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Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Derek Markham


New Corn Ethanol Study Finds Renewable Fuel Standard “Created More Problems Than Solutions”

October 19th, 2015 by  

A ten-year review of the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by researchers at the University of Tennessee (UT) found that the RFS is “too reliant” on corn ethanol, and the production of this biofuel is resulting in additional water and soil problems, as well as “hampering advancements” in other biofuels.

Corn harvestOver the course of the last 10 years, corn ethanol has been lauded as being a bridge fuel solution that could reduce air pollution and increase national energy security in the US, and production of corn ethanol has gone from 4 billion gallons per year in 2005 to some 14.3 billion gallons per year in 2014. But corn ethanol hasn’t lived up to its promise as being a cleaner and more environmentally friendly fuel choice, even after an estimated $50 billion in subsidies, in part because of some of the ‘hidden’ costs of ethanol production, and this focus on corn ethanol has lead to a stagnated advanced biofuels industry, according to researchers.

One of the claims for increased corn ethanol production has been that it can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through its wider adoption as a fuel, but that claim seems to have been refuted in this research, as academic studies have shown that it could actually contribute “to a sharp and overall increase of GHGs,” and that ethanol production and use “emits more particulate matter, ozone (as well as other smog precursors), and other air pollutants than gasoline.”

Additionally, the researchers found that corn ethanol’s net economic benefits “have not been accurately represented,” and that while some studies may show that ethanol refineries can add jobs and economic value to certain rural communities, these studies fail to account for both the environmental damage from their production and the amount of subsidies necessary to support them.

According to the authors of the report, their analysis “shows that the use of corn ethanol has not been the “bridge” to the production and use of advanced biofuels that was anticipated,” and the reliance on corn ethanol has actually worked against innovation in advanced biofuels by crowding out other alternatives.

“From an environmental and energy independence perspective, the subsidies and mandates for corn ethanol would have been better and more effectively used had they been directed towards advanced biofuels.”

According to the Environmental Working Group, the ethanol mandate drove up the price of corn so high that it led farmers to convert some 8 million acres of previously uncultivated land to corn production, resulting in the release of between 85 million and 236 million metric tons of carbon per year, as well as an increase in the application of fertilizers, which also boosts GHG emissions.

“Our analysis shows that the corn ethanol industry, even with its tremendous growth over the past decade and technology maturity, cannot survive in any real commercial sense without mandated fuel volume requirements.” – 10-Year Review Of The Renewable Fuels Standard

The full 60-page report is available to download (PDF) from the UT Bio-Based Energy Analysis Group website, and offers a much different view of corn ethanol as an effective “bridge” fuel, and of the RFS itself, than that of many proponents of the program.

Image: UTIA

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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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  • Bob_Wallace

    That’s an observation, but it needs an interpretation.

    Paid off coal and nuclear provides some inexpensive electricity, yes it does. But those coal plants will have to go away and those nuclear plants will wear out.

    The countries who now have significant amounts of “weather-power” electricity (cute, did Luntz work that term up for you?) will be enjoying the least costly electricity because the capacity they have online today will be paid off. And paid off wind/solar generates lower cost electricity than paid off coal/nuclear.

    Going forward every country should be enjoying inexpensive electricity. A mix of mostly new, but not expensive, wind/solar and paid off and very cheap wind/solar.

  • eveee
  • eveee

    You have made no intelligible statement here. What exactly is your point?

  • Hans

    To use biomass for fuels or electricity is very tempting for many because 1) You can keep most of the infrastructure we have built up for fossil fuels 2) It makes farmers and the agricultural industry happy. 3) It has a “natural” feel to it.

    It is however is a very inefficient way to harvest solar energy, meaning that it requires enormous areas that cannot be used for anything else. This means less room for nature and higher food prices. It also has the same conventional pollution problems as fossil fuels.

    In my eyes biomass only makes sense when it comes from waste products, but even there it competes with higher quality reuse. Investments in biomass from dedicated crops is a waste of money and resources that could have been used for wind and solar energy.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s a potential valuable role for biomass. Deep backup.

      There are a few times per year when both solar and wind inputs are low. Storing energy in batteries for those times would be expensive. Pump-up hydro and flow batteries are two options for filling in. Another is to store biomass and use it in repurposed coal plants. We’d need to run them only a few days a year so the fuel could come from non-agricultural lands.

      • Hans

        I think you have a good point. Deep back-up could be an important, but limited role for biomass power plants. But that is not how biomass energy has been promoted and used up till now. In Germany the (mostly cornfed) small scale biomass plants at farms run as baseload. In the Netherlands (imported) wood is mixed with coal to feed old-fashioned baseload power plants. In Europe biomass fuel is mixed with petrol (gasoline) for explosion driven cars. This implies to me that policymakers aim at having biomass play a role comparable with sun and wind and/or just see at as an relatively way to fulfil short term international renewable energy obligations without upsetting the electricity sector too much. Even when many of these biomass applications have an EROEI close to or even below 1.

        Non-agricultural lands will mostly be nature. Of course you can grow willows on polluted land, but the free market will take care the fuels are grown were it is cheapest to do so. This will often mean food production and nature are replaced. For example, for a while the Netherlands imported palmtree oil from plantations that replaced rainforests in Indonesia to use as fuel for biomass powerplants. In Germany the prices of agricultural land have risen dramatically due to the enormous area needed for corn that is used as feedstock for the digesters of the farm biomass plants.

        All the policies about biomass have been pretty short-sided: just get the (pseudo)green electricity in the grid or car tank, give some extras to the poor old farmers and damn the side-effects. This approach has had the advantage that valuable knowledge has been gathered on how to use biomass, but I think now it is slowly time to think about what role biomass has to play in a future energy system, and how we can prevent the very harmful side-effects of biomass.

        My gut feeling is is that normal cars will be mostly electric in the middle near future and biomass fuels will be for long distance trucks and maybe even planes. In the long run deep back-up may be an important role for biomass power. However we need to get the EROEIs up and we need to find ways to solve the displacement problem. Going on with biomass like we have been doing until now is not good for the planet, and not good for humans.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I suspect as the cost of wind, solar and storage fall further biomass will be pushed out any ‘baseload’ role.

          We’ve made some mistakes with biofuels. Corn ethanol has been a major one, but we gradually learn from our mistakes and find better answers.

          For any biomass we use for deep backup the EROEI can be significantly negative. Think of biomass as a low efficiency but moderately low cost storage medium except for the energy input. Biomass storage is cheap and the coal plants are already paid off.

          Look at what we now pay for deep backup from gas peaker plants. Those gas turbines we use for only a few hours per year cost us several times what we pay for gas plant electricity form the plants which run frequently. The cost of filling the “last 1%” of demand is now high.

  • eveee

    It was never about environmental issues. That was smoke and mirrors. Ethanol came about after the first Energy Crisis, the Embargo and such, which prompted the whole energy independence idea. Thats what really drove the birth of ethanol, not environment.

  • Inquisitive66

    I propose new legislation to “use it locally”. No more shipping fuel across the country to reach mandates. If you want it , you use it. It is completely hypocritical for Iowa to throw so much “weight” (tantrum?) over ethanol yet not have any E85 ethanol stations.
    There was talk of raising the ethanol mandate percentages to meet the production quotas mandated by legislation. It would be one thing if ethanol producers agreed to reimburse consumers for their damaged cars, lawn equipment, and watercraft, but they just want their product sold no matter who it hurts or what it costs the public.

    End the subsidies , end the mandates

  • Inquisitive66

    We need an energy policy not a farm bill

  • Dotherightthing

    This has been a political boondoggle from the start. All the problems stated above have always been known. The sad fact is if this much effort would have been instilled in getting higher mileage cars on the road the gain would have been more with long term results. Its all about higher corn prices which leads to higher food prices.

  • JamesWimberley

    I wonder how much harm the corn ethanol boondoggle did to the genuine transition energies through guilt by association.

    Has anyone run a similar analysis on Brazil’s bagasse ethanol? They claim it’s not open to the same objections, but of course that industry has a big lobby too.

    • globi

      I remember reading that ethanol produced in Brazil from sugar cane requires less energy and area than ethanol produced from corn. However, ethanol from Brazil has a 100% import tax while crude oil from the middle east does not. (Which is also why the US doesn’t import ethanol).

      Also, ethanol produced in Brazil is apparently not responsible for the deforestation of the rain forest but sugar cane apparently displaced the cattle which happen to move to the rain forest.

      So, besides that simply driving more efficient and/or electric cars and people to become vegetarians: It probably would have been more sensible for Brazil to export ethanol to the US and the US to export meat to Brazil.

    • Larmion

      You can’t compare bagasse ethanol to corn ethanol, as they are a second and first generation process respectively. Bagasse and corn stover ethanol are comparable in their environmental impact (close to zero).

      The correct comparison is melasse or sugar ethanol from sugar cane to corn ethanol. In that regard, sugar cane fares better. The problem is that it’s hard to tell how much of the difference is due to any intrinsic superiority of sugar cane – tropical agriculture will inevitably be more productive on a pure biomass basis than agriculture in the temperate zone

  • sjc_1

    “hampering advancements” in other biofuels.

    We have almost a billion tons of biomass in the U.S. each year. Gasification and synthesis can produce renewable gasoline, jet fuel and diesel in large enough quantities to NEVER have to import OPEC oil again.

    • Inquisitive66

      So incomplete and so untrue.
      If you planted the ENTIRE airable mass of soil on the North American continent with fuel producing crops it would not be enough energy produced to cover the US fuel needs.

      • sjc_1

        I did not say U.S. fuel needs, I said OPEC oil imports.

        • Inquisitive66

          import to where ? The US? that would be US FUEL NEEDS then …woudn’t it?

          • sjc_1

            The U.S. imports about 20% of the oil from OPEC countries. You are not “inquisitive”, you fail to research.

          • Inquisitive66

            If you researched current information, you would have found the US actually became a petroleum EXPORTER in 2014. In large part from production in the shale formations and reduced global demand. Imported petroleum was used as “feeder” to send back overseas after refiners gained profit from the “crack spread” from producing distillates (e.g. diesel, aviation fuel, etc).

          • Bob_Wallace

            EIA says that the US is becoming less of a net importer, but we’re still importing more than we’re exporting.

            The EIA states that if oil becomes more expensive the US could become a net exporter in a few more years.


  • Another dirty industry that will be crushed by the electric car!

  • newnodm

    High corn prices also put marginal land into production that resulted in some environmental damages and reduced wildlife habitat.

    • Interesting observation and true. This is also kind of being done with fast tracked solar power. An interesting study by Stanford, UC Berkley et al looked at the land upon which large scale PV systems sit. Both PV and concentrated systems were looked at. Much of the land, which seemingly has little value, actually has value as is and should be considered before rushing forward. Even the desert land is important to study environmental impact before deploying something.

      A summary for IEEE is here:


      and the paper here:



      “Decisions humans make about how much land to use, where, and for what end use, can inform innovation and policies directing sustainable pathways of land use for energy. Using the state of California (United States) as a model system, our study shows that the majority of utility-scale solar energy (USSE) installations are sited in natural environments, namely shrublands and scrublands, and agricultural land cover types, and near (<10 km) protected areas. “Compatible” (≤15%) USSE installations are sited in developed areas, whereas “Incompatible” installations (19%) are classified as such owing to, predominantly, lengthier distances to existing transmission. Our results suggest a dynamic landscape where land for energy, food, and conservation goals overlap and where environmental co benefit opportunities should be explored."

      I believe there was a long discussion on Ivanpah here on cleantechnica a while back. Progress can be made and should be made. It's just that we need to do environmental impact study (EIS) before going crazy. We did that with ethanol in the 1990s and now wish we didn't. We're doing this with natural gas from shale and now are seeing regulations shouldn't have been worked around. EIS is cumbersome but essential for all energy projects – even clean ones.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        Oh screw that. If you are concerned about land being destroyed we wouldn’t be putting up the cancerous housing tracks everywhere and breeding like rabbits in never ending heat. Land being used for solar is one of the cleanest things the human race has ever done.

        • Then do an EIS yourself and prove the paper wrong. That’s what a good libertarian would do. The only reason there’s a clean technology business is because there’s an environmental business. The foundation of which is the environmental impact. Man, you johnny come latelies amaze me. It’s almost like you sold cheap suits for a living before jumping in on the clean technology craze.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            You lost me on the cheap suits reference. So you are ok with the ocean’s of new housing developments but solar panels that take up maybe 1% of 1% of 1% of the total streets and housing we put up sends you in a tizzy?

          • The study was not saying the PV shouldn’t go on these lands. The study basically says the environmental impact should not be blown off, which they’ve been do to fast tracking. That’s what I said and the study says. However, EIS is a big government regulation thing. And if you’re an anti regulation libertarian like the Bundy dude in Nevada, you’d have problems with doing one before doing whatever you want to do.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Some balance would be nice. We destroy most of Southern California with strip malls, asphalt, street lights, and cheap eye-sore housing for thousands of square miles. Yet some solar panels on the ground causes an uproar and are accused of being fast tracked and impacting the environment? This is a political boondoggle meant to cause mischief. Honest people shouldn’t engage it…

          • I kind of teed up sales of behind the meter battery storage and distributed solar. Circuitously and a bit obtusely, but there you have it. The study basically says before going crazy with large solar projects in the desert, check the environmental impact and look to land first that’s already screwed up. In California that would be the residential and commercial sprawl hellscape. Who’s big in the distributed solar and facility energy storage business? Musk maybe with Solarcity and Tesla power wall? So here’s a case where big government environmental protection measures helps our friends in Silicon Valley get their business growing.

            I don’t know how Feinstein plays in on this. On the one hand she’s for protection of desert lands and use of military land for big solar first. On the other, her husband is tied tightly with military contracting. She’s also kind of disingenuous about where and which desert land gets protected and which gets opened up for energy development be it gas (and oil), hydro, big solar and wind. Pelosi, through her husband has never seen an engineering and construction project that couldn’t be made bigger and cost billions more than it should to solve a problem. Pelosi’s husband is tied tightly with big CA E&C from AECOM to Bechtel to Flour to Parsons.

            Oh, by the way, the joint venture on the high speed rail project in CA includes Perini and Parsons. Paul Pelosi was CEO of Perini back in the day. Diane Feinstein’s husband is involved as well. You California guys have the three most powerful helicopter moms on the planet watching over you. Now wonder it seems like everyone in Silicon Valley never had to make their own beds as kids. Now they have mom’s in the senate and congress.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            True points. And as much as I like Stanford you do have a crazy faction there with people like Condoleezza Rice. And you know they are always planning nefarious things with Rumsfeld and Cheney.

          • eveee

            You have an angle about DG vs utility solar that is seldom represented. The environmental impact. That sort of links up with Ivor’s comments. If you are going to impact the environment with residences, it makes sense to use that area for energy production. Figuring out how much brownfield vs rooftop is the quandary.

          • eveee

            You hit the nail on the head. Balance. No point in worrying about desert solar impacts while building Casinos and golf courses in the desert watered and cooled inefficiently. The ecology is already destroyed with stupid development.
            The whole system needs to be taken into consideration, not just the solar development.

          • newnodm

            If solar is supplanting agriculture, the change is probably completely reversible. A 30 year rest for some agricultural land is probably even desirable.

          • Correct, if that’s the case. But the best time to weigh all the factors and issues is before hand. A stitch in time saves nine kind of thing. The weighing thing (environmental feasibility) is being worked around from GM corn to Utah tar sands to concentrated solar in the Mojave to shale oil and gas in Pennsylvania. Environmental assessment and impact isn’t hard. It just has to be done in a world with lots of people wanting to do different things. My guess is even our best and brightest working in Silicon Valley could prepare an environmental impact study. Assuming they cared to. It would require field work, which may be off putting to computer screen jockeys.

          • newnodm

            To some extent land prices protect both ag land and more ecologically complex places. I think you are right in principal, but in North America environmental damage from solar probably will probably never be large. There is even the incentive to minimize the anchoring system in large scale solar to reduce cost.
            But I’m OK with CSP zapping some birds, so perhaps my standards are low. I also make money from ethanol, although I have always been against using corn for that purpose.

          • I think the ethanol from feed corn ship has sailed. It’s at about or above 50 percent of corn products. Illinois could always get back vegetables from California, given the water problems of the state. Indiana and southern Illinois use to be major tomato producers. Now California produces about 90 percent of tomatoes grown for processing and fresh.

          • newnodm

            Farmers in Illinois don’t know how to grow vegetables.

          • Corn is king in Illinois. I’ll grant you that. And soybean. Here’s Chief Blackhawks great^4 granddaughter circa 1945 holding up high some hybrid. My parents neighbor was a proto PR guy for Funk Bros Seed (now syngenta). He wrote the book on hybridization around the time of the photo: “The Hybrid Corn Makers: Prophets of Plenty”

          • newnodm

            Hmmm. I thought all of my ancestors had chased the indians out by ’45. They must have missed her.

          • eveee

            I hope thats just exaggeration. I grew vegetables in Illinois. The soil is so fertile and there is so much rain its almost impossible not to. Tomatoes are easy.

            Large farms, I don’t know. But Illinois also exports radishes, for example.


          • newnodm

            I own a farm in Illinois and the farmer doesn’t know how to grow vegetables. The farm manager doesn’t know how to grow vegetables either. Between the two of them, there are three ag degrees. They both grew up on farms too.

            They also don’t have the equipment or the labor to grow vegetables.

          • eveee

            Thats really dumb and too bad. Its not like its difficult to grow vegetables in Illinois. Really. I gave that reference to a local farm that does it. But your are right, ag grads are probably brainwashed with corn coming out of their ears.
            Part of the problem is that vegetables may require different equipment or more labor. California used to use lots of cheap immigrant labor for that. Some crops are not as automated and still can’t use specialized harvesting and planting. It all depends on the crop.

          • newnodm

            Only one crop per year in Illinois. People like fresh vegetables all year. All cities had truck gardens before the railroad and refrigeration came along.

            But here is new greenhouse growing in Chicago. A new Method (soap) factory has a greenhouse on the roof:


          • eveee

            Yes. Those are really stupid trends ecologically for CA and IL. CA grows almonds and cotton and tomatoes and depletes its water, while soggy IL grows corn for ethanol.
            Those are examples of economic distortions like FF and carbon that have no inputs from the ecological side.
            This is an endemic problem with the economic system, whether its suburban hellscape, drought grown almonds, or corn fed ethanol.
            How can it be fixed?

          • Great question and I have no answer. It’s policy, this agriculture game. You vote democratic in corn states and you get corn. You vote republican and you get corn. The answer is always corn. Like all commodities the answer lies in financialization. The real power sites in Chicago (trading floors and computer terminals), New York, Zurich and London. There’s more money in derivatives of commodities than the actual sale of the real thing. Same with fossil fuel. Sunlight and wind don’t have the same economics. Of course that might change when the major financial houses pay for a giant sunscreen placed in space.

          • eveee

            And changing the subject a bit, you vote anything in California, you get oil. Despite drought, CA has not stopped fracking. But seems to have no problem banning coal. LOL. And agriculture like cotton. Levis is headquartered in SanFrancisco. I don’t need to mention Chevron and Exxon and refineries.

            Money doesn’t talk it swears, propaganda all is phony.

            Maybe the problem is ethical and cultural values. If cash is king, everything else gets swept aside. If business matters more than anything else, maybe thats all you get.

          • eveee

            Zapping some birds? LOL. You mean those noisy starlings that are not native?

            Actually, Ivanpah has cured the bird zapping.


            Hey what the heck is all this bird stuff about? I get the impression that this is veiled astroturf oilco blowback from the early Santa Barbara and Exxon Valdez oil spill bird press.

            Oil companies speak through their veiled advocates.


          • eveee

            I agree there should not be a rush to install solar in the desert and ecological consequences should be considered.

            My take is that we need to look at the entire human development, not just solar.

            Looked at that way, I see thermal power plants in the desert that use water, and cities and golf courses and the rest.

            Context is my thing.

            Its whats wrong with wind power detractors decrying bird deaths. Taken out of context, bird deaths look bad.

            Taken in context, we should do nothing but wind because bird deaths are lower than any other form of generation.

            Context is taking a larger, wider view is what enables one to see fracturing’s and oils reality compared to wind and solar.



            And see that casinos, golf courses, and cities in the desert are just about the most stupid things man has ever invented. IMO ( apologies to desert golfers, desert city dwellers, and desert gamblers in advance )

            Somehow, the weighing thing is not working.


            Thankfully, the Canadians have just thrown out leadership responsible for the most ecologically destructive policies in Canadian history.

          • Craig Austin

            Housing is a necessity, photovoltaic solar power is a old idea that predates the internal combustion engine, and is really just a wealth transfer (from poor to rich) and subsidy business.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I suppose it depends on how sunny it is where you live.

            In the South West everybody should buy solar panels because it is easy to pay them off in 7 years with exactly what you were paying to the electric company and then you get 100% free electricity for the next two to five decades.

            In Alaska where there is not much sunlight things may be different. I don’t know…

          • Craig Austin

            Freeze, thaw cycles kill panels.You do not get decades of original efficiency, especially if you need to remove snow or dust. It only makes sense if there is no cost effective grid available. Solar can never be a large part of a modern grid because it is non dispatchable.

          • eveee

            Solar can’t be part of the modern grid because its not dispatch able? Thats odd. California seems to have missed this message.

            You mean they should tear down the over 10GW of utility solar in California and remove the somewhere over 2GW of rooftop solar?

            You do realize there would be instant mayhem with brownouts and blackouts due to the air conditioning peak loads, right?

            Lets see, sunny day, typical California whether, lets see how much solar is producing. Caiso.com.


          • Craig Austin

            Few freeze thaw cycles, complete hydrocarbon backup for nights and cloudy days and the most expensive electricity in the country.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, new nuclear is the most expensive source of electricity.

            Well, new coal is more expensive if one includes external costs. Old coal is also very expensive if we include external costs.

            New solar in the US is now roughly 6 cents per kWh, unsubsidized. Electricity from a new CCNG plant is a bit higher but a mix of solar and gas is considerably cheaper than coal and nuclear.

            And don’t forget. Onshore wind is now less than 4 cents per kWh, unsubsidized, and the wind tends to blow harder after the Sun sets. So our mix would be x% solar at 6c, y% wind at <4c, and z% CCNG at ~ 8c. Use any values you like for x, y and z. The average cost will be a fraction of more expensive coal and nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Just to give you some perspective, Craig.

            When the Vogtle reactors come online the cost will be at least 13c/kWh.

            Recently new nuclear has been priced out for the North Anna site (North Anna 3). “The cost estimate for its proposed North Anna 3 unit in Virginia now exceeds $19 billion, or about 19 cents per kilowatt-hour”


            Now, that’s some expensive electricity.

          • Craig Austin

            Nuclear provides 24/7 dispatchable baseload operation for decades on a relatively small footprint, and doesn’t require 100% hydrocarbon backup.

          • eveee

            Wind and solar dont require 100% carbon backup, either. In your haste, you completely ignored geothermal, hydro, and biomass among other things, all dispatch able renewables. And storage. And demand management. And grid practices. And increased transmission. All methods of integrating any power source, but particularly useful for variable ones.


            In fact, up to 40% wind can be integrated into existing grid with very little additional reserves.

            Footprint is a silly distraction. There is more than enough land available to power the US on rooftops, brown fields, and other areas. Wind doesn’t use the area between towers.


            For Nuclear dispatch able means slowly changing and plan to start up and turn on hours or days in advance. And the 100 US reactors cannot load follow by law and design.

            But nuclear must have fast acting backup for unplanned outages. Its expensive.

            Integration costs for nuclear are higher than wind.

            “Studies show nuclear and large fossil plants actually have “far higher integration costs than renewables,” Goggin said. “Contingency reserves, the super-fast acting energy reserve supply required of grid operators in case a large power plant shuts down unexpectedly, are a major cost. Comparing the incremental cost of wind to those costs that ratepayers have always paid, the wind cost looks even more trivial.”


          • Bob_Wallace

            Oh bull, Craig. Nuclear is dispatchable only in the crudest sense of the word. Days to turn off and back on. Not a small footprint when you include mining and refining fuel. And requires 100% backup spinning 100% of the time.

            Nuclear is offline at least 10% of the time. There has to be fill in generation for those weeks.

            There is no way to predict when nuclear might go offline, unlike wind and solar which are highly predictable over a few hours. Reserve has to be spinning and ready to jump in when a reactor disappears from the grid. Since wind and solar decreases/outages can be predicted hours in advance there is no need for spinning reserve.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Well, a little spinning reserve might be needed, in case the transmission line from a solar or wind farm gets damaged and can’t transmit. But it wouldn’t be very much.

          • eveee
          • Bob_Wallace

            Old King Cole, Coel Hen, was one of my ancestors.

            As was Æthelred the Unready

            Just so you know who you’re dealing with here….

          • Craig Austin

            Which jurisdictions have large solar or wind arrays that are unsubsidized? Wind is experiencing far higher maintenance and replacement costs than anticipated, particularly offshore. Offshore grid connections are tricky and expensive and have left several gigawatts of costly generation capacity stranded in Germany.

          • eveee

            Which coal, oil, and gas is unsubsidized? So drop that nonsense.

            Wind far higher maintenance and replacement costs? FUD. Prove it. Show some references.

            Germany had some problems with one site which are being corrected.


            “The wind harvest in German waters has generally been better than originally expected, according to Jan Bachmann, head of the North Sea Fino 1 and Baltic Sea Fino 2 wind research platform project at Kiel Technical University’s Research and Development Centre.”

            Bard 1 is transmitting at full power.



            You are reading too much Breitbart with your blinkers on. Open your eyes and look at more sources with less bias.

          • VooDude

            Air conditioning peak loads are late in the afternoon, and continue into the evening, after the sun has set. Photovoltaics don’t help much, then.

          • eveee

            Solar kills the lions share of the peak air conditioning loads. Things like thermal storage, wind, and other sources do the rest.

            The power grid is always composed of multiple generation sources and grid operators use many tricks to supply loads.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The oldest installed array of solar panels in the world is in Germany. Those panels have been in operation for almost 40 years. At age 35 they were removed, carefully tested, and reinstalled.

            Over 35 years performance dropped 0.1% per year.


          • eveee

            Bob – Nice reference. Great job.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            It [solar power] only makes sense if there is no cost effective grid available.

            Ok, I’m glad that’s settled. Since there is no cost effective grid available we must go solar.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “According to the Good Energy report … the wholesale cost of electricity in the U.K. in 2014 was lowered by £1.55 billion ($2.4 billion) thanks to the growing presence of solar PV and wind power feeding the grid.

            That figure exceeds the £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion) in overall net support spent on solar and wind in 2014….”


            Translation: The subsidies paid for wind and solar are paid for mostly by the more affluent and benefit the poor as well as the more affluent.

            You’ve got it bass ackwards, Craig.

      • Larry

        Michael the premise for this statement is lacking some facts. Many medium scale solar installations are being developed on reclaimed hazardous waste clean up sites-Brownfields (unfit for much of anything), and closed landfills; or on top of parking ramps, big box installations, warehouses, etc. (I.e.: On top of the Gigafactory, or Walmart’s central distribution warehouse, etc.). The environmental impact from utilization of these sites can only be a net positive.

        • It’s not lacking facts. The issue of siting an agriculture, energy or natural resources exploitation project is the same whether its oil and gas, mining or solar. It’s about environmental impact and studying it before going crazy. That’s important as we attempt to do fast tracking. That’s what Obama and states have been doing with natural gas and large solar. That’s the topic of the paper I cited. That’s why I tied it to ethanol. Another fast track endeavor done in an attempt to solve one problem. Only to cause another one. The first superfund site to install medium size PV solar was in California to power a cleanup technology I helped developed. My buddies did the project. I know landfills.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, are you not aware of the extensive study which the federal government did to determine the most appropriate federal land sites for projects like wind and solar and which sites are to be protected from development? Are you unaware of how they restricted cattle from a lot of federal land as part of that undertaking?

            These projects are not just being thrown down at random. They have to start by picking one of the pre-approved areas and then performing an environmental impact study before receiving permission to stick a shovel in the ground.

          • Yes, and good point. In concept this sounds efficient and wonderful. Oil and gas pushed the method of supplemental generic environmental impact study. New York State for example tried to do this with hydraulic fracking the Marcellus shale. As a compromise of the old requirement of site and project specific EIS versus simply something similar to open season for drilling in business friendly (i.e dumb) states like Pennsylvania. The problem is it gives development almost carte blanche or tacit approval of development regardless of diversity of the environment within a state. Or “hey, I’m covered so I can drill here, here and here.” So if one site has a problem the state picks up the cost of damages since they OK’d development in general. This applies to any kind of development from cattle grazing to landfilling low level nuclear waste.

            I’m all for efficiency, however the good old fashion establishment of a site specific “background” analysis does work to keep the environment protected. And if there’s any damage done, as established by what was there before development, it falls completely on the developer. Not spread out amongst the State. In finance it’s called privatize the reward, socialize the risk.

            However, all this environmental versus development thing does need improvement. Hillary Clinton calls this smart regulation. Hill is a third way democrat. Green groups are trying to get involved as well. Where say green groups like EDF and NRDC do sort of ombudsman work between developer and state. Many folks also call this greenwashing.

            And then there’s private land v. public. EIS should be mandatory for federal lands regardless of how innocuous something seems. States have similar study requirements for its lands. Or not. As we’re seeing ALEC take over state legislation. On private land, business interests are pulling fast ones with eminent domaine these days, i.e. “corporations are people, my friend so my pipeline or drill pad will go on your property for the betterment of the commons, thank you.”

          • Bob_Wallace

            Michael, unbunch your bloomers and pay attention to the environmental regs that are in place.

            Ivanpah did just go out and plop down a thermal solar plant. They went through many, many checks. They had biologists hand carrying tortoises out of their project area and the area swept several times.

            Don’t go trying to claim poor practices in solar installations in the West based on poor practices in gas drilling in the East.

            A lot of the gas stuff is state regulated.

          • Bob, please go to your local junior college and get an associates in environmental science. Then transfer to a four year college to finish your degree. At the present you kinda sound like someone with a business degree with a focus on sales and marketing who picked clean technology to be your ticket to riches. That and sort of someone who doesn’t care about the environment and human health – if it cuts sales of units of whatever it is you’re selling. Read through this thread. I’ve bent over backwards to relay this study as a cautionary tale. Not the shutdown of the solar power industry.

            You don’t work as a security guard at the Reno Gigafactory by any chance? Man that story isn’t going to be good for public relations.

            The history of Ivanpah starts at a startup in San Francisco and continues through Chevron (formerly Standard Oil of California), moves onto Bechtel (headquartered in San Francisco), then to WorleyParsons, through Dianne Feinstein, through Obama’s ARRA with fast track approval of energy projects, Google ventures, and finally construction and operations.

            The turtle and bird messes were because the EIS was fast tracked. Here’s a 2010 story on environmental and alternative us issues being discussed well into construction phase:


            Here’s another analysis from Yale’s enviro blog on the project.


            As I said. This thing got built under hyper enthusiasm and at the depth of the financial meltdown.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Excuse me, Michael.

            Were there environmental studies completed prior to Ivanpah construction?

            Was Ivanpah so “fast tracked” so that the bulldozers simply ran over the tortoises?

            What issue do you have with our most valuable desert lands being identified and put off limits for development?

          • First question no. A generic EIS under fast track track development isn’t something I would have a developer do on my land. Here’s another link to support that:


            Folks don’t like to do environmental impact study on federal (and states equivalent) lands or due diligence on private property, such as the Fairchild factor in Silicon Valley. It basically puts any existing condition or future impact onto the next owner/operator. The problem might be small and not very costly. However, environmental problems go from mole hills to mountains very quick. A $100 dollar solution to a problem can grow easily to by factors of 10s and 100s, with legal, lost time, etc.

            The real problem with EIS is it slows things down. Real estate developers hate both federal EIS and private environmental due diligence. Ignorance is bliss if one is not done. However, since were trying to conserve energy to fight climate change maybe doing something slowly isn’t a bad idea.

          • eveee

            I would love to hear more about Fairchild. It was/is? a environmental superfund site? There were derricks drilling all over. They found fluorocarbons in the drinking water. Little wonder. The workers were pouring stuff down the drains all the time.
            On the one hand we have saving turtles, on the other …

          • Here’s from the horse’s mouth:


            When I say EPA is the horse’s mouth, I mean information they feel comfortable making public has already gone through the meat grinder of legal battles.

            And a pretty good summary on the issue from Silicon Valley business press:


            An interesting discussion on this very topic from a google books clip from “Moore’s Law:” (sounds like a good read)


            Pretty much all industries back in the day didn’t have an understanding of environmental protection like we have now. So hindsight is always 20/20.

          • eveee

            Well something obviously isn’t working. Either someone got bought off or something else happened. While environmentalists and the government are worrying about desert lands and carrying turtles to new locations (which is good BTW), Wyoming is turning into a repeat of 1920s SoCal and Santa Barbara oil well drilling within city limits. The more things change, the more they remain the same.



            Something is wrong with the betterment of the commons when the residents of the state of Wyoming are forced to pay for bankrupt fracking company well capping and remediation.



          • If you’re promoting electric vehicles then you’re an environmentalists. If you’re not an environmentalists, then you’re just excited about an alternative vehicle platform. For some reason eveee you seem young. And that’s great. By the way, the environmental services business is about $350 billion in the US and $1 trillion worldwide. This includes environmentalists at one end and sheepsfoot compactor operators at landfills on the other. It’s a big business.

            The above is a perfect example of how development gets done on federal lands within a state (Wyoming) that is anti environmental protection and pro development. That picture is of conventional wells spattered throughout the Overthrust Belt area of southwestern Wyoming. I worked there cleaning up groundwater about 25 years ago. This mentality should not get transferred to clean technology. It seems like it is. Then there’s no difference between the two. Fossil fuel can then argue that if clean technology doesn’t have to go through environmental impact, then why should we?

          • eveee

            Thanks for the young compliment, but I am starting to get pretty old for a youngster. I am just saying context matters. And oil companies are twisting and distorting it for all its worth to put things out of context.

            We heard the same thing from their phony mouthpieces about eagles.

            They are trying to use environmental legislation against renewables.

            Once again, context. Don’t build cities, casinos, and junk in the desert where it doesn’t make sense. Minimize ecological impact.

            But, as you point out, there is a temptation with all money making enterprise to make money and damn the torpedoes.

            And balance requires viewing both sides of the story. Including yours regarding the connections involved and the speed ups. So I am listening and trying to find balance in context.

            And I still want answers and solutions. We have to live with the results, lets take care to make sure they show respect for the living beings on the planet present and future.

            Right now we live in a civilization built by oil and the premise of cheap energy. The entire demographics and geographical distribution of energy and population is about to change radically as the energy revolution changes the landscape.

  • Dag Johansen

    An entire policy due to the fact that Iowa holds the first presidential caucus.

    • Not untrue. Maybe an oversimplification of how the problem has grown – but there’s Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana (even California) et al who help, given two senators per state. There’s more money (and energy) in putting up windmills on agriculture land in these states – then growing feed corn for ethanol – but that’s not the issue.

      A bigger problem with ethanol is the inputs. Most of the feed corn grown is GM. The farming practice to grow lots of corn per acre is called no till. To do this, Roundup and similar herbicides are necessary, which is why the GM corn planted nowadays is called “roundup ready.” This brings the state of Monsanto, aka Missouri into the mix. Then comes fertilizers. These days ammonia based fertilizers are produced from natural gas. That brings in senators from states producing lots of natural gas. So ethanol is kind of a make work project for various industries. Even Monsanto’s company called Climate Corporation is in on the game. This is a data driven company for optimization of growing corn – for ethanol. We’re at about 50 percent ethanol for corn products.

      • Matt

        Is anyone still claiming the corm ethanol is net energy positive?

        • Some, if you burn everything from the seeds to the stalks and the organic loam it’s all grown on – along with producing ethanol. On the other hand, biofuels made from things other than corn do show net positive. Actually a buddy of mine did the initial mass and energy balance work on this issue back in the mid 1990s. He was working for an oil company’s R&D department so his results were taken with a grain of salt. The inertia in Washington was so powerful by 1998 – from all corn growing states and companies like ADM, Monsanto, Cargill, Koch, Deere and whomever – that nothing was going to stop ethanol going forward. Of course environmentalists were blamed – as they always are.

          edit: the burning organic loam was satire.

        • sjc_1

          The get more net positive if you use the stalks for make more ethanol then gasify the rest to make green fuels. The corn or sorghum grain goes to feed cattle after the sugars are removed.

    • Matt

      RFS is “too reliant” on corn ethanol was never an energy plan it is and always has been a farm aid plan. And lets the GOP claim that they support farms and also claim that RE gets too much money. What is not to love.

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