Voltage Hogs and Green Crusaders

It’s a good thing George Fitch was never elected governor. He’s doing a lot more good as mayor of Warrenton, a locality small enough where he can act as entrepreneurial change-agent, than he could do sitting atop Virginia’s unwieldy bureaucracy. In this week’s edition of the e-zine, “One Man’s Trash…”, I profile Fitch and his crusade to make the 5,000 inhabitants of the town of Warrenton “energy independent.”

Besides implementing “green” conservation policies like those seen in Arlington County, Fitch wants to build a biomass plant capable of netting 5,000 megawatts a year of electricity, about enough for 5,000 households, plus 10 million gallons of ethanol. The main feedstock would be the garbage dumped into the town landfill, although he would employ any organic material that comes to hand — tree clippings, corn husks, old tires, wooden construction debris, cow manure, sewer sludge. The coolness factor is very high. But to make it happen, Fitch needs to find $300,000 for engineering and design work, and then line up federal loan guarantees to reassure investors backing a gasification technology that works in the lab but has never been tested in the field.

If Fitch can raise the capital and prove the concept, he thinks converting landfill biomass into energy will prove so lucrative that the idea will sweep across municipalities across the country. Next to hydro power, biomass is already the top form of renewable energy in the United States. Fitch’s idea could make small-scale energy production from biomass downright ubiquitous.

Which brings us to the topic of my second story, “Voltage Hogs,” the effort to implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Virginia. A proposed RPS bill, which has been sidetracked by the move to electricity re-regulation, would require electric utilities in Virginia to derive 12 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Unless Gov. Timothy M. Kaine insists upon major modifications to the re-regulation legislation, RPS is likely to die on the vine.

I don’t normally favor government mandates in the marketplace. But a few points are in order. First, a re-regulated electric utility industry is not a “free market” to begin with. Second, there is no level playing field: The re-regulation bill passed by the General Assembly biases Virginia energy policy towards continued expansion of big power plants using traditional fuels — coal and nukes — and connected by big transmission lines. It offers only meager incentives to invest in conservation, energy-efficiency and renewable fuels.

Third, and I found this to be astounding, Virginia’s economy is considerably more electricity-intensive than the American economy as a whole, which means that Virginia has one of the most electricity-intensive economies in the world. If we were an independent country, we’d rank No. 8 in electricity consumption per capita, right behind the United Arab Emirates, Arab sheikdoms that just happen to be sitting on, or near to, the largest supply of oil and natural gas on the globe. We’ve barely begun to explore the potential for conservation, efficiency and renewables. There are potentially hundreds of small-scale projects that offer rate payers more bang for the buck than the traditional Big Grid approach.

I still worry that a goal of generating 12 percent of Virginia’s electricity with renewables might be unrealistic and unachievable except at great expense to rate payers. So, it all comes back to George Fitch and Warrenton. If every community in Virginia could find a way within the next 13 years to convert its waste stream into energy, we’d have no trouble whatsoever making that 12-percent goal.

Virginians are bleating passively as the electric power companies herd us quietly toward our sheep shearing. The politicians, pundits, journalists and other supposed guardians of the public interest are asleep… as usual. It’s up to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who has expressed an interest in renewables, to bring some balance back to the re-regulation bill.

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24 responses to “Voltage Hogs and Green Crusaders”

  1. Real Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Real Inconvenient Truth

    Here is one of many articles for your consideration:

    “The Bottomless Well: No Need To Curb Energy Consumption
    by James K. Glassman (May 19, 2005)
    There’s no public-policy topic more prone to intellectual abuse than energy.

    Take conservation. Refrigerators, automobiles, houses, factories… They’re more than twice as efficient in using energy than they were 50 years ago.

    Fine. But, despite the conventional political wisdom, conservation has not cut our energy use. To the contrary. “The more efficient our technology, the more energy we consume,” write Peter Huber and Mark Mills in their brilliant new book, “The Bottomless Well.” Energy becomes more desirable if it works faster and better. “To curb energy consumption, you have to lower efficiency, not raise it.”

    Anyway, why on earth would we want to curb energy consumption? Energy abounds, and the leverage is incredible. It’s a tiny proportion of the economy, yet without it, we’d grind to a halt.

    Or consider the supply side. How many Americans know that the U.S. is the world’s largest energy producer?…”

    Read the rest here:


    I would submit that Virginia’s economy is so dynamic precisely because we are so energy intensive. Think computers and the internet.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    energy use is a proxy for efficiency and conservation of FUNDs.

    Each of us.. should trade in our cars to buy the most inefficient vehicles we could find… Hummers… or worse…

    Perhaps I need further education but it appears that if we followed this logic, we’d want auto assembly plants to become LESS efficient so that they would cost MORE.

    We’d want UPS to buy less fuel efficient vehicles and to leave them running overnight…

    We’d want our power plants to run at maximum output… so they could charge more for electricity


  3. Real Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Real Inconvenient Truth

    Larry –

    The point is that as “autonomobiles” become more fuel efficient, more people drive more miles because it costs so much less, thereby consuming more energy overall.

    Or take the example of the heat pump. The more efficient they became, the more homes they were installed in. The end result is that almost every home has not only heating which consumes electricity, but air conditioning which consumes even more as well. The heat exchange system is now so efficient that nearly everyone can and does regulate the climate in their indoor environment year round, thereby consuming even more energy than before.

    This is not a bad thing. Energy is everywhere and limitless from a human perspective. It is only a matter of human ingenuity in capturing it for our own benefit. Adding solar, wind, biomass, nuclear etc. to the mix only proves how ubiquitous the energy around us is.

    The result will be more energy consumption and a more prosperous world.

  4. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Real Inconvenient Truth:

    We have some reading for you too!

    Try almost anything by Theoretical Astrophysicist Thomas Gold. He had a theory that petrochemicals were continually being produced deep in the Earth.

    Gold claimed that there was no end to cheap oil. I do not recall if he addressed the problem of CO2 accumulation in the Atmosphere but James Lovelock does if you want to broaden your reading to the other end of the philosophical spectrum.

    Someone recently published a paper on the way the Tooth Fairy mints their own quarters, it may be available from Amazon.Com.

    You will also enjoy Joel Achenbach’s Rough Draft column “Believing Is Seeing” from The Washington Post Magazine for 4 March on myth generation and propagation.

    As we will point out in TRILO-G / HANDBOOK GLOSSARY under the 20 % / 60 % / 20 % Rule, you can get 20% of the population to agree with almost any contrarian idea / myth / fantasy. The earth is flat, smoking is good for you, the Moon landing was staged in Hollywood and many of Thomas Gold’s ideas too; you name it, you can get some to agree.

    That is what Joel A outlines with real humor in his column.

    You are not alone is whistling past the grave yard but you will end up there along with the ideas you, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, promote.

    Suggestion: If you care about how you are remembered by future generations, do not let your grandchildren hear you hold Perpetual Consumption Beliefs.

    In fact you are right that, in part, the robust expansion of some sectors of the Virginia economy is due to profligate consumption of energy and other aspects of Mass Over-Consumption.

    But there is the question of SUSTAINABILITY and the pain that is caused by the Collapse of unsustainable trajectories to consider. Jess Worth addressed these in “Buy Now, PAY LATER” in a recent issue of Unte Reader.

    Here is a challenge to test the theories you hope will allow you to maintain your consumptive ways:

    Name one, just one case where a exponential growth curve has been maintained in the known universe.

    In the early 70s the population of the earth and the per capita energy consumption were both growing at exponential rates.

    Now the rate of population growth has slowed but the “overshoot” may still condemn 10s or 100s of millions to suffering and premature death.

    The per capita energy consumption continues to rise. In places like Japan and Western Europe the per capita consumption has not grown, but it has not yet retreated.

    Just show us one place where that sort of trajectory has been maintained. From Rabbits in Australia to land prices in Florida the future of exponential growth is Collapse. It does not work in the real world. It is the ideology of a cancer cell to quote E. A.


  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Oh yes, Real Inconvenient Truth, one other thing:

    We read the Glassman column in Capitalism Mag you cited.

    We will give Glassman on thing: he is into recycling.

    Recycling dead ideas that is.

    What would you expect for “Capitaliam Magazine.” If citizens wake up, rabid capitial accumulation will be as popular as small pox and there goes their readership.

    Glassmas solution for US of A access to oil and other resouces is “we use our military power to encure thaqt goods and services flow freely”

    How many who have tuned in on the real world or the Walter Reed hearings or the last elections or yesterday in Bagdad or last week in Afghanastan or … think that US of A military power will insure much of anything? An aggressive military is not something a democracy with a conteomprary communications can maintain.

    Even if ever more scarce resources “flow freely” it will be a prices that more and more are out of the reach of the majority of the citizens of the US of A, much less less stable nation-states.

    The Wealth Gap is another thing that a democracy with a free market cannot long sustain.

    Sorry, RIT, your ideas are due to RIP.


  6. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    OK, two other things,

    RIC: The reason that the examples you site in your response to Larry consume more energy is because as noted elsewhere:

    Consumption makes a profit.

    When consumption costs more than conservation, then the tables will turn.

    Simple supply and demand will make that happen except that:

    Governments are messing with the market, and

    The problem of “overshoot” in natural systems.

    By the time the energy price finally goes up, there are no resources left to make the Fundamental Changes required to achieve a sustainable trajectory.


  7. Real Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Real Inconvenient Truth

    Ed Risse –

    Thanks to your Federal Tax Dollars at work, NASA just proved one of Thomas Gold’s theories about hydrocarbon production and the resulting probability of liquid methane on cold planets.

    “…Scientists report definitive evidence of the presence of lakes filled with liquid methane on Saturn’s moon Titan…”

    Here is the news link:


    Or if you prefer here is a January 7, 2007 article from BBC:

    “The Cassini probe has spotted what scientists say is unequivocal evidence of lakes of liquid methane on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.”


    Here is an excerpt from a recent paper on the issue:


    “…The best known recent advocate of abiogenic theory, Thomas Gold, discussed the production of hydrocarbon fuels simultaneously with other substances in the depths of Earth. Gold’s view led him to predict rivers and seas of methane on the surface of cold planets where organic life never existed.
    Gold passed away in July 2004, 6 months before the European Space Agency’s probe Huygens landed on Saturn’s largest moon, the cold Titan (about –180° C), and made photos of the rivers and seas of methane Gold had predicted… the quantities of methane are astonishing…”

    If you scroll down to page 5 in this article from the Carnegie Institute you will see that researches proved another aspect of Gold’s theory; “…these results support the possibility that the deep Earth may produce abiogenic hydrocarbons of its own…”


    Of course it was Russian scientists long before Gold who developed these theories and predicted where oil could be found at depths previously thought impossible.

    As a result “Russia Overtakes Saudi Arabia as World’s Leading Oil Producer — OPEC” is the headline in this article late last year.


    Cheer up Ed, clearly there is a universe full of energy staring at us and we don’t need wars to get it. Meanwhile, profitable conservation will continue to advance providing an additional betterment of life for all, and there is no tooth fairy.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “When consumption costs more than conservation, then the tables will turn.”

    Precisely. That is why we need to make sure that conservation pays. Even if we have to enforce conservation, we need to see that it pays, or else it will fail.

    Your continual message that we all have to give up something for the common good is a prescription for a continuous downward spiral. The common good cannot profit on a diet of universal deprivation.

    And, as Reid Greenum pointed out, it is a global market. As long as the Chinese and Indians are increasing their production of cars and earthmovers, any attempt we make to “conserve” fuel amounts to a gift to those who are our competitors. The way we win is not by using less fuel, but by gleaning more profit out of the fuel we do use.

    That way, when the energy price finally goes up, we will be in the best position to get the best possible trajectory. That trajectory still may not be sustainable, but this is the course that delays impact for the longest period of time.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde


    Assume we could “beam down” lakes of methane from titan.

    Wouldn’t the consumption of said methane only add to global warming?

    Or do you suppose there is enough energy there that we could air condition the earth?

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    As far as I know, no one ever suggested that organic life is needed to create what we call organic molecules. I spent several years creating custom designed molecules from scratch, simply by combining other materials under specific circumstances.

    If you combine carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in the right ratios and create the right conditions, then something is going to happen.

  11. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Thank you for the update on Thomas Gold. I had lost track of his ideas since his death. I did note the methane on Titan but did not make the connection to Gold.

    Actually your input reinforces our position in The Shape of the Future.

    Let us at the outset stipulate that in the known Universe there is a nearly infinite amount of energy in comparison to the amount in our own small Solar System much less the energy that humans have harnessed to date on Earth including that transported to, and abandoned on, the Moon.

    Now if we could just run a wire to a Black Hole much less a methane pipeline to Titan. We do not even use the Methane generated at the local land fill.

    As we note in the Nine Fundamental Theses and in Chapter 23 on sustainability of The Shape of the Future (See Chapter 23, Box 1) humans are constrained by a Galactic Quarantine. There is No Exit.

    There is no foreseeable access to any tangible resource outside our Solar system much less the nearest habitable planet when one is found.

    Within the Solar system, humans could inhabit places outside the Earth but at enormous expense and to what good end? If we cannot take care of this more-benign-than-any-place-we-know-of Earth why screw up barren rocks between here and Alpha, Beta or Proxima Centurion.

    At great cost we might do experiments, grow crystals and other marginal activities most of which would be better jobs for robots that would not get homesick or fall in love with shuttle pilots.

    There are theories of how humans might put solar farms or big mirrors on the Moon, etc. al. to ship energy to the Earth but they are very expensive ways to get energy.

    The sources of energy on the Earth are also getting more and more expensive to tap, deep in the ground, high on a ridge or inside atoms.

    The issue is access to energy that is both cheap and does not jeopardize the future.

    One way or another have to live within the budget. The constraint is not “energy,” it is “cheap / easily available energy.” We have burned through the easy access energy and it has negative side effects according to your name sake and others.

    Beyond all this, the primary concern at SYNERGY/Planning is not with energy per se but that citizens have use artificially cheap energy to create settlement pattern that are not sustainable without a continued flow of that cheap energy.

    Since human settlement patterns determine the economic, social and physical health and survival of civilization, access to cheap energy is a significant problem.

    In the US of A we have created human settlement patterns that the major contributor to burning thru 25 percent of earth resources and have the highest per capita burn rate for what good end?

    We have:

    A Mobility and Access Crisis.

    An Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis.

    An Wealth Gap Crisis.

    that are directly related to settlement patterns.

    Any and all of these will lead to the end of democracy and free markets in the long run and economic stagnation, social instability and collapse of natural systems in the short run.

    Consuming energy will yield the “Betterment of All?”

    Our current trajectory is not even improving the lot of the bottom half of even the nation-state that is burning through the resources.

    Beyond cheap energy, we have argued elsewhere that free / non polluting energy for autonomobiles would not improve mobility and access if citizen continue to generate ever more dysfunctional human settlement patterns. Since there is no free / non pollution energy we will not further develop that line of thought.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Precisely. That is why we need to make sure that conservation pays. Even if we have to enforce conservation, we need to see that it pays, or else it will fail.”

    re: global warming/greenhouse gases

    Just like with Mercury Pollution, we do not charge for the damage or require that the pollution be reduced….

    we provide cheap power – at a cost – which at some point – could be unacceptable.

    The problem is that “acceptability” is in the eyes of the enterprise who is trying to make a profit.

    There is no advantage in selling environmentally-friendly electricity because it costs more than electricity that is essentially subsidized by not having to pay for environmental damage.

    We actually arrived at the correct solution with respect to lead in gasoline and the more deadly of the pesticides…. but… we continue to underestimate the continuing damage of what we thought -years ago was “okay” and now we are finding out that indeed, it is not okay.

    But Dominion is not going to do anything that would place it at a competitive disadvantage and/or might ultimately lead to it’s demise – which would harm consumers also.

    Bottom line – pollution from power plants – cannot be done at a local or state level without consequences.

  13. Real Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Real Inconvenient Truth

    Ed Risse –

    I would be interested to know what you think the unsubsidized real price of energy should be. What should a gallon of gasoline cost or a kilowatt-hour of electricity?

    No matter what number you pick, increasing efficiency will get us right back to where we are now with sprawl and “autonomobiles” as you like to call them.

    If you double the price of gasoline, “autonomobile-lovers” only need to buy a lighter more fuel efficient car that gets double the mileage per gallon.

    Even if you quadruple the price, most individual drivers could continue their profligate driving patterns by switching to some of the newer massively fuel efficient hybrids.

    Some of the new all electric cars are one technological revolution in battery storage away from enabling autonomous transportation for a few pennies per mile.

    As for personal home electric consumption, some northern European countries have insulation down to such a science that very little power is needed to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

    The “dysfunctional human settlement patterns” that you decry are not so much a cheap energy issue as an example of two things. First, they are the result of misguided government regulations in the form of zoning laws that mandated sprawl and prohibited pedestrian friendly mixed-use development. Second, they are an example of the “tragedy of the commons” in the form of limited access highways that artificially subsidized the cost of commuting.

    In the future, universal access to clean cheap energy will dramatically improve the living standard of everyone.

    Far from getting more expensive, alternative sources of clean energy are getting cheaper and more efficient. As they do, they will be widely implemented.

    Check out this article from December 5, 2006

    New World Record Achieved in Solar Cell Technology
    New Solar Cell Breaks the “40 Percent Efficient” Sunlight-to-Electricity Barrier


    or here:

    Boeing-Spectrolab has developed a solar cell that can convert almost 41 percent of the sunlight that strikes it into electricity, the latest step in trying to drop the cost of solar power.


    Imagine a world where every rooftop is a power generating station. Imagine every homeowner is an “autonomogenerator” and is off grid. They plug their electric “autonomobile” into their personal power grid for a virtually free nonpolluting commute.

  14. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    The first world economy is driven by consumer consumption which has become Mass-OverConsumption, especilly by the “Haves and the Have Yachts.” See today’s WaPo.

    Mass Over-Consumption responds to hard-wired genetic instincts that got humans through the last 100,000 years.

    These procivities have created an urban civilization over the last 10,000 years.

    The problem is that these same inherant drives now put humans, especially citizens of First World economies, at the threshold of Collapse. This is due to geometric growth in the consumption of an expanding range of limited resources.

    The first step is citizen understanding of their own self-interest. Advocates of Business As Usual saying “burn and spend what you want, the more you burn and spend, the cheaper it will get” is a good way to keep citizens acting on basic instinct and not on rational self-interst.

    (By the way I have not yet seen a reference to any geometric growth rate that has been sustained in the known universe.)

    There is profit in Mass Over-Consumption and, to date little in conservation.

    Mass Over-Consumption is driven by advertising by those who profit from this Mass Over-Consumption aka Business As Usual.

    As we note continually, if the cost of location-variable goods and services were fairly distributed it would be a strong education tool and an economic boon.

    With an enlightened public, the price of energy does not have to be any higher than the true costs.

    In the Original EU, Japan and elsewher the rate of energy consumption per capita has been relitively level since 1973. That is good evidence that with education and a fair cost consumption can be slowed.

    Obviously, more work is needed.

    You stated:

    “Imagine a world where every rooftop is a power generating station. Imagine every homeowner is an “autonomogenerator” and is off grid. They plug their electric “autonomobile” into their personal power grid for a virtually free nonpolluting commute.”

    This is a far cry from piping in Methane from Titan or getting Dominion Power to run a new perfered line to a Black Hole so we will look at this suggestion sentence by sentence.

    “Imagine a world where every rooftop is a power generating station.”

    You may recall the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis? A growing percentage of the lower half of the economic food chain cannot afford a roof, much less one with a state of the art solar aray. That number is expanding as we write. You may have heard of exotic mortgages?

    Who pays for the house and the hardware?

    “Imagine every homeowner is an “autonomogenerator” and is off grid.”

    Energy self-sufficincy on a unit or even Dooryard scale results is disaggregation of the settlement pattern at the Neighborhood, Village and Community scales far beyond what the autonomobile requires.

    See our discussion in “Soft Consumption Paths” and E. Lovin’s Rocky Mnt Inst or our discussion of F. L. Wright’s Broadacre City in The Shape of the Future.

    “They plug their electric “autonomobile” into their personal power grid for a virtually free nonpolluting commute.”

    Ah the “commute.” That is why we noted the non-polluting, free energy souce is not an answer in the last post.

    See our discussion of “Solving the Commuting Problem” 9 Feb 2007.

    In summary:

    The vast majority of citizens, based on the prices they now pay in the market when they have an option, would not favor or find acceptable the disaggragated settlement pattern envisioned.

    Few would put up with the “inconvenience” of the dwelling design needed to achieve the extreme effeciency necessary to be energy independent on a unit or Cluster scale basis.

    Even if “everyone” did the cost of everything else would make far more expensive.

    In short this is a “solution” for just a few who are also in the top 10% of the economic food chain.

    On the other hand, Modular Integrated Utility Systems at the Cluster and Neighborhood scale when these compnents are organized in functional Villages and Balanced Communities have real potential.

    Why go to the extream of off the grid self-sufficiency when functional human settlement patterns favored by the market could introduce vast savings and yield life-styles must like those most revered in 2007?

    Why have these not settlement patterns not evoved? Because Business As Usual makes far more money from the Status Quo.

    The next step is that they will favor techno fixes where a few benefits rather than the rational settlement pattern alternatives where everyone benefits from economic prospertiy, social stablity and physical sustainablility.


  15. Real Inconvenient Truth Avatar
    Real Inconvenient Truth

    EMR –

    “…the threshold of Collapse. This is due to geometric growth in the consumption of an expanding range of limited resources…”

    Just what limited resources are you referring to?

    And for which ones is consumption currently growing at a geometric rate?

    Please don’t say oil, because the world is awash in alternative energy substitutes that we are increasingly able to harness profitably.

    Two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered by water that could be converted to hydrogen fuel using solar energy.

    Did you see this article last Friday on BBC?

    “Wave farms show energy potential

    Proponents of clean energy have long seen the oceans as a great hope for the future. Ocean waves carry tremendous power, and could, in theory at least, provide much of the world’s electricity.”


    It could be a less controversial energy source than wind farms.

    The pollution free inexpensive “commute” was my humorous way of saying I agree with you that cheap energy would not solve the problem of “dysfunctional human settlement patterns.”

    I am not advocating “autonomogeneration”, just pointing out that it will become possible.

    You asked: “You may recall the Affordable and Accessible Housing Crisis?”

    It is getting worse primarily because of restrictive zoning. Government is the problem, along with NIMBYs who view housing as an investment rather than consumption. If housing is an investment, the price has to keep going up to validate the investment. Restrictions on the supply of new housing don’t bother the middle and upper classes who want to see their investment increase in value. Restrict the supply, and the price will go up in an area with a growing population. Local governments also like rising home prices because it provides the illusion they are not increasing taxes.

    On the other hand, if housing were viewed as the consumptive commodity it really is, there would be a mass revolt against a system that forces humans into lifetime mortgage debt bondage.

    Why do we feel wealthier when housing costs more? Take any consumer durable. We feel and are more prosperous as the price drops and the quality improves. Take cars, computers, washing machines or any other consumer item. More of us can afford them when the price drops. We want the price to drop.

    Urban housing prices could drop too. Land becomes less and less significant the higher you build. Over four or five stories requires concrete. Why is concrete so expensive now? Among other reasons, Bush’s import quotas against Mexican concrete are keeping the price artificially high.

    Great article here:


  16. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Why have these not settlement patterns not evoved? Because Business As Usual makes far more money from the Status Quo. “

    I’d suggest that you refine your arguments and show us how we can all make money from more efficient settlement patterns, instead of trying to sell them based on what we all need to give up.

  17. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    That, and making concrete is one of the most energy intensive industries there is, right up there with glass, steel, and drywall.

    Does the value of land really become less of an issue the higher you build? Or is it as EMR suggests, these are the most highly valued areas?

    The reason you can afford to build higher is because the land is so expensive, otherwise you would never do it. and while land might be less of an issue as far as building higher is concerned, building higher makes land more of an issue as far as transportation is concerned. By building higher the developer is really transferring land costs to the public that has to endure the resulting congestion.

    But, just like alternative energy, we are awash in alternative land. It is as you say. Only restrictive zoning and and existing NIMBY investors are waht cause our housing shortage.

    Right now FEMA has a glut of mobile homes they are dumping on the market for as little as forty cents on the doallar of FEMA cost. Unfortunately it is pretty damn hard to find a place you are allowed to put a trailer except ina government sanctioned trailer ghetto.

    For decades, Fauquier county has been famous for claiming that housing costs them money. Last week in an article on the new county budget the county actually admitted that one of their problems was that they were not getting as much new money from construction!

    Finally, with regard to wave farms and wnd farms, there is one little problem. It might be far fetched, but some have raised the issue and it is worth looking in to. Wave farms and wind farms are basically extrcting energy from the earth’s heating and cooling system. It is possible that massive extraction systems could do as much damage as fossile fuels, in terms of global warming.

    Waves are part of what drives the ocean currents. If we extract enegry from the waves there won’t be as much to dive the currents. Then we will transport that energy to our cities, where it will increase the heat island effect.

    Same goes for wind. EMR is rght that there is no such thing as free or unlimited energy even if it isn’t free. But he is wrong to think that we can save ourselves by conserving it.

    The growth of urban ares has put us past that option.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    Such pathetic pessimism.
    Please Google “Julian Simon” and read some of what he wrote.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “I’d suggest that you refine your arguments and show us how we can all make money from more efficient settlement patterns, instead of trying to sell them based on what we all need to give up.”

    Agree – with a major caveat question.

    Are you assuming that the current marketplace is truly a free market without distortions (subsidies)?

    Because expecting one kind of settlement pattern to compete effectiving against another has to include fundamentals such as costs.

    If government policies essentially favor and reward single family dwellings on greenfields 50 miles distant from jobs – then why would you expect competing settlement patterns to be … competitive?

    Bonus question: If the government removes subsidies is that considered to be “using government to force people to do something they don’t want to do”?

  20. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    (Sorry, the earlier version had a number of errors and was not complete.)

    I saw your question about resource use just before leaving the office last night. It is an important question.

    As I always do I put down an outline of our response. And, as always happens, when I awoke this AM I had a full 10 pages I had processed over night that could be transcribed.

    That is the length of a column and it fits the need for one of the chapters I have yet to frame for BRIDGES, one of the books in TRILO-G. I am on sabbatical but have used several columns as draft chapters and benefit from the feedback, mainly off line.

    This string is soon going to fade into the archive and so posting something long here is not useful. In addition there are other items I need to get to our staff soon.

    I would ask you to hold your question, it will be a column soon.

    Your points with respect to houses as investments are very much on point and reflect our thinking in earlier columns. We will address this in the chapter of BRIDGES that deals with Affordable and Accessible Housing.

    I am excited about the “exhaustion of resources” ideas and hope you do not mind waiting.

    Thank you for spurring new thinking.


  21. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    At 10:25 PM, Anonymous said…

    “Such pathetic pessimism.

    Please Google “Julian Simon” and read some of what he wrote.”

    Great idea, Anon 10:25. Everyone who is concerned with evolving functional human settlement pattern should know about Julian Simon and his ideas just as they should know about Henry George.

    Julian Simon believed in Exponential Growth.

    What he wrote made donors to the Cato Foundation happy and generated feel-good vibes with all those who reap unearned profits from Business As Usual.

    The problem is Exponential Growth cannot be sustained in natural / organic systems in the known world and human settlement patterns are organic systems.

    Pathetic pessimism sounds like a bad thing but it is not as dangerous as pathetic optimism.

    Devotees of Julian Simon would be comfortable posting on topics labeled “culture wars,” but not ones such as “human settlement patterns,” “energy” or other science based topics.


  22. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    A two other items:

    In a 11:01 AM post you noted that misguided government regulations and Limited Access Highways are a cause of dysfunctional human settlement patterns.

    I did not want to let the opportunity pass to strongly agree with you on both counts. See “The Role of Municipal Planning in Creating Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns” and “Interstate Crime” a backgrounder and a column at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

    In your post of 5:10 PM you noted the context of Affordable and Accessible Housing.

    I would like to again note the importance of you observations.

    We are trying to harness this interest in a positive way in PROPERTY DYNAMICS.

    Intelligent investment in a house can be money well spent in creating a quality life for the occupants. With luck, regular maintenance, intelligent improvements and positive contributions to the context of the dwelling (Dooryard, Cluster, Neighborhood, etc,.) the owner may get their money out after they no longer need that dwelling. It is not, however, a way to “make money.”

    See today’s prediction from NAHB.

    At the same time, owner occupied dwellings are a much better investment than speculating in nonurban land in the hope that it will be purchased for urban land uses.

    The reason is simple. There is vastly more land held for urban land uses that there is a foreseeable need even at dysfunctional patterns and densities.

    If one wants to become a real estate “investor,” invest in property that generates a return that exceeds the holding cost, including retirement of the debt. Anything else is speculation and the vast majority of land speculators lose money.


  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “If one wants to become a real estate “investor,” invest in property that generates a return that exceeds the holding cost, including retirement of the debt. Anything else is speculation and the vast majority of land speculators lose money. “

    Yes Ed, but over what period of time? Lots of landlords invest in properties that provide them with negative cash flow, for a few years. Eventually, they expect the rents will go up while their mortgage is fixed. Over some period of time the property generates a return that exceeds the hoding costs. Until that happens, they are speculators.

    If you had a property that was providing an income that exceeded your holding costs, why would you ever sell it? That is why re-development is so slow. Despite how some of these places look, they provide positive cash flow.

    In order to buy the place a new buyer has to pay the present value of the land, and he has to pay the present owner enough of his future cash flow now that it is worthwile for him to give it up.

    Now, the new owner has a new and higher basis in the property. Based on the market, it can’t pay, at present, so he is a speculator.

    In order to change the market, he will invest time and money to change the use: he will become a developer. If he is really lucky, he’ll get the government to assist him in a KELO effort to help change the use: he’ll get a subsidy, to help him become a speculator, and if he succeeds he will eventually be an investor, with positive cash flow.

    If he is really stupid, he will make his investment in some place so utterly dysfunctional that it can never have any hope of making money, someplace like, say, Las Vegas.

    I really don’t understand why you have such a problem with profit, and speculators in particular. Speculators take risks, and if they are lucky they make some money. Probably they spend the money on their owner occupied home, which as you say, is a much better investment.

    (Yesterdays Wall Streeet Journal has a full page article on why it is a lousy investment.)

    I don’t think any real estate professional would advise the average investor to speculate in non urban land. We saw what happened in Florida, at least for a while. But the fact remains that investing in nonurban land in the hope that it will be purchased for urban land use is still a lot better investment that investing in nonurban land and trying to farm it. It is really hard to grow trees without being a speculator, by your definition.

    All that land is going to be owned by someone. Either the public will buy it at public cost so we can all keep it and enjoy it, the speculators will buy it and turn it into owner occupied dwellings so that we can all keep it and enjoy it, or else the farmers will continue to own it and lose money indefinitely for our benefit.

    Which do oyou suppose is best? Which do you suppose it will be?

    If your goal is to keep open space, then the way to do it is to see tht opwn space is more profitable than the alternative. Even if you are right, and speculating on non urban land for conversion is not a good investment, it is still far better than the alternative of investing in open land for nothing.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “that was providing an income that exceeded your holding costs, why would you ever sell it?”

    umm… because you could make a lot of money and then go use it to speculate even bigger profits?

    It sort of depends on what you’re after.

    If you just want a steady income.. then leaving your money suits you.

    If you want to make money.. then you are not satisfied with just getting an income …

    It’s sorta like asking someone why their money is in government securities rather than .. highly volatile stocks.

    A “speculator” is someone who bought a 1000 shares of GOOGLE on the first day it was offered.

    A “visonary” is someone who bought a 1000 shares of GOGGLE on the first day it was offered.

    Down in Fredericksburg – a guy bought a run down cow farm.. next to I-95 and paid a lot of money for it.

    Folks said he needed a mental examination.

    Now.. about 30 years later, he’s a “genius”.


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