CO2 Crusade Excesses Begin

The analysis of the global climate change has become quite contentious.  We seem to be focusing on issues that seem to have a minor impact on the climate and taking actions that are reminiscent of the various religious debates that have occurred over the centuries.

The current focus of climate change debate seems to be on carbon dioxide (CO2), almost to the exclusion of other issues.  Though CO2 may have a role in the change of weather patterns, CO2 seems to have a very minor role, perhaps insignificant role compared to some major cosmological issues.

  • Sun spots—The sun goes through a period of apparent warming and cooling, approximately every 11 years.  The cycle was noticed by a count of sun spots.  This cycle of sun spots was noticeably interrupted during the Maunder minimum (1645-1717) which was during the depth of the Little Ice Age (1550-1850)
  • Volcanic activity—Volcanoes often spew ash and sulfur into the atmosphere, which reflect the sunlight that would otherwise reach the earth.
    • The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies was followed by the 1816 year without a summer, during which Boston experienced a July snow fall
    • The 1600 eruption of Huaynaputina in Peru was followed by the Russian famine of 1601-1603 which led to the decline of Tsar Boris Gudonov.

Both of these extended winters occurred during the Little Ice Age and may have contributed to the Little Ice Age as much as the Maunder minimum.

  • Earth’s axial tilt—The tilt of the earth’s axis is changing slightly, such that the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are both moving toward the equator by about 50 feet a year, and the Arctic and Antarctic Circles are shrinking by a similar amount.
  • The ocean bed—Earthquakes and landslides change the shape of the ocean bed, which determines the circulating currents of the ocean
  • Ice cover on the Arctic Sea—The Northwest Passage, which would provide a channel for shipping between the Atlantic and the Pacific, would also provide a new path for circulating currents of the ocean

These cosmic effects may dwarf the impact of the change in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The crusade for CO2 production abatement has led to excesses, some of which have historic precedents in the religious disputes of the past.

  • Indulgences—The Roman Catholic church has long had its members confess their sins and then undertake acts to show their remorse.  For a while the Roman Catholic church sold indulgences that covered sins that people anticipated performing, essentially getting permission to do bad things ahead of time.  Many people look at CO2 emissions in the same way.  Their extravagance in emitting CO2 can be forgiven by buying emission offsets, such as planting a tree.  This indulgence purchasing process was most notably demonstrated by former vice president Al Gore.
  • The Mob—The Washington Post reported 2013 January 22 that the Italian mob has moved into the wind industry, torching competitive wind farms and obtaining sweetheart contracts with the government for the sale of electricity from wind farms owned by the mob.  Similar sweetheart contracts have been negotiated in the U.S., though there have been no allegations of mob influence, just prices that will raise the price of electricity to consumers.
  • Forced conversions—Some religious groups have forced non-members to become members.  The practice of forcing consumers to obtain a portion of their total electricity consumption as renewable energy effectively forces all consumers to convert to a belief that renewable energy is the only way to save the planet from climate change.

2012 Washington, DC, Area Storm Electricity Outage Duration

The Washington, DC, area was hit by two storms in 2012, each of which cause widespread electrical outages.  A derecho hit the evening of June 29.  Hurricane Sandy hit four months later on the evening of October 29.  I sent surveys to people on the mailing list of the National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics (NCAC-USAEE) for both storms asking for a reply about the number of hours they were without power.  (I experienced nine hours for the derecho and two hours for Hurrican Sandy.)  My “Derecho Outage Survey” was included in USAEE Dialogue, Volume 20, Number 3 – 2012.  Here I report on the outages related to Hurricane Sandy and compare the results to the outages related to the Derecho.

Table 1 replicates the form of Table 1 from my “Derecho Outage Survey.”  There were 93 survey responses, which I have summarized for five of the electric utilities in the Washington, DC, area.  I report the number of customers who reported an outage to me and the duration of those outages in hours.  I also include the number of customers who reported that their outage time was zero.  Many of these zeroes may have actually been an outage of a few seconds to a few minutes.  None of PEPCo’s customers in Washington, DC, reported an outage.   I note that 22 PEPCo’s customers in Washington, DC, did participate in the survey, though each reporting 0 hours of outage.

Figure 1 presents a cumulative distribution function for the outages, including separate plots for BG&E; PEPCo-Montgomery County; and VEPCo; as well as a plot for the combination of all of the outage data.  Each plot has a convex shape, showing a rapid increase in the number of customers who have been returned to service, with a gradual degradation of the response rate as time accumulates.

The phenomenon of a convex cumulative distribution function is often referred to as “low hanging fruit” or “the most bang for the buck,” reflecting the incentives and policies that utilities have to concentrate on returning the most customers to service as quickly as possible.  Thus, problems that can be resolved quickly for large numbers of customers are the first problems to be attacked.  The result is the rapid early increase in the number of customers who are returned to service.  Problems that affect individual customers are the last to be resolved, resulting in the plots turning horizontal as the outage duration time increases.

Figure 2 presents the cumulative distribution function for the outages of BG&E, comparing the outages for Hurricane Sandy with the outages for the derecho.  The plot for the four outages associated with the derecho does not have the convex shape described above.  But with only four outages reported, the distribution of reported outages has a greater chance of not being representative of the distribution of actual outages.

Figure 3 presents the cumulative distribution function for the outages of PEPCo in Montgomery County, comparing the outages for Hurricane Sandy with the outages for the derecho.  PEPCo took some 72 hours to restore half of the customers who had outages associated with the derecho compared to only 3 hours to achieve the same restoration level for outages associated with Hurricane Sandy.

Figure 4 presents the cumulative distribution function for the outages of VEPCo, comparing the outages for Hurricane Sandy with the outages for the derecho.  VEPCo took 40 hours to restore half of the customers who had outages associated with the derecho compared to only 12 hours to achieve the same restoration level for outages associated with Hurricane Sandy.

Figure 5 presents the cumulative distribution function for all the outages reported in the two surveys, comparing the outages for Hurricane Sandy with the outages for the derecho.  The utilities in the DC area took 55 hours to restore half of the customers who had outages associated with the derecho compared to only 9 hours to achieve the same restoration level for outages associated with Hurricane Sandy.

The DC area electric utilities were severely castigated by government officials for the length of time that restoration efforts took after the derecho.  Few comments were made about the restoration time in regard to outages in the DC area for Hurricane Sandy.  Some of the differential in the length of the outages associated with the derecho versus Hurricane Sandy relate to physical phenomenon.  Some relate to planning by the utilities.

The derecho occurred four months before Hurricane Sandy.  The derecho is likely to have toppled many of the trees that Hurricane Sandy would otherwise have toppled.  The utilities in the DC area also initiated a substantial tree trimming program after the derecho, further reducing the number of trees that would otherwise have been grist for Hurricane Sandy in causing outages. The derecho may also have had stronger winds.  Together, these items are reflected in the large increase between the two surveys in the number of responses that showed no outages.

At least one utility in the DC area, PEPCo, pre-positioned contractors before Hurricane Sandy, as I wrote while sending out the survey.

When my wife and I drove to church Sunday morning, I was impressed with the dozen or more bucket trucks sitting in the parking lot of the Gaithersburg Holiday Inn, thinking I should call the television stations as a potential story for them to film. I didn’t, but I was no longer impressed by yesterday’s sight when I saw Channel 4’s story today about noon from Gaithersburg, just across the street from the Holiday Inn. The Montgomery Country Fairgrounds seemed to have over a hundred bucket trucks, making the Holiday Inn parking lot scene look insignificant.

These pre-positioned contractors would likely have reduced the duration of the outages, just as the relative timing of the two storms, the tree trimming programs, and the relative strengths of the two storms likely contributed to the reduced fraction of customers who reported any outages and the increased fraction of customers who reported no outages at all.

Pre-positioning contractors comes with a cost.  The contractors I saw at the Holiday Inn were in the DC area two days before Hurricane Sandy hit.  Some of that time might have been non-productive.  Some of the time might have been used for additional tree trimming and other normal on-going work that utilities do on a routine basis.  Even the contractors shown on TV seem to have been pre-positioned a day ahead of time.  In contrast, the derecho was not anticipated and contractors generally travelled during the first day after the derecho hit instead of one or two days before Hurricane Sandy hit.


Washington, DC, Area Power Outages

The Washington, DC, area was hit with a major storm on 2012 June 29, that caused many consumers to lose power for extended periods of time.  I asked some correspondents in the DC area to provide me with the number of hours they were without power, their utility, and their jurisdiction, sending the message to about 1200 people.  I received 30 responses from people served by three utilities in a variety of jurisdictions.  A 2.5% response rate is good for such surveys, but is likely to be biased.

I present the data in the following table.



The following is a cumulative distribution for PEPCo, including DC, Montgomery County, and a composite of the two jurisdictions.  I am the customer with only 9 hours of outage in the above data and on the following chart.


The following is a cumulative distribution for BG&E, VEPCo, and composite of the three utilities.


Both the VEPCo distribution and the composite distribution illustrate the concept of many customers coming back quickly and then a few customers who are off for a long time.  Utilities try to prioritize outage work to get the most customers restored as soon as possible, often being able to flip a switch to restore hundreds of customers at a time, once they know which lines are safe to re-energize.

Mark Lively

Utility Economic Engineer


Analysis of Current and Pending EPA Regulations on the U.S. Electric Sector: NCAC-USAEE Lunch of 2012 May 24 w/ Francisco de la Chesnaye, EPRI Energy and Environmental Analysis Program

As I end my seventh year as an officer of the National Capital Area Chapter of the US Association for Energy Economics, six years as treasurer and one as secretary, and as I anticipate becoming vice president in July, I have decided to start including in my personal blog reflections on NCAC events, inviting other participants in the events to add to the blog their comments on my reflections and the on the comments of others.

EPRI anticipates that 80% of the coal plants will be environmentally retrofit in the next three years, by 2015.  But some of those retrofits might be considered to be minor tweaks, in that some systems are estimated to have a retrofit cost in excess of $3,000/KW while about half of the systems are expected to be less than $500/KW.  Though $500/KWH might be minor compared to $3,000/KW, the costs aren’t minor compared to the cost of a new coal fired power plant, which is in the neighborhood of $1,000/KW-$2,000/KW.  But surprisingly, the average retail price of electricity is expected to drop by about 10% by 2025, despite the cost of these huge retrofits and the cost of the parasitic loads necessary to operate the systems.

The presentation itself is available at

Robin Hood vs Renewable Portfolio Standards

Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Reverse the Robin Hood Concept
 by Taking from the Poor and Giving to the Rich?


English literature has the legend of Robin Hood, who “stole from the rich and gave to the poor.”  Some people liken the graduated income tax as a government Robin Hood program to achieve some of this wealth transfer from the rich to the poor, a form of income redistribution.  In contrast, renewable portfolio standards seem to have the opposite effect of concentrating money in the hands of the few at the expense of the entire community, including the poor.

Most government programs serve a Robin Hood function, taking money from the rich and middle class and providing services to the poor or to the general public.  The Solyndra nightmare is different in that the money is going to the rich, not to the poor or the general public.  The Solyndra nightmare will serve to concentrate the wealth in the country, giving money to a relatively few people.  Given that the money is coming from the general taxes raised by the government, the Solyndra nightmare will concentrate the wealth to a few rich people at the expense of other rich people and the middle class.  The large number of people who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes avoid the wealth concentration aspects of the Solyndra nightmare.

Renewable Portfolio Standards are different.  Everyone pays for electricity, either directly to the utility or indirectly in the form of rent.  The money associated with Renewable Portfolio Standards is paid to a few individuals, often people with ties to the legislators who voted to enact the Renewable Portfolio Standards.  Thus, money is coming out of the pockets of everyone, including the poor who were supported by Robin Hood, and goes into the pockets of the rich, the people who own the projects mandated by Renewable Portfolio Standards, the people whom Robin Hood supposedly robbed.

So, should Renewable Portfolio Standards be considered to be a reverse of the Robin Hood concept?  Do Renewable Portfolio Standards take from the poor and give to the rich?