Letters to the Editor

Energy advisers

June 26, 2008


To the editor:

The Lawrence Journal-World has been doing an excellent job of covering energy and policy discussions in Kansas. As research director of the Climate and Energy Project (CEP), a project of the Land Institute in Salina, I have definitely enjoyed following the coverage.

Regarding the recent story on the Kansas Energy and Environment Policy (KEEP) advisory group, I would like to add that the KEEP discussion is open to all Kansans. The world is moving toward a new energy economy, and all of us are interested in how best to make this transition. KEEP is one way to help Kansans talk through these issues.

Anyone who wants to follow along with the discussion can just go to the KEEP Web site: www.ksclimatechange.us. The meeting times of the main group (and the five technical working groups) will all be posted on the site.

The gatherings are open to the public. You can listen in to the meetings by conference calls as well. There will also be opportunities for public input.

CEP has an official role in the KEEP process. Since we serve the public, we would like to see the public get involved in KEEP as well.

Maril Hazlett,


devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

Link doesn't work.Googling also yielded broken links.Lets hope that your alternative energy sources are better than your website.I know, lets form a committee to investigate the formation of an advisory board to inform the public to call for action to form more committees to advise each other on the forming of more boards to travel to committee meetings to discuss the call to action forums on broken web sites. Ready, aim, ready, ready,. Hey everybody aim, ready, no wait, ready aim, aim, aim,. No is everybody ready to aim? Fire, no wait, form a committee, discuss the aiming procedure. Have we been inclusive in the aiming? Is everybody happy with the policy on aiming? Ready, ready............ Oh, never mind.

lawrencian 9 years, 9 months ago

The link works fine if you leave off the extra period at the end... which is the end of the sentence in the article but not part of the URL.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

jafs, when one mines coal, machines dig into the earth and gouge out the coal, it is ultimately powdered and blown into a combustion chamber where it burns and heats water into steam. The steam is stored in a boiler and used to drive turbines which generate electricity. The combustion can be regulated and even enhanced by methane to meet varying demand. There is no restriction on when these things can make electrical energy out of hydrocarbon.PVs are made by digging up sand (now that's a plentiful commodity!) and heating it up to about 1500 degrees C. Mechanical and chemical techniques are used to purify the molten sand. These Silicon bricks are sent to a fabrication facility where they are again heated up to molten and a crystal is grown from the pot of liquid silicon. The crystals are cylinders which are sliced into dinner plate sized wafers, which are milled and polished. These wafers are heated up in furnaces to about 800 Celsius and impurities like arsenic, boron, phosphorus are diffused into the silicon. The impurities are masked by an oxide layer that is grown on the surface of the silicon (at 800 C), then etched by hydrofluoric acid to open holes in this passivation layer. After the diodes are made, metal contacts must be added, again at high energy requirements.Finally, the PV diodes must be packaged and hooked together into a group that produces a DC voltage which goes into a power inverter to produce the same 60 Hz power that the coal-fired plant produces. The PVs only produce power when the sun shines. They don't get very much of that sun unless you gimbal the PV mount to track the sun (more energy required). This process that I described is really just for regular PVs. Fancy ones require many more steps.....each requiring energy. Capital energy is not recovered for about 16 years of use. Most folks use 10 years as a lifetime for these things. Thus, don't bother.Wind? Oh, shoot, look it up yourself. You can't? You mean the data is hard to find regarding the capital energy required to build wind turbines? You mean the fundamental unit of energy (joule) isn't valued? Hey bloggers, wanna buy a watch?BTW, It takes 1 quart of gasoline energy to produce 1 gallon of gasoline energy.

jafs 9 years, 9 months ago

It's hard to believe that solar and wind power wouldn't generate more energy than they require.All systems have energy costs to initiate and operate, including coal, I would think. One has to mine the coal, for starters.Given that solar, for example, requires only energy to produce the panels, and none for ongoing generation/maintenance, i would imagine that it's fairly efficient.Also, your opinion about CO2 is a very minority one these days.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, XD40, I read the article and found it lacking in the most fundamental concept, the joule."The company recently announced a deal with the Brazilian sugar and ethanol manufacturer Crystalsev to launch a joint facility south of São Paulo, giving Amyris access to 2 million tons of sugar to feed its mutated strains of yeast."Until environmentalist, politicians, scientists, and the general public start speaking in terms of joules of energy, bad ideas will abide. Fixed in place, the whole energy issue will be a playground for charlatans and flimflam men.In the above, how much energy is used to clear the rain forest in Brazil to grow the sugar cane? How much energy is used to harvest, refine, transport the sugar to the diesel factory? How much energy is needed to separate the diesel from the water in the fermentation process? How much water is needed for the process? So far, there is no alternative energy source that is energy efficient. Not photovoltaics, wind, waves, bio, nothing. This is not to say that they never will be able to replace some of the fossil fuel we use today. What I mean is that they aren't ready for prime time yet. Call me when energy out of a system is > energy into the system. Until then, relax, CO2 isn't a pollutant anyway. Climate models are bogus, and CO2 is a trivial contributor to the energy balance of the climate anyway.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

Yes, Doug, we want people who understand the concept of a joule to be making the decision. This is an engineering decision, not a political or scientific, or cultural decision. Whether the decision is made by engineers in a back room or on the steps of the Lied Center is irrelevant. Decisions made by committee are always compromises and are most effective when no one really knows what they are doing. Energy is not complex. The decisions can be made on the basis of a clear metric, the joule. But this committee will be like all the rest. In an effort to not be screwed by backroom deals, you will include everybody and make the decisions on the basis of ignorance and political expediency. In your effort to not be screwed by KPL, you will screw yourself by being ineffective. You'll probably have ethanol from wheat next because it sells in Kansas. Look at the first link from yesterday morning. The military has phrases for what is happening. These phrases involve circles and clusters.Have a happy one, Doug. Hope you enjoy your meetings.

jafs 9 years, 9 months ago

And, aren't there energy costs to maintaining and operating coal-powered electric plants?Again, those would be non-existent (or extremely small) with small solar installations.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 9 months ago

Devo, sorry, but I have to call your attitude obstructionist. We can develop feasible alternate energies if we simply take the initiative. As it is, we have people saying "hey, I like the way things are, and I don't think we should fret about froofroo PV's and wind turbines." OK, we're really dumb. There is no way we could ever surpass the fossil fuel-derived joule; it is the acme of human energy utilization. Ladies and gentlemen, we might as well give up because the human species has reached the limit of its capabilities.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

Redwood, selling ourselves short and needing to throw $ at ideas?You mean like social programs, e.g. Cabrini Green?University engineering schools did not come up with: phonograph, light bulb,automobile, personal computer, television, radio, cell phones, airplane.University and government labs are for applying fundamental science to devices to improve them, or test them. This is happening at universities all over the world right now. But they don't come up with new ideas. Never have, never will.The loss of the vein of progress is directly related to the advance of "big science". The more committees, the more $ thrown by the government at bad ideas (corn-based ethanol). the more democracy the farther we move away from that innovation that you think we lost.Democracy, Doug, is for people who want themselves to be heard in the cacophony of human misery. It isn't creative, it isn't original, it keeps people from killing each other. The Wright brothers weren't operating in a democracy of invention. Edison was a tyrant. Worked 18 hour days and expected his employees to do the same.Why is America loosing its edge? Because of what Ike warned us about 47 years ago. See next post.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

Until I see a change in the culture of environmentalism, I will remain obstructionist. I will continue to call for metrics that are meaningful, like joules. We are presently in a frenzied situation of rapidly rising energy prices. This is due in large measure to the doom and gloom scenarios from IPCC and people like Jim Hansen. They are wrong on many levels."We can develop feasible alternate energies if we simply take the initiative." Well, I don't think we should ever give up looking for sources of energy, but statements like yours are just the sort of Pollyanna stuff that gives Govs Sebelius and Terminator the wrong idea. Corn- or sugar-based energy is folly. Demonstrably so. Farmers love it, and this is Kansas.PVs are not ready for prime time and neither is wind. California is the analog for Kansas here. Making these statements doesn't say quit. It means be diligent and skeptical. Instead of giving up, Redwood, how 'bout lobbying for solutions that meet the energy metric. Does this new technology really work? It is a simple question. It must be asked. Nobody seems to be asking it. They're too busy adopting alternatives for alternatives sake.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

jafs, I wonder how many PVs put up in 1988 are still running? I have been searching all over for energy requirements for coal. Haven't found it yet. Each mine is different, so I think that the energy cost of mining coal is quite variable. Shoot, you can walk out to a road cut near Pittsburgh, Ks and pick up a coal rock, hit it with a hammer and burn it in your pot belly stove. Energy costs there are next to nothin'. net-metering is fine so long as only a few people do it. When the number of small PVs increases, load and source management becomes chaos. The coal-fired plant must add or remove energy in response to the clouds.Batteries are crummy. Messy, dangerous, maintenance intensive, and inefficient. Lead, lithium, acid, alkaline, heavy.Crummy. Batteries remain crummy even though they are 10 times better than they were when Edison and Ford dumped millions into battery powered cars 100 years ago. They lost their shirts then and dropped the idea. Batteries need to be 10 times better than they are now in order to be viable for large-scale energy storage. Call me when you come up with somethin'. Keep tryin' folks, just don't throw out oil and coal until you have something equal or better. So far, it ain't there.

Centerville 9 years, 9 months ago

Let's make sure that the committee doesn't recommend any method of producing or tranmitting electricity that requires taxpayer subsidy. That requirement should disqualify any alternative. Look at the TVA. It's now $29 billion in debt and its electricity is still more expensive than in any area around it. And, of course, the economy in its service territory lags significantly, too. It's been on the dole for 70 years with no sign of letup.

Ken Lassman 9 years, 9 months ago

Once again, I'll try to bring the issue back to what the letter writer was trying to address. Was it trying to develop alternative energy sources by committee? NO. Was it looking at the ability for the citizens of Kansas to access alternatives that are available by developing transmission networks that are alternative-energy-friendly? YES. Being able to choose whether the state will have coal, nuclear, wind, solar? YES. So back to the topic at hand: do we want folks in the back room to make these decisions, or have a place at the table?

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 9 months ago

Devo: I still maintain that we are selling ourselves short when it comes to alternative energies. You ask if they "really work." Well, I guess we'll never know until we start throwing money at university engineering departments for energy programs like we do geology departments for fossil fuel exploration and extraction. There is no reason we should still be driving cars that brag about 30 mpg on the highway. It is pathetic. We've become complacent with our current technologies and have stopped putting both serious financial and intellectual resources into developing new energies or improvements to energy efficiency. Somewhere along the way, the United States' vein of progress and leadership in the world has encountered an infarction. If we were still fighting the Cold War, then maybe that would provide enough motivation to remain diverse or at least sustainable in our energy sources. But I guess there isn't much to worry about. We should just resign ourselves to the fact that few of the right people are serious about progressing to better forms of energy.We won't know until we try. Heck, if you were building a flying machine in 1890, you were probably a quack, but look at the aviation industry now. No one knew or realized what was possible with it until enough brains and money were tasked to the problem.And your comment about "environmentalist culture" is especially telling. I've said it many, many times that we are politicizing an issue that should not be politicized. You've constructed a "self/other" dichotomy. Environmental culture is your other. Therefore anything emanating from the "environmental culture" is the word of the other and not the belief of yourself. Essentially, your saying that you don't like ideas for alternative energies because it embodies a culture or demographic from which you wish to distinguish yourself. Again, I call you obstructionist. Rather than suggesting alternatives, you merely act as a naysayer and critic.

jafs 9 years, 9 months ago

devo,Thanks for the details.I didn't see a meaningful comparison, though, between the energy required to produce electricity from solar and coal.Most folks count on about 20 years from solar panels, from what I've read, not 10.Again, once installed, solar panels require virtually no energy and produce it. Is the same true of coal, once mined?Your points about the resource intensive nature of manufacturing solar panels are well taken, and should be considered as part of the overall picture/equation.And, of course, once can burn coal anytime, and the sun is not always shining. But there are ways to work around that, especially for small installations - batteries, or a net-metering system.

devobrun 9 years, 9 months ago

President Eisenhower gave a famous farewell speech when he left office. He coined the term military-industrial complex.Anti-war folks grabbed this and the term is now part of the lexicon. Oh, but there was more, and here it is:------------------"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. "--------------------So lets form a committee, bring in the experts, let the concerned but ignorant citizens speak. Top-down managed innovation is a contradiction of terms. Yes Redwood, there will be innovation. There will be answers to the energy question. The answers will not come from "big science". The answers will not be perfect. They will not have a timetable. There will be problems involving pollution, etc. The culture of environmentalism must allow progress to happen without meddling in it.The progress will happen in spite of KEEP and the government-university complex that Ike warned us about.

Ken Lassman 9 years, 9 months ago

Hey folks,The letter writer's point is that Kansans have an unparalleled chance to participate in discussing our state's energy policies right now due to the governor's, like her or not, excellent strategy of pulling folks from across Kansas to a common table. By the way, Devo, that's called democracy--look it up. Think the deck is stacked? Compared to what--smoke filled rooms where arms are twisted and deals are shoved down legislator's throats? Gimme a break. Complain about the inefficiencies of democracy if you like, but show me something better in this divisive of a topic. Here's the breakdown of the KEEP committee, which seems to me to be an excellent attempt to bring all of the stakeholders to the table: "One (1) member recommended by the President of the Kansas Senate; ne (1) member recommended by the Speaker of the Kansas House; One (1) member recommended by the Minority Leader of the Kansas Senate; One (1) member recommended by the Minority Leader of the Kansas House; One (1) member from the public energy sector; One (1) member from a rural electric cooperative; One (1) member from the municipal electric sector; Two (2) members from the agriculture sector; Two (2) members from separate nonprofit environmental organizations; Three (3) members who are scientists from an accredited state institution of higher education (one who shall be a climatologist); One (1) member of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce; One (1) member of the AFL-CIO; One (1) member who is an economist from an accredited state institution of higher education; One (1) member from the transportation sector; One (1) member from the manufacturing sector; One (1) member from the construction industry with experience in sustainable energy construction or design; and Five (5) members who are citizens at large. "And one more thing: increasing efficiencies, called energy conservation is the most cost-effective investment--way more than even coal.

Ken Lassman 9 years, 8 months ago

Au contraire, Devo; when it comes to making energy decisions, it is important to understand more than the joule. Why? Let me give you an example: a community's power can be provided by a distant, highly centralized nuke, owned by someone else, transmitted via huge transmission lines that make disruption more likely, and have reduced efficiencies caused by the long distances the electricity has to go over those expensive transmission lines. OR, a community can develop its own decentralized generation sources such as wind, which is already competitive with new coal and cheaper than nukes, plus developing solar technologies, which both promise to have great potential for reducing carbon emissions, be locally owned, hook into a network of other community distributed power sources, which has the potential of a more stable and less brittle source of power than the centralized nukes, which almost require a police state to provide adequate security safeguards. Think it can't be done? The EU is well on its way to doing this, and local self-reliance is an American value, too.

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