U.S. exported more gasoline than imported last year
By Michael Winter
For the first time since 1949, the United States exported more gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel last year than it imported, the Energy Department reported today.
Bloomberg writes that to offset weak U.S. demand, refiners exported 439,000 barrels a day more than were imported the year before. In 2010, daily imports averaged 269,000 barrels, according to the Petroleum Supply Monthly report.
Imports of crude oil and related products fell 11% last year, reaching a level not seen since 1995.
News of record gasoline exports comes as the pump price rose today for the 22nd straight day ($3.78 a gallon average) and the Energy Department reported separately that gasoline inventories fell last week while crude oil inventories and imports rose.
Crude oil inventories swelled by 4.2 million barrels last week, more than four times what analysts expected and eight times the estimate of the American Petroleum Institute, 24/7 Wall St. says, adding, “To say that the increase in imports is counter-intuitive is not an overstatement.”
Refineries were running at 83.6% of capacity last week, according to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly report on petroleum supplies.
Separately, in a piece headlined “Oil Refiners Look To Exports Growing Profit,” 24/7 Wall St. writes: “The rise in imports could be the result of the decline in refined products, but more likely is that the imported crude is being refined and the refined products are being exported.”
The article explains what major oil companies and U.S. refineries — Valero Energy, Tesoro, Marathon Petroleum and HollyFrontier — are doing to boost their profit margins:
Crude at Gulf Coast refineries is priced at the Brent crude import price, no matter where it comes from. Refineries in the US interior are typically able to get the vast majority of their crude at or below domestic the WTI [West Texas Intermediary] crude price. Today, a barrel of Brent costs about $121, and a barrel of WTI costs about $106. That $15 difference in feedstock pricing pays dividends at the refinery. …
To boost margins at Gulf Coast refineries, Valero and the others are exporting more refined products, both gasoline and the higher-priced diesel fuel. …
The secret to making a profit in refining these days is for refiners to source crude oil domestically and then sell the refined products to US consumers at prices based on imported oil. Valero can’t do that, but Marathon, Tesoro, and HollyFrontier can. …
Despite higher-than-expected oil inventories and less driving by Americans, the price of crude oil finished higher today.
NV Energy windmill program generates rebates, little electricity
By Anjeanette Damon
State agency runs out of money to pay for more costly solar power
A year ago, a Reno clean energy businessman warned the Public Utilities Commission that if it didn’t set a few standards for NV Energy’s wind rebate program, its customers could end up footing the bill for turbines that rarely produce electricity.
One reason behind his concern: To be eligible for rebates, customers didn’t need to prove that the wind actually blows enough to justify installing a turbine on their property.
“This could allow unscrupulous developers to sell turbines to unsuspecting customers who will not generate electricity from an installed turbine because there is no wind to power the turbine,” Clean Energy Center managing member Rich Hamilton told the PUC last May. “This problem is especially vexing because ratepayer money could be contributing to the cost of such turbines, which could give the Wind Generations program and the wind industry a black eye.”
The PUC agreed that such a standard would be a good idea but sided with NV Energy’s position that it was too early to move forward with it just yet.
A year later, however, Hamilton’s warning appears to have been spot on.
The electricity produced by NV Energy’s $46 million wind rebate program has fallen far short of expectations.
In a startling example, the city of Reno’s wind turbines — for which the city received more than $150,000 in rate-payer funded rebates — produced dramatically less electricity than the manufacturers of its turbines promised.
“These manufacturers, when they gave us the turbines, they said they were designed to be mounted on a parapet at this height, and that’s what we did,” said Jason Geddes, who runs the city of Reno’s renewable energy program. “But when we started getting actual wind flow patterns, we realized their claims were wrong.”
As first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, one turbine that cost the city $21,000 to install saved the city $4 on its energy bill. Overall, $416,000 worth of turbines have netted the city $2,800 in energy savings.
Not all of the city’s turbines performed so poorly. But on average, the small wind turbines installed statewide through NV Energy’s program have yielded disappointing results.
“There is a lot of difference in some of the generators relative to what the (manufacturers) claim,” said John Hargrove, who manages NV Energy’s Renewable Generations program. “A generator can claim to put out 100 kilowatt hours, but that’s based on an assumption that there’s a certain amount of wind. If you don’t have the wind, you won’t have the output.”
That’s exactly why Hamilton pleaded with the PUC to impose a requirement that customers first prove their wind resource before winning a rebate.
“I’m terribly worried about the future of the program,” said Hamilton, whose company does solar and wind projects. “We really, really feel strongly about this. I’m a rate-payer. And if the rate-payers are paying for this, the rate-payer should be getting the most bang for their buck.”
Hamilton also believes equipment standards should be in place to minimize faulty turbines, some of which have fallen apart.
That’s happened both in Reno and in rural Nevada. Geddes said one of his turbines that was rated to 110 mph fell apart in a 105-mph gust.
A more catastrophic failure occurred on a farm in rural Nevada, when a large turbine spun apart only days after it was installed. No one was injured, largely because it was in a remote locale.
“It was very spectacular,” said Matt Newberry, who runs NV Energy’s wind program. “It was only up for a matter of days. We’re relieved we haven’t had any more of those.”
Unlike the solar industry, which has figured out how to correctly install productive solar generators on rooftops and in parking lots across the state, the wind industry in Nevada is still in its infancy.
So far, statewide, about 150 turbines have been installed through a rebate program created by the 2007 Legislature.
Under the demonstration programs, cities, schools, businesses and homeowners are eligible for a rebate up to the full cost of the turbine depending on a variety of factors including the system’s wattage.
The vast majority of the projects are in Northern and rural Nevada. Most of the cost of the program is born by rate-payers of Sierra Pacific, as NV Energy’s Northern Nevada sister company is known, and not the utility’s Southern Nevada customers.
The PUC is again considering the requirements advocated by Hamilton — requirements that will govern the program statewide.
Power company officials first worried stringent requirements could strangle the budding industry. But after a year of experimenting with the program, they appear on board with both resource and equipment standards.
Click to enlarge photo
Searchlight resident George Beyer listens while sitting next to a photo of a wind turbine during a Searchlight Town Hall Meeting at the Searchlight Community Center about a proposed wind energy project Thursday, June 25, 2009.
“I think it’s a really smart evolution of the program,” Newberry said. “When it was instituted, nobody really knew much about wind in the state. The market itself, even the Legislature, labeled it as a demonstration program.
“But we want to make sure customers are getting good things. We don’t want to see people install them in places where there’s not good wind.”
Hargrove declared the demonstration successful, largely because of how much the company has learned about small wind projects. He noted the wind program doesn’t make much sense in Nevada’s urban centers.
“Rather than putting a little one in the backyard of a home, we’re focusing on much larger projects that go out on a farm,” he said. “While some early projects are not producing great results, it’s not because wind doesn’t work. We’re tightening up our standards.”
In its newest filing before the PUC, the company is advocating a 10-mph average wind speed standard to be eligible for the rebate.
Not so fast, Geddes warned.
He noted that models used to calculate average wind speed aren’t reliable. For example, the city’s two most productive wind turbines wouldn’t have been eligible for the rebate because wind studies said the average wind speed was below 10 mph.
The only accurate way to test average wind speed is to install an anemometer and take readings for a year, Geddes said.
Geddes would rather see a performance-based incentive. To get a rate-payer-funded rebate, a customer would have to prove the turbine produced electricity.
Such an incentive was passed by the Legislature last year. But Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the bill after NV Energy won a last-minute amendment to fund a major transmission line project.
Hamilton countered that investing in an anemometer might not be such a bad idea.
“If you are going to invest tens of thousands in something, it may be worth waiting to do a wind resource assessment,” he said.
Timeline: History of the Electric Car 1832-1839
Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invents the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
American Thomas Davenport is credited with building the first practical electric vehicle — a small locomotive.
French physicist Gaston Planté invents the rechargeable lead-acid storage battery. In 1881, his countryman Camille Faure will improve the storage battery’s ability to supply current and invent the basic lead-acid battery used in automobiles.
William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa builds the first successful electric automobile in the United States.
A handful of different makes and models of electric cars are exhibited in Chicago.
The first electric taxis hit the streets of New York City early in the year. The Pope Manufacturing Company of Connecticut becomes the first large-scale American electric automobile manufacturer.
Believing that electricity will run autos in the future, Thomas Alva Edison begins his mission to create a long-lasting, powerful battery for commercial automobiles. Though his research yields some improvements to the alkaline battery, he ultimately abandons his quest a decade later.
The electric automobile is in its heyday. Of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States 28 percent are powered by electricity, and electric autos represent about one-third of all cars found on the roads of New York City, Boston, and Chicago.
Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced and gasoline-powered Model T, which will have a profound effect on the U.S. automobile market.
Charles Kettering invents the first practical electric automobile starter. Kettering’s invention makes gasoline-powered autos more alluring to consumers by eliminating the unwieldy hand crank starter and ultimately helps pave the way for the electric car’s demise.
During the 1920s the electric car ceases to be a viable commercial product. The electric car’s downfall is attributable to a number of factors, including the desire for longer distance vehicles, their lack of horsepower, and the ready availability of gasoline.
Congress introduces the earliest bills recommending use of electric vehicles as a means of reducing air pollution. A Gallup poll indicates that 33 million Americans are interested in electric vehicles.
Concerns about the soaring price of oil — peaking with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 — and a growing environmental movement result in renewed interests in electric cars from both consumers and producers.
Victor Wouk, the “Godfather of the Hybrid,” builds the first full-powered, full-size hybrid vehicle out of a 1972 Buick Skylark provided by General Motors (G.M.) for the 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program. The Environmental Protection Association later kills the program in 1976.
Vanguard-Sebring’s CitiCar makes its debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, D.C. The CitiCar has a top speed of over 30 mph and a reliable warm-weather range of 40 miles. By 1975 the company is the sixth largest automaker in the U.S. but is dissolved only a few years later.
The U.S. Postal Service purchases 350 electric delivery jeeps from AM General, a division of AMC, to be used in a test program.
Congress passes the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act. The law is intended to spur the development of new technologies including improved batteries, motors, and other hybrid-electric components.
Roger Smith, CEO of G.M. , agrees to fund research efforts to build a practical consumer electric car. G.M. teams up with California’s AeroVironment to design what would become the EV1, which one employee called “the world’s most efficient production vehicle.” Some electric vehicle enthusiasts have speculated that the EV1 was never undertaken as a serious commercial venture by the large automaker.
California passes its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate, which requires two percent of the state’s vehicles to have no emissions by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003. The law is repeatedly weakened over the next decade to reduce the number of pure ZEVs it requires.
Toyota unveils the Prius — the world’s first commercially mass-produced and marketed hybrid car — in Japan. Nearly 18,000 units are sold during the first production year.
1997 – 2000
A few thousand all-electric cars (such as Honda’s EV Plus, G.M.’s EV1, Ford’s Ranger pickup EV, Nissan’s Altra EV, Chevy’s S-10 EV, and Toyota’s RAV4 EV) are produced by big car manufacturers, but most of them are available for lease only. All of the major automakers’ advanced all-electric production programs will be discontinued by the early 2000s.
G.M. and DaimlerChrysler sue the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to repeal the ZEV mandate first passed in 1990. The Bush Administration joins that suit.
G.M. announces that it will not renew leases on its EV1 cars saying it can no longer supply parts to repair the vehicles and that it plans to reclaim the cars by the end of 2004.
On February 16, electric vehicle enthusiasts begin a “Don’t Crush” vigil to stop G.M. from demolishing 78 impounded EV1s in Burbank, California. The vigil ends twenty-eight days later when G.M. removes the cars from the facility. In the film “Who Killed the Electric Car” G.M. spokesman Dave Barthmuss states that the EV1s are to be recycled, not just crushed.
Tesla Motors publicly unveils the ultra-sporty Tesla Roadster at the San Francisco International Auto Show in November. The first production Roadsters will be sold in 2008 with a base price listing of $98,950.
A Better Place charging spot A Better Place charging spot
The Israeli government announces its support for a sweeping project to promote the use of electric cars in Israel. The effort will be a joint venture between Better Place, a Palo Alto start-up founded by software maven Shai Agassi, and French automaker Renault-Nissan. Agassi’s plan is to create an extensive network of charging spots and to sell EV drivers mileage in their cars like minutes on a cell phone plan. The first Renault electric cars are scheduled to hit the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities in 2011. Better Place announces a host of partnerships to support electric vehicle projects in Denmark, Canada, Japan, Australia and the U.S.
Gas prices reach record highs of more than $4 a gallon and car sales drop to their lowest levels in a decade. American automakers begin to shift their production lines away from SUVs and other large vehicles toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Barack Obama says he will push to have one million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on America’s roads by 2015.
Struggling to remain profitable during the economic downturn, executives from the Big Three American automakers go to Washington to make the case for a $25 billion Federal bailout of the U.S. automotive industry.
BYD, a Chinese battery manufacturer turned automaker, releases the F3DM, the world’s first mass produced plug-in hybrid compact sedan. Though they pack less energy than more conventional lithium ion batteries, BYD opts to power the F3DM with a more stable lithium iron phosphate battery. BYD plans to release the F3DM in the U.S. in 2011, but some industry insiders have doubts about whether the car is ready for the U.S. market. Though sales of the car remain sluggish, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway purchases a 10% stake in the company.
The National Bureau of Economic Research states officially that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007. The economic downturn is global in scope and will continue to exert financial pressures on the already battered U.S. auto industry.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocates $2 billion for development of electric vehicle batteries and related technologies. The Department of Energy adds another $400 million to fund building the infrastructure necessary to support plug-in electric vehicles.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces that the British government will promote the use of electric vehicles in the U.K. by offering a £2,000 subsidy to purchasers. A high-ranking government official estimates that 40% of all cars in Britain will need to be electric or hybrid for the country to reach it’s goal of cutting 80% of its CO2 emissions by 2050.
Chrysler files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As part of its restructuring, Chrysler forms a partnership with the Italian car maker Fiat.
President Obama announces a new gas-mileage policy that will require automakers to meet a minimum fuel-efficiency standard of 35.5 miles a gallon by 2016.
The Tesla Roadster The Tesla Roadster
The Department of Energy awards $8 billion in loans to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors to support the development of fuel-efficient vehicles. The automaker loans are the first distributions from a larger $25 billion fund created under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
General Motors, the leading producer of automobiles for most of the 20th Century, files for bankruptcy protection. While strong GM brands such as Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC are slated to continue, smaller names like Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac will be sold or closed. The federal government will hold a 61 percent stake in the reborn General Motors.
Nissan unveils its new electric car, called the LEAF (“Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable, Family Car”). The LEAF is capable of a maximum speed of more than 90 mph, can travel 100 miles on a full charge, and has a battery that can be recharged to 80% of its capacity in 30 minutes. Similar to the Better Place initiative in Israel, Nissan plans to work with the Japanese government and private companies to set up charging station networks across several countries. The first production LEAFs are scheduled to go on sale in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. in the fall of 2010.
Though a few electric cars and plug-in hybrids are currently available on the market, several new models including the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt, and Mitsubishi i MiEV are scheduled to hit the streets in the near future. Toyota, creator of the popular Prius hybrid, has thus far declined to deliver a fully electric car.
Despite promising signs, the electric car will need to navigate a bumpy road before it can become a viable option for many drivers. Challenges to mass adoption include high sticker prices, limited battery life and travel range, and building charging stations and other infrastructure to support electric vehicles.
Sources: Hybridcars.com: History, Electric Auto Association: Electric Vehicle History, IEEE Power Engineering Society: “Electric Vehicles In The Early Years Of The Automobile” by Carl Sulzberger, About.com: The History of Electric Vehicles, Econogics: EV History, Smithsonian Institution: Edison After Forty, Who Killed the Electric Car?
Energy Secretary Chu Admits Administration OK with High Gas Prices
By Mark Whittington
President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu uttered the kind of Washington gaffe that consists of telling the truth when inconvenient. According to Politico, Chu admitted to a House committee that the administration is not interested in lowering gas prices.
Chu, along with the Obama administration, regards the spike in gas prices as a feature rather than a bug. High gas prices provide an incentive for alternate energy technology, a priority for the White House, and a decrease in reliance on oil for energy.
The Heritage Foundation points out that hammering the American consumer with high gas prices to make electric and hybrid cars more appealing is consistent with Obama administration policy and Chu’s philosophy. That explains the refusal to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline and to allow drilling in wide areas of the U.S. and offshore areas.
The consequences of the policy are not likely to be of benefit to the Obama administration. The Republican National Committee has already issued a video highlighting the spike in gas prices and the failure of the administration to address the issue.
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has issued a half-hour video touting an energy plan he claims would result in $2.50 a gallon gasoline. The plan is based on unfettered drilling for oil and gas instead of a reliance on green energy. Gingrich has also savaged Obama’s touting of algae based biofuel as “weird.”
Chu has likely highlighted an issue Republicans are going to pick up and run with. Americans are not going to be appreciative of schemes to hit them in the wallet so the American economy can shift to green energy. Besides American traditional adherence to the free market, the idea of being fleeced by a deliberate government policy is likely to be greeted with anger.
Add into the mix green energy fiascos like Solyndra, and Chu might well have kindled a full blown scandal.
How the Obama administration reacts to the expected firestorm is open to question. Green energy is as part of its fundamental religion as is universal health care, another unpopular Obama policy. If it tries to bull ahead, the electorate will likely punish Obama and the Democrats. If it tries to backtrack, Obama looks weak and facilitating, and likely will still not appease gas strapped Americans experiencing price shock at the gas pump.
Like some dimly remembered Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, pitting Hardy British tars against perfidious foreigners, the Falklands periodically recycles into the gaze of bemused international observers every decade or so.
Since the brief 1982 war between Argentina and Britain, the issue of sovereignty of the Falklands has lurked beneath the internationals diplomatic surface, an irritant but hardly threatening to reignite a new round of hostilities. Three decades on from that unfortunate confrontation the issue of the Falklands is again roiling Argentinean-British relations over the possibility that the archipelago contains beneath its surrounding waters something of value – oil.
British oil group Rockhopper Exploration has unveiled optimistic plans for a $2 billion oil infrastructure investment in the Falkland Islands announcing on 14 September that it expected to start pumping oil in 2016 from its four licensed Sea Lion concessions totaling 1,500 square miles, with a projected production rate of roughly 120,000 barrels of oil per day by 2018. Rockhopper Exploration said the fifth well in the Sea Lion complex “had found a high quality reservoir package and oil column.”
This roseate picture is somewhat clouded by several facts, including that currently Rockhopper Exploration has on hand a mere $170 million, enough to pay for two more scheduled wells. Nevertheless, Rockhopper Exploration shares, which have outperformed the European index of oil and gas companies by 14 percent since August, were up 1.1 percent in early trading after the company’s announcement.
A second element in this picture is a sobering fact that while both British and Argentinean companies have drilled a handful of exploratory wells in the water surrounding the Falklands, only Rockhopper Exploration has discovered petroleum.
And thirdly last but certainly not least is the issue of the islands sovereignty, contested by both Argentina and Britain for the last 198 years.
While various City pundits excitedly speculate that the Falklands is to become another North Sea, the above facts taken together indicates at the very least a far greater degree of risk in underwriting Rockhopper Exploration’s ambitious program.
So if the Falklands oil potential is so promising, then why are the international major oil companies not involved? The answer is in brief that they have looked at the islands’ potential and given a pass.
According to a US embassy cable dating from February 2010 and leaked last year by Wikileaks, “ExxonMobil International chairman Brad Corson told us he does not believe there is enough oil on the Falkland Islands continental shelf to be profitable, citing Shell’s earlier oil exploration attempts which they abandoned.”
Argentina is not taking the news lightly, declaring its intention following Rockhopper Exploration’s to both file an official complaint against Britain for oil exploration activities in Falklands/Malvinas disputed waters before the United Nations Decolonization Committee along with inviting the U.N. Special Committee of the 24 on Decolonization Chairman Francisco Carrion-Mena of Ecuador to visit Argentina to hold a meeting on the issue in Buenos Aires.
The Falklands now have the dubious distinction of joining the list of contested offshore maritime oil and natural gas concessions spewed by two or more countries.
These include a growing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean between Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey, the final disposition of the Caspian’s offshore waters currently contested by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan Russia and rising confrontation in the East China Sea over the region’s offshore waters which involves the Spratly island’s more than 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays, whose various portions of offshore waters are claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
What makes the Falklands Argentinean-British dispute unique however is the fact that in 1980 to the countries actually fought a brief vicious war over the archipelago and its surrounding waters. At the time oil exploration of the Falklands waters had yet to begin, and the node and Argentinian writer Jorge Borges famously compared the dispute to “two bald men fighting over a comb.” The stakes are much higher now.
Common sense would seem to indicate that the best way for might be a possible joint venture between the two nations to explore their offshore waters oil potential hand, if any significant reserves are found jointly to develop them with an agreed-upon program of profit sharing, but given the increasingly strident claims sole sovereignty over the archipelago this seems increasingly unlikely.
If therefore Rockhopper Exploration’s drilling programs prove successful, a number of developments seem increasingly clear. First is that, depending on the political temperature in Buenos Aires, future activities may well need the protection of the Royal Navy.
Secondly is Latin America’s increasingly lining up behind Argentina’s claims to the islands, and Brazil recently stated that it would not allow British exploration vessels to use Brazilian ports to exploit any possible oil developments in the Falklands, Rockhopper Exploration will need to source virtually all of the necessary equipment from the other side of the Atlantic as well as possibly Britain, both major expenses for a company which states it has only $170 million of available cash. Furthermore should development go forward, then a total lack of access to Latin American hydrocarbon infrastructure support means that Rockhopper Exploration will probably be forced to use a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel to store and transport its output.
Last but not least, the de facto boycott by Latin America of any future Falklands oil production means that the oil at the very least will have to transit South Atlantic before reaching potential markets, further increasing both development costs and shrinking potential profits.
In light of the above, a joint venture would seem to be the most common sense way to proceed, but given the rising jingoistic nationalism flaring over the issue in both London and Buenos Aires, don’t count on any time soon.
While in history is rife with examples of daring oil explorers making fortunes, the number of examples shrink dramatically when major oil companies give a pass on projected production and you future output is situated in a contested site which less than 30 years ago was a “hot” war zone.
Wind farms: the monuments to lunacy that will be left to blot the landscape
By Christopher Booker
Three separate news items on the same day last week reflected three different aspects of what is fast becoming a full-scale disaster bearing down on Britain. The first item was a picture in The Daily Telegraph showing two little children forlornly holding a banner reading “E.On Hands Off Winwick”.
This concerned a battle to prevent a tiny Northamptonshire village from being dwarfed by seven 410-foot wind turbines, each higher than Salisbury Cathedral, to be built nearby by a giant German-owned electricity firm. The 40 residents, it was reported, have raised £50,0000 from their savings to pay lawyers to argue their case when their village’s fate is decided at an inquiry by a Government inspector.
In the nine years since I began writing here about wind turbines, I have been approached by more than 100 such local campaigns in every part of Britain, trying to fight the rich and powerful companies that have been queuing up to cash in on the vast subsidy bonanza available to developers of wind farms. Having been the chairman of one such group myself, I know just how time-consuming and costly such battles can be. The campaigners are up against a system horribly rigged against them, because all too often – although they may win every battle locally (in our case we won unanimous support from our local council) – in the end an inspector may come down from London to rule that the wind farm must go ahead because it is “government policy”.
I long ago decided that there was little point reporting on most of these individual campaigns, because the only way this battle was going to be won was by exposing the futility of the national policy they were up against. My main aim had to be to bring home to people just how grotesquely inefficient and costly wind turbines are as a way to make electricity – without even fulfilling their declared purpose of reducing CO2 emissions.
Alas, despite all the practical evidence to show why wind power is one of the greatest follies of our age, those who rule our lives, from our own politicians and officials here in Britain to those above them in Brussels, seem quite impervious to the facts.
Hence the two other items reported last week, one being the Government’s proposed changes to our planning rules (already being implemented, even though the “consultation” has scarcely begun) which are drawing fire from all directions. The particular point here, on page 43 of the Government’s document, is a proposal that local planning authorities must “apply a presumption in favour” of “renewable and low-carbon energy sources”.
What this means in plain English is that we can forget any last vestiges of local democracy. Our planning system is to be rigged even more shamelessly than before, to allow pretty well every application to cover our countryside with wind turbines – along with thousands of monster pylons, themselves up to 400 feet high, marching across Scotland, Wales, Suffolk, Somerset and elsewhere to connect them to the grid.
All this is deemed necessary to meet our EU-agreed target to generate nearly a third of our electricity from “renewables” – six times more than we do now – by 2020. This would require building at least 10,000 more turbines, in addition to the 3,500 we already have – which last year supplied only 2.7 per cent of our electricity.
Obviously this is impossible, but our Government will nevertheless do all it can to meet its unreachable target and force through the building of thousands of turbines, capable of producing a derisory amount of electricity at a cost estimated, on its own figures, at £140 billion (equating to £5,600 for every household in the land).
Which brings us to the third of last week’s news items, a prediction by energy consultants Ulyx that a further avalanche of “green” measures will alone raise Britain’s already soaring energy bills in the same nine years by a further 58 per cent.
A significant part of this crippling increase, helping to drive more than half Britain’s households into “fuel poverty”, will be the costs involved in covering thousands of square miles of our countryside and seas with wind turbines. The sole beneficiaries will be the energy companies, which are allowed to charge us double or treble the normal cost of our electricity, through the subsidies hidden in our energy bills; and landowners such as Sir Reginald Sheffield, the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, who on his own admission stands to earn nearly £1,000 a day at the expense of the rest of us, for allowing a wind farm to be built on his Lincolnshire estate.
Even more damaging, however, will be the way this massive investment diverts resources away from the replacement of the coal-fired and nuclear power stations which are due for closure in coming years, threatening to leave a shortfall in our national electricity supply of nearly 40 per cent. If we are to keep our lights on and our economy running, we need – as the CBI warned in a damning report on Friday – urgently to spend some £200 billion on power supply,
But our politicians have been so carried away into their greenie never-never land that they seem to have lost any sight of this disaster bearing down on us. Instead of putting up turbines on the fields of Northants, E.On should be building the grown-up power stations we desperately need. But government energy policy has so skewed the financial incentives of the system that the real money is to made from building useless wind farms.
Sooner or later, this weird policy will be recognised as such a catastrophic blunder that it, and the colossal subsidies that made it possible, will be abandoned. That will leave vast areas of our once green and pleasant land littered with useless piles of steel and concrete, which it will be no one’s responsibility to cart away.
If the Government really wishes to make a useful change to our planning laws, it should insist that every planning permission to build wind turbines should include a requirement that, after their 25-year life, they must be removed at their owners’ expense. Alas, by that time the companies will all have gone bankrupt, and we shall be left with a hideous legacy as a monument to one of the greatest lunacies of our time.
A way has been found to save our village cricketers
There has been another twist to the year-long battle for survival of our little Somerset village cricket club which, as I wrote last Sunday, has been threatened with closure by a bizarre bureaucratic double whammy.
On the one hand, our local council wanted us to pay rates amounting to more than £100 for every home game we play, more than we can realistically afford. On the other, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs has ruled that we cannot get any relief on this crippling demand because our constitution did not state explicitly that membership of the club is open to anyone “regardless of sex, age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or other beliefs” (it merely stated that membership was “open to anyone”).
On Monday, in a friendly and helpful letter from Mendip district council, it emerged that a way may have been found round this difficulty. If our cricket club is redesignated as a business, we might qualify this year for Small Business Rate Relief, at 100 per cent.
For the moment, it seems, that the threat has been lifted, and that next season we may again be permitted to take the field on Sunday afternoons without having to pay a tax of over £700 a year – thanks to a scheme designed to promote growth in the local economy.
Spanish scientists search for fuel of the future
by Virginie Grognou Virginie Grognou – Thu Mar 31, 2:32 am ET
ALICANTE, Spain (AFP) – In a forest of tubes eight metres high in eastern Spain scientists hope they have found the fuel of tomorrow: bio-oil produced with algae mixed with carbon dioxide from a factory.
Almost 400 of the green tubes, filled with millions of microscopic algae, cover a plain near the city of Alicante, next to a cement works from which the C02 is captured and transported via a pipeline to the “blue petroleum” factory.
The project, which is still experimental, has been developed over the past five years by Spanish and French researchers at the small Bio Fuel Systems (BFS) company.
At a time when companies are redoubling their efforts to find alternative energy sources, the idea is to reproduce and speed up a process which has taken millions of years and which has led to the production of fossil fuels.
“We are trying to simulate the conditions which existed millions of years ago, when the phytoplankton was transformed into oil,” said engineer Eloy Chapuli. “In this way, we obtain oil that is the same as oil today.”
The microalgae reproduces at high speed in the tubes by photosynthesis and from the CO2 released from the cement factory.
Every day some of this highly concentrated liquid is extracted and filtered to produce a biomass that is turned into bio-oil.
The other great advantage of the system is that it is a depollutant — it absorbs the C02 which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
“It’s ecological oil,” said the founder and chairman of BFS, French engineer Bernard Stroiazzo-Mougin, who worked in oil fields in the Middle East before coming to Spain.
“We need another five to 10 years before industrial production can start,” said Stroiazzo-Mougin, who hopes to be able to develop another such project on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
“In a unit that covers 50 square kilometres, which is not something enormous, in barren regions of southern Spain, we could produce about 1.25 million barrels per day,” or almost as much as the daily export of oil from Iraq, he said.
BFS, a private company, hopes to negotiate “with several countries to obtain subsidies for the installation of artificial oil fields,” he said.
Other similar projects being studied in other parts of the world.
In Germany, the Swedish energy group Vattenfall last year launched a pilot project in which algae is used to absorb carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant.
US oil giant ExxonMobil plans to invest up to $600 million in research on oil produced from algae.
Companies, in particular those in the aeronautic sector, have shown keen interest in this research, hoping to find a replacement for classic oil.