The Future For Electrical Power After Waxman Markey And Kerry Boxer (Part 4)

Posted on Thu 11/05/2009 by



October 2009 Chart

October Chart for U.S. Electrical Power Consumption.

The image at left is the current chart for electrical power consumption for the U.S. The chart is from the huge Government site at the Energy Information Administration. This chart is from the October Quarter Report and is for the previous 3 months. Click on the image to open it in a new and larger window.

In the earlier posts on this subject, I showed how the intent of both the Waxman Markey and Kerry Boxer Bills was not to actually reduce Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Greenhouse gas, but just to place a further cost on them. This new tax, and really, there’s no other name for it, will have an effect on nearly three quarters of all electrical power generated in the U.S. and even power generated in the Renewable sector was not spared.

There are only 2 sectors where this new tax will not be levied. They are power generated from the Nuclear process, and the power generated from the Hydroelectric process, both of these amounting to 28% of all electrical power consumed within the U.S. both these processes emitting no CO2 whatsoever from the generation of the electrical power. True, none is emitted from Wind which makes up 1.48% of the consumed power but that sector is still only tiny in comparison to the overall consumption.

However, closer inspection of those 2 sectors from the data, and not the chart show that they are actually increasing the level of consumed power. That makes it seem that there is new power coming on line which is not the case. As coal fired power decreases as those older plants close down, the only methods of generation that can supply power on a dedicated 24 hour basis, and in large amounts are from those 2 sectors, Nuclear and Hydro. Every other sector decreased production except for those two, and to a much lesser degree, Wind, which added power, but significantly lower than from Nuclear and Hydro. This added power is not from new nuclear plants or new hydro plants, just that they have been tasked to provide a greater amount of power to take up some of that lost from coal fired sources.

Even though these two methods produce no CO2 emissions, there is little hope that any new plants will be planned from these two methods. Nuclear power plants are all but impossible to try and construct these days, and if they can jump all the hurdles, they are still a long way off into the future, and they will always suffer from the greatest hurdle of all, that being Political Will, when votes from the No nuclear lobby have one hundred times the value of those in favor. In the case of Hydro power, that is even more difficult than for nuclear power. There is less than zero chance of constructing a new dam with a large hydro electric generating capability, so much so that this method of power generation is not even considered outside a thought bubble.

So then, what is the future for electrical power in the U.S. This may sound bleak, but there is just no point in painting a rosy picture just for the sake of doing so.

I’m actually going to use China as a comparison here, because it is worthwhile to do so.


I have mentioned that the coal fired sector in the U.S. has its whole inventory quickly approaching the end of their economic life with an average age of around 48 years. Their licenses can be extended, but the technology will still be old. These are old technology plants and as efficient as they were when they were new, they are now dinosaurs.

I have often said that China is bringing new coal fired power to the grid, not just starting construction, but finishing and commissioning them at the rate of one large plant every seven days. They are not doing this to thumb their noses at the environment, but out of necessity to bring electrical power to their vast populace, and even now, only 8% of all generated power goes to the residential sector, while in the U.S. 37% goes to the residential sector.

Advances in technology at coal fired plants see much better furnaces for burning the coal, a more efficient generation of the steam itself. The turbine technology has also improved out of sight, and the generator technology itself has seen even greater improvements in technology. With all those improvements in technology, those large power plants can produce considerably more electrical power from plants a fraction the size of those older technology plants, which is every U.S. coal plant. As well as this, a considerably smaller amount of coal needs to be burned to produce that greater amount of electrical power from those smaller plants, hence even less CO2 is being emitted. It has now got to the stage where the world leader in coal fired power plant design is indeed China. Their efficiency rates are now aprroaching a third to double the efficiency of current old style U.S. plants.

China is also working on even newer technology coal fired plants where the coal is gassified first, this gas then being burned in the conventional steam method. These produce half the emissions of conventional coal fired plants. China is also ‘experimenting’ with Carbon Capture and Storage, but they seem to have cottoned on early that this is basically a pipe dream that will never come to pass on the scale required.

So, when it comes to coal fired power, China is actually doing something while all that is happening in the U.S. is that those old plants are closing down with nothing coming on line to replace them.


The U.S currently has the largest inventory of Wind Power on the Planet, recently surpassing Germany, where, as I so graphically explained last week, the whole inventory of  more than 18,000 towers can still only supply power for 20% of the time, wonderful when power is needed for all 24 hours in every day. So while the U.S. proudly boasts its green credentials, China has also quietly been constructing Wind Plants as well, and in fact, sometime during the next 12 months China will become the largest user of Wind Power on the Planet. Again, what must be stressed here is that electrical power is required for all 24 hours of every day of every year, not just on a sporadic basis of less than 5 hours of the day on average. As I have so often said, Wind Power is NOT the answer.


The US currently produces 20% of its power from the Nuclear source, China is still in its infancy here, and has 4 large plants currently, but it also has 12 large plants under construction. These plants will provide a nameplate capacity of a further 66,000MW, and when finished China will have almost 70% of the current U.S. level of power from nuclear sources. Again, these plants are not the older style first generation nuclear plants that the US currently has, but newer Generation 2 and 3 plants. Consider France where 90% of the total power production comes from Nuclear sources. So much so, that France actually exports more than 10% of its Nuclear electrical power generation total, and just under 80% of all France’s consumed power is generated by its 59 Nuclear Power Plants.


This is another area where the Chinese are literally ‘streets’ ahead of the U.S. and the rest of the World. Currently they have 175,000MW of nameplate capacity. They also have a further 80,000MW under construction and a further 40,000MW in the planning stages. All of that will provide nearly 300,000MW of nameplate capacity, the equivalent of 150 large coal fired power plants. This amounts to just on one third of the total U.S. power production from EVERY source. Currently, almost 20% of all electrical power in China comes from Hydro. Of the 25 largest hydro plants under construction on the Planet, 19 of these are in China. Of the 20 proposed hydro schemes, 12 of them are in China. Currently China has more than double the U.S. hydro capability, and when all are in place will have almost 4 times what the U.S. generates from hydro. The Rampart Dam Project proposed in Alaska during the 50’s was perceived as being able to supply all Alaska’s power (at the time) with the considerable excess being exported to Western U.S. States. The project was vehemently opposed on all quarters, shelved, and then Jimmy Carter made the land The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Sanctuary, forever protecting the land from anything like this ever being raised again. It would have provided 5,000MW of clean constant and CO2 free power.


The future for electrical power in the U.S.

Coal. Old plants closing down. No new plants coming on line. Carbon Capture and Storage. (Clean Coal) A far off dream, a disproved fallacy, expensive, one third to one half of the generated power needed to implement it, if it can ever be proved.

Hydro. Zero future.

Nuclear. Problematic future lacking political will, and with more political hurdles being placed in its path.

Natural Gas. (Methane) Probable future, but limited to Peaking Power applications. Still produces half the CO2 of coal.

Petroleum. Small boutique plants, old technology, dying off as fast as coal.

Solar. Boutique plants only supplying limited amounts of power on limited time basis. Currently 0.02% of all consumed power. Can never be made to supply regular amounts of large scale electrical power. Concentrating Solar still subject to CO2 emissions from out of hours generation.

Wind. Booming, with huge influxes of money. Requires huge Government subsidies. Supplies minimal power for around 5 hours a day on average. Still only supplying 1.48% of all consumed power. Will never take up the bulk of the requirement.

Other Renewables. Again, boutique amounts of power on a limited basis, and still emitting CO2.

That is about as bleak a picture as there can be painted. It is however the fact of the matter.

While China rushes forward with the newest and best of the technologies in every sector, the newest of the plants, increasing capacity hand over fist in an effort to bring their Country up to what we already have, the U.S. stagnates on almost every front. It’s just so easy to point the finger at China just because it’s ….. well, China, but they are actually doing something. This is why both China, and to a lesser extent India, will not agree to anything at Copenhagen, because if they do, it condemns them to go back to the 18th Century subsistence lifestyle with no electrical power. A lot of things about China might not be what we expect in the Countries we live in, but they actually are looking to the future.

And what is the answer that the new Obama Administration gives us. Not to build new plants that actually can supply power into the future.


What they give us is a new tax on three quarters of all our electrical power, and actively discouraging the other quarter.

A new Tax. Well done Henry Waxman. Well done Ed Markey. Well done John Kerry. Well done Barbara Boxer, and a big hearty well done to you too Nancy Pelosi. (Refer to this post for the Pelosi reference.)

Not a plan for the future, Just a new tax. You guys have surpassed yourself.