Chronicles of Ineptitude, Special Energy Edition

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the fruit-juice vegan energy set.  Where to begin?  How about Japan, which went through the entirely predictable cycle with regard to its nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster of two years ago.  You can follow the cycle in the hilarious New York Times headlines:

Japan Sets Policy to Phase Out Nuclear Power Plants by 2040 (Sept. 12, 2012)

Then, five days later:

Japan, Under Pressure, Backs Off Plan to Phase Out Nuclear Power by 2040 (September 19, 2012)

Turns out someone had a calculator, looked at the cost, and started saying, “never mind.”  And so just five days ago:

Japan to Begin Restarting Idled Nuclear Plants, Leader Says.

“Still, by making the promise in front of the Diet, Mr. Abe indicated in the strongest way yet that he planned to move ahead with a campaign pledge to reverse his predecessor’s hopes that Japan would begin weaning itself off nuclear energy.”

At the other end of the Eurasian land mass, Germany, which has no nuclear power plants exposed to tsunami risk, says it intends to continue with its plans to shut down its nuclear power plants over the next decade just to be safe.  You never know when you might get a land tsunami, like that old Saturday Night Live land shark.

So how is Germany going to make up the power gap?  According to Bloomberg News, the old-fashioned way—with new coal-fired power plants.  Another triumph for the climate campaign!

Germany will this year start up more coal-fired power stations than at any time in the past 20 years as the country advances a plan to exit nuclear energy by 2022.

New coal plants with about 5,300 megawatts of capacity will start generating power this year, the Muenster-based IWR renewable energy institute said in an e-mailed statement today, citing data from the German regulator. About 1,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity are expected to come offline, it said.

And as if this wasn’t bad enough, the German government has issued new regulations to permit the go ahead with natural gas fracking.  Prepare for a full freakout from Matt Damon.

(While we’re on the subject of gas, pay attention to this story about progress in unlocking methane hydrates in the ocean out of Japan: if we can feasibly get at methane hydrates, it will essentially mean plentiful natural gas for the whole world for something like 500 years.  That’ll keep Matt Damon busy.)

But even new onland gas in Europe is unlikely to save German taxpayers from the folly of their green energy subsidy scheme, which has taxpayers subsidizing wind and solar power at rate four times the market price of conventional energy.  According to one of Chancellor Merkel’s cabinet ministers, the total tab for subsidies could reach 1 trillion Euros by 2030.  (You can expect that minister will get shuffled off somewhere after the next election.)  Nonetheless, Merkel’s government is quietly trying to rein in the cost of renewable energy subsidies.  Someone else in her cabinet apparently owns a calculator, too.  Or maybe they borrowed one from Spain, where cuts in renewable subsidies have led to lawsuits from jilted renewable suppliers who were foolish enough to build their business models on the premise that European governments would always keep their word when times got tough.  Guess these folks never learned what happened to contracts in the U.S. during the Great Depression.  Contracts Clause?  What Contracts Clause?

Meanwhile, don’t suppose that the United States has avoided the nonsense pervading Europe.  A few items for your attention:

—Duke Energy, whose corporatist former CEO Jim Rogers plumped for the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, “loaned” $10 million to the Democratic National Committee for the Charlotte convention last summer.  The money was called a “loan” last summer so Democrats could claim their convention was being put on without any evil corporate support.  But now that the election is over it turns out the DNC won’t be repaying the “loan,” and Duke shareholders will have to take the hit.  Can Duke rehire Rogers so he can be fired again, or at least take this out of his bonuses and stock options?

—A new study just out from researchers at Harvard (can’t get any more establishment-certified than Harvard, can you?) concludes that wind power potential is consistently overestimated:

Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.

In short, we may not have access to as much wind power as scientists thought.

Of course, we “wind skeptics” have been saying the obvious about this for years, but now that Harvard is saying it, perhaps the green wind breakers will pay attention.

—And while we’re on the subject of breaking wind, don’t miss this Los Angeles Times story from last fall about how solar power installations have become a fiscal burden to local governments in California.  Another “green jobs” epic fail:

Two of the largest solar plants in the world are under construction in San Bernardino County. But county officials are not sure if revenue from the projects will offset the cost of additional fire and safety services, which analysts say will amount to millions of dollars a year.

For example, the $2.2-billion Ivanpah solar project at the county’s eastern border has agreed to pay $377,000 annually, but that may not be enough to cover the county’s new costs related to the plant. The county doesn’t know how much solar plants will drain from its budget because the projects are being planned and approved too quickly for adequate analysis, officials say. . .

Counties that object to the pace of development, however, have been scolded for standing in the way of progress. Not only is renewable energy a priority of the Obama administration, it is also the darling of California’s chief executive.

That’s why it will only be fitting to call these “Brown jobs.”

Cause of Action, a government accountability watchdog group, is out with an intriguing study that finds a 95 percent correlation between companies that received Department of Energy loan guarantees (think Solyndra) and subsequent campaign contributions.  Whodathunkit?

Could the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program be characterized as a breeding ground for cronyism in the distribution of loans through the 1703, 1705, and Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Guarantee Programs?

Cause of Action was able to determine, through publicly available data combined with a FOIA production, that for corporations who have received a loan guarantee of any amount, the likelihood that it made campaign contributions increases significantly. Of the data available, 95% (.95) of DOE loan recipients with less than $1 billion in annual revenue documented political contributions by the organization or senior level staff. Comparatively, only 31% (.319489) of similarly sized organizations that did not receive loans made political contributions in one way or another.

As Glenn Reynolds (among others) likes to say, the country’s in the very best of hands.

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