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By Russ Finley on Nov 21, 2012 with 31 responses

Replacing Coal With Trees Won’t Scale

A report written by the British arm of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace titled “Dirtier than Coal” criticizes their government’s plan to burn trees to make electricity. In my opinion, these two organizations seem to get things right about as often as they get things wrong, so you would be just as well off flipping a coin.

For me, this is largely an academic exercise. As a species, I suspect that we are incapable of overriding our instinctive drives for self-promotion, subconscious biases, and propensities for self-deception to the point of tackling a problem of this magnitude — global warming. We will always find ways to rationalize what we do and think, especially if doing so brings home the bacon.

In this case they got one thing right (IMHO) by calling for the withdrawal of public subsidies for making electricity by burning imported trees (roundwood and sawlogs). Their report is based on input from Tim Searchinger who was asked to review the studies done by the British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).


By Russ Finley on Oct 25, 2012 with 7 responses

The Unintended Consequences of Government Mandated Biofuel Consumption

Food Deficit

A recent article by George Monbiot explains one of the potential ramifications of diverting grains into fuel. Thanks to extreme weather around the globe:

 ”…this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume (31 million tons) more grain than farmers produced. If 2013′s harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble.”

His main point is that thanks to a growing demand for food driven by an increasing population and improving standards of living, along with the conversion of grains into fuel, the world has to break harvest records every year to keep up. Thanks to grain reserves, humanity can weather years that don’t break records, but failing to break records for two or three years in a row means hunger for hundreds of millions because the price of food will spike as speculators capitalize on the fact that low supply relative to demand equates to higher prices. If weather extremes become more and more common, the odds of running out of reserves becomes more and more likely. (See more: Midwestern Drought, Ethanol, & Renewable Fuel Standard)


By Russ Finley on Oct 10, 2012 with 33 responses

Nissan Leaf Range Issues

A group of Nissan Leaf owners recently conducted a test in Arizona to see if high ambient summer temperatures in Arizona have  permanently reduced the capacity of their batteries to hold a charge. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Sep 16, 2012 with 11 responses

Nuclear Energy Deniers

I was rebutting a comment I found under a CER News Desk article titled: Utility Head: Japan Can’t Afford Renewable Energy, Needs Nuclear when I realized I had generated enough material for an article.

Although not a single talking point in the comment I addressed is novel (few thoughts are), and not a single footnote to a source was proffered, the comment serves a larger purpose by providing me an opportunity to express some critical thought.

I don’t want the commenter to feel singled out and welcome him to continue to participate, but I would also like to suggest that he take the time to provide links to sources so the audience knows who the originators of the talking points are and so they can assess the quality of the sources of the information he passes along. I know of one site that does not allow unsourced comment. I don’t think this is necessarily a good idea because it has a tendency to spill over into censorship. They do this in an attempt to keep the comment field from becoming a come-one-come-all liar’s club (although most people are inadvertently passing along information they don’t realize — or care — is bunk).

Here is the link to my comments.


By Russ Finley on Aug 26, 2012 with 1 response

Unplug — Discover The Forest

I’ve seen several billboards around town with this image. I also saw it in an ad here on Consumer Energy Report. They’re part of a joint venture between the Ad Council and the USDA Forest Service. Here is a list of organizations supporting it. Every advertising executive knows that half of their money is being wasted. They just don’t know which half it is. In this case, I hope none of it is being wasted.


By Russ Finley on Aug 16, 2012 with 19 responses

Is the U.S. Military Presence in the Middle East a Subsidy for Big Oil?

Should the cost of maintaining a military presence in the Middle East be viewed as a subsidy to oil companies? This idea has been  repeated often enough to become unchallenged conventional wisdom codified by the “NO WAR FOR OIL” bumper sticker.

It has been argued that the Gulf and Iraq wars were not necessary to keep the global price of oil stable and neither is our continued military presence in the Middle East. There is no way to rerun the experiment to see what the world would look like had we not had the Gulf and Iraq wars. My guess is that the Gulf war was probably a smart move, the Iraq war,  maybe not so smart.


By Russ Finley on Jul 25, 2012 with 5 responses

Ethanol Saved Consumers $134,400,000,000 in 2011?


Back in 2009 two researchers released a study that suggested corn ethanol was saving American’s money at the gas pump. I wrote to one of the authors asking for clarification. His reply:

In the paper, we conclude that evaluated at the average ethanol production level of 01/1995-03/2008, the wholesale gasoline prices is $0.14/gallon lower. The change of retail gasoline prices varies across refinery markets from $0.29-$0.40/gallon.


By Russ Finley on Jul 12, 2012 with 26 responses

The Exaggerated Promise of Renewable Energy

The continued existence and expansion of human civilization is wholly dependent on affordable sources of energy. The latest study just released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (an organization that exists to study and promote the viability of renewable energy) suggests that it may be possible to get 80% or so of our electric power from renewable sources by 2050. The study also (inadvertently) provides evidence that renewable energy will be a minority player in humanity’s energy portfolio.

The results may disappoint my fellow solar enthusiasts because it suggests that only 13% of our electric energy will come from solar. Distributed solar enthusiasts (who favor photovoltaic solar panels on rooftops) will be further disappointed because half of that 13% will come from water-sucking centralized concentrated solar thermal power plants, many located in desert ecosystems, leaving only about 6% for solar panels on rooftops, of which many will probably not be on rooftops but in centralized power plants, probably displacing ecosystems or crops.


By Russ Finley on Jun 27, 2012 with 9 responses

Hydropower: Dammed If You Do

No, that is not a picture of cooling ponds inside a nuclear reactor. Those are dust covers on the turbines at the Grand Coulee dam. According to the photographer, you have to pass through a metal detector to get this far into the power plant. Come to think of it, the nuclear power industry could probably improve their public image with similar tourist photo ops of their spent fuel cooling ponds.

There’s an article over on Mongabay about a protest of the  Belo Monte Dam project in Brazil:

 Belo Monte will flood more than 40,000 hectares of rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people. The project will impede the flow of the Xingu, which is one of the Amazon’s mightiest tributaries, disrupting fish migrations and potentially affecting nutrient flows in a section of the basin.


By Russ Finley on Jun 19, 2012 with 6 responses

First Vehicle to Home Power System in North America

Nissan issued a press release earlier this month to announce that Power Stream will be using the V2H system with its fleet of Leafs in Canada. This device acts as a charger and as a power inverter, allowing 4 hour charges instead of 8 hours as well as the capacity to power a home for a couple of days in the event of a power outage. Apparently your Leaf has to have the CHAdeMO protocol quick charge port which was an option on the 2012 cars. The price seems about right to me costing roughly twice as much as the charge stations now installed in homes but that’s still cheaper than a charge station and a backup generator system. And if… Continue»