What’s Current? Issue #11 – Hydropower Delays, More Limits on Oil & Gas, Toxic Tires, Climate Contrarians

While recommending a few carefully selected news links each week, it would be remiss to not recommend other useful sources of information on water and energy. Two come immediately to mind. Maven’s Notebook, which for years has delivered a weekly compilation of links to water related news, and Alex Epstein’s energy talking points. In Maven’s case, you get a mainstream perspective on water. With Epstein, you get a well documented but sharply contrarian viewpoint on energy.

What we aim to deliver here is information on both water and energy, with our own overt bias: California needs more water supply projects, and more energy production. To achieve this we support an all-of-the-above strategy.

Energy and water challenges are inextricably linked. Hydropower delivers energy on demand. Pump storage can harvest renewable energy, also to release on demand. And energy is necessary for pumping stations to transport water, as well as to heat, treat, recycle, and desalinate water. If you want more water, you must also want more energy. Included in this week’s links are recent articles highlighted in Maven’s Notebook, and Epstein’s talking points.

Hydropower Delays Pose Grid Threat as Permits Lapse

When it comes to bureaucratic inertia and litigious gridlock, California sets the standard. Or does it? As reported by Politico’s Energy Wire, across the US, dam operators have been waiting years to renew 30-50 year permits. Without long-term renewal, badly needed long-term investments, such as dredging to restore full storage capacity, have to wait. Operators of California’s Oroville Dam have been waiting for 17 years for their permit renewal, and among the deferred projects are efforts that will help restore salmon populations. This year on June 22, Lake Oroville filled to the rim, storing 3.5 million acre feet — that’s nearly 12 percent of California’s entire average annual water consumption for farm irrigation. As that water is released, Oroville’s hydroelectric turbines can generate up to 800 megawatts of on-demand electricity — that’s 4 percent of the average output on California’s grid, and a powerful tool to balance renewables.

Oil and Gas Developments Along California Coast Fall Out of Favor with Lawmakers

That’s an understatement. For California’s beleaguered oil and gas industry, there is no end to the legislative hostility. Never mind that California imports 75 percent of its oil, and 90 percent of its natural gas (and only produces 70 percent of its electricity in-state), or that 70 percent of California’s total energy supply still comes from oil and natural gas. Cataloging the list of laws, regulations and restrictions that have crippled California’s oil and gas industry, despite it having the cleanest and most responsible practices in the world, would require volumes. And yet California’s legislators are preparing to fast-track the installation of 10 megawatt (when the wind blows) floating turbines off California’s coast, each one rising 1,000 feet above the waterline, each one situated atop massive floats with counterweights and cables to the ocean floor 4,000 feet deep. Replacing oil and gas would require 25,000 (or more) of these leviathans. No environmental impact there?

The Fragments that Tires Release are Another Reason to Reduce Car Use

Here’s a gotcha, originally published by Grist, recently aggregated by Maven’s Notebook. We already know that anything goes in politics, if it’s to fight climate change. So with “net zero” in mind, we built electric cars. Not so fast. “Tire wear is responsible for 5 to 10 percent of oceanic microplastic pollution, and 3 to 7 percent of airborne PM 2.5 pollution.” The “6PPD” chemical in tires is “linked to salmon die-offs.” And EVs, being heavier and blessed with superior torque, generate more tire pollution per mile. How wonderful if this meant we may again purchase advanced, lightweight hybrids after 2035. More likely, more restrictions on automotive use — and any mobility that involves rubber on roads. Can we reinvent tires to solve this problem? There’s a trillion dollar opportunity.

Climate Crisis vs. Climate Resiliency, or, Precautionary Principle Extremism

No rational fan of smart public investment in infrastructure would object to climate resiliency, although more people might remember that “resiliency” is achieved by building over-supply and excess capacity from diverse sources. And a general consensus that resiliency is a good goal must not overshadow the question of just how much of a crisis is the climate crisis? This question still matters, because during an era of urgency, there is a higher probability of poor policy judgements, bets on technologies that are rapidly rendered obsolete, inordinate restrictions on consumer choices, economic hardship disproportionately leveled on low-income households, and even unintended negative environmental consequences. But what if there isn’t a crisis at all, just a slow, largely ineluctable process that requires methodical adaptation, not frenetic gyrations? In this heretical spirit, consider what may be good news, consider evidence that points to the possibility that things might not be so bad after all.

25 Myths in the Media’s Idalia Coverage

The premise of Alex Epstein’s work is unambiguous. If you want humanity to flourish, you have to rely on fossil fuel. This is in direct conflict with current public policy in California, which appears willing to tolerate just about anything if it is done with the goal of achieving “net zero.” Epstein may be controversial, but the facts he presents are well-sourced and deserve a place in the debate. If it isn’t possible to achieve global net zero by 2050 without plunging humanity into poverty and war, then how far will we nonetheless go toward an impossible goal? In our rush to electrify and use “renewables,” are we damaging the environment in other ways? Are we racing towards what will turn out to be dead ends, rendered obsolete by synthetic fuels and next generation nuclear energy technologies?