WPC's Center for the Environment brings balance to the environmental debate by promoting the idea that human progress and prosperity work in a free economy to protect the environment.

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The Effective, Free-Market Alternative to Eco-Fads

August 11, 2009 in Blog

Two weeks ago we held our annual Environmental Conference, featuring keynote speaker, climatologist Dr. Pat Michaels. More than 300 people joined us and if you weren't one of them (or even if you were) you can watch the conference on the TVW web page.

In my presentation, I address the free-market alternative to the ineffective government-based environmental policies Washington has been trying for the past several years. You can watch it below.

Those who believe in personal freedom and responsibility have a strong case to make that technology, prosperity and an honest assessment of priorities are far superior to our current approach.

My presentation begins 30 minutes in. Rep. Shelly Short provides an update on environmental legislation and issues during the first part of the video.

You can watch the keynote speech of Dr. Pat Michaels here. Our first panel on the precautionary principle can be watched here.

Cash For Clunkers Fails Environmental Test

August 6, 2009 in Blog

Back in June, we wrote about Cash for Clunkers, noting that it was very expensive for the small amounts of CO2 it reduced.

Now, our conclusions are being cited and echoed by many others.

Slate Magazine, picking up on our analysis, wrote this:

Was spending $1 billion a particularly cost-effective way to achieve those CO2 reductions? Probably not. Assuming the above calculations are correct and that each consumer keeps his or her car for 10 years, then the total savings should be a little less than 5.7 million tons of carbon dioxide. That means each ton of carbon dioxide would be worth about $175.53 to the U.S. government. As the Washington Policy Center pointed out on its blog in June, a ton of CO2 currently goes for about $17.50 on the European Climate Exchange.

AP environmental writer Seth Borenstein echoed that sentiment, quoting an MIT expert who comes up with numbers similar to ours.

Paying up to $4,500 per clunker means the government is spending more than $160 for every ton of carbon dioxide removed over 10 years, said MIT's Jacoby, co-author of the book "Transportation in a Climate-Constrained World." That's five to 10 times more than the estimated per-ton cost of carbon dioxide for power plants in the cap-and-trade system passed earlier this year by the House.

We are frequently bombarded with claims that one policy or another will make significant reductions in CO2 emissions. Too often, however, the estimates of cost and effectiveness are done only after the policy is being implemented. It shouldn't be surprising that we are often disappointed about the results of those policies.

New Estimates Heat Up Cost of Cle Elum Solar

August 3, 2009 in Blog

One month ago there was a great deal of fanfare surrounding a plan for the "world's largest" solar plant planned for Cle Elum. At the time we argued that there were still many questions about the Cle Elum solar plant that needed to be answered before judgment could be passed.

For instance, we wrote:

The cost is estimated to be "north of $100 million." At $100 million the installed cost would be $1,333 per installed kilowatt, which is much lower cost than other projects, so I'm guessing that it will be well north of $100 million. By way of comparison, the solar panels the city of Seattle wanted to put on Qwest Exhibition Hall cost about $12,500 per installed KW.

Today, the Seattle P-I has an update on this question. They write:

On July 9, Howard Trott, head of the Teanaway Solar Reserve, gave a $100 million estimate to build a 75-megawatt solar power plant near Cle Elum. But Northwest Power and Conservation Council formulas put the cost at $525 million to $750 million.

Those new numbers are certainly "north" of $100 million. The new estimate is more in line with traditional costs of $7,000 to $10,000 per installed kilowatt. This is up to five times as expensive as other renewables like wind power.

Further, it is estimated that the project will create "hundreds" of jobs. Assuming that hundreds means 500 (it could mean more or less), it would cost $1 million per job. Even if it creates 999 jobs (which would still be hundreds and not thousands), it would cost $500,000 per job. Such costs will be passed on to ratepayers. Despite those very high costs, it is likely that the project will be approved by the state because Washington's renewable portfolio standard, created by I-937, requires utilities to meet targets for renewable energy. That requirement virtually assures that even at this extremely high price, the power will be purchased and paid for by ratepayers.

When looking at these numbers it is important to remember that waste of money is waste of resources. Spending millions on projects that have a small environmental impact wastes money that could be used to support projects that truly make a difference. Government regulation and political subsidies, however, distort these calculations, moving environmental policy farther away from good science.

State Uses Shifting Definitions to Boost Green Job Count

August 1, 2009 in Publications

The assertion that green jobs will lead us into a new era of economics is a common refrain in Washington. Success has already been proclaimed, bolstering efforts to adopt additional policies to support the creation of green jobs. One such claim is that the Washington has created more than 47,000 new green jobs since 2007. Unfortunately claims regarding new green jobs are misleading. This month's Environmental Watch shows that an examination of such claims reveals a sleight of hand, re-labeling regular everyday jobs in order to achieve naive goals and policies. The falsified record on green jobs will result in untold costs to the existing economy and the promotion of unproven policies.

7th Annual Environmental Policy Luncheon & Conference

July 23, 2009 in Events
Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
8:00 am - 1:30 pm
The Westin Seattle
Seattle, WA

A Past President of the American Association of State Climatologists, Keynote Speaker Dr. Patrick Michaels discussed the globalwarming science they don't want you to know and his new book Climate of Extremes. Patrick Michaels is a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, a contributing author and reviewer of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His writing has been published in major scientific journals, including Climate Research, Nature, and Science.

Everything Old is New Again for Greens

July 22, 2009 in Blog

Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop has an opinion piece in the Seattle Times today called "The Logic of a Locavore" in which she explains why we should eat local food. Many environmentalists embrace the buy local mantra in the mistaken belief it is better for the environment.

Harrop is, accidentally I think, very honest about the pedigree of this concept. Responding to the critique that eating local is passe, she writes:

Local is so 2008? Yes, and it is also so 1908, 1608 and 508 B.C. Until the last 100 years or so, the "alternative food crowd" encompassed nearly all of humanity.

I'm not sure why this is an argument in favor of eating local. Lots of things are 1608, including lifespans of 30 years, cholera, poverty, spoiled food and the like. Environmental icon Jared Diamond wishes we could go back even further.

What’s a “green” job?

July 22, 2009 in Blog

I was reading the Washington Employment Security Department’s report on how many “green” jobs there are in our state (the Department says 47,000), but the definition they use is so vague and open ended that you can’t tell what makes a job “green.”  On page five, however, I did find this nugget:

“Although employers identified many different occupational titles, there were no new or unique job titles identified by employers that were not already reflected in the existing national Standard Occupation Code classification system.  This suggests...that the fundamental work performed by employees in these green jobs has not changed substantially such that employers believe that new occupational titles are necessary.”

In other words, most if not all of the 47,000 jobs listed in the report are existing occupations that the government has decided to label “green,” even though the employees are doing exactly the same work they did before.  Here some examples of what the report calls “green” jobs:

- Millworkers
- Earth drillers (but not for oil and gas)
- Electricians
- Roofers
- Food Batchmakers

So, yesterday I was doing policy research on the state budget, and today I’m reading a government report on environmental policy.  Does that mean that yesterday I did not have a “green” job and today I do?

Today's "green" job is yesterday's job!

July 21, 2009 in Blog

Today, Washington’s Governor, Christine Gregoire, testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee regarding “green” jobs in a new economy. 

Gov. Gregoire told Senators:

“In 2007, when we adopted a set of climate change goals related to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced fuel use, we also set a goal to triple the number of green jobs we had in the state – to reach 25,000 green jobs by 2020.  Less than two years later, we can point to 47,000 green jobs right now.  Our green jobs are growing much faster than predicted.”

Did Washington State actually create 47,000 “green” jobs in little more than two years?  Washington State Employment Security Department’s (ESD) report, “2008 Washington State Green Economy Jobs,” helps to answer this question.  The report states:

“…there were no new or unique job titles identified by employers that were not already reflected in the existing national Standard Occupation Code (SOC) classification system… the fundamental work performed by employees in these green jobs has not changed substantially such that employers believe that new occupational titles are necessary.”

The acknowledgement that “green” jobs are not necessarily new is a departure from the Governor’s previous comments where she has clearly claimed that the State has “created” 47,000 new “green” jobs.

The Governor’s remarks today also support the findings of the ESD report.  The Governor testified that:

“We learned green jobs are not necessarily some brand new type of job – they are often jobs we all know, only now they include new skills to meet the needs of the new century – for example, the electrician who can wire a smart home.”

Meanwhile, as Washington continues to focus on the creation of “green” jobs, our unemployment rate grows.  Washington’s unemployment rate today exceeds more than nine percent and is similar to other states, like Oregon and California, which have focused on creating a “green” economy. 

While the state is actively pursuing “green” jobs it appears to have taken more of a hand off approach towards traditional jobs.  In fact, when asked by media about Boeing’s potential movement of operations to South Carolina and out of Washington, the Governor stated that issue is between Boeing and the Unions.  But according to the ESD report and Gregoire’s testimony, aren’t many of Boeing’s jobs “green” and worth saving?

UW Professor Bruce Lippke to be Honored for Work on Sustainable Forestry

in Press releases

Seattle – Washington Policy Center, the state’s premier independent policy research organization, announced today that its 2009 Environmental Innovator Award will be awarded to Bruce Lippke, Professor of Forest Economics at the University of Washington.

Each year WPC’s Center for the Environment awards its Environmental Innovator Award to groups or individuals who have helped promote innovative and effective approaches to environmental sustainability.

Cle Elum Solar Plant: Some Things to Remember

July 10, 2009 in Blog

Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton wrote an excellent piece on the potential solar plant in Cle Elum, highlighting some of the opportunity but asking the right questions about potential problems. More information will come out, but there are some elements to watch as this project progresses.

The debate about reducing carbon emissions has centered around two policy directions: technology or lifestyle modification. The focus of most of Washington's climate policy has been on forcing people to change their lifestyle. We've noted repeatedly that these approaches have high cost and low success.

Technology is the approach that is most successful but is also consistent with prosperity. The problem is when politicians try to pick and choose the technologies of the future. They don't pick correctly very often (witness hydrogen or electric cars and biofuels, just to name two recent examples).

There is great initial excitement about the solar project in Cle Elum, but there are some important considerations to ensure that this is truly a successful project and not another taxpayer-subsidized eco-fad.

  • Don't be seduced by the "world's biggest."A few years back, Washington also became home to the nation's largest biodiesel plant (disclaimer: I was hired to organize media coverage announcing that deal to build the plant). That announcement highlighted the jobs that would be created, the environmental friendliness of the project and even featured a US Senator promoting the role of government support in creating the project. Today, that plant is not running at capacity and biofuels are a suspect technology when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. Seattle just stopped buying soy-based biodiesel due to environmental concerns. What seemed sexy just a few years back is a disappointment today.
  • Taxpayers pay, profits are privatized. This project makes sense primarily due to government subsidies and regulation. The story notes that "Generous tax breaks and a citizen initiative that requires utilities to get some of their power from renewable sources also add to Washington's appeal." Put simply, Washington's laws give tax benefits for construction and require utilities to buy the energy they produce. Profiting in such a scenario is virtually guaranteed. It is hard to criticize entrepreneurs who take advantage of such an offer, but it should be clear that we are paying to build a solar plant for the right to buy high-priced energy.
  • This will likely increase energy costs. As the Times story notes, solar hasn't developed like other technologies "largely because of high costs." The cost of solar photovoltaics is much higher than other forms of energy. For instance, the Kittitas wind project cost $1,920 per installed kilowatt. Solar PV, by way of comparison, costs about $7,000. It will be hard to know what the cost of this project will be until the full financials are released. The project will involve 400,000 solar cells, producing 75MW. The cost is estimated to be "north of $100 million." At $100 million the installed cost would be $1,333 per installed kilowatt, which is much lower cost than other projects, so I'm guessing that it will be well north of $100 million. By way of comparison, the solar panels the city of Seattle wanted to put on Qwest Exhibition Hall cost about $12,500 per installed KW.
  • Creating or losing jobs? While job creation will be the highlighted talking point for this project, there is question about whether it will create good jobs. When looking at other solar PV installations, the article notes that "the biggest is a 60-megawatt plant in Spain." A study earlier this year examining Spain's effort to create a "green" economy found that the effort destroyed 2.2 jobs for every one it created. That's part of the reason Spain enjoys an 18 percent unemployment rate.
  • Logging for a green economy. Ironically, the site of the solar array is a 400-acre area that has been clear cut in the Teanaway. That is the size of about four large clear cuts. While timber harvests re-grow, however, this guarantees the forest will likely never re-grow. Timber harvesting in the Teanaway has been the target of environmental lawsuits trying to stop the very clearings that are now the location of the biggest "green" energy project in the world.

Our creative, free-market economy is the most powerful force ever conceived to promote the technological innovation that has dramatically increased well-being while reducing environmental impact. Political efforts to pick and choose technologies, however, undermine that creativity, substituting eco-fads for true innovation. As this project moves forward, we'll have a better sense in which category it belongs.