Local Climate Policy Run Amok, Bellingham Edition

Yves here. This post on Bellingham is a mini-case study in a community-level climate change initiative. Since local politics is where citizens typically can have the biggest impact, it’s therefore germane to a lot of readers. What it illustrates, sadly, is that even on a small scale, devising good policy is often hard.

By Peter Dorman, professor of economics at The Evergreen State College. Originally published at Econospeak

Earlier this month the New York Timesran a story about Bellingham, Washington, a picturesque town that looks out across Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands.  Bellingham is home to Western Washington University, but rational thought is in short supply when it comes to climate activism.

What got the country’s attention is a proposal before the city council to require all homeowners to switch from natural gas to electric heating by 2040.  A number of cities already require new construction to use electric heat, but Bellingham would be the first to mandate a complete phaseout for everyone.

The opposition is spearheaded by, surprise, the privately owned gas and electric utilities, which plan a PR campaign talking up the wonders of CH4.  Real estate interests are unhappy too.  They will face off against the enviros, who all seem to see this as a big step toward municipal carbon neutrality.

I hesitate to draw conclusions about what people think or don’t think based on reading a few news articles, since I live hundreds of miles away and have no personal connections to Bellingham.  Nevertheless, I’ve checked out a number of sources representing a range of views, and I’ve yet to see anyone making the obvious point that electric heating mandates are just as likely to increasecarbon emissions as reduce them.  The problem, of course, is that Bellingham proposes to significantly increase local electricity consumption but is making no corresponding effort to reduce the role of fossil fuels, and especially natural gas, in electrical generation.

This being the Pacific Northwest, much of the electricity humming through Bellingham’s wires is hydro, which is mostly fine.  (Not quite so fine if you’re a salmon searching for your smolthood home.)  But that’s already online and accounted for in existing consumption.  Where will the new electricity come from?  At the margin, the “green” heating Bellingham homeowners will turn to when the gas is turned off is likely to come from…..gas.  This is because renewables will not supply the full load at any point in the foreseeable future, and the home heating law will just increase electricity demand above what it would have been otherwise.  Since conversion to electricity absorbs about half the energy content of the gas used to spin turbines, more gas may end up being burned that way than if the city had taken no action and the fuel had been piped directly to the houses heating with it.  Amazingly, this point is expressed by exactly no one in a slew of articles that quote an array of business owners, politicians and activists.< So I’m dumbfounded twice over, first by the push for a policy that has an unclear relationship to its ostensible goals, and then by the apparent absence of any awareness of the problem on the part of the entire cast of characters. When you ask why we’re not making much progress addressing climate change, the first thing you hear is the stubborn, greedy opposition of the fossil fuel companies.  I’m not saying it’s not out there, but close behind is the confusion of well-intentioned people who think cutting emissions means cutting myemissions, the ones I can see and are immediately traceable to me.  Great for instilling a sense of personal virtue, but in an interdependent society not so much for saving the planet.

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86 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    With due respect to the writer, I’ve been following the data on energy issues for more than three decades and in all that time I don’t think I’ve read anything by an academic economist that made sense on the topic, and this isn’t any different.

    I know nothing about this town, and little about Washington State, but a quick qwant/DDG search revealed that Washington State gets the overwhelming majority of its electricity from hydro and nuclear.

    Electric space and water heating from electricity has multiple benefit for grids, most particularly as it performs a role as a form of storage – promoting night time water and space heating encourages greater use when demand is at its lowest, which for base line production (which nuclear and hydro excel at) is a major advantage – this is why encouraging night time use is a key objective in smaller grids, it increases the overall efficiency of the grid and prevents waste at night. It is, in short, an effective form of energy storage and load balancing when implemented correctly.

    With hydro and wind energy it also has an advantage in the highest demand for the energy tends to coincide with the highest level of production – during the winter (at least, in most northern latitudes and on the western side of continental masses).

    In any plan for a dramatically reduced consumption for fossil fuels that I’ve seen, the key central plank is the electrification of nearly all energy needs – space and water heating, industrial production and transport. The trick is to manage the demand and supply sides.

    Reply
    1. rusti

      With due respect to the writer, I’ve been following the data on energy issues for more than three decades and in all that time I don’t think I’ve read anything by an academic economist that made sense on the topic, and this isn’t any different.

      I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on this topic through the years :)

      The trick is to manage the demand and supply sides.

      One of my good friends from University is an engineer and project manager at the main utility company that serves Bellingham and the greater Seattle area.

      He was telling me a few weeks ago during my annual pilgrimage to Washington that they’ve had a lot of trouble meeting mandates for renewable energy because there has been an absolutely enormous influx of people and businesses, especially in places like Bellevue which has exploded in size and had a huge increase in energy demand that the infrastructure wasn’t originally scaled to meet. I see huge new buildings every time I go to Redmond and Bellevue, where companies like Microsoft and Expedia are headquartered.

      There are some proposals to build high-voltage transmission lines across the mountains to transmit solar power from the sunny Eastern part of the state but they’ve hit NIMBY resistance from wealthy neighborhoods who have deep pockets to hire lawyers to fight proposals. I’m not sure how that utility company has been historically, but I can see from my friend’s perspective that it is tough when wealthy liberals demand a cleaner energy mix but have a low tolerance for the realities of building that out.

      Reply
      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Wealthy liberals demand a cleaner energy mix but have a low tolerance for the realities of building that out.

        Oh, wow. There’s the quotable quote for the day.

        Reply
    2. Grumpy Engineer

      “Encouraging night time use” isn’t always beneficial. It works nicely in warmer climates where peak demand typically occurs midday or shortly after sunset, but in colder climates (particularly during winter), the peak is often around 7AM, when heat pumps and water heaters and stoves and coffee pots are all running simultaneously. If we replace all oil- and gas-fired furnaces with heat pumps (or other electrified heat), hot summer days will no longer be the most challenging periods of demand for the grid. It’ll instead be cold winter nights.

      But with that said, you’re right: “The key central plank is the electrification of nearly all energy needs.” We must get rid of fossil-fueled furnaces to reduce our CO2 emissions by over 85%. They account for a full 12% of our emissions, and if we keep them burning, it leaves a mere 3% for everything else. We’d never succeed.

      Of course, Peter Dorman does have a point in noting that if the grid remains largely fossil-fueled, then this yields little benefit. And given the severe amount of incomplete engineering and wishful thinking in most grid-decarbonization plans (like all of those presented by the Democratic front-runners), it may be a long time before Bellingham’s plan yields any real benefit.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, of course ‘night time’ (or perhaps more correctly, ‘low demand’ time varies according to the local climate and demand profile – in my country it starts to rise around 6am in the morning in winter, and accelerates after 7am. The half price tariff period here in winter is 11pm to 7am, which I assume is based on the demand profile.

        Of course, I’m also assuming that the power systems likely to be used will be of the storage type – if everyone just puts in a standard old style electric bar heater or power-on-demand electric shower it would be a disaster for the grid during a particularly cold winter.

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    3. Ignacio

      As I was reading it and feeling the same. He was talking as if 100% of grid load is by natural gas thermal plants in Washington state.

      The night use of electricity makes sense from two points of view: it is when there is less demand (from the supply side this is good for nuclear energy) 2) your bill is reduced if you have the proper tariff scheme. There is another thing that is overlooked and I have mentioned here before and it is practical if you have solar panels: use energy produced at midday (when the performance of the system is best because it is warmer outside) and store it in the form of thermal energy (accumulated hot water). Surely Washington is not the best place in the world for solar panels but yet very much could be produced.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It is quite stunning to see you and PlutoniumKun so clearly straw man what Dorman said. He is taking about additional supply, not existing supply, and he also acknowledged that most power now is provided by hydro.

        Where will the new electricity come from? At the margin, the “green” heating Bellingham homeowners will turn to when the gas is turned off is likely to come from…..gas.

        Did you miss the word “new”? It sure looks like it.

        And did you miss that the Pacific Northwest is pretty much maxed out on what how much energy it can get from hydro?

        And in case you missed this too, the Seattle area isn’t a great candidate for solar, due both to being far north and having many days with lots of cloud cover.

        Reply
        1. AEL

          Note that Hydro is able, to some degree, to change when it generates power. So, as renewable energy comes online it can adapt to the inevitable dips where there is less wind / solar. I.e. the reservoir can be viewed a bit like a battery.

          This can mitigate the downside problems with renewable sources.

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        2. Ignacio

          Even if Seattle is not a good area for solar, and I acknowledged that, it makes sense for houses with electrified heaters to install solar panels and program the heater to produce as much hot water as possible at midday.

          Reply
    4. Yves Smith Post author

      Please read the post again. Dorman VERY clearly made the point that INCREMENTAL electrical power would have to come from gas. Hydro is already maxed out in the Northwest.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m sorry, but that isn’t how power grids work. You only need additional power generation capacity if the likely maximum peak demand exceeds the safe maximum productive capacity of the local grid. A typical demand curve (depending on climate and numerous other factors) might vary by 100% or so over a 24 hour period. If you are putting on additional demand to peak time, yes, that almost certainly means a requirement for more capacity, which with todays pricing means mostly gas. But if you can restrict that extra demand to night time use (this is very commonly done in Europe through having different night and day tariffs), then you are essentially using surplus capacity – in a small grid you are actually using waste power, as its often not practical to wind down big thermal plants on a 24 hour cycle (or hydro plants when they are at full storage capacity).

        My apartment uses electric storage heaters and night time hot water which is almost entirely ‘surplus’ power, as in Ireland (which is somewhat different from the US in having a very small grid with relatively few interconnectors), which creates a significant surplus of power at night from the big thermal plants and renewables – which is why they sell this power so cheaply (half price) to homes for heating. Night time electric water heating is standard in Ireland precisely because this makes the grid work more efficiently – it doesn’t require an additional watt of generation capacity. It is, in effect, energy storage for free. The same applies to any grid heavily dependant on a surplus of big thermal plants such as nuclear – the obvious example being France, with ends up with lots of waste power at night. Night time water and space heating cheap tarrifs were introduced in the UK in the 1960’s precisely because the expansion of nuclear power created a night time surplus. Encouraging night time use actually makes the grid more efficient. It requires more power, but that power capacity is already in the system and dampening out the daily and seasonal cycle provides greater efficiency.

        I don’t know enough about the particulars of Washington State to say for sure if this proposal makes sense or not – there are many variables involved, including local grid capacity and particulars about how domestic power is used. And of course you are right that if there is a long term issue with hydro being maxed out, then new capacity may have to be gas.

        But I stand by my criticism – Dorman has made a number of assumptions about the local grid which may be true, but in my experience are unlikely to be so in any area with a good supply of base capacity. Only additional demand during peak hours would require more gas generation to be built (or a loss of existing hydro/nuclear).

        Reply
        1. Grumpy Engineer

          You only need additional power generation capacity if the likely maximum peak demand exceeds the safe maximum productive capacity of the local grid.

          That’s not entirely true. In particular, it’s not true if you have lots of hydro. If overall energy consumption gets too high (even without bad peaks), your average discharge rate will exceed your average refill rate, and you’ll eventually empty your reservoirs. This is especially true if drought has compromised your refill rates. This is exactly what happened to Venezuela in 2016. In such a scenario, you will definitely need “additional power generation capacity” coming from somewhere else.

          Reply
        2. Clive

          It is a difficult question to answer definitively — impossible, really, unless you look into each country’s (and for the US, even each region or municipality, there’s a lot of variation and the national grid doesn’t function in the same way as grids for smaller countries do) specifics.

          For the UK and the Republic, it’s a no-brainier. There’s ample baseload-capable generating capacity to absorb off-peak thermal storage solutions like storage heaters or heat pumps with phasechage material buffers to charge up outside the peaks. Anything that uses surplus baseload generating capacity outside the peak is essentially “free” (in both monetary terms and also in environmental cost terms).

          Even additional electric heating loads during the peaks can be handled, providing some element of demand reduction is added to the infrastructure to shed heat pump loads which are dis-connectable for a short period of time (most people are happy to see their space temperature drop from, say 72-74F to 70F for half an hour, or pricing signals can be used to change consumer behaviour, such as you can pay €0.10 per kW/h normally, but if you insist on keeping your thermostat set-point at 75F all evening, for some billing blocks (30 minutes) you might have to pay €0.20 per kW/h to do that).

          Again, for the UK and the Republic, increasing share of generation by unpredictable-availability renewables will make this kind of dynamic response an almost essential part of how the grid works in future anyway. And shifting the loads to energy storage (thermal stores), too.

          But the US, especially in Zone 4 or higher, it’s like it’s a different world. Winters are terribly severe by our mild standards (comparatively, it doesn’t sometimes feel like that!) so demand reduction is much more problematic, especially with the abysmal standards of most building codes in terms of energy efficient structures. If it’s 0F outside and you’ve got an R5-10 building to heat, or keep warm, being without any heat input for half an hour isn’t going to be much fun.

          And building out the grid to accommodate new renewables is incredibly costly because the distances are much greater from the generation sources to the load centres. And there’s not nearly so much potential for adding peak-lopping capacity on the generation side via renewables.

          Not easy, then, to come up with hard-and-fast statements that work everywhere.

          Reply
    5. heresy101

      If one grants that forcing everyone to convert from gas to electric is counter-productive, the rest of the article is doom and gloom. In California a large number of cities (Berkeley, San Jose, SF) are prohibiting NEW gas connections and plan to be 100% GHG neutral by 2045. This is driving the gas companies nuts and they have “grass roots” campaign to fight it. Using this model, it will occur that all housing/commercial property transfers will be required to have gas converted to electricity in order to transfer title.

      PK’s comments about shifting usage to nighttime are a remnant of baseload generation of coal, gas, and nuclear. With wind and solar and other renewables being intermittant and mostly daytime, shifting load to evening and night does’t help. One of the most efficient gas plants in California can’t run during the day because too much solar causes prices to go negative (ie lose money). It will likely be the norm to entice EVs and batteries to charge in the afternoon rather than at night. The Central Valley Project used to have a program called “Max Peaking” where the hydro dams (Shasta et al) would generate during the day and the CVP would purchase electricity in the evening for their full load customers. Now the Max Peaking has shifted to purchasing during the day and running the hydro in the evening during California’s peak time of 1900 to 2000. Geothermal, wind, and hydro will cover the night time load and batteries the evening load.

      As for Yves concern that the electricity will have to be gas, she is right that hydro is maxed out but there is a lot of area for wind and solar in Eastern Washington and Oregon. The Columbia River still has room for a lot more wind turbines. Batteries are becoming cheaper and the excess daytime solar can be transmitted over the lesser used hydro transmission lines and be stored for the evening and/or morning peak.

      Energy efficiency is important and retrofits can be paid with the GND. The problem utilities have regarding installing EE is that about half of most usage is by renters. The landlord doesn’t want to pay for the EE because they don’t pay the bill; the tenant does, and they don’t want to pay for landlord properties.

      The source of energy that will obsolete gas in the future will come from offshore wind. The technology is changing and huge floating offshore turbines will likely provide most of future electricity. Equinor (Norwegian Oil) has a 30MW project in Scotland using 6MW turbines. The new turbines coming online in the next couple of years are going to be 12MW. In Solano County there are 1,000 turbines and 3,700 at the Tehachapi Pass. 5,000, 12MW turbines generating at a 50% capacity factor (offshore wind is written to be 60-65%) would generate 263,000 GWh annually. 2018 California electric usage was 288,000 GWh. This doesn’t count all the future solar built on new houses and utility scale solar. The north/south electricity swap may occur again.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUlfvXaISvc
      https://www.ge.com/renewableenergy/wind-energy/offshore-wind/haliade-x-offshore-turbine

      Reply
  2. kimyo

    let’s say it’s bernie being sworn in down in dc next january. and, let’s say a miracle occurs and on his first day in office he sits down for a long chat with yves, stoneleigh and tverberg. they absolutely nail it, they’ve got the charts, the data, they deliver the goods.

    is there any chance we hear the words ‘radical conservation’ emerge from his mouth at any point during his first term?

    we only have the one option. if bernie fails to back it, what we’re looking at is thousands of bellinghams, ‘solutions’ which end up emitting even more carbon. the city-size equivalent of charging your tesla at a diesel-powered supercharger™.

    al bartlett: “smart growth destroys the environment. dumb growth destroys the environment. the only difference is that smart growth does it with good taste”.

    Reply
      1. kimyo

        that we cannot expect a political solution, not on the national level, nor on the local level.

        voting bernie because of climate change is exactly as useful as buying a tesla. either he doesn’t comprehend the nature of the problem, or he does and is failing to act accordingly.

        in terms of triage, until regenerative farming gains a solid foothold, we need to save the fossil fuels for agriculture so that we don’t starve.

        al bartlett’s sixteenth law: Starving people don’t care about sustainability.

        Reply
  3. Splashoil

    Speaking from Bellingham where I just installed a high efficiency modulating condensing gas boiler for space heating and domestic hot water. We host a large gas and oil fired electric power plant right on the waterfront owned by Puget Sound Energy. This once was a “co-generation” plant hosted by Georgia Pacific Pulp and Paper Mill. The Mill is gone, so all the heat is stranded from its operation. Mercury fungicide treated cooling towers vent this steam over our City. Crickets from the proponents of this legislation.
    Efficient electric heat depends on heat pumps which extract and move the heat from either air or ground sources but which use very potent greenhouse damaging refrigerants. It’s hard to believe this legislation is taken seriously and I expect blowback from the usual sources.
    My condensing boiler produces a little over a gallon of dilute carbonic condensate from combustion which should be neutralized before entering the sewer system. I use marble chips to raise the ph but most homes just dump it into the sewer where it corrodes the iron pipes.
    The legacy of the abandoned mill is acres of severely contaminated mercury and dioxin saturated tidelands here in Bellingham Bay. Apparently virtue signaling does not extend to pushing for a real cleanup of this mess. Instead there is local cheerleading to build condominiums atop the “capped” contaminated landscape next to power plant. Thank you for focusing on our City and it’s folly. We live here, overwhelmed by predators such as Harcourt hired by our Port and ignored by these activists and their misguided efforts. We
    Share a legacy with Minimata Japan for severe contamination which stays under the radar.

    Reply
    1. rusti

      Thanks for this post. Do you have any suggestions on where to go to read more reporting on this? My parents moved to Bellingham last year and I hadn’t seen anything about this.

      It does seem like an awfully bizarre city. Someone in my family is a professor at Western and she was telling me about a push by a student group to ban the use of any racially sensitive language, even academic use citing historical sources in the context of discussing a subject like slavery.

      Reply
      1. Splashoil

        More information about Bellingham’s severe challenges can be found in the archives of our local website and our local alternative newsweekly . Northwest Citizen and The Every Other Weekly. Dig in and read about our struggles.
        My home produces a little over a gallon/day of acidic condensate. Imagine where the acid goes from the combustion of that giant power plant…

        Reply
    2. Clive

      Not true regarding refrigerants. Traditional refrigerants like R410A do have high Global Warming Potential (GWP). But new refrigerants like R32 (actually, not that new, it’s part of the R410A blend) are a third of the GWP, more efficient and need a lower refrigerant charge for the same rating of capacity. These are commercially available now for residential heat pumps (for both comfort and water heating applications). For apartment buildings or district heating schemes, even newer refrigerants like R1234ze are zero GWP and can be used in chillers (in reverse cycle to generate hot water).

      It is a valid point to consider where the electricity for this additional load will come from, and, as noted in the above discussion, crucially, whether it can merely be absorbed within the existing base load or is a new marginal demand (and if that demand coincidences with existing peaks).

      But the refrigerant GWP “issue” is a red herring with modern equipment.

      Reply
  4. Paul

    In Ontario where conservative Premier Ford has cancelled hundreds of alternative energy contracts, we are told our electricity will be provided by newly cobbled up nuclear reactors, at 3 times the cost of solar and wind or 4 times the cost of conservation. Quebec has offered hydraulic power at a fraction of the nuclear cost, but Ford rejects it. Pickering nuclear which had a warning alarm last week, has 60,000 kilo’s of waste fuel sitting next to the water supply for 10 million. Meanwhile Ford and 2 other conservative premiers have agreed to a deal for new small modular reactor development under SNC Lavalin (one senior exec just sent to jail for bribery). These new/old reactor designs were called “slow poke” reactors under the then crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd when Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper gave the whole shebang to SNC along with 15 million to “incentivize” the company. AECL could not give away the Slow Poke model to anyone.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      Need to do a search-and-replace — change every occurrence of “conservative” to “evil.”

      I was involved with efforts to study and figure out how to clean up a wood treating site in Bellingham. 80 years plus, of arsenic and creosote added to the local environment. As noted, Bellingham has the kind of toxic legacy one would expect from Pittsburgh, River Rouge and Midland, MI, Sauget, IL and other beneficiaries of good old externality-underwritten industrialization.

      For those who don’t get the Minamata reference, here’s some info:

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamata_disease

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    2. Math is Your Friend

      “In Ontario where conservative Premier Ford has cancelled hundreds of alternative energy contracts,”

      Yes, at last we have a government that has a clue about what we (the province) need.

      “we are told our electricity will be provided by newly cobbled up nuclear reactors”

      An odd way to describe reactors being refurbished and upgraded.

      “at 3 times the cost of solar and wind or 4 times the cost of conservation”

      Strange, we’ve been using nuclear power for 40 years, but our electricity rates abruptly tripled to pay for wind and solar power with the effects if the Liberal ‘Green Energy Act’. Everyone I know who has to pay a metered household hydro bill is very pleased with the change, although it will take decades to completely mitigate the damage it caused.

      “Pickering nuclear which had a warning alarm last week, has 60,000 kilo’s of waste fuel sitting next to the water supply for 10 million.”

      You neglected to mention that the alarm was an error, and that there was no basis for it.

      I have also lived within sight of the Pickering reactors for several years, and would cheerfully do so again, if it were not farther from my work than my current home. When my employment location changes, I am seriously inclined to move closer to Pickering (or into Pickering) for various reasons.

      “Meanwhile Ford and 2 other conservative premiers have agreed to a deal for new small modular reactor development under SNC Lavalin (one senior exec just sent to jail for bribery). These new/old reactor designs were called “slow poke” reactors under the then crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd when Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper gave the whole shebang to SNC along with 15 million to “incentivize” the company. AECL could not give away the Slow Poke model to anyone.”

      Very very odd.

      It’s spelled “Slowpoke” and my university ran one for thirty years, (decades before Harper was elected) as did many other universities.

      I spent several years living about three blocks from that reactor as well, with no concerns whatsoever about my safety. I actually found the linear accelerator under the physics building more impressive, particularly when walking through the massive radiation shielding surrounding the accelerator bay. (Our class had privileged access to some of the more interesting labs that ordinary Honours Science courses did not have).

      The Slowpoke reactors have never been used for power generation, in fact, the design specifically and deliberately precludes such a use.

      Small modular reactors are a completely different and much more recent and pragmatically useful, offering a large number of significant advantages under the right circumstances.

      At this latitude and this climate, only nuclear power can provide a safe and reliable supply of electricity (with the help of our hydro plants), unless you want to bring back more fossil fuel plants.

      If you want to make everything powered by non-fossil sources, while avoiding huge amounts of GHG emissions in trying to replace and increase an enormous amount of infrastructure, there is no practicable alternative to nuclear power plants.

      Reply
      1. Roger Boyd

        Attacking an unintentionally set up straw man argument is very easy isn’t it! Interesting that you left out the Quebec connector option, through which Quebec could supply Ontario’s needs from hydro and wind (it already sells excess electricity to the US). Much cheaper and less possibility of massive overrun than refurbishing (actually a mix of rebuild and refurb) the nuclear plants. Quebec is shutting down it’s one nuclear plant, so your statement about needing nuclear in Canada is proven false by the facts.

        A big part of Ontario’s problem is that electricity usage didn’t grow as was forecast and new capacity was built to forecast at long term locked in rates, so it sells electricity at a loss to the US.

        I am not against nuclear power – I think that it was crazy for the Germans to shut down their very safe reactors decades before their end of economic life. I go by the math, and spending 10s of billions refurb/rebuilding the CANDU reactors, with the usual risks of large overruns, when a less risky (and climate beneficial) option exists speaks to political issues not sensible policies.

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        1. Math is Your Friend

          1. Hydro Quebec sells power into several markets, generally to the market with the highest ‘this hour’ selling price, due to demand. It has offered to sell power to Maine at 50% above that market’s normal wholesale price.

          2. Current estimates put the cost of electricity from the Muskrat Falls project at about 65 cents / kWh, according to the Sierra Club. Given that those are probably US cents, that’s about 13 times more than what we pay for power from our nuclear plants.

          3. We are already doing load sharing with Quebec, and that is increasing. This is vital because of the need to mitigate the unpredictable or uncontrollable variations in wind and solar power. As a result of contracts signed by the former Liberal government, we sell wind power at an annual loss of about a billion dollars to adjacent power grids, because the wind has a tendency to produce power when it is just not needed, and fail to produce it when it is – so we then fire up the gas turbines.

          4. Hydro-electric projects with dams and reservoirs emit large amounts of methane, due to rotting organic material in the reservoirs. The methane also transforms mercury in/under the reservoirs into a far more dangerous form, causing long term contamination of the environment and water sources.

          5. The ecological impact is quite large. Hydro Quebec dams will flood an area larger than Vermont. Not only does this disrupt the ecology, and release mercury and methane, it also removes that area of boreal forest as a carbon sink.

          6. Hydro-Quebec has been accused of ‘greenwashing’ – selling power as ‘clean hydro-power’ into one market at a high price, while buying compensating electricity from another market at a lower price, without regard to the source of that power.

          What appears to be obvious at first glance may become much more tangled underneath the surface…

          Reply
          1. dat

            Ms./Mr. Friendly Math,
            I’m especially agitated by your point #2. That there is a ratio of 13 between your payments for the same energy from the two sources is easily accepted. My problem is that the cost between the generation by these two methods is, I wager, something very different. For sale both of these generation methods depend on decoupling the price charged from the true cost of the generation. In fact this whole thread is about the size of those costs and who, and how, they will be paid.

            Relatedly, while nuclear power has large nearterm advantages, it also generates waste, and some of those wastes are profoundly toxic and v. long lived. We got into this current problem by first not knowing of, and then ignoring the waste issues of burning carbon. Some of the wastes from some nuclear power generation has a half life of around five thousand years. That’s as long as humans have had written language. What kind of instructions we should write so our progeny could continuously control that waste for the lengths of time needed is a fascinating thought experiment.

            Reply
            1. Math is Your Friend

              It’s true that the costs in both cases are partly inherent (doing things you must to make it work), situational (doing things you must because of regulations, politics, public relations, etc.), collateral (other costs and benefits arising as ‘side effects’ to the primary goal) and policy related (government subsidies, regulation requirements, processes, incentives, approvals, and guarantees of various sorts).

              Some of these are fairly stable and inherent (shielding and containing radiation, building out ‘power collection’ networks to multiple generating devices) and some are more ephemeral, based on the current ‘state of the art’. For example, photovoltaic arrays are becoming more efficient due to advances in semiconductors, manufacturing, and optical engineering.

              One of the problems is that we are comparing the best photovoltaic arrays we can design and build now with power reactors which were designed fifty years ago, a bit more than twenty years after the first prototype power reactors went live, and built 40 years ago. It’s a little like evaluating the possibilities and costs of air travel by looking at aircraft built in 1925.

              Add to that the fear many people have for anything with the words ‘nuclear’ or ‘radioactive’ in the description and the phenomenally bad ability of people to intuitively understand risks associated with low probability events … and the tendency of the media to prefer scary headlines to balanced analysis all tends to weigh against an objective analysis of nuclear power.

              If you check the statistics amassed over the last half century, you will see that nuclear power is the safest major power technology… maybe rivaled by geothermal.

              Nuclear waste is an interesting subject. I would suggest you read about the Yucca Mountain Repository – wikipedia has a reasonably good entry on it. The only reason many countries do not have safe waste disposal sites is fear driven politics.

              Given that spent fuel contains a mix of isotopes of widely varying half-lives, there is an interesting phenomena. The more radioactive an isotope is, the shorter the half life, with a little ‘wiggle room’ for differences in decay modes and such. As a result, the radioactivity of high level waste drops quite quickly, although it is a distribution with a long tail. Current spent fuel, created by reactors with about a 2% ‘burnup’ of the fissionable material, will decline in radioactivity to about the level of natural ores in about 5,000 years. While I wouldn’t want to build a house out of ti, it is no longer an existential threat to nature and life on this planet.

              As you pointed out, we’ve had writing for about 5,000 years, and it is fairly unlikely we’ll lose that particular technology… so we can leave warnings. We should also be able to build containment structures that will last more than 5,000 years and resist low technology excavation.

              That, however, is not the whole story. Fifty year old designs burn 2% of the uranium and produce rather ‘hot’ waste. Some of the new designs are expected to produce more like a 98% burn up, while at the same time converting fission products into much less radioactive material, kind of like a nuclear waste incinerator. I commend to your attention the information available on newer reactors, many of them ‘inherently safe’ designs, where loss of coolant, temperature excursions, and other similar events will automatically cause the quenching of the nuclear processes and the safe disposition of the radioactive material.

              Of particular interest are the molten salt reactors and the liquid metal reactors, both of which have the above mentioned potential for high efficiency and destruction or use of radioactive waste – indeed, their fuel could, in large part, be the spent fuel from current reactors.

              If you need pointers to various information sources, I will try to check this thread and find what you want.

              Thanks for the comment, it sparked looking at things slightly differently, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

              Reply
              1. dat

                Math/Friend,
                Thank you for the mini tutorial. I am now slightly more hopeful about potential future contributions from nuclear power. The 5,000 years in the future sticks in my head, though. Given that the world has not seen the current atmospheric levels of CO2 since millions of years ago, we may have already done something to the earth that has a greater than 5,000 year half life.

                Reply
  5. Chauncey Gardiner

    Although it received scant attention in the national media, much of the Pacific Northwest U.S. and particularly the state of Washington were in the summers of 2017 and 2018 covered in heavy smoke for weeks from massive wildfires in the state and neighboring British Columbia. I suspect this policy initiative in Bellingham is in part an effort by ordinary citizens to adopt policies within their control to prevent such disasters from recurring and perhaps develop a useful community model for others. Regardless of scale considerations and whether a particular proposal is well conceived or ultimately adopted, such initiatives should be respected in my view.

    That said and recognizing the formidable political barriers that have been erected, the solution must come from the federal level. Setting aside MMT for a GND, a suggestion I found intriguing called for using growth in renewable green energy consumption as a benchmark for allowable growth in the money supply, coupled with domestic federal fiscal programs to subsidize green renewable energy development.

    Do we want to let catastrophic events dictate outcomes, or adopt policies that mitigate the possibility of those events occurring? Lots of implications, including economic disruptions and continuance of the $USD as the global reserve currency. None of this is fun.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      I’m a WA resident who lives on the east side of the state. I don’t quite understand how local energy use would decrease the number of large wildfires that are the result of increasingly hotter and drier summers. Changing from gas to electric heat isn’t going to make the fires go away anytime soon. The most sensible thing would be to aggressively promote and enforce energy conservation.

      As global warming increases, it will inevitably mean less snow pack in the Cascade mountains. It would seem that this will eventually cause a drop in the amount of hydro power available. Worst-case scenario, the level of water in the rivers becomes so low that generating large amounts of electricity from our dams is no longer a dependable source of energy. The diminishing snow pack also has dire implications for the future of irrigation on this side of the state — on which eastern Washington agriculture is utterly dependent.

      I have seen a lot of NIMBY here against large solar arrays. We already have wind generated power in the region, but a solar plan was recently defeated by locals who dislike the idea of agricultural land being turned into solar farms. Very shortsighted, especially since the biggest crop grown in these parts is timothy hay for export. Using that land for solar or for food crops makes more sense to me.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        but a solar plan was recently defeated by locals who dislike the idea of agricultural land being turned into solar farms

        I can understand the reluctance to turn farm land into solar farms, but you also have a few mountains which could be used.

        And some desert, I believe.

        Reply
      2. Math is Your Friend

        “it will inevitably mean less snow pack in the Cascade mountains. It would seem that this will eventually cause a drop in the amount of hydro power available”

        Maybe, maybe not.

        It will depend on the annual pattern of rainfall, the annual electricity demand curve, and the amount of ‘storage’ other than as snow and ice. Each case would have to be evaluated separately.

        Note that the total rainfall equivalent would not necessarily decrease and might actually increase due to faster evaporation.

        Reply
  6. meadows

    We have lived here in Bellingham for over 30 years and hope for another 30… in a home over 110 years old. We heat house, water, dryer and cook all w/NatGas. They will pry my antique radiators from my cold fingers over my dead body. This talk is all BS, nowhere near any real legislation. (“citizen advisory” group.)

    We also have a 10 year old 4 K array on our roof, net zero electric, at least $-wise… Bellingham is filling up w/PV arrays they are everywhere! Eventually all electric will be a reality but a looong ways off…

    It’s like banning plastic straws but ignoring the huge polluter virtually next door, The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The US Military is the monster polluter and abuser of dirty fuels and environmental damage of all types!

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      We also live in a very old house with antique radiators warmed by gas, it’s pretty efficient especially with good insulation. Much cleaner and healthier than forced air as well.

      Reply
      1. meadows

        Agreed lordkoos, there’s also no reason solar warmed water could not be used in our same radiators… as T mentions, insulation is key to efficiency. Eventually it will be electricity warmed water as battery technology improves.

        Forced air heat is an allergy or asthma sufferer’s nightmare even when/if the air ducts are cleaned regularly. Not to mention babies and their delicate little lungs.

        This Bellingham Climate Initiative stuff is trying to make poorly examined reality fit poorly examined ideology rather than a rational analysis of “Who is the most egregious perpetrator of human induced emissions?”

        The United States Military.

        https://qz.com/1655268/us-military-is-a-bigger-polluter-than-140-countries-combined/

        Reply
  7. T

    Slightly off topic – throughout the US I see “energy efficient” homes which are efficient in terms of being tightly sealed and entirely dependent on heating and cooling even though these homes are in climates where for months on end, being able to open windows and having airflow would provide adequate cooling or where winters are so mild, whole-house heating is barely needed.

    Building for the region stopped in, what, the late fifties?

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      Our house has nice high ceilings and good insulation, we have no air conditioning and don’t really need it. The house was built to take advantage of the local winds. If we have have more than two or three 100+ degree days in a row it does get warm upstairs, so worst-case, we sleep downstairs, but we haven’t had to do that yet.

      Reply
  8. California Bob

    My 85 year-old mother lives in a 2,500 sq. ft. house here in California’s Central Valley. Natgas isn’t available, so the house is heated/cooled with a heat pump and power from a local utility that, I believe, is mostly if not entirely hydro, and has relatively low rates. She keeps the house warm–78-80–degrees, and it’s over 40 years old so isn’t particularly well-insulated, but her last power bill was over $700.

    Just sayin’.

    Reply
  9. Noel Nospamington

    Bellingham lies near the middle of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where a 9+ magnitude mega-thrust earthquake is expected within the next 50 to 100 years.

    In that context, replacing gas with electric would significantly reduce the risk of fires and gas explosions in residential homes when the big one does hit.

    Reply
    1. Math is Your Friend

      “In that context, replacing gas with electric would significantly reduce the risk of fires and gas explosions in residential homes when the big one does hit.”

      But electricity can cause fires all by itself, while gas needs a source of ignition. One would also hope that the gas company would shut down the mains ASAP.

      Electricity is probably easier to restore after a major earthquake, and to restore a section at a time. Certainly here the gas mains a buried while the vast majority of power lines are above ground and thus readily accessible.

      Reply
  10. Skip Intro

    I think an important problem that is not addressed here is the problematic gas delivery infrastructure. We know that CH4 is a much more potent contributor to our climate crisis than CO2, and we strongly suspect that the aging gas distribution lines are leaky, probably in proportion to both the volume of gas used, and the number of connections. It seems like reducing the volume of gas distributed as well as the number of connected homes will have climate benefits even if the energy mix is unchanged. It would be better to burn the gas (probably more efficiently) in a central generator, which eventually could be modified or replaced in one stroke.

    I hope they don’t cook with gas.

    Reply
  11. Oguk

    I don’t have the data on hand, but I’ve read that the efficiency of heating via heat pumps (electric) is more physically efficient than heating by burning fuel. That is, less gas would be burned if you used it to generate electricity to run a heat pump than you would directly heating by burning the gas. I hope that is true and accounts for losses from energy conversion and the grid. If so then “going electric” by itself is a net benefit to overall fossil fuel consumption.

    But it will also create more demand for electricity, which could lead to demand for (gas) power stations, pipelines – more fossil fuel infrastructure, oops. So yes, it needs to be coupled with requirements for more capacity from renewables and/or nuclear. To me this shows the limits of “local efforts” (in good faith, or implementing a covert agenda of the power companies, as it sounds possible in Bellingham) in attempting to address climate change non-systemically. This is why we need federal policy.

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      Heat pump efficiency is a function of the temperature difference between source and sink. The large the difference, the less efficient the heat pump.

      A better solution is more insulation, modern windows and a draft free home.

      Changing the HVAC systems without improving insulation is as effective as putting lipstick on a pig.

      Proper insulation involves modern windows, and taking off much external wall Sheetrock.

      Reply
        1. lordkoos

          Not to mention the toxic flame retardant, which by law must be impregnated into every piece of furniture sold in the USA.

          Reply
      1. gc

        https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy11osti/52175.pdf is the NREL report on real-world air-source mini-split HP performance as ambient T declines from ~10 yr ago. There have been improvements since but still a large spread in COP = heat moved/electricity consumed. Not mentioned here is that HPs w/ forced air feel cold on skin vs from furnaces that can easily exceed 110 F. And HPs need a UV lamp to grill the coil to keep mold at bay. Our neighbor installed a ground source HP w/ vertical wells here in NC ~5 yr ago, worked so well that his radiant heated floors were too hot to walk on! So, mostly disabled now.

        Reply
    2. Moshe Braner

      In coastal Washington’s mild climate: 1 unit of gas –> 0.5 units of electricity –> 2 units of heat via heat pump.

      Reply
  12. Jeremy Grimm

    After some modest efforts at understanding and following local and state politics, I cannot disagree with the idea that “local politics is where citizens typically can have the biggest impact” … but I didn’t notice that ordinary citizens had much impact. The local citizens who did have the greatest impact on local politics were typically relatively wealthy land developers, the President of a local bank, and some of the local well-to-do — the local gentry. Riffraff like me were tolerated as long as we did what we were told and as long as we didn’t ask any embarrassing questions or suggest initiatives.

    I question whether “climate activism” initiated a push to mandate 100% electric for everyone in Bellingham. It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t seem like a cause that would interest any ‘true’ climate activists. Am I being cynical to ask qui bono? As the post makes clear the “climate activists” face off against some powerful vested interests. And I just don’t see what climate has to do with any of this. The case for both sides is so muddy I can’t imagine ‘true’ climate activists spending their effort and resources in fighting this battle.

    My very first thought on reading this post was that going 100% electric would undercut what little resilience the community might have in the event they lost electric power.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      That has been my experience with local government. Developers and the money people have far more influence over a city council than anyone else.

      Reply
  13. meadows

    Jeremy,

    That’s a good point re flexibity. Also, as a homeowner for 35 years, count me in as one of those “vested interests.” There’s also a trend in Bellingham to “upzone” longtime single familly neighborhoods because there should be mult-family apts everywhere ’cause that’ll solve the housing crisis by lowering prices dontcha know and my family is just being over-privileged and selfish for disagreeing with this completely uproven ideology which has not succeeded in any overpriced city in America…

    Because having an idealistic vision of affordable housing for everybody is more important than actually showing that it actually works.

    Reply
  14. Copeland

    Does that mean heating with wood is verboten as well? I live one hour south of Bellingham and I heat 90% with wood, the remainder electric space heaters.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      A lot of people heat with wood here in eastern WA. It pollutes the air terribly unless people are using those super-efficient wood stoves.

      Reply
  15. Kris Alman

    This rings true in Oregon as well. Despite temperate climates, both WA (#29) and OR (#36) are relatively high per capita energy consumers of energy according to the Energy Information Administration. (The higher the ranking the less consumed. Rhode Island, has the lowest per capita consumption.)

    Oregon is one of 4 states listed at the Energy Information Administration to increase gas consumption. And it’s happening in creating electricity for the grid, not in heating buildings.The two biggest Investor Owed Utilities in Oregon are PacifiCorp and Portand General Electric (PGE, not to be confused with PG&E in CA). A ban of natural gas to heat homes and/or an Electrify Everything campaign only works with a clean electricity grid. Both PGE and PacifiCorp are currently burning ~2/3 fossil fuels to create electricity for their current Integrated Resource Plans.

    PGE, which sells electricity to Oregonians only, owns ~2/3 of the gas-fired electricity plants in OR. 1073 MW (~60% of PGE’s gas-fired energy) came on line since 2007. Immediately after the last plant, Carty, came on line in 2016, PGE asked the DEQ for permits to increase CO and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions.

    Across the United States, Public Utility Commissions are not addressing climate risk with a “list cost, least risk” regulatory approach, largely because natural gas was touted as the “bridge fuel” in a move away from coal.

    The NW Natural “Less We Can” campaign has a link to “Upstream Methane Reduction” that makes this claim: “The natural gas supply chain is one of the most effective energy distribution networks available today. According to the EPA, 1.3% of natural gas is lost or emitted during its path from wellhead to customer.”

    That’s utter B.S.!

    The best evidence now is coming from New Mexico.

    According to the Energy Information Administration, the largest petroleum reserves in the United States are in the Permian Basin of West Texas and SE New Mexico; the San Juan Basin (in NW New Mexico and SW Colorado) is among the top U.S. natural gas-producing areas.

    The Governor of New Mexico convened a Methane Advisory Panel which released its findings in December. Reporting from the Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this month: Report: Methane venting, flaring in Permian doubled since 2017
    “The amount of methane released into the atmosphere or burned in the Permian Basin has more than doubled since 2017, suggests a new report from an advisory panel assembled by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham… Because oil is more profitable than natural gas, methane dredged up during the course of oil drilling is often treated as a waste product. It is either released into the atmosphere — vented — or burned, the report said.”

    The Environmental Defense Fund just reported on the NM Oil and Gas Data

    “statewide methane emissions from upstream oil and gas sites total more than 1 million metric tons a year, which has the same short-term climate impact as 22 coal plants or 28 million automobiles. These are about 5 times higher than what operators are reporting to the EPA and twice as high as EDF’s previous estimates for the state.”

    All of this new gas infrastructure, including both new power plants and new pipelines, flies in the face of common sense. Research at the Rocky Mountain Institute shows that “clean energy portfolios” (CEPs) comprised of wind, solar and storage are now cost-competitive with new natural gas power plants, while providing the same grid reliability services.

    Fracking is heating up our planet faster.

    In a Feb, 2019 lecture at Cornell Drew Shindell estimated the social costs of methane to be $2900/ton compared to $38/ton for CO2. The increased methane flux from the oil & gas industry over the past decade has a social cost of $600 Billion ($60 Billion/year.)

    Reply
        1. Kris Alman

          Study: New Mexico would lose billions if fracking banned, oil and gas leads economic growth
          https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/local/2019/12/04/oil-gas-fracking-ban-could-cost-new-mexico-billions/2608293001/
          New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she supported the oil and gas industry, and the role the Permian Basin region played in supporting the state’s economy.

          “I’m an advocate for the state of New Mexico,” she said. “That means I’m an advocate for southeast New Mexico and all forms of energy including the fossil fuel industry.”

          Nora Sackett, spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s office said the governor would call on any Democrat elected to the White House to take a balanced approach and respect states’ individual needs instead of sweeping bans on industry practices.

          “The governor would expect a Democratic White House to work with the different states and give them the ability to figure out how to best deliver on our collective transition to renewable energy sources and support our investments and different needs, as any competent and professional federal administration would,” Sackett said.

          A U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said he was also opposed to ban on fracking. He said he supported a shift to renewable energy, but worried and outright ban could halt American energy production, forcing the U.S. to rely on foreign countries, putting national security at risk.

          “As an engineer, I am certain that our capacity to confront the climate crisis rests heavily on our ability to make policy driven by facts, by data, and by the best available science,” Heinrich said.

          “There’s no question we should be moving away from fuels that contribute to climate change. However, outright bans risk unintended consequences like shifting production to places like Venezuela and Russia.”

          Reply
    1. Kris Alman

      Finger Lakes Sierra Club, Fossil Free Tompkins & Sustainable Tompkins hosted a talk by Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University, asking “Is Shale Gas a Major Driver of Recent Increases in Global Atmospheric Methane?” Howarth, who participated in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, among other things, is a world authority on the effects of human activity on the environment.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&v=qR5TqEyQLJ4&feature=emb_logo

      Reply
  16. JTMcPhee

    Not a mention of heating, and cooling too, via simply using direct solar heat collectors. I would love to use a solar water heat system on my home. But I’m on a fixed income and there are no subsidies to encourage installing solar water heaters here in FL. There have been for photovoltaic panels, but the electric monopolies have kneecapped those and rigged the rate structure against grid-tie benefits.

    There are kits from several suppliers that just plumb in to an existing water heater circuit. One that has 4 panels that will more than serve a single family home is about $1,500 plus another thousand for professional installation. Folks who use them report halving their electric bills, since so much of the grid-supplied load just keeps the water heater hot for convenience. And the people who have attended to this approach have shown that it works well even at higher latitudes. The energy monopolies don’t like these because that reduces demand for the necessity they get rich on.

    Starting point for learning about this approach: https://www.energystar.gov/products/water_heaters/water_heater_solar

    Aficionados of solar water heating think the link is a little too pessimistic about this approach.

    Reply
    1. Tony Wright

      Yes, we all need to get off fossil fuels ASAP.
      However, unless the fundamental ecological problem of human overpopulation is addressed even that is, relatively speaking, tinkering at the margins.
      Underpinning human overpopulation is an economic system which is addicted to growth, or as that modern prophet Greta Thunberg has articulated: “The Fairytale of Endless Economic Growth”.
      And that A…… Mnuchen has the arrogance to tell Thunberg at Davos to study economics. His arrogance is only matched by his ignorance. If he and his rapacious ilk were to study biology, especially ecology and evolution, the prospects for our life support system would be a whole lot better than dire, as they are now.
      And if you want a new in your face symptom of human overpopulation look at the Coronavirus soon to be pandemic rapidly evolving in China right now.
      The three symptoms of overpopulation in any species : conflict, disease and famine.
      Get used to it.

      Reply
      1. Tony Wright

        And now I read that there is the biggest plague of locusts in 70 years swarming through several countries in East Africa. These countries are already overpopulated with precarious food security.
        So , Australia on fire thanks to global warming and war threatening in the Middle East.
        The four horsemen of the human overpopulation apocalypse are approaching rapidly.
        Wake up people and replace these wilfully ignorant and myopic politicians with people who can actually see past the end of their greedy, self-serving noses.

        Reply
      2. Math is Your Friend

        “unless the fundamental ecological problem of human overpopulation is addressed”

        It seems to me that ‘overpopulation’ is not an absolute thing, but rather a function of technology, ecological awareness, agricultural practices, and details of resources needed and the way they are acquired.

        ‘Slash and burn’ agriculture in a region with lateritic soils will sustainably support a much smaller population than intensive rice cultivation.

        Transportation based on sailing ships would have failed through resource exhaustion a century or two ago, had they not been displaced by a newer technology not based on very big trees for masts.

        Coal heating would probably have rendered London uninhabitable for part of the year, had it not been replaced by cleaner methods.

        New York would be buried in horse manure, had the horses not been replaced by other forms of land transportation.

        In the future, a lot of resources will not come from this planet. Many of the problems with solar energy can be avoided with orbital solar power satellites. Materials will come from comets and asteroids.

        Current agriculture will be supplemented or replaced with relatively compact hydroponic systems producing tailored yeasts and algae.

        Fossil fuels will likely be replaced by electricity, hydrogen, and liquid fuels derived directly or indirectly from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

        At one time we had to worry about
        … being eaten by wolves or tigers
        … surviving the cold and dark of winter
        … avoiding typhoid, cholera, and the Black Death
        … being becalmed in mid ocean with our water
        … crop failure killing a large part of our population
        … dying from a small cut from an agricultural tool (tetanus)

        Every time has its ‘big problems’. They are eventually solved and replaced by other problems. Now is no different. In a hundred years or so, most of what worries us now will be gone, and we’ll have a new problem or three to concern us. That’s pretty much how life in this universe goes for a growing technological civilization.

        We have no way to accurately predict what will be happening in a thousand years. In a hundred years? Probably moving a lot of our activity to parts of the solar system where there is no life, removing a lot of the issues concerning life on earth.

        I also suspect we will have built a thermostat for the earth, or otherwise achieved a similar result.

        Reply
  17. Waking Up

    My opinion…this will never pass the Bellingham City Council and even if it did, the lawsuits would prevent action. There are 4 ( one in Blaine, one in Ferndale, and two in Anacortes, Washingon) oil refineries within 40 miles of Bellingham, Washington. The refineries in Ferndale and Anacortes are part of the Trans Mountain Puget Sound pipeline. This is part of the larger Trans Mountain pipeline which originates with the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada . Justin Trudeau recently approved expansion of the pipeline which began in December 2019. This expansion will triple the amount of Tar Sands oil which will then further effect the number of shipments in the Salish Sea. Will this have a positive or negative effect on the Salmon and Orca whales in the area? Add in the Military Bases on Whidbey Island and Everett and the influence of Boeing… get the picture? The only way I can foresee a major change against the fossil fuel industry in Bellingham (at the local level) would be due to a catastrophic climate event such as a mega earthquake which results in complete chaos and forces change.

    Reply
    1. Tony Wright

      I am not so sure. We have just had, and in some areas we are still having, catastrophic climate change induced fire events here in Australia.
      Out (expletives deleted) Federal Government is still in denial.
      Sadly, we are not due to have an election until 2022.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Washington is not Australia. Very far north. Seattle is just shy of 50N, the same latitude as Frankfurt, Germany. Western Washington is damp and overcast pretty much all the time.

        Reply
        1. Tony Wright

          Yes, I know, very wet. However, havn’t there also been unprecedented forest fires in Scandinavia and British Columbia in recent years? Both are similarly cool and wet I believe, and at least 50N.

          Reply
          1. Tony Wright

            But beyond that my comment related more to inadequate government response to natural disasters than specific forest fire risks, especially when the causes are politically “inconvenient”.
            Other recent examples would be government responses to hurricanes/cyclones in Puerto Rico and Vanuatu.

            Reply
  18. Fred

    I lived near Houston TX and had an all electric house. Which most of my neighbors had propane or in the urban areas, natural gas. I was the only one who had a higher energy bill in the winter than summer. Of course Houston is probably the polar opposite of Bellingham but I’m just throwing out this probably useless fact. Not to mention that cabin was poorly insulated and had a fire place that was next to useless.

    Reply
  19. Converger

    I’ll have lots more to say about this later. For now, though: the war on residential natural gas isn’t a Bellingham phenomenon. Big-box environmental groups like Rocky Mountain Institute and Environmental Defense Fund are actively pushing hard on eliminating direct use of natural gas, yet strangely quiet when it comes to eliminating coal (long story) and natural gas on the electric grid. Near-term natural gas hookup bans are a trendy topic in California, at both state and local levels.

    There appears a to be an emerging cult belief in some policy circles that we can simultaneously triple the amount of electricity that we produce, *and* completely replace a century of natural gas heating and cooling and petroleum-based transportation infrastructure, *and* decarbonize electricity simultaneously, over the next decade or so, starting from essentially zero. It feels more like Ghost Dance than serious, generation-scale strategy. As someone who has spent most of their professional careers advocating for sustainable energy and water in the Western US, it is deeply unsettling to watch.

    If your goal is to eliminate carbon emissions, get carbon out of indirect and inefficient electrical generation first. Then we’ll talk.

    Reply
    1. Splashoil

      The plume of hot water vapor from the wasted heat of the PSE power plant on the waterfront is emblematic of the above post. The amount of heat vented once ran most of the machinery at the paper mill. The server farms located to use our cheap hydropower think Amazon, Google, MSFT, and Expedia all make wasted heat while providing essential services….

      Reply
  20. drumlin woodchuckles

    What per cent of all the natural gas used in the world for every single thing that natural gas is used for . . . is used for cooking food? Is used for making Haber-Bosch nitrogen fertilizer? Is used for making electricity?
    Is used for making plastic? Etc.?

    Do those per cents of what the world’s natural gas is used for exist anywhere?

    Reply
  21. Ignacio

    According to this, Hydropower accounts for nearly 70% of energy in Washington’s grid. Nuclear is 8.3% and wind is 6.8% for a total combined of 85%. Although Dorman doesn’t see “in the foreseeable future renewables providing 100% of grid load”, by any chance, this cannot be automatically interpreted as if any new engine will necessarily be loaded with extra burning of natl gas. There is room to install more wind. Currently 120 MW under construction in Washington. In a wet state (particularly the more populated coastal areas) probably the best way to support electric heating and sanitary hot water by heat exchangers at domestic level as well as in commercial buildings and hotels would be low or medium temperature solar collectors and. Solar PV farms would also help even if climate is not best. This year it was announced the largest solar project in Washington with Avangrid. Build them in the eastern parts in the triangle between Wenatchee, Spokane and Kennewick. Needless to say, electrification heating would not proceed abruptly and there are options in place that might ensure no extra natl gas is burned, even if in the foreseeable future…

    Reply
  22. Odysseus

    Nevertheless, I’ve checked out a number of sources representing a range of views, and I’ve yet to see anyone making the obvious point that electric heating mandates are just as likely to increasecarbon emissions as reduce them. The problem, of course, is that Bellingham proposes to significantly increase local electricity consumption but is making no corresponding effort to reduce the role of fossil fuels, and especially natural gas, in electrical generation.

    It doesn’t to seem obvious at all that shifting to electricity would increase carbon emissions.

    Given the leaks in transport infrastructure for fossil fuels, it seems entirely credible that having leaky pipelines in fewer places would reduce carbon emissions.

    Reply
    1. Jason

      Agreed. Dorman needs to work out the numbers before putting out the piece. After all, the same obvious point has been repeatedly made about electric vehicle adoption but the math tends to support EV adoption nonetheless.

      Reply

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