Monthly Archives: January 2015


Opposition to Transmission Line

Pope County Quorum Court opposes clean air, stable climate!

Recently the quorum court voted unanimously to oppose the construction of Plains and Clean Line’s High Voltage Direct Current transmission line. The HVDC line has been proposed to run from Guymon, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee. If built it will move 3,500 MegaWatts of wind generated electricity from the Midwest to Arkansas and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power grids.

The resolution reads in part “If this power line is built, it will be an enduring eyesore to Arkansas and Pope County, affecting the natural beauty of this area and damaging property values with little positive effect…”

This proposed transmission line is an eyesore compared to what? The welter of transmission lines emanating from Arkansas Nuclear One? Or would it be an eyesore compared to the transmission lines coming from the powerhouse at the Lake Dardanelle Dam. Maybe it is an eyesore compared to the transmission line running from the half a dozen or so other power plants in Arkansas.

Power lines, be they large transmission lines or the smaller distribution lines are a fact of life. Literally hundreds of miles of transmission and distributions lines, owned by both private (Entergy) and co-op (Arkansas Valley Electric) corporations, criss-cross the county already.

It has been suggested that we could free ourselves of these and future electric grid improvement “eyesores” by the utilization of underground cables. That is certainly an option, but a very expensive one. Installation costs for underground transmission lines can be 8 to 10 times that of overhead lines. Although buried cables are less likely to fail due to weather events for example, when they do fail repair times are greatly extended. Repairing or replacing buried cables can require days or weeks rather than hours.

Another option would be distributed electrical energy sources such as roof-top solar PV to avoid the need for large transmission lines but even here there is a need for a wide area distribution grid. Roof-top solar is also much more expensive than utility scale wind power. Many states including Arkansas, are enacting legislation to make roof top solar even more expensive.

Another point in the quorum court resolution is that the line will provide “little positive benefit.” People that appreciate clean air and a more stable climate might quibble with the little part of the resolution. The proposed line will carry the power equivalent of five or six coal fired boilers. That could mean millions of tons of coal not burned every year. Just for perspective, those interminably long coal trains that snarl traffic as they pass through Russellville carry tens of thousands of tons of coal every day from Wyoming strip mines to one power plant in Redfield Arkansas.

The real irony of the quorum court vote is the simple fact that each and everyone of the JPs gets electricity to his or her home via the grid. That means many folks “upstream” have to suffer eyesores and devaluation of their property to keep the lights and big screen TVs powered up in the JPs’ homes. A similar resolution was passed by the Johnson County Quorum Court. Hypocrisy much?

US Oil Booms, But

About 2013, for the first time in over 20 years, the gap between our consumption and production began narrowing, rather than widening.  There are two reasons for this. Production is up due to the fracking boom and of equal importance consumption is down due to the poor economy.  That is good as a snapshot but means little for the future.

As the economy slowly recovers our usage will rise.   At the same time the fracking boom has a limited lifetime. A University of Texas study showed that production of natural gas from three of the largest shale plays; Fayetteville, Haynesville, and Barnett have already peaked. Similar performance is expected in oil from shale fracking. In a few short years we should be back on our inevitible decline in production. Without reduction in consumption we will resume an upward trend on importing oil, currently about a third of what we use.

The danger is fourfold: exporting dollars to buy energy weakens our economy, enriches the economy of some unsavory producers such as Iran and Russia, threatens a stable environment, and impairs our health.

To a large degree all transportation and big chunk of the U.S. Economy is powered from crude oil. The oil is turned into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil and a myriad of derivative products such as plastic. Currently we are consuming about 18 million barrels of oil per day, yet we only produce about 12 million. That constitutes an energy deficit of about 7 million barrels of oil per day. Even with the price falling to near 50 dollars a bbl, this creates a trade deficit of over an eigth of a trillion dollars a year. An eigth of a trillion dollars a year that flies out of our economy on an annual basis. An eigth of a trillion dollars that is not flipped in our economy to provide jobs or buy groceries.

The oil comes from friendly and not so friendly countries. Canada is our number one supplier, some might say “pusher” at about two and a half million barrels per day. The members of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, provide about 5 million barrels of oil per day. Iran is a charter member of OPEC and benefits greatly if indirectly from our purchase of oil on the global market. This is not a pretty picture – our dollars going to support a rogue theocracy bent on developing nuclear weapons and their support for global terrorism. Although we are currently a net exporter of natural gas, this won’t last when the shale plays are exhausted.

We even import uranium to fuel nuclear reactors. The import export balance is negative to the tune of several billion dollars a year. Generally we import low grade Uranium ore and export enriched nuclear fuel. Regardless we are operating at a net dollar loss.

The only fuel that we don’t have to import is coal; however, as society becomes more aware of the risks of damage to human health and the environment, it will become less useful in our economy.

There is no easy answer to this bleeding of cash from our economy. We will not drill our way out of the problem because the oil and gas are just not here. We must adopt energy from clean indigenous sources as the only long term, sustainable answer. The bonus for home produced sustainable energy is the money stays home and cascades through the economy.

Global Warming 2014 Edition

This year has seen several international, national, and local issues relating to global warming.

Organizationally, the IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change might be considered the lead agency on issues of global warming. The IPCC is a group of thousands of climate scientists from around the world. The fifth pentennial assessment report states: “to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual. Simply to hold the temperature rise to 2 degrees [Celsius] will require reductions of green house gases from 40 to 70 per cent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century.”

Whereas the IPCC is the scientific wing of the UN, the UNFCCC or the United Nations Framework on Climate Change is more of a political policy wing. In their meeting in Lima Peru this year they concluded that it is increasingly difficult to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding—events that could harm the world’s population and economy.

After months of negotiations, President Obama and President Xi Jinping in November affirmed the importance of strengthening bilateral cooperation on climate change and will work together to adopt a protocol on climate change. They are committed to reaching an ambitious 2015 agreement that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.

In June President Obama, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has promulgated rules for power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. This is the first time that the EPA has taken steps to regulate Carbon Dioxide as a pollutant, an action begun in 2007 by President Bush, but delayed by court battles meant to block the regulations.

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline remains stalled. This pipeline, if completed, will move oil produced by strip mining the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta Canada. The line will terminate after traversing almost 1200 miles at refineries on the Gulf coast. It’s approval is questionable as this will exacerbate global warming by providing an international market for more carbon emissions.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Plains and Clean Line has been released. Basically the EIS determined that there are no adverse environmental or socioeconomic effects of the transmission line. The power line will move 3,500 MegaWatts of wind generated electricity from the panhandle of Oklahoma, across Arkansas to Memphis.

Entergy has recently purchased a gas turbine fired electrical power plant near El Dorado. With a capacity of 1980 MegaWatts, this may signal the intention to close the older less efficient coal fired White bluff plant.