The Koch brothers smell victory. After more than 30 years waging war against progressive ideas like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the school lunch program, gay rights, equal opportunity, feminism, and voting rights, their acolytes are firmly in control of the legislative and executive branches of the US government and their assault on the judiciary will soon be complete as well. Their influence has been promoted by a bewildering array of so-called “think tanks” created and propped up by their wealth, all designed to relentlessly press the attack on liberal social policies.
A main source of their wealth is fossil fuels. They control a vast empire of oil and gas extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution companies. To them, any and all renewable energy programs are a direct threat to their bottom line. The mouthpieces they pay so handsomely are forever issuing scary sounding warnings about the dangers inherent in solar and wind power. They are also bitterly opposed to electric vehicles and any other mode of transportation that doesn’t rely on the internal combustion engine.
In the 5th century B.C., famed Chinese military strategist Sun Zsu wrote a book entitled The Art Of War. Still used as a text in most military academies, it contains this famous quote: “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.” Consider the following as an exercise in knowing your enemy.
Take this piece from American Liberty, a think tank that describes it mission as follows: “Spreading the ideas of freedom. Discusses economic, political, and social issues in the context of liberty and individual rights. Shows freedom and capitalism are essential to human advancement on all levels. Identifies government actions that are anti-liberty and detrimental to our rights, our lives and health, and the nation’s prosperity and future.”
Liberty, in the Byzantine world of the Koch brothers, means grabbing all the government subsidies you can, including favorable laws and regulations, while screaming bloody murder if anyone else gets any. Take this recent screed published on November 28 and penned by Edmund Contoski, a supposed expert on wind power.
“One immutable fact is that the wind doesn’t blow all the time. That can never be changed. Another is that 25 to 60 percent of the time the wind is blowing, it is at a rate less than the maximum efficiency for the turbine. As a result, windmills operate at only around 33 to 40 percent of maximum production level, compared to 90 percent for coal and 95% for nuclear power,” he writes.
Contoski then grumbles that wind turbines must be shut down if the wind is too strong or too light. He then drags in some highfalutin science to buttress his arguments. “The best (wind turbine) efficiency achieved is about 47 percent, which is about as good as it can get because of a physical law known as the Betz Limit. This has been known for a hundred years.
“It was independently discovered by three scientists in three different countries: Albert Betz (1919) in Germany, Frederick Lanchester (1915) in Great Britain, and Nicolay Zhukowsky (1920) in Russia. Their discovery applies to all Newtonian fluids and identifies the maximum amount of kinetic energy that can be captured by windmills as 59.3 percent. But the advocates of wind power are either ignorant of this or willfully ignore it to make wind power seem feasible for achieving their goals.”
Yup, that whole wind thing, Edmund? It’s just a plot to bamboozle the weak minded.
Contoski’s statements about wind turbine capacity factors are not horrible lies. The problem is that they are misleading since they make it seem like capacity factor is the end all and be all of power production. Actually, it’s often price that is, and price per kWh is price per kWh. Capacity factor of a wind turbine is just one part of the formula that creates price per kWh. As it turns out, wind power is often — if not usually — the cheapest option for new electricity production. Yes, wind is that cheap that you can capture and use just 40% of it and you’re still creating the cheapest electricity around.
It may interest you to know that Contoski has also applied his scientific acumen to a piece written for the Heartland Institute, another captive satellite in the Koch brothers universe. In it, he asserts that “CO2 is trivial to climate change.” The article exhaustively attacks climate scientists in general and James Hansen in particular as quacks and charlatans intent on making outrageous claims so they can obtain lucrative research grants. The tagline for the Heartland Institute is “Freedom Rising.”
Those Koch fellows are big on wrapping themselves in the flag and screaming about freedom, but the freedom they crave is the ability to shovel even more money into their already overstuffed wallets regardless of the social, ethical, or environmental consequences. They are the prime movers behind the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the Republican tax bill that will shower billions of dollars on America’s most wealthy citizens — especially themselves.
Oddly enough, even such a well regarded news outlet as Forbes drinks deeply of the Koch KoolAid. Also on November 28 — an odd coincidence, that — Forbes contributor Michael Lynch, who characterizes himself as an analyst of petroleum economics, published a story entitled “Overpricing Renewable Power Is Dangerous.” It contains this rather remarkable statement:
“Allow me to suggest a basic tenet of policy making: Scientists research, engineers develop, but consumers decide. In energy, there is enormous effort to work around that last point, by claiming consumers have imperfect information, their discount rates are too high, advertising misleads them, or that they don’t consider externalities.
“By some strange coincidence, these arguments are only made by people trying to sell inferior technologies (emphasis added), such as photovoltaics and battery electric vehicles, and are coupled with arguments that the learning curve means costs will drop to competitive levels if the government subsidizes early buyers.”
He then launches a blistering attack on subsidizing any new technology. “The notion that mandating or subsidizing purchases to allow a product to achieve savings from the learning curve is constantly argued by renewable energy advocates, although they don’t seem to agree with the idea of building nuclear power plants until costs drop. Unfortunately, the evidence for the massive learning curve effect is circumstantial, to wit, the rough correlation between volumes produced and cost trends.”
Then, like Contoski, he adds a little Latin to add some intellectual heft to his writing. “This is what the Romans referred to as ‘post hoc ergo prompter hoc,’ or correlation equals causality, which is considered a logical fallacy.”
There it is folks, the Gospel According To Koch. Bring back coal-powered locomotives. Eliminate any policies that favor renewables, but leave those that benefit coal, oil, or natural gas alone. Let Americans drive 7,000 lb behemoths that get 10 miles per gallon because, hey, that’s what freedom and liberty are all about.
If you are someone who doesn’t believe in poisoning the earth for profit or subjecting people to shorter lifespans filled with sickness, you need to know who your enemy is. Now you do. To learn more, read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It is a gruesome and grueling account of just how nefarious the Koch brothers and their ilk really are. It’s a tough slog through a cesspool of self-interest and avarice, but if you finish it, will know your enemy very well indeed.
Image by Donkey Hotey