Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack Fracking Kelly

Today Jack Kelly departs from the Occupy movements to lecture on energy history and economics, specifically shale gas. Kelly wants to tell us that shale gas is the end to all of Pennsylvania's problems. But I would say that Kelly deliberately glosses over several points that change the economics of his claims.

Before looking at that, I want to look at Solyndra,which Kelly holds up as an example that "renewable energy" firms are not economical, "despite massive subsidies". First of all, Kelly does not mention (as conservatives never mention) the "massive subsidies", on the order of billions a years, that go to oil, coal and other "traditional" energy sectors. But Solyndra was a special case, using a non silicon based solar panel that was supposed to be much more efficient. They then rolled these panels up, which was supposed to held with problems involved with wind blowing through solar installations. However, turning the panels into tubes had a negative effect on that higher efficiency, and apparently the price of silicon dropped. Thus Solyndra became non competitive and eventually went bankrupt. Should the government have lent them money? Well, they might well be called genuinely innovative, but it is not clear their business model was ready for prime time. One thing I can say is that I have not seen one conservative who looked at the complexity of the Solyndra issue.

And I would say for all the words in Kelly's lecture/daitribe, he's not trying to infrom so much as bully/frighten. A brief bit of research did confirm that the EIA thinks solar is currently too expensive (although predictably even simple costs are more complicated than Kelly says), but I will again raise the issue of subsidies (millions for solar versus billions (thousands of millions) for conventional power) plus the fact that conventional energy sources don't pay for the negative health effects that come from burning those fuels. This is not to mention (well, OK, I am mentioning it) climate change. We have come to accept that tobacco eventually had to help the bills for the ill health effects that we knew cigarettes caused. We know that coal, oil and yes, even natural gas cause ill health effects. Have we forgotten the pictures/paintings of Pittsburgh of the past, dark at mid day?

Kelly claims that shale gas also creates jobs. Perhaps, but Pennsylvania is less than a percentage point under the national average in unemployment. In fact, Kelly's own paper raises questions about shale gas employment.

For shale gas, there is also the lingering question of what effect fracking has on groundwater. I realize conservatives/Republicans dismiss the movie "Gasland" as at best mere anecdotes and for them more likely lies and distortions. Well, if it is only 50% true, shale gas would still be a disaster, poisoning untold numbers of Americans. I almost hate to say it, but I think there might be enough preliminary evidence that Democrats should take a page from the Republican playbook and say that more study is needed before fracking is allowed to go any farther. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to drink tap water and take showers without risk of catching on fire (or being poisoned).

One thing neither Kelly nor I (till now) touched on is taxing shale gas extraction. I think that at least taxing shale gas is a no-brainer. The taxes could go into a health trust fund, to be used to compensate poisoned Pennsylvanians or if there are none, then to provide additional funds to Medicaid or Pennsylvania Adult Basic.

Finally, I think that solar technology is advancing to make it more efficient and cheaper, although because of our short sighted energy policy a lot of development is taking place overseas. I think that it matters where you place large solar installations, that they could be very useful in places like Arizona, Texas and also in Hawaii (where they have to import energy). I still think that correctly designed and installed small, personal solar installations at the home level all across the nation could be huge, although to be clear that will need a lot of government support since the breakeven number in decades, not just years. I think that combinations of solar installations with vertical axis wind turbines may well be the way to go for both roof top and large scale installations. I notice Kelly didn't mention wind power. Is that because wind has a much lower breakeven number?

Kelly is once again naked shilling for Republicans (I guess particularly Tom Corbet) and ignoring any issues that might dilute or dispute his arguments. Don't we deserve better, a more realistic analysis that actually seriously acknowledges other points of view and analyzes their ideas using objective tools?

Apparently not.

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