Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Legislators should rethink costly renewable-energy mandates

german solar panel photo
"Subsidizing solar panels in Germany was about as useful as growing pineapples in Alaska."

Little noticed in legislative debates over taxes and budgets, House File 956, an omnibus energy bill, is quietly working its way through committee hearings, on its way to the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. A related bill, Senate File 901, is on a similar path. 

HF 956 is sponsored by DFL Reps. Melissa Horton and Bill Morgan. It imposes a new Renewable Energy Standard (RES), requiring investor-owned utilities to get 40 percent of their electric energy from renewable fuels like wind energy by 2030. This is a big increase over the existing and probably unattainable 25 percent RES. The bill also adds an additional mandate for investor-owned utilities to get 4 percent of their energy fuel supply from solar energy by 2025.

The Energy Information Administration reports that for all of 2012, the United States got a little over 3 percent of its electric energy from wind, and one-half of 1 percent from solar. Although Minnesota gets more energy from wind than most other states, the leap from typical 3-4 percent to 44 percent from wind and solar is huge, even if we count on some help from other renewables such as burning biomass and some small hydroelectric power systems.

Intermittent wind and solar energy are more expensive than conventional energy fuel sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. To support this costly new Minnesota mandate for solar energy, HF 956 imposes a tax of 1.33 percent of a utility's gross revenues. The proceeds, at least $30 million per year from Xcel Energy customers, will subsidize solar installations throughout the state.

The effect: a money transfer

The effect of programs like this is to transfer money from low- and middle-income ratepayers to upper-income folk who can afford to decorate their roofs with solar panels. The money collected from all ratepayers and taxpayers then is distributed to wealthy homeowners. This has been the result of the major push for solar in Germany.

In meeting with a number of legislators this week, I got the impression that they are inspired by the example of Germany, the poster country for solar. Using $10 billion annually in subsidies, Germany now has more than a quarter million rooftop solar installations and 40 percent of the world’s solar capacity. The $10 billion is raised by fees on all electric power customers.

 In 2012, Germany produced 28 billion kwh of electricity from solar, 5.5 percent of its total electric demand. Germany also subsidizes large amounts of wind power, and wind and solar combined provided a variable 16 percent of electric demand in 2012. This required backup natural-gas plants to run in inefficient start-stop mode, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, wasting fuel, and stressing machinery.

Sudden fluctuations from renewables in Germany's power grid are causing damage to a number of industrial companies. While many of them have responded by getting their own power generators and regulators to help minimize the risks, they warn that companies might be forced to leave if the government doesn't deal with the issues.

It was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when the machines suddenly ground to a halt at Hydro Aluminium in Hamburg. The rolling mill's highly sensitive monitor stopped production so abruptly that the aluminum belts snagged. They hit the machines and destroyed a piece of the mill. The reason: The voltage off the electricity grid weakened for just a millisecond.

German customers pay surcharge

To support Germany’s renewable energy program, electric customers now pay a surcharge of 5.28 euro cents/kwh (7 U.S. cents). That’s more than the 4-5 cents/kwh wholesale cost of electric power production from U.S. fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.

Jürgen Grossmann, the CEO of Germany's largest power utility, recently told Der Spiegel magazine that "subsidizing solar panels in Germany was about as useful as growing pineapples in Alaska." I suggest the same analogy applies to Minnesota.

Rolf Westgard  is a professional member of the Geological Society of America and guest faculty in the University of Minnesota's Lifelong Learning program. His current class is "America's climate and energy future; the next 25 years."

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (66)

Costs

Just a quick question: does the figures for coal and natural gas cover all of its costs, such as CO2 emissions, acid rain,smog, lung disease, and mercury? If not, why not? How does wind and solar match up if these costs have not been factored in?

Looking further into ths issue, if renewable energy sources are not a viable alternative to fossil fuels, what is?

Thanks

I don't think a lot of people want you to ask those questions, but I'm happy you did. I'll keep checking back for a response.

Checking back

See below

Costs

Those costs are not addressed below.

Costs and rewards

I echo your comments, Todd. Those are the questions that need answers. Fossil fuels and nuclear are not the long-term solution to our energy needs. In the meantime, a carbon tax is one idea that ought to be more widely discussed and explored.

Carbon taxes

I fully agree that carbon taxes, especially on gasoline, should be our first step

It should be nuclear

Nuclear has infinitely more upsides than down, especially when you look into the latest in nuclear technology, like Gen IV nuclear reactors which should be ready to go in the next decade that create 100x more energy from the same amount of resources and waste that lasts only 100 years rather than thousands, and because of the smaller quantities needed the waste can be stored safely on the nuclear sites rather than looking for another Yucca Mountain type place.

Or Thorium nuclear, which have huge positive advantages, such as the waste product is hydrogen, which can be used in hydrogen power cells to then power automobiles.

To be honest, this is our only realistic alternative, because our energy consumption is going to increase greatly over the next 20 years, and it's the only source that is reliable and plentiful enough to supply it. Solar and Wind will never be able to keep up with the increasing demand. And more solar/wind actually increases all of the other CO2 costs associated with them to be entirely honest, because both sources require coal as a backup, which means your coal plants are running at less than optimal capacity, which actually increases emissions, acid rain, smog, lung disease and mercury because it's running dirtier than it would at optimal efficiency. Powering up and down makes coal even dirtier than what sola/wind is supposed to replace.

Nuclear

Right on, Mr Schultz. Recycling, as the French do at La Hague, will deal with the spent fuel storage problem. In the meantime, Yucca Mountain would work well. As the GAO noted, the problem there is political, not geologic.

Thanks Rolf for your

Thanks Rolf for your continued thoughtful comments on energy sources. Your writings should be required reading for all politicians.
I attended a workshop recently which featured a solar panel company saleman who presented all of the benefits of the solar industry. When asked what the payback was on installing solar, the response was that it will never offer a payback. You will only do this if it is something you believe in. I think that pretty well sums up most of the alternate energy business. It never offers anything other than a "feel good" moment.

Ancillary costs and options.

Coal has many additional environmental costs which are hard to calculate. Whether CO2 has a cost is open to question; the plants love it. Do we charge you and the rest of humanity for exhaling it?
A big wind turbine is 150 tons of steel and concrete. Add the cost for producing that stff. Natural gas produces half the coal CO2 and none of the other coal pollutants like sulfur and mercury.
Wind and solar don't work as a replacement for base load coal. They just create the need to build more gas plants to fill in the majority of the time when intermittent wind and solar don't produce.
Current primary replacement for coal is natural gas. A better replacement is nuclear which only emits water vapor and runs round the clock, rain or shine, night or day, wind or calm. Water vapor is a GHG but it rains out. For more on nuclear you can google my unique name and the word 'nuclear' and get numerous articles including Minnpost.

I love it!

Wow, in this comment we get self-promotion and a snarky strawman argument from our esteemed author. You're looking less and less like an academic with empirical evidence and more and more like someone with an agenda.

Just so I understand your argument, calculating costs is 'hard' and is, what?, therefore irrelevant? And since we exhale CO2 and plants can use some of it, then what? I shouldn't be concerned? A snarky response with no meat behind it.

Whether or not CO2 has a cost is not, as you state, open to question. There are real costs incurred with an atmosphere loaded with additional man-made CO2. Insurance companies are calculating it to project costs and potential losses, the government is calculating it to assess national security threats due to climate-change induced water and territorial conflict. Just because we aren't charging emitters today, or because we haven't come up with a unit cost doesn't mean there isn't one.

Since wind and solar cannot (right now) replace gas for the entire base load, it isn't worth pursing at all? Is there ever a point in your mind where it does become necessary. You argument here is, since we can't fix the whole thing we shouldn't therefore fix or enhance any of it? That's sort of a disgraceful position to take - especially from an academic.

Base load

Without utility scale storage(occasionally available from hydro), wind and solar cannot replace base load.Research has the potential to improve solar; and solar and nuclear may be the future. And I am not aware of any insurance company projections on CO2 costs. As Stanford's Nobel physicist, Robert Laughlin, puts it, CO2 is about the only non toxic thing we are emitting.
Coal is the big environmental problem, and for this decade natural gas and nuclear are the replacements.
Please read my article; it has lots of facts and figures; none of them disgraceful.

Pollutant

Actually any item you care to point out is a pollutant if it's in a quantity you don't need. Even water is great until you're in it up over your head.

The same goes for CO2. Sure, some is good for plants. But too much of it is still too much of it if it's heating up your planet.

One of the disconnects I think Rolf has is that he's looking at the immediate situation and near term (0 - 10 years), where as other people are looking at the situation from the medium to long term (20 - 100 years) point of view. Yes, solar and wind can't replace base load at the moment, but will that always be the case? A few questions we should be asking:

-What are the trends of solar and wind cost? Are the costs coming down, staying the same, or rising?
-At what point does solar and wind costs surpass coal?
-Are there ways to make solar and wind more reliable and effective as a base load?
-What will be the impact of this bill on solar and wind development? Will it spur innovation and help bring the price down?

Personally, I think solar and wind will be boutique generators for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep our options open and help encourage their development. Even if coal and gas are the generators of choice for the near future, we need to look beyond that horizon and start planning now for the switch to an alternative.

Fundamental

The problems for solar and wind are fundamental. They are low density and intermittent. Think of a quiet night when the wind is down.

Limitations

Those limitations are easily overcome, which we have both addressed in other articles on this subject. As an industry professional you should know what they are. Can you articulate the pros and cons of those solutions?

CO2

There really isn't a question about whether or not CO2 has a cost. While plants love it in the right doses, food type plants tend to outgrow their ability to provide proper nutrient density when CO2 levels are higher. Not to mention that CO2 has a proven greenhouse effect. Even assuming the sun would begin rising and setting in coordination with the global warming introduced by increased greenhouse gases in order to provide a longer growing season, the lack of deep frosts and freezes in climates that should have them introduces more opportunities for crop diseases. In other words, it's incredibly overly simplistic to view increased CO2 as a positive because plants "inhale" it. The practical result isn't as wonderful as it would appear from a two-dimensional perspective.

As for comparing the exhalations of human beings to the belching of CO2 from giant beasts that are power plants and motor vehicles, that's like saying that taking a cougar into your house is the same basic concept as adopting a kitten. Not only is breathing a matter of life and death for a human being, while being something not so terribly critical in the production of energy, but the scale is completely and utterly different. If the kitten bites you, you might bleed a little and have to clean it out with soap. If the cougar bites you, you might want to consider visiting a hospital--assuming the cougar stops at just a bite.

While I might agree that nuclear is a viable option once we get aside some both rational and irrational fears from the public, making light of how costly the current energy situation is is irresponsible and misleading. Meanwhile, you are intentionally understating the usefulness and progressively better utility of other alternative power sources, such as solar, geothermal, and wind energy. While we have not yet mastered any one of them (though we continue to get better and better at them), it is not out of the realm of possibility that they might someday be able to power all of our needs. After all, these three energy sources provide most, if not all, of the energy to power all activities of the entire natural world, including the moving of continents and the production of fossil fuels, themselves, with enough energy left over to give us sunburns, run sail boats, and unleash powerful earthquakes.

Regardless of how much more or less bad stuff other fossil fuels create upon burning, it's just a matter of time before the cougar gets a good taste of blood and doesn't stop with one chomp. The only good news in that regard is that we can almost guarantee that the supply of fossil fuels will outlast us, but only because we shortened our own lifespan.

You do great damage to your credibility

With that line about charging humans for exhaling.

Is it that you really don't understand why respiration is not comparable to burning fossil fuels? Or is it that you think that reader will not understand the difference and don't mind misleading them?

Neither looks very good.

Loosen up; a little humor won't hurt you

It's those cows belching methane that are the problem.

Humor

Rolf, voice inflection and facial expressions don't show up in text. If you want to convey humor, you have to make more of an effort to make sure it shows through. Otherwise people take you at face value. (Pardon the pun.)

Open to Question?

"Whether CO2 has a cost is open to question; the plants love it. Do we charge you and the rest of humanity for exhaling it?" Rolf, this makes your rants against solar and wind suspect. As if anyone needs reminding, this was the tactic of the tobacco companies--try to create the impression that the science is not settled. CO2 is the most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. We must greatly reduce our burning of fossil fuels. Furthermore, ocean acidification (caused by increased CO2 in the air) poses a grave threat to the marine food chain. And, by the way, human (and animal) respiration is part of a closed loop. The carbon that we exhale was, a very short time ago, removed from the air by the plants we (or our food animals) just ate. It is not fossil carbon.

Loosen up, people

Obviously our breathing doesn't compare to the 15 million or so tons of CO2 that Xcel's Sherco coal plant emits annually. Actually, ruminant animals exhaling methane are a bigger threat to GW than we are.
And I don't rant, I just use numbers and data.
And current studies, including the about to be released Fifth Assessment from the IPCC and the new one in the Economist, are starting to shed some doubt on the impact of continued CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

Snarky

Rolf, you lose a lot of people when you throw out comments like charging people for breathing. You have some good data, but posting silly comments like that makes people tune out to what you have to say.

Turbines

A turbine certainly does use a lot of steel and concrete! How much does a coal or gas powered plant use?

Efficiency

A gas or nuclear plant gets a lot more energy per construction ton over the life of the plant. Prairie Island will produce 8 or 9 billion kwh/year for 60 to 80 years. The turbines and solar panels will be junk in 25.

Data

Do you have figures to back up that claim? Do your figures include the total cost of ownership yet or are you still externalizing the health care, pollution, and other environmental costs?

Which Future Do We Want to Leave Our Grandchildren

A world devastatingly damaged by our continued pouring of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere,...

a world devastated by the inevitable accidents involving nuclear waste, which we still can't find a way to deal with,...

or a world where efficiency increases, new energy storage technologies, and renewable energy have prevented the previous two worlds from becoming reality?

Despite massive efforts on the part of the dinosaur fuel industry, everything required for that third world is currently in development and costs are rapidly dropping.

I know I care more about my grandchildren's future than I care about spending more, even substantially more on my energy bills,...

or about the continuing obscene profits and executive compensation being earned by dinosaur energy company executives.

It leaves me seriously scratching my head wondering about those who DON'T.

Answers

As Stanford's Nobel physicist puts it: " The only non polluting substance we put into the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. The plants love it."
The world has not been devastated by nuclear accidents. Our US nuclear industry has one of the best safety records of any industry in the world.
Efficiency increases are important and effective. There are no utility scale storage systems except occasionally hydro. Wind and solar are 1% of US total energy and are trivial, intermittent, and expensive.
Instead of believing in mythical technology. support hard choices like gasoline taxes.

More Answers

What makes you believe that he doesn't support gasoline taxes?

Ancedotal Evidence Doesn't Add Up

It seems that the author is against this bill because of how Germany chose to implement it. Why can't we instead learn from their mistakes and make a better bill?

The anecdote about the assembly line is a bit of a red herring. I googled for this, and read further on the story. It seems the company's equipment cannot handle any fluctuation in power - even for a millisecond. Surely brownouts have occurred with all energy sources at one point or another. I'm on good old St. Paul power (which I understand use to come from coal and now comes from gas) and I've had a time or two every summer when the lights flicker off and on for a brief moment as the system is under load.

The fact that the business wasn't equipped to handle this isn't the fault of solar energy or a proposed bill - it's a bad decision by the business. Working in IT, our systems are vulnerable to the same sort of thing - a momentary lapse in power can knock out services for the entire system (I work at a large financial company). Knowing that any outage or 'blip' would be disastrous and money-losing, all of our power is conditioned and spikes smoothed, and we have redundant power supplies. In addition to temporary batteries and longer term diesel generators. That's responsible business planning. Holding up a German business that didn't plan well, and would have suffered the same problem from a coal-powered brown out, as the poster child against this bill really is a weak argument on the part of the author.

Business planning

You are correct. Businesses whose power supply comes from erratic sources like renewables need to plan for interruptions. Nuclear reactors are shut down for fuel replacement and maintenance about every 22 months. One of the reactors at Prairie Island recently ran continuously for every second for the 22 months between shut downs.
Per the EIA, US solar and wind have capacity factors of 15 to 29%, meaning much of the time IMO they don't produce much and are filled in by gas plants.

Germany

Thanks for looking up the full story, Chris. I also work in IT and it seemed odd to me that a company with millions of dollars worth of critical equipment doesn't have a line conditioner on their electrical system to handle fluctuations. That struck me as the height of silliness. It seemed like Rolf was cherry picking an anecdote that really didn't have anything to do with solar power in an effort to create a story about how bad solar is.

Solar isn't bad

It is just expensive and intermittent with really low capacity factors.

More misleading info from our author....

Just to add some context and background to another "supporting element" of the author's article... I'd also like to point out that the whole "pineapples in Alaska" line isn't "recent". It's coming up on a year old (June 2012). The person quoted (Jürgen Grossmann) was ousted last summer by his company. He had a five year contract with the board to serve as CEO and they chose not to renew his contract.

The comment about pineapples that is quoted was his response to Germany's plans to move away from Nuclear (after Fukushima) for safety reasons and to embrace alternatives. Mr. Grossmann was a heavy promoter of nuclear, and as such, wouldn't be my first choice as an authority on the subject of solar and it's pro's and con's. Of course he'd be mad if the technology he was promoting was suddenly the new boogeyman. This isn't an energy company CEO giving an objective opinion - this is an ousted business leader defending a failed business plan.

Germany failed business plans

The two failed German business plans IMO are $10 billion/year wasted on solar, and shutting down those useful, dependable nuclear plants.

Restating Grossman's quote

I'll restate the quote as of April 25, 2013: "IMO subsidizing solar in Minnesota is as useful as growing pineapples on the Iron Range." REW

Quotes

While it's a cute quote, it really doesn't add anything to the narrative as it's just an opinion. It's like the joke "nuclear power is the most expensive method man has yet invented for boiling water." Nice sound bite, but can we stick to an adult discussion?

sound bite

And it's false, since nuclear plants operate for 2-3 cents/kwh including fuel, it's the cheapest way to boil water.

To cut to the chase..

Mr. Westgard is a well-known advocate for nuclear power.

He has written on this matter many times before both in MinnPost and elsewhere.

e.g.

Minnesota should join the nuclear renaissance and lift its ban on new plants

MinnPost 09/10/10

link:

http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2010/09/minnesota-should-join-n...

That's fine.

What isn't fine - and a little tiresome - is his constant attempts to denigrate solar and wind as alternatives. This time it is solar which may NOT in fact be the best alternative for Minnesota.

Wind power has been doing pretty well, Rolf. That one is a little harder to shoot down.

The next time Mr. Westgard writes an article related directly or indirectly to nuclear power, perhaps he should - for intellectual honesty's sake - state his position as an enthusiast for nuclear power?

Best regards to Mr. Westgard. I admire a man with strong beliefs, sometimes even backed up by good arguments.

Bill Gleason

Thank you, Bill

I am an avowed nuclear supporter, but receive no remuneration for that. Except perhaps, my life.
In 1995 I was diagnosed with advanced late stage prostate cancer(PSA 83, etc). I underwent experimental high intensity neutron beam radiation at the U of Washington Med Ctr. That was 18 years ago, and I am still here causing trouble.
I have been involved in technology for military program nuclear waste as stored in underground tanks at Hanford which threaten the Snake River aquifer, as well as other DOE programs. I am well aware of the benefits and hazards of nuclear energy.
IMO the best future for nuclear, besides breeders, is the major effort underway for small nuclear power plants. They are based on the 50-75 MW nuclear engines that power our naval vessels, including submarines as they reliably traverse 2000 miles under the Arctic ice cap, solely on their nuclear power plants.
REW

German greens

The German Green Party is very powerful and appears to have Merkel under control. Witness shutting down nuclear plants with reliable low cost energy, so they can build coal and import nuclear from France.
Business leaders are very concerned about what is happening to Germany's energy supply. Some are losing jobs from green pressure.

Browns

Well, some people are losing their lives due to air pollution. Others lose their jobs, homes, and neighborhoods due to rising storm damage.

Renewable power

The author fails to mention that Xcel energy just requested a 10% rate hike ($285 million), Minnesota Power is looking to charge rate payers $350 million to install pollution control equipment on their Cohasset plant, and several Minnesota utilities are also looking to pay an enormous amount to build five new peaking plants, at least two of which would be in North Dakota. Factor in the costs of having to build new transmission lines and the fact that we still don't have a long term storage solution for nuclear waste, and renewables are very cost competitive.

Rate hikes

Excel Energy and some other utilities are regulated monopolies. Their rates and rate of return on investment are controlled by the PUC. Xcel has worked to use renewables, and to my knowledge has the highest percent of wind power of any US utility. They have a program called Windsource, where we pay extra to support wind power. They also distribute millions in subsidies to support solar installations. My info is that the federal government has just raised the credit for renewables to 2.3 cents/kwh.
The big environment problem is coal. My adult ed classes regularly tour the High Bridge gas plant in St Paul which replaced the old coal plant across Randolph Street. On June 19, I will be conducting a tour of the NG Riverside plant in Minneapolis where the same thing happened.
The pressure is on coal plants to block the sulfur and mercury which costs the kind of money Fred mentions in his post. There is at this time nothing effective available to block or sequester the CO2. When you burn coal(mostly carbon), oxygen unites with the carbon and you get carbon dioxide. Natural gas has four hydrogen atoms for every carbon atom, so quite a bit of the heat comes from hydrogen uniting with oxygen and making water vapor, a GHG which will shortly rain out.

There you go again

"This is a big increase over the existing and probably unattainable 25 percent RES..."

As many of us have pointed out in Rolf's earlier posts on energy issues, Minnesota's utilities are not only on track for meeting the "25 by 25" goals, many are ahead of schedule. These goals are clearly NOT unattainable. It's reality. It's happening right now.

Rolf also minimizes Minnesota's accomplishments toward cleaner by citing national energy statistics instead using Minnesota numbers. We are not talking national energy policy here -- another reason why the German example is a poor one -- but state legislation. Nearly 15 percent of electric power used in Minnesota in 2012 was wind power. While solar power is in its infancy here, there is no reason why we couldn't use more, without having problems like he cites from Germany.

Bottom line, there are plenty of people who say "you can't" But there are also leaders, visionaries and just plain citizens who say "why not?"

I agree -- it's a little early to consider Germany a success

Germany's dedication to putting in solar panels and windmills certainly impresses. But I wouldn't call Germany's experiment a success just yet.

Putting electrical power on the grid is not an easy task. When you have the supply of electrical power fluctuating as much as or more than the demand, you have not just a tricky task in balancing the grid and maintaining the purity of the power, but an almost impossible one. That's why Germany spends so much -- standby power must be instantly available all the time, and having that up and running wipes out all the savings from using the free fuel of wind and sunshine.

Germany still faces big challenges. We should not downplay the seriousness of those challenges, or overestimate the odds that the challenges will be overcome. In my eyes, Germany has bet billions of euros on its poker hand and is now drawing three cards to try to fill an inside straight. If Germany wins, it wins big. But if it loses, it loses big. I think the odds are not in Germany's favor.

Let's wait before Minnesota tries the same thing and bets even bigger bucks on wind and solar power. We can't afford to lose.

"intermittent wind and solar"

I agree with Mr. Gleason's comment. Mr. Westgard makes excellent points about nuclear energy. He doesn't need to bash renewable energy to do so. Mr. Westgard's established his credentials and bona fides as a nuclear power advocate and I think he makes excellent points there. Nuclear power is not going away any time soon and neither is coal power. For that matter, neither is wind and solar power.

Mr. Westgard claims that wind and solar are "intermittent", by which he implies "unreliable". He ignores the tremendous use of storage batteries and like strategies for conservation and peak use avoidance. This is now system wide. Since the 1980's, utilities have been pursuing "peak shaving" strategies to avoid the construction of central station base load plants. Excel Energy/NSP began to purchase hydropower from Manitoba Hydro in the 1990's. Manitoba Hydro Power is now shipped to Wisconsin and Chicago over HVTL like the Arrowhead Weston. That's using more sophisticated dispatching capabilities than just building central station plats for the localized integrated system just for certain times of day or season when demand hits peak load. Mr. Westgard's thinking really reflects outmoded concepts of capacity planning. He needs to let go of bygone peak load philosophy and start looking for ways to improve the integration of alternative energies into the grid.

One question I've asked before that Mr. Westgard has never answered is the problem of weapons proliferation. Can we be demanding more nuclear energy for "peaceful" uses while telling nations like Iran they cannot have it because they're going to build nuclear weapons?

Weapons and Iran

Nuclear commercial power plants have no relation to weapons. The plutonium that's bred in the power pant is not weapons grade, so it wouldn't work even if you had a billon dollar plant to separate it.
Iran has a nuclear power plant at Bushear. It's not involved in their weapons program. For that look to the plutonium plant at Arak and the explosives facility at Parchin.

Nuclear Costs

Just a quick couple of questions before I head off to bed:

-Does the cost of nuclear power (2 - 3¢ per KWh) include storage costs for the waste?
-Do those costs include government provided insurance for the plants?

Thanks for all the figures you've provided! They've added some excellent grist for the mill.

It is worth mentioning

that Minnesota is both windier and sunnier than Germany. Both wind energy and solar energy have better prospects here than in Western Europe.

Middle of the night response.

The 2-3 cents does not include the spent fuel storage issue which remains as the big unsolved nuclear issue. I am proposing that we offer the granite in northern MN as the replacement for the now closed Yucca Mountain. The geologic storage fund has $10 billion to spend; they might as well spend it here. That should start a flurry of comment!
And Eric, Minnesota has better solar intensity than Germany, and of the renewables I think solar is the best long term bet. Advances like nanotechnology research at the U of MN can increase solar panel efficiency. But I would start in the Mojave Desert which is close to big cities and has better sun and existing power lines.

But Repository Costs ARE in the cost of Nuke Electricity

Rolf, you didn't include a breakdown of your 2-3 cent cost, but surely you know that the cost of nuclear generated electricity does include the repository costs. The government has been collecting disposal fees from the industry for decades with the intent of paying the costs of Yucca mountain. Unfortunately, NV decided to play NIMBY on Yucca mountain and since the current Senate majority leader is from Nevada, the repository was closed (shelved?). I want my money back (or invested in an MSR).

You have my sympathies with the renewable cheerleader crowd. It boggles the mind that that 2.3cent credit for windpower is casually dismissed in the overall cost equation, as is the notion that intermittency and low energy density have been somehow solved. For those advocating to get off the grid with distributed power, clearly they have not priced the cost of even a modest energy storage infrastructure. As you point out pumped hydro is by far the most cost effective and efficient means of energy storage and even that has no hope of reaching the scale necessary for a continental renewable-dominated energy grid.

I won't go into detail on the shortage of rare earths except to say that if renewables are going to be a major source of energy in the future, well, we better get over our squeamishness about thorium tailings from monazite real fast or there simply isn't enough rare earth production in the world to meet these targets.

And we conveniently forget that Denmark and Germany, the renewable poster children, have the highest costs of electricity in Europe and are only practical because they are backed up by large amounts of hydro in Scandinavia and large amounts of relatively cheap nuclear from France.

I don't understand

Why everyone is so fixated on "the grid?" My guess is that the various alternative energy sources will have the biggest impacts if they are used locally. Placing thousands of solar panels in the desert might be a decent use of the space, but it provides no more energy than thousands of solar panels spaced out (assuming similar solar availability). Similarly, wind power can be useful as a co-op resource rather than a utility. Geothermal works great on an individual use basis. And by keeping it more local, you can benefit from using fewer resources to connect the source of energy to your home or business. That way, the wind turbine tower materials don't look so expensive, and in any case, the wind turbine and tower can probably be a bit smaller.

In other words, one of the biggest problems with Rolf's opinion about alternative energy is that he assumes that we all need to rely on "the grid," when it would seem that these solutions may be more local. If we can reduce the demand from the grid by sharing a wind turbine with our neighborhood or replacing some of our shingles with solar shingles or utilizing geothermal energy for heating and cooling, we have moved forward.

Of course, this isn't the solution that utility companies want. However, that shouldn't be our concern. If it's less efficient to lower and increase power at a power station due to fluctuation in demand, then perhaps a little innovation on ways of reducing that inefficiency is in order. But, I suspect that the overall savings is greater than the inefficiency--if your overall demand is lower, then it can make up for the inefficiency. It used to be that we were told it was better to leave your car on than shut it down and restart it. But that's false--it's more fuel efficient to simply not use any fuel at all when you don't need to and the extra fuel needed to start the vehicle is negligible in comparison.

Soft power

China went that route in the Great Leap forward with backyard digesters and smelters. It almost tanked the country, and those things are junk while China builds lots of new power plants, mainly nuclear.
Amory Lovins convinced CA Governor Brown that soft power was it and to forget central power plants. IMO that led to California's energy crisis, blackouts, soaring rates, and utility bankruptcies.
Today, wind, solar, and geothermal combined are about 1% of our total US energy supply. When you flip the light switch or get in an elevator on a quiet night, it's Prairie Island nuclear that is humming, day and night, wind or calm, rain or shine. Like the person with your mail.

China

Is not a great model for anything other than China. We're talking about a communist country with a fledgeling and, largely unregulated, capitalist economy. Besides, backyard digesters and smelters are not the equivalent of solar, wind, and geothermal. California, too, was largely the result of deregulation, not decentralization.

Let's compare apples to apples here.

A suggestion to decentralize and de-monopolize isn't a call to deregulation. While I appreciate the nuclear power plant making sure I haven't gotten stuck in the elevator (not that that never happens), the point is that we can't continue to sustain the current path. And while nuclear should be one of several sources of power (as I've said clearly), it can't be the only source, at the very least because the public won't have it. Nor should we continue to rely on fossil fuels because your jokes about increased CO2 aren't funny.

And, for what it's worth, I don't get any mail on Sundays. Nor do I get any deliveries from any of the alternatives. Even the Post Office stops working once in a while.

California

Actually California's problems stemmed from Enron (remember them?) manipulating the system. That's been well documented and Enron--rightfully--went out of business because of it.

Publicity on this bill

Does anyone have insight about why the Strib gave no coverage to the rally about this bill on Monday? Just too much other "major" news to cover?

David Shaffer has his own agenda

that is why the Strib won't cover it and why I come here now.

Wind and Solar are costly and don't reduce CO2 much if any

Reuters reported last week that a recent DOE report indicates that as wind and solar power are added "Relatively inefficient single cycle gas turbines are likely to be the only practical option for load-following on the grid." Since these gas peaking costs are about 12.4 cents per kWh, intermittent power will likely require backup costs of about 6 cents per kWh. This more than doubles costs compared to just using combined cycle fueled by natural gas at 6.6 cents per kWh. Moreover, wind plus peaking uses as much natural gas and emits as much carbon dioxide as just using combined cycle.

Costs and science

While I see a comparison of costs, I don't see anything to back up the claim that wind uses as much natural gas and emits as much CO2 as if wind wasn't part of the equation. While I understand the need to keep energy relatively affordable, I don't understand the mind set that we should stick to the present because nothing will ever change. Even if wind uses as much natural gas and emits as much CO2 as without it NOW, the net effect is not worse. And with wind, solar, and geothermal energy getting fresh eyes, fresh investments, and more importantly new improvements, we will find that not only will the cost continue to be reduced, but energy supply will increase. At worst, we learn to conserve energy because of increased cost. At best, we conserve energy, increase the supply, AND make for a better environment.

wind power is fraud

Combined cycle turbines cost about 6c and burn natural gas at almost 60% efficiency. Wind power must be backed up with single combustion turbines that cost about 12c and burn gas at 30% efficiency. You can do the math. I certainly don't believe in sticking with the status quo. But the monopolization of the utility industry is discouraging real innovation and solutions. Mandating expensive non-solutions solves nothing.

Democrats make no sense to me

Rachel also said "At worst, we learn to conserve energy because of increased cost." This comment has been echoed by many Democrats. Obama.has said he wants the cost of energy to skyrocket perhaps for conservation or perhaps so renewable energy becomes competitive. But the blatant disregard for tapayer money, the national debt, poverty and everything else is extremely disturbing - almost like they are trying to ruin the country, the environment and renewable energy. A far better solution than building good for nothing wind monuments would be to tax CO2 and redistribute some of the money for wind energy research and give the rest to the poor in America.

(note: I don't like Republicans either because of their support of monopolization.)

14% vs nothing

The "good for nothing wind monuments" were good for 14% of our generation capacity last year, so I'd say that's something. We could debate the costs, hopefully including all of them.

I might actually be with you on the CO2 tax idea; something closer to a fee & dividend plan or a CO2 tax offsetting an income tax reduction sounds pretty good to me. Using tax policy to encourage a goal, rather than to pick individual solutions, is probably the better approach.

Solar Info

For those who want more information on where solar power is going, take a look at this article by National Geographic.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/04/130429-nanotechno...

Cheap as Dirt, Safe as Milk (mostly)

It could never happen here of course (along the northern banks of the Mighty Mississippi), because this, after all, IS America where, it is well known, we have superhuman high-tech design and management strengths that not only provide us with the world's highest standard of living, but constantly protect us from catastrophes large and small.

Nonetheless, seeing as how most of the nuclear power plants in the United States are: A) of the same (General Electric) design as the one in Japan that melted down a couple years ago when Mother Nature slapped it with a wave; and B) getting at least a LITTLE old, it would seem wise and prudent to consider some of the less-often factored-in "immediate" and "indirect" costs that would pile up (fast) if something went wrong.

Again... Everyone knows nothing like this could ever happen in our part of America, but a quick and simple (as in lazy, unlearned and simplistic) internet search on such things turns up several references like these:

"Fukushima Daiichi compensation costs and clean-up efforts will easily exceed $60 billion

"After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster TEPCO [the operator of power plant] estimated that it would require $30 billion dollars to pay for damages. For the third time that figure will be increased, after the operator of the infamous nuclear power plant announced that compensation costs are higher than expected and now estimates the compensation at nearly $38 billion dollars, a number that is surely to rise even further...

"Not only the compensation costs are climbing, more mandatory evacuation areas have been expanded, causal links have been made between deaths of evacuees and the nuclear disaster, decontamination work keeps piling up, more voluntary evacuees have become eligible for compensation, and more lawsuits are being filed.

"TEPCO has estimated that when one adds the cost of clean-up efforts the financial figures could reach well over $62 billion dollars."

http://enformable.com/2012/12/fukushima-daiichi-compensation-costs-and-c...

"Ukraine's president: Chernobyl disaster will cost $180 billion in 2015

"By Editors of Electric Light & Power/POWERGRID International - 04/26/2013

"A comprehensive development plan is needed for the regions affected by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant explosion in 1986. Damages from the disaster could reach $180 billion in 2015.

"This is according to the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych who visited the Chernobyl plant on the 27th anniversary of the nuclear disaster..."

http://www.elp.com/articles/2013/04/ukraine-s-president--chernobyl-disas...

And CNN Money ("A service of CNN, Fortune and Money" magazines) says:

"Nuclear industry shielded from big disaster costs...

"A 1982 study from Sandia National Laboratories, commissioned for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the consequences of a nuclear meltdown would be catastrophic. The disaster could cause 50,000 fatalities and $314 billion in property damage. In today's money, that's $720 billion."

And what would the Nuclear Power Industry's (capped by federal law in 1957) liability be if that type of disaster happened? You guessed it... $12.6 billion... Who'd cover the other $700+ Billion?.. That's right! We the taxpayers...

http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/25/news/economy/nuclear_accident_costs/inde...

And when it comes to the more "indirect" costs of the Fukushima Daiichi melt down, I've always wondered if anyone has calculated the costs to, say, Toyota, and several other Japanese manufacturers, not to mention the costs to everyday people that won't ever be going home again and may be encountering radiation-related medical conditions for years to come.

Other than pesky (potential) problems like those (and the controversy that would arise the moment the people of Ely found out it had been determined that the best place to store Minnesota's nuclear waste was in a deep hole in the Perfect Rock under one of the lakes a little ways out of town), the expansion of nuclear energy sounds like a great, inexpensive, supremely efficient, non-polluting solution that makes it obvious anyone thinking wind, solar, or any other form of "alternative" energy is, to put it politely, naive beyond belief.

One other obvious thing I noticed in the above is that the "immediate" or (mostly) "direct" projected cost of the Japanese disaster (at just one power plant) is nearly TWO TIMES this year's entire ("taxed to the max") proposed budget for operating the state of Minnesota for the next two years.

But hey... (Potential) costs schmosts. Baseload is king, it's not going to happen, and even if it did, not THAT many people get their fish or drinking water from the Mississippi, the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico is pretty well trashed already, and if "doing all we can" to prevent it means my electric bill would going to go up (to anywhere near 20% of the cost of my family's health insurance bill), forget about it! Sorry New Orleans, but you knew what you were (potentially) getting into when you built yourself where you did.

US nuclear

Most of US nuclear plants are PWRs; NOT the same as the Fukushima BWR plants. They were hit with a 50 foot tsunami, not by a mere wave slap. And by far the major damage in Japan was from the tsunami, not from the Fukushima reactors.
We need to replace coal with a non carbon option, and nuclear is it.

Bad numbers & sleight of hand

I think Mr. Westgard's numbers are off. The EIA lists 4,342 thousand MWH solar in 2012 out of 4,054,485 thousand MWH total net generation; that's 0.1%, not 0.5%. So maybe I'm nitpicking, but if we're throwing around numbers, let's use the ones which are correct.

On to the sleight of hand - "the leap from typical 3-4 percent to 44 percent from wind and solar is huge" Catch that? Mr. Westgard went from using a national average to the proposed MN mandate - and for good measure counted the proposed 4% solar standard twice.

In 2012 MN generated 52,560 thousand MWh total; of that, 7,529 thousand MWh, or a bit over 14% was from wind. The MN renewable energy standard was enacted in 2007 when MN was at about 4% wind generation; 6 years later we're at 14%, and we'll need another 11% in the next 12 years to hit the 25% standard. Adding another 10% in twice the amount of time is "probably unattainable," says Mr. Westgard.

I'm not sure why Mr. Westgard doesn't make his arguments accurately and transparently. It might score points w/ the peanut gallery but it undercuts his credibility, in my opinion. A strong, well-reasoned argument doesn't need tricks like this.