NYT Fact Check Failure Agrees With ‘Independent’ Report Fact Check Failure

Posted on Mon 05/24/2010 by

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By its very nature, this is a long post, but it effectively highlights a deception that is being perpetrated on the public to suit a political agenda.

Don’t you just love it when, in the name of factual media reporting, journalists diligently chase up the actual facts before publishing what they write, instead of just throwing something together.

Such brilliant investigation surfaced with this report from the NYT at the end of last week.

In an effort to pump up support for the American Power Act sponsored by Senators Kerry and Lieberman, the NYT released information from a supposedly independent study on the proposed Bill. This is the link to that ‘independent’ report, and be aware that it is a pdf document, so you’ll need a reader to be able to view it, but really, the basics of what is in that report were covered by the NYT  release.

Let’s just look at some of things that were said by the NYT, and then try and decipher what the article was really trying to say, and if indeed, they did get their facts right.

For a reference point, the chart at left here is the most recent chart released from the Energy Information Administration. This chart shows the actual power consumption for the whole of the U.S. and it is a chart that is readily available for anyone who cares to go looking for it. If you click on the chart, it will open in a new and larger window, and you can then navigate back and forth as I explain some of the things from the media article and you can then see what the actualities are from the chart.

The NYT report says in one place:

For starters, fossil fuels would fall from 84 percent of the current U.S. energy supply down to 70 percent in 2030. By contrast, renewables and nuclear energy would soar by 2030 from their current 8 percent rates for U.S. energy consumption, to 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Where the NYT says here that the energy produced from current fossil fuel usage stands at 84% currently, let’s look at that.

Coal Fired Power which currently stands at 48.2% uses a fossil fuel to generate power. The Natural Gas Sector also uses a fossil fuel, and that stands at 20.5%, and the smaller slice of the chart there is for petroleum based power generation, and that stands at 1%. Add them together and the current total for fossil fuel energy consumption stands at 69.7%, significantly lower than what this report states as 84%, and even lower than the hoped for target in 2030 of 70%.

Surely you must wonder how, when a chart like this is freely available, an error of this magnitude can get by as fact. Just how could something like that happen?

Then, look on the chart at the power being consumed from the renewable sector, that small slice indicating it at 3.7%. The sector for nuclear power indicates consumption at 20.3%. When combined, the total for these two sectors stands at 24% of all electrical power being consumed in the U.S.

That Renewable sector, while standing at 3.7% in total, is in fact made up of five different areas of generation, wind power the largest of these. In isolation Wind power made up 1.79% of all electrical power consumed in the US for 2009, and Solar Power made up 0.02% of the total for that same year.

The NYT, however, says the current total for renewables and Nuclear when added together stands at 8%. Again, surely you must wonder how an error like this can get by as fact, when the current totals of 24% are actually significantly higher right now than the levels of 16 and 18% that they say it will ‘soar’ to in 2030.

The NYT article then goes on to say:

By 2030, the report said renewables would account for 18 percent of all power generation capacity, up from 12 percent today, and 21 percent of all electricity production, up from 10 percent today.

As you can see from the chart, renewables currently stand at only 3.7%, positively nowhere even close to the stated current level of 12%.

Again, how can something as dramatically wrong as this is get stated as fact?

It also has this to say on the Nuclear power sector:

The bill would spawn 68 gigawatts of new nuclear power production due to $36 billion in loan guarantees and a 10 percent investment tax credit for plants that are in operation by 2025. That means nuclear power would account for 15 percent of power generation capacity by 2030, compared to 10 percent today.

As is easy to see from the current chart, the Nuclear power sector generates 20.3% of electrical power currently being consumed, already way higher now than the hoped for target of 15% by 2030.

Just how did this get reported in this manner?

Quite easy really.

The ‘Independent’ Report based all their figures on the installed capacity of electrical power generating plants, and not on the power that those plants were actually delivering to the grids for consumers, and that is a very important distinction. The NYT then just reported this as fact, believing this ‘independent’ report without actually checking the facts.

There is a distinct difference in the way electrical power figures can be shown.

A power plant has a Nameplate Capacity. This is the amount of power it can theoretically generate when it operates at its absolute maximum.

The more important figure however is how much power the plant actually delivers to the grids across the U.S. for actual consumption. That figure is achieved by the use of what may seem to be a complex technical calculation, but when it is explained, it can then be understood.

That technical calculation is as follows.

NP X 24 X 365.25 X 1000 X ER

NP is the plants Nameplate Capacity. 24 is the hours in a day. 365.25 is the days in a year, accounting for the leap year. The figure of 1000 converts the nameplate capacity expressed in MegaWatts (MW) to the consumed figure expressed in KiloWattHours. (KWH) That last thing ER stands for the Efficiency Rating of power delivered, which is actual power delivered to the grid versus the theoretical total it could deliver over the year. This ER takes into account the down time during the year for maintenance, and also times when the plant is not delivering power to the grid.

A large scale nuclear power plant, or for that fact a large scale coal fired plant usually delivers its power on a 24/7/365 basis, in other words, while ever the plant is running, it is delivering its maximum power to the grid.

Nuclear plants have the highest ER of all plants and that usually comes in at around 92.5% when worked out across the board for all nuclear plants in the Country. Large scale Coal fired plants come in at around 87.5%, and the totals across the Country for all coal fired plants can be lower than that, because smaller coal fired plants are not run for the full 24 hours of every day, because those smaller plants can be used to provide Peaking Power, in other words used only when excess power is required for consumption at Peak times, the early AM hours and the mid PM to late PM hours.

Those plants in the Natural Gas sector make up the largest total for their Installed Nameplate Capacity, and that figure is far and away the highest. However, these plants are mainly used to provide Peaking power for those times when demand is greatest. They are specifically designed to run up to speed fast, and supply power for limited time periods, so while they make up by far the largest Nameplate Capacity, they supply less power to the grids, as shown in the above chart, coming in at 20.5%, and as an example notice this figure for actual consumed power is almost exactly equal to the power supplied from the Nuclear sector, even though this Natural gas sector has a Nameplate Capacity total more than four times that of the Nuclear sector.

However, when it comes to those two major renewable power plants, Wind and Solar, that figure for ER is significantly lower. This is because the wind is variable and Solar power can only be generated when the Sun shines.

The current US average for the ER from Wind Power stands at around 20%, which is also around the current Worldwide average. This effectively means that all those wind towers when averaged are only supplying power for less than 5 hours a day.

For Solar Power, that ER figure is significantly lower even than for Wind Power, and is usually in the vicinity of 10% to 15% at the absolute best. The figures for six months of the year, mid Autumn through Winter and into mid Spring show that solar plants deliver considerably less power again, and as shown graphically with actual statistics from the Winter just gone, that ER percentage of actual power delivery was as low as 7.5%, effectively meaning they are only supplying their power for less than 2 hours a day, but really that is neither here nor there, as, in total, that amount of power actually delivered to all US grids amounted to 0.002% of all power consumed for that month of January.

One version of Solar, (Concentrating Solar or Solar Thermal) can be constructed to supply its power for the full 24 hours, but this is only achieved with the use of a Natural Gas turbine to drive the generator while the compound is not sufficiently molten enough to generate steam to drive the turbine.

Now, why I have carefully explained this is to accentuate the errors made by the ‘independent’ report, which were then reported by the NYT, and to explain how they could get it so wrong, and here it needs to be kept in mind that the NYT just copied across what was in the initial ‘Independent’ report on the American Power Act.

How they got it so wrong is that they calculated their totals on the Nameplate Capacity of the plants.

To show you just how they did all this, go to the ‘independent’ report, and then scroll down to Page 6. At the top of that page is Table 2, which shows the Installed Nameplate Capacity for U.S. electrical power generation as it stood in 2008. The source for these figures is indeed the Energy Information Administrations own site, and that is at this link. At the top there is the date, 2008, and the figures this ‘independent’ report used are based on those figures from that source page.

Those nameplate capacities shown there indicate that their totals are indeed quite high. However, the actual figures for power delivered to the grids will always be totally and utterly different than what those Nameplate Capacity figures indicate.

For the most recent totals of power actually delivered to grids across the U.S. that same huge organisation, the Energy Information Administration produces a Monthly Report with actual figures for consumption dating back only three months. Those statistics are easily accessibly by anyone willing to look at the following links, and that chart above accurately represents those statistics.

Net Generation from all sources.

Net Generation from the Renewable sector.

When comparing Nameplate Capacity to actual power delivered for use by consumers, a different picture emerges.

Wind Power offers the perfect example of this.

The U.S. currently is the largest producer of power from wind towers on Earth.

It has a Nameplate Capacity of 38,000MW. This is in fact quite a large number. As an example a large scale coal fired power plant has a nameplate capacity of 2000MW, so this number for wind of 38,000MW amounts to an equivalent of 19 of these large coal fired plants.

However, actual power delivery to the grids across the U.S. shows a completely different picture.

In the whole year of 2009, that 38,000MW of Wind power delivered less power to the grids across the U.S. than 4 of those 19 equivalent coal fired power plants.

So, that figure of 38,000MW, while seeming to be quite large, delivers only one fifth of its theoretical total power to grids for consumers.

To further accentuate just how wrong this ‘Independent’ report was, refer to the total Nameplate Capacity of Nuclear power plants of 101,000MW. The Nameplate Capacity for Wind plants is currently 38,000MW. From that, the Nuclear power total is only 2.65 times greater than Wind. However, when the stats for actual power delivered to grids for use by consumers is looked at, then Nuclear power delivered 800 Billion KWH to the grids while Wind delivered only 70 Billion KWH, so Nuclear power delivered 11.45 times the power. See now how the incorrect use of carefully selected stats paints an entirely different picture.

As for solar power in the U.S. this is one area where the figures are completely and utterly misrepresented. Consider those 19 equivalent coal fired plants I used in reference to Wind Power. When it comes to Solar power I want you to read this very carefully.

Just ONE of those coal fired plants delivered more power to U.S. grids in 17 days than the total power supplied to grids by every solar power plant across the whole of the U.S. for the whole of the year 2009.

So, those figures used in the ‘independent’ report, and then reported as fact in the NYT article can be artificially manipulated to look like something other than what are actual facts.

That is how the NYT reported this, just copying verbatim from the ‘independent’ report.

What now worries me is that this report is touted as ‘Independent’. Real independent checking might have delved a little more deeply than what this one has. They have quoted figures for Nameplate Capacity and not those for actual power being consumed by actual consumers of electrical power, and as I have explained those figures are totally and utterly misleading.

You can have thousands and thousands of wind towers, and then quote the total capacity for the nacelles behind those (sometimes) rotating fan blades. However, the power that they actually DELIVER is more important.

The NYT then goes on to say:

This Senate proposal would prompt 24 gigawatts of new renewable power generation over the next 20 years, with the majority in wind (58 percent), followed by biomass (23 percent) and solar (13 percent). By 2030, the report said renewables would account for 18 percent of all power generation capacity, up from 12 percent today, and 21 percent of all electricity production, up from 10 percent today.

This again quotes Nameplate Capacity, giving the impression that the increase will in fact be quite large. The Wind Power factor of this amounts to14,000MW which on the current 20% Efficiency rate for delivery of power would amount to an increase in consumed power of 24,500 Million KWH. (The current total is 70,500 Million KWH.) When compared to current figures, this effectively means that wind power increases its percentage of power delivered to grids from what exists now at 1.8% to a new overall percentage of 2.4%, absolutely nowhere near the quoted figure of 21%, considering the report itself says that Wind will make up the bulk of that figure.

The solar power area quoted from the report will result in an increase from the current 0.02% to a new total of 0.08%.

So, as can be easily seen, when Nameplate Capacity figures are quoted it is easy to see what seems like a large increase in Power generation, when those figures for actual power being consumed after delivery to the grids is a quantum level less. I understand fully how a range of statistics like this can sometimes be difficult to comprehend fully, but the stark nature of those figures when explained correctly provides a completely different picture.

You can have all the wind towers you like and all the solar plants that can be constructed. However, they are totally useless if they are not actually delivering power to actual consumers.

It’s a lot like having a shiny new car. It looks great and has the potential to fulfill your every driving need. However, if that car only starts up and runs one time in every five, then it’s next to useless.

I’m not sure what is most reprehensible in all this.

The fact that an ‘Independent’ report was commissioned to tell the public exactly what Senators Kerry and Lieberman wanted you to hear, or that the NYT then further adds to the deception by reporting on that.

Either way, you, the public are not being told the truth of the matter.

The NYT story, and the ‘independent’ report also deal with the three main thrusts of this legislation. There’s not enough space here to write on these, but if you do want some real independent information on what the legislation actually does call for, then visit these four posts.

Kerry Lieberman – The Great Big April Fools Day Tax Grab which deals with the Carbon Cap and trade area of the legislation.

Kerry Lieberman American Power Act – Unintended Consequences which details how Cap and Trade even affects the Renewable Power sector.

Kerry Lieberman’s Clean Coal Hole In The Ground – Just Throw In Money which details what the legislation says about Carbon Capture and Storage.

Kerry Lieberman American Power Act – Renewable Power – Strike Three which details the actual ramifications of the rush to Renewable Power.