Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #336

Brought to You by www.SEPP.org, The Science and Environmental Policy Project

By Ken Haapala, President

Quote of the WeekIf you thought that science was certain – well, that is just an error on your part.” ― Richard P. Feynman

Number of the Week: $51.5 Billion in subsidies over 10 years.

Correcting Errors: Making errors in works that have been published is always embarrassing. One of the purposes of peer review is to find possible errors and correct them before publication. Unfortunately, in climate science peer review has become political review – if the findings do not suit the reviewer’s political views, the work is rejected – the lack of space is a common excuse.

One of the fears of correcting errors is that the future work of the researchers may be discounted as Roy Spencer and John Christy discovered. The procedures they reported for calculating comprehensive atmospheric temperature trends from satellite data in their initial papers did not account for orbital decay. When the appropriate criticism was published, the error was quickly corrected. Further, the correction lead to strengthening their findings by independently verifying them with independent methods of estimating temperature trends, such as weather balloon datasets and reanalysis datasets, where forecasts from weather models are reanalyzed with data collected on what actually happened.

Unfortunately, supporters of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have still claimed that reports by Spencer and Christy (University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH)) are not credible. Both researchers, and other eminent researchers, have experienced difficulty in publishing in western journals. Using such a standard, the IPCC reports are not credible. For example, there is a wealth of data showing a medieval warm period and a little ice age world-wide. Yet, these were falsely eliminated by Mr. Mann’s hockey-stick using an inappropriate numerical model published by the IPCC. The hockey-stick still has not been corrected.

Given the political intensity of the climate issue, it is refreshing to read that members of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are exploring correcting their errors in mathematics / observations on ocean warming that were revealed by independent British researcher Nic Lewis, which were discussed in the last two TWTWs. Hopefully we will see more of this, no one is infallible, and errors occur. There should be no fault personally attributed if honest errors appear in excellent work. With corrections, not political disputes, science advances. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Correcting Errors


California Climate: There have been significant fires in two distinctly different areas of California. Each has housing in areas that are fire prone. The fires in southern California are near Los Angles, and the climate is hot-summer Mediterranean with moderate rainfall and mild winters. The vegetation is generally chaparral (shrubland) and grasses, which dry in the summer, with oak woodlands in the mountainous areas. Fires are a constant problem in the summer and fall, particularly after a wet winter-spring.

The worst fire has been in the area of Paradise, California, which is in the Sierra Nevada foothills north and east of the Sacramento Valley about 85 miles (137 km) north of Sacramento. The climate is classified as hot-summer Mediterranean and the community is spread out on a wide ridge between deep canyons formed by a branch of the Feather River and Butte Creek. Much of the recent housing is in area have young woodlands at elevations above 1,700 feet (525 m). The rainy season of 2016–2017 was considered Northern California’s wettest winter in over 100 years. The heavy snow and rain caused significant pressure on nearby Oroville Dam, and the spillway failed.

Much of what has been written about the tragic fires has ignored the distinction between the areas of Northern and Southern California and that heavy rains fell in Northern California of 2016-2017. This commentary will focus on the worst fire, near Paradise. It is here that news photographs show strings of burnt vehicles abandoned by those trying to flee the fires.

Unfortunately, the governor of California, Jerry Brown, has tried to pass blame for the tragedy on “climate change” – the perfect excuse for politicians. Not only was the prior year very wet in Northern California, a chart by NOAA, reproduced by Icecap, shows California has had no downtrend in annual precipitation since 1895. In fact, no trend at all for 120 years, except for wild changes over short periods of time. The chart shows that precipitation in California has drastically changed frequently, and this change is totally unrelated to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Meteorologist Cliff Mass, who is not a “climate denier,” gives his analysis of what apparently caused the fire – power lines downed by high winds. Mass states the conditions were predictable, and that under such circumstances power should be shut-off in vulnerable lines during periods of high winds. This is not an ideal solution, but it is better than what occurred.

The clear issue is that those living in fire-prone areas need to be protected by fire prevention and fire suppression measures, including measures the California government and the Federal government have been reluctant to take. Public safety has been subordinated to other political interests. See links under Changing Weather – California and Article # 1.


Road Diet: Anthony Watts, of Watts Up With That (WUWT), lived in Paradise and reports that a previous fire made him realize that living in the area was dangerous. The only paved escape route for those living at the higher elevations north and east of the town was a four-lane road going through town to the main highway to the south. Considering the earlier fire, Anthony moved. The escape route changed when a narrow road to the north was paved. Then in 2014, the town voted to narrow the four-lane escape route to a two-lane road in “the interests of safety.” It is on that road, prior to town, that strings of burnt-out vehicles sit, as the photos show. How many people died “in the interests of public safety?”

It turns out that narrowing roads has become fashionable programs in California and under the Federal government. According to the Office of Safety Programs of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):

“Four-lane undivided highways experience relatively high crash frequencies — especially as traffic volumes and turning movements increase over time — resulting in conflicts between high-speed through traffic, left-turning vehicles and other road users. FHWA has deemed Road Diets a proven safety countermeasure and promotes them as a safety-focused design alternative to a traditional four-lane, undivided roadway. Road Diet-related crash modification factors are also available for use in safety countermeasure benefit-cost analysis.”

How will the experience in Paradise be calculated into FHWA’s future benefit-cost analysis? See links under Changing Weather – California and California Dreaming.


Sun Spots: Space weather is changing with sun spots diminishing. The extreme upper atmosphere, the thermosphere, is cooling. Unfortunately, this cooling has prompted some commentators to imply that the entire atmosphere is cooling, it is not. The bulk atmosphere is warmer than the 1979 to October 2018 average. The upper atmosphere, the thermosphere and exosphere (top of the atmosphere (TOA)), have very little “air,” – molecules to warm or cool. A warming or cooling there is largely meaningless for the globe.

However, the strong relationship between sunspot activity and thermosphere warming and cooling creates a problem for those who have been advocating that upper atmosphere cooling is the result of carbon dioxide-caused warming. Also, it creates a problem with the databases including the upper atmosphere in temperature trends for the bulk atmosphere, such as those from the University of Washington. It may be that any conclusions about the top of the atmosphere warming or cooling must consider as solar activity rahter than CO2-caused.

Separately, there are some who comment that the declining solar activity will result in a Little Ice Age within a few years. In the view of TWTW, the inertia of energy retained in the oceans will moderate any initial cooling from a lower solar activity. It may take several solar cycles (decades) before any relationship is clearly established. See links under Commentary: Is the Sun Rising?


State-Promoted Monopoly Profits? Last week’s number of the week stated that the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) reluctantly approved a project by Dominion Energy for wind facilities 26 miles off-shore from Virginia Beach even though the SCC calculated that the cost to the consumer for the electricity would be about 26 times the market rate and the consumer bore all the risks of the “investment.” Several readers inquired why?

A more detailed description of how the Virginia legislature and governor stripped the regulatory power of the SCC to limit utility expenditures and rates is given in other reports by the SCC on August 29, 2018. The reports discuss 2011, 2013 and 2015 Acts of the Virginia Assembly.

The SCC reports discuss the increasing profits being generated by Dominion Energy Virginia (DEV):

“On June 1 and July 3, 2018, DEV provided analyses of its combined generation and distribution base rate financial results for calendar year 2017 reflecting an earned return on common equity for calendar year 2017 of 13.84%. The earned return on equity (“ROE”) of 13.84% exceeds the 9.20% ROE approved by the Commission for DEV’s RACs during 2017 by 4.64 percentage points, or approximately $365.6 million in revenues. The earned ROE of 13.84% also exceeds the 10.00% ROE approved by the Commission in DEV’s last biennial review in 2013 by 3.84 percentage points, or approximately $302.6 million in revenues.”

The profits being made by Dominion Energy are about 50% greater than the profits prior to the acts of the General Assembly, which now regulates the utility. In 2021 the profits will be subject to review and possible recapture – with the exception that the excess profits will not be recaptured if invested in a favored renewable energy projects – such as the offshore project proposed by Dominion Energy.

The General Assembly and the governor have put the fox in charge of the henhouse. Thanks to the General Assembly, Dominion Energy is generating excess profits to spend on a foolishly expensive program and earn profits generated from that program, regardless of costs to the consumer. If a hurricane wipes out the wind turbines, no doubt Dominion will claim climate change and demand reimbursement for the costs. See links under Energy Issues – US.


Number of the Week: $51.2 Billion in subsidies over 10 years. According to a report prepared for the US Department of Energy solar and wind receive $51.2 billion from 2005 to 2015 in the form of mandates, tax incentives, loans, and research grants, with $45.8 billion on tax incentives.



1. Facing Deadlier Fires, California Tries Something New: More Logging

Environmentalists and the timber industry, after long butting heads, increasingly agree that cutting trees to thin forests is vital to reducing fire danger

By Jim Carlton, WSJ, Nov 17, 2018


The essay begins with:

“Obscured amid the chaos of California’s latest wildfire outbreak is a striking sign of change that may help curtail future devastating infernos. After decades of butting heads, some environmentalists and logging supporters have largely come to agreement that forests need to be logged to be saved.


“The current fires are hitting populated areas along the edges of forests and brush lands, including the 142,000-acre Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County. That now ranks as the most deadly and destructive in state history, killing at least 71 people, leaving hundreds missing and destroying more than 9,800 homes. The Camp Fire and the 98,400-acre Woolsey Fire in Southern California were fueled by fierce winds in unusually dry weather, which turned much of the state into a tinderbox.


“Another dangerous factor, land-management experts say, is that forests have become overgrown with trees and underbrush due to a mix of human influences, including a past federal policy of putting out fires, rather than letting them burn. Washington has also sharply reduced logging under pressure from environmentalists.


“Now, the unlikely coalition is pushing new programs to thin out forests and clear underbrush. In 2017, California joined with the U.S. Forest Service and other groups in creating the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, which aims to thin millions of trees from about 2.4 million acres of forest—believed to be the largest such state-federal project in the country.


“The current fires have trained a spotlight on the strategy: Parts of the forest burned in the Camp Fire in and around Paradise, for example, were overgrown with small, young trees, according to a 2017 forest health plan by the Butte County Fire Safe Council, which had planned to thin a thousand acres of land there over the next decade.


“We need to try new things because what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked,” said David Edelson, Sierra Nevada project director of the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that is part of the new thinning partnership.”

Of course, prudent fire suppression has worked in the past, but the article continues with some of the advantages and disadvantages.

2. Government Motors Is Back

GM floats a China-style plan to subsidize and promote electric cars.

Editorial, WSJ, Nov 11, 2018


Summary: The article begins:

“General Motors has recharged since being bailed out by the government in bankruptcy nearly a decade ago. But now Government Motors is back: The largest U.S. automaker wants the Trump Administration to juice its bottom line with a truckload of electric-car mandates and subsidies.


“Electric cars make up a mere 1% of U.S. sales, but manufacturers have been required to produce an increasing number to comply with California’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate and federal fuel-economy (Cafe) standards. China, which accounts for half of the world’s EV sales, has also imposed aggressive mandates with generous consumer and manufacturer subsidies.


“Yet battery technology has lagged government ambitions. Longer-range EVs can take eight hours or more to charge, and a battery cell for a medium-sized vehicle costs more than $13,000—equivalent to the material cost of an entire gas-fueled compact car. Since electric cars remain unattractive to consumers beyond the rarified quarters of Palo Alto or Bel Air, they typically sell at a loss.


“The Obama Administration nonetheless sought to compel auto makers to produce ever more electric cars by requiring an average fleet fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Car manufacturers rightly said the Cafe ramp-up was infeasible, so in August the Trump Administration proposed freezing the 2020 target of 37 miles per gallon through 2025.


“No good gesture goes unappreciated. Auto makers now complain that the Trump Administration’s deregulation has gone too far and that they won’t get regulatory credit for their electric-car investments. They also worry that they may still have to increase EV production to meet California’s quotas that have been adopted by nine other states.


“The Obama Environmental Protection Agency issued California a waiver under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set its own emissions standards, and the state has threatened to sue to enforce its authority. Yet under the Clean Air Act, the EPA may reject a waiver if California “does not need such standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”


“Unlike ozone-causing pollutants, CO2 doesn’t affect California any more than it does the other 49 states. But car makers say they can’t handle the legal uncertainty and want California and the Trump EPA to compromise. Enter GM, which last month in public comments responding to the Cafe revisions proposed a “national electric vehicle program.”


“This is regulatory arbitrage masquerading as political virtue. After Tesla, GM is the nation’s top electric car maker. Its Chevy Bolt has the longest range among mid-priced cars at 238 miles per charge. After announcing plans last year for 20 new zero-emission vehicles through 2023, GM is expanding a battery lab in Michigan.


“GM’s plan would provide credits for production based on factors like battery range that have no bearing on emissions. Credits are ripe for political manipulation, and, right on time, GM is trying to game the system. GM suggests awarding 1.5 times as many credits for heavier duty vehicles and six times as many for driverless cars. GM’s Cruise startup is ahead of most manufacturers in the self-driving car race. As in California, credits could be banked and traded. No doubt GM hopes to emulate Tesla by hoarding and selling credits as the quotas increase.


“GM also proposes to replace the 200,000 per manufacturer cap for the federal $7,500 tax credit with an industry-wide phase-out once electric cars exceed 5% of the U.S. light-duty fleet. While Tesla has already hit the limit and GM is expected to do so this quarter, most auto makers at their current sales rate won’t for half a decade.”

The article concludes with political issues but does not discuss a key issue: can similar models of electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles be made on the same production line.?



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