Texas Wind turbines went right on Turning under Harvey’s impact, as Refineries Shut Down

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Extreme weather is in our future. Caribbean hurricanes of the future will be more and more violent and destructive because of manmade global heating. Sea level rise will open the coast to bigger storm surges. The number of coastal floods has already doubled since the 1980s because of people driving their gasoline cars and running their air conditioners off burning lumps of coal. Hotter air over hotter water will have more moisture in it, setting the stage for regular flooding. Hotter water creates more powerful winds within hurricanes.

So the bad news is that a fossil fuel energy system does not deal well with extreme weather.

Even just by Thursday, Harvey had shut down so many oil refineries that it had taken 20% of daily US gasoline production off line. By Friday it was being announced that so many refineries had been damaged that the major pipeline that brings 3 million barrels a day to the east coast, had been shut down. Altogether, 4.4 mn b/d of refinery capacity is off line now. About half a million barrels a day of refining capacity will remain shut down well into next winter.

Reuters quoted a market analyst as saying, “Imports can’t make up for this. . . This is going to be the worst thing the U.S. has seen in decades from an energy standpoint.”

Not only is gasoline going to be more expensive as a result, but the pollution dangers from the damaged refineries are horrific.

But guess what? Texas’s wind turbines weathered Harvey. Some were pushed to the max by its powerful winds, but they just went on making electricity! Turbines shut down if the wind is 55 mph or more, but most wind farms affected by Harvey were able to keep operating. One shut down because the electrical wires were knocked down, not because the turbines stopped working!. On an average day, Texas gets 20% of its electricity from wind. That only fell to 13% the day of Harvey’s landfall.

Harvey also menaced a nuclear reactor, a la Fukushima, but we dodged that bullet this time.

Nuclear reactors no longer make any sense, and they remain dangerous and vulnerable to extreme weather events. Even if wind turbines did get damaged by a storm, they don’t explode or spread around radioactive fallout.

Duke Energy has just abandoned plans for a nuclear reactor and is instead putting $6 bn into solar and wind.

So it turns out that not only would a rapid turn to 100% green energy, as California plans, forestall further global heating, it can help keep us safe during the extreme weather caused by . . . burning fossil fuels in the first place.

The problem of fossil fuels and global heating is only going to get worse. The National Institutes of Health warns,

“The public health impacts of climate change in U.S. Gulf Coast states—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—may be especially severe and further exacerbated by a range of threats facing the coastline areas, including severe erosion, subsidence, and—given the amount of energy production infrastructure—the ever-present potential for large-scale industrial accidents. The Gulf Coast population is expected to reach over 74 million by 2030 with a growing number of people living along the coastlines. Populations in the region that are already vulnerable because of economic or other disparities may face additional risks to health . . . The Gulf region is expected to experience increased mean temperatures and longer heat waves while freezing events are expected to decrease. Regional average temperatures across the U.S. Southeast region (which includes Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina as well as the Gulf Coast) are projected to increase between 4 °F to 8 °F (2.2 °C to 4.4 °C) throughout the century. Hurricanes and sea level rise, occurring independently or in combination with hurricane-induced storm surge, are major threats to the Gulf Coast region [11]. Some portions of the Gulf Coast—particularly coastal Louisiana and South Florida—are especially vulnerable to sea level rise due to their low elevation.”

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Related video:

CBS: “Pumps running empty after Hurricane Harvey shuts down oil refineries

10 Responses

  1. While the “light water” nuclear reactors used in the USA can NEVER be safe because the design is extremely flawed, there are nuclear reactor designs that are designed to fail safe, not fail catastrophically.

    I do not know why the USA has done so little research on safe reactor designs and focusing only on trying to compensate for the massive flaws in the”light water” design.

    Note that “light water” reactors were originally designed for ships and submarines which are surrounded by cooling water, so a catastrophic failure is automatically managed when the ship or submarine sinks. Land based reactors have no possible backup.

    Non-US researchers have designed small scale test nuclear reactors that fail in a safe manner, but no one has made on on a commercial scale yet.

    Nuclear may still be a viable alternative if (big IF) safer nuclear reactor designs can be implemented. Especially ones that do not create so much nuclear waste.

    A mix of non-carbon energy systems , including nuclear is probably the optimal mix for the future since relying on a single source, like we do now with carbon energy, is a not a good idea.

  2. Rather than delving into the statistics which show that nuclear power plants are the safest form of electricity production per unit energy, I will only point out that the South Texas Project nuclear power plants continued to generate irrespective of the wind speed.

    • If things had gone a bit differently, you could easily have had a Fukushima in Texas. They dodged a bullet, this time. Nuclear plants are safe until they aren’t and then they are cosmically unsafe. Wind turbines don’t have that problem.

      • No “light water” reactor is ever “safe.” They are either unsafe or very, very lucky.

        The “light water” design can NEVER be made “safe” only slightly less catastrophic.

        Note that there is LOTS of engineering data that shows that “light water” reactors are inherently unsafe which is why there have to be so many backup systems on top of backup systems.

    • Safest, and most expensive. You can’t blame treehuggers for making nuclear so expensive by pushing for so many regulations and then turn around and praise how safe the result is. Especially since we now have two alternatives that haven’t had much opportunity to show up in those statistics while their costs have been plummeting.

      To summarize, Hinkley Point C, Hinkley Point C, Hinkley Point C.

    • No possibility of a Fukushima in Texas. No earthquake, no tsunami.

      I won’t go into the different regulatory framework. If anything, nuclear power plants in the USA are overly safe at great expense. Some of us study these matters.

      • Total blind BS.

        Everything designed by humans can and does fail catastrophically for unanticipated reasons.

  3. Spyguy is correct about the light water reactors favored by US companies having inherent design flaws. They are popular internationally because uranium fuel reactors can be used as a cover for developing a nuclear bomb.
    Reactors based on thorium fuel cannot be used to make bombs. A thorium Molten Salt Reactor can be designed to fail safe. China and India are presently developing thorium fuel nuclear reactors. Why does the US cede the high road to China and India?
    Juan, I agree that solar and wind are the best energy sources, but we still need to provide the base load when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Today we use hydroelectric and coal power to provide the base load. A thorium based molten salt reactor is the best long term solution.

    • It takes about 10 years to build a commercial nuclear power plant from existing designs. Right now, there is no design for a commercial thorium reactor, so we are looking at a minimum of say another 10 years for workable thorium reactor to be developed. So best case, we’re 20 years out from safe thorium reactors–and that’s assuming a straight line, no surprises or unexpected hazards or dangers that we did not anticipate.

      I’m old enough to remember that nuclear power was once billed as the future of cheap, safe electricity that will be “too cheap to meter.”

      I’m happy to be proved wrong on thorium, but I won’t hold my breath.

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