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AI Wessex
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We talk about the consumer cost of different products, government subsidies and the profits that go to the vendors. The US has spent about $8T in the last 35 years or so on military security in the Persian Gulf region, including fighting wars on oil's behalf. How much federal money is spent protecting the solar supply, and how much is it worth?
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Gaoics79
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Well gosh, now that you put in that way, my $80 monthly electrical bill (not counting heating, cooking or hot water, which are all gas powered)seems just so cheap to me. Really, it's just too cheap.

I'm going to lobby my local MP to bring in even more fantastic windmills and solar plants in Ontario. I could have sworn that these were massive white elephant green projects bleeding the taxpayers dry with subsidies and "feed-in-tariffs" driving electricity rates in Ontario to the highest in North America and to rise 42 percent by 2018 Ontario rates set to rise but you have set me straight.

I see now because the USA spent 8 trillion on the Middle East, our rates must really be the lowest in North America.

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Gaoics79
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Al, in all seriousness, while I appreciate your point, taking 35 years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and then just calling that "oil" an then using that to rationalize away the costs of green energy sources is silly.

The reality is, there are technological hurdles to solar being economical that can't just be wished away or subsidized out of existence (as our government here in Ontario tried to do, to disastrous and costly effect).

Solar and wind are, to be blunt, really ****ty technologies right now. They can't replace fossil fuels now. And they are expensive. Ridiculously expensive.

[ December 08, 2013, 08:03 AM: Message edited by: jasonr ]

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PSRT
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Jason, on an unsubsidized cost per kilowatt hour, solar has been rapidly gaining on oil and coal, and within the next 5 years or so, if current trends continue, will be cheaper than oil and coal. When looking at subsidy costs, yeah, some of our military expenditures have to be taken into account, but so does direct subsidy of oil and coal, which cuts the costs of those energy, to the consumer, by about 15-20%.
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Gaoics79
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PSRT, I'm sure they are. But what Al is describing is called a sunk cost. Even if it can be laid unilaterally at the feet of oil (not sure what that has to do with coal, mind you), it's ridiculous to talk about it in a discussion about real power costs on a going forward basis.

Incidentally, shale sources in the U.S. are set to make you guys energy independent very shortly, meaning the Middle East is no longer as critical as it once was.

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Gaoics79
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PSRT, if that's true then I am pleased. I certainly hope it's true. I know our government's flirtation with wind power (which gives too much when he don't need it and too little when we do need it) has been a catastrophe, even with massive budget-busting government subsidy on both sides of the equation.

As for solar, is that practical for a Canadian climate? Genuinely curious on that point.

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AI Wessex
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"Al, in all seriousness, while I appreciate your point, taking 35 years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and then just calling that "oil" an then using that to rationalize away the costs of green energy sources is silly."

I assume you didn't read the article I linked to. Don't forget that the $8T was US expenditures, not Canadian. I imagine Canada's contribution was tiny in comparison.

"The reality is, there are technological hurdles to solar being economical that can't just be wished away or subsidized out of existence (as our government here in Ontario tried to do, to disastrous and costly effect)."

Would the cost to make solar effective approach anywhere near $8T over 35 years (that's $225B/yr)?

There are a number of regions in Canada where solar can be as effective today as in the US. It's still more expensive than oil, but don't forget that oil (in the US, at least) is subsidized and has destructive impact on the environment for which cleanup and restoring costs will continue for decades after those oil sources are depleted.

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PSRT
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I have no idea whether solar is practical in most of canada. I do know where I live, which is about 43 degrees north, solar panels on my roof would provide about 90% of the electricity that we consume. Most of the reason we couldn't get to 100% is the tilt of our roof and how we sit on the property. I suspect that over the next decade, new houses will be built on lots to maximize solar potential.
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LetterRip
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jasonr,

the 'military cost of oil' has been around for a long time. It is a real and ongoing externality cost of oil.

Personally I think it should be an externality that should be directly included in the cost of oil products. Ie reduce our federal income taxes that are used to pay the military, and increase the tax on oil to offset that. Oil would likely increase in price to about what Europeans pay per liter.

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Greg Davidson
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The recurring cost of solar power is in part based on the level of nonrecurring investments that have been made, and part based on how much recurring production there is (it gets cheaper per kW if you can spread the nonrecurring costs on top of a broader base of recurring production).

The current Administration has contributed to more progress in renewable energy production than I have seen in previous Administrations, and the recent Executive Order to aim at a long term goal of 20% renewables for federal government use is a pretty big further driver. That being said, there is considerable uncertainty in the cost/benefit calculation, because the range of uncertainty regarding the negative externalities from climate change.

Let me pro-actively add that the green benghazi, Solyndra, is a childish tantrum of an argument that doesn't speak to the important issues regarding net benefits of past policy (to make a Solyndra-based argument that matters, you would need to show the performance of the overall suite of climate investments, and compare it against other advanced/research/venture capital baselines, then add in the impact of the relative proportion of stimulus funding over the time at which the whole suite of investments were made).

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edgmatt
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quote:
I suspect that over the next decade, new houses will be built on lots to maximize solar potential.
I doubt it. I bet they will be built for looks as the top priority, with everything else as a secondary concern. If they can do both, I'm sure you are right that they will be, but not as a priority.
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Pete at Home
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We could always harness methane power from decaying organic garbage and feces. Mad Max III anyone? Dunno why this isn't done. In sewage treatment plants, they take efforts to dispose of the dangerous methane. Why not burn it in a way that generates electricity on the spot? That's actually more environmentally friendly than letting it release into the atmosphere where it's much nastier heat-trapping gas than mere CO2.

(Burning methane -> CO2+water.)

Doesn't sound terribly expensive. What am I missing here?

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Pete at Home
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Ah, finally being done in the USA: http://inhabitat.com/worlds-largest-biogas-fuel-cell-power-plant-launches-at-california-sewage-treatment-facility/
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MattP
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quote:
We could always harness methane power from decaying organic garbage...
I had thought this was relatively common now. I know the Salt Lake City landfill captures methane and uses is to generate power.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
We talk about the consumer cost of different products, government subsidies and the profits that go to the vendors. The US has spent about $8T in the last 35 years or so on military security in the Persian Gulf region, including fighting wars on oil's behalf. How much federal money is spent protecting the solar supply, and how much is it worth?

Ah, you underestimate the US government's ability to waste enormous amounts of money on any area deemed important, including renewable energy.

Just last year the federal government put 30% tariffs on Chinese solar panels. That cost US consumers about $1 billion dollars this year. Assuming the solar industry grows as quickly as many hope I could see that costing on the order of $1 trillion over the next 35 years. Not quite $8 trillion but not exactly pocket change either.

And China has responded with tariffs of their own. These economic wars can destroy just as much value as the conventional ones.

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AI Wessex
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Import tariffs are meant to suppress imports and spur domestic production. With subsidies our prices will become more affordable and then will continue to drop.
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Charles in Charge
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Paying more for less leads to lower prices? Then why stop at solar panels? We should subsidize every industry, put tariffs on every import.
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AI Wessex
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The Chinese have been flooding the market with solar components at heavily subsidized and below cost prices. If you think putting tariffs on all import goods to deal with the solar panel issue, I respectfully disagree.
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Mynnion
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As Al stated it has been almost impossible for US based Solar developers and manufacturers to compete because of huge Chinese subsides. While the idea of cheaper solar is certainly attractive the tariffs should act for better products and long term benefits by evening the playing field.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
Paying more for less leads to lower prices? Then why stop at solar panels? We should subsidize every industry, put tariffs on every import.

Are those also industries where there is still clear technological room for us to become a dominant market player if we encourage domestic production, and thus investment in production?

You're suggesting a false equivalence here that's a bit blind to strategy around trying to compete for dominance with emerging technologies as compared to established market specialties. It's not like we're talking about policies equivalent to France trying to bolster domestic single malt production or Scotland trying to take over the wine market.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by Mynnion:
As Al stated it has been almost impossible for US based Solar developers and manufacturers to compete because of huge Chinese subsides. While the idea of cheaper solar is certainly attractive the tariffs should act for better products and long term benefits by evening the playing field.

So just to be clear.

US subsidies for the solar industry are good because they spur production and lead to lower prices.

Chinese subsidies for the solar industry are bad because they cause too much production and cause prices to be too low.

Did I get that right? Does anyone else notice the slightly contradictory nature of those two beliefs?

The solar issue has become less about generating clean energy at low cost and more about generating jobs in the right country at whatever cost.

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
Paying more for less leads to lower prices? Then why stop at solar panels? We should subsidize every industry, put tariffs on every import.

Are those also industries where there is still clear technological room for us to become a dominant market player if we encourage domestic production, and thus investment in production?

You're suggesting a false equivalence here that's a bit blind to strategy around trying to compete for dominance with emerging technologies as compared to established market specialties. It's not like we're talking about policies equivalent to France trying to bolster domestic single malt production or Scotland trying to take over the wine market.

Why do you want to dominate the Chinese?

If your zero-sum thinking is correct, and the US benefits only at the expense of the Chinese, are you sure you should be rooting for the US? The Chinese are in the process of raising a billion people out of abject poverty.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
US subsidies for the solar industry are good because they spur production and lead to lower prices.

Chinese subsidies for the solar industry are bad because they cause too much production and cause prices to be too low.

Did I get that right? Does anyone else notice the slightly contradictory nature of those two beliefs?

The solar issue has become less about generating clean energy at low cost and more about generating jobs in the right country at whatever cost.

Not less or more, but rather ,it is one of both. That's the point of harnessing competition to feed the market- you both put more people to work productively and advance necessary and desirable technologies much more quickly.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
If your zero-sum thinking is correct, and the US benefits only at the expense of the Chinese, are you sure you should be rooting for the US? The Chinese are in the process of raising a billion people out of abject poverty.

You're the one asserting nonsensical zero sum thinking here. If we provide better competition, China will be forced to employ even more people to try to keep up, and both of us win out. If we let them win by default, the technology will stagnate at whatever level they hit that lets them lock the market.

You seem to be suggesting that there's something inherently bad about being competitive in productive ways.

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AI Wessex
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quote:
So just to be clear.

US subsidies for the solar industry are good because they spur production and lead to lower prices.

Chinese subsidies for the solar industry are bad because they cause too much production and cause prices to be too low.

Did I get that right? Does anyone else notice the slightly contradictory nature of those two beliefs?

Except that that is not clear; it steers toward a false equivalence and even a strawman. It's not worth rebutting, because as they say, not only is what you said not right, it's not even wrong.
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G3
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quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
quote:
Originally posted by Mynnion:
As Al stated it has been almost impossible for US based Solar developers and manufacturers to compete because of huge Chinese subsides. While the idea of cheaper solar is certainly attractive the tariffs should act for better products and long term benefits by evening the playing field.

So just to be clear.

US subsidies for the solar industry are good because they spur production and lead to lower prices.

Chinese subsidies for the solar industry are bad because they cause too much production and cause prices to be too low.

Did I get that right?

LMAO, yep, you got it right.
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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
quote:
So just to be clear.

US subsidies for the solar industry are good because they spur production and lead to lower prices.

Chinese subsidies for the solar industry are bad because they cause too much production and cause prices to be too low.

Did I get that right? Does anyone else notice the slightly contradictory nature of those two beliefs?

Except that that is not clear; it steers toward a false equivalence and even a strawman. It's not worth rebutting, because as they say, not only is what you said not right, it's not even wrong.
I didn't actually say anything Al. At least I didn't mean to. I was trying to restate what you wrote in a way that highlights an apparent inconsistency.

quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
With subsidies our prices will become more affordable and then will continue to drop.

quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
The Chinese have been flooding the market with solar components at heavily subsidized and below cost prices.

It appears you support US tariffs in order to counteract the apparently negative effects of Chinese subsidies. At the same time you support US subsidies which have very similar effects.

So, why do you support US subsidies and oppose Chinese subsidies? Or have I misunderstood your position?

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Charles in Charge
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
Originally posted by Charles in Charge:
If your zero-sum thinking is correct, and the US benefits only at the expense of the Chinese, are you sure you should be rooting for the US? The Chinese are in the process of raising a billion people out of abject poverty.

You're the one asserting nonsensical zero sum thinking here. If we provide better competition, China will be forced to employ even more people to try to keep up, and both of us win out. If we let them win by default, the technology will stagnate at whatever level they hit that lets them lock the market.

You seem to be suggesting that there's something inherently bad about being competitive in productive ways.

I like competition. I'm suggesting we shouldn't tax solar panels if the goal is to encourage their use. I"m also suggesting that we shouldn't think about this kind of trade with a win-lose mentality. To use your phrase, we can both "win out".

I don't understand why I should worry about the Chinese "locking" the market for clean energy and then stagnating that technology. That seems like an expensive and risky strategy for the Chinese to follow. Do you have any examples of similar scenarios?

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AI Wessex
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quote:
It appears you support US tariffs in order to counteract the apparently negative effects of Chinese subsidies. At the same time you support US subsidies which have very similar effects.

So, why do you support US subsidies and oppose Chinese subsidies? Or have I misunderstood your position?

I was explaining their purpose, not justifying them. However, if one country seeks to undermine another country's ability to produce comparable goods in order to control that country's market, I do think that counter-measures are sometimes appropriate. Tariffs should be used selectively and represent one obvious such measure in a purely cost-based commodity market.

"I'm suggesting we shouldn't tax solar panels if the goal is to encourage their use."

I can live with this approach until they are cost-competitive with other fuel sources. Other approaches are to tax non-renewable energy sources like oil for recovery costs, which would greatly increase their price tag.

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Mynnion
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The EU is currently looking at similar measures to counter Chinese dumping and subsides. The goal of the tariffs is to provide a level playing field for American businesses. When they are dumping at significantly below cost prices they destroy American businesses. While I am a proponent of free market economics that is not really what this is about. Estimates suggest that they were undercutting US sales costs by 53-55% pre-tariff.
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