Friday, April 06, 2012

It's not about the Benjamins.

Humans are not rational animals. Oh, sure, we pay a lot of lip service to logic and reason, but we're suckers for ceremony and symbolism. Ultimately, it's about all about feelings.

Every time gas jumps ten cents, somebody trades in their perfectly functional Accord and goes thirty long into hock on a Prius that, even were gas to double in cost, would not have a prayer of paying for itself in fuel savings before it, too, gets traded in.

People browse the organic breakfast food shelves for the muesli that tastes most like authentic sawmill floor sweepings, because that's how you know it's good for you. It's not food, it's a hair shirt you eat. When you're doing penance for not going jogging this morning or for having that extra martini last night, it's not supposed to taste good.

Likewise, wind turbines are not meant to actually be an efficient way to supply the power grid, rather they're prayer wheels for New Age iBuddhists, their whirring blades drawing white guilt from the atmosphere and pumping it safely underground. This is why they put them out in farm fields in the country and not, say, off Martha's Vinyard or out on the back nine, in view of the clubhouse: What good is a shrine if you don't have to make a pilgrimage to get to it?


Wade said...

"...prayer wheels for New Age iBuddhists..." has to be one of the best turns of phrase I've seen in your blog in a while. Thanks for the chuckle.

westofthewest said...

Nothin' but net.

Brad K. said...

"For years, the wind energy industry has had a license to kill golden eagles and lots of other migratory birds. It's not an official license, mind you.

But as the bird carcasses pile up—two more dead golden eagles were recently found at the Pine Tree wind project in Southern California's Kern County, bringing the number of eagle carcasses at that site to eight—the wind industry's unofficial license to kill wildlife is finally getting some serious scrutiny.

-- That is, according to Robert Bryce at the Wall Street Journal (Windmills vs. Birds

"About 70 golden eagles are killed every year by turbines at California's Altamont Pass, reports the LA Times."

TheGuardian reports ("Wind myths: Turbines kill birds and bats", that "Studies . . of windfarms built in California and Spain in the 1980s have shown an "excessive" number of fatalities among six raptor species, including eagles and vultures. The evidence suggests that poor planning and outmoded turbine design was largely responsible and the current thinking is that fewer, but much large turbines sited away from known migratory paths of birds can significantly decrease the risk of bird strikes."

What an apologist! "Oh, but after we burn down your house, the neighbors will have a much nicer view!". Gag me with a spoon.

Or how about Texas, by far the leader in installed wind farms (over 2,000 MW in 2010).

"For these reasons, the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) estimates that actual net summertime generation for wind power in Texas is only around 8.7 percent of installed capacity. During electricity’s prime time, wind contributes a paltry one percent, according to ERCOT" ( Oh, and this article points out that the mandate to install renewable energy sources, just like Europe (remember those folks with severe economic troubles?) was written and promoted, back in 1990, by . . wait for it . . Enron. Talk about your invitation to disaster!

Anonymous said...

+1 on the greatness of Tam's "...prayer wheels..." line. She usually wins the internets on a daily basis but that one takes annihilating the mortals to a new level!

Grant Cunningham said...

The "prayer wheels" line is priceless. I'm envisioning a t-shirt, which I'd wear on my occasional trips to the hippy food store.

staghounds said...

Alas Tam's art imitates life-

Anonymous said...

How's that big windmill farm north of Indy doing? That thing covered miles though I noticed only about 1/3 of the blades were turning when I drove by it a few years ago.


rickn8or said...

Brad, just wait until one of these turbines kills a California Condor...

And I've long suspected that these turbine projects are not so much to generate electricity as they are to generate jobs for those truckers that haul the blades up and down the interstate.

staghounds said...

It's NEVER "waste", because somebody always gets the (political) power, someone always gets the money.

Tam said...


I don't get north of Lafayette much, but last time I did, it was still Om-Mani-Padme-Humming along.

Jay G said...

That's why my tagline for the Toyota Pious, I mean Prius is:

Prius: The car for people who suck at math.

Dirk said...

Even going to something like a motorcycle or scooter won't save you enough to even pay for the insurance on it, much less put a dent in the purchase price, unless you have a reeeeeeaaaaallllllly long commute and/or (but mostly "and") you're riding the two-wheeler in preference to something that gets gallons to the mile. And then there's the increased risk of two-wheelers in heavy-traffic suburbs.

Frank W. James said...

Re: The Meadow Lake Wind farm north of Lafayette, most all of 'em are turning, but the projects are 'stalled' in terms of new construction because there is NO more demand. All the electricity they make isn't used by us Hoosiers or Mid-western types anyway.

It all goest to Neuu Yawk city.

Many of the locals (not me) like 'em though because at $7,200/yr rent for each tower, why wouldn't they?

P.T. Barnum was right...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Frank W. James said...

Re: The Meadow Lake Wind farm north of Lafayette, most all of 'em are turning, but the projects are 'stalled' in terms of new construction because there is NO more demand. All the electricity they make isn't used by us Hoosiers or Mid-western types anyway.

It all goest to Neuu Yawk city.

Many of the locals (not me) like 'em though because at $7,200/yr rent for each tower, why wouldn't they?

P.T. Barnum was right...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

global village idiot said...

Last night I attended the NW chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Surveyor's meeting. Our guest speaker was a guy who installs solar and wind on residences and businesses.

Even he admitted that wind is a hard sell here in Indiana, even for residential, though it can be done (the costs are exorbitant and the time-to-payoff greater than any other renewable). Small-scale solar seems like the thing to do if you want to lower your costs. If you're looking for true off-grid energy independence, it's still a pricey proposition.

My 2000 Cherokee gets 15mpg on a normal commute day and 20 on the highway. It's not very good at all, but the car's paid for (it was paid for in cash the moment I drove off the lot) and my costs are much lower than someone who drives a Prius.

For my part, if I went with a motorcycle (a used one) it would actually save me money - did the math once. Trouble is, the one I want is a Ural and it doesn't get very good mileage, so it'd only be tinkering at the margins.


Kristopher said...

Windmills do make more energy when they have rocket assist units.

Brad K. said...

@ global village idiot,

I worked in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s, just after the peak "Oh, we gotta go solar to save money and stop exploiting oil from our descendants!" craze.

There were numerous solar electric panels, battery rooms, etc. It turns out that the single solar use that actually reduced monthly expenses was pre-heating the water for the water heater.

I doubt the lessons learned, for those looking to reduce costs, has changed much.

Ian Argent said...

Being in the market for a car right now (effectively, replacing an '02 Taurus with 127K on the clock), and running the numbers; the (minor) cost differential between a non-hybrid and a hybrid mid-size sedan (which the Prius is not, and neither is the Taurus these days) is more than made up for by the difference in mileage. Since I'm looking at used cars, there's a lot more variables, making it hard to do straight-up comparisons, though.

Anonymous said...

I got so horned up to buy a CNG Honda with home filler/compressor unit last week that I had to change the sheets twice. Did the math...after trading my paid-for 2007 Camry, the CNG would pay for it self in 163,000 miles, if gas stays under $5.

global village idiot said...


The cost savings comes not in the start-up costs or ROI per-se; rather, the public utility in my area buys back solar at roughly twice the purchase rate. The system is wired to the grid - excess electricity goes back into the system.

It's a win for the consumer because he can conceivably bring his electricity bill to $0, and it's a win for the utility because the more of these systems that go up, the less infrastructure they have to build, maintain, insure, etc.

You are right in that water heating is the quickest for ROI.


CGHill said...

Wind almost works out here on the Plains, since we have lots of it.

Most of the time. In the dog days of summer, we might not have enough; in Storm Season, we might have too much. (They shut the big fans down when wind reaches gale force.)

So far, the combination of ill-advised tax preferences and the desire to appear Greener Than Thou has made it a decent investment for those of us who pay the bill every month, the tariffs being constructed in such a way as to charge us for the wind and then rebate it for the natural gas we're not using.

Brad K. said...

@ global village idiot,

"the public utility in my area buys back solar at roughly twice the purchase rate."

Oh. You mean, just like the negative tariff program in England. That ran for 20 years, and they cannot afford anymore. The US Government doesn't usually keep promises for 20 years. I wouldn't expect utility companies to buy back electricity over their retail price without someone paying the difference -- either tax payers or their other customers.

And someone has to pay for the extra infrastructure to meter and condition that power they are receiving. Because most of America depends on phase-correct 60 hz electricity, and most home-level generation is 60 hz give or take a bit.

Yeah, you are selling electricity to the utility companies, but you are riding a politician's coat tails, and spending from a taxpayer's wallet. Both tend to run dry over time.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that hybrids (Prius, Highlander etc) can be a lot of fun to drive. Instant power, full time 4 wheel drive, great acceleration.

Yep, I work for an oil company and you will find a lot of hybrids at the office. We know they use more energy in the long run but they are a lot of fun to own and drive.

I drove 380 miles in our hybrid yesterday and it got all of 2 miles per gallon better then my truck. But it was a fun drive!

A Critic said...

"Humans are not rational animals."

@Tam - then what are the few beings who are rational???

Also - you might enjoy


Justthisguy said...

Ceremony and symbolism, yup. That is why I attend Anglican services. If they could just lose the modern hippy guitar music, my church would be perfect. At least the guitar is a Kaman.

Inspector said...

"@Tam - then what are the few beings who are rational??? "


C'mon, leave Aristotle alone. Or, if you are going to poke fun, please name me at least one person who takes the descriptor "rational animal" to mean, "all humans are rational," rather than, you know, what it actually does mean.


Inspector said...

Sorry, that should read: " one advocate of the classification, 'rational animal.'" Obviously, one could name detractors that take the wrong meaning from it. As in, you know, most of them.

Anonymous said...

I am jumping up and down in agreement. I was just telling a friend of mine that if you go back in time and replace the Catholic church with environmentalists and replace Galileo with actual skeptics, then you would have a perfect reproduction. The environmentalists think human behavior is the center and the cause of woes in the universe and that we need to repent. Skeptics point to the giant ball of flame that supplies our heat and say, "Maybe it has something to do with that."


Justthisguy said...

Hank, some things are susceptible to being figured out by the methods of Science, and some are not.

This is one of the reasons I go to church. Another reason is that I tend to be a grumpy old meany if I don't go to church.