[Discussion] Climate Change

This thread is just to post interesting news, thoughts, opinions about climate change.

So, to sum up:

Step 1: Magic away all the vested interests.

Step 2: Magic the existing global petroleum-based infrastructure into something else. See Step 1.

Easy, right?

Aetius wrote:

Sure. The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc). To accomplish that goal quickly and effectively, you need alternatives that are less expensive; if it becomes profitable to shutter old power plants and shift to renewables, safe nuclear, or whatever, it'll happen pretty quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the government is already intervening in those markets. In fact, as the article notes, government intervention is essentially propping up the entire coal industry and is crucial to the profitability of huge sections of the oil industry - and that's not counting indirect subsidies like road construction, cheap leases on government land, and utility monopolies. Some of these policies have been around for a hundred years or more, and together with other policies (rural electrification, for example) have distorted the markets to heavily favor oil and gas.

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2. Combine that with removal of other regulatory barriers like utility monopolies, solar panel tariffs, NIMBY laws against wind farms, and the effective ban on nuclear reactors despite modern safe designs, and you have the recipe for a renaissance in power generation and transportation. There's already some cracks in the wall, like competitive wholesale power markets, but a lot more needs to be undone - and the Trump administration is making things worse with their additional tariffs.

It isn't that you are wrong, in fact I would say you are right. It is just that your solution of remove government controls doesn't seem like it will work.

Why you ask? Because we have already tried the government stay out of industry and London was so polluted you couldn't see a few feet in front of you some days. All we need to do is look at how "the market" conducted itself when unregulated to see that it not only doesn't work but hasn't worked We have real life historical facts that show it doesn't work.

Aetius wrote:

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2.

Same thing with corn.

Jonman and Farley, how are you interpreting either of these as deregulation or laissez-faire? This is removing supply side incentives (i.e.: cronyism and mercantilist protections) to continue using feedstocks that are harmful to the environment. What's wrong with or unrealistic about this?

You are right this specific description is more about removing supports.

GioClark wrote:
Aetius wrote:

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2.

Same thing with corn.

Jonman and Farley, how are you interpreting either of these as deregulation or laissez-faire? This is removing supply side incentives (i.e.: cronyism and mercantilist protections) to continue using feedstocks that are harmful to the environment. What's wrong with or unrealistic about this?

I'm not. I'm just pointing out that there are reasons why these supply side incentives exist - vested interests have leverage in policy-making.

That's the disease you need to cure. The price controls are just the symptom.

Fixing the structure of the policy-making machine is a much harder problem that Aetius seems to be appreciating.

Jonman wrote:

That's the disease you need to cure. The price controls are just the symptom.

Fixing the structure of the policy-making machine is a much harder problem that Aetius seems to be appreciating.

So, you're basically hearing this:

I feel you. I remember an anecdote where a personality, Warren Buffet I think, claimed that all we needed to do to ensure a budget surplus for multiple future generations was to raise the SSI recipient age to 70 and pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Simple, but not easy.

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

GioClark wrote:

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

It is funny (to me) but it is too difficult seems to be the way the ecosystem works. Evolution doesn't create the best, it creates good enough. So in some ways while it is a limp argument it is the most natural argument.

Aetius wrote:

The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc).

The first was happening under Obama because he correctly had the EPA classify C02 as a pollutant and required the gazillion coal-fired power plants across America to install C02 scrubbers. The owners of said power plants said f*ck that noise, we'll just convert those plants from coal to natural gas, which just got super cheap because fracking was greatly expanded (some of those federal subsidies at work).

And the second can't and won't happen without federal intervention. Our transportation system literally runs on oil and the only way around that is to either use subsidies and tax breaks to get companies to develop much more fuel efficient (or electric) cars or to simply tax the f*ck out of gasoline. Consumers seem to wise up and ditch SUVs and gas guzzlers at the $5/gallon mark, but that high gas prices are a drag on the economy and are none too popular with Joe Sixpack.

The reason why the government has to get involved is because both the energy producers and energy consumers don't want to pay the true cost of fossil fuels. They like the historic system where they simply externalize all the costs. The government's job is to stand on the sidelines with a big ass stick and make the producers and consumers actually pay for using fossil fuels, preferably with something like a carbon tax. That way companies can either pay to clean up their acts or pay to buy another company's carbon credits.

I agree that after 40 years of aggressively not doing anything green energy technology has gotten to the point now that we can solve climate change without government intervention. Given that we also change the definition of "solve" to mean "just barely stay at a 2 degree Celsius rise--probably". I do take issue with your hand-waving of the possibility that the free market may get us to carbon negative power sources somehow. Thermodynamics basically means that that's impossible, unless graphene for some reason starts being worth a billion dollars an ounce (and lets be clear, poor people and baby seals require way less effort to turn into graphene than CO2, so I wouldn't count on some crazy carbon use case driving CO2 sequestration).

The "free market" solution also only seems inevitable now that we have done nothing for 40 years and found ourselves with affordable wind and solar power. That was not inevitable. If some new breakthrough had been found that reduces the cost of mining coal to 2 cents a ton (or, God-forbid, is developed three years from now) then your invisible hand just as inevitably takes us down the path to another two degrees of temperature increase.

You haven't described a solution as much of pasted a "this is fine" over the terrible status quo.

Edit: Don't take any of this to mean that I don't think that vastly restricting--or entirely removing--our fossil fuel subsidies isn't a great idea.

farley3k wrote:

It is funny (to me) but it is too difficult seems to be the way the ecosystem works. Evolution doesn't create the best, it creates good enough. So in some ways while it is a limp argument it is the most natural argument.

That's fair. And it's also fair to say that removing the financial incentives around fossil fuels and other harmful feedstocks will take advantage of the same natural tendencies of business to divert their capital and profit seeking towards more lucrative methods. The overall goal to be to draw our dumb ape selves right where we need to be.

Opposing tariffs on solar and subsidies on fossil fuels are a great place to start. We can and should do that, difficult or not. And you'd have free marketeers as allies.

Aetius wrote:

Sure. The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc). To accomplish that goal quickly and effectively, you need alternatives that are less expensive; if it becomes profitable to shutter old power plants and shift to renewables, safe nuclear, or whatever, it'll happen pretty quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the government is already intervening in those markets. In fact, as the article notes, government intervention is essentially propping up the entire coal industry and is crucial to the profitability of huge sections of the oil industry - and that's not counting indirect subsidies like road construction, cheap leases on government land, and utility monopolies. Some of these policies have been around for a hundred years or more, and together with other policies (rural electrification, for example) have distorted the markets to heavily favor oil and gas.

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2. Combine that with removal of other regulatory barriers like utility monopolies, solar panel tariffs, NIMBY laws against wind farms, and the effective ban on nuclear reactors despite modern safe designs, and you have the recipe for a renaissance in power generation and transportation. There's already some cracks in the wall, like competitive wholesale power markets, but a lot more needs to be undone - and the Trump administration is making things worse with their additional tariffs.

While most of this makes sense, are not price controls something that the government would enforce.

GioClark wrote:

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

I'm not saying "it's too difficult", I'm saying" it's bloody difficult, so come prepared for a long, drag-out fight against well-armed opponents who will fight to their last breath."

Garrcia wrote:

While most of this makes sense, are not price controls something that the government would enforce.

No, he is talking about the market interaction that the US government has done to help the fossil fuel industry for a variety of reasons. Removing those price controls would represent a removal of government enforcement, not additional enforcement. And those "variety of reasons" are truly a large variety, they range from security "ensure that the US can produce enough energy domestically in case international supply is disrupted", economic "lets keep people and industries driving around the country cheaply" and humane "lets keep poor people from freezing to death".

farley3k wrote:

All we need to do is look at how "the market" conducted itself when unregulated to see that it not only doesn't work but hasn't worked We have real life historical facts that show it doesn't work.

We don't have those facts, because markets are very rarely left alone to work. What we get instead is a heavily regulated and distorted market, the failure of which is blamed on the free market, and of course the proposed solution is more intervention.

London is a case in point. It's a very large, extremely dense urban area, and there have been taxes, regulations, and various market interventions on vehicles for over a hundred years. In the 90s, those taxes and policies favored diesel vehicles. Unfortunately, that came at a cost - higher NOx emissions, which are largely responsible for the current pollution problems. Diesel cars died out in other countries' markets, mostly because of their polluting tendencies.

Transport for London has monopoly control over buses, trains, and taxi licenses in London. They were not immune to the push for diesel in the 90s, and thus most of the buses, taxis and trains in London are diesel, which contributes a great deal to the pollution problem as all of those vehicles put in far more miles than single-owner cars. Worse, their vehicles are exempt from regulations that affect privately-owned vehicles, so their contribution to the pollution will continue for decades.

On a broader front, the UK government spends billions of pounds subsidizing the coal, oil, and gas industries. Just five years ago, 40% of Britain's power was supplied by coal-burning power stations. It's now 9% - not primarily due to regulation (which was largely made up of huge subsidies), but due to natural gas becoming much cheaper (the same effect occurred in other markets, like the United States) and the UK running out of easily available coal.

So in this case, the current London pollution problem is directly due to the government implementing all sorts of interventions to favor diesel vehicles in the 90s, as well as spending billions to favor fossil fuels in general and coal in particular (until very recently). To their credit, most UK and EU observers recognize this, as there is a huge public corpus of evidence that diesel vehicles and fossil fuel subsidies were and are a deliberate government policy.

Now, if you're referring to older issues, like the famous Great Smog in 1952, those too were not the product of a free market. England in the 19th century was an authoritarian / mercantilist mess, with regulations covering everything from beached whales (must be delivered to the reigning monarch) to being drunk in a pub. The coal industry was not immune to regulation, and was subsidized and supported in various ways. In fact, the entire UK coal industry was completely nationalized in 1947, and "dual pricing" - cheap subsidized coal for domestic consumption and premium pricing on exports to coal-starved postwar Europe - was in full force during the Great Smog. And despite decades of various clean air regulations, London air didn't clear up until the late 60's when alternatives became cheaper.

Yonder wrote:

The "free market" solution also only seems inevitable now that we have done nothing for 40 years and found ourselves with affordable wind and solar power. That was not inevitable. If some new breakthrough had been found that reduces the cost of mining coal to 2 cents a ton (or, God-forbid, is developed three years from now) then your invisible hand just as inevitably takes us down the path to another two degrees of temperature increase.

There's two problems with this line of thinking. One is that renewable power development could have happened a lot faster. The U.S. killed off the nascent renewables market in 1936 with the Rural Electrification Act, and it took fifty years for the market to reappear. And second, given the billions involved, it's incredibly likely that if some breakthrough would have made coal mining cheaper, it would have happened by now. And while it's possible that people (the market) would continue to tolerate using coal, it's unlikely. People don't like coal. They understand the link between coal and pollution, because it's pretty obvious and directly affects them. In virtually every case, as soon as a viable alternative was available, people abandoned coal. The only reason it wasn't ended as a power source decades ago has been government subsidies.

You haven't described a solution as much of pasted a "this is fine" over the terrible status quo.

My point isn't that things are fine (they aren't), but rather that the status quo is a creation of deliberate government policy, not a function of the free market. It is not accidental, nor is it a product of people choosing freely. When people have had the choice, they've generally made the right call, as with diesel and home heating coal. The government is deliberately blocking people from making choices that are both economically and environmentally sound, and they are doing so for their own benefit.

GioClark wrote:

Same thing with corn.

And sugar, and raisins, and a host of other things. If you really, really want to see how crazy this gets, read about the U.S. government's raisin price control program and the National Raisin Reserve. Yes, really, the National Raisin Reserve was a thing and was finally shut down only three years ago.

One of the many problems with relying on the Invisible Hand here is market inertia. Without external intervention it would take wholesale, seismic change to supply and/or demand to shift the global supply chain and energy infrastructure to a less fungible, more decentralised commodity. The market's lazy as sh*t yo' and change like that required just will not happen without someone tightening the screws and aligning corporate interest to point in a sustainable direction. Low-effort opportunism will always, always, always trump long-term social interest in a completely deregulated market.

Since 2011, diesel cars in the UK have been fitted with particulate filters that reduce fine particulate emissions by 99%. The latest Euro 6 standards reduce NOx emissions from 3x those of gasoline cars to 1.3x. And diesel has always had lower CO2 emissions. The EU and UK have been steadily reducing pollution from both gas and diesel vehicles since the mid-90's, and diesels have been the target of massive reductions in emissions for the last few iterations, finally coming to near-parity with cars for NOx and beating them in fine particles and CO2.

New standards have been tested to detect cheating and will be fully in place by 2019. Note that the "invisible hand" of the market was quite happy to produce unhealthy results for its consumers, as long as it thought they would not figure it out. Luckily, there were remedies and penalties available to allow consumers redress.

If the Euro emissions regulations were not in place, the UK and elsewhere would have been dealing with this level of pollution more than 15 years ago (and possibly before that). The reason London's pollution is so bad is not diesel vehicles. It's population growth and density, and the dependence on surface transport, AND the perfidy of vehicle producers who elaborately evaded pollution standards for profit.

Yes, things are bad. Yes, they are improving. Yes, they would most likely have been worse *without* the regulatory structure. London's diesels are not a good argument for less regulation; they are a good argument for *more* regulation, specifically, to speed up purchase of new, more efficient vehicles by the Transit Authority, and limit the use of non-mass-transit surface transport in the city.

The free market must *always* be balanced with central control. To go full-bore either way leads to disaster. In this case, though, regulations have led the way in *actual* reductions of pollution; the fact that the problem is still bad speaks to problems with manufacturers and population density, not the effort to decrease emissions by rule.

Robear wrote:

The reason London's pollution is so bad is not diesel vehicles. It's population growth and density, and the dependence on surface transport.

This.

Population of London in 2016: 8,787,892
Population of Washington state in 2013: 6,971,406

The project’s lead researcher, Cao Junji, said that since it began operating, the tower has produced more than 353 cubic feet of clean air a day...

Internet journalism needs more copy editors.

The tower cleans 353 million cubic feet of air a day.

But I'm sure that changing those HEPA filters is a bitch.

Robear wrote:

AND the perfidy of vehicle producers who elaborately evaded pollution standards for profit

My emphasis bolded.

If we could depend on good faith, we wouldn't need regulation. This goes double from those with the resources to hire teams of tax lawyers and engage in chicanery. And even at the individual level, people tend to rationalize a bit more liberally if it's to their own benefit. This is why the rhetoric around the individual mandate portion of the ACA got so much traction, even though consumers stood to gain in the long term. People flock to carrots and do everything they can to avoid sticks. Companies are made of lots of people of where profitability becomes an ever present existential concern. This isn't evil. This is human nature. If possible, it's something to harness rather than extinguish.

Although, I see nothing in your post opposing the removal of subsidies that support harmful feedstocks. Are we in agreement that this is a form of government intervention in need of improvement/reduction? My hope is that we'd remove the carrots before handing out sticks. While I can engage in shenanigans around avoiding a tax/fine/standard, I cannot collect a government incentive that no longer exists.

Aetius wrote:

There's two problems with this line of thinking. One is that renewable power development could have happened a lot faster. The U.S. killed off the nascent renewables market in 1936 with the Rural Electrification Act, and it took fifty years for the market to reappear.

You know what renewable power meant in the 1930s? Burning wood.

From a 2015 U.S. Energy Information Administration report touting 2014 as the year the consumption of renewable energy broke records:

Renewable energy accounted for 9.8% of total domestic energy consumption in 2014. This marks the highest renewable energy share since the 1930s, when wood was a much larger contributor to domestic energy supply.

The Rural Electrification Act was passed because power generation companies at the time found that it simply wasn't profitable to extend their transmission lines to rural areas. As a country we could have continued to let rural America live like it was still the 1600s, but we decided it made more sense economically and ethically to bring them into the 20th century. And the government had to do it because the market wouldn't.

Aetius wrote:

And second, given the billions involved, it's incredibly likely that if some breakthrough would have made coal mining cheaper, it would have happened by now. And while it's possible that people (the market) would continue to tolerate using coal, it's unlikely. People don't like coal. They understand the link between coal and pollution, because it's pretty obvious and directly affects them. In virtually every case, as soon as a viable alternative was available, people abandoned coal. The only reason it wasn't ended as a power source decades ago has been government subsidies.

Come on, man. Like every industry coal mining companies invested heavily in technology and automation. It's how you get the last century of soaring coal production and an ever decreasing number of miners. Coal mining companies wouldn't make those investments unless it made mining cheaper and more efficient.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/opJvMb4l.png)

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/nC2UfHrl.png)

And coal is only obvious bad when the people burning it don't have to do a damn thing about the pollution it causes--think Victorian era England or China a fews years back.

I'm old enough that I remember when acid rain broke into the mainstream. The reaction to that was for the government to require coal-fired power plants to add costly scrubbers. Then acid rain dipped from public awareness because that visible link between coal and pollution was severed.

You're overestimating people's knowledge and concern about how their power is generated and what pollution it causes. The vast majority of people only care that the power comes on when they flip a switch and that they don't have to pay too much for it.

The recent mass conversion of power plants from coal to natural gas didn't happen because the industry suddenly discovered natural gas. It happened because natural gas became much cheaper and the government --continuing a long history of clamping down on pollution--also began to treat CO2 as a pollutant.

No "viable alternative" for coal was found. It was literally power companies crunching the numbers and realizing that it would be cheaper to use a less polluting fuel source (one that became much more abundant and cheap in large part because of the subsidies you don't like) than to add more pollution abatement technology to their plants and still burn coal.

If the government suddenly decided to stop requiring power plants to use filters and scrubbers and not have them worry about the CO2 they generate then we would see them convert all their new natural gas plants back to coal.

And if you're going to claim that government meddling in the form of subsidies has kept the coal industry alive then you're also going to have to admit that government meddling in the form of both subsidies for natural gas production and the EPA has also killed it.

Well, this whole thing about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite program is beyond maddening.

New data confirm increased frequency of extreme weather events, European national science academies urge further action on climate change adaptation

Man-made climate change has been proven to have increased recent extreme rainfall and associated floods; coastal flooding due to sea-level rise; heatwaves in Australia, China, and Europe; and increased risks of wildfires with implications for humans and animals, the environment, and the economy. Climate proofing can help to limit these impacts.
OG_slinger wrote:

You know what renewable power meant in the 1930s? Burning wood.

It still means that today.

A greater use of wood for home heating and steadily growing installation of solar systems are the main contributors to increasing renewable energy consumption in residential buildings and, to a lesser extent, in commercial buildings.
OG_slinger wrote:

The Rural Electrification Act was passed because power generation companies at the time found that it simply wasn't profitable to extend their transmission lines to rural areas. As a country we could have continued to let rural America live like it was still the 1600s, but we decided it made more sense economically and ethically to bring them into the 20th century. And the government had to do it because the market wouldn't.

While it's true that it wasn't economically viable to extend transmission lines into rural areas, rural America in the 20s and 30s was anything but living in the 1600s. The market for renewable power in the 1930s was burgeoning, and in fact rural America was leading the world in renewable energy technology.

The first electrical wind turbines were built in 1927 by Jacobs Wind, and they sold over 20,000 of them in the next twenty years. The Jacobs brothers were self-taught engineers from rural Montana. The turbines were a development of the ubiquitous wind-powered water pumps, many of which are still standing and some of which are still in use. Jacobs had to give up in the late 50s because their market was killed off.

JACOBS: There'll always be a small, scattered market for individual plants—especially in the more remote areas of the world—but the Rural Electrification Administration has pretty well killed the demand for self-contained DC systems in this country. AC is just too readily available everywhere. Alternating current is all over the place...often at artificially low prices. That's a tough combination to beat and I quit trying to fight it in the 50's. I could see the handwriting on the wall back around '52, '53, '54...and we closed the factory in 1956.

When interest in wind power revived in the 1970s, scavenged Jacobs turbines were highly prized because they were tough and sophisticated.

And Jacobs Wind was only one of hundreds of companies serving the rural electrification market. Further, these companies often worked together - for example, Delco-Light sold gas-powered generator systems that could be integrated with Jacobs turbines and battery systems to provide continuous power. These companies were also put out of business by the REA.

It sounded good except that no one mentioned that Delco-Light and other farm and wind electric plants were providing electricity to nearly 1,000,000 farms in America already. That at that same time you could buy a Delco-Light plant for $495, a powerful Jacobs Wind Electric plant for $595, or both using a single battery for less than the $950 to run the power lines from the city - and never have a monthly electric bill. The effect on the farm and wind electric plant industry was immediate. Hundreds of manufacturing companies, throughout the midwest and around the nation, and the distribution, sales, installation, service companies employing hundreds of thousands of people were staggered. After struggling successfully to grow during the early years of the depression, the impact of REA of the farm and wind electric industry was devastating. Many survived long enough to contribute to the war effort during WW II, many disappeared or changed to a related market, and a few continued on successfully.

Small-scale private hydro plants were also burgeoning - private hydroelectric power comprised somewhere between 25% and 40% of total American power generation in the early 1900s, before the government agencies that would create the future hydroelectric environmental disasters were even established. The vast majority of those plants were small-scale, and far more environmentally friendly than behemoths like the Hoover Dam.

Finally, the Rural Electrification Act was anything but a selfless government program - it was, in fact, a product of social engineering.

Electrification was also tied to another basic belief of Roosevelt's, that a society focused mostly on rural life made for a much healthier nation than a predominately urban society. As a result Roosevelt sought to reverse population trends of movement from the farm and small town to the city. This trend had rapidly progressed through the industrialization of America following the Civil War (1861–1865). For the first time in U.S. history most Americans lived in the city rather than in rural areas by the 1920s. Roosevelt wanted to see a shift of the population back to rural areas. Roosevelt believed he could reverse this trend by locating industries away from city centers. This "ruralization" could be achieved by providing local cheap electrical power in the rural areas, power generated by either public utilities or by private industry under government regulation.
OG_slinger wrote:

Come on, man. Like every industry coal mining companies invested heavily in technology and automation. It's how you get the last century of soaring coal production and an ever decreasing number of miners. Coal mining companies wouldn't make those investments unless it made mining cheaper and more efficient.

Yes, they did - and as I pointed out earlier, it wasn't enough. There was no breakthrough that would make the coal industry competitive without subsidies. And imagine, for a moment, if all that effort had been applied to renewable rural electrical generation instead.

And if you're going to claim that government meddling in the form of subsidies has kept the coal industry alive then you're also going to have to admit that government meddling in the form of both subsidies for natural gas production and the EPA has also killed it.

First, it hasn't killed it at all - coal still makes up 30% of American power generation. It is true that the federal government subsidizes natural gas, and that certainly had an impact on prices - but it's likely still not enough to make natural gas competitive without those subsidies.

But now, think about the incredible stupidity of this situation. On the one hand, the government subsidizes natural gas and coal production, lowering the costs of production. On the other hand, the government regulations via the EPA make coal and natural gas more expensive. The taxpayers are getting both ends of the shaft, for something that doesn't have to exist and that we don't want to exist because it's hard on the environment!

Aetius wrote:
OG_slinger wrote:

You know what renewable power meant in the 1930s? Burning wood.

It still means that today.

A greater use of wood for home heating and steadily growing installation of solar systems are the main contributors to increasing renewable energy consumption in residential buildings and, to a lesser extent, in commercial buildings.

Wood represents a declining percentage of renewable energy production and and only 2% of energy consumption.

And when we say wood today it doesn't mean cord wood. It means anything that came from a tree. Waste from paper manufacturing or furniture production that's burned to produce steam or electricity? That's treated as wood.

Domestic use of wood is predominantly for heating and the vast majority of that is actually secondary heating (i.e., I have a fireplace that I'll occasionally use vs. I heat my house primarily with firewood).

US Energy Information Administration wrote:

In 2016, about 2% of total U.S. annual energy consumption was from wood and wood waste (bark, sawdust, wood chips, wood scrap, and paper mill residues).

Industry, electric power producers, and commercial businesses use most of the wood and wood waste fuel consumed in the United States. The wood and paper products industry uses wood waste to produce steam and electricity, which saves money because it reduces the amount of other fuels and electricity that must be purchased. Some coal-burning power plants burn wood chips to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

About 19% of total U.S. wood energy consumption in 2016 was by the residential sector, and wood energy accounted for about 2% of total residential energy consumption.

Wood is used in homes throughout the United States for heating as cord wood in fireplaces and wood-burning appliances and as pellets in pellet stoves. In 2015, about 11.5 million U.S. households used wood as an energy source, mainly for space heating, and 2.3 million of those households used wood as the main heating fuel.

And another telling point about the use of wood for energy production is that in 2016 the EIA folded wood into the category of biomass for stat tracking purposes.

Aetius wrote:

The market for renewable power in the 1930s was burgeoning, and in fact rural America was leading the world in renewable energy technology.

Rural residents in the 1930s didn't want renewable power. They wanted electricity. The market was for what we now call distributed power generation. And that demand was only there because the producers of electricity found it too expensive to connect rural residences to their grids.

Aetius wrote:

The first electrical wind turbines were built in 1927 by Jacobs Wind, and they sold over 20,000 of them in the next twenty years. The Jacobs brothers were self-taught engineers from rural Montana. The turbines were a development of the ubiquitous wind-powered water pumps, many of which are still standing and some of which are still in use. Jacobs had to give up in the late 50s because their market was killed off.

JACOBS: There'll always be a small, scattered market for individual plants—especially in the more remote areas of the world—but the Rural Electrification Administration has pretty well killed the demand for self-contained DC systems in this country. AC is just too readily available everywhere. Alternating current is all over the place...often at artificially low prices. That's a tough combination to beat and I quit trying to fight it in the 50's. I could see the handwriting on the wall back around '52, '53, '54...and we closed the factory in 1956.

When interest in wind power revived in the 1970s, scavenged Jacobs turbines were highly prized because they were tough and sophisticated.

And Jacobs Wind was only one of hundreds of companies serving the rural electrification market. Further, these companies often worked together - for example, Delco-Light sold gas-powered generator systems that could be integrated with Jacobs turbines and battery systems to provide continuous power. These companies were also put out of business by the REA.

It sounded good except that no one mentioned that Delco-Light and other farm and wind electric plants were providing electricity to nearly 1,000,000 farms in America already. That at that same time you could buy a Delco-Light plant for $495, a powerful Jacobs Wind Electric plant for $595, or both using a single battery for less than the $950 to run the power lines from the city - and never have a monthly electric bill. The effect on the farm and wind electric plant industry was immediate. Hundreds of manufacturing companies, throughout the midwest and around the nation, and the distribution, sales, installation, service companies employing hundreds of thousands of people were staggered. After struggling successfully to grow during the early years of the depression, the impact of REA of the farm and wind electric industry was devastating. Many survived long enough to contribute to the war effort during WW II, many disappeared or changed to a related market, and a few continued on successfully.

Several important things are buried in the points you made.

First and foremost was that both the Jacobs Wind Electric plant and the Delco-Light plants produced direct current electricity in a world that had been standardized on alternating current for more than 30 years.

That's why the history of the Delco-Light plant has this paragraph:

Delco-Light Farm Electric Plant wrote:

As if that wasn’t enough, Kettering would build a huge factory employing thousands in Dayton, Ohio to manufacture Delco-light plants and related equipment. He would also convince others to manufacture all of the most popular convenience and kitchen appliances and other electrical equipment to work with his “safe” 32 volt d.c. system - electric light bulbs to eliminate flame lights, shallow and deep well pumps and system for running water, clothes washers, vacuum cleaners, coffee percolators, toasters, waffle irons, irons, mixers, sewing machines, and even a portable power stand to operate the belt driven farm and household equipment that was popular at the time - creamers, fanning mills, grinders, etc.. In effect providing “electricity” for a farm home with all of the modern conveniences of a home in the city.

And the interview with Jacobs you linked to had this quote:

Mother Earth News wrote:

PLOWBOY: Have you developed anything else that the ordinary individual would find more directly related to your wind plants?

JACOBS: Well we used to sell everything you'd need on the ranch—fans, motors, electric irons, toasters, percolators, freezers, refrigerators, whatever—all built to run on 32-volt DC. Hamilton Beach manufactured them for me to my specifications. I even had a freezer that was so well insulated you could unplug it and it would keep ice cream frozen for four or five days. All this equipment could be powered by our wind plants, of course.

Why did Kettering and Jacobs have to do that? Because the direct current their systems produced wouldn't work with normal consumer products that ran on alternating current. It's much harder to sell a power generation system when the only thing it can do is power specialty lights.

So before you claim that the REA killed off those companies you have to take into consideration that they were already swimming upstream and trying to push direct current in a world that had long chosen alternating current.

Another point that's somewhat hidden is that Delco-Light plants--that outsold Jacobs' windmills by a factor of eight--were gasoline powered. Again, it wasn't that rural residents in the 1930s were looking for renewable energy, they were just looking for electricity production period.

And then there's the cost. Five or six hundred dollars in a day where the average annual income was $1,500. Appropo of this discussion, the income of Appalachia residents in 1935, according to one study, averaged $444 for families that lived in the open country and $787 for those that lived in villages.

Both the Jacobs Wind Electric and Delco Light plants were well beyond the financial ability of the average Appalachia resident to own, let alone operate.

Aetius wrote:

Small-scale private hydro plants were also burgeoning - private hydroelectric power comprised somewhere between 25% and 40% of total American power generation in the early 1900s, before the government agencies that would create the future hydroelectric environmental disasters were even established. The vast majority of those plants were small-scale, and far more environmentally friendly than behemoths like the Hoover Dam.

I'm going to need to see some sources for those statistics and environmental friendliness claims.

Aetius wrote:

Finally, the Rural Electrification Act was anything but a selfless government program - it was, in fact, a product of social engineering.

Electrification was also tied to another basic belief of Roosevelt's, that a society focused mostly on rural life made for a much healthier nation than a predominately urban society. As a result Roosevelt sought to reverse population trends of movement from the farm and small town to the city. This trend had rapidly progressed through the industrialization of America following the Civil War (1861–1865). For the first time in U.S. history most Americans lived in the city rather than in rural areas by the 1920s. Roosevelt wanted to see a shift of the population back to rural areas. Roosevelt believed he could reverse this trend by locating industries away from city centers. This "ruralization" could be achieved by providing local cheap electrical power in the rural areas, power generated by either public utilities or by private industry under government regulation.

You know what actually (and temporarily) stopped the urbanization trend? The Great Depression. The unemployed fled the jobless cities by the hundreds of thousands and states and rural communities responded by trying to keep them out.

Immigration During the Great Depression wrote:

The “Okies,” as such westward migrants were disparagingly called by their new neighbors, were the most visible group many who were on the move during the Depression, lured by news and rumors of jobs in far flung regions of the country. By 1932 sociologists were estimating that millions of men were on the roads and rails travelling the country. Economists sought to quantify the movement of families from the Plains. Popular magazines and newspapers were filled with stories of homeless boys and the veterans-turned-migrants of the Bonus Army commandeering boxcars. Popular culture, such as William Wellman’s 1933 film, Wild Boys of the Road, and, most famously, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and turned into a hit movie a year later, captured the Depression’s dislocated populations.

These years witnessed the first significant reversal in the flow of people between rural and urban areas. Thousands of city-dwellers fled the jobless cities and moved to the country looking for work. As relief efforts floundered, many state and local officials threw up barriers to migration, making it difficult for newcomers to receive relief or find work. Some state legislatures made it a crime to bring poor migrants into the state and allowed local officials to deport migrants to neighboring states. In the winter of 1935-1936, California, Florida, and Colorado established “border blockades” to block poor migrants from their states and reduce competition with local residents for jobs. A billboard outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, informed potential migrants that there were “NO JOBS in California” and warned them to “KEEP Out.”

By the end of the 30s the exploding demand for armaments and war materials caused even more rural residents to migrate to the cities.

And regardless of what underlying reason Roosevelt may have had for wiring Appalachia and rural areas for electricity, it still was something that needed to be done that business wouldn't do and something that had a beneficial impact on millions of families.

Aetius wrote:

First, it hasn't killed it at all - coal still makes up 30% of American power generation. It is true that the federal government subsidizes natural gas, and that certainly had an impact on prices - but it's likely still not enough to make natural gas competitive without those subsidies.

Coal power generation has rapidly declined. In 2005 coal was used to generate half our electricity.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/4tKLMax.png)

Importantly look to what types of capacity power generators are adding versus what they're retiring:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/5IoMO0J.png)

Natural gas has also become more competitive because the Obama administration implemented tougher environmental regulations that treated CO2 as a pollutant. Power producers weighed the costs of adding costly pollution mitigation equipment to their plants vs. switching to a much less polluting fuel source and decided on the latter.

Aetius wrote:

But now, think about the incredible stupidity of this situation. On the one hand, the government subsidizes natural gas and coal production, lowering the costs of production. On the other hand, the government regulations via the EPA make coal and natural gas more expensive. The taxpayers are getting both ends of the shaft, for something that doesn't have to exist and that we don't want to exist because it's hard on the environment!

It's national energy policy, Aetius. It's not going to make perfect sense and it's going to be a mess of conflicting goals and objectives: from regional job creation to environmental concerns to national energy independence to cost to consumers.

And taxpayers (or consumers) will always get the shaft. Even if we lived in a perfect world where companies were responsible for the actual costs of their pollution the end result would simply be that consumer had to pay more. Any change from how we operate today--where people and businesses largely ignore the environmental impact of their consumption--will result in higher costs.

The important part is that we're moving in the direction of less polluting and more renewable sources of energy production.

Had the REA not been passed we very likely wouldn't be any further along the path of renewable energy production because the same things that limit renewable production today--environmental factors and the need for battery storage--would have limited it 70 or 80s years ago (battery storage much more).

And, if anything, the Delco Electric Plant would have won out in the market because it was powered by gasoline and could be counted on to provide reliable electricity regardless of location or windiness. So far from your vision of rural America being a renewable energy Mecca, it would have actually been been a polluting mess of millions of polluting gasoline engines charging batteries.

OG_slinger wrote:

Rural residents in the 1930s didn't want renewable power. They wanted electricity. The market was for what we now call distributed power generation. And that demand was only there because the producers of electricity found it too expensive to connect rural residences to their grids.

I've just presented hard evidence to the contrary. It's very clear from the historical record that the market was for electricity, companies were supplying it, and rural Americans were more than happy to buy it.

OG_slinger wrote:

First and foremost was that both the Jacobs Wind Electric plant and the Delco-Light plants produced direct current electricity in a world that had been standardized on alternating current for more than 30 years.

Different market segments with different needs are hardly anything new - different countries standardized on different AC voltages, and this ... hasn't caused any significant problems. The computer you are writing this on uses DC, and has a power supply that can convert a wide range of AC voltages to much lower DC voltages.

So before you claim that the REA killed off those companies you have to take into consideration that they were already swimming upstream and trying to push direct current in a world that had long chosen alternating current.

If they were swimming upstream, why were their businesses growing rapidly ... during the Depression?

Another point that's somewhat hidden is that Delco-Light plants--that outsold Jacobs' windmills by a factor of eight--were gasoline powered. Again, it wasn't that rural residents in the 1930s were looking for renewable energy, they were just looking for electricity production period.

Jacobs wasn't the only wind turbine manufacturer - there were dozens of other companies, and further even more companies working on passive solar, hydro, and other solutions.

OG_slinger wrote:

And then there's the cost. Five or six hundred dollars in a day where the average annual income was $1,500. Appropo of this discussion, the income of Appalachia residents in 1935, according to one study, averaged $444 for families that lived in the open country and $787 for those that lived in villages.

Both the Jacobs Wind Electric and Delco Light plants were well beyond the financial ability of the average Appalachia resident to own, let alone operate.

As I pointed out in my quote, the cost of a combined wind turbine / generator / battery system was less than the cost of running the lines to rural homes - let alone the cost of building the power plants. Here's more information from the same source:

The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 transformed it to a permanent agency. In the next two years, $210,000,000 was spent on 100,000 miles of power lines to provide electricity to 220,000 farms - $950 per home. At the time, $950 was 55% of the average annual wage of $1,713 or 24% of the average cost of a new home of $3,925 and the population was 128 million total with 40%, or 51 million, living in rural areas. The cost would bring 60 amps of electricity to farms and country homes and businesses who would be charged a monthly service fee and for each unit of electricity forever.

Clearly, the cost of such a system was well within the financial means of the vast majority of rural Americans, and would have gotten cheaper as volume grew. And that completely ignores the cost of monthly power bills versus a system that provided most of its power for free. This also incentivized rural Americans to push further into renewables because in the long run it is cheaper - something people during the Depression keenly understood.

OG_slinger wrote:

I'm going to need to see some sources for those statistics and environmental friendliness claims.

Sure. Let's start with the government itself:

By the early 1900's, hydroelectric power accounted for more than 40 percent of the United States' supply of electricity.

Note that the USBR didn't even exist until 1902, and wasn't involved with hydroelectric projects until the 1920s - well after private hydro was established as the dominant force in early American electricity supply.

The first hydro power stations were built using a variety of designs, but the majority of them were located in places like Niagara Falls because those sites were easy to build on and offered excellent power generation opportunities. In fact, Niagara Falls was such a good site that:

By 1902, AC powerplants powered by Niagara Falls were producing one-fifth of all electricity generated in the United States.

These sites had the benefit of already being impassable to fish swimming upstream, thus avoiding one of the major environmental issues with later and larger government projects. They also had naturally-occurring lakes as reservoirs, and so their construction had little environmental impact upstream.

The Electron plant on the Puyallap River in Washington is another good example of environmentally-friendly design. Completed in 1904, it utilizes a series of flutes to direct water diverted from a dam at the top of a steep canyon into a system of reservoirs and eventually to the power house at the bottom. It requires only a very small dam, which was easily bypassed by a fish ladder to assist with fish migration.

Not all early hydro facilities were that successful environmentally, and clearly the choice of location mattered - my local Amoskeag Dam in Manchester, New Hampshire is an example of a facility that caused significant problems due to poor environmental design, eventually causing a near-total collapse of the fish stock upriver. But these issues pale in comparison to the later government-built projects.

The Hoover Dam is a canonical example, though not the most destructive of the government projects. It has many issues, both actual and potential. Its construction took huge risks - the engineers only had ten years of reliable water flow data, and the risks of reservoir triggered seismicity were much higher than understood at the time. The design itself was similar to another dam, St. Francis, which had recently collapsed only a few years after construction. Finally, the dam had only a 150-year expected lifetime due to the high level of sediment in the Colorado River, which would eventually fill the reservoir. The impact of sediment has been enhanced by climate change and the general reduction of water levels, because the majority of Lake Mead's storage capacity is in the upper levels, and the lower levels are still filling with sediment.

That sediment had another major impact. Between a lack of sediment and river water diversion, there were a few minor environmental issues downstream:

At the Environmental Defense Fund, Pitt’s main focus for much of her career has been on the Colorado River’s historical delta, an area that was once a complex and intermittently verdant wetland but, now that the river no longer reaches it, has become a million-acre desert.
OG_slinger wrote:

And regardless of what underlying reason Roosevelt may have had for wiring Appalachia and rural areas for electricity, it still was something that needed to be done that business wouldn't do and something that had a beneficial impact on millions of families.

As I've already shown, this simply isn't true. Business was doing it - and at significantly lower cost, both financially and environmentally. Roosevelt's primary accomplishment with the REA was to destroy hundreds of businesses, putting thousands of people out of work and worsening the Depression.

OG_slinger wrote:

It's national energy policy, Aetius. It's not going to make perfect sense and it's going to be a mess of conflicting goals and objectives: from regional job creation to environmental concerns to national energy independence to cost to consumers.

Yes, that is indeed how government works - and why government is a major contributor to climate change. But it doesn't have to be that way. The entire issue is man-made.

OG_slinger wrote:

And taxpayers (or consumers) will always get the shaft. Even if we lived in a perfect world where companies were responsible for the actual costs of their pollution the end result would simply be that consumer had to pay more. Any change from how we operate today--where people and businesses largely ignore the environmental impact of their consumption--will result in higher costs.

Both the premise and the conclusion here are demonstrably false. Over the last fifty years, we've greatly reduced the environmental impact of people and businesses while lowering costs. There's huge synergy between markets valuing efficiency and the reduction of environmental impact - particularly and especially in power generation, where efficiency is king.

Further, it should be pretty obvious that eliminating subsidies and regulation costs for industries that can't survive without subsidies is a net win for everyone - those expenditures are completely counter-productive and wasteful.

OG_slinger wrote:

The important part is that we're moving in the direction of less polluting and more renewable sources of energy production.

The important part is that we're paying on both sides to fight the market trend of less polluting and more renewable energy sources, and we're in our current situation largely because of past government decisions to spend money in similarly bad ways.

OG_slinger wrote:

Had the REA not been passed we very likely wouldn't be any further along the path of renewable energy production because the same things that limit renewable production today--environmental factors and the need for battery storage--would have limited it 70 or 80s years ago (battery storage much more).

This seems extremely unlikely. The heavy market pressure to improve batteries over the last two or three decades has resulted in an incredible development rate:

Heck, if you could put a modern iPhone battery into a 1995 phone, it'd probably go a year on a single charge.

Those improvements are largely chemistry - a well-developed science in the 1930s. With a healthy market across rural America and powerful incentives to improve battery capacity and lifetime while lowering costs, it's quite likely that we'd be decades ahead of where we are now.

OG_slinger wrote:

And, if anything, the Delco Electric Plant would have won out in the market because it was powered by gasoline and could be counted on to provide reliable electricity regardless of location or windiness. So far from your vision of rural America being a renewable energy Mecca, it would have actually been been a polluting mess of millions of polluting gasoline engines charging batteries.

The evidence shows that this simply wasn't likely. People didn't buy wind turbines because they thought they looked pretty. They bought them because they were much cheaper in the long run than supplying a generator with fuel year-round. And modern remote renewable deployments follow the same pattern, being typically wind and/or solar backed by a fossil fuel generator that is only used when needed.

And perhaps more importantly, we'll never know, because Roosevelt and his successors decided that they know better. They have led us to where we are today - paying big bucks to support polluting industries and drive up costs for everyone.

As an aside the materials science involved in modern batteries did not really get into full swing until about 20 years ago.

I would listen to the OG/Aetius debate podcast

Aetius wrote:
OG_slinger wrote:

Rural residents in the 1930s didn't want renewable power. They wanted electricity. The market was for what we now call distributed power generation. And that demand was only there because the producers of electricity found it too expensive to connect rural residences to their grids.

I've just presented hard evidence to the contrary. It's very clear from the historical record that the market was for electricity, companies were supplying it, and rural Americans were more than happy to buy it.

You really haven't, Aetius. You argued that rural America "was leading the world in renewable energy technology" in the 1930s and the proof you gave for that was one company that sold 20,000 windmills (worldwide) and one company that sold over 325,000 kerosene-powered generators.

Rural Americans wanted electricity and, short of getting wired to the grid, meant they needed some way to locally produce and store electricity. And the method they overwhelmingly chose was a fossil fuel-powered generators.

Aetius wrote:

Different market segments with different needs are hardly anything new - different countries standardized on different AC voltages, and this ... hasn't caused any significant problems. The computer you are writing this on uses DC, and has a power supply that can convert a wide range of AC voltages to much lower DC voltages.

But this wasn't a different country standardizing on a different AC voltage. This was companies making electrical generators that only produced DC power in a country that had standardized on AC power for over thirty years.

I mean it's exceptionally telling that the "solution" Jacobs and Delco came up with wasn't to use existing technologies to invert the DC power their systems generated to the AC power that every electrical device made in the country used. It was to either manufacture DC versions of those products or try to get consumer goods manufacturers to produce DC variants of their products. And specially designed products for a tiny market means much higher consumer prices.

Yes, my computer's power supply can convert AC to DC. And it does so with technologies and manufacturing methods that weren't available in the 1930s or for many decades after that.

Aetius wrote:

If they were swimming upstream, why were their businesses growing rapidly ... during the Depression?

Because rural folks--especially farmers--really, really wanted electricity?

Selling any number of wind electric plants would have been rapid growth for Jacobs. They sold about two dozen system from 1927 to 1931 when they moved to Minneapolis. Even then they took more than a year to finish designing their large generator so they didn't start actually manufacturing their systems in any number until the US economy was starting to turn around. Even then they only sold 20,000 systems over the course of 25 years, their peak being the war years.

Delco mostly grew in the 20s, selling 325,000 systems--half the market--by 1928 according to the source you posted. I don't know what their sales were in the early 30s, but the GM Heritage website said they had sold a total of 350,000 systems by 1935.

And they were swimming upstream because they were literally trying to recreate a consumer product ecosystem of DC powered devices. The value proposition of electricity isn't much when there's not a lot of ways people can productively use it.

Aetius wrote:

Jacobs wasn't the only wind turbine manufacturer - there were dozens of other companies, and further even more companies working on passive solar, hydro, and other solutions.

Sure, and the largest wind turbine manufacturer was Windcharger. They sold thousands and thousands of systems that could only charge small batteries, like for radios. Again, rural folks *really* wanted electricity.

As for the other energy technologies you mentioned, two of them lost out in the marketplace of ideas for one reason or another--mostly because of the internal combustion engine and cheap oil.

Shuman's passive solar engine was tested two decades before the REA, but was limited because it took up a large amount of space and, like all solar systems, required lots of direct sunlight. The attempted comeback of the Stirling engine--to run radios--failed because it couldn't be cost effectively produced (and was only targeted at markets that didn't have ready access to batteries). Even then it ran on dirty lamp oil.

Aetius wrote:

As I pointed out in my quote, the cost of a combined wind turbine / generator / battery system was less than the cost of running the lines to rural homes - let alone the cost of building the power plants. Here's more information from the same source:

The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 transformed it to a permanent agency. In the next two years, $210,000,000 was spent on 100,000 miles of power lines to provide electricity to 220,000 farms - $950 per home. At the time, $950 was 55% of the average annual wage of $1,713 or 24% of the average cost of a new home of $3,925 and the population was 128 million total with 40%, or 51 million, living in rural areas. The cost would bring 60 amps of electricity to farms and country homes and businesses who would be charged a monthly service fee and for each unit of electricity forever.

The main problem with the point you're trying to make is that farmers and rural residents weren't charged $950 to get on the electrical grid. The government gave low interest loans to cooperatives who built the power generation facilities and distribution grid and then recouped that cost from customers over 25 years (and, eventually, 35 years).

The man who literally wrote the book on rural electrification--technically a report called the "National Plan for the Advancement of Rural Electrification under Federal Leadership and Control with State and Local Cooperation and as a Wholly Public Enterprise"--found that rural customers would pay about a dollar per month for the first ten kilowatts of electricity and a few pennies for each additional kilowatt.

Economic History Association wrote:

While Roosevelt clearly understood the benefits electrification would bring to the rural American economy, it was Morris L. Cooke who provided vision and leadership to rural electrification efforts under the New Deal. Cooke had led Giant Power, the Pennsylvania rural electrification program, and Roosevelt invited him to address the problem at the federal level. Using data supplied by the utility industry, electrical engineers, Giant Power, and the U. S. Census of 1930, Cooke authored an eleven-page report in 1934 that provided the foundation for a federal rural electrification program. In an appendix to the report, Cooke included detailed estimates of the cost per mile of “high wire” distribution lines and suitable construction materials and standards to use in rural regions. He wrote: “This cost of the line with transformers and meters included for one to three customers will range from $500 to $800 the mile. To amortize this cost in twenty years at four percent involves a cost to each of the three customers on a mile of line of about one dollar a month” (Cooke, 1934, p. 6). Studies commissioned by Cooke suggested that household payments for electricity would be a minimum of one dollar per month for the first ten kilowatts of electricity, three cents per kilowatt for the next forty kilowatts, and two cents per kilowatt for the remaining balance (Cooke, 1934, p. 8). All told, the estimated cost to provide electricity to 500,000 farms, at an average of three farms per mile of rural road, was $112 million, or $225 per farm. In a worst case scenario, if new generating facilities were needed for all 500,000 farms, the 333 power plants that would have to be constructed would cost an additional $87 million. Consequently, Cooke’s high-end estimate for the complete electrical infrastructure needed to bring electrical service to 500,000 rural American farms was $200 million, or $400 per farm (Cooke, 1934, p. 9). The concluding paragraph of his report states that a new “rural electrification agency” should build the necessary infrastructure since the market would not otherwise furnish electricity to sparsely populated localities (Cooke, 1934, p.11).

Aetius wrote:

Clearly, the cost of such a system was well within the financial means of the vast majority of rural Americans, and would have gotten cheaper as volume grew. And that completely ignores the cost of monthly power bills versus a system that provided most of its power for free. This also incentivized rural Americans to push further into renewables because in the long run it is cheaper - something people during the Depression keenly understood.

Only some of the systems provided the power for free, Aetius. You keep forgetting that the most popular electrical generation systems were the ones that ran on kerosene-powered internal combustion engines. North of 750,000 rural households used Delco Light Plants or some other internal combustion engine based system.

Wind powered electrical generation systems could only be used in areas with enough wind. And even then the vast majority of them were only designed to generate enough power to charge small batteries.

Even if Cooke's estimates were woefully low, rural residents were still looking at the choice between dropping a third to all of their annual income on something like a Delco Electric Light Plant and then paying to fuel and maintain it or paying a few dollars a month to a local electric co-op.

Aetius wrote:

Hydropower information...

I'm honestly not sure the point you're trying to make with this section outside of hydro was used to generate a lot of our power at the turn of the last century and now it isn't because 1) we need a lot more power than hydro can produce, and 2) we discovered it's a tremendously ecologically damaging way of producing power.

Aetius wrote:

As I've already shown, this simply isn't true. Business was doing it - and at significantly lower cost, both financially and environmentally. Roosevelt's primary accomplishment with the REA was to destroy hundreds of businesses, putting thousands of people out of work and worsening the Depression.

You haven't shown that, Aetius. Not remotely.

A 1930 census of agriculture found that only 13.4% of 840,000+ farms reported that the owner's dwelling had electric lights and that just 4.1% had electric motors for farm work. If companies like Jacobs or Delco were actually meeting the electrical needs of farms and rural residents then we wouldn't have seen those abysmally low numbers.

Those companies offered stopgap solutions to provide a limited amount of local power generation to people who abandoned by electric companies at a steep upfront cost. And, again, hundreds of thousands of kerosene engines are not environmentally friendly.

It's not like the REA was the first time people realized that the market wasn't meeting the electrical needs of rural residents.

Economic History Association wrote:

The failure of the market to deliver affordable electricity to rural locales led to over thirty state rural power initiatives during the 1920s and early 1930s, as President Herbert Hoover argued that responsibility for rural electrification rested with state government (Brown, 1980, pp. 6 and 29). Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt aggressively promoted rural electrification, and the New York Power Authority was created in 1931 to develop a substantial new source of inexpensive hydroelectric generating capacity along the St. Lawrence River (Brown, 1980, p. 32). But the Depression led to the collapse of many state power authorities and further raised the bar in discouraging private investment in rural electrical infrastructure. When Roosevelt assumed the Presidency on March 4, 1933, the market for new rural electrification investment no longer existed.

And, no, Roosevelt's primary accomplishment with the REA wasn't to destroy hundreds of businesses, putting thousands of people out of work, and worsening the Depression.

The REA was passed in 1936. By that time employment and other economic indicators had recovered to their pre-1929 crash numbers. Additionally, over a billion dollars of the REA's appropriation was allocated to hiring people, 90% of which had to be drawn directly from the local relief roles.

For sake of comparison the largest manufacturer of wind generators, Windcharger, employed a grand total of 52 people in 1934. Jacobs, at its peak--which was during the war--employed 260 people.

Aetius wrote:

Yes, that is indeed how government works - and why government is a major contributor to climate change. But it doesn't have to be that way. The entire issue is man-made.

Of course that's how government works. It's all about trying to balance the needs and desires of different groups of people against larger objectives.

If the world was perfect we would massively subsidize clean and renewable energy and immediately stop subsidizing fossil fuels. But that can't happen--over the short term--because that would absolutely f*ck with regional economies and play hell with unemployment.

Environmentally we should absolutely do that, but politically we can't. The best our government can manage is to move towards cleaner and more environmentally friendly energy sources in ways that don't cause too much disruption.

Climate change is most definitely a man-made problem and as a species we're lazy, cheap, short-sighted, and greedy.

Aetius wrote:

Both the premise and the conclusion here are demonstrably false. Over the last fifty years, we've greatly reduced the environmental impact of people and businesses while lowering costs. There's huge synergy between markets valuing efficiency and the reduction of environmental impact - particularly and especially in power generation, where efficiency is king.

Because the f*cking government encouraged those thing, Aetius.

Power generation companies didn't decide to invest in scrubbers and pollution abatement technologies because they're really environmentally conscious at heart. They were made to by the government. Those same power generation companies didn't switch over to natural gas over the past several years because it was the best environmental choice. They did so because it was cheaper to convert plants to natural gas than it was to add pollution control measures to coal-fired plants.

Power generation companies don't even encourage their customers to use more energy efficient appliances or better insulate their homes because they care about the environment. They do it because it's cheaper to encourage customers to use less electricity than it is to build more production capacity.

Car companies didn't magically decide to make their cars more fuel efficient and less polluting. The government forced them to. And consumers will happily continue to buy massive, gas guzzling SUVs they don't remotely need just as long as gas remains relatively cheap.

Aetius wrote:

The important part is that we're paying on both sides to fight the market trend of less polluting and more renewable energy sources, and we're in our current situation largely because of past government decisions to spend money in similarly bad ways.

We're in our current situation because people don't really want to pay the actual environmental cost of their consumption. They want big houses, big cars, and they don't want to pay a lot of money to cool or heat them or fill them up with gas.

Aetius wrote:

This seems extremely unlikely. The heavy market pressure to improve batteries over the last two or three decades has resulted in an incredible development rate:

Heck, if you could put a modern iPhone battery into a 1995 phone, it'd probably go a year on a single charge.

Those improvements are largely chemistry - a well-developed science in the 1930s. With a healthy market across rural America and powerful incentives to improve battery capacity and lifetime while lowering costs, it's quite likely that we'd be decades ahead of where we are now.

And what caused that heavy market pressure? It wasn't that there were a few million rural households that needed a rechargeable battery system because they weren't connected to an electrical grid. The solution for that would be just to add more big ass, inefficient batteries.

The pressure to dramatically improve batteries came from the fact that consumers consumers started buying billions of portable electronic devices. Only then did battery performance become a huge factor.

Aetius wrote:

The evidence shows that this simply wasn't likely. People didn't buy wind turbines because they thought they looked pretty. They bought them because they were much cheaper in the long run than supplying a generator with fuel year-round. And modern remote renewable deployments follow the same pattern, being typically wind and/or solar backed by a fossil fuel generator that is only used when needed.

The numbers we have show that you are wrong.

About 350,000 Delco Light Plants were purchased throughout the 20s and 30s. They represented half the market for that type of generation system. So 700,000 rural households opted for fossil fuel powered electrical generation. Not only where they among the most numerous systems produced, they were the easiest to use and could be counted on for the most consistent production of power.

Windcharger produced hundreds of thousands of wind generators before their manufacturing plant flooded in the 50s. But, again, virtually all of those systems literally did nothing more than charge a radio battery.

Parris-Dunn Manufacturing Co. made 37,000 wind generators that could also only charge a radio battery and a handful of larger units.

And Jacobs produced 20,000 wind generators from the 30s to the mid-50s, only some of which could generate, at best, a couple hundred kilowatt hours of power per month.

On top of that, as the interview with Jacobs you linked to before shows, the wind generators weren't exactly hassle free systems to use. Owners had to keep and eye out for how much of a charge their batteries held and if it was almost full they had to disconnect it from the wind generator lest they blow out their storage banks.

Aetius wrote:

And perhaps more importantly, we'll never know, because Roosevelt and his successors decided that they know better. They have led us to where we are today - paying big bucks to support polluting industries and drive up costs for everyone.

The REA was a wildly successful program. Within four years the REA brought electricity to more farms than businesses had over the past 30+ years. And the REA just didn't bring enough power to run lights or a radio, it brought enough power for farmers to use machines to increase their efficiency and productivity.