Letter to Editor | Assumptions, Habits, and Friday Harbor EV Car Show

— from Bill Appel —

San Juan County is a treasured as a place to live and to visit. Convenience at the expense of the environment is not generally honored here. But habits, arising out of assumptions, are.
“Assumptions over time become habits … and then taken for granted ,,, and then invisible…” —–Bob Tinker, founder and CFO of MobileIron.

Most of us live by invisible assumptions that cause invisible carbon pollution because we’ve lived in a petroleum-based economy all our lives. This is where some of us come in: those who can afford to lease or buy a new or used electric vehicle (EV) today.

With more EV sales or leases, production efficiency goes up and prices go down. Then more of us can step from the gas pedal to a carbon-free world. Help the planet break its invisible habit! Help yourself and reduce running and repair costs.

Join us at the Friday Harbor EV car show, Saturday, Apr. 29, 2017 at the Courthouse Parking Lot, 12:30 to 3:30 PM. See the latest and not-so-latest EVs, talk to their owners. See the EV a bunch of San Juan kids just built. EVs look just like the habit you’re used to.

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Letter to Editor | Assumptions, Habits, and Friday Harbor EV Car Show — 7 Comments

  1. Mr. Webster, you are right from a cost point of view.

    Unfortunately, a gas car getting better than 35 mpg is cleaner (from a CO2 point of view) that an electric powered LEAF. This is because the LEAF runs on electricity and new demand for electricity must come from available generating capacity on the electric grid. There is NO clean hydro power sitting around idle waiting to fuel your electric cars. That available generation, most of the time, is COAL.

  2. Not in the Northwest. There is only one coal powered plant left in WA, none in OR and only 9 scattered across the whole five state NW region, mostly in the eastern part. Hydro accounts for 54.4% of our energy and those generators run even when there is no peak demand. In the peak demand periods, extra energy is provided by natural gas. Thanks to some large wind farms south of Yakima, Idaho and Montana, wind provides us with more energy than coal and that is increasing.

    So, when do you charge your car? Most likely during non-peak periods. Electric cars make a great deal of sense for us in the NW. Perhaps not in some other areas of the country, but coal is being phased out pretty much everywhere.

  3. Not only not in the Northwest, not in the San Juans! The BPA delivery point to us is (using a water analogy) immediately “downstream” of BC Hydro’s delivery to BPA. Every other energy source is “downstream” because that line doesn’t run backwards (upstream) from BPA to BC Hydro. So we drink the “pure” power, the rest of the state which does have a mixture of various (some polluting) energy sources.

    Our use of hydro does not force others onto coal. If we didn’t take it, BC hydro would spill it because coal isn’t a rational pricing choice, it’s baked in due to PSE’s bulk purchase contract with TransAlta (The Chehalis coal/gas plants), under which PSE has to take power shortage or not. In its deal with the state, TrasAlta is allowed to certify that gas/coal power as RENEWABLE which PSE buys to falsely but legally spruce up its renewables portfolio. But in exchange, TransAlta has agreed with the state to close all four units by 2015. That deal is not going to make me decide to delay buying an EV.

    The other source of coal power in Washington is the Colstrip coal plant in Montana. Negotiations are underway to close that plant also, with the WUTC considering allowing PSE (a part owner) a rate increase to cover the lost amortization of its ownership of that asset. The guess is that that plant will close by 2027. I’m not going to wait until 2027 for this one either. In fact we bought a Chevrolet Bolt three days ago.

    Coal plants make lousy peakers (sources of fill-in power, the function that Tom Owens suggests they fill) between gouts of wind, sun and hydro. They are expensive to start and stop, requiring long run-up and run-down periods burning fuel the whole time. That’s why you don’t just “go to coal” to meet excess (peak) load.They are also too expensive to run as base load because as Tom Owens correctly points out, their fuel is the most expensive. Gas generators are very effective peakers because they run up much more quickly. Coal is now a dinosaur and continues to run in the Northwest at all solely due to long term contracts and the arcane rules of utility accounting.

    One more comment about EVs and “range anxiety.” If you drive an EV the way you drive an internal combustion (ICE) vehicle, and you never use the regeneration control, the advertised mileage is real. On Easter we visited our son, and found the “battery miles” to be only three fourths of the “road miles.” Downhill you put power back into your battery. ICEs burn gas going up and going down. I would postulate that the EPA numbers are low as they don’t take regeneration into account. The difference is huge.

  4. Unfortunately, we are all connected in one giant power grid, the WECC. So you can not segregate Washington or Oregon from the rest. In 2015, the last data available from the WECC, COAL provided 26% of the energy generated. Hydro produced 23%. Gas was the largest with 32%. Wind was 5%. Solar was 2%. (Ref WECC State of the Interconnection).

    How can not say coal is not significant? It is the second largest source of electric energy in the WECC.

    Please take a look at what is really going on here. If San Juan County has a “right” (and it does not) to BPA hydro, then someone else must give up their access to BPA hydro. Where do they go for their needs? There is no more hydro for new loads (your electric cars) or their shifted loads. They must go to fossil fuels and mostly coal. Is this their fault or yours?

  5. The physical real-world reality exceeds the theoretical. It is no longer the zero-sum game described by Tom Owens, whose opinions I respect. Coal plants are designed to run 24/7, are are at their most inefficient when used as he suggests: as “peakers” filling in last use need at times of peak power demand. It takes time for coal plants to get up to temperature and up to speed, and they can’t be cooled down quickly. Both ens of that process require coal during those periods of non-production, which is why gas, not only cheaper but a much faster source of heat, it shouldering coal aside. Rapid thermal cycling is hard on coal plants; they weren’t designed for that. Tom Owens’ argument holds well in TVA country where coal is if not king, then certainly crown prince, and coal plants run 24/7 to supply base load to the Southeastern US. There, coal is the energy source of first, not last, resort.

    But coal plants would not be running AT ALL in the Northwest if it weren’t for (1) the fact that the utilities that own them didn’t have to amortize their investments in them under arcane utility accounting rules that allow higher rates to be paid by ratepayers, and (2) TransAlta (owner of Washington’s only coal plant), under a deal with the state that allows TransAlta to fraudulently but legally sell its coal power to PSE as RENEWABLE so PSE can bolster its “renewables” portfolio in return for TransAlta’s obligation to close that plant by 2025 (it may happen sooner). The only other coal plant supplying Washington is the Colstrip plant (several, actually) in Montana, currently under negotiation to close under what will probably be similar term. PSE customers will, of course, bear the brunt of whatever is worked out.

    In short, coal is not used as a “peaker” in our region as Tom suggests, it is run on a financial glucose drip to save the investors an investor-owned utility whose profits are guaranteed under state law. This has an irrational result under Tom’s theory, and here I agree with him. I explain the problem below.

    San Juan County (OPALCO) is neither in the worst position (the TVA-served region) or the Northwest power pool. It quietly draws from BC Hydro through a straw provided by BPA. This has absolutely nothing to do with legal entitlement, and everything to do with current, like water, not flowing backwards. OPALCO get first draw on BC Hydro power coming into BPA from Canada.

    First: OPALCO’s power is 100% hydro. There are no ifs, ands or buts. Due to our upstream source of hydro-power, our power cannot physically include the polluting forms of power that BPA reports annually as part of what it provides to the NW power pool. OPALCO doesn’t and physically cannot draw from that pool.

    Second: this power, like BPA’s own hydro, is excess hydro. If it weren’t, BC Hydro would shut us off. Again, physical necessity trumps the legal (so that out is always in the contract). And on the Washington side, hydro is also excess. In the spring, hydro runs so strongly that WIND POWER is shut down. This has happened more than once. Are the coal plants the last resort? Nope! The coal plants, operating under the arcane rules I’ve described and in spite of their hardiness in 24/7 runs, are actually quite fragile when used as “peakers”due to temperature stresses and the waste of fuel during long run-up and cool-down periods. So while wind is shut down, the coal plants keep going! This is an institutional defect and has nothing to do with Tom’s cost-of-fuel logic.

    Two final points:

    (1) Those who are determined to retain a treasured habit through which their beliefs formed will continue to find reasons. Humanity exists on this planet at a cost to the planet and to other life. There are pros and cons for everything we do, because we are here and we do things. It is important, though, that the choice be deliberate and not habit-based or energized.

    (2) Because OPALCO receives pure hydro-power from another country via BPA, its demand has no effect on the NW power pool. Under no conceivable circumstances could OPALCO’s power demands increase the use of coal generated power which now operate for reasons wholly unrelated to the logic that Tom Owens suggests. It’s frankly outrageous, but it’s the reality, supervening even Tom’s perfectly reasonable logic.