turbines accounted for only a small percentage of bird deaths annually, Jason Roadman, a technical engineer for NREL said that percentage should be zero.

“Renewable energy is something that I and a lot of people strongly believe in, so we want to make it as low impact as possible,” Roadman said. “The rates of wild bird collisions are fairly low on these solar-wind farms, but they’re not zero. So anything we can do to reduce the footprint of the negative effects of alternative energy, we’ll make every effort toward.”

Leaving the question of turbine resiliency and energy generation fluctuation aside, the admission that such measures are necessary to alleviate the threat to birds, including the heavily protected eagles and other raptors, is quite a step from a few years ago, when wind proponents minimized any such concern and sought takings extensions to prop up one of the industry’s most glaring shortcomings.

***

To say it’s been a rough 18 months for oil and gas would be an understatement, and the effect of the drop in commodities prices is being reflected in new figures from local businesses and communities:

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the biggest oil and gas companies working in Colorado, will have only one drilling rig operating in the state during 2016 — down from an average of seven in 2015.

The Texas company (NYSE: APC), based in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, on Tuesday followed its peers by releasing budget figures and plans for 2016 that are a far cry from last year.

Hammered by a bust in oil and gas prices brought on by an international glut in supplies, oil and gas companies have slashed budgets, laid off employees and sold assets in the struggle to survive.

Anadarko, which has operations in the U.S. and around the world, said Tuesday it expects to spend between $2.6 billion and $2.8 billion this year, down nearly 50 percent from its 2015 budget.

About half that money, $1.1 billion, will be spent in the United States, and about half that amount — approximately $500 million — spent in the Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin during 2016, according to the company.

By comparison, Anadarko said a year ago it expected to spend about $1.8 billion on its Colorado operations in 2015.

Cuts like Anadarko’s have already manifested in places heavily involved in natural resource development, like northern Colorado’s Weld County:

Weld County’s economy appears to have entered a hard skid, now confirmed by larger-than-expected downward revisions to the number of people employed in oil and gas and mining statewide.

Preliminary employment counts last month estimated the county gained a net 3,800 payroll jobs between December 2014 and last December.

But revisions based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for the third quarter from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment out Wednesday now project the county lost 500 jobs last year.

“It is playing out as we expected. It has just been more delayed than expected,” said Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the business research division at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Weld County accounted for about 90 percent of the state’s oil production last year, and oil and gas producers account for about three-quarters of employment in the mining sector, Lewandowski said.

Mining has also been hit hard:

The QCEW revisions show what was initially measured as a modest 3.9 percent year-over-year decline in mining employment is running closer to a 20.7 percent drop.

Viewed another way, the loss of 1,400 mining sector jobs last year is now estimated at closer to 7,500, a nearly fivefold increase.

And while the number crunchers characterize the information as “delayed”–due to being lagging indicators following the commodity prices dropping–the impact was within a year, not a much longer or slowed trend that plays out over time.

A similar downturn has already been seen in severance taxes in the same area, as we noted a month ago in the Cheat Sheet:

Pushing for bans on fracking or other measures to limit responsible natural resource development will only exacerbate problems at the local level, putting education, infrastructure, and other critical services at risk, on top of the drop noted here in the Denver Post due to commodity prices tanking:

Because 97 percent of Platte Valley’s budget comes from taxes paid on mineral production and equipment — a property tax known as ad valorem — McClain said his district could be looking at a budget reduction between $300,000 and nearly $1 million next school year.
How that plays out in terms of potential cuts or program impacts is yet to be seen, he said.
“You’re always concerned about your folks,” McClain said. “You worry about it taking the forward momentum and positivity out.”
It’s not just schools that are suffering. Municipal budgets, local businesses and even hospitals in mineral-rich pockets of Colorado are watching closely to see how long prices remain depressed.

Combine that with a 72.3 percent drop in severance tax revenue–down to $77.6 million this year compared with $280 million last fiscal year–and you’ll get, in the words of the Post, “the state’s direct distributions of those proceeds to cities, counties, towns and schools will be reduced from a little more than $40 million in 2015 to just $11.9 million this year.

***

Xcel says the future of solar is bright:

Xcel Energy filed a new renewable energy plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission Monday that could more than double its portfolio of solar power in the state over the next three years.

“Our plan is all about our energy future in Colorado, and allowing our customers to choose and pay for the energy sources that they believe are best for them,” David Eves, president of Public Service Co. of Colorado, said in a statement.

The plan would add 421 megawatts of new power from renewable sources, enough for 126,300 homes, over the next three years. The bulk of that amount, 401 megawatts, would come from solar.

Xcel Energy, which currently obtains more than 22 percent of its power from renewable sources, said it is on track to meet or beat the state mandate of 30 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

The solar industry, however, is not impressed with Xcel, saying the utility should do more to encourage distributed generation:

But one leading solar advocate questioned the utility’s sincerity, given that Xcel, in a separate rate case, has asked for cuts to what it pays customers who put solar power onto the grid.

“Xcel’s view of the energy future is not the only one that Coloradans should consider. The public really needs to have a say here,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.

Xcel currently offers to take on 2 megawatts of additional solar power at the start of each month, but that capacity is reserved within 15 to 20 minutes.

“We don’t think there should be an allocation, a ‘Mother may I have some capacity’ system,’ ” Cantwell said. “The industry is ready to play a much bigger part in Colorado’s energy future.”

Solar remains captive to the need for government mandates, rebates, handouts, and incentives to spur growth beyond the natural market preference of customers desiring to install the preferred energy source. The cost of panels may be declining (again, due in no small part to taxpayer-funded R&D grants, state and federal mandates, and other subsidies), but the cost of a system remains daunting.

If you have any doubt about the extent of government programs to encourage solar and other renewables, take a look of this list compiled by the Department of Energy. It lists 129 programs for Colorado alone.

***

As for the resources necessary for renewables and battery storage, here’s a new report from the Institute for Energy Research, as they show that renewables increase dependency on foreign sources:

One of the common reasons people claim to support wind and solar technologies is to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy. For example, green energy supporter Jay Faison told the Wall Street Journal “If we expand our clean energy technologies, we’ll create more jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy…”[i] The problem is that green energy actually increases reliance on imports instead of reducing imports.

Green energy technologies are dependent on rare earth minerals and lithium for batteries–both of which are primarily imported into the United States. Most of the world’s rare earth minerals are produced in China (85 percent); and that country supplies the United States with most of its rare earth imports (71 percent). The United States only produces 24 percent of the rare earth minerals that it needs.[ii] In 2013, the United States imported 54 percent of the lithium it used, with Chile and Argentina supplying 96 percent of those imports.[iii] Some believe that lithium may be the “new oil”, eclipsing oil as a source for geopolitical and economic power.[iv] Clearly, Tesla, who is building a gigafactory in Nevada to produce lithium-ion batteries for its cars and Powerwall storage device, needs access to low-cost lithium. In contrast to these figures, the United States now imports only 27 percent of the oil it uses domestically.[v]

***

And about that reliability argument:

Green energy is so unreliable and intermittent that it could wreck the power grid, according to industry and government experts.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating coal or natural gas power plant unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the entire power grid.

“The intermittency of renewable sources of electricity is already threatening reliability in Britain,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”This is because there are so many windmills that conventional power plants are being closed as uneconomic and so when the wind doesn’t blow there is not adequate backup power available. To avoid blackouts, the government is now paying large sums to have several hundred big diesel generators on standby. If this sounds crazy, it is.”

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.

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:

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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:
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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.

Congressman Coffman addresses “Rare Earths”

November 9, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) announced today that he created a Congressional caucus to address the growing problem of China’s control over rare earth elements and “re-establishing domestic supply chain” of the must-have minerals.

In a press release, Coffman explained:

With the establishment of this caucus, I am confident we will be able to build awareness on Capitol Hill about the critical threat China’s trade policies of restricting rare earth exports pose to both the economic and national security of the United States.We cannot afford inaction on this issue any longer.

Coffman hopes to bring awareness about rare earths to his congressional colleague and hopes they can work together to find a solution to China’s stranglehold over the global supply.

We have a suggestion: mine them here. Just a thought. If we don’t, we’ll outsource more jobs to China.

Solar Power: economically and environmentally unsound

October 24, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

This column appeared originally in Townhall Finance.

Solar energy is neither economically nor environmentally sound

By Amy Oliver Cooke and Michael Sandoval

We live in the state that is ground zero for absurd energy policy, also known as the New Energy Economy.

In a recent Denver Post house editorial, Colorado’s self-described “newspaper of record” was downright giddy about General Electric’s announcement that it will manufacture thin-filmed photovoltaic (PV) solar panels in Aurora and employ 355 people.

GE, which could have financed the whole project itself, came to Colorado because of government provided taxpayer-funded “incentives.” Ironically, the industrial behemoth just announced $3.2 billion in net earnings for the third quarter, a 57 percent increase over last year.

The new solar panel manufacturer fits perfectly with Colorado’s economically unrealistic New Energy Economy and its fantasies of clean, domestic energy sources.

Solar panel manufacturer profiles

So far, Colorado companies have been unable to meet the promises made by proponents of the New Energy Economy.

Ascent Solar, a Colorado company and maker of copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) thin-film PV cells, had qualified for the due diligence phase of the Department of Energy loan guarantee program like the one awarded to Abound (they were applying for $275 million). But continued losses—$85 million in the first half of 2011 alone—provoked a business model adjustment switch to portable solar solutions that saw the company reduce its staff by half and withdraw its loan application, only finding refuge in Asian investors in August to prevent collapse.

In 2009, Ascent’s projected growth included hundreds of additional jobs, with then-Governor Bill Ritter (D) and both of Colorado’s U.S. Senators attending the opening of its reconfigured plant just outside Denver.

“Thanks to companies such as Ascent Solar, all across Colorado, we’re creating a sustainable energy future, sustainable opportunities for new businesses, and sustainable jobs,” said Ritter at the time.

Abound Solar is Colorado’s homegrown Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) solar panel manufacturer. With more than $400 million in taxpayer-funded loan guarantees and tax incentives, Abound employs roughly 350 people with plans for another 850 to 1000 employees in an Indiana facility sometime in 2012 or 2013.

GE’s entry into the Colorado market comes on the heels of its acquisition of Colorado-based PrimeStar Solar, culminating in plans to develop a $300 million project that promises those 355 jobs—at a cost of $28 million in municipal and state-based incentives.

What kind of solar panels will GE’s Colorado plant manufacture? Cadmium telluride, the same as Abound Solar, which the New York Times declared would put the loan guaranteed Abound—and by extension, taxpayers—“at risk.”

As we wrote previously, “Abound has a manufacturing capacity of 65 megawatts expanding to 850 megawatts – at some point. However, in 2010 it manufactured only 30 megawatts.” If it has the ability to produce more, then why doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s because the solar panel market is over-saturated, while demand and price have dropped dramatically.

Put aside the absurd economics for a moment, would all the taxpayer “investment” be money well spent if we could become “energy independent” while enjoying the benefits of “clean” renewable energy?

The myth of “energy independence”

All of these solar panel producers have something in common; they need raw materials, specifically rare earth minerals, to manufacture their products. The U.S. currently does little mining or processing of rare earths.

When the Denver Post fawned over the taxpayer-subsidized GE solar manufacturing plant coming to Colorado, it concluded with the typical appeal to “energy independence.”

But solar energy does not equate to “energy independence” because it relies upon other countries, namely China, for the necessary supply of rare earths. Late last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) acknowledged the problem and published a report titled “Critical Materials Strategies” which focused on rare earths used in the production of various “clean” technologies.

Current global materials markets pose several challenges to the growing clean energy economy. Lead times with respect to new mining operations are long (from 2–10 years). Thus, the supply response to scarcity may be slow, limiting production of technologies that depend on such mining operations or causing sharp price increases. In addition, production of some materials is at present heavily concentrated in one or a small number of countries. (More than 95% of current production capacity for rare earth metals is currently in China.) Concentration of production in any supplier creates risks for global markets and creates geopolitical dynamics with the potential to affect other strategic interests of the United States.

So the country that is challenging the U.S. economically and is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt also controls the very materials needed to ensure our “energy independence.”

What’s funny is that the DOE suggests that the private market will respond, but it does not imply that an American-based market will respond. Rather the DOE suggests achieving “globally-diverse supplies” of rare earths. That hardly sounds like “energy independence.”

The Denver Post didn’t craft the argument that green energy will make us energy independent.  The newspaper is simply guilty of parroting what the leftist environmentalists have been trumpeting for years without challenge: we must break our dependence on “foreign oil” and embrace renewable energy.

Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy Director Bill Ritter advanced the argument last year as he was closing out his one term as Colorado Governor.

Over the past few years, we’ve established a clean-energy template that is creating thousands of new jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and generating innovative technologies for the future…The New Energy Economy in Colorado can serve as a pathway for all of America that will lead to greater economic, energy, and environmental security.

Which seems odd because Canada, our largest oil supplier, isn’t a hostile trading partner but China has proven it can be.  The global demand for rare earth minerals is projected to grow at eight percent annually, while China has kept the growth in supply near zero. Even worse, at times China has imposed embargoes on them to the West.

Popular Mechanics describes the danger of the Chinese monopoly on rare earths:

Mines in China supply nearly all of the world’s rare-earths metal, and the Chinese government uses its near monopoly as political leverage: It was accused of halting rare-earth exports to Japan during a territorial dispute last year, and also announced a restriction of worldwide rare-earth exports, which sent chills through markets and tech companies.

The same article explains that the U.S., Canada, Brazil and other countries have reserves and “used to produce a sizeable percentage of the world supply before shutting many mines because of environmental concerns.”

Some minerals such as Tellurium, one of the elements about which the DOE is concerned, are just plain rare. In fact, Tellurium is one of the rarest minerals found in the earth’s crust.

Rare earths are needed for more than just solar panels.  They are used for wind turbines and hybrid car batteries. And if our “energy independence” comes from renewables such as solar, they will have to compete with iPods, cell phones, computers, batteries, and more.

Popular Mechanics also explores the possibility of deep-sea mining for rare earths but ultimately concluded, “if you’re wondering where rare-earth components in computer chips and solar cells will come from for the next decade, the answer is clear—China.”

The myth that green energy is “clean” energy.

Manufacturing solar panels isn’t clean.

Two of the three solar companies profiled earlier, GE and Abound, already produce or plan to make Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) thin film photovoltaics (PV). CdTe is a compound formed from Cadmium and Tellurium. While Tellurium is rare, Cadmium is a highly toxic human carcinogen.  According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the compound CdTe is also a carcinogen.  Depending on the level of exposure, health effects range from kidney damage, fragile bones, lung damage, and death.

Because the U.S. doesn’t mine much of these elements here, U.S. manufacturers look elsewhere. Sadly, individual tragedy in China’s “cancer villages” reveals the dirty secret of “clean energy.

Yun Yaoshun’s two granddaughters died at the ages of 12 and 18, succumbing to kidney and stomach cancer even though these types of cancers rarely affect children. The World Health Organization has suggested that the high rate of such digestive cancers are due to the ingestion of polluted water.

The river where the children played stretches from the bottom of the Daboshan mine…Its waters are contaminated by cadmium, lead, indium and zinc and other metals.

Lake near the girls’ home that appeared in Intellasia.

Lake near the girls’ home that appeared in Intellasia.

Mining in China has turned towns and hamlets into “cancer villages.” Rivers run murky white to shades of orange. Fish and ducks are dead. And villagers bury friends and neighbors who die of cancer in their 30s and 40s reports Intellasia.

Another eye-opening news report on rare earth mining and processing from the Channel 4 in the United Kingdom claims, “it doesn’t look very green, rare earth processing in China is a messy, dangerous, polluting business. It uses toxic chemicals…workers have little or no protection.”

We still don’t know how large solar installations covering thousands of acres in the desert over long periods of time will affect the ecosystem.

To answer our earlier question, is the taxpayer “investment” in solar power worth the cost to achieve “energy independence” with “clean” power sources? It’s a trick question because solar is neither a domestic product nor a clean one.

The bottom line is that all energy sources come with some type of risk and to assume that solar panels are an economic and environmental panacea is wrong, despite what the Denver Post and other New Energy Economy cheerleaders would like us to believe.

If we are going to continue on the path of alternative energy, we should do so with out eyes wide open.

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.

Mining for green jobs

September 30, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Another day, another story about a solar company moving part of its operation to China. This time it’s Advanced Energy in Fort Collins, which will lay off 5 percent of its labor force and move “more of its manufacturing to China as it works to increase profitability,” according to the Coloradoan.

Advanced Energy was one of several companies in Northern Colorado that received tax credits to create “green jobs.”  The Northern Colorado Business Journal reported in January 2010:

Firms in Northern Colorado nabbed a lion’s share of the renewable energy manufacturing tax credits doled out in the state, but whether the incentives will have a direct, near-term impact on employment remains to be seen.

In early January the Departments of Treasury and Energy awarded $2.3 billion in tax credits for expansion or creation of manufacturing facilities in the advanced energy sector. The credits can be taken on tax liability for up to 30 percent of the total value of the project. In Colorado, companies netted $75.2 million in credits. Of that total, $52.1 million were awarded for projects in Northern Colorado.

The credits were lauded as a job-creating incentive at the federal and state level. However, the projects in Northern Colorado were already planned, under way or in some cases complete when the credits were awarded.

Fort Collins-based Advanced Energy Industries Inc. received a tax credit worth $1.2 million for a new manufacturing line for the company’s Solaron solar inverters.

Attorney Rex O’Neal, “co-chair of Faegre & Benson’s emerging companies practice and new energy, clean technology and climate initiative” explained who really benefits from these tax credits:

O’Neal points out that, in the short-run, the true beneficiaries of the tax credits are the company owners. In that case, the credit is an incentive for investors in these companies who might bring more capital to the table.

Neal also called the tax credits “an ‘if we build it, they will come’ mentality.’” Reducing the cost of productivity would make these solar panel manufacturers competitive. Green energy advocates will scream the Chinese are to blame because they are making solar panels way too cheap, thus undermining competition. Far left Think Progress recently wrote:

With Chinese producers in a far more dominant position than in 2009 and a slew of solar manufacturing facility closures announced in the U.S. in recent months, concerns about dumping have resurfaced. Just yesterday, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter to President Obama asking him to investigate whether or not Chinese companies are selling product below cost in order to push American producers out of the market. He also called on the administration to implement a trade tariff on Chinese modules:

‘Letting that happen is unacceptable. Please know that if your administration is unwilling to take the appropriate steps, with haste, I will advance a legislative effort, as provided by the U.S. trade remedy laws, to ensure that the American solar industry is not harmed by unfair trade.’

Current U.S. energy policy created the problem because it put the cart before the horse with mandated renewable energy standards and taxpayer subsidies for expensive, unreliable energy sources. We subsidized supply, mandated demand, and still can’t be competitive.

There is another problem that advocates of green energy don’t want to discuss because the solution means more mining in the U.S. Right now, China controls 95 percent of the world’s available supply of rare earth minerals, which are necessary for production of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries for hybrids, and more. The Chinese are willing to mine them. The U.S. is not. Furthermore, Chinese processing of rare earth minerals has turned parts of that country into toxic waste dumps where the water is not suitable for human or animal consumption. It has become the dirty secret of clean energy.

While U.S. solar companies continue to relocate to China, it isn’t just because of cheap labor and capital from the Chinese government, but also, the availability of rare earth metals.  This was part of the Chinese strategy as well. Until we are willing to mine rare earth minerals that we have and are necessary for production, we will continue to see companies leave. If green technology is the future then we have to produce the raw materials to control our destiny.

Throwing taxpayer subsidies, which only benefit owners and private investors, at companies doesn’t guarantee green jobs or clean energy. Renewable advocates need to embrace mining as the green job of the future.

New energy economy’s dirty little secret

June 29, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Former Governor  Bill Ritter and other advocates of Colorado’s “new energy economy” often use the misguided argument of breaking our dependence on foreign oil as a viable reason for their economically unsound energy policy. Just last November Ritter said:

‘Over the past few years, we’ve established a clean-energy template that is creating thousands of new jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and generating innovative technologies for the future,’ said Gov. Ritter. ‘The New Energy Economy in Colorado can serve as a pathway for all of America that will lead to greater economic, energy, and environmental security.’

The problem is with what Ritter and others don’t tell you about renewable energy.  It is reliant upon rare earth minerals of which 95 percent come from China. In fact, magnets used to manufacture one wind turbine require two tons of rare earth minerals. Think your Prius is eco-friendly and helps advance “energy independence”? Think again.  It too must have rare earth minerals from China. Check out this eye-opening video about rare earth minerals:

While the global demand for rare earth minerals is projected to grow at eight percent annually, China has kept the growth in supply near zero. Even worse, at times China has imposed embargoes on them to the West.

Bottom line is that Colorado’s new energy economy, which Ritter is trying to export to other states, makes us heavily dependent on China. Oh yeah, and that nasty foreign oil? The two biggest importers of oil into the United States are Canada and Mexico.