Romney shills for dirty Big Coal as Obama touts Iowa Wind Power

Wind energy is on a roll in the United States, having doubled since 2008 to 50 gigawatts, enough to power 13 million homes. So why is Mitt Romney bad-mouthing it in favor of dirty, world-destroying fuel like coal? Even other Republicans are annoyed at Romney about this stance, and on Tuesday President Obama had a little fun with the former governor of Massachusetts over the issue.

Romney once said that you can’t put a windmill on top of your car.

President Obama joked that he didn’t know if Romney actually said that, but that Romney had been known to put other things on top of his car (a reference to the governor’s 1982 road trip in which he put his dog Seamus on the roof).

(Actually, as usual, Romney is wrong: you could run wind turbines and use them to generate electricity used by an electric car or plug-in hybrid. If you drive a Nissan Leaf in some parts of Iowa you are a good part of the way there).

Romney’s determination to scrap tax subsidies for wind farms has already caused investors to be cautious about putting in new installations this year, so he is slowing the green economy just by talking. This uncertainty is all the more harmful because wind is already having trouble competing with shale gas, which has become abruptly abundant and relatively inexpensive in recent years in the US, though at a high environmental cost. Even given this development, wind turbines will be competitive by 2016 (though of course they already are competitive if you count in the damaging pollution natural gas produces).

Romney for his part was defending the burning of coal, which should be a hanging offense. Besides, coal is being killed not by renewables by but cheap natural gas and by coal plants’ inability to burn cleanly enough to meet environmental regulations.

Even in this difficult competitive environment, Iowa now gets some 20% of its electricity from wind, and expects that percentage to grow. Wind energy is clean, and the fuel is free. New efficiencies in wind turbines are rapidly driving down the price of wind energy.

Oil and natural gas get billions in de facto subsidies from the US government, so we’re lucky that there are federal incentives for putting in wind turbines. But Romney wants to get rid of the latter (he wants to keep the subsidies to big Oil and Gas, of course). Since oil and gas cause climate change, which is highly destructive, they are already much more expensive than wind if you count in the environmental damage they do (you’re subsidizing oil and gas to create the drought that is causing your food prices to rise dramatically this year, so you are paying through the nose for them).

Romney’s anti-wind position has drawn sharp criticism from Iowa Republicans. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who helped author the tax breaks for wind energy, is fit to be tied with the elite East Coast guys behind Romney’s pledge to abolish the tax breaks for wind.

Iowa is a state where wind energy has forged ahead faster than almost any other state in the union. Wind energy supports over 200 other industries in the state. Abolition of the federal tax break for wind would certainly slow the industry’s development.

Obama was exploiting this divide in Republican ranks over Iowa’s wind industry, which Romney is harming. Iowa is one of the swing states important to winning the election.

Wind energy poses problems for the electricity grid, since sometimes the winds blow strong and sometimes not at all. Many engineers believe that getting more than 25% or so of one’s electricity from wind is dangerous, since its fluctuations may make the grid unstable.

But the world is gradually finding fixes for these problems, including better battery and other storage systems and sophisticated computer programs that can feed the wind energy into the grid when it is strong and then switch to other sources when it is calm. Riverbank Power is pioneering new kinds of hydropumps which pump water uphill when the wind is blowing, and allow the water to flow back down when it isn’t. (Riverbank has developed a system that will work even in flat terrain, by pumping the water down into the ground and then bringing it up again). Many nuclear plants already depend on hydropumps to smooth out interruptions. One problem is that the Federal licensing of hydropumps needs to be streamlined, though the Obama administration has acted a little more quickly than its predecessor.

For a brief moment in April, Xcel in Colorado was generating 51% of its electricity from wind. It then scaled back to 17% as demand increased. A smart grid, operated by sophisticated new computer software like that being developed by Oracle, will help make this sort of source-switching commonplace.

When today’s pre-teens hit college, they’ll look back on Romney’s bromides against renewable energy and his advocacy of coal the way people in 1916 looked back on late 19th-century naysayers who insisted automobiles were impossible and horse transport was the future.

15 Responses

  1. Burning coal evidently produces about three times as much carbon dioxide per power unit as does natural gas, as well as producing other pollutants. Romney’s clamoring for more of it is perverse and even sick.

    • dO YOUR RESEARCH Bob. Ohh scary carbon dioxide is going to destroy the world. Pfff. Plants depend on carbon dioxide like we depend on O2. The new clean coal burners emit only Co2 and water vapor. Now I’m not downplaying clean energy. Furthermore I’m not pulling for Romney, but to glorify Obama is a laugh, that is if you have really been paying attention to what has really been happening in this country for the past five years.
      There are whole communities of families in this republic that are dependent on the coal mines. Now, it’s not the best profession, nor the smartest, but is this helping our country? The only beneficiaries of these “green, clean” energy windmills are the massive companies that produce them and the power companies. My only beef is the proping of Obama for an issue that should not be on the top of the list of our public SERVANTS should be doing, spending OUR money and labor on, and adding to the huge debt that is owed to the private corporation AKA the Federal Reserve. Wake Up.

      • Several times in the distant past, the Earth was hit with a heating phase intense enough to evaporate methane hydrate deposits in the oceans, which exacerbated the heating until mass extinctions occurred. One of the extinction events that some blame on this process occurred 250 million years ago, as described in Wikipedia:

        “Earth’s largest extinction killed 57% of all families and 83% of all genera(53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera, about 96% of all marine species and an estimated 70% of land species) including insects. The evidence of plants is less clear, but new taxa became dominant after the extinction. The “Great Dying” had enormous evolutionary significance: on land, it ended the primacy of mammal-like reptiles. The recovery of vertebrates took 30 million years…”

        The question then is what got it hot enough for the methane to evaporate. CO2 is certainly capable of warming (see Venus) and varying. I guarantee you, our economy is ridiculously more fragile than the global ecosystem, so the former will break first, but what it leaves behind might take us the rest of the way. Why risk it?

        • The same can be safely said of anyone who goes on the internet telling people (or sheeple) to “wake up”.

      • Two old-wisdom sayings: Reality is the stuff that remains real no matter how hard you believe otherwise. Also stated as “you can’t bullshit the ocean. It’s not listening.” And . . . “him that is not surprised when the future comes lives very close to the truth.”

        I am planning my life in the expectation of a future of runaway Global Warming and Climate DeChaos Decay thanks to unrestrained carbon-loading of the atmoshphere. I gather you are planning on a future of no-such-thing happening. We shall see who lives “very close to the truth” and who will therefor “not be surprised when the future comes”.

        I will say this: if you are correct, then the Global is not really warming and will not warm, and none of the changes I expect to be happening will happen. If you are right and we are all wrong, you have a contrarian investing opportunity of historic dimensions lying at your feet. You should invest all the money you have, and all the money you can borrow, in raw land/ real estate/ REITs/ etc. based along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts . . . most especially in Florida/Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana/Texas. When the oceans fail to rise the way we Global Warming Alarmists expect them to, you will have planted the seeds of a vast family fortune for your heirs to inherit. If you think you are right about the Climate Future, then I encourage you in the very strongest terms to put your money where your mouth claims to be.

  2. We live in very interesting times. Before 2010, world yearly wind power growth had been hovering around 30% for at least a decade. In 2010, however, growth slowed to 25% and in 2011 to 21%. Within just a few years, we should be able to see if this slowdown will continue or not.

    Sure, it might just reflect bad economic times, but it might also reflect that leading wind power nations such as Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal and Ireland are all getting close to 20% wind penetration, and from there it gets increasingly difficult and costly to integrate more. These countries all had just 3-10% wind power growth in 2011.

    Even if I believe more in nuclear power as a solution, I hope for wind to keep momentum and reach its potential as fast as possible, to save what can be saved of our climate and to let us refocus quicker if wind penetrations indeed won’t go higher than some 25%. The US, I believe, should keep wind subsidies in place, or, even better, tax carbon sources for their external costs.

  3. Commentators who insist that drawing most of our energy from renewables will never be economically viable (no matter what the evidence to the contrary) inbound in 3, 2, 1…

  4. “Obama,” that willing personification, that bump on the center-right line of the Overton horizon, may be “the only sensible choice” for us stoopid progressive types who can’t bring ourselves to protest-vote for the Green Party candidate.

    But lookie here at what the outlines of the Present Occupant’s “All Of The Above Approach To Energy Independence” actually contain. link to barackobama.com|6BGUlGsx|kw|coal%20obama|matchtype|b|pcrid|15969752173|pl||&gclid=CNuE3ZbU6bECFcyA7QodSE8AhQ Who drafted that? Dick Cheney? Think “progressives” have a prayer of changing a jot or tittle of that?

    No surprises with these people, if you look at the fine print down the page.

    Romney, that post-national inegalitarian, is making it easier by being so far off the beam. But google “Obama Coal.” So gee, “we the people” can look forward to “boosted domestic oil production,” code for tar sands and fracking and deep offshore and arctic extraction, untrammeled by any forcing of externalities into the “free market pricing.”

    And of course “clean coal,” one of the more evil oxymorons I’ve encountered, with mountaintopping and no-regulation shaft mining (which actually only employs about 80,000 people at peon wages) and all. link to huffingtonpost.com

    More war, 24/7, across the planet? No problem, the Beast has been unchained and funded and “based” and set in motion. (I trust that “our” Great Gamers’ usual incompetence will trash, or turn to really potent Blowback, most of their initiatives and stratagems, to “our” detriment and their tiny personal gain. Reaper = $120 million. link to nation.time.com Global Hawk = $170 million. link to strategypage.com Each. link to dronewarsuk.wordpress.com)

    Freedom? Constitution? Rights? Doing something other than what every other failing empire has done? Hey, they’re only human. The only question is the pace at which we Use It All Up.

    These people are not the friends of the species, ours or any other — just maybe less bad than the Vulture, the Kochers et al.

    (quick check of 3×5 cards — yep, hit the points. Just like the constant apologists for the stoopid way “we” — actually “they” — have been doing “our” business across the planet for the last 150 years do with their 3x5s, though they have a slightly thicker stack to select from.)

    • Yes, please, google “Obama coal.” Note all of the links to hysterical conservatives wailing that Obama is killing the coal industry.

      Want to know a secret? They’re right this time. Obama’s EPA Director, Lisa Jackson, is using the Clean Air Act to drive the coal industry out of business. They’ve picked their target, they’re culling it from the larger energy industry herd, and they’re going to kill it off.

      Better yet, google “Cross state pollution rules,” or “Lisa Jackson coal” or “Mercury toxics regulations” or “coal ash EPA” or, you know what? Just click here and enjoy the coal industry’s salty ham tears: link to news.yahoo.com

  5. wind is already having trouble competing with shale gas, which has become abruptly abundant and relatively inexpensive in recent years in the US, though at a high environmental cost….coal is being killed not by renewables by but cheap natural gas and by coal plants’ inability to burn cleanly enough to meet environmental regulations.

    Let’s not forget that the existence of those (growing, increasingly stringent) regulations is not some sort of “natural order,” but the consequence of policy decisions.

    Someday, natural gas will become more expensive. When it does, wind energy will only be cheaper and more abundant than it is today, and will be available to horn in on the market.

    Coal, on the other hand, will be dead. There will be no more coal plants built, and old coal plants are shutting down left and right. When natural gas becomes more expensive, coal-fired power plants will not be available an an alternative.

    • Too bad in all the talk about which source of “green energy” or consumo-combustion is “most competitive,” I guess that would mean “priced” cheapest or with the best subsidy package or well-lobbied regulatory favoritism, that so little is discussed about externalities.

      But then how does a “free market,” made captive by these creatures, price an uninhabitable planet 200 or 2,000 years from now (now being the present moment, when the Koch Grabbers and the remoras that eat the scraps of their kills are maximizing their takings, ensuring they have a life of ease and pleasure and never have to wear the same underpants twice and have “people” to anticipate and attend to their every whim, no matter how whimsical)?

      I bet there are “economists” who have irrefutable formulae to “prove” that the present value of a dead future is, well, ZERO, so it can be neglected for all “economic” purposes.

  6. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a green car.

    The irrefutable fact is that every new electric car that hits the road pushes back the day when our electric power grid will be 100% sustainable.

    After all, and this is really, really basic physics: a car is a 3000 lb machine, charged with transporting 180 or 300 lbs of payload. That is fantastically inefficient. Absurdly inefficient.

    However, I concur 132% with everything else Juan says. Continuing to rely on coal is insane. Continuing to rely on ANY fossil fuel is insane.

    And no-one who continues to deny climate change has any business serving in a national capacity of ANY kind, let alone as POTUS.

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