Monday, November 24, 2008

Chernobyl Revisited

Some time back, I ran across this web site, hosted by "Elena". She takes her motorcycle (and Geiger counter) on a trip back into the frozen time of Chernobyl. It's fascinating and eerie and worth the 20 or 30 minutes it takes to read through her journey and view the scene. Enjoy the ride.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Biblical Error

See if you can guess which sect of Christianity (I use that term loosely) is based on the following biblical error.

It all starts with Genesis 2:21-22

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the mans' ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

So, do you see anything missing there and have you guessed the sect yet?

How about this: God put Adam to sleep, but nowhere here or following does the text explicitly state that he woke Adam up. Have a guess yet? If God never woke Adam up (and if he did, wouldn't the scripture say so?) then he must be still asleep. If that is the case, then all that follows must just be part of Adam's dream, including us. Figured it out yet? If we're all just part of this dream of the Great Mind, then nothing material actually exists. It's all just a figment of our imagination, which in turn, are just a figment of Adam's imagination. Got a clue yet? If nothing is real, then there is no physical illness, no physical assault, no physical embodiment of anything -- it's all ethereal. If there is no physical illness, there is no need for medicine at all -- any "illness" is just wrong thinking. That can be fixed by praying for the "Great Mind" to fix it.

Figured it out yet? I'm talking about Christian Science, which is actually neither. It holds no propositions which can be tested by evidence, so it is not science, nor do they believe that Christ actually existed, giving His life upon the cross for our salvation, so they are not Christian either. It is so easy for erroneous teaching to creep into our understanding of the bible, so we should be very careful in reading into the text things that are not there, but also by assuming that what is not stated has explicitly not happened.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Ameren is dealing with Proposition C

Well, that didn't take long. Ameren has a Pure Power initiative going now. Individual customers are asked to buy RECs (Renewable Energy Credits) for $15 per 1000kWh. Given that they need about 2 million MWh, they only needs customers to purchase about 2 million of these RECs to satisfy their part of Proposition C.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne Australia

I was reading a daily devotional (a day late) and the entry for Veterans Day talked about the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne Australia. It was built in the early 1930s as a tribute to those soldiers who served in World War I. It has since been expanded to serve as a shrine for all veterans. What captured my attention, however, was this.

Ray of Light

A special feature of the Shrine is the Ray of Light. Thanks to the combined skills of the astronomer, the mathematician and the surveyor the Ray of Light falls on 'LOVE' on the Stone of Remembrance at 11am on the 11th of November and will continue to do so for 5,000 years at least. The time and date commemorate Armistice (meaning a stay of armed conflict) which marks the end of hostilities in World War 1.

The "Love" spoken about is part of a quotation, "Greater Love Hath No Man". I don't think any more of that quotation is necessary as the location bespeaks the rest of that scripture.

What a remarkable tribute and truly demonstrates much more than simply a deeply heartfelt thanks for serving God and country.

To that, I can only add, thank you Dad for your service.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ignorance of the Law

I've heard many times that "Ignorance of the Law is no excuse" and that does seem to be reasonable advice. I wonder, however, if that really does make sense.

In particular, what is required is that one must know the relevant law before taking a particular action. We all know the normal stuff, generally regarding criminal law or traffic rules and such, but is it really possible to not be ignorant of the law in all cases? In order to not be ignorant of the law, one must necessarily know the law in all cases. Is that possible? Well, consider the entire body of law that exists. There is Federal law, State law, County Law, City Law, and private law (think Homeowners associations, for instance.) Within each of those bodies of law are many, many branches. Furthermore, law includes not just the actual statutes, but also all of the opinions and precedents. If I were to spend 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, I doubt that I would be able to even read the entire body of law which has some bearing, in some manner, over my very existence. I would then assert that if it is not possible to know all of the law, then ignorance of the law is an excuse.

Something to think about before advocating for "there ought to be a law" either for or against something.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What would I do different with Proposition C?

So, if I were required to rewrite Proposition C, what changes would I make? First, let me say that I think the market would be best positioned to address this. By allowing customer to contract with their own power suppliers and purchase their own green power, they would vote with their dollars. They would also pay the costs of their choices.

However, if required to use the Proposition C framework, I think there are only 4 major changes I would make to that proposal. (See, I'm not all criticism.)

Those are the changes I would propose to make Proposition C more workable.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Practical Effects of Missouri Proposition C

Now that I've examined the text and found it seriously wanting, I want to go through a bit of practical analysis to see just what it might mean and whether or not it is even possible to comply with this new legal mandate.

I'll start by referencing the Missouri Public Service Commission 2007 Annual Report. In that report, on page 6, we find total electrical usage for the state of MO during the calendar year 2006, the most recent year for which such statistics are available. There, we find that in 2006, customers in MO used 57,846,700MWh. That seems like quite a lot, but let's use the 4%, 8%, and 11% thresholds in the Proposition to reduce that to 2,299,468MWh, 4,598,936MWh, and 6,323,537MWh respectively. We now, using 8760 hours in the 2006 calendar year (no leap day), arrive at 263MW, 525MW, and 722MW for hourly generation requirements. Are those reasonable amounts of power to obtain from renewable sources?

Looking at the Ameren UE web site, for instance, we find a Fact Sheet about various aspect of Ameren, including the power generation facilities they own and how much power they produce. They have several coal facilities -- Meramec, for instance is a 4 unit plant with 842MW capability, Callaway is a 1 unit nuclear facility with 1190MW capability, and there are several natural gas facilities with from 140MW to 511MW capability. So, the minimum 263MW for the 4% threshold, required by 2012, would basically amount to an entire generation facility, probably with 2 units (although with maintenance requirements, a 3 unit facility would likely be needed) by 2012 and a larger 4 unit facility would need to be online by 2015.

So, how much power could be generated using a solar plant, wind power, or a biomass plant and would it be practical to have such a plant operational by the start of 2012 (3 short years from now)?

I'll answer the last question first. In 3 years, it would not be possible to build a plant to meet the 2012 requirements. It probably wouldn't even be possible to complete the necessary regulatory hurdles by then, much less appease the NIMBYs or BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.) By 2015 (6 years from now), it might be possible to have a 4 unit biomass facility operating, although that poses some other challenges I'll address later.

So what sort of plant could be built? A reasonable wind turbine might be a Suzlon S88 capable of generating 2.1MW. It would require a minimum of 250 ft in elevation (and hence 500 ft between turbines). Thus, each turbine would require at least 2 acres. For a facility which was capable of generating 263MW, 125 of those turbines would be needed or 250 acres. Pretty small as far as land area goes, but that is only with the turbine spinning at its maximum rated speed. According to that chart, the minimum wind speed for operation is 9mph with a maximum speed of 32mph. (With wind speeds greater than 32mph, the turbine has an internal mechanism to prevent it from turning faster than the maximum rating, attained at 32mph.) Where in MO is there a constant 9 mph wind, much less a sustained 32mph wind speed? I can find no data, but can only assume that the output rating is linear to the wind speed, between 9 and 32 mph, but don't know what the output is at the minimum wind speed. To ensure that there is enough capacity, assuming lower wind speeds, let's say that there is a need for 600 of these turbines and 1200 acres of land (as well as transmission capacity for the 1200MW peak generation (or more likely 300MW nominal).

What about a solar generation facility? PGE has a planned solar facility set for CA with a rating of 550MW. This will be located in or near the Mojave desert, a reasonable location for a solar plant. Here is a link to the PGE project page. Note, the last picture with the 14MW generation plant in Bavaria. While I am unable to estimate the amount of land used, it certainly looks to be in the 20-30 acre range. Thus, it would take, perhaps, 600 acres of land for 400MW. In addition, solar can really only be used for peak generation, not for base load, so the amount of solar power used would need to be considerably higher as it would not be in use constantly.

Finally, what about a biomass plant? The typical design for a biomass plant is that they take in biomass, which with yeast, is converted to ethanol. The waste biomass is then burned to generate power. See here for an example of how a biomass plant would work. Only the excess power generated is available for use as a significant fraction of the power generated is used to power the ethanol plant itself. From this press release, it seems clear that a $200M plant would generate 200,000 tons of renewable (burnable) biomass per year. I'm not up for trying to do that calculation at the moment -- figure out how much energy, and hence electricity, could be generated by burning 200,000 tons of biomass. From this page, we can estimate that the Ameren Meramec plant consumes roughly 7000 tons of coal per day or 292 tons per hour to generate 842MW or about 3MW per ton of coal. The left over biomass is probably less efficient, but let's use this number anyway. 200,000 tons of biomass per year would generate 600,000MW per year or about 70MW per hour. This, from a $200M facility.

The one remaining factor is the cost. From the original PSC report, we see that the electric industry generated $3.4B. Given the generation, statewide, of 57,486,700MW, that comes to $59.1 per MW (or 0.0591 per kWh, a more familiar number.) A 1% increase in that number is $34M per year increase in rates. With a useful life of say 40 years, plus 10% annual maintenance cost (just a guess), that comes out to $1.5B for the total cost of the plant plus annual operating expenses for the 40 year life. With biomass, the 70MW would cost $200M (not including operating costs). We would need, say, 5 units of those (to cover 1 being down for maintenance) at a cost of $1B just to build and maintain. That puts operating costs (and the purchase of the source biomass product) at no more than $12M per year (for each of 40 years, remember). If the wind turbines are $1M each (probably a bit low), that would be $600M for the turbines, but operation and maintenance. That is likely the cheapest option, but the least reliable. Solar is very expensive, with the 550MW plant that PGE is putting in costing in the neighborhood of $2B or so, well above this threshold.

In short, I don't think this is doable in any form for the cost restrictions required by the law. If this power is purchased from out of state (and RECs redeemed), the cost would be even higher. To prepare for this, I would expect our power rates to at least double, perhaps worse, just so the company can finance the construction of these plants, and that certainly won't be online within the required 3 years and probably not even with 6 years.

Killing the nuclear power industry?

It would actually be pretty easy. Currently, I think there are about 25 applications on file with the NRC to either build new plants or new units at existing plants. That's a significant number, considering that each unit can supply roughly 1200MW of power.

But, when President-elect Obama takes office, he could kill them all with the strokes of a pen. First, he could simply close Yucca mountain to any new sources of waste. Then, he could order the NRC to decline approval for any new unit or plant which does not have a contract with some facility or site to store or process their waste long term.

Those 2 items, I think, would kill the entire industry.

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