Tag Archives: energy policy

earth day 2016

Earth Day 2016.

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on April 19, 2014. We are recycing it for Earth Day 2016 with a few edits and updates.

I’m going to say up front that today’s blog article is not going to be a conservative hit piece on Earth Day 2016, nor will it be a sappy New Age love song about windmills and composting. As someone who has been a strict vegetarian for close to three decades, incorporates numerous meaningful green practices into his life, and is gun-toting, flag-waving Libertarian (which is not the same as a liberal), I feel I have an understanding of Earth Day 2016 that belies the absolute left and right attitudes that define it.

April 22 is Earth Day 2016, and for political liberals, leftover hippies, and various eco-activist groups, it’s a High Holy Day. Started by flower children in 1970 on the momentum of anti-Vietnam counterculture, Earth Day has evolved into a slick, professionally organized international media spectacle complete with its own website and corporate sponsors. Like all things liberal, Earth Day is heavy on shallow sentimentality, squishy platitudes, and calls for “investments” (taxescoughtaxes) in green projects. The real message: We simpletons need big government liberalism to save us from our own stupid. And like all things conservative, Earth Day is an opportunity for overt mockery and to dismiss environmentalism out of hand, because in the Orthodox Church of “drill, baby, drill!” it’s apostasy to even hint that the green movement has a legitimate point buried in there somewhere, especially if it interferes with making a lot of money.

Years before recycling became fashionable, I was lugging magazines and aluminum cans down from my 12th floor college dorm to a recycling center on the other side of campus.

I absolutely do believe in a clean environment and the premise behind Earth Day 2016. I also have a big issue with advancing the cause via rules and edicts that make for good press releases but never achieve their intended goal. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing with myself over how to resolve my conviction that we need to stop trashing the planet against my conservative sensibilities of resisting at every chance an egalitarian nanny state that, especially regarding environmental policy, regulates our lives down to the ridiculous, up to and including federal standards for…shower heads?

Years before recycling became fashionable, I was lugging magazines and aluminum cans down from my 12th floor college dorm to a recycling center on the other side of campus. Back then, recycling required considerable dedication and muscle. As one can guess, hardly anyone bothered. Today, recycling is as straightforward as placing recyclables at the curb where they are picked up along with garbage. My neighborhood even has entrepreneurially-minded scrappers who will scoop up discarded appliances, hot water heaters, bikes, BBQ grills, and whatever metallic waste suburbia tosses away. I don’t know how much money they make, but it must be pretty good because there are more than one of them patrolling the streets competing for junk every week. In many locales, recycling has developed to the point that there aren’t any good excuses not to do it.

Renewable energy is one area that has made considerable progress but is still a long way from being a real game changer. Even with tax incentives and subsidies (which I have a problem with), the bang for the buck is just not there. I will be well into retirement before my roof full of solar panels pay themselves off. Fortunately for me, my motivations are not solely about money. For most, the start up costs of green energy for individual use is well beyond the budget. Germany is often held up as a proud example of a “successful” national renewable energy program, but the rationalization works only if affordability is taken out of the equation.

For the Germans, solar energy may be an environmental win but it is collapsing as a business model due in no small part to regulatory overreach and meddling. Progressives here in the United states have been trying for years, but they cannot come up with a talking point that gets them over the mountain of government incompetence. Green energy will never evolve beyond the fringe unless it becomes cost effective, and it will never be cost effective without free market-based energy policy. The environmental movement will never, ever embrace this simple truth. They run their mouths about how the US should emulate Germany’s example while completely blowing off the ugly fact that it is breaking the bank.

A recurring theme in my blog is making fun of the left for doing things just to feel good. It’s not an unfair criticism: A major piece of liberal dogma is that good intentions and feelings are a valid substitute for reality and actual results. But here’s where I split with conservatives: While liberals are all about being warm and happy even if nothing gets done, conservatives seem to be of the attitude that the value of something is proportional to the amount of difficulty and sacrifice needed to do it. Or to put it another way, if something is enjoyable it’s either not worth doing or you are not working hard enough. Some of the most pissed off, bitter people I know are conservative, possibly because they have forgotten that life can’t always be about that hard journey going for the gold. But what if I can do something that really does produce results and I can feel good about it…what’s wrong with that?

Unfortunately, most of what passes as “environmentalism” is really just fluff. Earth Day 2016 will have plenty of celebrity appearances and petition signings and resurrected Joni Mitchell songs. Within twenty four hours everyone will go back to what they were doing before. They have conned themselves into thinking they are environmentalists because they plop a blue bin full of junk mail at the end of the driveway every week. Toss in an annual one day feel good retro hippy trip and they are completely sold on the hustle. I don’t know what’s worse: Liberals who pretend to be environmentalists with their hollow showmanship or conservatives who never claimed to care in the first place.

I no longer accept the idealism of my youth that had me thinking I could singlehandedly save the world one aluminum can at a time. But doing nothing is also unacceptable. Decades out of college dorm life, I’m still recycling. I’ve also been on solar panels for a while. They aren’t enough to run the whole house, but I can produce a significant chunk of my electricity with them.

When I switched to a vegetarian diet 29 years ago, it was not for environmental reasons. Since then I’ve learned a lot about how dirty and energy-intensive meat production really is, and how many thousands of gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef. I work only a little over a mile from where I live; some weeks I rack up less than 25 miles on my vehicles. When the weather is good I get around on a motorcycle. These are things I do all the time, not just for display purposes. I don’t wear my environmentalism on my sleeve and people who do annoy the hell out of me, especially since most of them are pretenders.

Those of us who live our lives as if every day were Earth Day 2016 are a little vexed about the concept of waiting for a special occasion to take positive action towards keeping the planet clean, nor do we feel a need to show off how “green” we are. True Earth Day practitioners divorce themselves from the fad of environmentalism and go quietly about their eco-friendly business. It’s a lifestyle, not a hobby or a holiday. Conservatives will be pleased to know that when done properly it requires effort and is often a challenge; liberals can be assured that in the end, yes, it feels good. In a truly honorable world, there would be no need to reserve a spot on the calendar to commemorate what everyone should have been doing the whole time anyway.

off grid

Introducing Off Grid Ham

By: Chris Warren

I am very excited and pleased to announce the launch of my new spinoff site, Off Grid Ham.

Twenty First Summer will continue as usual. I created Off Grid Ham as a separate platform to discuss technical topics related to amateur (ham) radio, electronics, and alternative & off grid energy. I feel this is the best way to serve two very different reading audiences.

I know a lot of technical people enjoy Twenty First Summer, and I hope all of you stick around! To dive deeper into the geeky stuff, please add Off Grid Ham to your reading list. If you are not a technical person, come on by Off Grid Ham anyway…you never know what you’ll learn.

New articles will not appear on Off Grid Ham on any particular schedule. If there is a topic you’d like to see me address, then please let me know and I’ll do my best.

It is because of the success of Twenty First Summer that I have the confidence to try a new venture. To everyone, no matter if you are a technogeek, a fellow blogger, or just a curious onlooker, thank you so much for your loyalty and goodwill.

I hope to see you all Off the Grid!

 

 

 

 

 

earth day

Earth Day 2015 -SPECIAL EDITION.

By Chris Warren.

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Energy/environment/ecology is a favorite topic on Twenty First Summer. While TFS finds the energy policy of both conservatives and liberals to be at best a mixed bag with something to love and hate from both sides, I do fully support the higher purpose of working towards a cleaner planet even if there is disagreement on how to get there.

Below is a compilation of my environment-themed articles going all the way back to the beginning. If you have time to read only one, please choose “Earth Day Has No Reason To Exist.” It is a personal favorite and one of my best articles. I have also noted a few runners-up.

No matter what your politics or beliefs are, remember that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Please make every day Earth Day by seeking changes  in your own daily life to help make our planet a cleaner, less toxic place to live.

Peace be with you!

Earth Day Should Not Have A Reason To Exist  –#1 RECOMMENDED.

Solar Energy Gives Us The Power To Feel Good.

The Linguistics Of Climate Change.  -RECOMMENDED

Getting The LED Out. 

The Climate Change Circus Comes To Town.  -RECOMMENDED

An Old Yankee Fades Away. 

When Energy Is Stolen, There Are No Victims. 

A Drought of Wisdom. 

Earth Day2

 

 

 

solar-panels-625x418

When Energy Is Stolen, There Are No Victims.

By: Chris Warren

For over a generation green energy has been the exclusive domain of the liberal left. The reasons why could run thousands of pages, but the oversimplified explanation is that clean energy is not economically viable and suitable only in niche applications. It is not cash flow positive nor does it have mainstream practicality, and therefore depends on government subsidies and complex protective legislation. Add that to the liberal foundational doctrine that feelings matter more than actually getting something done, and clean energy becomes a natural fit for them.

That was then and this is now. Renewable energy, particularly solar, is on the cusp of becoming technically and financially competitive with traditional fuels. The left hasn’t noticed –yet– that free market libertarian ideas are pushing it over the line (note: liberal and libertarian are not the same thing). How long this ignorant bliss will continue is uncertain, and I’m not sure it matters. What is certain is that just a year or two ago, the idea of two groups who so sorely disagree on everything else setting it all aside and joining forces to make solar energy go primetime would have been found only in a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch.

A nascent movement is gaining traction down in Florida where liberals and conservatives are in an unlikely collusion to pass legislation that would allow any private citizen to install solar panels on their home or business and sell the electricity for profit on the open market. In essence, they would become a miniature power company. As the law is right now, only state registered commercial utilities can sell juice. The new rules, if passed, would let anyone in on the action.

It is encouraging to see solar energy get the boost it so rightfully deserves, and let it be noted that all of this is unfolding without government subsidies, handouts, or special legislative favors. The plan does not officially break up the power company monopoly, but is it really a monopoly if anyone can do it? To be sure, Florida’s proposal is no magic answer. There are a lot of holes in the plan, and we are long away from completely powering our society with sunbeams and happy thoughts. Still, there is almost nothing negative about this initiative.

Conservatives should further their cause by spreading the Florida example elsewhere. Finding a reason not to do something is easy. It takes thought and effort to confront problems and find a path through them. Since the beginning of the clean energy movement, the right touted a long list of reasons why green energy would not work for mainstream use, and to be fair, for most of that time they had a valid point. Now there is a foot in the door that addresses many of these concerns. Here is the conservatives’ big chance to show everyone that free market solutions really do work.

Regardless of how the Florida experiment plays out (it has not even been passed into law yet), liberals are faced with no course to steer around the reality that decades of government largesse and mandates has failed to make solar a legitimate option. And I’m certain I’m not the only free market supporter who is taking some quiet pleasure seeing progressives forced into a position where, in order to achieve their long time goal of widespread renewable energy, they will have to admit that their other long time goal of solving the renewable energy “problem” with more government spending and regulation is a total failure.

The way I read this, two causes liberals covet (green energy and big government) have been turned against each other. Well played, tea party! Well played! Not only are conservatives stealing a worthwhile but horribly mismanaged liberal issue and making it work with capitalist policy, the liberals are cheerfully going along as if they were helping  load their own stuff into a burglar’s getaway car. In this case the thief is doing the victim, and everyone else, a huge favor.

An Old Yankee Fades Away.

By : Chris Warren.

Energy policy is the strange convergence of politics, science, and business. It’s deep and wonkish and is the kind of topic very few people understand or follow even though it effects every moment of their life. Most of these effects blend into the background. When it does come home, it hits hard. Suddenly, everyone is paying attention. It can even get a little emotional.

After over forty years of providing New England with electricity, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station in Vernon, Vermont was disconnected from public electric grid on Monday, December 29, 2014. Yankee’s closure means 300 of the approximately 600 plant employees will be immediately laid off or retire. Most of the leftover staff will be cut in 2016. From there, a small support crew will remain to oversee a lengthy and expensive decommissioning process. The physical structure is going to be around almost long enough to become a historic landmark: It will need to sit fallow for a minimum of thirty years before the radiation in the reactor decays to a level safe enough to tear it down. It will not be completely dismantled until at least 2045, possibly longer. The price tag for the full shut down and removal is estimated at $1.25 billion, and that’s in 2014 dollars.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.
Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.

The Yankee closure means different things to different people. For anti-nuclear activists, it’s a sense of accomplishment after a decades-long fight even though the closure was caused by economics & policy, not protests. For the plant owner, it’s the symbol of a horribly bad investment. For the residents of Vernon, Vermont, it’s the end of an era that for better or worse permanently altered the community. Seldom heard mixed into the discussion is the story of ordinary Americans whose upended lives were powered by the economic engine that was Yankee. Employee spending at local businesses will stop, contractors who serviced the facility will have to find other revenue sources, and the primary tax base for Vernon has been, literally, unplugged.

Losing a major employer and many hundreds of jobs is devastating to a town of only a few thousand people. Beyond tangible dollars and cents is the unquantifiable loss of relationships that will be broken as people move on with their new lives. It’s hard to say goodbye to your gang of lunchroom buddies. Or the family across the street you traded favors with for years. Or the waitress at the corner diner who always knew what your order was without asking. When a town fixture fades away, so too do many routines and habits that made the place comfortable and familiar. Many of these deeply meaningful personal interactions revolved around one constant: The nuclear generating plant. And now it’s over.

I understand difficult business decisions need to be made, and I doubt even the residents of Vernon expect the plant owners should keep the place open just for nostalgia’s sake. Barely noticed in the mix of the larger energy policy universe are everyday folks who have to live with the judgements of those who don’t concern themselves with the sentiments of one small town. Going strictly on the facts, it’s not difficult to see why it was time for Vermont Yankee to go, but respect and sympathy is owed both to those who must go with it and the small town that lost its most prolific citizen.

Getting The LED Out.

By Chris Warren

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to reduce the burden I personally place on the Earth’s resources. It’s been an incremental project taking place over many years and has no set end point, nor is it always easy to define how or if a conservation method is effective. I honestly have no idea if everything, or anything, I’ve done has made a difference.

Keeping the planet green and clean should be something we do as individuals because it’s right and good and not because the government or some activist group demands it. There is a place for laws and regulations; how far they should go is another matter. It is a sad reality that we are often compelled by law to do what we should be doing on our own anyway. Do we really need “no littering” signs? Having them implies two false conclusions: One, that those who are inclined to litter will refrain from doing so because a polite little notice keeps them in line; and two, that littering is allowed as long as there is no sign specifically prohibiting it.

This summer I completed upgrading nearly all the lights in my house to high efficiency LEDs. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time but avoided due to the expense of LED bulbs. The cost of the bulbs has come way down and finally, I can cross this item off my wish list. A big chunk of my household electricity comes from solar panels so I am very aware of the need to make the most of every watt. The only standard bulbs I have now are in lights I hardly ever use anyway, such as in the closets and garage. It is gratifying to reduce my dependence on commercial electricity and the pollution it produces without giving up modern conveniences. I’m still far from being “off the grid,” but I am a lot less on it than the average person.LED-shop-by-bulb-visnav-PLPbanner

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was signed by President George W. Bush and introduced phased in mandates, the last of which take effect this year. What is sneaky about this legislation is that it technically does not ban anything. It instead imposes energy efficiency requirements that no incandescent lamp could ever achieve, forcing a default switchover to LEDs. I do not like this law mostly because it smells of regulatory “nanny state” overreach, however I have to admit it did have the unintended positive consequence of bringing the cost of LED lightbulbs down. As more people started using them, manufacturing economies of scale kicked in and within a few years LED lights were no longer a high tech, high end luxury item. They are still pricey compared to old-school incandescent bulbs, but within reach for most consumers. The EISA, for all its many flaws, succeeded in accelerating what the free market would have done on its own anyway.

When I stopped by the local do it yourself emporium to buy my LED lights, the choices were breathtaking. It was somewhat of a surprise that the previously-simple act of purchasing a lightbulb now required, among other technical considerations, an understanding of the Kelvin color temperature scale. Without the helpful charts and working sample lights on display in the store, I would have needed google to figure out that 2700 degrees Kelvin and 800 lumens is the equivalent of an old-school 60 watt incandescent light. I felt kind of foolish for all the time and effort I was spending comparing options and prices. It was, after all, just a lightbulb. I kept telling myself that times are a-changin’ so I had best get used to it and learn the new ways.

LEDs will last tens of thousands of hours longer than their incandescent predecessors and consume a small fraction of energy for the same light output. The theory is this double-benefit will more than offset the higher initial cost of the device itself. It’s not the good deal it seems, especially if you’re on a tight budget to begin with. Spending $5-$50 up front on a single lightbulb under the premise that you’ll earn a profit over the next decade or so isn’t much of a selling point when you also need to buy groceries for your children today.

Even though I have many misgivings about the EISA, now that it is law I want to see it succeed, at least the lightbulb part. Years from now there will be studies and statistics making big claims of how much energy was saved and pollution avoided because of LED lights. But in the same way my individual efforts can’t be quantified, I do not believe  meaningful data on the benefits of LEDs will ever be known. Of course, that won’t stop interested parties from both ends of the issue from coming up with something that “proves” their point. LED technology was a long time coming and I’m really glad it’s finally ready for consumer use because my new lights have eased the burden on my solar panels and freed up hundreds of watts I can use for some other purpose. For my personal situation, they are a clear winner even as I know in terms of the bigger picture LEDs are not the magic potion environmentalists want everyone to think they are.

I may be a dreamer for thinking people will do the right thing without being ordered to. It’s a nice thought that hardly ever happens in reality and I can’t resolve the conflict of my dislike for laws that mandate good behavior with knowing many people won’t behave unless the law makes them. There is no easy path to convert philosophy into practical life, other than to do the right thing and take a chance that others will notice and follow along. If living by example is the best teacher, then I hope the class is paying attention.