6 months ago

Is a renewable electric grid a mirage?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change will require enormous sacrifice. The enormity of the required sacrifice suggests that we should have consensus on the goal before acting. Recent discussions of the Green New Deal have highlighted some of the required sacrifices, but I suspect that the full implications of an all-renewable power electric grid remain obscure.

The Green New Deal was sponsored by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey. The proposal highlighted measures like a renewable energy electric grid, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in transportation (including phasing out air travel), and creating a smart electric grid. Limiting atmospheric carbon dioxide to 440 ppm, the European Union’s goal, will require these changes and then some. Assessing whether aggressive mitigation of climate change is worthwhile requires recognizing the full cost.

An all-renewable energy electric grid appears feasible. Over 30 states already require a minimum portion of electricity generation from renewable sources; Hawaii will require 100 percent renewables by 2040. Renewable fuels are certainly costly, but the consequences go way beyond cost.

Wind and solar power and batteries are the components of a zero-emissions grid. Yet wind and solar generate power only about 30% of the time. Currently, utilities rely on fossil-fuel-powered plants to provide backup; a zero-emissions grid will require batteries. The Manhattan Institute report, “The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking,” demonstrates the flaws of such an approach.

One concern involves simply building enough wind farms and solar panels to meet electricity demand. In 2018, the U.S. had 1.1 million megawatts of electricity generation capacity, 62% from natural gas and coal. Due to intermittent production, we would need perhaps 3 million megawatts of wind or solar capacity for the grid. If we used only wind turbines, we would need a wind farm larger than Texas. We would need perhaps 1.5 million turbines, each requiring 150 acres for an undisturbed flow of air, or 350,000 square miles.

Even this is almost surely an underestimate. Wind energy potential maps have already allowed use of the best wind farm sites. Electricity demand has been steadily rising and would jump further to charge the electric cars, trucks, and trains and eliminate gas and diesel-powered vehicles.

The battery numbers are also troubling. One year’s production of batteries from Tesla’s “Gigafactory” can store enough power for the U.S. grid for three minutes. The “New Energy Economy” report contends that 1,000 years of “Gigafactory” production would be needed to store just two days of power.

Producing such quantities of turbines, solar panels, and batteries will use enormous quantities of fossil fuels. A standard wind turbine requires an estimated 900 tons of materials, including concrete and metal. The lithium, cobalt, nickel and other needed chemicals for solar panels and batteries must be mined and transported. In addition, turbines, panels and batteries will need replacing periodically.

The power grid has long operated on adding capacity to meet demand. Millions of decisions have been made based on this principle. We assume we can power our air conditioners, refrigerators, and computers, and soon charge electric cars in a timely fashion. Gas-powered generators provide backup as needed.

A zero-emissions grid will not just involve much more expensive electricity. The supply of electricity will be insufficient to meet the demand. “Smart” appliances will ration electricity by running only when electricity is available. After ensuring hospitals and fire stations have power, we may be unable to charge our cell phones and electric cars.

The ripple effects will be enormous. How do we get to work if our electric car didn’t charge overnight? How will we heat and cool our homes? Could global supply chains still operate? The Green New Deal has highlighted some of the dramatic changes required to aggressively combat climate change. But I doubt that Americans understand the consequences of ending on-demand electricity.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

47 mins ago

Lewis touts McCutcheon; Brooks touts Trump, his record with space and defense

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) this week endorsed Chris Lewis in the GOP primary race in the Fifth Congressional District.

The surprise endorsement by McCutcheon caught many in the state off-guard because this race has flown under the radar and polling shows this race, like all of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) previous primaries, handily in the bag.

But McCutcheon’s endorsement rightly got the attention of multiple media outlets and observers of Alabama politics with many wondering what this was really all about.

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So when Brooks saw the endorsement and a hostage-style video promoting it by McCutcheon, Brooks responded by highlighting the most coveted endorsement a Republican candidate for any office could get: President Donald Trump.

Brooks told Yellowhammer News:

I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!

While speaking to WVNN on Friday, Brooks noted that the endorsement on the bounds of support from the space and defense industry is laughable.

“If Mac McCutcheon is saying that Chris Lewis has more support in Research Park, that is categorically false. We have received more support from the state and defense community, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly more support from the state and defense community than Chris Lewis has,” he told “The Dale Jackson Show.”

Brooks also touted his seniority, and how that plays into serving his district in Washington, D.C.

“The people who engage in space and defense know that my growing seniority on science, space, and technology and on House Armed Services, coupled with more than a hundred occasions in which I’ve been able to get favorable language into legislation that they’ve wanted me to get for the benefit of our country and what we do in the Tennessee Valley,” he added. “They’re my primary support base in Congress: space and defense.”​

My takeaway:

This is all pretty interesting, but the idea that a McCutcheon endorsement on these grounds can overcome the booming North Alabama economy that Brooks has been a part of since being part of the Tea Party-wave in 2010 is false.

The Trump endorsement might make better television and radio spots, and it will definitely help Brooks, but the real issue is that Lewis and McCutcheon can’t point to how Brooks hasn’t served his district well — because he has.

Barring some massive bombshell to follow up this endorsement, a battle of endorsements between Trump and McCutcheon seems like a fight that was over before it started, much like the Brooks/Lewis race.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

1 hour ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.

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A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

2 hours ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

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“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Shelby, Jones introduce legislation to make Alabama’s Black Belt a National Heritage Area

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Doug Jones (D-AL) have introduced legislation to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing 19 counties in the Yellowhammer State’s Black Belt Region as an official National Heritage Area (NHA).

The bill – entitled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” and designated S.3363 – would allow for federal funding to be directed to the region over the span of 15 years. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Martha Roby (AL-02) have introduced a companion bill in the lower chamber, underscoring the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the effort.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said in a statement on Friday.

“Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations. If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come,” he added.

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NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), states and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” Jones stated. “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture. The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders. This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

The established area would include Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox Counties.

The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities, according to Shelby’s office.

Shelby introduced similar legislation during the 111th Congress and the 113th Congress.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn