, Salem, MA

December 21, 2013

Letter: Betting the farm on dumb decisions

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

There can be no resolution to the Salem power plant debate as long as they talk past each other. It’s like shadow boxing. Instead of throwing punches in the air, they hurl invectives tinged with disjointed anecdotes that are portrayed as technical know-how. They also throw in a guilt trip. We must have due process (which means use the courts to delay and delay...) and do our part to save the world from AGW (Al Gore Warming).

The real issue is the elite NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) crowd cannot tolerate anything at all productive. Don’t believe me. Just suggest a mega-megawatt wind farm located at Halfway Rock or Misery Island, but remember to duck.

Technology is a long way off from providing electricity 24/7 powered by anything but coal, oil, gas or nukes. (The destruction of existing dams puts hydro-electric power in the non-dependable column.) Until there is an effective, inexpensive electrical storage device (batteries aren’t there yet) wind and solar are relegated to very expensive supplemental, fringe input to the grid. (Take away the subsidies and how many would pay full price plus the cost of subsidizing conventional power plants to be on standby?)

The technical capability and experience to predict the system reliability with about 350 power plants with different failure rates due to their different point in their life cycle and response times (how fast they can be brought on line from a cold start) is not something I would expect to find on the LinkedIn page of a local politician. Definitely having kept the lights on when Salem had the unexpected, extended down time is a credit to ISO and not something to be casually dismissed with vague references to “the feasibility of replacing that lost power through energy efficiencies, renewables and a number of other measures” by a state agency that doesn’t have to make it happen.

This cult of CO2 has led to some really dumb decisions with horrendous consequences.

During this latest cold spell the local spot price of gas was approaching $30 per mmbtu while the rest of country is paying $4.20. This difference is driven by demand (gas is “greener” and cheaper) and restricted supply. The pipeline coming in from New York isn’t large enough to satisfy the homeowners (who get first choice) and the power plants. (We make up the difference with LNG tankers from the Caribbean and Yemen.) There is only talk about increasing pipeline capacity. One of the problems is that the proposed convoluted path for the pipeline would be more effective if it were laid out by a drunken cow. (NIMBY strikes again!)

Christopher Grundler, the head of the EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality Office, told Congress that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has threatened to force petroleum refiners to mix a blend of gasoline that cars can’t use. (It would damage engines.) I’m shocked, shocked, shocked that RFS is strongly supported by congressmen and senators from corn-producing states. The increase in cost was first noticed by the Mexicans having to pay more to make their tortillas.

Reality bites. I was working on fuel cells in the early ’60s and we were going to have a fuel cell power car in the 1964 World’s Fair. The reason you don’t remember it is; it didn’t happen. Same problem stills exists — where are you going to get the hydrogen from? Since you can’t drill for hydrogen you have to make it, usually by electrolyzing water. And you have to make the electricity the same old way and it takes more energy to break down the water molecule than you get back from the hydrogen (less than 100 percent efficiency coming and going).

On and on it goes. The cult of AGW generates too many half-baked ideas and fundamental questions that don’t get discussed in the mainstream media and we are expected to bet the farm on it.

George Binns