US DOE Wants to Subsidize Coal Plants though Back Door

“I don’t think the ham-handedness of this action is fully appreciated.”

Wolf here. This is what Bill Tilles, one of the authors of the article below, wrote in an email about the article. It should see the light of day:

As for the DOE action re subsidizing coal plants, there’s a real dog-bites-man aspect to the story, in addition to being extreme inside baseball. Conservative Republicans, eager to reward coal and nuclear interests, propose new regulations by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that aggressively favor coal and nuclear over natural gas to overcome the significant cost advantages that natural gas now has.

To me, the real story is in the 19-page document that the Department of Energy sent to FERC. It was a polemic.

In politics that’s permissible, even expected. But the unusual aspect is that DOE is directing FERC — the agency with real administrative expertise in the area — to make wide-ranging rate changes favorable to coal and nuclear interests based on no additional evidence other than a fake crisis!

You have to think about that for a minute. FERC dockets are voluminous with every imaginable interest group weighing in. And time consuming. These folks in the Trump administration are in effect saying to FERC, “We don’t need no stinkin’ records.” It’s a ginned up crisis. With a predictable, cronyist solution: Hand over money to that special interest. And do it fast, they say, or we’ll all be freezing come winter.

I don’t think the ham-handedness of this action is fully appreciated. What the DOE is in effect saying to FERC is: “When we want your opinion, we’ll give it to you.” And they did.

By Bill Tilles and Leonard Hyman,

On September 29, the US Department of Energy sent a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that would, if adopted, significantly increase the value of aging coal and nuclear power plants.

There are a number of interesting aspects to the DOE’s directive to the FERC. First, what surprised us was the tone of imminent crisis. “In light of these threats to grid reliability and resiliency it is the Commission’s immediate responsibility to take action….” But the only actual “threat” of any validity cited was the Polar Vortex of 2014 where natural gas supplies were limited in the U.S. north east.

The language of crisis, whether valid or not, also allows something else–the expedited regulatory and administrative treatment of this proposal. The DOE is asking the FERC to adopt sweeping rate making proposals in a relatively brief period of time, 60 days. We’d be surprised if the expedited calendar alone didn’t provide grounds for legal challenge and delay.

The DOE is directing FERC to make sure that it fully values a particular aspect of wholesale electricity power generation: the ability to keep 90 days of fuel supply on site. Only coal and nuclear plants can do that, not gas plants. The DOE’s language directs the FERC to value the reliability and resiliency features of generation with an onsite fuel supply.

Not to rain on DOE’s parade, but we remember instances of coal-based utilities in trouble because their coal inventory was frozen in huge, unusable piles on site. But it was in inventory. And do we really want to rely on aging nuclear power stations to boost resilience? Operating malfunctions often close down nuclear plants for months.

Ultimately, the FERC retains legal responsibility for setting wholesale electricity rates. Whether they simply adopt the DOE’s plan remains to be seen. But DOE’s goal is to “eliminate the need for the commission to order and publish its own separate rulemaking proposal.”

While we’re not sticklers for administrative procedure, we should point out that this tactic by the DOE has not been employed since the late 1970s and early 1980s when a frustrated Washington felt the need to get a handle on unruly natural gas markets in the U.S.

Now this is not to say that the present markets, set up to determine next day’s best price, do not have flaws. They do not take into account externalities. There is no cost to consumers at present for their increasing reliance on a product, electricity, responsible in part for climate changing emissions. Reliability of fuel supplies is another so called externality that power markets do not price in.

But what’s really interesting is that the so called efficient market for wholesale electric power has not proven able to price its product high enough so as to attract long term investment.

And the proposed rules do little to attract capital and encourage better markets, either.

If there is a resilience problem in the U.S. electrical grid, why would a pro-free-market administration require a significant economic intervention to improve resilience? This proposed rulemaking looks more like another instance of a central planning with the federal government (again) providing bail outs or heavy subsidies to failing industries.

But it matters little how the federal government places its thumbs on the scales of the wholesale electric power market. The fact remains that a combination of inexpensive natural gas from the U.S. shale boom and the relentless decline in the cost of renewables together spell eventual economic doom for aging base load coal and nuclear power plants. Right now we’re just haggling about the glide path to obsolescence. By Bill Tilles and Leonard Hyman, for Leonard Hyman’s new book is “Electricity Acts.”

Why take an action that’ll result in higher electricity prices? The dismantlement of a New Deal institution in South Carolina. Read…  Why Santee Cooper Matters

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  82 comments for “US DOE Wants to Subsidize Coal Plants though Back Door

  1. Matt says:

    Real Simple. Many Nuke plants are reaching end of life. Westinghouse filed bankruptcy and the plant in the southeast being built ran into billions of cost over runs that tax payers are on the hook for. Three Mile Island was not accepted into the Power grid to provide power in the next few years as back up in the PJMDV joint power thing they share when power is needed during peak demand. Neither was Oyster Creek in N J and both of these plants are being perm taken off line and mothballed in the next 2 years or so due to age and continuing problems. If I have read correctly no new gas energy plants are being built although coal fired power station have been converted. I know where I live in Maryland BGE has added on to some existing Gas power stations in Baltimore and Harford Counties in the past several years. they have had to. EPA made them shut down 4 coal powered energy plants in the area in the past 2 years alone. I know PECO energy in Phila asked the epa for a stay on closing anymore coal fired plants until end of next year until they where converted to gas in the area due to not having enough power in cold snaps.

    • Joan of Arc says:

      They’re either going to choke em, nuke em, or both. Who? The hoi polloi, that’s who! The rich can live on their secluded islands while the masses toil away in the crowded polluted cities.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      In the US, there have been practically no new coal-fired power plants added, but many were retired in recent years.

      Most of the capacity added came from gas, solar, and wind.

      The chart in the link below shows the additions and retirements by type of plant:

    • MC says:

      Westinghouse is going bankrupt? No problem.
      The Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor has been licensed to China, including all of its critical technology, and it’s being mass-produced there. I am pretty sure the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) will be absolutely delighted to continue where Westinghouse stopped, including selling the reactor to anybody with the cash to pay for it. Low price, this week only!
      This also means the CNNC will be able to sell directly the new CAP1400 reactors, as the original agreement gave Westinghouse exclusive export rights: the CAP1400 is the first indigenously designed >1000MW reactor and is fully IAEA approved for commercial operations.
      With Westinghouse and Areva both in serious troubles, I think both CNNC and Rosatom will make fine business.

      • BTilles says:

        Hi MC,
        My impression is that China wants to focus its nuclear export efforts on its domestically developed Hualong One design that is slated to be built at the Sizewell site in the UK. Press reports also indicate that Pakistan and Argentina are supposedly also interested in this made-for-export design.

        • MC says:

          Hualong One is a development of the old Framatome CPY 900MW reactor, which CNNC developed into the ACPR1000 (1000MW, and replacing French-made components with domestic ones) which then gave rise to Hualong One.

          I suspect the main driver behind Hualong One is tied to Areva’s many failures, which include the EPR reactor.
          China had already ordered EPR reactors for two sites, but was forced by circumstances to look for alternatives: EDF, which took over the EPR program from Areva, has announced the reactor is being redesigned due to serious manufacturing issues and won’t be ready for orders before 2020.

          As Hualong One is a 100% Chinese IP reactor, it can be freely exported anywhere.
          Given the depth of China’s ties to Pakistan it’s not surprising Islamabad is looking to her neighbor for nuclear reactors, especially given the failure to obtain reactors from other sources, such as Mitsubishi and Areva.

  2. mean chicken says:

    Does re-organization through bankruptcy render coal more competitive?

    • d says:


      What it can do short term, is render some for profit Coal Generators, slightly more competitive.

      No mater how you shape it the health and environmental indirect costs render Coal completely untenable.

      This SUBSIDY to coal must end.

      Every KWh generated by Coal. Should have a tax added to it. To reflect and recover these indirect costs of Coal use.

    • BTilles says:

      Not really because some of the principal cost inputs for coal companies are fuel, labor and rail transport. None of these, apart from perhaps labor contracts, would be influenced by a chap. 11 filing.

    • MC says:

      It really depends on what you mean by “competitive”.
      While numbers originating from China are as always more than a little suspect, Australian customs have announced a 7.4% year on year increase in thermal coal exports to China alone in 2017. While this increase was mostly to offset a major dip in Chinese imports from Indonesia (down 9.2% year on year), it means in spite of all the nice words about renewables and the deals with Russia, Kazakhstan and others to tap into natural gas reserves, China still believes thermal coal to be competitive with other forms of energy.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      A number of coal miners filed for bankruptcy (some of them for the second time) because the price of coal dropped to such low levels that they couldn’t survive. The price dropped because coal has to compete with with natural gas as utilities were switching power generation to natural gas and renewables.

      Bankruptcy shed much of the debts of those miners, so the restructured miners might survive at these prices because debt service costs are lower. But it won’t impact the price of coal, the production and transportation costs of coal, and the thermal inefficiency of a coal-fired power plant.

      The thermal efficiency of a coal plant is about 35%, compared to a natgas-fired power plant with a combined cycle gas turbine (ca. 65%). The CCGT became commercially available in the 1990s. It’s very difficult for coal to compete with this sort of technological innovation.

  3. 2banana says:

    America has mountains of coal and, at one time not long ago, was a net exporter of uranium.

    The US fracking oil boom will be short lived. Then we go back to depending on countries like Iran, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for our energy needs.

    Solar and wind will never support America’s needs and are grossly expensive.

    Why not get coal and nuclear energy infrastructure back in place?

    • d says:

      Wehn you make them environmentally friendly or at least neutral come back with that suggestion.

      What the US needs, is investment in a National high-grade power distribution grid, not controlled by for profit, or, for state worker, entities.

      So that cheap clean energy ,generated in place A, can easily and cheaply be moved to place B with out several Enrons clipping their profits along the way. As they do in the current system.

      You can generate a lot of medium and long term job’s purring that together. BUT no money for campaign contributions or P 44s pockets, or crony’s, so 2 to 6 years before the beginning of pre-evaluation discussions at least.

      America has a big energy problem.

      Is called “The American way”.

      • Kraig says:

        Jude use stranded renewables (Utah has plenty) to gassify coal. You get lower pollution better than wood burning since all the nasty(and valuable) stuff is left on the floor in concentration. Plus easy to move coal by train in a low cost environmentally friendly way.

        • d says:

          If you had a decent supply grid, you could put your generators, beside your sources, just like they/we do, with geothermal.

          America could probably generate all its energy needs Geothermally, from Yellowstone and Mt Saint Helen’s, if it applied itself to the issues.

          The US govt is looking at the Yellowstone issues, as around every 600 Years Yellowstone goes Bang, in a VERY BIG way.

          It is close to 600 years since the last big event there.

          The system being investigated is to drill into the hot rock and inject water (Dirty or salty is acceptable ( naturally injected is where current geothermal comes from)) producing super-heated geothermal steam.

          And in the very long term (100’s years) killing the volcano.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      “The US fracking oil boom will be short lived.” – 2banana

      Oil is little used in electric power generation- natural gas is.

      The natural gas fracking boom will NOT be short-lived:

    • BTilles says:

      One small quibble. Wind and solar new build have capital costs in line with new power generation. However, they have zero operating costs. Build it and it runs essentially for free. No pre-existing power generating technology can compete. This, to us, is what technological change looks like. And yes we understand the limits of intermittency. But this has not stopped wind generated power from making significant inroads esp, in places like Texas for example.

      • walter map says:

        “Wind and solar new build have capital costs in line with new power generation. However, they have zero operating costs. Build it and it runs essentially for free.”

        Other countries have run the numbers and weighed the issues. That’s why they’re dumping fossil fuels just as fast as they can and going whole hog into renewables. Some have figured out they can pay for conversion just with what it’s costing them in fossil fuel subsidies alone – much less the upfront costing and pricing.

        The US is nearly alone in doubling down on fossil fuels, and that’s only because it’s corrupted by the fossil fuel industry. That’s what happens when decision-making is driven by special interests and not by economic and financial realities. “Free markets” my ass – the last thing these guys want is a free market, because they can’t compete and they know it.

        Even Saudi Arabia is going in for alternatives. Norway is another big fossil fuel exporter, but it largely relies on hydroelectric power generation. Other countries are increasingly leaving the US behind in alternative energy technology and infrastructure because the US is on a mission to cripple its future just to please coal and oil.

      • Lee says:

        “However, they have zero operating costs.”

        Another greenie pipe dream and bs.

        Solar panels need to be cleaned in dusty areas. Wind turbines need ongoing maintenance. Panels fail.

        Panels degrade over time as do turbines.

        Just keep closing coal, nukes, and rely on gas and then when gas runs short you guys will be just like the state of South Australia which has the highest electricity prices in the world.

        All because of a desire to go green and shutting down all the coal plants there.

        See how you like paying over 40 cents per kWh and a supply charge of over $1.40 a day for electricity.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          BTIlles meant “fuel costs,” which are part of operating costs, and fuel costs ARE zero on solar and wind.

          Please don’t extrapolate from the screwed-up power market in Australia to the rest of the universe.

        • Kraig says:

          Wolf’s correction is correct zero fuel costs (solar panels have a 30-year lifecycle and slowly degrade but replacement of all the panels is the same as replacing fossil fuel plants(which need a labour force anyway) if the renewables use less man hours per killowatt than fossils or fossil fuel costs rise enough then renewables are still worth while. Since renewables come cheaper with scale first advantage mover

    • fajensen says:

      Solar and wind will never support America’s needs and are grossly expensive
      Never is a very long time and I’d say that the truthiness of that sentence depends on who this “America” is and what it is “they” need!? I think the article gives a good ide about there being a little part of America that needs Government to fix their mis-investments, as always, thus supporting their needs.

      Why not get coal and nuclear energy infrastructure back in place?

      Because they are both losers, especially nuclear. The new money is going into renewables, the soon-to-be-stranded government-driven investment dribbles into coal and nuclear.

      Who will invest in very complicated machinery requiring maintenance and spare parts when solar power can be procured below 2 cents/kWh?

      Yes, they do need a few guys to dust off the panels once in a while over the 20 years lifetime. But, there is no fuel, no logistics train for the spare parts, no special and risky handling of anything.

      • Kraig says:

        How many unemployed Americans are there likely to be willing to move to get a job as solar panel duster?

        • d says:

          “How many unemployed Americans are there likely to be willing to move to get a job as solar panel duster?”

          Dont you mean,

          How many unemployed Americans are there, likely to be willing to move to get a job as a servicing and supervisory technician supervising solar panel dusting robots?

          Which would probably be a night shift job.

          Quite few older workers, would be very interested in the, Quiet, Economic, rural lifestyles, that go with a job like that.

          Thats an end life job not a beginning career job.

    • Frederick says:

      Yup The Clintons ” exported” quite a bit of uranium to Russia in exchange for a huge payday for Grifter Bills speaking in Moscow It was a ” donation” to the Clinton foundation of course Sorry to go political but I couldn’t help myself

    • Kraig says:

      1) renewables already are supporting first world areas 100%
      2) in a free market all renewables except wind would be competitive. Renewables are not expensive fossils are too cheap(switching gov subsidiary to a fuel agnostic per kw basis or cutting all energy funding and reducing taxes would work in renewables favour
      2a) due to changes in technology, coal and nuclear are not the right technologies for future energy demand. Why not switch back to wood powered steam engines and wooden fireplaces/stoves boilers? (Even if it is worse for the environment than nat gas) The us had managed forests long before coal and nuclear was used and has lots of land for forest. You use the right tool for the job
      2b) nuclear is great at baseline and horrendous at peaker plants (we need peakers and this is what nat gas is great at) as wolf has put about shutting down nukes his hard. Gas is like turning off the radiators
      3) the us has a massive advantage in that peak energy demand is for AC(this is perfect for solar,since when the sun goes away you don’t need heat as much. Solar is already baseline and highly effective in Europe anywhere south of SD state border should not be a problem.
      4) coal is actually worse in terms of uranium issue than nuclear plants
      5) biggest problem with renewables is storage and peak(this is why gas is gaining (and propane and DME (a sort of super propane from derrived from methanol are gaining traction (it can be dropped right in as propane which is a pretty VB mature technology,
      6) nat gas plants overcome the gelling problem of biofuels and can be easily future proofed (they need a nat gas pipeline connection to their boiler like the Australian gas to electric backup. so it is relatively easy to upgrade the grid and convert them to syngas(this is an on the fly conversion of biomass, gassified fuel stock and nat gas) * a Canadian type nuke plant with its ability to operate on mixed uranium (downgraded from surplus nuclear weapons and natural uranium could play a pro-enviromental role here by providing baseline power to a coal gasification plant (reducing co2 and uranium, Mercury pollution, using us resources, isolating and reusing obsolete weapons while exporting clean gas(providing continual supply for storage backup, as well as being available on the future for processing bio fuels.(wood is a good storage medium for sunshine but not the best to burn and burning wood gas means you need a continuous supply of energy to keep the gassigier going.

      Neither coal or nuclear are right for current or future grid technologies (dc grids, smart grids, micro-generation grid tied storage)


      • Greener says:

        Small modular reactors will very much be part of any future energy mix.

        Burning wood to generate electricity is the dumbest and climate unfriendly method thinkable. Wood has carbon intensity similar to that of coal and it emits other nasty substances. The Danes and the Brits get a large chunk of their baseload power from wood-pellets manufactured in the US and the Baltic countries. Pellet production and transport has a massive carbon footprint and the plants that use pellets (typically converted pulverized coal plants) have very low efficiency. It takes a few seconds to burn a whole tree in a 400WM power plant. That has been absorbing carbon for 50 or more years and would likely continue doing so for another 30 – 50 years. So carbon neutrality of woody biomass is a lie. Also a lie is the assertation that pellets are only produced of residue and firewood – pulpwood is very often used and whole trees are felled for raw material. In Europe countries are allowed to subsidize plants that use woody biomass as fuel, it’s considered renewable. In my view this practice is borderline criminal.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      Nuclear power has been the recipient of immense government subsidies, and is still an net economic loser. That’s without even considering the dangers of it.

      The feds insure the plants because private insurers, being profit-seeking entities, rightly understand that one accident could bankrupt them, and thus refuse to provide insurance.

      The federal government – meaning us taxpayers – is on the hook for safely disposing of the waste for thousand of years (Ha!).

      Then there’s the R & D expenses over decades that the government has donated to the industry.

      But it’s still a loser.

      Look at the basic thermodynamics, and you can’t help but see how misguided it is: you’re going to the immense trouble of creating nuclear fission in order to boil water; that’s like using a chain saw to cut butter.

      The sooner this industry dies, the better off we’ll all be.

      • walter map says:

        And then there’s nuclear fusion, which has been The Energy of Tomorrow for sixty years now, and always will be.

      • BTilles says:

        Hi Michael,
        I agree with all your points. Just one observation. A typical coal plant burns maybe 1.5 – 2 million tons of coal per year. A uranium dioxide fuel assembly weighs maybe 100 tons. The energy density of uranium is a large part of its attraction. This also explains its attraction to the military. As for civilian uses, that’s another story.

      • Samurai says:

        “you’re going to the immense trouble of creating nuclear fission in order to boil water; that’s like using a chain saw to cut butter” is the best analogy ever! I will remember it.
        It even implies the danger of what is being done…

        • Michael Fiorillo says:

          Thanks, but I just wish I could take credit for it. I think it was originally made by energy analyst Amory Lovins.

    • MD says:

      “Solar and wind will never support America’s needs and are grossly expensive.”

      Rubbish. Just Pavlov’s Dog-style regurgitation of the hydrocarbon industry propaganda you’re exposed to.

      Solar and wind are not ‘grossly expensive’ at all once the economies of scale start to apply.

      Once the battery technology comes along to efficiently store the electricity generated by renewables, those countries – such as China and Germany – who are investing in the generation infrastructure will be sitting pretty.

      Those on the other hand who, instead of using their tax revenue to achieve this, spend it on pointless, perpetual, unwinnable foreign wars will go the way of the Roman Empire amongst others.

      • Kraig says:

        Wind is at least in therl current turbine model and we already have the storage technology (several actually) in commercial pilot, just funding and willpower needed a dedicated drive (like say Apollo could get us there in 15 years.

    • Nick Kelly says:

      Everywhere has mountains of coal: Alberta, Germany, British Columbia, the UK etc etc.
      The US is awash in nat gas, as is Canada. Just switch to nat gas.

      Note: you don’t have to run pipelines everywhere: you produce elec power on site and supply it to the grid.

      • d says:

        “Note: you don’t have to run pipelines everywhere: you produce elec power on site and supply it to the grid.”

        Thats what logical counties, who want to aid theri citiocens and provide good service to them do.

        They also have, or try to have, god supply grids.

        The American way is to have poor supply grid’s, gated by many Enrons, all taxing the consumer at every gate. And transport the fuel, again at the expense of the consumer, to poorly located generating facilities, as the grids are to expensive to move power across.

        So lining the pockets of Crony capitalist, at the expense of the consumer.

  4. walter map says:

    US DOE Wants to Subsidize Coal Plants Even More though Back Door

    There. That’s better.

    Fossil fuels are already heavily subsidized. Special interests want to massively increase those subsidies because they’re already uncompetitive with alternatives.

    Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year

    A new study finds 6.5% of global GDP goes to subsidizing dirty fossil fuels

    Icing on the cake:

    Shell CEO says next car will be electric

    • mean chicken says:

      How many acres of solar panels are required to support the energy needs of the average home?

      • walter map says:

        How many fracking earthquakes does it take to power Oklahoma? And why won’t the frackers pay for the damage?

        • mean chicken says:

          Such a solid argument and presented so objectively there’s no possibility for discussion.

        • walter map says:

          “Such a solid argument and presented so objectively there’s no possibility for discussion.”

          That’s right. You’re hopelessly outclassed.

          As we have seen, the fossil fuel industry is prepared to resort to any extreme in order to preserve its $5 trillion/year in corporate welfare. That’s a lot of financial motivation, and not something you can argue against, at least not honestly. Which is why you don’t.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        The size of the roof of the home.

        • HeatherR_Volt says:

          Yep. A southerly-facing roof is all you need. Just yesterday, my neighbor (we’re in Maryland) showed me the app that shows how much of his solar power is going back into the grid every day. His meter is reversing, even when it’s cloudy. It will get even better once there are house-sized batteries to store the energy, rather than putting it back on the grid.

        • mean chicken says:

          Last I calculated, wattage density of solar panels falls far short.

          My math indicates a much larger surface area is required than just the roof. I believe the average electrical service is slightly greater than 40KW, given a 200A service is quite common.

          For instance, my heat pump and air handler alone each, run on separate 30A 208V (12KW) circuits. Then there’s lights, water heater, freezer, refrigerator, television, well pumps, etc.

          I added this all up, is my math incorrect?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Mean Chicken,

          Yes, your calculation is incorrect – from the first assumption on all the way to the end.

          In 2015, the average electricity consumption for a US residential utility customer averaged of 901 kWh (kilo Watt hours) per month, ranging from the high end (Louisiana) at 1,286 kWh per month, to the low end (Hawaii) at 513 kWh per month.

          There are 720 hours on average in a month. So to generate 1,286 kWh per month at a constant rate, to use the Louisiana example, you would need to have the installed capacity of (1,286 kWh divided by 720 hours) = 1.8 kW = minuscule.

          Of course, the sun doesn’t always shine, and household power consumption spikes during certain times of the day. So realistically you need more than 1.8 kW capacity, depending on where you are and how much you use the AC, how big your house is, etc. So maybe 5 kW or 7 kW even.

          Most residential solar installations are connected to the grid to sell excess power production during the middle of the day to the grid, and to buy power during the spikes and after the sun goes down from the grid (= net metering).

          Or if you want to be independent from the grid, you could install a battery. But most homeowners go for net metering.

          You really should get informed before you post these kinds of comments.

        • walter map says:

          “I added this all up, is my math incorrect?”

          It is your logic that is fallacious. You specified a solar system designed for the ‘average home’ and then complained you couldn’t run an industrial operation from it.

          Just keep shifting the goalposts and you can’t lose, right?

        • walter map says:

          No doubt about it, Mr. Richter, you are one magnificent fact-checker.

        • d says:

          “The size of the roof of the home.”

          Much less than that, (unless its a very small home) As small homes have higher Per SqM energy needs.

        • mean chicken says:

          Wolf, you can come keep me from freezing on those 3*F winter blizzard nights anytime you want, sometimes the cold lasts for a couple months. Perhaps I can even give you some pointers on how to minimize your carbon footprint while maintaining your home almost 80*F in those conditions all the while consuming about 700W on average?

          While my case most likely isn’t typical, the size of my wire is quite

          Never the less, my peak consumption can approach 200A x 240VAC = 48,000W for short bursts, and that’s far from industrial scale BTW, it’s typical of many homes and of course well beyond 1800W of panels tossed on the roof could hope to produce.

          Consider why national electrical code requires a 2/0 AWG copper or 4/0 AWG aluminum wire feeding electricity into most homes as opposed to summarily calling someone with a typical run of the mill 200A service a liar with an agenda.

          You guys are a waste and if this is acceptable, we’re screwed.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Mean Chicken,

          You live in a cold part of the country and you’re using ELECTRICITY to heat????

        • Lee says:


          People are talking apples and oranges. Maybe the house uses that amount of electricity ‘on average’ throughout a year, but in the real world electricity usage in not used ‘on average’.

          When you look at patterns of usage there are peak periods of usage and spikes in usage during the day and of course seasons as well.

          If you wanted a system just to cover the ‘total usage’ that would cover the average usage during the year for some kind of ‘feel good’ factor then maybe a 1.8kW would be fine in really sunny areas with a large number of hours of sun every day. In winter you’d need a huge system to cover your daily usage.

          I have a 1.5kW system on the roof and if there are only two of us in the house, turn off every appliance at the socket when not in use, never use the clothes dryer, limit baking in the oven, not using the A/C except when absolutely necessary (38 C degree days), having all CFC or LED lighting,.

          And NG for hot water (when the solar boosted system doesn’t provide enough hot water because of the weather), cooktop cooking and heating in winter, we would need a bigger system than that to cover our actual use.

          To go really off grid and disconnect from the electric utility a household would probably need a system 10 times that size and then would still have to limit their lifestyle and usage because of usage spikes and heavy usage such as ovens.

          Adding battery storage would help, but that would be quite costly. Currently a TESLA Powerwall costs around A$12,000 for the 7kW model and you’d need at least two of those to even think about going off grid.

        • Avon Rep. Cindy's Husband says:

          This is correct. A week or two ago on “This Old House” on PBS they went to one of the Hawaii Islands where the power companies are refusing to buy power from solar houses. They have to set up battery packs to store the power as DC, and the system has an inverter to turn it into AC for regular house use.

          They measured the house’s use before the solar, and designed a system to deliver power to fit the pre measured use.
          The battery was 30lbs, I believe it was scale able, that house used 4 or 5 of them, the control and battery area was pretty dam small….

          This may be the way of the future with little local power plants to make up the rest of demand……

          If this happens…… The next doomsday will be a total eclipse like we had this summer…. Kinda the Y2K for a solar neighborhood…..

          Also, I imagine that with the 25 year life of a solar panel, people will be happy if they fail in 10 years as the replacement will most likely deliver much more power at 1/2 the size….

          All fuel driven power plants burn tons of “stuff” to boil water….
          Wind and solar deliver the water already boiled….

          PBS also on a show called NOVA demonstrated nuke plants that create their own fuel, and some can use the bigillions of waste nuke fuel already around for their fuel. And they showed many with designs that automatically shut down, and can never run-away with themselves, or ever melt down, if something silly happens….. They have been built and demo’d .

          And finally…. My dad was a chemical engineer at the New York City CCNY. He and another professor got a patent on a clean coal burning method using powdered coal, so powdered it was like liquid. A very large oil company bought it and buried it… forever. It worked, It was made in the 80’s they started in 75.

          I went to school at Oklahoma SU OSU they have a patent library, I went there in the late 80’s Grad. in ’90. I was fascinated with Fuel injection, low pressure, and the ford VV 7200 carb. I found in the patent library that there is every variation imaginable of VV carbs, low pressure fuel injection patented in the 70’s and never used.

          If big business does not want it to be, it won’t be……
          That is most likely why the divided states are pretty much in last place for everything there is that is good and to be leading in.

          If you guys ever get to spend 10 or 100 hours at a patent library go for it, It’ll be the best time you ever have….


        • mean chicken says:

          “You live in a cold part of the country and you’re using ELECTRICITY to heat????” “You really should get informed before you post these kinds of comments.”

          I feel pretty confident my average consumption of 700W is less than most peers? Perhaps even yours. My actual cost for the electricity itself, is less than $20

          “You really should get informed before you post these kinds of comments.”

          I could say the same, your article reads like a sales pitch but you have no idea of whether I can recoup such an investment nor do you care.

      • BTilles says:

        Hi Mean Chicken,
        Acres? One rule that I’ve seen is a 2000 sq. ft. home might require 12-18 panels depending on usage and insolation (the angle of where you live vs the sun).

        • mean chicken says:

          At last and thanks, someone who doesn’t just try regurgitating incorrect info into cyberspace. Do you recall if this figure was adequate for cutting the cord completely?

          Some people, perhaps out of ignorance, pride themselves on selling power back to the utility but they neglect to account for they’re still highly reliant on that same utility each time their consumption exceeds (however briefly) installed capacity. That’s where the value of infrastructure sharing resides and yet is vehemently discounted and ridiculed.

          I have more questions than answers, just saying it’s not right to be hypocritical in a fair world b/c the concept of cost shifting is one of ethics that hypocrites themselves are guilty of railing against when convenience presents itself. IMO

          It’s apparent most people don’t understand or perhaps prefer to overlook the value of electrical power, how it’s transmitted and the huge costs associated with maintaining a functional system. They prefer ignorance perhaps, or are talking their book?

      • Kraig says:

        Nine hundredths of an acre plus a rooftop required.based on the latest data from Germamy and adjusting for us sizes it’s around 4000 square feet or 0.0988 acres the rooftop is used for other technologies though

      • Lee says:

        1 acre of solar panels is about 1 megawatt of generation.

        The actual output varies by time of day, temp of the panels, and the amount of sunshine as well as the age of the panels.

        There are numerous calculators that will tell you the amount of output one can expect in certain areas based on previous weather and sunshine patterns.

        So how much does 100% renewable generation/battery storage cost?

        Tesla’s battery in South Australia is about 100 megawatts of storage that will cost about A$100 million.

        That does not include any other infrastructure such as panels or turbines needed to charge the batteries.

        For example, South Australia uses around 2000 megawatts per hour on average – sometimes more and sometimes less.

        Right now the generation in SA is made up of 405 MW of gas, 1128 of wind, and 157 of small scale solar. So about 1700 megawatts of generation on a Saturday afternoon.

        The other night wind was down to around 29 MW per hour and the majority of electricity was being provided by NG. That lack of wind carried on for about two days and limited wind power generation to a very small amount.

        To store enough electricity for use for a 1 hour cycle with no wind, solar, or NG and totally rely on battery storage would require 20 of those battery packs to power the state or a cost of A$2 billion.

        To totally run on batteries for one day would cost A$48 billion in batteries at current prices.

        Again that does not include the panels or wind turbines to store the power for later use.

        Of course the sun will shine during the day, but not at night, and what if it is overcast, and the wind will blow, but at what speed?

        So how much redundancy in a 100% green energy renewable system would be needed?

        What happens when the wind doesn’t blow much and not only do you not get enough electricity to power the state, but not enough to even think of charging the batteries?

        What happens when the weather is crap for a week and the panels only provide 10% of their rated output because the sky is overcast?

        How many panels, turbines, and how much battery storage would you need to run a 100% fail safe 100% renewable green energy system for a modern economy and how much would it cost?

        • Kraig says:

          This is the idea of grid tied systems. Several storage options are viable at grid scale not locally. German dams are equipped with motor generator s. Buy renewables during generation (to run pumps and sell during peak) we even have waterless now for dry areas.

        • d says:

          You left out , Hydro, Tidal Race, Geothermal, And hydrogen, (Straight generation or fuel cell) all of which are not wind or sun dependent.

          Yes a green system requires a greater degree of redundancy, once it is built, it is however built.

          You know as well as I do, Clean has a bigger upfront cost, but far less health and environmental costs. Which are not factored into the up front cost of dirty energy.

          If the true environmental and health costs of dirty energy were put on it as a Per KWH tax to consumers, the majority would not be able to afford to use it. With out a MASSIVE pay rise.

          That required pay rise and TAX, would set off a global hyperinflation event.

        • Lee says:

          “You left out , Hydro, Tidal Race, Geothermal, And hydrogen, (Straight generation or fuel cell) all of which are not wind or sun dependent.”

          Maybe great in theory, but not currently available or impractical.

          In some areas those might work, but Hydro in a desert with lack of typically needed topography eliminates that.

          As well as the greenies are against building more dams. We had the chance here in Victoria to build more dams and that was rejected. Instead the state government went with an energy intensive desal plant to provide water. Could have killed two birds with one stone and we got a lemon plant.

          Geothermal – yep, already being done in many areas, however that is a location specific type generation and depends on geology. I don’t think that you’ll find that is a good source of energy in many places such as the Plains or Northern USA such as Minnesota or North Dakota. NZ, Japan, Hawaii, ok.

          Tidal – again an area specific technology dependent on massive tidal surges and again time specific generation. Even more costly than wind or solar.

          Hydrogen – pie in the sky technology and very costly.

    • mean chicken says:

      Where are all these batteries coming from, is there no environmental impact? The single most troublesome component of any car in my experience has been the starting .battery.

      Nobody will own vehicles in the future, we’re entering the sharing economy with self-driving cars that automatically maintain themselves?

      • MD says:

        Why don’t you go and find out the answers to these questions yourself?

        Or do you expect to be spoon-fed?

        • walter map says:

          He already knows the answers. The questions are a propaganda tool designed by the fossil fuel industry to generate doubt because they know they can’t compete. They can’t afford for the public to figure out it’s getting cheated out of clearly superior alternatives.

        • mean chicken says:

          “He already knows the answers.”

          That’s right I do. But I suspect you don’t, based on your comments.

  5. marco says:

    Keep voting “War Party Of The Rich” .

    Either branch – Republicrat or Demopublican. Multimillionaires all.

    Because that’s how “the little people” get constantly screwed- over and over and over again ………

  6. TJ Martin says:

    Despite Wolf’s overall leaning away from political commentary allow me to be blunt and personal on the subject of coal ;

    When the one half of my family was pogromed out of what was then western Russia ( Carpathian mountains ) both because of their religion as well as their profession ( artists ) the only jobs available to them in the US because back then they were THOSE people were in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania where my great grand father along with his two brothers and four of his five sons all died in the mines due to black lung , mining collapses , mine fires * etc along with several of the women in the family .

    Luckily for my grand father by the time he came of age the then creator of Johns Manville Corporation had placed signs on all the mines saying ” If You Can Read This I Have a Better Life for You ” Because his father had allowed him to stay in school till the age of 14 he could … and he did . Moving himself and his wife to what became Manville NJ

    When in my teens one day I asked him how he could of been willing to take such a gamble not really knowing what was in store with JM . His answer was blunt , harsh and simple ;

    ” If it hadn’t worked out I’d of rather sold pencils on the street corner than spend one more day in those damn coal mines that killed three quarters of my family ”

    When I then broached the subject of the multiple cancers he’d contracted due to asbestos exposure his answer was even more succinct :

    ” Everyone that stayed behind was broke due to the Company Town/Script/Homes ( shacks ) tactics of the Coal Mine owners and dead by the age of 57 whereas I’m still standing at age 83 with my own home , a bank account and an inheritance to leave to you and your father ”

    Which then begs the question . Placing all pollution etc issues aside . Why does this POTUS have such an utter fascination with coal … And why would anyone want to continue working in the coal mines when their skills could be so easily transferred over to the repair and restore our rapidly decaying infrastructure across the country ?

    * Mine Fires ; To this day including in my family’s home town there are decades verging on century old coal mine fires still burning underground polluting the air .. with coal fire smoke coming up from cracks in the streets / sidewalks / basements etc

    • BTilles says:

      Hi TJ Martin,

      First, thank you for the personal comment.
      As to your last point about the President’s fascination with coal: There are several definite interest groups that the President seems instinctively loathe to cross: evangelicals, white nationalists, and the corporate wing of the Republican Party which includes climate change denialist from energy producing states. None of these groups oppose coal except for perhaps some of evangelicals.

  7. Petunia says:

    Most people have never heard of the Henry Hub in Louisiana, but it is the delivery point for natural gas in the southern US. If you buy natural gas contracts, this is the delivery point.

    During Katrina, the Henry Hub had to be shut down and with it over 80% of natural gas deliveries stopped. I think they were lucky that it was only shut down for about a week, but it could have been much much longer.

    Nobody prefers nuclear or coal power, but the reality is that it is a reliable source of power, to back up an unreliable source of power, natural gas.

    I don’t have a problem with what the DOE is doing, not to have multiple sources of power generation would be irresponsible.

    • TJ Martin says:

      Multiple energy sources ?

      A good thing !

      Coal as one of those alternative multiple sources in light of its cradle to grave environmental impact ( including the tons of coal dust falling off the trains while in transport ) – the health impacts on the miners and costs thereof to the tax payers , coals blatant unreliability * ( as well as quality consistency ) … etc – et al – ad nauseam ( emphasis on nauseam as well as emphysema )

      A very bad as well as deadly thing indeed !

      * According to the DOE over the previous four administrations coal is no more reliable than natural gas and in fact more often than not is less so

    • walter map says:

      “Nobody prefers nuclear or coal power, but the reality is that it is a reliable source of power”

      The renewable energy industry is Texas was almost completely unaffected by H. Harvery, which isn’t something nuclear or coal can say. Besides, renewables aren’t actually capable of creating environmental disasters, which nuclear and fossil fuels do on a regular and ongoing basis.

      Ignoring the competition isn’t going to make it go away.

      • BTilles says:

        Hi Walter,
        I agree with most of your points. However, the South Texas Nuclear Project (sounds like a prog rock group) outside of Houston was never taken off line, and continued producing at full power, during the recent hurticane. Whether that was the correct operating decision or not is another conversation.

      • Greener says:

        Wind turbines were not running during the hurricane

        • Wolf Richter says:

          This is nuclear-industry propaganda and factually false.

          The article linked below has a chart that shows the power output of wind farms in the hurricane area for each day. Note that wind farms that did stop generating power did so because the hurricane tore down the power lines in their area and the wind farms lost their connection to the grid. But this happened to other power plants too, and damage to the grid affected the entire area. The other wind farms continued to generate power throughout:

          “At noontime on Friday, August 25th [day of landfall], the Texas coastal wind projects were operating at 95% output, an exceptionally high output level (also called a capacity factor).

          “As expected, several wind farms curtailed power production when wind speeds exceeded safety limits. Also, as local grid connections failed and power outages affected the entire region, wind farms remained offline until grid connection could be re-established.

          “Between 3-4 PM, as conditions deteriorated, wind power production dropped by approximately 800 megawatts, with a regional operation rate of about 47%.

          “Over the next three days, wind power production generally increased during the daytime, and declined at nighttime – similar to “normal” coastal wind power production levels. At no time did power production from all coastal wind farms reach zero.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The Henry Hub is important because its pricing is used by the NYMEX and because it’s the delivery point for those contracts. But much of US natural gas never physically goes through the Henry Hub. For example, none of the natgas in the West does. There are numerous other hubs and prices around the country, with prices varying wildly from hub to hub.

      Another example: a big part of the surge in associated gas production in West Texas (in the Permian) goes straight to Mexico, priced via different mechanisms.

      And there are numerous natural gas storage locations around the country. Here is the EIA’s storage report by region, showing that storage is being filled regionally in preparation for heating season (peak demand):

  8. The politics of NG turns on low interest rates, which are about to end, or so they say. In transportation cheap NG benefits mostly government and quasi government agencies, and creating an economy of scale would bring the value of NG on a par with gasoline.
    Geopolitically the exporting of LNG would hurt Gazprom and Russia’s strategic advantage in Europe, and give the Japanese a huge economic lift (they pay 5X ROW prices) which indirectly hurts China. There was never any doubt who Trump favors, he hates NATO and he wants to make the Allies pay more.
    He is going to kill LNG with imported coal and help his Communist friends, whom he owes a particular debt of gratitude.

  9. Chris from Dallas says:

    Are they preparing for war? Or just continuing the war on our pocketbooks?

    • mean chicken says:

      The former is an excuse for the latter. Gargantuan MIC must be fed a steady diet.

  10. Lee says:

    “Why not switch back to wood powered steam engines and wooden fireplaces/stoves boilers?”

    Guess what?

    We are putting in a wood heater this summer as NG has become too costly to heat the house here in Victoria. It will pay for itself in less than two years and still add value to the house.

    Electricity is around 40 cents per kWh and even that makes our inverters costly to run.

    Back to the future as a result of ridiculous government regulation and greenie crapola.

    • Kraig says:

      That is greener than coal though. If your in a low population area there is nothing wrong with biomass including wood as long as it is from a sustainable source the problem becomes when it is concentrated. The southeast USA(and especially Maine for some reason) is actually a major exporter of biomass wood to Europe. The us has a major advantage in that it has the landspace so can afford more smaller communities and more forests. It’s not a bad solution for small towns and rural areas . Although not viable for large settlements other technologies are. Of course there are a shortage of tree nurseries and their costs should be factored in.

  11. Kye Goodwin says:

    While we’re talking about subsides, don’t forget that most of the natural gas fracked from shale since the practice took off has been sold at a considerable loss. A long term price about double the current level would be necessary for gas from shale to make a profit. So the NG price too has been “subsidized” by investors who will probably eventually lose a lot of money. It seems that the need for cheap energy has been temporarily filled by substituting a ready supply of bad debt.

  12. William says:

    I am a bit late in adding my 2 cents (no pennies now in Canada) worth to the above comments.

    There seems to be two great divides; the dreamers verses the realists.

    When I was young I indirectly worked in many coal mines all around the world. All were new open pit strip mines. Many provided coal to power plants to produce electricity.

    By now I have surely offended all the dreamers on this site! Not one of those ungreen people!

    Sorry to say that I haven’t died of black lung yet and show no signs that I ever will!

    Now with that out of the way, having an electrical/mechanical background, I have always had a great interest in alternate energy sources.

    How many of you have actually built a working wind turbine from scratch? None? Well I have built a few, many helping young neighborhood children with their school windmill projects. Yeah, word gets around. But hey they were a lot of fun. Imagine the challenge of making a working windmill out of an old cassette answering machine!

    Larger home made units ended up making too much noise to be left running or I would have been banned from this neck of the woods! But I sure had a lot of fun building and testing them both at home and at the cottage.

    To be somewhat efficient wind turbine blades need to be able to go faster than wind speeds. When they do they also make one heck of a racket! I will never forget the scared look on my kids faces when my turbine blades reached top speeds! It was like a helicopter taking off!

    Now to create a wind blade that spins at less than wind speed and is much quieter, similar to the old slow turning water pumping windmills farmers used, greatly reduces the amount of power produced. Not only that but the blades need to be much bigger and heavier to boot!

    Don’t forget those big toxic turbine blades you see everywhere need to be replaced every 5 to 7 years and end up in your local landfill! That’s really green don’t you think? So these mean green machines have no running costs and no carbon footprint once you install one! Well I have 100 acres of consolidated moose pasture I would like to sell you!

    Please remember wind turbine power output increases exponentially as the wind speed increases! For example for a given blade diameter of 1 meter; with a windspeed of 5 mph output power would be 1 watt, for 10 mph wind power output rises to 6 watts, for 22 mph wind output power rises to 70 watts, and for 44 mph wind power output rises to 560 watts! Quite the exponential rise!

    Here in southern Ontario a wind turbine will only turn fast enough to produce any power about 15% of the time each year! So what do you do for the other 85% of the time? Obviously you need a reliable back-up power supply that can be turned on and off as quickly as the wind rises and falls!

    Which brings up the problem utilities have dealing with sudden surges in power output from varying wind speeds. This can destabilize their grid networks if not dealt with very quickly. Many utilities have limited the number of wind turbines connected because of these power surges.

    When it comes to solar panels I am more in tune with ” mean chicken” and I hope he has a rather thick skin.

    Most solar panel installations done here in Ontario require huge gov subsidies. Typically they get 20 year contracts to buy electricity at 10 times (it used to be 40) the going rate. Basically if you install solar panels you are screwing your fellow neighbors who can’t afford to do so. I see nothing morally “green” in screwing your poorer fellow tax payers for the next 20 years!

    Currently here in Ontario you can buy “on sale” a watt of solar panel power for about $3. With the amount of sunshine and low sun angles we get up here good luck finding any type of math, whether new or old, that will ever return your investment! You need to force your fellow tax payer into providing a 20 year subsidy just to make the math work!

    Now the above solar installation avoids the elephant in the room, storage batteries! The last time I ran a quick back of the envelope calculation I would have needed 7 of those $7,000 USD Tesla batteries to power my energy efficient home! Man that’s about $56K USD including 13% sales tax.

    Worse still is these batteries would need to be replaced every few years due to the wear and tear from deep cycle discharging!

    If these batteries were to last 10 years (not very likely based upon Tesla’s car battery life) then my battery costs per year would be $5.6K USD per year! That is at least 5 times my total electricity costs of less than $1,000 Cdn per year! We are not even including the costs of solar panels and their mounting brackets plus screwing all of your poorer neighbors for 20 years!

    All I can say is until solar panel costs come down more and cheap storage batteries are produced, you “dreamers” can dream on but if you try to force your pie in the shy views on your neighbors and ignore reality all you will create for everyone is a nightmare.

    It will happen when it is ready.

    For the time being I prefer not to put all of my power eggs in one basket!


  13. J.M. Keynes says:

    – But our “dear beloved leader” Trump supposedly wanted to “drain the swamp” ? What’s left of that ?

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