A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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How progressive: ship dead trees 5,000km and burn them (use £450m for kindling)

It would make any hunter gatherer proud.

[The Times] Britain is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds subsidizing power stations to burn American wood pellets that do more harm to the climate than the coal they replaced, a study has found.

Chopping down trees and transporting wood across the Atlantic Ocean to feed power stations produces more greenhouse gases than much cheaper coal, according to the report. It blames the rush to meet EU renewable energy targets, which resulted in ministers making the false assumption that burning trees was carbon-neutral.

The UK tribes can thank chief Huhne (Energy and Climate secretary) for the 7.5 million tonnes of dead trees otherwise known as biomass — which  mostly come all the way from the US and Canada.

Naturally, doing something this improbable takes a lot of money.

Drax, Britain’s biggest power station, received more than £450 million in subsidies in 2015 for burning biomass, which was mostly American wood pellets.

Curiously, there are over 200 trillion cubic feet of dead trees stored under Lancashire. They may have been very very small trees, like algae sized, but nonetheless, 4,999 kilometers closer. Apparently when all the trees of Canada and the US are used up, and the UK moves out of the Wood Age, it will have some spare gas  to heat UK homes for the next 1,200 years.

The climate debate has now moved on to arguing whether trees are renewable. There’s a kind of death-spiral bickering between different varieties of “renewables” beasts. If it takes 200 years to grow a tree back, and you believe the models that are 97% wrong, oceans might boil before the carbon is back in the tree.This is just another carbon accounting bun-fight.

The report author, Mr Bracks, calls the subsidies ridiculous, but only because the money could have gone to “zero carbon” wind or solar instead. Shame he didn’t point that out then, when he was the special advisor to Chris Huhne.

Having poured countless millions into Biomass, by a remarkable coincidence, three months after Huhne got out of jail for lying about speeding fines, he was appointed European Director of a company called Zilkha Biomass.

Wood pellets fuel Huhne’s journey into private sector

He is not the only one to follow this gravy laden career path:

Several other former energy ministers have gone on to lucrative jobs in the sector. Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem who replaced Mr Huhne as energy and climate secretary but lost his seat in 2015, advises three companies on low-carbon energy projects. Lord Barker of Battle, the Tory former energy minister, took up posts advising a renewable heat business and a solar panel company. The appointments of both were approved by Acoba.

Pretending to save the world can be a lucrative career.

 They claim to reduce greenhouse gases,
From mulched trees as burnt bio masses,
By importing wood pellets,
The renewable zealots,
Are behaving like right silly asses.

 – Ruairi

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Solar Homes use more grid electricity than non-solar homes

There are probably more solar panels in QLD than anywhere else in the world. Back in February last year, the boss of the Queensland state power company announced the awkward result that households with solar panels were using more electricity than those without. Apparently people without solar were turning off the air conditioner because electricity cost too much, but the solar users didn’t have to worry about the cost so much.

Queensland solar homes are using more grid electricity than non-solar, says Energex boss

Feb 2016:  Solar-powered homes in south-east Queensland, which boasts the world’s highest concentration of rooftop panels, have begun consuming on average more electricity from the grid than those without solar, the network operator has found.

Terry Effeney, the chief executive of state-owned power distributor Energex, said the trend – which belied the “green agenda” presumed to drive those customers – was among the challenges facing a region that nevertheless stood the best chance globally of making solar the cornerstone of its electricity network.

From October 2014 in Queensland, the average grid electricity use of solar homes started to exceed the average use of people without solar power and stayed higher for the at least the next 18 months (when this story appeared).

In other words, subsidized solar panels could mean that the people who pay the subsidies use less electricity than the people who get the subsidy and the panels. It also means the poor, who can’t pay for panels, have to go without more often.

Playing God with markets doesn’t have to be this hard. If the price of electricity is the largest influence on behaviour, the government could have just slapped on a bigger electricity tax, and that would have cut electricity use across the board. Thousands of people wouldn’t have wasted millions of dollars installing solar panels. The money would have helped the state government provide a service that was more useful than weather-unchanging-electronic-panels. Queensland could have had more healthcare, more holidays or less debt, instead they changed the color of their electrons.


Keep reading  →

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Y’think Donald Trump will bring in a carbon tax? (And pigs will knit socks.)

Bob Inglis is a former Republican congressman who lost out to a Tea Partier (you’ll see why). He’s visiting Australia to talk us into doing climate manipulation. I can’t see his reasoning catching on:

Former Republican congressman Bob Inglis says he knows it sounds improbable to say the US president would impose a carbon price, but he thinks reality will force Mr Trump’s hand.

“Donald Trump said climate change is a Chinese hoax and conspiracy – but he couldn’t possibly believe that,” Mr Inglis told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

Obviously it’s impossible for Inglis to believe Inglis Could Be Wrong.

In the five stages of grief, he’s stuck at number one…

Watch the contortions to fit that worldview into a round hole:

He laments the tribalism of the debate, saying there’s such fear among conservatives about being seen as weak in the face of the environmental left they refuse to hear anything.

He frames the question to conservatives as not whether they believe in climate change, but if they think free enterprise can solve it.

“We’ve got to build the confidence of the right so that they can send the tribal leaders down to the river to meet with the other tribe’s leaders,” Mr Inglis said.

Free enterprize has solved it. When people are free to choose, 98% don’t buy carbon credits.


Story – The Australian (paywalled)

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Baby corals learn from mummy corals warming lessons

Corals survived through four hundred million years of climate change. Despite that, corals still surprise survivors of four years of academia with their ability to keep dealing with climate change.

It’s been known for years that after corals bleach in warmer water, they acclimatize.

Here one shiny young researcher shows her carbonnointed worldview. She asks a really interesting question:

In one study of corals, for instance, she exposed adults to increased temperature and acidification, then exposed their offspring to the same conditions to see if they are more successful because of their parents’ previous experience.

Then sees the answer through AlGoreEyes:

“Interestingly, we found that there is potential for beneficial acclimatization because of parental history,” she said. “There is a more positive metabolic response and ecological response, greater survivorship and growth if their parents have been preconditioned to future scenarios.”

What’s the difference: “Preconditioned to future scenarios” or “Evolved to survive past ones”?

Not a reference

University of Rhode Island. “Professor examines effects of climate change on coral reefs, shellfish.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2017. <>

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If Greens cared about CO2 they would dump renewable targets

Those who say they want a “free market” in carbon still don’t understand what a free market is.

Wind farm, RET, Renewable Energy Target,RET’s or Renewable Energy Targets are screwed (in the head): If Tony Abbotts Direct Action plan was useless, RETS are five times more useless.

In Australia the Renewable Energy Target (RET) in theory, helps wind and solar,  so we lower CO2 emissions and cool the world, slow storms, things like that. But Tom Quirk calculates it costs $57 a ton (at best) for those “savings”. Since the Direct Action plan cost $11 a ton,  we could reduce five times as much CO2 if we blew up the RET scheme.

The secret is that the Abbott plan tackled CO2 directly rather than picking winners (see “competition”,
“free markets” that sort of thing).  Predictably, the Greens hated it — who needs CO2 reduction if you can support big-government-loving industries instead? (Especially the kind who lobby for the side of politics that wants more bureaucrats, more handouts, and less independent competition?)

Those who say they want a “free market” in carbon still don’t understand what a free market is. It’s pretty simple, if they want a reduction in CO2, they need to pay for a reduction in CO2. That’s not the same as paying the wind industry. When a subsidy is applied to a secondary, indirect factor, it has perverse effects other than the supposed original aim. Quirk shows that we are not just paying a bit more to reduce CO2 this way (like 500% more), but quixotically we effectively pay more to displace gas emissions rather than brown coal.

The other perverse effect is that by insisting we take wind and solar “whenever” — these generators are not competing in the wholesale market at all, they simply bypass it and head straight to the retail level. Effectively, they take a chunk out of the demand side of the wholesale market which would be useful at peak load times,

The RET started at 2%, is now 12.5% and is climbing to 25%.

In Table 2 we see that utilization (or capacity factor) is very low for all the generation types in SA. A great deal of infrastructure and capital is just lounging around drinking pina coladas or something. Ironically, the whole free market idea is so botched up that  SA has an oversupply of electricity, yet pays more for electricity and suffers more blackouts. Tom Quirk calculates that the RET currently adds 2.15c for wind power and 0.26c for solar to power bills in SA. This does not include the cost of state based schemes, nor the diabolical effect of having an excess of supply at the wrong times and perverse subsidies:  price spikes and volatility. The real cost is o-so-much higher…



States of confusion

Guest Post by Tom Quirk

The Renewal Energy Target (RET) scheme is a splendid example of the growth of a policy cancer that if not checked will do substantial economic damage. The scheme was introduced during the time of the Howard government with a target of 2% contribution from renewable sources of electricity and has grown tenfold within the federal government jurisdiction and has spread to state governments that aim to double the present federal target of some 25% renewable energy contribution by 2030.

Keep reading  →

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Weekend Unthreaded

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Big-gov-brain wants “half a trillion” to add ice to the Arctic

Sometimes an idea comes along that adds another chapter to the Book of Stupid. You might think windmills on land are an indulgent, pointless fantasy, but take that idea and make it worse:

(CNN) A team of scientists has a surprisingly simple solution to saving the Arctic: We need to make more ice.

A team at Arizona State University has proposed building 10 million wind-powered pumps to draw up water and spill it out onto the surface of the ice, where it will freeze faster. Doing so would be complicated and expensive — it’s estimated to cost a cool $500 billion, and right now the proposal is only theoretical.

It’s not like we have anything better to do with half a trillion dollars.  Should we cure cancer or refrigerate one of the coldest places on Earth? Should we teach our kids about the fall of civilizations, or teach them to bow before prophets who keep predicting the end of the Arctic and getting it wrong?

Or we could add ice to the whole arctic for just $5 trillion

Tristan Hopper explains the beefed up plan would absorb the “entire steel production of the United States”, “half the worlds container fleet”, and cost about the same as the “GDP of Japan”. It would also make 163 million tonnes of CO2. He’s serious, and so are the ivory tower guys:

“… the researchers from Arizona State University call the cost “economically achievable” and the environmental impact “negligible.””

We could fund it all by giving up on universities right now. When it comes to the Tertiary Sector — just say “No”.


The giant water pumps would sit on buoys floating in the Arctic Sea. They would take up water from beneath the ice, store it in a tank and then spray the water on top of the ice.

The machines would be powered by the wind, which is plentiful in the Arctic, in a similar way to windmills you see creating power on farms.

Yes, it’ll be just like windmills on farms, except they float on water, are subject to extreme weather, and produces nothing that any human needs within a 3,000km radius.

The team estimates in the paper that 10 million devices could add a meter of sea ice onto the current level of ice over the course of a winter. That’s a meter of ice on each tenth of a square kilometer.

“That’s a significant change,” said Desch. The sea ice only grows two to three meters in thickness during the winter.

To make a dent in the loss of ice, you would need to cover about 10% of the Arctic, which adds up to 10 million machines, he said.

What could possibly go wrong? The noise from ten million wind turbines might drive ten thousand whales crazy and destroy the sleep of a million polar bears.

Where is Greenpeace when you need them.

h/t Vaun

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WA State Election Tidbit: Bill Crabtree. Wheatbelt. Launch in Northam Sunday

Bill Crabtree Launch

Click to read.

I’m happy to help a few dedicated skeptics and sane candidates with the gumption to try to improve the system from within. So this is a quick note for residents of the Central Wheatbelt WA. Check out Bill Crabtree, the no-till farming expert running for the Liberal Party at the State election in three weeks, he’s as honest and hardworking as they get. I know Bill personally, and he’s just the kind of guy I’d want in Parliament. A real farmer, not a career politician.

Meet him tomorrow: Sunday 4pm-8pm, Northam Country Club, 15 Wood Drive Northam.

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Australia “invented airconditioning” but can’t keep them running

James Harrisonm, inventor of refrigeration.

James Harrison (click to enlarge)

Peter Hartcher points out that the country that invented refrigeration and thus airconditioning can no longer guarantee to keep them working.

In 1854 [James Harrison of Geelong] invented a commercial ice-making machine. He expanded it into a vapour compression refrigeration system, the basis for modern refrigeration.

“That’s right – an Aussie invented the fridge and it’s first real use was making beer,” remarked the US technology website Gizmodo. “You have to love this country.”

And one more big coal generator shuts down soon in Victoria:

In the next few weeks 4 per cent of Australia’s power supply will vanish when Victoria’s big Hazelwood power station shuts down, clapped out after 50 years of turning coal into electricity. It’ll be the ninth coal-fired power station to close in the past five years. New solar and wind plants are being built, but they are intermittent, and that means they are unreliable.

“Taking out Hazelwood is taking out a big buffer,” says Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute policy research centre in Melbourne. And, as we’ve just witnessed, Australia’s power system lacks buffers. “Managing intermittency is an increasing problem.”

Not only has South Australia suffered three major power failures in the last half-year, NSW last week ordered industry to cut power usage so that households could turn on their airconditioners on a hot day. The chief executive of the Tomago aluminium smelter, Matt Howell, who was ordered to cut electricity usage but is entitled to no compensation, says that “it’s fair to say the way the energy system is working at the moment is dysfunctional.” He told the Financial Review that last Friday was “a genuine system security risk.”

Early Refrigeration, Invention, Photo.
In Australia, for the moment, the national debate about climate change is taking a back seat to the debate about electricity security. The Libs seems to have finally realized they can win votes by keeping the lights on and costs down.  The media is covering blackout stories as if they were real news outlets. It’s nice to see an SMH article that isn’t an advert for renewables.

But both the Libs and the media ignored the warnings for years. We didn’t have to waste billions.

h/t David B

Image: Harrison’s ice-making machine, 1861

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SA Blackout: a grid crippled by complexity

South Australia suffered it’s fifth blackout in five months last week. The AEMO report on that incident came out today. There are lots of faults, errors and small problems, and one overriding theme — it’s too complex:

  1. AEMO (Grid market managers) thought they’d have more wind power. It fell to only 2% of “total output.”
  2. There was a computer glitch which “load shed” more people than necessary. Oops. SA Power Network apologized today.
  3. Demand was higher than expected.
  4.  The gas plant generators at Port Lincoln were ““not available due to a communications system problem”. (Whatever that means.) That was 73MW out of action.
  5. One turbine at Torrens Gas plant was out for maintenance (120MW gone). Another was running 50MW low because of the heat. (Seriously, these machines operate at hundreds of degrees and work at 35C but not so well at 42C? (Or whatever it was). Color me skeptical. Perhaps some grid engineers can comment and tell us if this is normal?

So in a modern renewable grid we have variations in supply and demand that are of the order of the average grid load and at the whim of The Wind. What could possibly go wrong?

Finally the SA Liberals are talking about maybe, possibly, could be, saving the old coal plant:

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said on Friday the Government must do everything it could to “press the pause button” on the demolition of Port Augusta’s Northern Power Station and take nothing off the table in its quest for energy security.

“Maybe the infrastructure at Port Augusta can be used for new technology, what we’re saying is don’t take anything off the table,” he said.

The SA Energy Minister is still promising “dramatic intervention” but not saying what that will be.

The SA Premier is blaming AEMO – the market operator.

“Mr Weatherill said on Thursday he had concluded the state had been abandoned by the national electricity market and he was preparing plans for SA “to take control of our own future”.”

The Solution?

The word is the solution might be an interconnector (hands up who has a spare billion dollars?) but the SA gov is still hoping for a a new gas plant and has offered the carrot of a bulk deal with the public sector for who ever wins that tender.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said the State Government must underwrite a new gas power station to deliver energy security and lower prices for consumers.

Why should taxpayers have to pay for the energy and also pay for the investment risk? It doesn’t have to be this way. Gradually the complex, fragile grid “needs” more and more centralized control. Pretty soon the government will set supply, demand, pay for generation (and compensate for non-generation), and underwrite the investments — it’s that creeping communist-style takeover of our energy.

Weatherill talks about “controlling their own future” but even Malcolm Turnbull can see the absurdity of that. SA is more dependent than ever on brown coal in Victoria.

AEMO:  full report on the SA Feb 2017 Blackout

h.t Pat, David B

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