Rude giant: Jail him, or make him a tax payer?


What do you do with someone who is obnoxious and rude, and a giant besides?  You can’t duke it out with him . . .

More than just a clever ad for an electricity company, this piece really gets at the heart of the differences between the Republican view of the world, presented by the Romney campaign, and the Democratic view of the world, as exemplified by the Obama administration.

Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa

Yeah, but he didn’t think anyone was watching: Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service) (Now Mitt thinks he built it, ignoring the union guys and other laborers who did.)

First, the obvious comparison:  Romney promises to kill subsidies for wind power, doubling down on America’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil.  To the GOP platform, wind is a rude giant, perhaps worthy of ignoring, but in not case worthy of giving a job to do.  To the Obama administration, every watt of power generated by wind is a watt that doesn’t need to be generated by coal, oil or gas, freeing up those fuels for other work, and decreasing U.S. dependence on oil imported from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Which treatment is more likely to increase the nation’s energy security and move the U.S. towards oil independence?

Second, the story carries metaphorical value, for the rest of the agendas of the two campaigns.  Consider the Rude Giant as an out of work person, someone who is unemployed.  The Romney campaign’s answer is that this fellow needs to become an entrepreneur, change his ways, change his behaviors, develop some other talents other than those God gave him, and maybe he’ll be successful; to encourage him to change himself, the Romney platform calls for pulling the rug out from under the poor guy so he’ll have to do something different or die.  Democratic platform stands for retraining, great education in the first place, good benefits and a safety net that works — to get the former taxpayer back on his feet and, coincidentally, paying taxes again soon.

Guess which plan is cheaper to taxpayers, in operation?

What’s the reality:  This past summer I drove through ten different states and the District of Columbia.  Only in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. did I not see vast new “wind farms” of windmills, or pass on the road the massive truck trailers carrying parts for wind turbine installations.  As it turns out, that was because I didn’t drive to the area of Maryland and Virginia with wind farms.  Only D.C. lacks a windfarm, out of the states I visited (Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado were the others).  Wind is big business and growing.

Why would any candidate try to choke off windpower growth, in tough economic times?

More:

Update on resources, September 13, 2012:

17 Responses to Rude giant: Jail him, or make him a tax payer?

  1. JamesK says:

    Then there is the fact that as China and India continue to grow they will need ever more energy. Which means they’re going to be competing with us for the same energy sources that Hightower is recommending we stick to.

    Last time I checked…competition for a finite resource increases the cost of that resource.

    Then there is the fact that the Middle East is as chaotic as ever if not more so which means not only is oil likely to get more expensive but that by buying it from them we’re buying it from current or potential enemies of the country. And considering that the right wing continues to insist that we live by a cold war mentality in which Russia is a threat to us means that they’re not likely going to be real keen on selling us their oil, natural gas (which they have by far the largest reserves) and coal (which they have the second largest reserves)

    Then there is Venzuela..whose current leader thinks we’re about to invade his country and kill him.

    Then there is the environmental costs to fracking and oil production here in the States. *coughs* Deep Horizon. *coughs* Exxon Valdez.

    The worst that happens when there is a wind spill is that it’s too windy. The worst that happens when there’s a sun spill is that it’s a sunny day.

    Oil spills and natural gas spills aren’t nearly as pleasant. And coal leads to such things as smog which leads to such things as asthma and other breating related medical problems. Which increases the costs of our health care.

    So we should stay on the more expensive, health damaging, terrorist funding energy sources that will run out?

    Yeah remember when I said your side has no vision and is perfectly content with this country resting on its laurels and coasting along and that we can no longer afford such laziness?

    I meant every word of it.

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  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Pretty good summary of the cost confusion on wind power:

    http://reason.com/archives/2010/09/14/wind-turbines-are-beautiful

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html

    Wind is very cheap wholesale (at the windmill, when the wind blows), but very expensive retail (at the plug, when I want power) because of the cost for necessary back-up generation and transmission.

    “Reason” magazine has gotten so bizarre, I never take anything they say at face value (they disbelieve in warming, and they think DDT is wonderful juice, and they think malaria is killing more people every year . . . and other silly things that are simply not so).

    So, look at this from the Reason article:

    But according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), if one includes all the capital, operating, and fuel costs, electricity from wind still costs about 50 percent more than conventional coal and 100 percent more than natural gas. Proponents point out that the costs of turbines are coming down, but the costs for the considerable infrastructure needed to manage wind are still daunting.

    So, click over to the EIA report they cite, and you’ll see the “Total System Levelized Cost” (SLC) for conventional coal is $94.80/megawatthour; $97.00/mwh for wind. Only hydro and natural gas variants are cheaper. At a minimum, then wind is competitive, even considering the “cost for necessary back-up generation and transmission.”

    That’s not even close to 50% more than conventional coal — it’s more like 2% more. Reason goofed by a factor of 25.

    For natural gas, the SLC for conventional gas turbine is $124.50/mwh, or $27.50 more than wind. Reason got the comparison wholly bass ackwards. Gas is 28% more than wind, not half as expensive.

    One ugly little secret you don’t mention is that all forms of electricity need “necessary back-up generation and transmission.” No form of electrical generation is perfect. As I’ve noted before, twice last year wind was the back-up that saved us in Texas when coal plants failed utterly in the February freeze, and when coal capacity couldn’t cope with the heat in August.

    Using your source, Hightower, I see that wind is very competitive. Sounds like a good deal to me.

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  3. JamesK says:

    Yeah last time I checked gas is pretty expensive at the pump.

    And we subsidize Big Oil up the wazoo…..

    Let me know when you’re going to deal with that fact.

    Sorry, there is actual wisdom in the adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

    Fossil Fuels= one basket

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  4. JamesK says:

    It costs about $14 billion dollars to build a nuclear power plant. That’s not counting how much it costs to run them, deal with the nuclear waste, and insure them.

    Germany has enough wind power plants that produce enough electricity to equal the electrical production of 22 nuclear power plants.

    Those 22 power plants would cost, in total, $308,000,000,000 dollars. Just to build.

    You might want to realize that there are indeed places where the wind blows on a pretty constant basis. Like Pipestone Minnesota where the wind blows at a pretty constant 18 mph. By the way..a windmill needs a minumum speed of 8 mph to generate power and will reach maximum power generation at 33 mph.

    Do you really want to try arguing that there’s no place in the world or the United States that meets those criteria?

    You can defend coal and gas all you want but the fact still is..they will run out. And the longer and the more we stay on those finite resources, the more screwed we will become when they do run out.

    And we, thanks to your ilk, were dumb enough to let China become the dominant solar panel producer in the world and all those jobs that went with it.

    So why, pray tell, are you advocating that we let some other country become the dominant producer of wind power? Why are you advocating that some other country get those jobs?

    The problem with your ilk is lack of vision. You guys are sedentary. You think we the United States can sit here, sit on our laurels, and cost along.

    You want the United States to become a lazy ass country.

    Sorry, we can no longer afford that. Which means we can longer afford you.

    http://www.pipestoneminnesota.com/visitors/windpower/

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  5. Hightower says:

    Pretty good summary of the cost confusion on wind power:

    http://reason.com/archives/2010/09/14/wind-turbines-are-beautiful

    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html

    Wind is very cheap wholesale (at the windmill, when the wind blows), but very expensive retail (at the plug, when I want power) because of the cost for necessary back-up generation and transmission.

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    More windpower opening up in California: http://t.co/X74Dobfu

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  7. JamesK says:

    To quote:What would happen if temperatures started decreasing, therefore disproving the primacy of CO2 in climate change…at what point would someone say the emperors got no clothes on?

    Since Ed answered that question in a good enough manner I’ll refrain from answering.

    Now I’m going to ask you one:

    What are you going to say if climate change proves to be true and we did nothing because of you and your ilk?

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    What would happen if temperatures started decreasing, therefore disproving the primacy of CO2 in climate change…at what point would someone say the emperors got no clothes on?

    We’d all say “halleluja!” and start working and spending on other serious problems. Of course, the only way we would ever know that were accurate would be by the measurements and observations of the scientists you denigrate, ridicule, and claim to ignore. Wouldn’t it be nice if global warming were not occurring, and if human-released CO2 were not the cause — that there were some less vexing cause, more easily fixed, perhaps? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if idiots didn’t make offensive movies designed to stir up other idiots to rise up and murder diplomats of any nation? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if wishes were horses, so beggars could ride, or farm, or something?

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  9. Hightower says:

    Well, Ed, you certinly have endurance.

    I’m generally opposed to subsidies. I don’t want to get into the endless debate in where and how they should be structured. I’d say that the type of subsides that turn wind (or any other form of power) into a glorified tax shelter is not something I’m inclined to support.

    I’d dispute one thing here – the size of a resource is irrelevent to whether we should exploit it or not. Seawater contains 1 mg/ton of gold. There are approximately 1,450,000,000,000,000,000 tons of seawater on Earth. Why are we not exploiting this GIANT gold resource for the benefit of all mankind? Well…

    I didn’t claim that wind was “wildly” expensive or “wouldn’t work.” I’m saying that you are displaying a common misunderstanding regarding the economics of energy generation. Again, neither the size of the resource and fuel type are determining factors regarding whether an energy source makes economic sense. Lots of things go into these decisions, and lots of stuff gets factored into the final price at the outlet. In addition, different energy sources have differing values placed on them based on reliability. Comparisons between wind energy and other forms of energy are rarely apples to apples. That is the point I’m trying to make – the cost is not THE COST, that is to say, the cost we all worry about is the cost at the outlet, not the cost of the fuel, transmission, capitol costs, etc. Those are just inputs to the ultimate answer.

    Most comparisons bween wind and other power sources will say something silly like “wind generation costs are lower than natural gas generation costs” which is an entirely meaningless statement to the consumer. What we want to know is, will wind increase or decerase the costs I pay per KwH? The answer is yes, it may increase or decrease your costs significantly, because generation costs are not the only factor in the equation.

    Explain to me how wind load follows? Right. It doesn’t. So right off the bat, a MW of wind power is worth substantially less to a power company than a MW of natural gas power. The power generation industry is replete with embarassing stories of people trying to sell wind power to another utility for something, anything, just to recoup some of the costs.

    You keep asking for links to information. Problem is most of my knowledge is from working in the industry I find most stuff on the web to be pretty ill informed. Here a decent example:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/7996606/An-ill-wind-blows-for-Denmarks-green-energy-revolution.html

    At least it gets to a few of the problems we’ve also seen in the U.S.

    It’s my own fault, but I’ve been misleading with the word “reliable” Power guys define that as likely to break down, I’ve been using it incorrectly as a combination of dispatchable and predictable. Sorry for any confusion – I should know better. I’ve gotten into the habit of saying “reliable” since “dispatchable” just confuses the heck out of people.

    For example, on August 3, 10 PM, 2013, the Comanche Peak Nuclear power station, Unit 1, will generate 1.083 MW of electricty. I can take that to the bank. Wind energy? I can guess. I can estimate. I can predict. But I don’t actually know how much wind will produce. So one is fully predictable and even somewhat dispatchable, the other…less so.

    And I know, a fully intergrated grid that cover the entire nation. Wind always blows somewhere. Etc. Etc. But then, don’t we have to factor in…building a fully integrated nationwide grid that doesn’t exist right now? Who pays for that?

    Windmills reliably pump water? Not really. They pump when the wind blows, which may not be when or where you need it. That is why most farmers use diesel pumps my friend. Or hook to a reliable grid…

    “I understand these are probably unique circumstances.” Then they really aren’t worth discussing here, are they? Why bring them up?

    “…there is so much of the stuff we can “harvest” with current technology, it seems silly to me to claim we can’t harness it. We can’t afford to fail to harness it.” Thar’s gold in them thar oceans! Sorry. I have to laugh at that kind of statement. Resource size = irrelevent fact. Nice to dream, but seriously, irrelevent.

    You seem to suggest that there are places where the wind blows all the time. Never stopping. And always at the same consistent, predictable speed. And these magical places are widespread, and cover vast regions of our nation.

    “As to the inherent variability, a grid plans for it.” So, it is variable? And of course they plan for it…by having other, non wind sources at the ready.

    “The costs are calculated into the capital, construction and amortization. You don’t build a coal plant assuming 100% utilization. Similarly, you don’t build a wind farm assuming 100% utilization.” No. You assume 90% utilization for a coal plant, and 25% utilization for wind. However, I’m not convinced that cost comaprisons between wind and coal include utilization factors. In fact, most don’t seem to recognize the difference between a wind power nameplate value and the actual output. Not that I’ve seen anyway.

    “I have found no source to check your 25% figure — it sounds low to me — but whatever the figure, when that is calculated in, wind is still viable.” You are not looking very hard. Look under capacity factor or CUF. The range is 20-40% (I think the highest ever recorded was 57% for some offshore wind, but I can’t find the reference). The average is on the low end.

    “The Texas grid operator, ERCOT, is thought to be loaded with fools by many, but they’ve figured out accurate, valid and usable figures to forecast wind availability, and to make the grid operate with wind power.” Agreed, but the graph doesn’t really help your case: http://bettingthebusiness.com/2011/11/08/the-cost-and-value-of-variability-in-electricity-generation/

    Nice short article by some finance guys regarding the financial part of the problem.

    “Wind will be there for at least 200 years. They’d better be engineering them to last at least that long.” No, they only last 20-30 years, according to the manufacturors. Which is not that big a deal – most power plants only last that long (nuclear and hydro exempted). But this is a good example of your persistent magical thinking. A bit of data easily found anywhere on the internet, that might, slightly weaken the case for wind power, and you make easily disprovable statements. Why?

    Nice article in the Atlantic on neodynium mining: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/05/clean-energys-dirty-little-secret/307377/

    It is strip mining. No, not as damaging as coal, of course it’s not. But still, the stroy is a little more complex than you seem willing to admit.

    You are very wrong about the transmission line issue – it is not the same for wind and nuclear or coal or gas turbine. I can always knock down an old power plant and build a new one, using the same transmission lines. Or site it where convient, next to existing infrastructure. Wind power requires more, longer, and new transmission lines to recover a diffuse resource from a wide area. tehre have been all sorts of fights over this issue – surely you’re aware?

    “Warren Buffett, the head of Berkshire-Hathaway, doesn’t object to paying taxes. He’s not investing to get a tax break. He’s investing because he believes wind will pay off. ” Well Buffet might not object, but his shareholders have other ideas….and certinly Spain, GB, and Germany have had significant problems with tax credits for renewables turning into payoff schemes for investors. Not saying that is true here, but certinly it is cause for some chin stroking….

    So…subsidies are always good, as long as you personally approve of the cause? And if someone else thinks dfifferent…they are evil rotten scoundrels? I’m not so sure. Certinly I’m fine with accelerated write-downs. But the direct tax write-off per Kwh generated? Hmmmmm.

    And Mitt is certinly not alone Germany, Spain and England are already doing the same thing:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9336027/Subsidies-for-onshore-wind-farms-to-be-axed-by-2020.html

    “Got a better idea?” Sure. Pay only for what you use. Invest money in intercontinetal HVDC or superconducting lines to tie grids together, integrate electrical markets, and divorce generators from transmitters. That will vastly increase the value of wind and solar. Deploy Generation IV nuclear power plants utlizing thorium, if only to burn up all the waste from older power plants. Work toward in-situ gasification of coal. Make more federal land avalible for shale gas extraction. Use shale gas/in-situ coal gasification to transition gardually to a renewable/clean nuke future.

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  10. David xavier says:

    Lets play a thought game …with all these subsidies floating around for renewable energy creation not to mention money to had carbon credit trading….all driven by the “objective science” that CO2 is the cause of ‘climate change’. What would happen if temperatures started decreasing, therefore disproving the primacy of CO2 in climate change…at what point would someone say the emperors got no clothes on? It would probably get rather glacial before governments got out of the sway from people like Jimmy ‘ where’s the subsidy’ Buffet…

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Well James, I suppose we could argue all day over what is or is not a subsidy. I’ve seen all sorts of crazy calculations that include some pretty silly stuff for both wind power and other forms of power. But in general I’m opposed to all subsidies, fair enough? Knock them all down.

    So, in general, you’re opposed to the way the U.S. has operated in technological development since 1789. Fair enough. The subsidies are not going away, especially for oil. So you may argue that the subsidies hide some costs, but don’t leap all the way down the hole to claim wind can’t function without subsidies, nor could anything else. Argue for constructive change to subsidies. Especially with an obstructionist GOP in Congress, subsidies, often in the form of tax breaks, are one of the few tools of progress possible to get through the pre-Adam-Smithites in the House.

    And Ed, I’m not trying to make wind “look” bad. It looks how it looks, both good and bad. I think it can be, in some areas, under some circumstances, a valuable addition to our energy profile. But it is not without consequence or cost. I’d guess, at best, it will someday contribute 10% of our energy needs. Right now we are at 3%. Forward!

    That’s an almost rational view. It’s what the film argues. We have this huge resource, a giant resource, and it’s underutilized. In very clear metaphor, the film says, “Put the giant to work.” In your previous comment you offered claims that it wind is wildly expensive and cannot work, quite contrary to our experience in the past decade.

    It’s a free resource. Can we harness it? It’s been done in California now for 40 years, without subsidy at first.

    Use real figures — and if we do, wind looks pretty good. It’s a resource the Chinese have not yet figured out how to corner the market on — sounds like a pretty good bet, to me.

    I’ve offered links to the analyses that show the costs are in line with other sources, cheaper than some. I know a lot of people think wind is magically more expensive than other forms of energy . . . but I don’t see it, and you haven’t provided anything that convinces me.

    There seems to be some magical thinking here. You seem to be seriously arguing that wind is not just reliable, but more reliable than nuclear/coal/gas? And cheaper too? I’m not sure even where to begin with that statement.

    You said wind is unreliable. I don’t know why you say that. Out west here, we have a name for rain and wind and fire. The rain is Tess. The fire, Joe, and we call the wind Mariah . .

    Wait, I got sidetracked.

    Wind blows all the time in much of the nation. All the time. Windmills provided reliable pumping power to water stock for much of the past 160 years. It’s a major tool of erosion. Unreliable?

    No.

    Variable, maybe — but not unreliable.

    And then we had those crises in Texas, and when Anthony Watts and the Jackals of Denialism hooted about how windpower had been to blame for the brownouts and blackouts, we had to look — and we discovered that it was wind that gave the biggest boost, that coal crapped out.

    So, on the basis of real world experience, where wind has proven to be more reliable than coal, I wonder why you say the contrary.

    Here’s a post of mine with links to several sources, so you can understand why I’m a bit sensitive to the continued, unevidenced and so far as I can tell, untrue, claim that wind is unreliable and requires massive back-up that other power sources do not: https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/watts-up-puts-collective-hand-into-the-fan-er-um-windmill/

    I understand these are probably unique circumstances. But those are the facts. We may have differing opinions, but we must all use the same facts.

    Coupled with the fact that there is so much of the stuff we can “harvest” with current technology, it seems silly to me to claim we can’t harness it. We can’t afford to fail to harness it.

    Well, maybe I’ll give it a shot. 25%. That is the average utilization number for a wind turbine. And yes, you don’t get to pick the 25% of the time it actually generates electricity. Sometimes during peak load, other times at night when you least need it. And sometimes that number will be 0%. When? Who knows? You guess, but sometimes you guess wrong.

    No, it’s not a difficult guess. It’s an estimation. And where the wind blows all the time, it’s really an estimation for how much of the time the wind will be able to drive the turbine. We have good weather records. It’s not a guess, it’s a reasoned forecast. It’s not a gamble.

    First, we know where the wind blows — and consequently, we can figure out where best to site wind farm. NREL provides handy maps of those places where average annual wind is 13 mph (“class 3 and above”) the speed at which commercial wind turbines become feasible.

    As to the inherent variability, a grid plans for it. The costs are calculated into the capital, construction and amortization. You don’t build a coal plant assuming 100% utilization. Similarly, you don’t build a wind farm assuming 100% utilization.

    I have found no source to check your 25% figure — it sounds low to me — but whatever the figure, when that is calculated in, wind is still viable.

    For comparison, coal and nuclear typically have 90% utilization rates, and downtime is mostly predictable. There is a reason it is called firm power, or base power, and must always be available in conjunction with wind power. There is also a reason it is always worth more money in the wholesale marketplace than wind power.

    I’m not sure about your obsession with accidents and cold weather – inclement weather is far more of a factor for wind farms than other power plants.

    Come to Texas. The coal plants froze up. They were engineered for Texas weather, but Texas weather has gone a bit bizarre with climate change. For whatever reasons that seemed like a good idea at the time based on 100 years of experience with coal plants in Texas, certain parts were not freeze hardened, and the plants froze up and shut down.

    Wind kept blowing, though, and the wind turbines picked up some of the slack.

    Similar problems have occurred across the world, really. It’s not supposed to get hot in Boise, Idaho, but when it did a few years back, a few days over 100 degrees, there were problems with the power plants and the transmission lines. You may argue that those are problems that can be engineered out — yes, but at a higher cost.

    Bottom line is, wind power in Texas is reliable enough to take up the slack when the coal-fired power plants crap out.

    Lots, and I mean lots, of calculations for wind power costs leave out the utilization rate, that is to say they assume the nameplate value of the wind farm is what it will actually produce on any given day. For example, a 100 megawatt wind farm produces 100 MW. Only most of the time it produces only 25 MW, and occasionally zero. It is very hard to tell sometimes whether utilization has been factored into the cost numbers. Often it isn’t.

    The Texas grid operator, ERCOT, is thought to be loaded with fools by many, but they’ve figured out accurate, valid and usable figures to forecast wind availability, and to make the grid operate with wind power. It’s a forecasting issue, not a barrier to the use of the resource.

    Yes, to clarify, hydro has been fully amortized out, and little if any new hydro will be built. Then again, you can only do that with a power source expected to last 200 years after construction, unlike coal, nuclear, or wind power systems, so it is still a fair comparison.

    Wind will be there for at least 200 years. They’d better be engineering them to last at least that long.

    The problem with wind power, like other forms of energy, is that proponents leave out lots of little details. Strip mines for coal? Every single wind mill requires 300 kilograms neodymium, strip mined in China. Maybe we should re-open some of the mines here?

    Yes, we probably should re-open U.S. sources if we have them — China is clamping down on exports. I don’t have any information on how neodymium is mined, but I doubt it’s a strip mine. If it is a strip mine, it’s nowhere near the scale of any one of the coal strip mines in Texas, and they are tiny compared to the strip mines on Black Mesa in New Mexico, in Utah, in Wyoming, and the mountaintop removal disasters in Virginia and West Virginia. Is pollution in China from neodymium a problem? Absolutely. That’s no reason to import the problems here, if we can help it.

    So…where would you like to put them Ed? Roads and railroads for coal? Yeah, but they are already built.

    Not so. You’re assuming old mines, old methods, and old roads. Black Mesa required the construction of a special interstate railroad, and then a coal slurry line. Many roads in areas with new development are not engineered for coal trucks — so when coal plants went in near Fairfield Canyon in Utah, the entire road system had to be reengineered.

    In any case, we have increasing needs. Don’t tell me we have all the roads and rails and pipes we need when the Keystone XL Pipeline is stealing farms from people as we speak for a huge project . . . wait; what about the pipelines already there? You get the point, I hope.

    Some of the roads and rails exist. Windfarms don’t need them to carry their fuel.

    Wind farms require miles and miles of new transmission lines to be built.

    So does every form of electricity. You can’t get power from a nuclear power plant without wires to carry it. If we build more than the one nuke going in now, they will be located farther from population centers than, say, Indian Point, or San Clemente. Coal plants are often built closer to the coal — cheaper to transmit electricity than build new roads farther and truck or train the coal — see San Juan, Four Corners, Intermountain PP, Fairfield in Texas, and at least a dozen others throughout the Southwest. Transmission lines are a cost of doing electricity business, but all forms of electricity require them (except home solar, or wind, or fuel cell — but they don’t eliminate powerlines completely, either).

    Wind power receives a tax credit for each kW/h produced – 2.2 cents per kWh. Why is Berkshire Hathaway investing in wind power? Altruism? Think again. For every Kwh they generate, they get to deduct 2.2 cents from their tax bill.

    Warren Buffett, the head of Berkshire-Hathaway, doesn’t object to paying taxes. He’s not investing to get a tax break. He’s investing because he believes wind will pay off. His buddy T. Boone Pickens probably put the crunch on him.

    In any case, if Buffett is investing, that suggests that wind is viable. He’s not doing it for a tax write-off. As he explained in the 2011 annual report:

    In its electric business, MidAmerican has a comparable record. In the most recent survey of customer satisfaction, MidAmerican’s U.S. utilities ranked second among 60 utility groups surveyed. The story was far different not many years back when MidAmerican acquired these properties.

    MidAmerican will have 3,316 megawatts of wind generation in operation by the end of 2012, far more than any other regulated electric utility in the country. The total amount that we have invested or committed to wind is a staggering $6 billion. We can make this sort of investment because MidAmerican retains all of its earnings, unlike other utilities that generally pay out most of what they earn. In addition, late last year we took on two solar projects – one 100%-owned in California and the other 49%-owned in Arizona – that will cost about $3 billion to construct. Many more wind and solar projects will almost certainly follow.

    Buffett is a bit of a genius, but a penny-pinching genius. If he puts his money in a business, it’s because he thinks there is long-term growth potential there. And as you can see, his company is investing heavily in wind and solar. Buffett says it’s the thing to do. I wish I’d listened to him when he took over B-H, and the stock was $6.00 a share. For a $100 investment, I’d be retired on my private island by now. We should pay careful attention to Buffett’s words and actions. He’s backing wind power.

    $12 billion annually in the industry. If the wholesale power price is 6 cents per Kwh, we are handing out a hefty 40% profit to wind power investors, with no risk. Pretty sweet deal, if you can get it. Also the kind of thing I would guess you’d be opposed to, under any other circumstances.

    I’m not congenitally opposed to good works on the government dime. I teach history, remember? I recall the government subsidies that got the U.S. arms business into mass production, the subsidies that built the telegraph lines, the subsidies — massive ones, that still fund BNSF, another Buffett company — to build the transcontinental railroads. America was built on government subsidies, and if we’re wise, we’ll keep doing that kind of stuff that makes us rich as a nation.

    Some states mandate that power companies purchase the wind power. What if they don’t need it when it is generated? Tough luck – they have to pay for it anyway. In the industry this is called “spilling the wind” – simply pay for the electricity from a wind farm and let it go to waste. Another dirty little secret from the power industry.

    Those sorts of rules have been on the books for almost 50 years that I know. When a customer makes the energy meter run backwards, the power company has to buy it. It’s a cost of our electrical grid. Got a better idea? This is true of almost all alternative sources of electricity, and it is partly true of non-alternative sources.

    Anyhow, my point isn’t to beat up on wind power in particular. It has it’s place. Advanced storage would fix most of these problems, but unfortunately we are not there yet. My goal is simply to point out the obvious hypocrisy – there are lots of ugly downsides to wind power that in any other industry you would be screaming bloody murder over. But wind gets a pass because….well some things just feel right, you know?

    Wind has a lot less of the ugly hypocrisy than coal, or nuclear, or natural gas. Ultimately, wind and solar are much less polluting and do much less environmental damage, and so cost us less down the road. We might consider paying a premium for that, especially when we have the warmest year on record in Texas, following the warmest decade in history. Wind reduces CO2 emissions, and that’s great.

    But I’ve been watching this stuff a long time. I attended hearings in Washington where the coal companies and power companies argued that they would literally be priced out of business if they had to control particulates, let alone sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides . . . and every one of those power plants and coal companies is still going, with more added by the same companies. The pollution controls were costly, but they didn’t break the banks, and they didn’t price the power out of the system. In fact, power costs dropped in several of those companies. We have a long shelf of literature on claims that new technologies can’t make different forms of energy work. If we’d listened to all of them, we’d have already cut every tree in the Americas because coal will clog our furnaces, we’d have killed every whale because kerosene cannot possibly be as good as whale oil for lighting (Ben Franklin said so). We’d be struggling trying to make kerosene work in our cars, because everyone knows gasoline is just a waste product, and not suitable for engines. And so on.

    Now we’ve got a power source that doesn’t require massive mining for the fuel, requires no massive infrastructure to carry the fuel to the plant, emits zero sulfur, zero nitrogen oxides, zero particulates, zero mercury and zero greenhouse gases — and it’s free — and you claim it’s too expensive? Seriously?

    Mitt Romney has promised to kill subsidies on wind power, because he claims he’s had a lobotomy or something, and no longer thinks we need to have clean air, especially with regard to CO2. Damned if it isn’t right there in his platform and in his acceptance speech.

    Romney economics is dangerous, my friend! He’s proposing we take the giant, and keep him as an outcast pest, or perhaps jail him. Jail is almost always the wrong answer, and shunning isn’t exactly a proven method of progress, either.

    Sure, wind power has problems. Lack of wind power will have more, nastier, and more costly problems. Let’s do the smart thing.

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  12. Hightower says:

    Well James, I suppose we could argue all day over what is or is not a subsidy. I’ve seen all sorts of crazy calculations that include some pretty silly stuff for both wind power and other forms of power. But in general I’m opposed to all subsidies, fair enough? Knock them all down.

    And Ed, I’m not trying to make wind “look” bad. It looks how it looks, both good and bad. I think it can be, in some areas, under some circumstances, a valuable addition to our energy profile. But it is not without consequence or cost. I’d guess, at best, it will someday contribute 10% of our energy needs. Right now we are at 3%. Forward!

    There seems to be some magical thinking here. You seem to be seriously arguing that wind is not just reliable, but more reliable than nuclear/coal/gas? And cheaper too? I’m not sure even where to begin with that statement.

    Well, maybe I’ll give it a shot. 25%. That is the average utilization number for a wind turbine. And yes, you don’t get to pick the 25% of the time it actually generates electricity. Sometimes during peak load, other times at night when you least need it. And sometimes that number will be 0%. When? Who knows? You guess, but sometimes you guess wrong. For comparison, coal and nuclear typically have 90% utilization rates, and downtime is mostly predictable. There is a reason it is called firm power, or base power, and must always be available in conjunction with wind power. There is also a reason it is always worth more money in the wholesale marketplace than wind power.

    I’m not sure about your obsession with accidents and cold weather – inclement weather is far more of a factor for wind farms than other power plants.

    Lots, and I mean lots, of calculations for wind power costs leave out the utilization rate, that is to say they assume the nameplate value of the wind farm is what it will actually produce on any given day. For example, a 100 megawatt wind farm produces 100 MW. Only most of the time it produces only 25 MW, and occasionally zero. It is very hard to tell sometimes whether utilization has been factored into the cost numbers. Often it isn’t.

    Yes, to clarify, hydro has been fully amortized out, and little if any new hydro will be built. Then again, you can only do that with a power source expected to last 200 years after construction, unlike coal, nuclear, or wind power systems, so it is still a fair comparison.

    The problem with wind power, like other forms of energy, is that proponents leave out lots of little details. Strip mines for coal? Every single wind mill requires 300 kilograms neodymium, strip mined in China. Maybe we should re-open some of the mines here? So…where would you like to put them Ed? Roads and railroads for coal? Yeah, but they are already built. Wind farms require miles and miles of new transmission lines to be built.

    Wind power receives a tax credit for each kW/h produced – 2.2 cents per kWh. Why is Berkshire Hathaway investing in wind power? Altruism? Think again. For every Kwh they generate, they get to deduct 2.2 cents from their tax bill. $12 billion annually in the industry. If the wholesale power price is 6 cents per Kwh, we are handing out a hefty 40% profit to wind power investors, with no risk. Pretty sweet deal, if you can get it. Also the kind of thing I would guess you’d be opposed to, under any other circumstances.

    Some states mandate that power companies purchase the wind power. What if they don’t need it when it is generated? Tough luck – they have to pay for it anyway. In the industry this is called “spilling the wind” – simply pay for the electricity from a wind farm and let it go to waste. Another dirty little secret from the power industry.

    Anyhow, my point isn’t to beat up on wind power in particular. It has it’s place. Advanced storage would fix most of these problems, but unfortunately we are not there yet. My goal is simply to point out the obvious hypocrisy – there are lots of ugly downsides to wind power that in any other industry you would be screaming bloody murder over. But wind gets a pass because….well some things just feel right, you know?

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  13. Ed Darrell says:

    With me so far?

    Yeah — you think “cheap with massive hidden costs” is almost free. It’s not.

    Not only is the wind free, its delivery doesn’t require strip mining of coal in Texas, West Virginia, Virginia, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Not only is it free, it doesn’t require a coal slurry suck dry our few freshwater aquifers, making farming, or residential living, more expensive or impossible. Not only is the wind free, it doesn’t require the laying of thousands of miles of train track, building of thousands of miles of highways, and the transport of coal in massive vehicles on those paths. Not only is windpower free, it doesn’ emit massive amounts of particulates, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, or greenhouse gases — some of which can be controlled, but all of which ultimately kill. Not only is wind free, it doesn’t emit brain-damaging mercury.

    I’m with you — you’re trying to make wind power look bad. I’m following you, would be more accurate. Anyone who quibbles with a simple statement of fact like, “the wind is free,” is lost on the topic, and not worth following over a cliff.

    Well, the problem is that the wind doesn’t always blow, but people always use power, right?

    Minor problem. In fact, in Texas it’s turned out to be less of a problem than the fact that coal-fired power plants sometimes go down for no anticipated reason, and often at the worst possible times. All electrictiy generation needs a back-up, for plant maintenance if nothing else. In Texas we’ve discovered that the free market is incapable of producing enough “over-capacity” to make up for down time, especially for coal-fired power plants.

    The problem of the wind not always blowing pales in relation to the problem of coal-fired and nuclear and hydro powerplants needing maintenance, and having accidents.

    So there has to be a way to generate power when the wind doesn’t blow at all. 100% redundancy.

    There needs to be over-capacity in the grid, but never 100% redundancy. No, not 100% rendundancy. Much less.

    This means you need to pay for a complete power plant, big enough to handle the whole load when the wind is not blowing.

    Now you’re into issues of grid management that you obviously have no clue about. No, 100% redundancy is not needed for any source. It’s nice to have some overlap, and wise grid managers have contingency plants — but wind is not less reliable than coal in this regard. Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow (very rarely in places we have windfarms), and sometimes the coal plant doesn’t work. Same problem. We have a lot of different power plants, and a lot of spare capacity most of the time — and that saves us in unplanned outages, and in planned outages.

    And since the wind turbines aren’t free either, you need to pay off those even when the wind isn’t blowing, and you aren’t making any money. In essence, you have increased the total amount of capitol costs (and interest) you need to amortize out to generate the same amount of power.

    Capital costs for a windfarm are pretty big, yes — much less than coal-fired generators. Among other capital costs you don’t have to sink are the costs for water delivery, pollution control, cooling ponds, etc. Costs are quite competitive, which is why we see a massive windpower industry in the U.S. right now, with windfarms in California, Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and a bunch of other states.

    Since there is less capital in the power plant, there is less capital to amortize. Arithmetic, you know — a lot of dirty energy proponents seem math challenged these days, have you noticed?

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), Capital costs are quite competitive for wind, as compared to coal, nuclear, natural gas and solar — you’ll notice wind is cheaper on the overnight capital costs than some coal plants. Capital costs differ with location, the style of the power plant, the exact content of the fuel to be used, etc., etc., etc. Generally, wind is among the cheapest to build, in capital costs, in its entire range.

    If we use the “levelized cost of energy” (see the charts linked to immediately above), wind capital costs are lower than coal, gas and nuclear. Competitive, in other words.

    But the wind power reduces your fuel costs, so there is some savings there, right? Well…sorta. You are purchasing less fuel, on a more infrequent basis (how can you know how much to buy if you don’t know how much the wind blows?) so your costs per unit of fuel goes up, as the amount of fuel you utilize goes down.

    Why do you assume wind is whimsical? We have places in Texas where wind averages 35 mph, day in and day out. Prime spots for windpower — more reliable than coal plants.

    One what basis do you say wind is unreliable? The Earth always rotates, the wind always blows. Wind power has been a fuel of choice for some modes of transportation for more than two millennia, at least ten times as long as coal (if we spot coal and say it’s been useful for two centuries). Though affected by global warming, in no place on Earth has the wind become wholly unreliable.

    Over the course of a year, a grid operator can estimate very closely how much coal-fired power will be available day-to-day, how much is needed for daily peaks in which seasons, and consequently, how much generating capacity must be kept standing by, in case of problems. So fuel expenses for the stand-by plants can be annualized. Purchases are made, as you note, on long-term contracts. For coal, fuel is stored at the plant site. Fuel purchases “on a more infrequent basis” assumes operators don’t know whether they’ll be using their power plants. This may be news to you, but generally no operator will build such a plant. Every plant built has demand waiting to be filled.

    Why? Because the guys supplying the fuel no longer have a steady market, but an intermittent market. I’m not saying you won’t save money on fuel, but it will be much less than what you think it will be.

    Surely, with a score of massive windfarms in operation across the U.S., you have figures to back your claims, right?

    What you’re trying to say is that wind isn’t reliable, which you have not established, and that therefore, wind, though free, might have some other expenses.

    Because the wind is free, those other expenses would have to be very massive to make up the difference.

    I could (and maybe should) get into the concept of spinning reserve, but Its probably not worth the effort. Suffice it to say coal plants not being used still burn some coal.

    And they must do so whether they are backup for coal-fired power plants, which burn coal that costs a lot more than free wind, or nuclear power plants, which use nuclear materials that cost a lot more than free wind.

    You’re so far off on calculating costs, you’re right, it’s not worth the effort to get into spinning reserve. You’re assuming spinning reserve is necessary ONLY for wind, and that’s simply untrue.

    One more item – since wind is a distributed energy source, you need a lot more transmission lines to get the power from where the wind is to the people who use it. That also increases your costs.

    Power transmission lines are necessary for all forms of electrical generation. This is not a cost unique to wind, nor uniquely higher for wind.

    Maybe I can make this easier. Let’s break down the average 12 cents per kilowatt we pay for power:

    4 cents pays for is transmission and distribution (wind power raises these costs).

    4 cents goes to the plant and equipment (wind power raises these costs).

    4 cents goes to pay for fuel (wind power may lower these costs, somewhat).

    This explains why whenever wind is incorporated into a power grid, costs generally increase. This is because the increase in capitol and interest costs quickly overwhelm any modest savings in fuel costs.

    Windpower does not raise the costs of transmission and distribution over any other fueel source. The capital costs cited in the two documents I’ve linked to figure those costs in — and windpower comes in cheaper than other forms.

    The costs of the plant and equipment for wind is less than coal, or gas, or nuclear, or hydro.

    Not sure why your think anyone is paying for wind. Wind is free. Your assumptions notwithstanding, wind remains free.

    Here is a thought – why is hydro power so cheap compared to wind power? Sometimes 1/10th the price? They operate on the same principals, the natural movement of a fluid captured to generate electricity. The reason is that resource density and high reliability are huge components in determining costs. Plus the fuel is free!

    Is hydro cheaper? Show me the figures. One big factor on hydro is the amortization over a long period of time — Hoover dam was completed in the late 1930s, and with a few generator replacements, has been producing power since then — but I’m unaware of any calculation that puts hydro at a tenth the price of wind. Remember, hydro is in remote locations, requiring, according to you, special transmission costs. Remember, hydro is unreliable, especially in droughts . . .

    You’re thinking a lot. Have you bothered to check actual figures?

    Also your statement “wind power is cost competitive – subsidies help.” is completely nonsensical, from an economics standpoint. If wind power were cost competitive, it wouldn’t need subsidies. If it needs subsidies, it is by definition not cost competitive.

    We pay more than $400 billion a year in subsidies to oil production in the U.S. You’re saying petroleum is not cost competitive, “by definition?”

    We also pay huge government subsidies to coal, especially to hydro, and to natural gas.

    I think your definition of “cost competitive” needs reworking.

    In Europe, the cost analyses suggest that wind power installations my run as much as 33% more than “conventional” energy power plants (see pages 69, et seq.) — but that’s assuming very cheap coal and oil. Rising oil prices can wipe that out — and since Europe also calculates the costs of carbon control, since they like their part of the planet and want to keep it, wind becomes an even better deal. Price instability, in coal, oil, gas and nuclear, increases costs just with uncertainty. The European agencies put a premium on consistent costs — in the case of wind, consistently free — and so they say they can afford a higher initial capital cost because it makes things much better in the future. And that’s a relatively pessimistic cost analysis on wind.

    Also, like most people with the mile-wide, inch deep understanding of science and economics, you vastly misunderstand whatever subsidies you imagine hydrocarbons producers receive. But I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

    Let’s pretend we’re in Missouri. Show us real costs.

    The fact of the matter is that windpower saved Texas last year, both in the summer heat waves, and in the winter freezes, which knocked coal-fired power plants out of commission.

    Any electrical generation will cost a lot in capital. Wind is not more costly, and it’s good common sense to build capacity that uses a fuel that is free, that doesn’t create a massive trail of pollution, and which doesn’t emit any substantial pollution in the production of the energy source or the actual production of power.

    Actual hard cost comparisons tend to show wind competitive, as I said. With total levelized costs, conventional coal comes in at about $99.60/megawatt hour (MWh). Wind comes in at $96.8/MWh. (Based on EIA figures)

    We would be foolish not to continue to invest in wind, and other renewable sources, especially for electricity generation.

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  14. JamesK says:

    To quote:
    Also your statement “wind power is cost competitive – subsidies help.” is completely nonsensical, from an economics standpoint. If wind power were cost competitive, it wouldn’t need subsidies. If it needs subsidies, it is by definition not cost competitive

    So you’re also acknolwedging that oil/gas is not cost competitive right?

    After all…they also get subsidies.

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  15. Hightower says:

    Any power systems engineer would laugh his ass off at the comment “the fuel is free”.

    When a power plant is constructed, the cost for the construction is borrowed money. This makes a lot of sense, since the benefits of the power plant are going to be distributed over the lifetime of the plant. Why should today’s rate payers have to fork over all that money to subsidize electrical users in the future? Also, power plants and the associated infrastructure are expensive, and utilities usually don’t have hundreds of millions of $ lying around. If they did regulators would make them refund it to ratepayers, or the unions would eat it all up in raises.

    So there is this huge, fixed cost in every power plant. The power plant has to sell electricity to pay down that fixed construction cost, plus interest. The slower you pay down the principal, the more interest you will pay in the end.

    Now, the power plant has to be fired with something. Gas or coal. But to keep costs under control, power plants sign long term contracts to buy the fuel. Buy in bulk, just like at Costco, right? So you sign 20 to 30 year agreements with coal and gas producers – the power plant promises to buy a certain amount of fuel each and every month for 30 years, in exchange the power plant gets really cheap unit costs for coal and gas. Makes sense, right? The fuel suppliers are able to offer lower rates because they have huge capitol costs to think of too (mines, gas wells, etc.), and they also borrow money to pay for it. If they can be assured a consumer of their coal or gas, then they can get good interest rates from the bank, and lower their costs and their prices.

    With me so far?

    Well, the problem is that the wind doesn’t always blow, but people always use power, right? So there has to be a way to generate power when the wind doesn’t blow at all. 100% redundancy. This means you need to pay for a complete power plant, big enough to handle the whole load when the wind is not blowing. And since the wind turbines aren’t free either, you need to pay off those even when the wind isn’t blowing, and you aren’t making any money. In essence, you have increased the total amount of capitol costs (and interest) you need to amortize out to generate the same amount of power.

    But the wind power reduces your fuel costs, so there is some savings there, right? Well…sorta. You are purchasing less fuel, on a more infrequent basis (how can you know how much to buy if you don’t know how much the wind blows?) so your costs per unit of fuel goes up, as the amount of fuel you utilize goes down. Why? Because the guys supplying the fuel no longer have a steady market, but an intermittent market. I’m not saying you won’t save money on fuel, but it will be much less than what you think it will be.

    I could (and maybe should) get into the concept of spinning reserve, but Its probably not worth the effort. Suffice it to say coal plants not being used still burn some coal.

    One more item – since wind is a distributed energy source, you need a lot more transmission lines to get the power from where the wind is to the people who use it. That also increases your costs.

    Maybe I can make this easier. Let’s break down the average 12 cents per kilowatt we pay for power:

    4 cents pays for is transmission and distribution (wind power raises these costs).

    4 cents goes to the plant and equipment (wind power raises these costs).

    4 cents goes to pay for fuel (wind power may lower these costs, somewhat).

    This explains why whenever wind is incorporated into a power grid, costs generally increase. This is because the increase in capitol and interest costs quickly overwhelm any modest savings in fuel costs.

    Here is a thought – why is hydro power so cheap compared to wind power? Sometimes 1/10th the price? They operate on the same principals, the natural movement of a fluid captured to generate electricity. The reason is that resource density and high reliability are huge components in determining costs. Plus the fuel is free!

    Also your statement “wind power is cost competitive – subsidies help.” is completely nonsensical, from an economics standpoint. If wind power were cost competitive, it wouldn’t need subsidies. If it needs subsidies, it is by definition not cost competitive. Also, like most people with the mile-wide, inch deep understanding of science and economics, you vastly misunderstand whatever subsidies you imagine hydrocarbons producers receive. But I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

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  16. Ed Darrell says:

    1. Windpower is cost competitive, especially since the fuel is free. Subsidies help — they almost offset the massive subsidies we give to all oil and gas, and to coal from public lands. If your criterion for failed energy schemes is that it gets a subsidy, you’d be using a wind-driven automobile.

    2. Every watt generated by wind is a watt that doesn’t have to be generated by fossil fuels, or nuclear. Horse sense appears to flee those who wish to criticize free energy from God.

    3. Coal-fired power stations are turned off all the time, nor do they consume so much coal when idling. In point of fact, wind power bailed out Texas when the coal-fired plants froze up last year.

    4. Public education results have been rising for 30 years, and still are. Costs are on the floor. You’d know that, too, if you’d looked at the results. Public education is much cheaper, than anything else, and more effective at educating people for a democratic republic — more Nobel winners from the U.S. public schools than any other source.

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  17. David xavier says:

    “Why would any candidate try to choke off windpower growth, in tough economic times?”

    Because it is expensive and dependant on subsidies . It doesnt displace non renewalbe energy sources are they are required as back up for when the wind doesnt blow. So you pay to get them built as well as a nonrenewable backup— its super insane. Whats more you cant turn off a coal fired power station, it will still be on idle chewing through fuel even if it is blowing a gale….though if it is blowing a gale the windmill will be switched off anyway. Wind is like the most expensive way of producing baseload electricity because it actually does it intandem with non renewables. you pay twice.

    The wind farms are a bligh and will be monuments to stupidity. .

    ” Romney platform calls for pulling the rug out from under the poor guy so he’ll have to do something different or die.”

    Not quite, but in its essence it requires the recipient of government monies to be under pressure to ACT, hey perhaps to become the entrepreneur, by working for a pitance so as to learn a trade / business then run with it. The Democrats think only of the process- after the training , good benefits, safety net and all …what then..more good benefits , training …mmmh, take your time , lovey . At some point there is an end game here…and outcome that must occur!! or benefits flow forever…at that point you become Republicans????

    . Also love the “..great education” line …which means public education and means more money per student and that will automatically translate into a great education….other factors are at play I suspect, considering money per student has been rising but results stagnating. But you would know better about that I suspect…

    Whats the rule for parents of white kids who value education who attend a majority black school – get the heck out of there! Whats the rule parents who are Black , who value education, whose children attend a majority Black school – get the heck out of there. If only they had some sort of voucher system which would help them….

    Actually if you are a teacher–you are under valued , and you deserve more pay. You are trying to fix things caused by cultural and societal degeneration. Yep them fifties -early sixties are looking pretty good , I used to want to be an astronaut /engineer when I was a kid, and I was an average kid…these days the dreams of average kids are the lastest fad….

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