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Power to the People
Author: BobR    Date: 05/13/2015 14:07:36

Energy has always been Big Business. From the wildcatters to the electrical companies that sprouted up after Edison brought light into the darkness, to refrigeration and central heat and the comfort it brings... wherever there was a demand for energy, there were businesses that became rich delivering that energy. As has always been the case, wealth brings power - a different kind of power - the kind that can influence elections, and thus legislation that affects the energy industry.

How bad is it? In Florida, you can't even say "Global Warming" if you work for the state government, or risk disciplinary action. That does not bode well for Florida as coastal cities are regularly flooding:
St. Augustine's centuries-old Spanish fortress and other national landmarks sit feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city's narrow, brick-paved streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise. The city has long relied on tourism, but visitors to the fortress and Ponce de Leon's mythical Fountain of Youth might someday have to wear waders at high tide.
[...]
Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea-level projections and climate-change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida's environmental agencies under Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea-level-rise planning in the state, the documents showed.

It's not just Florida - all across the country we've seen an increase in extreme weather - just as climate scientists have predicted. These storms cause damage which costs money - $19 billion in damages, resulting in a loss to the economy of $227 billion. You'd think the money-concious Republicans would sit up and take notice of that. If they think adjusting our lifestyles or moving towards non-carbon-based energy sources is expensive, the cost of maintaining the status quo increases every year.

It doesn't help when the White House touts "clean coal" (oxymoron alert!), or allows drilling in the Arctic. Sure it placates his critics when he can tout that he's decreased our dependence on Middle East oil by increasing local production, but it doesn't help our environment at all - and keeping oil prices low stifles motivation to move to renewable energy sources. President Obama has tried to push for more solar and wind energy, but this increased drilling is shooting himself in the foot.

Making things interesting in the heart of coal country, former coal miner Jim Justice switched parties to run as a Democrat for governor:
Billionaire coal mining executive Jim Justice, owner of West Virginia’s famed Greenbrier luxury resort, announced on Monday he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year in his first bid for public office.

Justice, 64, who according to state records cited by the Wall Street Journal switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in late February, has said he would take a salary of a dollar a year if elected.
[...]
“Justice supports an all-of-the-above energy approach which promotes growth in coal, natural gas and wind energy to create jobs and prepare West Virginia for the future,” it said.
[...]
Before buying Greenbrier, Justice sold his privately held Bluestone Industries coal company to a Russian-based concern for $436 million.

His career in the coal business has not been without blemish. Last summer, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper in neighboring Kentucky reported that mines owned by Justice had been cited for hundreds of violations of strip-mining reclamation regulations.

Has he seen the light? Does he really want to persue wind energy? Or is he a wolf in sheep's clothing? Only time will tell. Call me skeptical.

Elon Musk, however, may be the one who finally drives the nail into the coffin of carbon-based energy. The CEO of Tesla Motors is gearing up to start cranking out lithium-ion batteries on a massive scale. Besides his automobiles, he is selling energy storage for home and industry:
Powerwall, a sleek suitcase-sized lithium-ion battery designed for homeowners to store energy, comes in 7 kilowatt-hour and 10 kWh sizes. Both units are meant to be combined with solar panels. The 10 kWh home unit is designed as a source of backup power, while 7 kWh-unit can be used daily to extend the environmental and cost benefits of solar after the sun has gone down.

The units for industry are larger and store more energy. This means a business could line its roof with solar panels and possibly be off the grid completely. It means wind turbine farms and solar cell farms can stored excess electricity for use at night.

Is battery manufacturing (and mining and processing the raw materials) cleaner than carbon-based energy production? That is a concern for certain. One must look at the life of the battery, though, and how much stored energy it will deliver over its life -vs- carbon sources to get an apples-to-apples comparison. My guess is that the batteries will still come out way ahead.

Republicans have fought non-petrol/coal energy production as a favor to their benefactors. They have decried government intervention, and declared the Invisible Hand of the Free Market should determine where we get our energy. Well - the free market just got a seismic shift, care of Elon Musk. The next couple of years will be very interesting as we see how his vision progresses.

32 comments (Latest Comment: 05/13/2015 20:17:19 by TriSec)
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