What’s Bugging Me

I’m often asked about my source of ideas for this space each month. I have two primary sources of subject material. First, I read the industry news every day and save those items that either annoy or agitate me. At the end of the month, I go over the list, often a long one, and pick the one item that immediately motivates me to take virtual pen to paper. This month, no single item emerged as the topic for my bully pulpit, so I present a potpourri of loosely connected topics for your consideration. (It should be noted that other things bug other members of the editorial staff; we’re a diverse group and do not always agree about industry issues.)

Foreign Corporate Influences

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), a.k.a. Waxman-Markey, is frozen in the U.S. Senate, and the recent "climategate" revelations will help keep it in the deep freeze. However, several enormous non-U.S.-based engineered-equipment conglomerates continue to support lobbying organizations that seek passage of this legislation. The email stream is unending. Why is that? Could it be that Waxman-Markey manufactures new and potentially lucrative "business opportunities" that will surely ship fat profits earned in the U.S. (your tax dollars) overseas?

Another interesting press release arrived this month from the Investigative Reporting Workshop. That group found that 79% of the more than $2 billion in stimulus payments for wind turbine equipment so far went to foreign manufacturers. Both trends are a slap in the face of U.S. manufacturers.

Every Media Release Is Now Greenwashed

The number of organizations cloaking themselves in green to shape market perceptions is increasing every month. One of my favorite press releases was a company that sells recycled motor and industrial oil burner systems. The "fuel" for the boiler burners was described as "renewable," making the oil burning system a "green" technology. This logic leap defies gravity. In a similar fashion, a pro-nuclear group sent out a press release calling for 40 new nuclear plants by 2035 titled "Nuclear Power: A Green Technology." There’s an old tailor’s adage, modified slightly for the occasion: "If a man wants a green suit, turn on a green light." Marketeers: Green is going out of fashion this year.

Green Jobs Are a Chimera

An online story at fastcompany.com in January 2009 presented the magazine’s list of the top 10 green jobs in the coming decade: farmer, forester, solar power installer, energy efficiency builder, wind turbine fabricator, conservation biologist, green MBA and entrepreneur, recycler, sustainability systems developer (IT geek), and urban planner. Stimulus funds were advertised as an investment in new green jobs, but federal government stimulus funds are by design short-lived, and the hype of green jobs has subsided.

I don’t see millions of newly formed, "highly paid" green jobs but rather a natural progression of existing jobs in transitional industries — redeploying existing, not new, skills according to market forces.

Instead, how about building a few nuclear plants each year that will generate tens of thousands of new jobs along the entire nuclear supply chain — jobs that will last for generations. Those are the kind of "baseload" jobs this country requires.

Making Markets

First, the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) wrote the white paper that later morphed into the cap-and-trade program in Waxman-Markey. Now the group has announced a renewed effort to kick-start the stalled legislation by initiating a new PR campaign. "The USCAP campaign will include a series of advertisements focusing on the connection between action on climate and energy legislation and U.S. jobs, the economy, and energy security." What they failed to note is that BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Caterpillar finally recognized that the group’s agenda is unfair to American industry and resigned their membership in mid-February.

I hope the remaining members will again put shareholders and consumers ahead of politics or market advantage. In my estimation, the organizations that remain in USCAP are merely engaged in rent-seeking — attempting to game the regulatory system to predetermine market winners and losers in a potential trillion dollar carbon market.

Carbon Bragging Rights

Calpine finally sealed a deal with the California Energy Commission for construction of its new Russell City Energy Center, a 600-MW combined-cycle plant located near San Francisco. You may ask, "What’s so interesting about another combined-cycle plant?" Calpine voluntarily asked for and received a permit to emit CO2 from the facility.

Calpine spokesman Don Neal said, "Our idea was that we wanted to undertake a process for establishing (Russell City) that would be identical to what the EPA will require." Last time I checked, the Environmental Protection Agency had yet to begin writing rules for combustion turbine CO2 limits, and its carbon rulemaking will be years in the making, if it ever happens. To meet the new limits, I expect Calpine will try to minimize cycling and part-load operation, preferring baseload whenever possible; will judiciously perform the necessary operation and maintenance activities to ensure high combustion turbine efficiency; and will use the supplemental burners sparingly. But wait, that’s how combined-cycle owners already operate their plants.

Your Concerns?

The second source of ideas for this column is reader email. Will you share with me what concerns or excites you about the power industry? Send your short list to me at robertp@powermag.com. Keep it short, factual, and focused, and I promise to print the most interesting submissions.

—Dr. Robert Peltier, PE, is POWER’s editor-in-chief.