In The Pipeline 7/22/11

Billionaire Bloomberg fights against affordable coal as Bill Gates admits only rich can afford the alternative energy Wall Street Journal (7/22/11) reports: [Chris] Anderson: When you look at the big picture [for the future of energy], where should we be focusing besides nuclear? On massive solar plants in the desert? On middle-size stuff for office roofs? Or is there a reinvention that could be done right in the home?…Gates: If you’re going for cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. It’s really kind of cool to have solar panels on your roof. But if you’re really interested in the energy problem, it’s those big things in the desert…I think people deeply underestimate what a huge problem this day-night issue is if you’re trying to design an energy system involving solar technology that’s more than just a hobby. You know, the sun shines during the day, and people turn their air conditioners on during the day, so you can catch some of that peaking load, particularly if you get enough subsidies. It’s cute, you know, it’s nice. But the economics are so, so far from making sense. And yet that’s where subsidies are going now. We’re putting 90 percent of the subsidies in deployment—this is true in Europe and the United States—not in R&D. And so unfortunately you get technologies that, no matter how much of them you buy, there’s no path to being economical. You need fundamental breakthroughs, which come more out of basic research…Anderson: So suffice to say we will find no solar cells on the roof of the Gates residence?…Gates: Oh, we like to be cute like everyone. For rich people, this is OK. Rich people can do whatever they want.

As Bloomberg announces his campaign to shut down coal electricity Manhattan suffers rolling blackouts and the vulnerable die of heat stroke — sounds like his plan is working already New York Times (7/22/11) reports: Expressing frustration with the paralysis at the national and international levels on setting policies to combat climate change, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Thursday that he would donate $50 million to the Sierra Club’s campaign to shut down coal-fired power plants across the United States… Mr. Bloomberg appeared with the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, near a coal plant in Alexandria, Va., to announce the gift from his chief charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Mr. Bloomberg said he hoped it would help the environmental group shut down as many as a third of the nation’s coal-burning power plants — the oldest and dirtiest ones — by 2020…Coal provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity and accounts for roughly a third of its output of carbon dioxide and other gases responsible for warming the planet. Burning coal also produces millions of tons of other pollutants that are harmful to human health and the environment…The gift is a small fraction of Mr. Bloomberg’s wealth, but it represents a national political statement as well as an environmental commitment. With it, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent is taking on powerful coal and electric utility lobbies that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to protect their interests and to oppose politicians who defy them.

We’ve sowed our own destruction with the success that capitalism creates — we can fix this country if we can only remember how National Review Online (7/20/11) reports: Our politicians love soaring platitudes followed by little, if any, action. The more Americans are promised shovel-ready stimulus projects, new sources of power, and other fantasies, the more we accept that bureaucracy, regulations, lawsuits, and impact statements will prevent much from ever being done…The president himself, after demanding nearly a trillion dollars in borrowed money for his budget, confessed that his “shovel-ready” projects had proved not so shovel-ready after all. Much of the vast sum of borrowed money instead went to subsidize nearly insolvent pension funds, entitlements, and bloated state budgets. Unemployment is still at 9.2 percent, with nearly 50 million people on government-subsidized food stamps — even as American infrastructure is crumbling, the private sector is moribund, and national timidity prevents any new large, visionary construction. Prior generations gave us space projects; ours ends them. Boeing once ruled the skies; now the government sues to stop Boeing from opening a new plant…Huntington’s dream project — eventually expanded, and today managed by the Southern California Edison power company — would eventually encompass six major lakes, 27 dams, and 24 powerhouses that capture the descending High Sierra water to generate over 1,000 megawatts of clean electricity.

What happens to the price of oil when it’s stranded underground by government policies? Reuters (7/21/11) reports: Oil is a quintessential global commodity. But the price of the black stuff has got harder to grasp thanks to the gap between the two main benchmarks — Brent and WTI. Contrary to market expectations, this gap could widen over the coming year as ever more U.S. crude is stranded at home. This will delight U.S refiners. Questioning about the true price of oil, however, could get louder…Market benchmarks for oil were never perfect measures of world crude prices. Crude oil comes in different qualities, and costs of transport impacts buying decisions. Dominant producers like Saudi Arabia –- seeking absolute control of pricing – pretend their oil is not even traded, but bought at the price it decides is right. The Brent benchmark, based on shipments of North Sea oil, emerged in the 1980s partly as a way of skirting this problem…But in recent years both Brent and WTI — West Texas Intermediate, a U.S. oil similar in nature to the North Sea crude –- have faced challenges. Does either reflect the global price of oil? Flagging oil production from the North Sea led to upward pressure on the price of Brent. Some wonder if trades are deep enough to constitute effective price discovery. True, Platts, custodian of the Brent benchmark, has worked hard to keep the price relevant by bringing new fields into the calculation and looking at prices over a longer time frame. The decline in North Sea output –- down 40 percent since 1999 according to Citi -– still makes its life difficult…As for WTI, inadequate pipeline infrastructure makes it difficult to get the stuff out of North America — and that depresses its price, especially when demand is also weak. Its problems could also get worse before they get better. Output from North America is growing faster than expected. Canadian producers, for example, recently said output will grow from 2.7 million barrels a day to 3.4 million by 2014 and North Dakota production is surging. Meanwhile efforts to build new pipelines are mired in political controversy.

Ahem, what about Virginia oil and gas production? Senator Webb would also like to know why the state he represents cannot get to work producing energy Washington Post (7/22/11) reports: Sen. Jim Webb is calling on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to consider legislation opening waters off Virginia to oil and gas exploration…An aide said the Virginia Democrat’s appeal has been heeded and will be offered as an amendment to a Senate bill on Thursday…Webb and fellow Democrat Mark Warner have proposed legislation that would lift a moratorium the Obama administration placed on East Coast exploration following the Gulf oil spill. The Virginia senators also want to ensure leasing revenues flow to the state and an expansion of the leasing area. They say the change is needed to better reflect oil and gas reserves off the state’s coast…Webb maintains the proposal has strong support among state residents and Virginia’s political leaders.

Let’s not forget about the jobs…and the money Houston Chronicle reports: Faster permitting of offshore oil and gas projects could create nearly 230,000 new jobs in 2012 and boost the economy by $44 billion, including a surge in tax revenue, according to an industry-funded study released Thursday…The report by IHS CERA said job growth would extend beyond the Gulf Coast states, boosting employment indirectly as far away as California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Georgia…The study, funded by the Gulf Economic Survival Team, a group of largely Louisiana-based energy and business interests, looks at data on the pace of permitting by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement through April 30…That’s six months after the end of a federal moratorium on offshore drilling, which the government imposed after last year’s Deepwater Horizon accident killed 11 workers and triggered a 5 million-barrel oil spill…Permit approvals take 95 percent longer now than before the spill, the study says…The delays are leading to lost opportunities for investments in the Gulf, which would create jobs and boost federal and state tax revenues, IHS CERA said…Permitting delays also hurt future U.S. oil production as the slowdown in drilling postpones new discoveries, the study says, and faster permitting could lead to an additional 400,000 barrels per day in production by 2012…”There is a need to better align the new regulatory environment with industry capacity, as the current pace of plan and permit approval is congested,” said Jim Burkhard, IHS CERA’s managing director for global oil, who co-authored the report.

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