Archive for Saturday, June 15, 2013

Letter: Energy folly

June 15, 2013


To the editor:

The purveyors of ethanol-blended fuels complain that they are facing difficult and expensive regulations to follow in order to sell their product. Hmmm! Let’s see: They are trying to force a politically mandated product on the public, that uses more energy to make than it can provide, which requires the user to refill his vehicle more times to get the same production as produced by a competing product and that cannot be produced without massive government subsidies. What’s more, it uses a raw material base that drastically affects the food markets in an adverse way.

While many “alternative” energy sources are leaning heavily on governmental support to “get going,” very few of them can survive at all without it and they continue to provide a marginal impact on today’s energy needs. Perhaps the ethanol advocates would have made better use of their own energies espousing an abundant natural resource, say: natural gas.

The way I see it: E-15 is throwing good money after bad.


streetman 4 years, 11 months ago

Gosh -- politically incorrect thinking -- must be an outsider! However, Mr. Meyer does a service not being afraid to tell it like it is. Too many of us are silent about the goofy exaggerations of "green" initiatives -- about the energy saved, the jobs created, reduction in pollution -- and ignoring the downsides (e.g. direct and indirect costs, unintended consequences, general inconveniences). Nothing wrong with looking at green options, but a little truthfulness would actually help the cause.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh, you must be talking about that head-in-the-clouds guy to our north, Warren Buffet, who just committed to spending 1.9 billion dollars of his Berkshire Hathaway controlled MidAmerican Energy funds on wind energy in Iowa, the largest investment in history for that state:

Or how a study of northeastern states concludes that doubling wind energy investments there will result in significant savings for customers vs. not investing in renewables:

You need to stop spouting ideology and instead start looking at the financial advantages of increasing renewables in the portfolios of virtually every power utility in the country. New wind is already cheaper than new coal, and it works well with new gas powered electrical generation plants which can kick in when the winds die down.

Increasing renewables and energy efficiency have not been "goofy exaggerations" for a long while, streetman, so it's time you put your "politically incorrect" assumptions on the shelf and play a little catch-up on how it really does make economic and increasingly political sense to expand renewables and energy efficiency even in this gas and oil rich state of ours.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh, you must be talking about his investments in coal trains, or in oil depletion allowances, or in tobacco, right? Since when did rich folks avoid subsidies, or more specifically, when did rich folks NOT receive subsidies?

tomatogrower 4 years, 11 months ago

I think most of us "greens" have discarded this initiative a long time ago as being unworkable. Unfortunately, a certain set of brothers is making a bunch of money from it, so it's not going away. Also, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because one "green initiative" doesn't work, why wouldn't others? You're being illogical.

costello 4 years, 11 months ago

I wouldn't use the word 'regulation' in this case. A regulation comes from a government body. In Zarco's case, the rule comes from some of kind contractual agreement with Phillips 66. The fact that Phillips 66 has imposed a rule which effectively closes down the sale of E15 at these stations at least raises the question of whether that was what motivated the rule. I don't use E15 myself, but I see no reason to object to others doing so if they wish. (

I'm not sure how E15 is politically mandated or how it's being forced on the public (I personally have felt no pressure), but I do think that our reliance on petroleum is not sustainable. I'm glad people are investigating alternatives. Sometimes we have to provide subsidies to encourage these attempts. I believe oil companies were subsidized in the early days too - and to this very day. It would be nice if the big energy companies were using some of their profits to investigate alternatives. They seem more interested in finding ways of shutting down what they perceive to be potential competition.

Brock Masters 4 years, 11 months ago

The pressure comes from the federal and state governments. They mandate how much ethanol must be in gasoline. The amound goes up but at 10 percent there is only so much ethanol that can be put into gasoline so the need to go to E15 is created so more ethanol can be put into gasoline to meet government mandates.

John Hamm 4 years, 11 months ago

Quote from "The switch to E15, however, is being driven by the renewable fuel mandate, which directs the EPA to require a greater volume of ethanol in gasoline every year, pretty much, no matter what."

Robert Schehrer 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes you have to refill more often. But, there is a savings because the costs per gallon is less. It's hard to see this with E-10 or E-15, but it is easy to see with E-85 where the cost can be as much as .60 cents per gallon less than gasoline..

It does not use more energy to produce than its generates. You may have overlooked the value of the by product that is fed to livestock. This ends up meaning lower food costs for beef.

Yes there are subsidies, but the same can be said for the oil industry.

Brock Masters 4 years, 11 months ago

Using 3.50 cents per gallon as the base you're saving about 16% but it gets nearly 30% less mpg than gasoline so you're losing money.

Robert Schehrer 4 years, 11 months ago

Nope. I've used E-85 for over 5 years and with gasoline priced at $3.50 per gallon my cost was .193 cents per mile when using gasoline. When using E-85 priced at .60 cents less than gasoline my cost was .179 cents per mile.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

Do Flex Fuel cars cost more? If so, at .014 miles per dollar, how many miles will it take to break even?

Robert Schehrer 4 years, 11 months ago

Nope. I've used E-85 for over 5 years. With gasoline priced at $3.50 per gallon, my cost was .193 cent mile when using gasoline. When using E-85, at a cost of .60 cents per gallon under gasoline, my cost was .179 cents per mile.

Brock Masters 4 years, 11 months ago

Well perhaps you're unique but the facts don't support you. First the price differential is not as great as you say and second the MPG is less. Don't believe me fine but the facts are out there. Here is just one independent test.

A motorist, filling up and comparing the prices of regular gas and E85, might see the price advantage of E85 (in our case 33 cents or 9.7 percent less) as a bargain. However, since fuel economy is significantly reduced, the net effect is that a person choosing to run their flex-fuel vehicle on E85 on a trip like ours will spend 22.8 percent more to drive the same distance. For us, the E85 trip was about $30 more expensive — about 22.9 cents per mile on E85 versus 18.7 cents per mile with gasoline.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Not all vehicles can use this new "gasoline".

In fact this E-15 can destroy fuel systems or at least can set up an owner for expensive repairs.

Best go with hybrids, high mpg vehicles and electric vehicles. So much corn production is aimed at vehicle fuel that in America it drives up the cost of food as well = dumb economics. Why couldn't corporate America decipher that in the first place? They did.

For alternate fuel how about an alternate source say like Switchgrass? Which I believe can be grown more efficiently than corn.

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

This issue is being used to bludgeon those who support renewable and clean energy. The real point is not the whys and wherefores of ethanol, but whether we are going to support clean and renewable energy going forward.

When the naysayers get fixated on one situation and ignore all others, we know that's all they've got. Are we going to work towards clean and renewable energy or are we going to let the fact that some options didn't work out as we hoped keep us from moving forward?

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm very concerned about the environment, and have been for a long time, and support the idea of renewable energy.

But, criticisms of ethanol are more than you suggest - they're also a way of pointing out that businesses influence government in such a way as to corrupt otherwise good ideas.

In order to get good and workable environmental policies and programs, we'd really have to remove that influence, so that policies are made by folks concerned with the environment, rather than with profits.

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

You are entirely right, of course. I was in a hurry this morning and only had time to express my annoyance at this local kerfluffle trying to hide the real issue.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Thanks - that's a very nice thing to say :-)

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

"This issue is being used to bludgeon those who support renewable and clean energy."

The issue is being used to bludgeon people that force bad policy on us. Clean and renewable energy have nothing to do with it. I want clean and renewable energy, but I don't want to be forced into half-cocked ideas every time you find a new experiment to run.

Chris Golledge 4 years, 11 months ago

It is not a given that "that uses more energy to make than it can provide".

Starting point:

True, it is a wiki and therefore not entirely reliable, but there are references. The last I looked at the peer reviewed literature, there was a handful of people who maintained that it was energy wasteful, and a growing majority who believe that more energy comes out than we put in. There was something about increasing the efficiency of the processing over the years.

Also, the author above does not distinguish between the various kinds of ethanol, and corn is one of the less efficient sources.

Basically, the founding premise of the argument above is probably wrong.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

You found a 12 year old nitpicky article talking about the cost advantages of coal over wind? gimme a break--I guess you have to go back that far to find an article that shows that new investments in wind might not be cheaper than new investments in coal.

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

It is almost 100% certain that this article does not take into account all the other punitive taxes on fuel when it makes this absurd comparison. The propensity to invent artificial costs for unfashionable things and compare them to artificially low costs of fashionable things is tantamount to civilizational suicide. Is the cost of land, maintenance, reduced utility of nearby lands, environmental damage such as bird deaths factored in? The reduced efficiency of remote power generation (no warm superconductors yet boys) or lack of storage for electricity factored in?

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

Since wind is intermittent, one MUST still build coal or gas plants to provide power when the wind does not blow. So wind is not competing with the average cost of coal powered electricity , but the MARGINAL OPERATING COST of the coal plant one must build anyway. The marginal operating cost of a new coal plant is 2-3 cents/kWh, so wind is not close to being competitive. It's like the doesn't Shine Everyday.....Duh!

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

Any simpleton knows that you need a Coal Plant intermittently...Wind does not blow every day, but maybe you don't realize that obviously! Maybe there is a coal plant close to you...

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Avarom, your points here are clearly red herrings. I have never said and am not going to say that we can just walk away from all of the coal plants that are out there and replace them with some solar panels and wind turbines. However, I HAVE said (and will continue to say) that existing older coal fired plants that are dirty need to be retired, newer cleaner plants need to be held accountable to their emissions at an even higher standard, and brand new plants need to have the previously externalized costs calculated back into their construction and operating expenses. When these things are done, it will result in more coal plants being replaced with investments in energy efficiency and true renewables, since you can retire old/avoid new, more expensive plants this way, gradually weaning the power grid from these centralized polluters. The goal of 50% renewable power from renewables by 2050 was proposed by the Dept. of Energy, and I think we can even surpass that goal by then.

Mike Ford 4 years, 11 months ago

Go through Oklahoma and see how they hate ethanol. Phillips Oil Company is based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Listen to one of the old geezers in the balcony in the Muppets, US Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, speak against anything that affects Big Oil and denies global warming and protection of the environment.That pretty much says it all. The bit about E-15 affecting new cars is nonsense. The head in the sand practice must be fairly popular around here.

Brock Masters 4 years, 11 months ago

Ethanol is alcohol regardless of whether it is made with corn or cornstalks. The difference is it is more difficult and less productive to make it from the stalks.

I do agree we need to move in that direction but we are not there yet. Again, the problem is, in part, the government mandates and the people in Oklahoma.

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

Coal of course is burdened by extreme and costly regulations up and down the entire supply line, many of them political in nature, designed to increase costs resulting in higher coal prices. These artificially higher prices make wind energy competitive. That's a shame because we are all paying much higher prices for energy than need be. All about Control!

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Coal is finally having its subsidies removed in the form of being responsible for the collateral damage it has always created through its dirty combustion process. It is now being held responsible for the mercury emissions along with the nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxides and other pollutants in much the same way as cigarettes were finally held responsible for their carcinogens. And while carbon dioxide emissions from coal do not have direct deleterious effects like other pollutants, they have overwhelmed the planet's natural rate of reabsorption of carbon from the atmosphere, raising the overall concentration to levels that have led to climate change, ocean acidification and sea level rise that indirectly affect humanity in ways that in the long range will be at least as deleterious as poisonous emissions, and is therefore going to be a regulated emission like other combustion products.

Giving coal a free ride on all of these emissions in the past has been a huge subsidy for coal, rather than an unfair burden now by making it responsible for its combustion products. And it turns out that building new wind turbines makes more economic sense than building a new coal fired plant when the playing field is leveled in this way.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Fortunately, the tide is turning. Since the Beyond Coal campaign by the Sierra Club started in 2002, plans for 165 new coal plants have been scrapped and over 100 existing coal fired plants have been retired. If anything, the momentum has accelerated over the past 10 years, and hopefully we will be able to add the Holcomb Expansion project to that list of 165 scrapped plants:

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes, the Sierra Club has received big donations from the natural gas industry. Does that somehow taint the fact that coal fired plants are being scrapped due to the changed economics of having to be accountable for what used to be externalized costs that we all have to pay for? I don't think so.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 11 months ago

Sorry; if you have a comment to make, make it. Your shotgun smatterings of links without accompanying points leave so much ambiguity in what you are trying to point out that I won't bother to respond to them in the future. For instance, I might surmise the following possible points from your two posts above:

-The Sierra Club received $26 million from a natural gas magnate (McClendon) who also gave to Rick Perry, and doesn't like gay marriage or John Kerry.

-The Sierra Club is still very critical of natural gas and oil fracking

-The Sierra Club has spent over 100 million fighting big oil and big coal due to their contributions to climate change

-McClendon is part of the Kerr Oil family and is committed to "drill baby drill"

-McClendon's need for alternative financing has resulted in his selling off natural gas wells to China, has contributed to a natural gas glut, and has resulted in a collapse of natural gas prices, a commodity historically known for dramatic dips and spikes in prices.

-the jury is still out on the ultimate safety and contribution of natural gas to climate change.

An interesting smattering of points, I must say, but since many of your "link sans point" posts are characterized by this sawed-off shotgun spray of points that can leave one scratching one's head about the relevance of your link, I will hereby ignore them as so much noise not in need of a response.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

And are you as happy with big donations from Christian groups that oppose homosexuality to fund Phred Phelps' funeral antics?

In both cases it's none of my business what people spend their money on.

roadwarrior 4 years, 11 months ago a simpleton I know that back up sources for wind power when it is in decline are Natural Gas plants........which are also used to supplement energy production for peak use. Coal plants are in decline because of the lower cost to purchase natural gas - that increases profits. Because of this product shift we've gained an added bonus, we have lowered our emission rates to 1982 levels.

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

Living in a Dream world...when your Smart Meters go in and your electricity goes up....then come talk to me about how its cheaper. read it here!! The cyclic coal cycle is now starting to turn upward after a two year bear market. Don't be fooled by the politically motivated propaganda. Now is time to get into coal: ACI, ANR, JRCC, BTU and an investor.

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago


Remember.....All the Glitters.....Isn't always Gold!! Welcome to Kansas$$$$$$$$$$$$$

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

Well.....Well.....My suggestion is that if they do start Fracking in your neighborhood....that you do not drink the water. But of course, it's up to you ALL. .....

avarom 4 years, 11 months ago

And.....when you water bill goes's the reason;

A vertically fracked well would use about 10,000 to 50,000 gallons of water, said Dave Newell, a research geologist with KGS.

A horizontal well would require about 2.7 million gallons of water in Kansas, SandRidge spokesman Kevin White said. His company has about 1.4 million acres in Kansas for drilling and expects to have at least 57 wells in the state by the end of the year, he said.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

Fusion is the future of energy on the Earth. Until then, we have fossil fuels. While we should develop every sort of alternate energy for the sake of doing it, government needs to stop foisting theses dead-end technologies on people at the cost of delaying a technology that will end pollution and comes from sea water.

Watering your ethanol plants is draining our aquifer and all that glass, aluminum and whatever chemical go into solar panels will have to be recycled. Lets see you do that using windmills, which themselves will need to be recycled, as will the batteries.

We have petroleum energy to last well past the widespread adoption of hydrogen if you quit wasting our time with your hatred for oil companies.

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