Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do you know...Where we're going To?

A song, a direction, what?

Barack Obama has announced his energy team, and his Interior secretary. Where do we go from here?

I'm impressed with the energy secretary and equally unimpressed with the Interior secretary.

Here's my view:

  • Corn Ethanol has to be OUT!
  • Natural Gas should be IN!
  • Nuclear power should be IN!
  • Clean Coal shoud be OUT, unless it is really Clean, if so, it should be IN!
  • Wind should be IN in every way.
  • There should be a federal policy that overrides any homeowner association restrictions on Solar power installations for domestic power generation.
  • There should be mandatory acceptance of reverse power credit. (meaning if you generate more than you use, the power company must give your credit.)

Regarding Interior department positions:

  • I support 'right to carry' based on states policies on weapons
  • I want increased funding of National Parks
  • There should be 'line of sight' restrictions on BLM development
  • We should allow ANWR development with strict restrictions.
  • There should be mandatory air quality improvements in critical parks such as 'Great Smoky Mountains National Park'

These are my views as of today, December 18, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Super Highway Corridor of the Future

Why not build a new kind of superhighway consisting of an integrated set of components.

  1. An underground high voltage transmission line as a part of our next generation transmission grid.

    The underground transmission grid is already being proposed by advocates of a new grid system. The advantage of integrating the transmission grid with tracks and roadway are to take advantage of this proximity to massive power to make adding the infrastructure for the trains and the roadways significantly less expensive because of the power availability.
  2. Tracks and supporting infrastructure for high speed magna-lev and / or conventional electric trains

    Inexpensive high speed transportation point to point could provide a quality alternative to air travel over short to medium distance hauls. For distances of 500 miles or less, high speed 'bullet' type electric trains or magnalev trains would likely be able to provide shorter total transit time from downtown to downtown than air travel.
  3. Roadways for electric cars.

    The electric car roadways would both power and charge electric cars using this roadway. This roadway would be a limited access toll road providing not only and electricity supply to power and charge the cars using it, so that batteries would be fully charged on exit of the roadway. Toll charges would automatically be computed based on KW used. There could be automated lanes, similar to the HOV lane concept, that provided computerized control, such that, once entering the lanes, the cars could literally drive themselves along the route with drivers taking over again on exiting the automated portion of the roadway.

    This concept could work with any of the electric car designs currently in progress with the addition of electrical pickup hardware and control logic. The cool thing about this proposal is that once a pickup and charging standard were developed, there could be benefit even if the road segments were discontiguous as they would provide a 'charge on the fly' capability for whatever length they exist.

This is probably not an original idea. It may not even be a good one, but it seems so logical to me. It rolls a set of ideas and directions proposed by so many of our energy leaders into an ultramodern composite. It's the stuff of sciencefuture.

If the next administration is going to invest in a massive energy independence program, a massive jobs program, and a massive infrastructure rebuilding program why not build the future, not just more of the past. Integrate the ideas I say.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elections over, now the environment!

Tonight the voting is over but the counting is just beginning. No matter who wins, tomorrow is a new day. The exit polls say the number 1 issue is the economy. That's American...whatever ails you most at the moment.

I'm in the midst of a 2000 mile driving trip. With gas prices less than half what I paid this summer on my trip to Yellowstone, it's no wonder Americas short term memory is wrapped areound saving us from the misdeeds of a Wall Street few.

I hope that the new president will take a serious look at ranking the energy alternatives in terms of the total environmental cost of each, and choose some national priorities to pursue with an unprecendented national goal.

Good luck to the winner. You will need it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A lot of damage can be done in a very short time

Remember the election of 1992? Bill Clinton, a relatively unknown Democratic Govenor, was elected president, and inheirited a Democratic Congress in both the house and senate.

And then what happened? In late 1993, the democratic triumferant passed a retroactive tax increase that caused me, and many other Americans great pain.

This is what happened to me. I had an opportunity to take an early retirement incentive, and use the incentive dollars to start my own consulting business. The retirement incentive was paid as a lump sum, using the then in effect withholding guidelines.

I took the money and invested in my new business. Then, along came the retroactive tax increase. This caused an unexpected and significant tax burden which severely damaged my new business.

I tell this story because we are in danger of having this same exact thing happen again. We are possibly going to elect a new democratic president with a possible filabuster-proof democratic congress. We are about to get reamed again. It won't be me this time, but the next generation.

America woke up in 1994 and resoundly defeated the democratic congressional majority, but in those short two years, the damage was done. Don't let this happen again!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell endorses Obama. Now what?

Colin Powell gave an eloguent endorsement of Obama on NBC's Face the Nation this morning. I understand Powell's rationale, and it is pretty sound. Obama could be a 'New Frontier' kind of guy, in ways similar to JFK. There is no doubt that Obama has skills as demonstrated by his oratory. He is intelligent. Of that there is no doubt.

My concern remains 'Where is this man on the liberal scale?' His record puts him way left, further left than I have ever voted. His rhetoric moves him slightly right of his voting record, still left of my idealism.

I had wanted McCain to choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Now this is a true 'Maverick' position. Instead, he cowtowed to the conservative right and chose Sarah Palin. Palin is an interesting character, besieged by liberal media who want to declare her unqualified. The media crucify her for her lack of understanding of international affairs. How unfair! She is a state govenor. Her qualifications for being a govenor of a state is that she understand the state issues. She beat out a lot of people to be elected govener because she has spunk.

Sarah Palin has shown she can compete. Her qualifications are very similar to Bill Clinton's when he was elected president. True, Bill Clinton is an eloquent speaker, and true, Bill Clinton is a bright guy, but both Clinton and Palin had similar experiences before emerging on the national scene. And there is another important difference. Clinton was running for president, and Palin is running for vice-president.

McCain is clearly the more experienced leader of the bunch, and has consistently demonstrated his ability to work both sides of the aisle to get things done, collaborating with the liberal likes of Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold to introduce legislation.

Powell's dismissal of Palin as unqualified is assuming that she is running for president. She is not. McCain is running for president, and the odds of Palin ascending to the presidency in McCain's first term are less than 20% from a health standpoint.

Consider this: a 20% probability Palin will be president in the next 4 years if McCain is elected vs. 100% probability that Obama will be president if he is elected.

I stand with John McCain, because I believe he will maintain some semblance of Federalist principles, while taking a far more moderate approach to governance. Sorry, General Powell, we just disagree. I still plan to vote for John McCain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Politics and Energy - My Perspective

I have been a political maverick all my voting life. The first time I could vote was 1964, and I voted for Goldwater. In 1968, I voted for George Wallace, although it wasn't because I particularly liked Wallace, it was because I din't like Nixon and would never vote for as liberal a guy as Hubert Humphfrey. Since then, it has been mostly republican except that I voted for Ross Perot when he ran.

This year, I promised myself I would vote for the guy with the best energy policy, because it is my number one issue. Obama has the best energy policy, but I am shaking in my Texas boots because of his very liberal record and relative lack of experience.

I definitely was impressed by Obama's ranking energy as his number 1 priority, and equally unimpressed by McCain basically waffling on his priorities.

My issue is does Obama walk the walk as well as talk the talk? I am really nervous about that.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Energy Priorities of the candidates

With all of the obfuscation caused by the financial crisis, it's hard to figure out where the candidates are relative to energy priorities. If you look at the websites and, you will discover that each has a well articulated energy policy.

Barack Obama would, on the surface, seem to be more agressive. John McCain's police is actually more believeable, having slightly more conservative but possible more realistic goals.

Here's the rub. With all of the recent economic calamities, where do each put their energy priorities? Reading their websites leaves me not totally clear on their priorities. Obama seems to put social issues first. McCain isn't clear at all.

Inquiring minds want to know where they stand on the energy independence/environmental issues exactly,

Friday, September 19, 2008

Energy is losing focus

With all of the developments in finance this week, energy is losing focus. In reality, energy is a major contributor to our meltdown.

The US is in a weak position. Minus 700B on oil, the other issues of our economy are heightened magnitude.

We must not lose sight of the main problem...major negative cashflow as a result or our dependence on foreigh oil is a significant contributor to our national problem.

Please don't lose sight of the issues. Despite the greed, lack of oversight and whatever ails the economy, we still need to focus on the balance of energy. We must not let the financial crisis divert us.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another Hurricane, Another Lesson

Ike has struck the Texas Gulf coast. At least 13 refineries shut down. Regardless of damage, they can't restart until electricity is restored. Some Americans face gasoline shortages. Others face price increases. Is this the best we can do?

Hurricanes on the gulf are as sure as death and taxes. To be in a position where our national infrastructure is so threateded by such a guaranteed occurance seems pretty unreasonable to me.

Why don't we fix this?

Diversity in energy would help. Power service designed to be uninterruptable by hurricanes seems so obvious. But yet, having suffered recently from Katrina and Rita, we still have the same problem. Are there not any strategic thinkers or spenders in America?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Republicans need an energy goal

Last night, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin talked about the need to explore and expand all forms of energy, from off shore drilling, ANWR drilling, nuclear, and alternatives. She said we needed to do it all.

I agree, but I think we need a national priority goal. John McCain has said things like '45 more nuclear power plants by 2030', which is a great goal, but it is not comprehensive enough.

I want a goal that reshapes our infrastructure, just as the space program reshaped so much of the micro-electronics that we have today. We need a bold goal regain energy independence and reduce environmental damage.

I think the choice of Sarah Palin for Vice President was a brilliant forward looking decision. Now we need one for energy policy.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Medians: Energy Corridors we already own

We need a new electric grid. We need power for electric trains. We need a way to get the power from wind farms and solar arrays. We need right-of-way.

But Wait! We already own medians in interstate highways. Lets put them to work!

Medians vary widely. It some cases, they are wide enought for a dual track main line and megawatts of electric transmission. In other cases, maybe they are only wide enough to build supports for an elevated alternative. In eather case they exist. Building on them will be variable, depending on size, but in all cases it should be doable.

Let's build an energy highway in our medians. It doesn't have to be ugly. We can do it now, and we don't have to debate right-of-way acquisition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh! The perils of the energy alternatives

It's not easy being Green! Kermit was so right!

So very many of the alternatives are so themselves frought with hidden costs.
  • Opponents of wind power claim it kills birds and bats.
  • Opponents of Corn Ethanol claim it takes almost as much energy to create it you get from it, and that it uses some of the worlds food supply
  • Opponents of Nuclear Energy claim we haven't solve safety and spent fuel disposal issues
  • There are hidden CO2 production issues in making Hydrogen, which burns polution free in fuel cells
  • Fuel cells themselves require elements and compounds which are in short supply
  • Electric car batteries use materials we buy from China and may be in short supply

Issues, yes. That doesn't mean we should stop, it just means we have a lot of problems to solve before we can declare fossil fuels obsolete.

It's not easy being Green!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lest we forget history

For those of us who are old enough to remember WWII and the Cold War, the recent actions by Russia stir the old memories. It is scary, as there is great risk in dealing with what is going on in Georgia.

Apparently, Russia has calculated that the US is weakened and distracted by it's commitments in the Middle East. Indeed, it does put us in an incredibly difficult position.

What this illustrates above all else is that the world is a dangerous place. Any perceived weakness among the major powers may be tested, and that the American presidency is not place for on-the-job training.

This was last most evident in 1960, when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in what ended as the then closest election. Richard Nixon had served 8 years as Vice-President to Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Kennedy was a young senator with a war record a lot of money, and magical charisma. Republicans, such as John Tower (R, TX) warned specifically that the US Presidency was not a place for on-the-job training. An excerpt of his opinions appeared Sunday on Meet the Press. And it was almost true. Disasters such as the Bay of Pigs punctuated mistakes by the young president. His legacy was saved by the Soviet response to the Cuban Missle Crisis.

So today we have a new election. A new kid on the block, O'Bama, and a senior senator John McCain. We have a new resurgence of Russian power, increasing China power, threats form Iran, A loose cannon in Israel, and we have to make choices in a major election. If you agree that the US presidency, the most powerful, and most dangerous job on the planet is not a place for unproven judgement, then we all need to look carefully at who we decide to put in this position.

I am seriously worried about the outcome.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Drill Here, Drill Now! Pay Less?

I read a lot of opinions on the Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less forums today. There are a lot of people with very impassioned opinions supported by all manner of graphs, charts, references, quotes, projections, etc. They argue about how much oil there is, and how quickly we can get it out. They argue about whether it can make a difference or whether whatever oil we pump from new American sources will just get lost in the rounding.

Here's what I think.

We should drill here and drill now. Whatever we find will have two positive benefits. One, it will help delay the inevitable time when we cannot meet demand, and two, it will be some added insurance against supply interruptions as a result of future conflict. I don't see the pay less part being a significant factor because of the worldwide demand.

Whatever we do will help buy time to develop viable alternatives, but let's be clear about one thing: Drill Here, Drill Now, is in no way an alternative to developing renewable fuels. It is a delaying tactic to help us make the massive transition to a new kind of transportation infrastructure.

Drill Here, Drill Now is a necessary evil. It's a finger in the dike. What is most important is that no matter what we discover, there is no alternative to developing the renewable alternative sources.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Please leave the strategic Oil Reserve alone!

O'Bama, Pilosi, and others want to tap the strategic oil reserve just because the gas prices are to high. Do these people not understand the word 'strategic'?

The foreign oil supply to the United States is the first thing that would be interrupted by a war against any significant adversary. In that instance it could be the lifeblood of our military in a very short period of time.

The strategy reserve is to protect us against supply problems. We don't have supply problems, we have cost problems. The strategic reserve should not be tapped for cost reasons.

Why is developing alternative energy fuels a crisis?

Everybody is talking about alternative energy investments. Yesterday (Aug 4, 08) John McCain, Barack O'Bama, and T. Boone Pickens all had their share of national attention. Each focused on various plans to move forward. Why all the attention? Did Al Gore finally win over their hearts and souls on Global Warming (aka Global Climate Change)? No! It's the money!

Ever since T. Boone Pickens started flooding the airwaves with ads about the $700B a year transfer to the oil producing states and the realization that over time this will bankrupt the United States, the nation, and thus the polititians, have started to focus on the real problem: The entire planet doesn't have enough fossil fuels to meet the growing global demand indefinately, and as the law of supply and demand drives prices up, we can't afford to meet our growing needs even if it did!

For a moment, put aside all of the global climate change issues, and focus on this fact: The US can't supply it's own needs for petroleum, and we must buy a significant part of our supply from others. Additional exploration and development of our onshore and near offshore resources may lessen imports somewhat, and postpone the depletion of petroleum resources, but we will eventually run out, some day, some year, in the future.

These facts alone mandate development of alternative sources. Whether you believe that mankind is causing global climate change, or if you believe the earth is simply near the top end of it's inter-glacial cycles, the economic facts are indisputable.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pickens Plan: Importance of electrical infrastructure

T. Boone Pickens has proposed a plan to produce 20% of the electricity needs of the U.S. from wind energy in 10 years. There is sufficient wind power to do this using existing wind turbine technologies, but there's a catch. The places that are best suited for wind power are not near the existing transmission grid.

Both T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore agree that rebuilding the national electric grid is of the highest importance, and possibly the most difficult to achieve politically. T. Boone's 4000 Megawatt wind farm in the Texas Panhandle is in the boonies (no pun intended), as are many of the other premium sites in the Texas to North Dakota wind corridor. This is among the more remote areas in the nation, most of it 500 miles from the nearest major metropolitan area where the power is needed. Opponents of the Pickens Plan may see this as a reason why not.

There is no doubt that getting the electricity to the market is a big hurdle, but one that must be overcome. A new electric grid is necessary for all forms of alternative energy. Solar energy's prime location is in the Southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, and West Texas. These, too, are far from consumers. Further, no one wants the nuclear plants that McCain is proposing in their backyard either.

A major investment in electric grid infrastructure could enable all of these technologies to function efficiently. It would be like an interstate highway system for electricity. This above all needs national leadership and commitment for us to get started toward ending our foreign oil dependence.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Land Ferries

I was Victoria, British Columbia recently visiting my brother. One thing about going to Victoria, you quickly get introduced to the BC Ferry system.

What I find most amazing is how quickly the ships can load up a shipful of cars, trucks, busses, and pedestrians and sail off to the other shore. Onboard, drivers and passengers can dine, sight see, lounge, read, etc.

I started thinking, why can't we have that on land? A ferry between major cities on land. Similar to the Auto-train, a land ferry would be rail based. It should be completely loadable in 5 to 10 minutes. If it were double decked, you could load both decks at once. Drivers could get out of their cars, and walk to lounge or dining cars located at strategic points on the trains. With existing technology, point to point land ferries should be able to achieve comparable times to driving the same distance.

Longer term solutions could achieve higher speeds, provide charging stations for electric cars, and improved enroute amenities. Through trains could take travelers coast to coast, with the advantage of having personal transportation available at your destination. A variation of the ferry could provide a rolling campground, for travel trailers, motor homes, and boats.

The key to making such a proposal a success may be the technology and infrastructure to allow rapid loading and unloading. A robotic automatic loader could load an entire train simultaneously, two levels at a time. Other alternatives might just let you drive aboard like you would on the sea-going ferries mentioned earlier.

Feasible? Yes. Practical? Maybe. Marketable? Yes, at the right price point.

No Silver Bullet?

Is there a Silver Bullet to solve the energy and global warming crisis? Not yet, but maybe some day. Sustainable Hydrogen Fusion might be, but it has remained elusive for decades now.

For now, and until this or some other Silver Bullet solution comes along, we need a comprehensive menu of solutions to address 4 issues:

1. Global warming and pollution as a result of burning carbon fuels
2. Financial impact of being a net importer of fuel resources
3. Exponential growth in energy demand
4. The reality of legacy investments in planes, trains, trucks, and automobiles

I admire Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens challenges and plans. We should work to implement both, as they are not contradictory. But there is much more that will have to be dones as well. I believe both of the proponents of change believe that too. In the recent book, "Earth: The Sequel", authors Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn outline many technologies which can contribute to addressing the four issues I outline above. This book should be required reading for everyone who is in a position to influence our leaders.

All efforts to change the status quo are expensive, but perhaps the most expensive of all in this case is to just try and maintain it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Al Gore's challenge proposal

Last week I commented on Al Gore's renewable energy challenge. As I listen to the various political nay-sayers describe how unachieveable the idea is, I realize how much they don't get it.

The importance of a national priority challenge is to find a way to get it done!

Nay-sayers say that it would take 10 years are more to just 'agree' to get it done, and clear legal hurdles. Indeed, that is the most critical part of the challenge.

The challenge to 'walk on the moon by the end of the decade' was largely a technical challenge. It was achieved through technical innovation at a rate that would not have been achieved without the goal having been set.

The challenge to achieve 'all electricity through renewable energy' within 10 years is more legal and political. The technical capability largely exists. The innovation required by the challenge is different, but the mandate needs to be the same. Find a way to get it done, and it isn't by continuing 'business as usual'.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On opening the continental shelf to exploration and development

The views on this one are mainly Republicans = Yes, Democrats = No. Here, I side with the Republicans. Here are some common arguments and my response.

"It will be 10 years before we get the first drop of oil from it"

Jim: Even if it is 10 years, which it probably won't be, it's from when we begin, so let's get started.

"We should drill where there are already leases"

Jim: Geologically, there are places where oil is commonly found, and there other places. Some of the best prospects are not in the current lease areas.

"It could foster an environmental disaster"

Jim: So could the Chinese drilling off the coast of Cuba. We need to be environmentally responsible, use the latest technology, and ensure some funds are diverted directly to National Parks and other environmental budgets.

"We'll end up selling the oil to the Chinese"

Jim: We should have that problem.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why not trains

I had the occasion to visit the museum in the old train station in West Yellowstone, Montana a few weeks ago while on vacation. There used to be trains there, bringing early visitors to Yellowstone National Park. Now, no trains. Why?

Trains are the most efficient form of long distance transportation. In preparing for my vacation, I looked into the train alternative as time wasn't much of an issue. I quickly realized trains are a more expensive alternative than airplanes, if you can even get there from here. Why is that, and why is it so? Trains are the most enery efficient form of long distance transportation, so why does it have to cost so much?

Maybe it's a chicken and egg thing. If there were passengers to fill them would there be more trains. If there were more routes, and prices were cheaper, maybe there would be more passengers. If trains were half as fast as airplanes, maybe there would be more passengers.

Maybe we need some high speed trains between major metropolitan areas, with local hubs to more places. Europe has that, Japan has that, why doesn't the US have that? If I could get on a train and go from Dallas to Los Angeles in 12 hours or less, I would probably never fly again unless going over the ocean.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore's Proposal

Yesterday, in a major energy speech, Al Gore called for a national goal to generate 100% of our electricity from renewable sources within 10 years. He likened the goal to John Kennedy's goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade (60s).

I am delighted to hear the call, and urge all of my friends to support this worthy goal. It is time for decisive action!This isn't just an environmental goal. As Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, and others have pointed out, we are bankrupting our country with the outflow of cash for foreign oil.

I do disagree with Mr. Gore on one important point. I believe we should still open our continental shelf for oil exploration. It's not that it can solve our current energy crisis, it's just that there are a lot of things to do with oil besides burn it in cars and trucks.

I also support Sen, McCain's call for additional Nuclear Energy, more as an alternative for steady state electrical power generation.I have previously called for additional investing in rail alternatives, such as high speed electric trains, as alternatives to air travel, which at least for the short term will continue to be powered by fossil fuels.

I plan to buy an electric car when available. Until then I'll have to limit the driving of my gas guzzeling SUV, and probably will never by the class A RV which I have often thought I wanted when I retired.