fossil fuel costs

Should the United States Military be Exempt?

The United States military is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Soldiers are well trained and well equipped, but do you know the other part of the piece it takes to sustain  that powerhouse? Well I can tell you... a lot of fossil fuel.  All of the military's bulky machinery runs on oil while also being exempt from emission reports required in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. But thanks to the newest COP21 climate agreement things may be changing; for the better.

Facts state that  U.S. forces continue to be THE leading institutional consumer of crude oil in the world. With that title comes some hefty numbers of consumption. On an annual basis our forces consume over 100 million barrels of oil. Those barrels equate to over 70 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. A side note; those staggering numbers omit hundreds of overseas bases as well as vehicles. To give you a clearer picture to hit the idea home lets talk about the number of carbon emissions from just the Iraq war alone. In the first four years of the war there were 141 million metric tons of carbon released. If you were to break that number out over four years each year carbon emissions would equate to be more than emissions from 139 countries.... I think that number brings the idea home.
It all goes back to the saying that we here at SJVCEO use, " you can't fix what you don't measure." How are we as a nation to crack down on carbon emissions when we are not measuring ALL of our output. With the new agreement our military is not required to report and or cut emissions, but are not automatically exempt anymore. With that ruling you would expect to have military leaders up in arms about the decision, but quite the contrary. Many top officials support lowering the military's dependence on fossil fuels. The support is mostly because of the high death toll associated with oil. If we can lower our dependence on oil then we can make our troops safer and save countless lives in our military. 
Cutting down on the use of fossil fuels can be a hard item to tackle since much of our military depends on them to power much of the machinery on the ground. Having machinery that is more efficient will help to better protect our troops and lower our dependence. Don't think that I am suggesting that our troops roll up in a Toyota Prius to handle combat, but there can be a happy medium. 

That happy medium comes from two of the biggest military contractors, Lockheed Martin and AM General. These two firms have taken on the challenge of making a safe and lighter vehicle for those troops on the ground. These two companies have come up with three different types of vehicles that are competing to replace the current staple, the Humvee. The Humvee has been around since the 1990's and has served its purpose, but with the military becoming liable for its emissions it may not continue to be so.
All three of the vehicles proposed can withstand blast impacts as well as bullets, but have a lighter body. With the lighter body style troops are able to get more MPG as well as more maneuverability on urban and off-road patrols. Some of the models are even being tweaked to become "greener" by going hybrid- diesel.  
Sure we know that a lot of emissions come from wars overseas and machinery, but we still need to think of the military actions that take place on a day-to-day basis. On a daily basis there are over 10,000 people that report to a military base each day. On top of that the military has continuous training activities taking place all over the U.S. and overseas each week. Many of the top commanders are starting realize all of those activities are adding up against our environment. To combat environmental damage the military bases are beginning to deploy electric vehicles for on-base transportation as well as installing electric vehicle chargers.
Maybe this year, 2016, we have a light bulb moment on carbon emissions and the U.S. military. The world is realizing that military actions are just as responsible for climate change as the normal citizen living their day-to-day lives. With the reporting of carbon emissions maybe we can fix what we are measuring moving forward.

Coal may be the most expensive fuel on the planet

Studies show coal to be one of the cheapest electricity-producing fuels.

At 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, who can argue? Solar is dropping from reports of 12 cents (and up) per kWh to an estimated parity with fossil fuels, according to a study by Queen's University. And wind power is getting cheaper. There's also something I just discovered called atmospheric cold megawatts technology, but I digress.

However, coal and its fellow fossil fuel compatriot natural gas and nuclear still have the edge since they're not dependent on weather or the Earth's rotation.

Boiled shoe theory

Coal accounts for more than half U.S. energy production. It's easy to transport, ignite and burns hot. Great stuff if you're a shivering Charlie Chaplin in his classic silent film "The Gold Rush." Key scene is where he eats his boiled shoe.

But coal extraction has become controversial. Mountaintop removal is not pretty. In addition, the nation's 491 coal-fired plants contribute an estimated 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. And dealing with the leftover toxic ash has proved dangerous. Just look at what happened at the Emory River in Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2008 when 1.1 billion gallons of fly-ash slurry burst a containment levy surrounding an 84-acre pond.

Merry Christmas. It was the biggest such spill in the nation's history. And there's potentially more where that came from. Wait for a good 100-year rain.

Cost accounting

Few corporate supporters of fossil fuels ever mention the environmental cost of their preferred energy sources. Most prefer to shuffle that concept to the background. Until recently it's been limited to the fringe -- a rallying cry for only the most hard-core greenies.

Little by little, other groups and individuals are realizing we can't keep burning stuff and get away scott free. The representatives at the Durban Climate Change Conference didn't pass any binding agreements, but most didn't mince words either.

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations general-secretary, in a speech at the event says governments and the private sector are working together on sustainable energy and extolled it as a way to cut greenhouse gases while reducing poverty and creating economic growth. "Let us prove that we not only know where we are going – and how to get there – but that we are prepared to take collective action that will move us down that road," he says.

Point of no return

Apisai Ielemia takes it even further. As the minister of foreign affairs, trade, tourism, environment and labor for the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu, he's well aware of the potential threat behind climate change. "We have no time to wait, and we are only a few inches from the point of no return," he says. Listen to his speech on Democracy Now.

As much as I love's recent TV advertising campaign, coal does have serious drawbacks. Nothing about untold millions of particles of mercury billowing into the atmosphere each year from coal-fired power plants is cost-effec­tive. The dust settles across the country and U.S. waters and works its way into the food chain. Should user groups begin to sue coal producers and utilities for damage compensation, I imagine the cost of electricit­y via the fossil fuel will rise significan­tly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year has proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The move is meant, officials say, to "cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, while preventing as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year."

Health effects from coal

The proposed standards are meant to prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year, the EPA says. In addition, the rules are expected to prevent more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 days of work missed due to illness.

The 1990 Clean Air Act was supposed to deal with coal emissions. The delay took more than two decades. President Obama is expected to rule on the issue Monday.

"This is not an issue of jobs versus the environment. It's an issue of the American people's public health versus a narrow special interest," writes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a piece on Huffington Post. Bloomberg does say, however, that more than half coal plants already have installed measures to control their mercury emissions.

Mercury the neurotoxin

An October 2003 report by Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants says mercury is a "potent neurotoxin particularly damaging to the development of the fetus, infant and young child." And while coal-fired plants, according to the EPA, are the largest producer of mercury in the environment, they are not the only airborne mercury source.

EPA's December 1997 "Mercury Study Report to Congress" estimates the amount of mercury sent up into U.S. airspace to be 158 tons. That's from trash burning, boilers and natural emissions but most from "combustion sources." Quite a pile, and the majority heads out over the ocean where it comes back in fish.

The Northern States report says the most stringent standards for reducing mercury emissions would remove 96 percent from the stacks of coal-fired power plants while the least would remove only 40 percent. The report's authors say it's a difference of 2 and 28 tons.

Solutions exist but they cost

Some coal-fired power plants already have been retrofit with toxic emissions controls that would meet the most stringent reductions, but for others it would be a problem. For instance, says: "In some cases, these companies simply can’t afford to buy the equipment and for others the needed equipment isn’t commercially available. If this rule is implemented, it would force the shut down of many coal-fired power plants."

According to a Government Accountability Office report from October 2009, some 14 plants with sorbent injection systems installed have complied, "enabling them to meet state or other mercury emission requirements -- generally 80 percent to 90 percent reductions."

The GAO also found that the 14 plants spent an average of $3.6 million on the systems -- "a fraction of the cost of other pollution control devices." The pollution-control systems inject sorbents -- powdery substances to which mercury binds -- into the exhaust from boilers to achieve the reductions, the GAO says. And it says annual cost of buying sorbents is about $675,000, still a modest sum compared to the potential cost to human health down the road.

Health costs bigger

Somebody pays for health effects. Unfortunately when it comes to mercury poisoning, U.S. taxpayers likely will have to pick up the tab.

It's only a matter of time before these not-so-hidden costs begin to be felt and publicized. There will be fallout.

And there will be an accounting of fossil fuels.

Questions will be asked. Just how much does accumulated pollution cost? How much does climate change cost? How much does a fouled Gulf of Mexico cost? How much does that inevitable Arctic Ocean spill cost after an idiot Congress opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to massive drilling?

"Climate policy is based on cost-benefit analysis," says Naomi Klein, author of "The Shock Doctrine." "Now it appears we are waiting until the last possible minute to deal with it."

Photo: San Juan Generating Plant, Farmington, N.M. University of California, Berkeley Geo-Images Project.

Listen to Wimpy: America needs to lean up its crude oil diet

One of my favorite quotes is Wimpy's: "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

It's an insightful commentary by the writers of the Popeye cartoon that reminds me of today's rampant energy consumption. That hot greasy crude burger, sweet Saudi fixins, a side of bite-sized anthracite and bubbly fracked soda. Nothing better. Good solid American meal. Comfort food.

J. Wellington Wimpy, however, has had enough. The rather rotund, balding sidekick of this analogy needs to go on a diet.

Fat and happy public

Wimpy serves as a stand-in for the American public. For too long this nation has put off dealing with the inevitable. U.S. energy policy relies heavily on the fossil fuel spectrum that until recently made us all fat and happy.

However, the oil of the future is more expensive to recover physically and environmentally. And, we've put off paying the price on emissions. Those are coming due. We simply need to stop the influx of carbon, ozone and other noxious emissions from burned fuel.

Failing to adopt more sustainable energy sources means continuing to pass the bill down to our kids and grandkids. I'd rather give future generations something besides the massive economic burden of cleaning up our swirling cesspool of an atmosphere and costly options for energy.

Inaction could cost big

"If we do nothing, the hardworking American population is going to be paying more to turn on lights, air conditioning, and their cars -- potentially much more than if those clean energy projects are built," says Joshua Freed, vice president of the Clean Energy Initiative at Third Way, on Huffington Post.

Freed says China, India and other emerging powers want to secure all the oil, coal, and natural gas they can "because that's where the economic growth is."

Competition for limited resources means price increases. Big ones.

So sure, solar and wind are somewhat costly. But they're getting cheaper and they don't foul the nest. There's got to be huge future value in that.

No help from D.C.

Political solutions are not likely.

Brian Keane, president of nonprofit Smart Power, paints a bleak picture of the clean energy future from a policy standpoint. Republicans and Democrats can agree on little, especially anything identified by the word "green."

Keane says in a piece in Huffington Post that this divide is enhanced by Republicans' efforts to oppose anything related to solar, wind or hydrogen, especially in light of the Solyndra failiure.

Media coverage of that divide isn't helping, Keane contends. "The media's focus on the politicization of clean energy in America is cutting this growing industry off at the pass," he says.

Clean energy: hot investment

However, on a grassroots level, clean energy's stock couldn't be better. The Average Joe, regardless of political affiliation, appears interested in making the world a better place.

Sometimes these are bizarre. I stumbled across "Are We Doomed?" by It's a movie about a road trip in which three people try to find others intent on saving the planet.

Mark Dixon and Ben and Julie Evans dig into things like replicas of Native American mud huts in Nebraska. In doing so, they unfold a tale of many people on many levels fighting a pitched battle to bring back a little of what's been lost.

Spinach or hamburgers?

Doubtless Wimpy would be one of them. He's the creation of newspaper cartoonist E.C. Segar and began as a more three-dimensional character than the one I grew up with in the 1960s. Wikipedia defines him as "soft-spoken, very intelligent, and well educated, but also cowardly, very lazy, overly parsimonious and utterly gluttonous."

In some ways, he's just like the United States. We're a smart country that walks softly but, decidedly unlike Wimpy, carries a big stick. We have a huge appetite and we've gotten a bit lazy.

That could change. There are any number of viable concepts that taken separately or together could offer a world of options for an oil-dependent economy. We don't even need to completely lay off the burgers (oil), just pop a can of spinach.

What does a gallon of gas really cost?

This is worth a look.

The Center for Investigative Reporting produced this video to show what the true cost of a gallon of gas is when "external" costs such as pollution and health effects are factored in.

The amount is surprising and nearly four times the current average of about $4 per gallon.

I found this on KQED's Climate Watch blog site.

Hidden costs of fossil fuels amplify case for clean energy

Hidden costs lurk everywhere.

Buy a car on credit and pay double the sticker price. Same with a house. For instance, adjustable mortgages and balloon payments contributed mightily to the real estate meltdown. And taxes take a big bite. Just ask any small businessperson.

Maybe that's why we Americans like our energy costs low, or at least relatively.

But there are hidden costs there, too. Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment released a study in February that pegged the estimated hidden yearly cost of coal-generated electricity at a high of $538 billion, or an additional 18 cents per kilowatt hour. listed the commercial cost of coal power at 4.8 to 5.5 cents per kWh.

For some perspective, solar costs between 15 to 30 cents per kWh and wind 4 to 6 cents.

"Coal carries a heavy burden," the "Mining Coal, Mounting Costs" report said. The Harvard study factored in health costs (11,000 deaths annually from lung cancer, heart, respiratory and kidney disease) and environmental impacts of fly ash spills (53 from 1974 to 2008) and mountaintop removal (500 removed and 1.4 million acres transformed).

The beauty of coal is that it's cheap, relatively simple to extract with today's technologies and domestic. There also is quite a lot of it. However, as the study points out, digging it up and burning it to create electricity does have drawbacks, at least with current practices. Addressing those would add to the price substantially and any increased regulations generally are opposed by the industry.

Natural gas performs better emissions wise and is easy on the pocketbook at 3.9 to 4.4 cents per kWh. Domestic reserves are expected to skyrocket as well with newly refined fracturing drilling techniques.

Oil on the other hand has its own troubles. As of this writing, oil per barrel prices had surpassed $105 and the one-year forecast had risen to $121, according to And as the growing conflict in Libya illustrates, crude oil brings with it a high political cost.

Conflict between Libyan strongman Moammar Qadhafi and eastern separatists have caused California gas prices at the pump to climb 50 cents per gallon in the past month, according to The development has politicians concerned it could derail the shaky economic recovery and consumers grumbling. Should commodities traders remain nervous and prices high, the cost of everything from food to services will climb.

For instance, I heard on National Public Radio that several airlines have already raised rates half a dozen times this year due to increasing fuel costs.

But this is a relatively transparent cost, outlined daily by major media outlets. The less visible but no less costly is what Gal Luft, executive director of Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, calls the "terrorist premium." In the report, "Oil and the New Economic Order," Luft says that premium costs the United States $65 billion to $85 billion a year.

Oil internationally receives a litany of subsidies from countries that shield consumers from up to three-quarters the cost of the fuel. As I wrote in a past post, the International Energy Agency in a report released this past summer says its analysis revealed that fossil fuel consumption subsidies amounted to $557 billion in 2008. This also elevates cost.

Green energy, by comparison, gets a pittance in subsidies. London-based research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance says, "governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy." This came by way of tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits. Germany is a leader in this groups with its solar feed-in tariff, but that may be decreased.

And making this debate continually interesting are advances improving the efficiency of solar power. Technologies concentrating the suns rays and various methods of creating power storage are elevating the ability of the renewable to compete.

I love the "battery" concept that uses a silo filled with water and a massive counter weight that pushes out the water to generate power when the sun sets or wind stops. The underground silo is filled with water by energy generated from the solar or wind system.

And more traditional battery technology is making massive strides. I tweeted recently about the lithium-water battery. No kidding. It may work.

So who knows how this will develop? Obviously, my nonprofit is biased. We'd like to see the San Joaquin Valley take off as a leader in all things renewable, generating spin-off businesses and inspiring entrepreneurs to make sense of all this harvestable energy surrounding us. And create some jobs in the process.

Will clean energy dump the perception that it's too costly?

The concept that clean energy costs more than fossil fuels appears to be getting more holes by the day.

Energy efficiency retrofits provide companies near immediate relief, and even the feds predict the apples-to-apples price of solar will reach grid parity -- as in costing the same as run-of-the-mill utility power -- within five years.

But nothing offers the crystal clarity of this statistic, spelled out in big bold numbers by the International Energy Agency in a report released this summer. The IEA says its analysis has revealed that fossil fuel consumption subsidies amounted to $557 billion in 2008.

That's big money. Really big money.

Green energy, by comparison, gets a pittance. London-based research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance says, "governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits."

Perspective is everything. And the amount attached to fossil fuels is likely quite conservative. The IEA didn't factor in the cost of wars, environmental degradation and human suffering, not to mention the huge amounts traditional energy companies spend lobbying governments for favorable treatment.

Andrew Winston, author and environmental strategist, laid it all out on Huffington Post. "That 12-to-1 ratio of dirty-to-clean subsidies is surely understated," Winston wrote, also pointing that "the notion that fossil fuels do not rely on subsidies is absurd."

Winston argues that the fear that a green economy will kill existing jobs is short-sighted. He said that indeed some jobs will suffer -- those in the oil and coal industries perhaps. But studies have shown green energy has the potential to produce millions of new jobs.

Surveys of private sector corporations and small business show increased spending on energy efficiency and about a third hiring to beef up environmental departments. A study showed building green costs about the same as conventional methods and that more companies and businesses are signing on.

And earlier this year, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded report titled "Energy Efficiency Services Sector: Workforce Education and Training Needs" said the "green" sector will grow four-fold by 2020 to about 1.3 million jobs.

Many people out there may be wondering when and where, especially those out of work or in jobs that pay a fraction of their former salaries. The answer is uncertain and depends on a number of unpredictable variables.

But something will happen.

For instance, a recent story in Time says Recovery Act stimulus funds -- although slow to reach the public in many forms -- have served as a giant venture capital fund.

Michael Grunwald writes, "The Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S.

"The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet."

Grunwald acknowledges the poor performance of the weatherization program, which has so far show paltry progress, especially in California with .03 percent of stimulus funds spent as of earlier this summer. But he says its effect is unprecedented in the green sector.

Also joining in on the private sector have been big players like Wal-Mart. It pledges to seek sustainability and urges all its suppliers to do the same. It's a business decision.

"Creating new technologies and products, building greener buildings and businesses, and just plain using less energy to do it all: those actions will make almost all companies more profitable," Winston said.