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Unserious about Alternative Energy?

© Ed Stein

Instead of “Drill, Baby Drill” conservatives should be chanting “Blow, Baby Blow”. Wind farms cost less to operate than coal or oil-fired plants, and as this comic points out it is difficult to imagine a major environmental catastrophe caused by a wind farm accident. Early concerns about birds being killed by wind turbines have been largely mitigated by placing wind farms away from bird migration routes, and newer turbines that use larger, slower-turning blades that are easier for birds to avoid.

Besides, drilling for oil is at best a short-term solution, since we will run out eventually. But the wind will never die.

Between wind and widespread use of low-cost solar panels, we have the technology to stop importing oil. Do we have the will?

UPDATE: Personally, I prefer more decentralized power generation. I really like this article about Sam’s Club and Walmart installing small wind turbines at their stores, in addition to solar installations and fuel cells.



  1. Trok wrote:

    Cool loved this article.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  2. While wind power does cost less to operate it is far more inefficient than oil. Also, the power generated is much less reliable. although it seems sexy, wind power is not the appropriate response to our power needs. In fact, the only way to actually determine the best solution to power problems is a free market. In other words, one that is not controlled OR subsidized by various governmental agencies, but is rather conducted wholly on the voluntary marketplace.
    Your contention that we “will run out of oil eventually” is patently false. Oil is a complex hydrocarbon and can be easily manufactured. But manufactured oil is extremely expensive right now. Only a free market can efficiently drive the price of manufactured oils down.
    Your contention that we have the ability to stop importing oil is also false. Foreign countries right now have the least expensive, best quality oil. Further, liquid fuels are singularly the most efficient way to power vehicles, which is the primary use of oil.
    By the way, I am NOT a conservative. I am a market anarchist which is a huge difference. My motto is not drill baby drill, it is freedom baby freedom.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  3. matt wrote:

    paul is more correct than the cartoonist. wind and solar power are actually more expensive per megawatt while nuclear is the cheapest. yes we can make synthetic gasoline just like synthetic oil. this whole liberal talk about CO2 emission is BS, dont they realize that plants need CO2 to survive, the CO2-O2 exchange between animals and plants is normal stupid democrats! they want to regulate everything that releases carbon dioxide…..does that mean every time i breath i need to pay more taxes?

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink
  4. Blow Baby Blow! Great stuff. It’s well past time to get serious about alternative energy.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  5. Quidam wrote:

    this whole liberal talk about CO2 emission is BS, dont they realize that plants need CO2 to survive, the CO2-O2 exchange between animals and plants is normal stupid democrats! they want to regulate everything that releases carbon dioxide…..does that mean every time i breath i need to pay more taxes?

    it isn’t ‘liberal’ talk, it’s hard science. Just because plants need CO2 to survive does not mean that we can’t have too much of it. People need water to survive, does that mean tsunamis are good? And let’s not forget – people are not plants. What’s good for plants, is not necessarily good for people. Plants love bullshit, most humans (Republicans excepted) don’t.

    I’m in favour of wind farms and solar panels, but it’s wrong to suggest that they could eliminate our requirement for imported oil, or even offshore oil. At best they can make a small reduction

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    I actually agree with Paul, which is why I want us to stop heavily subsidizing big oil. When the price of oil spiked a few years ago, it generated lots of research into alternatives.

    As for Matt, almost everything he is saying is false. Excessive CO2 is bad for plants too. See

    We need more intelligent discussion, not bullcrap talking points.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  7. Sammy wrote:

    We actually need intelligent discussion, not bullcrap talking points from people who haven’t yet learned grammar and punctuation.

    Isn’t all of this “Excessive CO2 isn’t harmful to the planet because all of the plants will absorb it” something that Limbaugh or Beck started spewing a few months ago?

    As for wind, it’s probably a supplement at best. As yet, it’s still incredibly inefficient. That’s not to say it always will be, however.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  8. JH wrote:

    >Oil is a complex hydrocarbon and can be easily manufactured.

    Sure, it can be manufactured, but synthetic hydrocarbons require pretty substantial energy inputs. Where does that energy come from? You can’t have your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  9. Mad Hatter wrote:

    One of the reasons that I am an anti-Republican/anti-conservative is their worship of and blind adherence to unregulated FREE MARKET principles. I worked in a chemical plant for 35 years and saw what free markets could do to the environment. Before regulations started making pollution cost prohibitive, we damn near ruined a creek and even now the land that the plant is on will not be habitable for years to come whenever the plant shuts down.

    Paul/Iron Knee – I can see how free markets are efficient at driving down costs/prices for typical small picture markets. But what about the bigger picture…how do you think an unregulated free market can provide for a clean environment and other things that are wanted/needed by society that just can’t be easily factored into the cost/price of something?

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  10. kevin wrote:

    Wind actually costs less per megawatt than coal or oil:

    Birds are not harmed by wind turbines. (Bats are, though…)

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  11. John wrote:

    >>how do you think an unregulated free market can provide for a clean environment and other things that are wanted/needed by society that just can’t be easily factored into the cost/price of something?

    Well, they claim that the market will take those into consideration because if it matters to the people they will buy the products that recognize that fact, but this is of course flawed due to two assumptions.

    Assumption 1: People have all relevant information. The fact that different groups are constantly arguing about what the ‘truth’ is when it comes to the environment (or anything else for that matter) shows we don’t have perfect information

    Assumption 2: People will make the optimal decision when presented with perfect information (that they don’t have). Even when people do know the facts, that doesn’t guarantee they make a good decision. Some people will make a decision that benefits them no matter the cost to others. Some won’t have the mental capacity to even comprehend the relevant facts, not to mention make a good decision.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  12. dwindle wrote:

    Yeah, now if only the wealthy liberals who live on the coast will allow them to be built. Anyone been to Cape Cod lately?

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  13. Uncle B wrote:

    America has a foreign liquid energy based economy. America must convert to a domestic energy economy. The cleanest, benzine molecule free, radiation free methods are available but at extra cost. Solar, Wave, Wind, Hydro, Tidal and Geo-thermal energy are all proven and well mapped out technologies. China’s Tsinghua University has, up and running, a high efficiency, safety oriented reactor, decades ahead of any American engineering. Electric bullet train networks run oil free and are better rides than than current American air travel practices, Both China and Europe are using these amazing technologies, but not backwards America? Had the American boys in the Gulf adhered to Canadian or Norwegian standards less oil would have been leaked? Has American engineering failed us again? First the assholes lost our edge in the world’s greatest Automotive endeavors, now they drill the Gulf like cowboys and we get this? Who in Hell graduated these sports jocks anyway? American schools are 32nd in the world by our own President’s shameful admission, and it shows up like a sore thumb in the mismanagement I call the Gulf follies! How such a bunch of incompetent assholes like the Americans ever got to the moon is beyond me!

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  14. Iron Knee wrote:

    Mad Hatter, I never said an “unregulated free market”. In fact, I believe that you cannot have a free market without regulation of some kind. After all, to have a free market we have to have a currency, and a market, and rules for the market (like no stealing!). You also need people to have good information (like John mentioned). And the market has to be open to everyone and fair, so no buying Congress Critters to give your company an unfair advantage (like Halliburton has done).

    Kevin, birds (and bats) are harmed by wind turbines, but far far less than are killed by pet cats.

    And I saw that story about wind being cheaper than oil (thanks for the link!), but it is a little misleading. The underlying problem is that wind reduces *revenues* (note that revenues are not profits) while requiring larger capital investment. In other words, it costs lots more money to build an offshore wind farm, but once it is built, you only have to pay for maintenance, not for fuel. It is just an investment issue, and can be solved (yes, probably by government, since they might need to change the tax rules for dealing with stuff like that).

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  15. Ego13 wrote:

    This is, sadly, what happens when stupid people get “wind” of a mediocre idea. Wind power is nice but oil is king due to the efficiency of use and the actual ability to quickly distribute it to the consumer. Get off your ridiculous high horses trying to act as if alternative energy is realistic.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  16. russell wrote:

    Wind power is neat, but cannot seriously displace fossil fuels. Promoting that sort of expectation actually dooms wind projects. Wind is sweet supplement at best.

    Have any of you actually seen a wind farm? West Texas is covered with them. Drive across the Permian Basin (using the motor fuel of your choice) and tell me they have no environmental impact. They are networked with underground cabling which tears hell out of habitat. They are noisy and throw shadows that disorient anything with eyes. I have lived around oil production and refining all my life. That’s nasty enough, but NO way I would want to live close to a wind farm.

    Biggest viability problem is they don’t produce on demand which is essential to a functional grid. Where they do produce, people generally don’t live. 30-40% transmission losses are typical.

    IF we hold BP responsible just for direct costs of this cleanup, you will see a market impact. We need the operators to perceive the cost of safeguards to be worth it.

    The blurb and comments imply an exclusive choice between wind farms or oil rigs on coastlines. There is no such dichotomy. We probably need both.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  17. Mark wrote:

    This idea has been stolen from reddit. Give credit where it’s due!

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  18. Iron Knee wrote:

    I have to admit that I am totally laughing at some of the comments people are leaving. Like dissing wind farms by saying “where they do produce, people generally don’t live.” Or “Wind power is nice but oil is king due to the efficiency of use and the actual ability to quickly distribute it to the consumer.” As if everyone has a convenient oil well (not to mention refinery) in their neighborhood, rather than having to drill wells offshore in mile deep water.

    We import oil all the way from the Middle East for goodness sakes! We spend trillions of dollars fighting wars to keep the black gold flowing. And yet you are saying that wind power is not practical because of transmission losses? You have to be freaking kidding me.

    And claims that wind energy is “too variable” to replace coal, here is a rebuttal to that lie, in terms anyone can understand.

    As for this being stolen from reddit, Ed Stein posted his comic on his site 5 days ago, while a similar photo was posted to reddit two days ago. Who copied whom?

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  19. Sargonarhes wrote:

    But we can’t power cars with wind power. And the reason we don’t use synthetic gas is because like synthetic oil it is expensive. Battery powered cars are impractical as in areas that have a real winter the battery will be dead over night as not every one has a garage to store their car in.

    The best fuels to replace oil will be hydrogen and methane, but enviromental wackos don’t want to allow those.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
  20. Bob L wrote:

    I wonder how much energy it will cost to clean up the latest ecological disaster? I wonder what a Trillion dollars invested in an illegal/immoral elective war could have done to build wind/solar/renewables…producing a new domestic economy based on decentralized and labor intensive alternative/renewable energy while enhancing our economic/national security?

    Sadly, we don’t cost the price of oil properly today. We’re paying for a $700BB/year defense budget to provide muscle and protection for Big Oil as we maintain a Central Asian presence to protect our oil interests there. And, with all that, the cost of extraction and political dynamics will continue to impact all of us. And that doesn’t even factor in a post peak oil scenario where worldwide demand outstrips the availability of supplies.

    We have no future and no national security until we start addressing a 21st energy policy for our children and grandchildren’s future. There are enlightened countries that are doing it now…if we don’t, the era of American exceptionalism will come to a rather sad and abrupt end.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  21. Joe wrote:

    I have always liked Solar Power 🙂
    Wind is pretty much a solar power since the sun heats the air and the air creates wind. I think solar panels and wind turbines combined would work great.

    Maybe the solution is reduce, reuse, recycle… turn off the lights once a while, take a bike to work, grow your own food, live a clean life 🙂
    (maybe i’m just too optimistic)

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  22. Maurice Dion, Jr. wrote:

    Actually, the chance for future disasters is larger due to the fact that we import most of our oil and tankers that transport the oil across the Atlantic are far more subject to dumping oil into the ocean than off shore drilling stations here in the USA.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  23. Rev Bob wrote:

    The idea of the comic is, I believe, to get people to think. There are idea here as well as “Devil’s advocate” statements.

    Ultimately there is no single solution to our energy problems. Natural oil will run, if not out, low. Wind and solar are, while viable additions, still expensive. Methane is still a CO2 producer. The arguments are well known.

    Until enough people have enough pressure applied to their personal finances there will be no rush to establish alternative energies. Even when that may happen, we are stuck with our existing technologies, clean or dirty, to come up with a solution.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  24. russell wrote:

    “We spend trillions of dollars fighting wars to keep the black gold flowing. And yet you are saying that wind power is not practical because of transmission losses?”

    No, it’s not practical because there isn’t enough of it (or solar) to realistically displace much of our current energy demands, especially for motor fuel.

    The economics are pretty obvious (buy an equivalent gallon of solar- or wind-based fuel), but consider the sheer scale. We burn twenty million barrels of oil every day. That’s the equivalent of like 34 TWH. Used at a constant rate (it isn’t), that would be 1.4 TW. The entire electrical grid we have now can barely generate 1 TW. Transmit it, store it or convert it and you’re adding another order of magnitude.

    So assuming all this is technically feasible, do you have a cartoon estimating the infrastructure cost to displace petroleum as a motor fuel with an alternative source? Mere trillions won’t come close.

    We fight wars, build pipelines halfway across the continent, crack shale, drill in a mile of water and scrape the crap off beaches because it is still by far the most economical motor fuel. Not a matter of whether we like it, it just is.

    Soft energy is GREAT but not a panacea. Unrealistic expectations are the worst problem alternative energy has.

    Just tryin to keep it real.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  25. russell wrote:

    “I have to admit that I am totally laughing at some of the comments people are leaving. Like dissing wind farms by saying ‘where they do produce, people generally don’t live.’”

    OK laughing boy, where do you live and how many wind turbines can you count there?

    I live in the state with BY FAR the most wind turbines. There are three major power plants (2 gas, one coal) within 50 miles of me. The nearest wind farm is about 300 miles away and nobody lives there. Nobody “dissed” anything. Transmission losses are a fact of life and are roughly doubling the cost of wind energy delivery to urban populations.

    Comes off sort of reactionary to ridicule facts, knee.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  26. Reality wrote:

    No wind “generator” has ever produced one net watt of energy. They are a net energy sink, and an economic black hole.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  27. Mason wrote:

    People pushing alternative fuels have been going about this all wrong for years. Spare everyone the tree hugging talking points. The debate needs to be about money, not saving the planet. A lot of people don’t believe in climate change or whatever it’s being called this week, and even more don’t care. Everyone cares about money. Fuck polar bears, turn the focus of this debate into saving the wallet instead of the planet and people will rally. We can make power cheap, and we can make power clean. We can’t do both yet. The free market is the answer to this, when the day comes that a solar plant can produce a megawatt for one penny less then a coal plant no one will build coal plants anymore. The day will come, renewable energy will be the norm in America. When it does happen it won’t be because someone wanted to hug a tree, it will happen because you can make tons of money off it when renewable fuels are able to out produce fossil.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  28. Camreon wrote:

    I am a classical liberal with full support behind free market principles, but I think at this point in the game of government we don’t exactly have that choice any more. Congress is bought off by lobbyists (in a free market manner) but that leads to the offsetting of free markets by creating regulations to support or punish various groups.

    If I had my choice I believe I would have to put my voice behind nuclear power. Safe, clean, and economic. Sure, there’s the whole “Not in My Backyard” but I would have to say, I’d support a nuclear power plant within 30 miles of my house without any real concerns. Now our safety regulations are so strict and our building practices are much more refined it is very safe and helpful.

    I think wind power is great too, but instead of using wind power or solar, I also support another type of turbine. Water turbine power. A very safe and very effective way to get electricity from oceans and tidal motions.

    Also, to all the people who claim that the CO2 is just helping plants you’re ignoring a simple fact. That oil is just reduced plant matter that has been fossilized. If you think about it, the CO2 released in oil is from the millions of plants that fixed CO2 in their lifetimes. So, we are basically filling our atmosphere with another atmosphere’s worth of CO2 because we are ripping it from its biological creator.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink
  29. Iron Knee wrote:

    I live in a state that generates 90% of its electricity supply from hydro power. Wouldn’t you say that is a pretty good use of alternative energy?

    Nevertheless, there is a wind turbine a few miles from where I live (right smack in the middle of downtown!), and multiple wind farms around the state. We are building a wind farm that, when completed, will be the largest such installation in the world, and by 2025 we will generate 25% of our power from wind. Who needs coal or natural gas?

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 3:23 am | Permalink
  30. Dave, TN wrote:

    As the saying goes, “how do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time”. The same is true in regard to our efforts to gain our energy independance from countries that in one way or another support terrorists. To begin with a lion’s share of our electricity needs/fix is supplied from coal fired plants, while oil is the main source for transportation needs. Now the alternatives should include all means available to break this need/addiction to big oil and this is important, we must accept that all have a downside. I live in a state that produces alot of power through Hydro with TVA (government created and run) with a good accident minimal record, but there is a flaw that few remember. This state once was know to have a very large Salmon population that has been decimated to point of no return.
    TVA also runs Clean Coal fired plants (on paper at least) but again ran afoul when one of it’s sluice ponds burst the containment dam and destroyed a community that also may never be a safe place to live again (unless that is if you don’t mind getting cancer).
    Wind, as every one mentioned has an affect on birds, do require a huge input of money up front but will produce relatively cheap power for decades to come, just as the TVA damns have and they are touted in this state often by the local GOP in there election ads in conjunction with the cheap electrcity and jobs that have been created by such. So I guess in twenty or thirty years when the wind farms are providing cheap power which spurns on the influx of business investments the GOP will again be taking credit.
    In conclusion we will need the government’s investment (if history is any indiacation) and every small bit will help, but it will probably require us to try many different methods.
    Better than sitting on the sidelines and whining about what could have been by sticking with the status quo and being owned by foreign countries.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  31. russell wrote:

    “I live in a state that generates 90% of its electricity supply from hydro power. Wouldn’t you say that is a pretty good use of alternative energy?”

    Absolutely. You are describing either Idaho, Washington or Oregon. I am guessing WA (down to about 80% now).

    Most of our hydroelectric was built during WWII. So what do you think of the BoR taking down existing dams for endangered species? They are starting the process in Klamath Falls (OR), but a bunch more are planned. Besides losing generation capacity, it will stop a lot of agricultural irrigation.

    I doubt your planned wind farm will set any records, hard to believe anybody could catch up to west Texas at this point. Not sure you would really want to.

    But here is what has happened in BubbaLand: The wind farms way outstripped the transmission capacity and there are no control systems to unload all those turbines. During low demand periods, the wind farms pay regional utilities to take the excess power. Perversely this has made the turbines a *bad* investment. Tax incentives are keeping it alive right now.

    The state is putting in $6B worth of new lines (mostly to DFW) and control systems to manage the thing. There will be a $4/mo surcharge on everybody’s electric bill to pay it off.

    The day an electric vehicle passes my truck in west Texas, I will believe oil can be meaningfully displaced. I am by no means opposed, but we have an awfully long way to go.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  32. imagol4 wrote:

    Kudos to Paul the (market anarchist) Cab Driver. His analysis is absolutely correct. Wind power is extremely cost inefficient. Solar power is a dead issue with current technologies, the most efficient solar powered device we have been able to develop is rated at 24%, (i.e. 76% ‘wasted’ or more accurately, ‘not used’). Government has not, can not, and never will, solve these issues, it is not designed to do so. Only the competitiveness of a free-market economy can drive these developments. That has been proven over, and over, and over again. It is why countries like China and Russia and even Costa Rica have adopted a free-market based economic system, even though that is somewhat at odds with their political structure. The free-market system drives technological development. It’s a crying shame that the political climate of the US seems intent on destroying the very foundations of the systems that allowed them to prosper in the first place.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  33. starluna wrote:

    I have been reading with amusement much of the silliness written here. I just ended my semester and am giving my brain a well deserved break from having to explain things to people who don’t know how to cite their sources, spell, or understand how to evaluate information and their sources.

    I have only one response to all of the unsubstantiated claims that wind “costs more,” is “cost inefficient,” etc.: get your facts straight. The vast majority of these claims are based on analyses that do not address the enormous subsidies that support gas/oil production and distribution.

    One important piece of evidence of the efficiency renewable energy production is the price paid by distributors. It was reported today in the Boston Globe that the distributors of electricity are paying roughly the same amount per kWh as other forms of electricity production because that is what our regulators are going to demand the distributors pay in order for. And one reason that it isn’t lower is because there is a 6 cent per kWh surcharge to support renewable energy production. This is estimated to add a maximum of $1.33 per month to the average electricity bill. And given the expected increased cost of oil/coal/gas production as subsidies decline, over time the cost of renewable energy will decline relative to fossil fuels.

    For me, the lesson here is: government matters. When we want something to happen, whether it is building roads, electricity distribution systems, or telephone systems, the government will subsidize and regulate in order to make that happen. We can do the same with renewable electricity production if we choose to.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  34. iron knee wrote:

    Thanks, Starluna.

    I also wonder where this idiotic argument that wind and solar is “inefficient” comes from. Like, what does that have to do with anything. Heat engines, including the motors that power your cars, are extremely inefficient, typically less than 20% (that’s why your engine generates so much heat!) but we still seem to use them. Also, wind and solar energy are plentiful, so efficiency of conversion doesn’t really matter. So where do stupid arguments like that come from?

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  35. An average US citizen or corporate entity who kills an endangered animal can be in big trouble with the law. Birds, eagles in particular, are zealously protected by nature lovers in America and around the world. Yet a July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, California, estimated that an average of 80 golden eagles were killed there by wind turbines each year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, estimated that about 10,000 other protected birds were being killed along with the eagles every year at Altamont. Where is the outrage over this slaughter? It would seem ecologists have a blind spot when it comes to the wind energy industry. As a result, the carnage caused by wind turbines, the “Cuisinarts of the Air,” is getting greenwashed. And birds are not the only creatures wind turbines kill—they kill bats and people as well.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  36. russell wrote:


    ALL vapor cycle power systems reject heat, but you’re about right on overall efficiency on cars. Range and power/weight are what keep oil-powered cars feasible.

    Solar PV is a different story. With 1200W of solar flux on a panel (m^2), you’re lucky to get 200W out. PV’s are expensive as hell and solar ain’t exactly plentiful, esp. at night. PV cells here break diode threshold about 8 hr/day in the dead of summer here.

    I have seen 20 or so high-end residential PV installations here. Not ONE produced enough power to run the refigerator in the house. But I admire these folks for investing in the technology. Something is better than nothing.

    Dr. Hoffman,

    Well said. Wind farms look great on aerial photos, but anybody who has been around them know they cause their own form of blight. Birds aren’t going to adapt to 250mph tip speeds. They would be miserable to live around.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  37. Iron Knee wrote:

    Dr. Hoffman, while you are correct that the Altamont Pass wind farm is a disaster when it comes to birds, but it is fortunately not normal. It was one of the first wind farms in the world, used high speed wind turbines, and was very poorly sited in a high-traffic area for birds. Slower speed, large bladed turbines are much friendlier to birds, and are the norm now (they are even replacing the turbines in Altamont Pass with the newer ones for this reason).

    But if you did any research on the web, you would realize that even the Audubon Society backs newer wind power generation projects, as long as they are not sited in high bird traffic areas. Why? Because with modern turbines and proper siting, pollution from oil and coal plants is much harder on bird populations than wind farms. In fact, there are far worse killers of birds (#1 killer of birds are pet cats). Glass windows buildings are far more dangerous to eagles than wind farms. Other dangers include egg shell failures from pesticides.

    My wife and I are volunteers for the Audubon Society, and a good friend of mine is one of the people who fights bird hazards for the Audubon Society. Right now, she is having more problems with large solar installations than with wind farms!

    Bottom line: this is old news, and is no longer true.

    Friday, May 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  38. starluna wrote:

    I don’t know where you live Russell, but I’ve got several friends with PV who only use the grid in darkest days the winter, even at Boston area latitudes.

    My understanding is that it all depends on how it was installed. There are a lot of PVs out there that were not installed at the proper heights or angles. Or people didn’t install enough. PVs also requires maintenance as well. If you don’t do the maintenance, you aren’t going to get the benefits.

    I also have met some people who want to install solar PV but do not want to look inside their home to make energy efficiency changes. So they want to keep the two extra large fridges and deep freezer, the multiple plasma TVs, and every other possible plugged in do-dad imaginable. If you are going to do solar, you can’t just assume that you can be as energy inefficient as we’ve become using fossil fuels.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  39. Morag wrote:

    I’m not really qualified to enter into a debate about what is best for the environment, all I know is how I feel and I wont bore you with all my opinions, but I would like to say, to Russell I think it was: I live in Scotland, there’re wind farms all over the place near where my family is from, and I think they’re kind of beautiful.
    Sign me up for a windfarm in my garden, because I like them.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  40. Cyclonus wrote:

    Wind turbines farms would be nice. But it is not always windy. We need a mix of wind and solar farms. We just have to copy Spain and build Solar towers in the Desert States. We would just need 86 of them to meet the U.S. power needs. And it would be nice if we could harness the power of ocean waves. Then we would need to import less oil. And keep the $$ spent buying it to help fix our Infrastructure.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  41. Aaron wrote:

    The thing about alternative energy is that there is a lot of it. Natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, etc, etc. If we can open our minds and use more than just one of them, we can solve the energy crisis, because – just in case you didn’t know – the oil wells ARE running dry. The worst part is, the lower they get, the harder it is to scrap oil from them.

    Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  42. ard wrote:

    It is funny to read how electricity generated by solar and wind energy apparently has a different grid loss than electricity generated by coal, gas and nuclear power plants.
    It is even more funny -or sad- to realize that coal plants waste 60% of energy in the precious coal even BEFORE they deliver any electricity to the grid. Seen in that light, even an ‘only’ 15% conversion of free sunlight by PV isn’t that bad after all.

    Using primary energy values makes a murky story. If X barrels of oil contain Y TWh of energy and a oil plant wastes 60%, you can do with 40% of Y TWh from wind and solar. Same for combustion engines vs electric engines.

    Fortunately electricity from the PV panels on my roof doesn’t travel through the grid at all. Most of the time. Check your circadian power cycles. Distributed peak production during distributed peak consumption.

    A German university in a large-scale experiment already proved that renewables can provide 24/7 grid power without outages. Germany also has the right laws for promoting of PV and wind. It gave them over 250.000 jobs already. Think again.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink
  43. wolfie52 wrote:

    Wow, I read the comments and it shows the trouble we are in because of ignorance. Oil is NON renewable, and it can be manufactured from things like coal and bitumen which are also NON renewable and WILL NEVER SCALE to meet our demands. Cheap oil has allowed society to become as complex as it is. IT is chaos when we have to become LESS COMPLEX and that is EXACTLY what is beginning to happen. Energy equals money (work) and that is the underlying factor of the CHAOS now beginning in financial systems around the world! Most people don’t have a clue that fossil fuels are a large part of any renewable energy regime.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink
  44. Mae Russell wrote:

    Hi! Very good comments. I am really inspired that a lot of people have shown support for alternative energy.
    All types of alternative energy that we can use. We can invest for the future since oil is a non renewable energy.

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink
  45. Dr. John wrote:

    Dear Paul the cab driver, Matt, Ego13, Russell, Mason, and Imagol4- Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will smash your tombstones and dance upon your graves, as they thank their creator that people such as yourselves, who cared nothing for their future, are a thing of the past. If you want to find out what’s happening, go to school and learn; you WILL be shocked by the truth.

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  46. JC wrote:

    ARD is spot on. Talking about efficiency of wind power is misleading. Even wasting 75% of the “wind” means what? It means nothing, as it’s all free, the power is delivered free to the generator. What we need is storage of this power, water can be pumped to provide a head for hydro when the wind isn’t blowing and there are other methods of storage (other than batteries) being developed.

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  47. Ron wrote:

    I think windfarms are great if you live in the city. If you don’t, then windfarms like we have in Eastern Oregon & Washington are a blight on the landscape. How is that not an environmental problem?

    Also, all of those windmills use copious amounts of grease and oil. Where does that come from?

    And finally, it’s short-sighted to think that these windmills themselves aren’t a problem. I’ve been around long enough to know that one day we’ll come up with a better alternative energy source… or the owners of the windmills will go bankrupt. The windmills will cease their usefulness and become hunks of rusted out metal. How is that not an environmental problem?

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  48. nononsense wrote:

    Lot of chaff here it looks like. Here are some quick points:

    1)The conversion efficiency of Wind and Solar isn’t relevant, because they operate on an effectively unlimited source of energy. It’s the relative unsubsidized cost we should be looking at.

    2)In addition to the substantial direct subsidies awarded the oil/gas/coal industries, there is an incredibly massive implicit subsidy: the right to pollute for free. Economists call this a negative externality, and without regulation it dramatically distorts the free market. People like Paul above who want to “let the market decide” should be in favor of a carbon tax significantly higher than anything that’s been proposed in the US. In related news, economists laugh at “market anarchists” who think that a “free market” can exist without regulation; negative externalities illustrate the reason why.

    3)When both explicit and implicit subsidies are considered, wind and solar are right at the tipping point where they’re competitive with fossil fuel energy. Additionally, they are quickly falling in cost while fossil fuels are rising.

    4)The suggestion that fossil-fuel-based CO2 isn’t harmful is simply bad science, and suggesting it’s at all analogous to the CO2 produced when we breathe is laughable. Animal and plant respiration together make a closed cycle; all the components of the CO2 we exhale were already in the atmosphere in modern times. Burning a fossil fuel takes a great deal of carbon that was buried safely in the ground for millions of years and pushes it into the modern atmosphere. It is indisputable that there is a great deal more carbon in the atmosphere today than there was in 1700.

    5)People like Mason, who think that “the debate needs to be focused on money, not saving the planet” apparently haven’t been listening any time in the last decade. Today’s climate change debate *is* about money; while estimates of the cost of climate change vary dramatically, the number is always in the trillions, and usually tens of trillions. The serious question is whether it will cost more to do something about it than it will to simply live with it…but we can’t have a real debate on that question because one side of our political reality insists on basing their position on mythology instead of science. Ok, maybe I’m being unfair…the truth is they only *claim* to be basing it on mythology; they’re actually just using that as a cover for the fact that their position is based on protecting entrenched business interests.

    6)It is a short-sighted position to point out the current difficulty of running transportation off the grid. Battery and Hydrogen technology are both improving at rapid rates; the former seems to have reached an inflection point, with pretty much all the manufacturers planning electric models over the next couple years. I’m not sure where Sargonarhes got the idea that “environmental wackos” have anything against Hydrogen…maybe he mistook some BEV junkies’ (justifiable) concerns that H2 is harder/more expensive to make, transport and use while being far less efficient than batteries. But in any case, the technologies to base transportation on the grid are at hand.

    7)The intermittent nature of solar and wind power will be a challenge eventually, but not for quite some time. As long as we still have enough other forms of energy to regulate the localized spikes, we don’t need to worry about this. Even with rapid adoption of alternative energy that means at least a couple decades. Also, the distant challenge isn’t insurmountable by any stretch; grid storage is the next frontier and is already garnering major attention. There are already tons of pumped-energy-storage reservoirs (high elevation lakes where water is pumped during times of low load and released through hydroelectric dams during times of high-load) and PG&E has been buying up used Prius batteries (!) for peak-shaving applications. It’s particularly noteworthy that utilities are engaging in this regardless of alternative energy penetration, because it makes their fossil operations cheaper too.

    8)Synthetic oil or gasoline doesn’t do anything useful. Depending on your definitions, we’re either talking about reforming coal or natural gas (which doesn’t solve any of our problems) or using a great deal of energy to make it out of water and other inputs (in which case it’s equivalent to Hydrogen except for being far less efficient). Maybe that’s why there aren’t really any serious attempts being made at it. Biofuels are another matter…but let’s not get into that.

    9)Transmission losses are common to all energy production methods. Yes, coal plants are usually sited nearer to the power draws…but they use trucks and trains to get the coal to the plant over vast distances. Also, the grid is getting steadily more efficient at transmission, and will continue this trend until all the major transmission lines are superconductive.

    10)I have no clue where Russell got the notion that there’s “not enough” wind or sun to cover our energy needs, but that is absolutely false. Even at 5% efficiency (low by today’s standards) we could produce the entire world’s energy needs (both grid and transportation) with a solar installation confined to the desert in Arizona and have room to spare.

    11)The poster named “Reality” should probably be called “Fantasy” instead; the proposition that wind turbines are energy negative is hilarious. You think these utilities are just putting them up for fun? If you want to make an extraordinary claim like that, you should post a link to some extraordinary evidence.

    12)Likewise I would like to see a source for Russell’s contention that Texas wind providers pay people to take their excess power. That’s absurd on its face. Nevermind that the spot market for power simply doesn’t go negative; even if it weren’t possible to lock a turbine in a stopped position (it is, and in fact this is how they deal with highspeed winds which would burn the motor) they could easily just run the excess electricity through big resistors. Also, it seems his other, more defensible point that the transmission lines can’t keep up contradicts that suggestion.

    13)Dr. Hoffman, thanks for the propaganda article discussing how dangerous wind power is. It’s pretty funny to read the dark, scary talk about how the technicians have to climb a tall ladder and then work in close proximity with high voltages. Are the voltages lower in coal plants? More generally, it’s not compared to anything at all…how many people died in coal plant accidents during the span when these 49 workers died in the wind industry? How many birds are killed by pollution?

    14)Cyclonus, the “solar tower” concept is awfully cool, but not particularly cost-effective. Other solar thermal systems are better in every way.

    15)Just for the record, we aren’t going to run out of oil, at least not in our lifetimes. There is more oil in Athabasca than Saudi Arabia…it’s just frightfully expensive to use. As the easy and cheap sources of oil are depleted, demand will be met by harder, more expensive sources until the costs are so much higher than renewable sources that it no longer makes sense. The question is where those prices will intersect. The more research we do on alternative energy, the lower the price at which oil becomes unfeasible. And lowering that price-intercept provides a fairly obvious benefit to the overall economy.

    16)Similarly, I don’t expect we’ll stop using oil soon after the price-intercept. We’ll just stop using it for the tragic purpose of transportation. Oil is a wonderful source of extremely useful long hydrocarbons, which we can use to make plastics, nanotubes, and any number of other cool things. The fact that we’re burning the vast majority of the stuff to drive to work every morning is a shame.

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  49. Pat Jones wrote:

    too topical to comment, good humour is so hard to find.

    good thanks

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink
  50. Iron Knee wrote:

    NoNonsense, thanks for the excellent summary. I only wish you had provided links for each point.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  51. Know1 wrote:

    Well all of this has been very entertaining and some what informative. All I have to offer is my own admittedly dimwitted opinion that:
    1:) Fair Markets would be better and far more efficient than Free(4all) Markets. We need some regulation more innovation and less subsidization.
    2:) Any discussion of the need for alternative energy that relies heavily on environmental concerns to justify the high initial investment costs of new collection and distribution systems is doomed to fail. In the end daily concerns out way long term concerns every time out of necessity. Just look at society after society that has ran it’s self into the ground. Some sooner than others but in the end today’s needs always come before tomorrow’s. At least until today’s needs are met. However the daily vs. longer term concerns is no reason to continue wasting energy every day using inefficient machines when the technology for far more efficient machines are readily available. Machines wear out and need replaced and the new ones should be made to be more efficient every time. Like mother said waste not want not. This is a place where the government through incentives (subsidies) and the so called Free Market could be complimentary or otherwise efficiently distribute said technologically improved machines.
    3:) Don’t be a “Motel 6”, Leave the light off until someone needs it…. 🙂
    Have a good one all, and do something positive today to make up for this exercise in futility.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  52. Robert wrote:

    I think solar and wind power great too!! Thanks and very glad to see such right steps towards energy conservation.

    Monday, September 20, 2010 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  53. Jed wrote:

    “drilling for oil is at best a short-term solution, since we will run out eventually”

    By that logic solar power is also a short term solution because the sun will eventually burn itself out.

    When the short term is defined as just a few decades or so, the impracticality of dreamers like this author are astounding. Why don’t you live without energy until you die – at least your children will get some warmth when they turn 50!

    Hydrocarbons as an interim solution is absolutely required to get us to a sustainable energy future.

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  54. jim sadler wrote:

    Oil and the free market notions are absurd. What market in any place or time has ever been free of taxes,laws and regulations? How can anyone think that a free market can produce low cost synthetic fuel when no free market has ever existed?
    Free markets are like being pregnant. You either are or are not pregnant. A market is free or it is not. Swallowing free market theory is a zombie type of nonthinking foisted upon the unwashed.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  55. Wood Gas wrote:

    I just googled “cars for sale with more than 500 hp”.

    Got a quarter mill + hits. If that’s not dedicated research, what is 🙂 I have read that the lights of Lost Wages Nev. are visible on the moon. Instead of More power, more power! (although it would be nice), how about ‘use a bit less’?

    Friday, December 10, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  56. russell wrote:

    Read and weep:

    And alternative energy IS heavily subsidized. Those turbine owners aren’t pissed by lost meter output, they are pissed because they lose tax credits if the turbines are offline.

    PV and wind are less than 2% of the grid at this point. And they have doubled the use of natural gas demand generators, which are total pigs.

    This ain’t politics. This is physics. Sorry.

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  57. russell wrote:


    #10 You are not quoting me. There is enough solar flux on the earth every 45 minutes to power the world for a year.


    I read it first in the Lubbock newspaper. Like I would make that up.

    I accept your apology. (And laugh at your nom-de-plume)

    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  58. Trololo wrote:

    I hate when stumbleupon brings me to some idiots bullshit blog. Forget thumbs down, I’m straight up calling this spam.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  59. Iron Knee wrote:

    I’m sorry you were too lazy to actually look around the site. Either that, or your definition of spam is anything you don’t like. Sad.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  60. carl – of course it’s not cheaper to deploy. for one, we have not put the r and d into any of it…remotely.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink