Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy. Show all posts

Saturday, May 14, 2016

West Virginia and Kentucky Coal Mining Jobs - What Really Caused Job Loss?

My grandfather was a coal miner.

He started working in the mines in 1902, as soon as he turned 16.

There weren't any other jobs in Palo Pinto County, Texas, even then, for a young man with a third grade education, but that was as far as Texas public education went.

Labor saving devices consisted of mules, who became blind in the perpetual darkness of the mine shafts.

My grandfather lost his job in 1917.

Why? Technology.

In 1917, the mine's only customer, the Texas and Pacific Railroad,began converting its steam locomotives from coal-fired to oil-fired. Over the next year, the coal mines shut down all nineteen shafts at the Thurber mine.

That's not all.

In 1916, the US Navy took delivery of its first oil-fired battleship and never built another coal-fired one.

In one fell swoop, the Navy got rid of its biggest logistical and strategic problem and saved money at the same time. No longer did they have to worry about coaling stations. After entering World War I in 1917, the US Navy quickly addressed underway refueling.

The first operational underway replenishment was achieved by the United States Navy oiler USS Maumee. Following the declaration of war, 6 April 1917, she was assigned duty refueling at sea the destroyers being sent to Britain. Stationed about 300 miles south of Greenland, Maumee was ready for the second group of U.S. ships to be sent as they closed her 28 May. With the fueling of those six destroyers, Maumee pioneered the Navy’s underway refueling operations under the direction of Maumee's Chief Engineer Chester Nimitz, thus establishing a pattern of mobile logistic support which would enable the Navy to keep its fleets at sea for extended periods, with a far greater range independent of the availability of a friendly port.

After WWI most navies pursued the refueling of destroyers and other small vessels by either the alongside or astern method, convinced that larger warships could neither be effectively refueled astern nor safely refueled alongside, until a series of tests conducted by Rear Admiral Nimitz in 1939-40 perfected the rigs and shiphandling which made the refueling of any size vessel practical.

Japan continued to use astern refueling of small ships, which slowed down her surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US Navy had already perfected the alongside method, which proved crucial to operations in the Pacific. The Soviet Union also continued to use the astern method.

From 1923, about the time my grandfather came out of the mine shafts for the last time, coal mining entered a long period of decline:

1923        704,793
1943        418,703
1953        293,106
1963        141,646
1973        148,121
1983        175,642
1993        101,322
2003         71,023
2010         86,195
2011         88,000 
2013         80,396
2014         74,931 

I'm pretty sure my grandfather didn't know about the effect that changes in battleship design had on the market for coal, but since coal mining was the only job he knew, he went looking for another one. He found a coal mine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beneath what is now the state fairgrounds. By 1923, he decided  it was too dangerous in the mines and became a chauffeur instead.

In 1917, reductions in coal mining reflected replacement of coal by oil for many heavy energy users.

The current reduction in coal mining may stem from a similar cause. The New York Times recently reported: "The most immediate challenge to the coal industry is the hydraulic fracturing revolution that has produced a glut of natural gas over the last four years, making the fuel cheaper to burn and stimulating a relentless switch by utilities away from coal." Regulation changes may have little to do with it.

Nevertheless, it matters little to miners who have lost jobs.

Maybe we need to think more creatively about what miners do or can do.

For example, can miners operate heavy equipment for other purposes than removing coal from the ground? What can miners build that needs building? What can miners dig that needs digging?

Government planners, scientists and economists should be able to foresee where the world is going and how to use existing skills to go there. We should be able to foresee what skills will be needed in the future and to develop them.

By and large, such planning tasks are beyond the ability of private businesses worried about quarterly profits.

We need a long term vision.

We once had such people.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Russia's Paranoid Schizophrenia and The Clueless West

The West's contribution to the totally unprecedented challenge of conversion of the Soviet Union to a democratic and market-based society was, in my view, spotty at best. I say this as one who was involved in projects in Russia, Ukraine and Poland and very aware of projects in Estonia, Rumania and Moldova.

I also deplored at the time the unrestrained triumphalism that proclaimed: "we're number one - nyah, nyah nyah, we won the cold war." That wasn't helpful. Especially in places like Ukraine where people, especially elderly pensioners, were suddenly plunged into poverty by policies we pushed. So-called "shock therapy," for example, was pushed by policy makers who had no idea what the previous seventy years had put into place. The idea of "privatizing" a complex industrial establishment by issuing coupons to the citizens so they could buy shares in crumbling enterprises was a disaster in the making.

One of the most disappointing viewpoints at the time was that of USAID, whose bureaucracy was certain we knew what to do because, after all, we had privatized railroads and coal mines in the UK under Thatcher, tin mines in Bolivia and such like. They were, in short, clueless.

The folks the big six accounting firms sent out to do this gargantuan task were, for the most part, recent MBA's who didn't speak any local language and who were ignorant of the context. Bright, energetic, but ignorant.

We could have done better. Germany did do better. The Germans managed the conversion of East Germany not perfectly, but well enough. One reason Estonia is doing pretty well these days is that the Germans managed that conversion. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary had the advantage of pre-war experience in a market-based system.

Not only did the people we sent not have a background in Soviet economics, they had no background in Western Europe. They thought the American Way was the Only Way.

Let's do better next time.

I've been reading the news from Ukraine with dismay.

Didn't we win the cold war? Didn't we do away with Communism? Didn't George W. Bush look into Putin's soul and see someone we can do business with?

The truth is, our cold war conflict with the Soviet Union had little to do with Communism except in the minds of our own paranoid capitalists. In fact, in the opinion of the last Prime Minister of Russia before the October (Bolshevik) revolution, the Soviet Union didn't have a socialist or communist system at all - it was a case of State capitalism.

Anyhow, I wish the Ukrainians well. I have probably read more articles on the developing crisis than most Americans. I have collected links to a number of articles, mostly from the NY Times, but also from other sources. Please take your time and read them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wind Energy And Cherry Point

Last night the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners and the Pamlico County Planning Board had a joint meeting at the court house to receive a briefing by Cherry Point on wind generation systems. Specifically, Cherry Point briefed on problems for their air operations that are anticipated from wind turbines.

The briefing acknowledged that it is national policy and the policy of the Department of Defense to encourage alternative energy sources. The briefing did not emphasize, as it might have, that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has been a leading proponent of alternative energy. 

The main focus of the briefing was how wind turbines adversely affect Marine radar systems and how important radar is to their air operations. The main challenge was how to mitigate those effects.

Unfortunately, Cherry Point officials offered no hope and no prospects of hope for mitigation. "To date," one presentation slide asserts, "no study data is published indicating technology exists to eliminate wind turbine adverse effects on radar."

That isn't exactly what was reported in a 2008 study by MITRE Corporation, one of DOD's most experienced electronics contractors. "There is no fundamental physical constraint that prohibits the accurate detection of aircraft and weather patterns around wind farms. On the other hand, the nation’s aging long range radar infrastructure significantly increases the challenge of distinguishing wind farm signatures from airplanes or weather.

"Progress forward requires the development of mitigation measures, and
quantitative evaluation tools and metrics to determine when a wind farm
poses a sufficient threat to a radar installation for corrective action to be
taken. Mitigation measures may include modifications to wind farms (such
as methods to reduce radar cross section; and telemetry from wind farms to
radar), as well as modifications to radar
(such as improvements in processing;
radar design modifications; radar replacement; and the use of gap fillers in
radar coverage).

"There is great potential for the mitigation procedures, though there
is currently no source of funding to test how proposed mitigations work in
practice. In general, the government and industry should cooperate to find
methods for funding studies of technical mitigations. NOAA has an excellent
research plan, but no adequate funding to carry it out

"Once the potential for different mitigations are understood, we see no
scientific hurdle for constructing regulations that are technically based and
simple to understand and implement
, with a single government entity tak-
ing responsibility for overseeing the process. In individual cases, the best
solution might be to replace the aging radar station with modern and flexi-
ble equipment that is more able to separate wind farm clutter from aircraft.
This is a win-win situation for national security, both improving our radar
infrastructure and promoting the growth of sustainable energy

So the problem isn't technology, it is budgets for what may prove to be fairly minor improvements to radars, new procedures, and possibly coatings for turbine blades to reduce their radar cross-sections. I got the distinct impression that the Marine Corps isn't sufficiently concerned to spend any R&D funds fixing their radars. Why should they, if they can achieve the same end at no cost by intimidating state and local government? The only cost would be to retard economic development in Pamlico County and that doesn't cost the Marine Corps a dime.

In her introductory remarks to the meeting, Commissioner Holton emphasized the potential economic development benefits of wind energy to Pamlico County.

Speaking of mitigation, any measure to replace fossil fuel energy sources with non-carbon alternatives such as wind, solar or nuclear, will delay anticipated sea level rise from global warming. That should matter to every resident of Pamlico County and elsewhere in Eastern North Carolina. In my case, I just raised my house three feet to mitigate the effect of storm surge after Irene. But predictions are that the sea level will rise one meter (39 inches) this century. If so, my house is back in the flood waters.

So I am in favor of wind, solar and nuclear power. No single solution - all of the above.

This discussion has been going on for awhile here and here and here and here and here and here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

North Carolina Wind

A little more than three years ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill completed a nine-month comprehensive study of coastal wind energy.

The study's conclusion: "North Carolina is well positioned to develop utility scale wind energy production and it is the opinion of the project team that the State should pursue it aggressively."

That was in the summer of 2009. Here is a link to the study - click on "Full Study." If you don't have the time or patience to read it (it's 378 pages), just look at the illustrations and maps. Especially the maps at the end of the study. The map on page 370, for example, shows Bayboro as a possible interconnection substation.

Has the State pursued wind energy production aggressively? No.

Why not?

Could it be because in 2010 the North Carolina State Legislature was taken over by a political party that has:
1. No interest in any kind of energy but petroleum, natural gas and coal?
2. No interest in freeing the US from  petroleum imports?
3. No interest in reducing carbon emissions?
4. No concern over sea level rise?
5. No interest in economic development in Eastern North Carolina?

How about all of the above?

It looks like any push for coastal wind energy development will have to come from the people of Eastern North Carolina working together in their own interest. In the present political climate, neither Raleigh nor Washington is likely to pick up this challenge without a strong push from us.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Speaking Of Energy

Here's a link to a very good discussion of the economics, politics and technology issues of natural gas vehicles. With respect to energy independence as well as cost control, I go for an "all of the above" approach. There is no single silver bullet.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Follow The Money

That was the advice of "Deep Throat" in the movie, "All The President's Men" about Watergate. It's actually good advice most any time. It helps answer the questions "who benefits" and "who pays."

Take energy policy. Discussions in that arena tend to generate more heat than light, but the heat is against exploring alternative "green" or other sources of energy and in favor of relying more on increasingly expensive (and difficult to recover) petroleum.

Most recently, the US Senate rejected a one-year extension of a tax benefit for alternative energy, including wind energy. The ostensible reason: oh, that's a subsidy. And we have to pay for it.

Well, we already subsidize oil to the tune of $4 billion per year. World wide, oil companies are subsidized about $409 billion annually.

One way to cover most of the cost of alternative energy would be to do away with the existing US subsidy of the petroleum industry, which clearly doesn't need it. But every time progressive legislators try to take away that subsidy, we see an outcry from Republicans and the few remaining oil state Democrats.

Could that have anything to do with the fact that the Koch brothers (who got their wealth the old-fashioned way - by inheritance) are the principal funders of conservative Republican candidates, think tanks and movements?

A frequent objection to subsidies for solar, wind and other non-fossil energy sources is that they are more expensive than oil and natural gas. Beside, global warming was made up by Al Gore. Pay no attention to the melting ice caps and resulting sea level rise.

But costs of wind and solar are coming down. Quickly. Partly because China is investing heavily in alternate energy.

Here is an analysis in Scientific American of recent developments in the field of solar energy. In short, we may be within three years of equality between the cost of coal-fired and solar power generation.

But the sun only shines about half the time. Wind, on the other hand, can blow any time of the day or night.

And North Carolina has the best location on the entire East Coast of the United States for offshore wind generation. A serious effort to develop our wind power resources in Pamlico Sound as well as offshore could provide a major economic engine for Eastern North Carolina.

It might also contribute to slowing global warming and sea level rise.

This would be a win, win, win for Eastern North Carolina.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Power Of Wind

Tonight's meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners received an information briefing from the Wind Capital Group concerning their planned wind farm in Pamlico County. The briefing also addressed issues concerning technical developments in wind generation of electrical power, power distribution, costs and environmental effects.

Wind Capital Group has built and operated wind farms elsewhere in the country, mostly in the mid west. The company's information addressed issues including the percentage of time the wind turbines will produce electricity (about a third of the time); cost per KW to generate electricity (less than nuclear, a bit more than coal, but in the general ballpark and costs keep coming down); noise (45-50 dBA - about the same as a conversation at home in a quiet suburb); adverse effect on the atmosphere (none to speak of - in same ballpark as hydroelectric power).

Tonight's briefing contrasted greatly with that of Dr. John Droz, who briefed the commissioners a month ago. Whereas tonight's briefing presented actual verifiable facts, complete with numbers, Mr. Droz provided a rant. There were no facts that could be verified - only strongly worded opinions. Don't take my word for it - read one version of the Droz briefing on his own site.

If you find any actual facts in the Droz briefing, please let me know.

As for me, I don't quite understand what the fuss is about. Anyone who believes or claims to believe that wind power can replace fossil fuels is either a fool or a liar. But no one promoting wind power or solar power or for that matter nuclear power, claims that it can solve our power generation problem.

A lot of foolish assertions are made.

Last week, for example, I came across an attack on electric automobiles. "What they really are," the author asserted, "is coal-powered automobiles." OK. Some might be. They also might be powered by natural gas. Or water turbines. Or by the tides. Or by the sun or the wind or nuclear power.

When you plug your car's charger into an outlet, you don't know how that particular power was generated. It doesn't matter. It's a game of percentages. Anything we can do to reduce the percentage of our transportation powered by high pollution sources is a plus. Even using better insulation.

Wind powered automobiles? Pretty neat idea.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sustainable Policies

I was pretty astounded to read recently that the Wake County Board of Commissioners by a vote of 4-3 rejected a study they themselves had commissioned to balance growth, environment and economics. The Republican majority (one of whom is seeking election as Lieutenant Governor and another of whom is running for the 13th Congressional District) rejected the report. It made no difference that the head of the commission was Republican. Apparently the very idea of wise management of our resources is some kind of Democratic plot. You can read about it here.

This sort of foolishness grabs my attention. It is of a piece with the successful effort to prevent the Science Panel of North Carolina's Coastal Resources Commission from considering sea level rise above 22 inches.

It fits right in with those who deny climate change.

I grew up in tornado country. I don't remember anything quite like last night's tornado blitz across fifteen states. The polar ice cap is plainly melting. Some glaciers I witnessed in my youth in Alaska have disappeared.

Something is plainly happening. We need to foresee and prepare for the consequences.

We cannot dismiss the threat as one of Oriental's commissioners did to me last week by claiming that global warming was "made up" by Al Gore.

One of the things that is happening is population. In my life time, the population of the United States has more than doubled. It is now about 2.4 times what it was when I was born.

The world population is growing even faster. It was about 2.3 billion when I was born and is about 7 billion now.

A decade ago, the best estimate was that the world's population was about three times the number that could sustain a European level consumption. By now, it is probably four times as much.

We are killing the planet, and will eventually kill ourselves.

Can we keep this future from happening? I don't know. But we won't improve our chances by refusing to study and plan. It's what rational humans do. As presidential candidate Ross Perot once observed, "The difference between human beings and rabbits is that we can think and reason." Let's prove him right.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Renewable Energy

Monday night at the Pamlico County Commissioners meeting, a guest offered his views on why renewable energy sources (specifically wind energy) would be bad for Pamlico County: it costs more, it can't completely replace other forms of energy, its savings are exaggerated, it will reduce employment and it will chase tourists away. Since we currently have no wind generators in Pamlico County, I assume that means we must be awash in tourists, money and jobs.

Not exactly.

Since the meeting, though, I have been remembering a form of renewable energy that cost nothing but a bit of sweat, toil and tears.

Here is a picture of me and Joe Willie in Holmes County, Mississippi, gathering wood for the kitchen cook stove. Joe Willie chopped and both of us carried. About 1943: