Virginia’s Air Is Pretty Darn Clean

Air quality for Richmond, Va., on Nov. 25, 2018. (Click graphic for larger image.)

In the comments section on Steve Haner’s latest post, Reed Fawell provided an intriguing quote from Oren Cass, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute: Environmental Protection Agency regulations have grown so tight, he said, “that Brussels, the capital of the EU, would be the single dirtiest city in the US, if it were here.”

Really? I wondered if that were true. So I checked the AGICN.org website that maps air quality measurements globally, incorporating data for particulates, ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. As a proxy for Virginia urban areas, I selected an air quality monitor in downtown Richmond (which turns out to be the second highest of 18 measuring Air Quality Index monitoring stations in Virginia.

Air Quality Index for Brussels, Belgium.

Lo and behold, it turns out that the AQI for Brussels for the past 48 hours is twice that of Richmond. That’s just a snapshot of one particular point in time. Air quality varies with air pressure, humidity, wind, and temperature, so the comparison may or may not be representative of air quality over a full year.

Recognizing that downtown Richmond may or may not be representative of American cities generally, and Brussels may or may not be representative of European cities, I captured a higher-altitude perspective by comparing maps of the Eastern U.S. and most of Europe. Note: The green markers stand for “good” levels of air pollution, yellow for “moderate,” and red for “unhealthy.”

Cass’s statement is almost literally true… but not quite. There are a handful of locations in the U.S. with higher air pollution than Brussels. In the Eastern U.S. only Albany New York had worse air quality, and only by a small margin. Out west, Denver, Colo.; Tacoma, Washington; Long Beach (Los Angeles), Calif.;  and Phoenix, Ariz. were somewhat higher. Iowa City, Iowa’s index was significantly higher — high enough to fall under the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category.

While air quality varies considerably from country to country, there are large patches in Europe where air quality is problematic, especially in the Belgium-Netherlands area, northern Italy, and big chunks of formerly communist countries. Then, for purposes of comparison, here’s a look at Asia:

Here we get into the “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air-quality categories. When air quality rates hazardous, “everyone may experience more serious health effects.” It’s almost (but not quite) fair to say that the U.S. city with the dirtiest air is cleaner than the Chinese city with the cleanest air.

Here’s one more map, this one showing how Virginia stacks up to neighboring states:


Here you can see Virginia as a relative oasis of low air pollution. Rural air quality is comparable in Virginia and other states, but the Old Dominion stands out (at least in the past 48 hours) as having no monitoring stations recording “moderate” air quality.

This quick-and-dirty survey is too cursory to draw any broad conclusions. But it is suggestive. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a pat on the back. Subject to  a more authoritative review, Virginia appears to be doing a pretty good job with its air quality. As coal-fired power plants are phased out in the years ahead, we can expect continued improvements.

This surface skimming of air quality data raises other questions: How clean is clean enough? If Virginia air quality is almost uniformly “good,” that is, posing no health threat to anyone, how much sense does it make to continue investing resources into achieving additional incremental reductions? How much do we gain by tightening air pollution standards on our cars or electric utilities? Should we be focusing more on improving water quality? Or preserving wildlife habitat? Or achieving other tangible environmental goals?

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44 responses to “Virginia’s Air Is Pretty Darn Clean

  1. Nice try Jim, but what I objected to was the fiction put forth by Cass that we no longer needed air pollution regulation because we have reduced the amount of pollution by 70% and to reduce it further would not be cost effective. Here is a quote from Cass … ““Clean air should be a priority for all Americans, but thankfully it has been achieved. Air pollution has declined more than 70% since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970” ….

    Is our air 70% cleaner? I don’t know because Cass didn’t say where he got that figure, but even if it’s true that is not a reason to quit. Downwind states agree with me. In 2017 “N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a notice of intent to sue, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act, including failure to curb ground-level ozone pollution that blows into New York.” NY had already won a pollution fix, but “last August, a deadline passed for EPA to adopt Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) addressing the pollution from two dozen states. New York officials say they will sue if the federal government does not do its duty under Good Neighbor provisions of the Clean Air Act. Just this month DE filed suit.

    The emitting states have been finalizing new Good Neighbor plans but … Under the Trump administration’s new guidance, states can consider adopting a looser standard than would have been allowed under the Obama administration. The new one part per billion standard means a state can emit 43% more pollution across state lines than before.

    The Clean Air Act wasn’t meant to be fixed in time to pollutants or remedies. It “specifies that air quality standards are meant to protect the public from ‘air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.’ That is quite vague, and deliberately so. It was understood by lawmakers that science evolves and so regulations should evolve too, updating alongside our best scientific understanding.”

    How do you really fix costs of pollution? It’s complicated but the best way is not to shuffle costs of environmental damage and health problems off onto the public. Capitalists need to know the real prices of goods if they are to make capitalist choices.

    PS. Richmond’s air quality and its asthma population got better when the coal plants ringing the city were closed, which I think was related to the Good Neighbor air pollution suit it lost some years ago to CT. 

  2. I wouldn’t go so far as Cass to say that clean air has been “achieved.” The fact is, I don’t know. I haven’t studied the matter closely — I certainly acknowledge that the swipe I took in the post above is not remotely authoritative, and is only suggestive of the need for a closer look.

    On the other hand, it is undeniable that the U.S. has made tremendous progress. Why not celebrate that fact? There may be areas where we can do better. But, one could argue, such efforts should be targeted to the particular pollutant, particular location, and perhaps particular season or time. One could argue that we no longer need broad, sweeping changes affecting everyone to achieve the localized gains we want to see.

    Lastly, we need to acknowledge that we have finite resources to address our environmental problems. We should apply those resources to remedies that provide the most bang for the buck. Perhaps we could achieve more good by targeting clean water… or habitat protection… or (not my favorite) fighting global warming. Perhaps we have reached the point of diminishing returns where the risk reduction per dollar spent is too low to justify. I don’t presume the answer. I merely raise the question. Are you suggesting that the question should not even be asked?

  3. Jane has it right. There is a standard. Many cities in the US still don’t meet that standard on hot summer days and the cleaner air is no due to every restrictive regulation but instead the gradual improvement from retiring coal plants as well as the replacement of older cars with newer cars.

    So those regulations that folks like Cass fought against originally, have succeeded but we still have not “achieved” clean air in some of the urban areas much less year around.

    So the argument here is to loosen the current regulations rather than defer more restrictive ones… because we have “clean air now”.

    The truth is – had the folks who argue against the clean air act – prevailed – our air WOULD look like Brussels and China!!!

    You ask – ” Perhaps we have reached the point of diminishing returns where the risk reduction per dollar spent is too low to justify. ”

    so, as usual, I ask: What are you advocating here? That we loosen the regulations? You say you ” I don’t presume the answer.”… hmmm

    These are silly games that Conservatives play when it comes to regulation these days.

    We have cleaner air BECAUSE of regulation … why would we want to undo it?

    • “The argument here is to loosen the current regulations…”

      A total mis-statement of my argument. I said (1) it’s worth taking a closer look at the data, and if the data I cited is representative, (2) tighten regulations on a targeted and localized basis but (3) not through sweeping, broad-based regulations.

      You see, Larry, in the English language, “not tighten” does not mean the same thing as “loosen.”

      • Jim –

        I think your post (article) and follow on comments are excellent. For my part, its reassuring to know that America, best we can tell, has the most effective clean air policies and programs in the world. That is quite remarkable given America’s size, diversity, and highly developed economy. No one else, among our peers or near peers, comes even close.

        I thought your suggestion that we focus now on local problems was spot on, a highly practical and doable next step.

      • But loosen is the argument that is being made … as I wrote above
        “Under the Trump administration’s new guidance, states can consider adopting a looser standard than would have been allowed under the Obama administration. The new one part per billion standard means a state can emit 43% more pollution across state lines than before.”

        Regarding GHG emissions Cass has proposed not bothering with reductions … Writing at The National Review, Cass agreed that there is a scientific consensus on climate change. However, he disagreed that emissions reductions are a solution. Sounds like ‘lessening’ to me.

  4. I don’t know all of the reasons for Europe’s air quality issues. I suspect that part of it is their metro centers are much closer together than ours. That is one reason they have effective inter-city train systems and we do not.

    It could also be due to meteorological conditions. LA’s air quality issues are often made much worse because of their frequent inversions that keep the emissions from dispersing.

    You say ” One could argue that we no longer need broad, sweeping changes affecting everyone to achieve the localized gains we want to see.”

    I know you don’t like to talk about it, but greenhouse gases (GHGs) could be dealt with relatively easily and inexpensively if we didn’t make it a partisan issue. We have recently discovered that the increase in heat trapped in the oceans is several times greater than we thought it to be. The increased heat and greater acidification is bleaching coral reefs throughout the world. The world’s fisheries are mostly near coastlines. Coupled with rising water levels, reduced seafood production poses a substantial challenge for about half of the world’s population.

    The CO2, and I would suggest other GHGs such as methane, were considered to be a “pollutant” that could be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Power Plan. If we took an unbiased look at things, we would discover that building more new gas-fired power plants risks them becoming stranded assets well before the end of their financial lives because of rising gas prices and lower cost options such as energy efficiency and renewables.

    Reducing methane leaks along the supply chain is also relatively inexpensive (the major causes of the leaks have been identified). If we limited natural gas production to what we need domestically, gas prices would rise more slowly, we would maintain more energy independence, and reduce GHGs.

    Cost-effectiveness of solutions has always been part of the rule-making process for various types of emissions.

    For the first-time, the lowest cost sources of producing electricity also create the least emissions. A regulatory process that was based on long-term costs and benefits, rather than short-term utility profits, would identify solutions that met our energy needs in ways that also improve our air quality. It is unnecessary to abandon the consideration of the quality of our environment while dealing with our energy needs.

    • Tom –

      Your assessment seems fair, lucid, and balanced to me, as regards some of the primary issues.

      My greatest concern is judicious planning, execution and control. I think prudence must be the overriding value when building and operating a great public utility. I don’t see how the Texas oil well wildcatter mentality fits the bill. Nor an environment movement today that I my view is too much dominated by religious zealots on a the mission of their lives, and now are working too often with highly entrepreneurial go get them types in an era akin to the 1949 California gold rush. And others, customers too, simply driven by ideology / vanity.

      In a different time and place, these types would be fine. Here they are playing with America’s most important public utility, a business by nature highly complex, prone to instability, and central to the nations survival.

      Hence the need for stability and prudence. Hence, I’d be very wary of revolutionary change that can cut loose the vagaries, constant failures and gross errors always found in, and indeed typical of, and necessary for, strong capitalistic emerging markets.

      But I do take your basic points seriously. And to a degree at least, I see the shortcoming of Virginia’s current system, as you and others far more knowledgeable that I, have discussed at length on this blog.

      • Reed,

        I agree with you. Energy has become even more central to our lives now that so much of our commercial and social interactions occur via electronic devices.

        The fact that our energy system has a great deal of inertia is both a curse and a blessing. It is a blessing because we will have our legacy systems for decades to come, even as we add new technologies. This dampens the effect of over-exuberance and failures that occur with trying new solutions.

        It is a curse because making changes in our basic energy system is like trying to turn a super tanker – it will take a while. The changes in customers’ uses are occurring much more rapidly than the producers can or are willing to respond.

        By nature, the utility industry is very conservative and slow to change. This is ingrained in them because their primary mission has been to provide a reliable supply of electricity; much more than to optimize the system design and cost.

        Our conventional generating facilities take years to plan and construct and require specialized skills and capital structures to build. The new technologies, such as wind, solar, and storage, can be planned and built within 1-2 years, and can be developed better by companies that are not utilities. This is a sea change in the energy business that our governance systems have not adapted to.

        The energy company executives typically have decades of experience in the energy business and have proven success in operating the legislative and regulatory levers that will best serve their shareholders. It is very difficult for humans to adopt new habits that are different from what has worked in the past. But this is exactly what our future energy systems are requiring from us.

        In general, we see what is right in front of us and pay less attention to unproven possibilities in the future. Utility executives were traditionally long-term focused (15 years ahead or more) but the pressures of shareholders and Wall Street analysts have brought the bulk of their attention to within a few quarters or a few years.

        That is why I believe that it is essential for us to find win-win solutions so that new methods can be more easily accepted. It is far too easy to continue our present habits to our long-term detriment.

        Whatever happens, the energy companies will choose slow to moderate speed responses. We have surplus conventional generation and demand is not growing, so new responses are unlikely to reduce reliability.

        I am more concerned about continuing the same old responses (on steroids), as we have currently selected in Virginia. I see every major company in the U.S. and many foreign enterprises with facilities in the U.S. (the RE 100) electing to reduce their energy use and rely more on renewables. This will rapidly upset the utility business model that is built on an increased energy use and continued development of new generation. Without a alteration in course, utilities will only remain prosperous by off-loading more of the cost and risk on to their customers. This will give the customers a greater reason to do less business with them – and the downward spiral continues. No one wins in the long-term in this scenario.

    • Unfortunately, I have a much darker view that by the time we have enough folks who realize we have serious problems – it will likely be too late and if by some miracle we actually do act in time – it will cost far more than if we had acted earlier and will take a hundred or hundreds of years to recover.

      serious damage as you noted is already ongoing – the increasing temperatures and acidity of the seas is not something we’re going to fix short term even if we were to make serious inroads on the sources of Climate Change.

      But we cannot go forward until enough folks accept the realities and want change. Predictions from Science are not believed. Actual damage will have to be readily apparent for some to believe.

  5. “Predictions from Science are not believed….”

    The scientific method is to form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis in such a way that confirms or falsifies the hypothesis, and then, based on the data, revise and update the hypothesis as needed. Scientists make predictions and forecasts all the time based upon their hypotheses. The mere fact that they are scientists does not make their predictions and forecasts correct. Only time and the confirmation (or falsification) of their forecasts will tell the tale. Given the incredible complexity of the climate and what climatologists call “natural variability,” the frustrating thing about climate change forecasts is that it takes literally decades to see if they are accurate or not.

    We do know that some predictions based upon the anthropogenic global warming paradigm have proven false… polar bears dying out… snowfall a thing of the past… and so on. That doesn’t mean the climate model forecasts are wrong, but it should engender the “humility of uncertainty.” I see no humility or uncertainty whatsoever emanating from those who purport to believe in the “science” of global warming. In Larry’s quote I see only the shamanistic invocation of science.

    • re: given your position – how do you view the scientist’s prediction of ozone holes and CFCs?

      If a doctor tells you that if you smoke – you could get lung cancer – not guaranteed – there are folks that don’t so do you believe him/her based on their “prediction”?

      some things can’t be “proven” until the damage is done and you can’t go back.

      when scientists say a hurricane is going to hit a place marked on the map – do you think it is a hypothesis and in fact – proven wrong for most scientists every prediction?

      Do scientists have to predict with 100% certainty before you believe?

    • Jim ..“the frustrating thing about climate change forecasts is that it takes literally decades to see if they are accurate or not.”
      Well results are coming in… we have already had decades. First report was released by President Johnson …
      How about sea level rise … those 8 inches since 1950 are documented facts.
      Global causes include:
      • 700 trillion pounds of ice is melting from Antarctica, Greenland, and mountain glaciers each year.
      • The Ocean Is 1.2 Degrees (F) Warmer Than It Was In 1950. As the temperature of the ocean water increases, the water expands, raising the sea level everywhere.
      Other causes have more local effects, affecting areas and at varying rates
      • The Gulf Stream is slowing …as less water is taken from the East Coast, more water piles up there.
      • Sinking Land. The tectonic plates are shifting causing land on the east coast to sink and the plates re rising on the West coast with the opposite effect.

  6. Why would anyone believe Tom Streyer or Michael Bloomberg? They are both seeking power over others.
    “Predictions from Science are not believed….”

    Yes, that is true and for good reason. All of the primary models, some 11, used over the past 30 years have been grossly wrong for those 30 years, save for one, a Russian model whose predictions were a minor fraction of the rest.

    Here in a comment and different critique posted recently by TMT:

    If we had reporting about all aspects of climate change, we’d have a better foundation for making sound policy But climate is a religion that goes beyond science. Note: I’m not arguing that human behavior cannot affect climate nor that we should not continue to move to reliable, inexpensive and renewable sources of energy. But real debate looks at all the facts and data.

    https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/climate-change-global-warming-earth-cooling-media-bias/

    • Reed … “Inconvenient Science: NASA data show that global temperatures dropped sharply over the past two years. Not that you’d know it, since that wasn’t deemed news. Does that make NASA a global warming denier?”

      Here is NASA information. https://climate.nasa.gov/ The info has real numbers.
      There is a nice global picture that turns color according to the temperatures in various places from 1884 to 2017, the time frame for which we have records.
      There is also a chart showing the annual mean temperature … a global land-ocean temperature index. From 1960 until now the rise is 1 degree. Yes is moves up and down but that movement is over a rising trajectory.

      • Why should people believe NASA? They altered data. https://principia-scientific.org/nasa-exposed-in-massive-new-climate-data-fraud/

        And if one asks that, if this scams and fraud are true, why doesn’t the media report them, the German media didn’t report what Hitler did either or the American media report that FDR couldn’t walk on his own and was generally confined to a wheel chair. They didn’t report on either Harding’s or Kennedy’s affairs either.

        We cannot get a sensible and accepted policy on energy and climate unless and until we have all the information on the table. Not just what the power grabbers want.

  7. “Predictions from Science are not believed….”

    Yes, that is true and for good reason. All of the internationally recognized primary climate change models, some 11, used over the past 30 years have been grossly wrong for those 30 years, save for one, a Russian model whose predictions are a minor fraction of the rest.

    Here is a comment and different critique posted recently by TMT:

    If we had reporting about all aspects of climate change, we’d have a better foundation for making sound policy. But climate is a religion that goes beyond science. Note: I’m not arguing that human behavior cannot affect climate nor that we should not continue to move to reliable, inexpensive and renewable sources of energy. But real debate looks at all the facts and data.

    https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/climate-change-global-warming-earth-cooling-media-bias/

    • Here is why the great majority of environmentalist organizations today cannot be taken seriously, in this case the formerly great Sierra Club –

      See:

      https://www.virginiamercury.com/2018/11/26/amazon-will-need-even-more-energy-in-virginia-will-they-make-it-clean/

      To quote the article with a twist:

      Earth to Sierra Club: you can’t solve a problem by proposing a solution that fails to deal with the problem, thus ignores the many obstacles to the solution’s imposition.

      This Sierra Club opinion is found in Virginia Mercury just after their earlier posted article titled: Pamunkey Tribe hopes to announce potential casino location in coming months. In that article tribal leaders say they’re trying to work a deal with a Virginia city or county that wants the state’s first tribal casino. And hope to announce a location soon, perhaps on some 600 acres along Interstate 64 in New Kent County, “but received a chilly reception at public meetings held earlier this year.”

      Lets hope the chill on Casino’s proves permanent.

      • Reed … About who and what to believe …
        Can we believe promises made by Dominion in proposals to secure the Amazon HQ? The Sierra article refers to the presentation made by Fairfax County in which Dominion promised to serve Amazon with all the energy they need from renewable sources.
        What say you?

        • Well, Jane, that’s easy. Dominion is not telling the truth. This is just another variant of the now endless game of crony capitalism, where all concerned are locked into habit of not telling us normal folks the truth.

          Fact is normal folks typically are played and manipulated like fools, for private advantage by the elite.

          Like, for example. what happened in the Spring and Summer of 2017 in C’ville Virginia. The elite don’t tell the truth to the deplorables or lesser folk anymore, or at least that is case with a growing percentage of the elite.

          These bad habits wax and wane over time. There are always exceptions to that rule, thank goodness. But frankly the problem has always been with us. Good historians know that, for example, although you would be surprised how few good historians there are. That too is always the case, bad historians outnumber the good ones by a vast margin.

  8. European vehicles are much more likely to use diesel than U.S. vehicles. All those black cabs (many have advertising now and aren’t black) in London, for instance are diesel and not cleaned up diesels. The particulate and nitric oxide pollution from diesel tends to be significantly higher from diesel powered cars than from gasoline. Diesel can be cleaned up, but the processes reduce power, add cost, and require maintenance. (This is where Volkswagen cheated.) Diesel does typically produce less greenhouse gas per mile driven, so there is a tradeoff.

    Coal use has been going down in Europe, but is still used for 20% or so of generation. Use is still pretty high in Germany (which has moved away from nuclear) and Poland in particular.

    Tom is probably right that proximity/density and climate may play a role. The U.S. is much more spread out.

    In California, for instance Long Beach, which was cited by Jim, a significant component comes from ships near the ports, and a not insignificant percentage during some periods originates in Asia.

    • so the phrase “clean diesel” ??? since VW lied – and others accused also – has apparently disappeared from view?

      The problem with coal in Europe is that unlike the US – supplies of Natural Gas tend to be in the Soviet Union which is making it expensive and difficult to get on a reliable basis. That drives Germany and the rest of Europe back to coal.

      But there is something else and that is that coal is baseload and so are Nukes – they cannot generally ramp up or down quickly and that makes them not good companion fuels for renewables.

      Gas is about the only fuel besides diesel that can ramp up or down in response to varying output of solar/wind.

      without gas – renewables are very difficult because coal/nukes have to run flat out 24/7 to assure reliable power.

      Finally – consider the world inhabited islands (about 700 million on 10,000 islands) . Almost all of them lack native fossil fuels and have to import diesel fuel to generate electricity. My bet is that they contributed a considerable amount of pollutants but because they are islands – they don’t suffer from that pollution.

      • “so the phrase “clean diesel” ??? since VW lied – and others accused also – has apparently disappeared from view?”

        I think it is recognized that diesel requires more ongoing maintenance to be as clean as gasoline is with a catalytic converter that can go 200k miles. For instance urea tanks have to be filled in diesel. It also reduces power output.

        “But there is something else and that is that coal is baseload and so are Nukes – they cannot generally ramp up or down quickly and that makes them not good companion fuels for renewables.”

        I am not going to argue that nuclear has much of a future since Fukushima, but I don’t think it is correct to say nuclear cannot ramp. It is not as flexible as gas, but it ramps by about 1/3rd in France and can probably go to 50% or so with some upgrades. Given how far we are behind the 8 ball in the de-carbonization race, I still think nuclear could play a role. I respect Tom’s expertise, though, and he seems to think it should not.

        • Izzo – my understanding was that brand new VWs right out of the factory failed the emission tests… and they apparently cannot fix it so diesel are going away.

          If Nukes could vary in output – it would compete directly with gas and they simply do not – they’re either all on or all off pretty much and that makes them and coal not compatible with renewables.

          I support Nukes as a baseload fuel over coal – no question but the real issue is how can you incorporate renewables if the baseload generation is not flexible enough to vary in response to varying renewable generation. That’s what is killing Germany and other parts of Europe on solar/wind… when solar/wind dies – what comes online ? You can’t run solar then bring up coal – then take it down when solar comes back so that’s why they are burning a lot more coal now. it has to run 24/7.

          • Larry, France can a level of load following with its nuclear fleet and that is what I was referencing. You can see online. It can be done but is not as flexible as gas.

            Regarding VW, they used a program that could determine when the car is being tested for emissions vs standard use. The standard use algorithm enabled more power but was dirty. Diesel can be made cleaner but there is a performance tradeoff and it requires expensive ongoing maintenance (e.g. urea tanks). I lived in Europe and my perception was city air was not clean and diesel was a big factor. It could just be me, though. You can actually see particulate emissions from many cars there. That is less common in the U.S.

        • Izzo,

          Much of what I have written about nuclear units applied to new construction. The experience with the Summer plant in South Carolina and the Vogtle plant in Georgia, provides actual evidence of how outlandishly expensive new nuclear construction can be.

          But that also applies to the cost of refurbishing older units. Many nuclear units around the U.S. closed at the end of their 40-year license because it was not cost-effective to continue operation. Both North Anna and Surry were able to gain a 20-year license extension. But at least $4 billion will be required for retrofits to allow those units to qualify for another 20-year extension. This is several times higher than the cost of alternative methods of providing the same amount of energy.

          Reactors in France have demonstrated the ability to vary their output, but that is not how most nuclear units in the U.S. have historically operated. We are moving to a much more flexible and responsive energy system and the inflexible operation of aging nuclear units are an increasingly bad fit for that future energy system.

          Zero carbon generation by renewables is the lowest cost type of new generation, other than energy efficiency.

          • Tom, I don’t disagree that nuclear appears finished in the West. If reports are true, though, China is constructing plants for about 1/5th the cost in the West, largely because they still have a functioning supply chain and they can override delay tactics that burden projects elsewhere. They also appear to be making design advances.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            I have read about the Chinese move into that market, as well. Concern is that whatever that market is or becomes with new advances, the Chinese will own it, particularly in third world they are eager to penetrate. And they’ll own the new advanced technologies too.

      • I understand and appreciate the above discussion re: how various capacities within the grid today might ramp up and down to back-fill, infill, and otherwise supplement, all other technologies within the grid, in ways that, under all conditions, achieve the sweet spot of total reliability at lowest possible cost to rate-payers and other customers. Is this not the central quest, the holy grail?

        And does not this sweet-spot operational capability become increasingly important, indeed absolutely essential, as more and more renewable power comes on line?

        And is it not true that each locale, its power-mix, demand curve, geographic location, and weather variability, impose its own unique criteria for success? Like N. Germany.

        If that be so, it seems to me that these issues must be the overarching problems to solve on our way to hopefully getting safely to the goal of 100% renewable power fueling our grid.

        And that, until then, no one on the grid can claim to operate on 100% renewable power, except for very special circumstances.

        And that, until then, namely, the time we are assured that 100% renewable power is totally safe and secure power for all customers then and into the future, until that wonderful point is reached, I suspect we must move with prudence.

        In that regard, I recall that everyone use to speak of storage as the silver bullet. Where is that now? Perhaps too severing service into independent districts might help. But does that tend to weaken the whole? What else is out there, to get us safely to 100% renewable power?

        In any case, absence speculative breakthroughs, is it not highly premature to be talking about 100% renewable power anytime soon? And, until then, is not the risk of overbuilding it (in lieu, or in replacement, of or without sufficient regard to its backup traditional power), an ever-present risk?

        • “In any case, absence speculative breakthroughs, is it not highly premature to be talking about 100% renewable power anytime soon?”

          Many of us don’t think we need a ‘speculative breakthrough’, especially if we can reduce demand by the 50% that CitiGroup predicted was possible through on-site generation and efficiency, a year or 2 ago. But who is talking about 100% “anytime soon”? What is VA’s number? 6%, or has it gone up a bit because of corporate demand?

          PJM says it can handle 50% renewable energy without a major grid/reliability issue. Let’s aim for that “soon”.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Jane-

            That sums up your position nicely, Jane. Thanks. Glad we got it clear.

            Hope you can’t find a way to cut other peoples’ demand by 50%. After all, non renewable power built this civilization and its wealth and keeps it going and growing.

        • Now, I think that reality, and its truth, is beginning to emerge.

          The IT high tech industry – players like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and big universities – are rapidly becoming the largest single users of electricity in the world, building and operating cloud and mega-data collection and processing centers, for example.

          Thus, according to leftist environmental theology (which I reject), corporations like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and the industries that they represent, and big universities too, are emerging as the world’s greatest polluters, daily spewing greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere, causing the growing onslaught of global warming that is said to now threaten our planet.

          If you believe this theology, then players like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and big universities too, have two choices, namely:

          1/ players like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and universities too can shut down their huge cloud and data processing centers, and stop building new ones, in order to save our planet.

          2/ Or Google, Facebook, Amazon, and big universities too can falsely claim that they operate solely on renewable energy. Hence, using these falsehoods, we get flooded with false statements like this one:

          “Companies, especially IT, have “stepped up their purchases of wind, solar and other clean energy this year, at a pace that far outstrips 2017. Amazon has bought more than 1.22 gigawatts of output to date from US clean-energy projects, second only to Alphabet Inc.’s Google, with 1.85 gigawatts. Google, the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy, is now powering its entire global operation—including both data centers and offices—with 100 percent renewable energy.” (BNEF)

          And you also get deeply and irrevocably flawed editorials like this one found at: https://www.virginiamercury.com/2018/11/26/amazon-will-need-even-more-energy-in-virginia-will-they-make-it-clean/

          All of these claims by Facebook, Amazon, Google, and big universities, as best I can discern from our discussions here on this BR blog, are directly contrary to the truth. And they will be directly contrary to the truth far into the future, as best as I can tell.

          Why can’t we all just start telling each other the truth about what is really going on here in this world we all share?

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Let’s try to describe the problem with renewable power in another more simple way:

            Absent a very significant technological breakthrough, we will get to the point where 100% renewable power can fuel the total needs of our growing civilization and its economies worldwide when the Sun Shines and the Winds Blow constantly and always without fail for 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

            And when that happens, even then, renewable power may not generate enough power for our needs.

            Why?

            Because if folks like Google, Facebook, Amazon, the big universities, and all the other new folks who follow them, keep on expanding their needs for electric power by building ever more and larger cloud and data collection and processing centers worldwide, and other new technologies that follow in their wake, our needs by then could easily outrun our then capacity. So we would end up like Germany now.

            So meanwhile, we must be prudent. And we must work hard on technological breakthroughs that totally change the games we play.

          • Reed,

            You say “Hope you can’t find a way to cut other peoples’ demand by 50%. After all, non renewable power built this civilization and its wealth and keeps it going and growing.”

            You, as many of us participating on this blog, experienced the growth of this nation’s industrial and economic power in the second half of the 20th century, propelled by the increasing use of energy, mostly from fossil fuels.

            For the past several hundred years, the world has been using its savings account of ancient sunlight stored as fossil fuels. Even though there is still some left in the account, we are realizing that it makes more sense to begin living off our energy “income” as do other forms of life on earth.

            It is time for us to reset our notion of “progress”. In the last century, we considered greater energy use as a sign of progress because it helped us build the economic structure we have today. Going forward, the most vibrant economies will be those that use less energy to produce more goods and services.

            A group of data center owners wrote to the SCC and said that, although they intend to keep building data centers in Virginia, the total energy use by all of the data centers in the state will stabilize or decline as a result of increased energy efficiency in their operations. Our entire tech industry is built upon doing more with less. This pattern is beginning to be applied in other sectors as well.

            The “we use 100% renewable energy” claim is bookkeeping scheme, not a reality; but our entire energy system overseen by PJM works in the same way. One REC is equivalent to 1 MWh of energy produced by a renewable source (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). If you own RECs equal to your total usage of electricity you can claim that your use is from 100% renewable sources. The REC is a proxy, not the actual energy. It is not possible to identify the actual source of the electricity you use. Electricity does not flow as water does.

            Think of it this way. If four people each poured a quart of water into a bucket and you took a quart of water back out, you would not be taking the same water that you put in, but it would be the same amount. That’s how RECs generated with solar during the daylight hours can offset energy used at night that is obviously generated some other way. A substantial amount of wind energy is generated at night, but the output is still mixed with other sources in the grid to which your meter is connected.

            We are in a new energy era. What we did in the past will not serve us as well in the future.

          • I can only say that you must skip read to reach your conclusions … That IT companies are spewing and lying about what they do. What they are doing is investing in renewable energy because they are aware of the problem of the amount of electricity the require. Why do you think Dominion is building all that utility scale solar? Our IT companies require Dominion to sign those Green tariffs equal to the amount of energy they will use.
            It is required and Dominion has gone so far as to promise all the renewable energy it can use to our new IT company headquarters in Arlington. Had to make that promise in order to secure the deal.
            Now do tell why you can name the BNEF statements as lies. Do you have other information? Yes IT companies are very big users of electricity. They are also very big purchasers of renewable energy.

  9. Izzo says: Coal use is still pretty high in Germany (which has moved away from nuclear) and Poland in particular.”

    Yes, and I understand that Germany moved away from nuclear far too quick. Contrary to their planning, the newly built renewable plants were too inefficient and unreliable to fill the resultant gap left by the shut down nuclear plants. So the Germans had to build new coal plants on emergency basis to fill the gap, and also ran to Russia for a new gas deal to restore the economy’s reliable electric power. In addition to that debacle, the German homeowners electric bills went through the roof, causing a political uproar, and the electric bills of Germany’s industrial and commercial users also soared, injuring the German economy, their GDP. Last time I looked the cost problem remained unresolved. That was a year or two ago.

    • In his comment immediately below TBill says:

      “Personally I would say Chemophobia has become the No. 1 weapon for environmental groups and many liberals. So as long as Americans are willing to get sucked into that hysteria, and many are, then we have a problem.”

      I agree, gross abuse by environmentalists of Chemophobia also has been my ‘personal’ experience working with environmentalists. Hysteria is far too often what they are after, trying to gin up and incite hysteria in others. To do that they need to create, often out of thin air, artificial or highly dubious problems that ignite primal fears in other people while the untruths claimed the spark those fears are hard to disprove. Thus the professional tactics of environmentalists are all too often about building false problems magnified by echo clambers that cascade peoples emotions and fears, stampeding those people into blind herds going over cliffs.

      The great scholar Cass Sunstein wrote about how this technique powered the Love Canal Hoax and set off the Superfund debacle that ended up wasting tens of billions of public monies. His study of the Love Canal debacle and other contemporary hoaxes is “Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation” by Cass R. Sunstein and Timur Kuran published 2007 by University of Chicago Law School.

      Another informative and very recent article on this subject is found at:
      https://aeon.co/ideas/chemophobia-is-irrational-harmful-and-hard-to-break

  10. re: ” But climate is a religion that goes beyond science”

    yes indeed. virtually every scientist on earth believes it so does DOD, NASA, NOAA and most major corporations…

    the real question is – do you have to see proof before you believe?

    that’s apparently the standard with skeptics because if a scientists predicts a hurricane will hit someplace and it doesn’t it means he’s incompetent or a lying SOB seeking “power”…. or “control”…. such foolishness.

    • Larry – your comparisons of climate science to the prediction of the track of an individual hurricane’s path just are not valid. A better comparison would be the annual prediction of NOAA (and other “scientific entities”) as to the likely number and severity of hurricanes for an upcoming season. Ditto for the predictions for a coming winter season.

      Sometimes the predictions an active or less active season are right. But quite often they are wrong. Ditto for winter predictions (a cold and snowy season for the mid-Atlantic) or tornado seasons (a quiet season for the Midwest). We generally have much less confidence in these longer range predictions/forecasts than we do for predictions of the path of an excepted storm, its expected amounts of precipitation or the expected wind speeds. And quite often, when a seasonal prediction is way off, the predictors get some criticism.

      Most scientists as well as the public tend to believe that the further into the future a prediction is made or the broader nature of the area subject to the prediction, the more likely there will be errors. And there is often some disagreement among various forecasters.

      Yet, we turn to climate globally looking decades into the future and we are to believe that all of the predictions must be true. Everyone must hold the same belief and any missed predictions are to be ignored. Similarly, only evidence that supports a prediction can be considered.

      This is not science. This political propaganda. This is about power, control and money.

      I’m not arguing that human behavior cannot affect climate over time. Nor am I arguing against renewable energy. I am arguing against intentional fraud, misrepresentation and suppression of contrary evidence, as well ignoring scientific method.

      Publish any contrary data and missed predictions. Then let’s have open debate.

      • TMT –

        Your comment above is right on target. And it looks like the latest effort by 13 US government agencies, some 1600 pages of report written by some 300 scientists is indecipherable, namely:

        “a poorly organized, over-lengthy piece of junk that hardly fills one with confidence in the motives of its authors. And that goes double for the reporters and headline writers who pronounced doom based on a report they apparently didn’t make the slightest attempt to understand.” See Holman Jenkins, Climate Change is Affordable, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28, 2018. And it is just the beginning.

        Also of note in today’s WSJ is this telling comment:

        “The US has become a world Leader in reducing emissions in recent years as booming natural gas production helped the U.S move away from burning more carbon rich coal.” See U.N. Says Emissions Pledges Fall Short by Timothy Puko.

        This observation is thanks, of course, in no small part to our nation’s growing network of natural gas pipelines, which help America to be the number 1 world leader in reducing our nation’s greenhouse gases. In fact, growing natural gas production is the key that empowers and makes possible our growth of more renewable power in this country, that would otherwise fail the nation without its growing gas supply.

        Then of course there is Walter Russell Mead’s fine article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal titled “How American Fracking Changes the World.” Thank our lucky stars for fracking. We’d be in deep trouble without it. Yet another wonderful generator of blessings achieved through the genius of US technology, Americans who get things done for all of our benefit.

  11. I agree with Izzo that diesel is probably a big part of the EU air quality problem, and probably a big part of remaining pollution in the USA, along with coal.

    Personally I would say Chemophobia has become the No. 1 weapon for environmental groups and many liberals. So as long as Americans are willing to get sucked into that hysteria, and many are, then we have a problem.

    • One reason for cleaner air in the USA is that gasoline-fueled cars are now much, much cleaner.

      The 3-way automobile catalytic converter is a modern miracle, virtually eliminating CO, NOx, and hydrocarbon emissions. Furthermore, the EPA has mandated ultra-low sulfur gasoline, which has now penetrated most of the market, and the lower sulfur really boosts the effectiveness of the 3-way cat converter.

      The implication of this is, The special reformulated gasoline we currently use in NoVA and Hampton Roads (which costs another +20-30 cents per gallon vs. conventional gaso) has probably served its purpose and may be less important now. I believe there is some thought to new gasoline standards– the Autos want a higher octane in Regular to enable higher MPGs. Of course, nothing is easy…the Ethanol Lobby insists that any octane increase should come solely from increased use of ethanol, but of course, the basic purpose of an oil refinery is to increase octane, so more ethanol is not the only answer.

      Unfortunately diesel vehicles have proven less “easy” to clean up versus gasoline vehicles.

      • Yes.. the regulation on sulfur and NOx has resulted in cleaner air and they do allow different formulations in response to the seasons but even then there are still cities in the US that will have problems if the regs are reduced. What they’ve also done – is allow the formulations to change by region and that further complicates – and makes more expensive.

        In the end – the question is if we reduce regulation does the air quality get worse in some cities? If the answer is yes – then should we de-regulate anyhow because other cities are “clean”? That’s the basic argument being made by those that want the regs rolled back.

  12. Let’s see. Belgium is about the size of, well, err Maryland? Of course I see the relevance!

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