Heartland Documents: Whose Biases are Being Revealed Here?

I could not resist commenting on the brouhaha around the stolen Heartland Institute documents in my column at Forbes.  The key one that is the “smoking gun” now appears to be fake.  I wrote in part:

One reason I am fairly certain the document is fake is this line from the supposed skeptic strategy document:

His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.

For those of us at least somewhat inside the tent of the skeptic community, particularly the science-based ones Heartland has supported in the past, the goal of “dissuading teachers from teaching science” is a total disconnect.  I have never had any skeptic in even the most private of conversations even hint at such a goal.  The skeptic view is that science education vis a vis climate and other environmental matters tends to be shallow, or one-sided, or politicized — in other words broken in some way and needing repair.  In this way, most every prominent skeptic that works even a bit in the science/data end of things believes him or herself to be supporting, helping, and fixing science.  In fact, many skeptics believe that the continued positive reception of catastrophic global warming theory is a function of the general scientific illiteracy of Americans and points to a need for more and better science education (see here for an overview of the climate debate that does not once use the ad hominem words “myth”, “scam” or “lie”).

The only people who believe skeptics are anti-science per se, and therefore might believe skeptics would scheme to dissuade teachers from teaching science, are the more political alarmists (a good example was posted today right here at Forbes, which you might want to contrast withthis).  For years, I presume partially in an effort to avoid debate, certain alarmists have taken the ad hominem position that skeptics are anti-science.  And many probably well-meaning alarmists believe this about skeptics (since they may have not actually met any skeptics to know differently).  The person who wrote this fake memo almost had to be an alarmist, and probably was of the middling, more junior sort, the type of person who does not craft the talking points but is a recipient of them and true believer.

At the end I make a sort of bet

If the strategy memo turns out to be fake as I believe it to be, I am starting the countdown now for the Dan-Rather-esque “fake but accurate” defense of the memo — ie, “Well, sure, the actual document was faked but we all know it represents what these deniers are really thinking.”  This has become a mainstay of post-modern debate, where facts matter less than having the politically correct position.

But in the first update I note the winner may already be delcared

Is Revkin himself seeking to win my fake-but-accurate race?   When presented with the fact that he may have published a fake memo, Revkin wrote:

looking back, it could well be something that was created as a way to assemble the core points in the batch of related docs.

It sounds like he is saying that while the memo is faked, it may have been someones attempt to summarize real Heartland documents.  Fake but accurate!  By the way, I don’t think he has any basis for this supposition, as no other documents have come to light with stuff like “we need to stop teachers from teaching science.”

70 thoughts on “Heartland Documents: Whose Biases are Being Revealed Here?”

  1. Waldo says “[publishing in the peer reviewed literature] is also daunting. And it is also a way to test one’s theories.”

    Actually, publishing in the peer-reviewed literature is not a way to test one’s theories”. That is not the purpose of peer-reviewed literature. The purpose of the peer-reviewed literature is to introduce new and significant research that adds to the knowledge of those in the field. It does not provide a forum debate ideas that are already well-known in the scientific community. That is why your challenge is beside the point.

    ” And, of course, surprise! again we have Lindzen and Pielke. Do they disagree with any other prominent scientists?”

    On the point in controversy here, I don’t think there is much dispute within the scientific community. Most scientists agree with Lindzen and Pielke, Sr. that there is a significant lack of empirical verification for many of the major assumptions that underlie the alarming projections of the climate models. One needs to read the primary literature, however, to recognize how unsettled the debate is over climate feedbacks.

  2. Waldo doesn’t need to explain to engineers why wind power is enormously ineffecient and ill-suited to provide base-demand power. His argument is self-evident and has been made repeatedly by engineers who actually work in the field.

    Politicians, not engineers in the relevant field, are the primary advocates of wind power. The politicians in Germany and elsewhere are now discovering what the engineers have been telling them all along. That is why wind power is now being abandoned by polticians who have been unfortunate enough to see their proposals brought to fruition.

  3. pauld:

    Well said. Waldo makes a criticism and then runs when it is aswwered, using some idiotic escape from his faulty comment. He says we should blindly accept what the expert scientists say. Then he argues with engineers when it is clear that he has no understanding whatever of engineering principles.

    You have to admit, though, that he is entertaining. Where else can you get such hilarious nonsense for free?

    A note to Waldo: If you didn’t want a reply, why did you cite the link? I don’t need to talk to engineers. They know the score, as pauld points out. I know an engineer that was making $200K studying compressed air energy storage. The most elementary thermodynamic calcs show that this is a joke. He laughed all the way to the bank.

    The companies involved in wind/solar are merely responding to demand. That does not mean they think it is a good idea. All sorts of nonsense is subsidized by the USG. Researchers and business men take the money and have a good laugh.

  4. Ted Rado: I am not an engineer, but long-ago in the 1980’s I began my career as an economist for a large mid-western utility in its System Planning and Forecasting Department. My work was primarily in the area of forecasting base and peak demand so that the engineers could plan for the future of the system. I also did some work with the engineers in determining the most economically efficient mix of generation capacity to meet peak demand.

    The utility met the base demand with large coal-fired or nuclear generation facilities. It was a daunting and complex challenge to figure out how to efficiently meet peak demand, that would occur one day out of the year, without building grossly excessive base-capacity for the remainder of the year. The peak demand had to be met with a variety of on-demand generation capacity that was very inefficient when used and that was not used at all for the majority of the year.

    One way of meeting peak demand that was proposed by the utility while I was working there was to use hydro-electric power with a pumping facility as you have described. The proposal was to use base-demand capacity during low-demand periods to pump water into a reservoir that could then be released to generate electricity during the peak demand periods. Our department was able to make a very convincing case that the proposed mix was economically efficient. The problem came when the utility sought permits and ran into “not-in-my backyard” environmentalists who objected to the utility using land to build the reservoir required by the proposal. After about ten years of environmental litigation, the utility abandoned the proposal.

    The problems with wind-based generation are obvious to anyone who actually worked in the field of planning an electric-utility system. I could not begin to list all of the problems, but the one’s you mention certainly make the list, along with many others. As you know, the fundamental problem in most areas of the country is that wind power is too unreliable to serve as base capacity or peak capacity. The engineering work-arounds to make it useful at all would be enormously expensive and would more than offset any conceivable savings in fuel costs. I would also predict based on experience that hydro-electric pumping facilities would not be among the acceptable work-arounds. For all practical purposes, wind power is a politically correct ornament that one might hang on a system that would actually function more efficiently without it.

    It goes without saying that your observations are not news to anyone in the field. If you were able to publish them in an engineering journal, the article would be met with a resounding “duh”.

  5. Pauld:

    You are absolutely right. What I pointed out to Waldo is really “old hat”. What I could figure out in an afternoon certainly is not a unique thought. I am sure thousands of people have done similar studies. The question is: why do the politicians keep pushing this crap at huge expense? That is what I have been unable to figure out. They can’t be that stupid.

    Your description of studies to store water in reservoirs for peak load struck a chord. Long ago, I read that in Sweden (I believe) hydro storage was used. Since my calcs show this to be uneconomical, I wondered why they do it. If you have an existing hydro plant with generating capacity in excess of water supply, then that excess can be used “free” to store and recover energy. I am sure you could not afford to build dedicated storage and generating capacity from scratch. Any comment on this from your experience?

    The problem with meeting peak load (as you aptly pointed out) is that quick-starting power plants (open cycle gas turbines) are much less efficient. The power company is thus in a bind. If such facilities are used to back up wind power, the lower efficiency offsets the wind savings. It is a real conundrum.

    Since you are familiar with the power industry, perhaps you can help me. I understand that keeping up with the ups and downs of wind energy reduces efficiency of the thermal power plants to where there is no net saving from wind energy. I read a paper to that effect re the power plants in the Netherlands. Have you seen any other studies on the subject?

  6. Pauld:

    One other point. The efficiency of hydro storage is rather low as I have pointed out. I am a bit surprised that your old studies showed that using existing generating capacity for peak load storage saved enough to pay for the low efficiency plus the cost of building a reservoir and hydro power plant. The lower efficiency would put it in the same area as gas turbines. The cost of the pumps, reservoir and hydro turbines would, I would think, be much higher than the cost of the gas turbines.

  7. Ted:

    For the most part, the utility relied upon gas turbines for peak demand. The hydro-pumping station was to be used as a part of a mix for more than just peak demand. The coal-fired plants have a sweet spot in terms of operating efficiency–they operate most efficiently at a certain capacity and less efficiently below or above that sweet spot. The hydro could be used to keep the coal-fired plants operating at the sweet spot by allowing excessive capacity to be stored when necessary and drawn upon when necessary. The hydro pumping station also had advantages in terms of emissions. It has been a long-time since I worked on these issues and even then I contributed to only part of the work so I am likely leaving out some of the factors considered.

    The main point that I was trying to convey is that engineers have a difficult job to calculate the best mix of generation capacity. Adding variable wind power that might produce excess capacity when not it is not needed and/or no capacity when it is needed, is not helpful to those who are trying to create an optimal mix of generation capacity.

  8. Pauld:

    Thanks for your comments. I recently read that the Poles have stopped taking excess German wind energy when the wind blows. The sudden ups and downs were creating havoc on the Polish grid.

    In passing, I might comment that years ago I was quite enthusiastic about hydro storage for wind power, for the following reasons:
    1) The Rocky Mts are adjacent to the great
    plains, so that high reservoirs can be
    near the source of the wind power.
    2) No new technology is needed. Pumping water,
    building reservoirs, and hydro turbines
    are all well understood.

    I then started hanging some numbers on the scheme and it quickly collapsed. I gave some of the highlights of this in my previous post.

    Another problem is that the power is generated out in the middle of nowhere. Transmitting power long distances entails substantial losses (inductance, resistance). This plus the losses in collecting the wind power and getting it to the mountains for pumping was beyond the scope of my work so far.

    This work confirmed once again the need to quantify ideas. Almost anything is possible. Much of it is impractical. The quicker we find this out, the less money and technical resources will be wasted.

    Every chem eng has done these sort of feasibility studies scores of times during his career. Management realizes that it is better to discover your blunders on paper. I am truly mystified why such studies are not done before USG grants and subsidies are given out. Ethanol, wind energy, solar, carbon sequestering, tidal power, etc. would never have got started had such studies been done. I just read on the internet where the Germans are getting into more and more trouble with their mad dash to wind and solar. We will look back on all this with amazement 20 years from now. What a waste!

    Every project I have been involved with started with detailed studies of the underlying science and technolgy. When this was thoroughly laid out, cost estimates and profitabilty studies were done. Not a brick was laid until it was clearly demonstrated that the project was viable and had no discernable flaws. The record of industry vs the USG speaks for itself.

    I was under the misguided notion that this was the function of the DOE. No such luck. Their mission is to push money out the door in the name of saving the world. Sometimes I can’t believe what I am seeing.

  9. Ted: Your questions are very good ones and got me to think about what are now vague memories. As I previously mentioned I was directly involved only in small pieces of the decision making process and was not privy to all of the high level discussions.

    I do recall vividly that load forecasting was highly controversial in the early 80’s. Immediately following the the 1973 oil embargo, the gas crisis and the Carter recession that followed, previous load forecasts proved to be far too high and the utility had substantial excess capacity. Our projection were revised downward, but we antcipated that demand would resume once again but at a lower growth at a rate. We projected the need for new plants on the relatively long planning horizon.

    This projection was vigorouly contested by enviromental opponents of new power plants who saw no need for any new capacity in the foreseable future. This memory is quite vivid in my mind because the work I was doing and the controversy around appeared regularly in the papers.

    Given the long lead times required to build power plants decisions had to nevertheless be made in an environment of substantial uncertainty. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    Against this backdrop of uncertainty the decision to propose the hydro pump storage plant was made. As I now somewhat vaguely recall the rather large pump storage facility was proposed in part to delay the need to construct new coal fired base load capacity for at least a few years until the demand picture became more clear. Gas turbins could not realistically delay the need to construct new power plants if they should became necessary as we projected. The load leveling capacity of the pump storage facility, however, could provide stop gap power for a few years if needed. Moreover it was was less expensive than building a new coal fired plant, if the higher demand did not come about. In addition it would add a valuable load leveling option even at lower demand levels. In short the project was a reasonable way to hedge bets.

    I hope that makes sense and I think this explanation is accurate based on my distant memories of the controversy. I might add that our controversial projections came in substantialy lower than the actual demand during the Reagan years and the prosperity that followed.

  10. Pauld:

    Thanks for your further explanation. I am sure there are special cases where wind/solar/energy storage makes sense. A remote location where there is no power supply might benefit from a windmill plus storage batteries. For example, the Mexican government installed solar panels and auto batteries in homes in Boquillas, Mex. One sees solar panels along the intertate to power small isolated loads (traffic control).

    Again, one must run the calcs to see if it makes sense. Large scale wind/solar with all its peripheral requirements does not.

    I am all for ideas (I have a bunch of patents). What is needed is to thoroughly wring out ideas before lots of money is spent. The main problem is that politicians are making all of these decisions.
    Before we embark on a large scale program, ALL the questions must be addressed, not just the immediate one. For example, the solar panel company that went broke. Before it was subsidized, there should have been in place a TOTAL solar energy plan, including solar panel manufacture, solar power plant design, energy storage and control, and power distribution. Until you have a complete workable package, you don’t start. It’s like buying a set of tires before you have any idea of how to build a car. In the event, even just the solar panel plant was a mistake.

    All of this can be done with paper studies at low cost. Any proposals for USG subsidies should be accompanied by such a study. When I proposed new processes or plants in the past, the report included flowsheets, energy and material balances, capital and operating cost estimates, and profitability estimates. Unless all this looked good, I would not think of sending the idea forward. This is absolutely standard in the chemical industry. Even with this, there are occasional fiascos. Without this approach, there would be PILES of fiascos (sound familiar?).

    I notice that you refer to lots of studies that were made by your employer. Hoorah! That is exactly what should have been done. One studies all aspects of a problem before plunging ahead.

  11. Ted: I thought you might enjoy this article on Germany’s failed venture into solar power. http://www.thegwpf.org/opinion-pros-a-cons/5000-bjorn-lomborg-germanys-sunshine-daydream-.html

    The overall themes are basically the same as in the failed experiments with wind power. There are no surprises that could not have been predicted by any decent engineer before the politicians poured billions of euros down the drain.

    Your question as to why politicians are prone to such mistakes is a good one. At least part of the explanation is that politicians, who work with a nearly unlimited supply of people’s money, aren’t subject to the same market forces that constrain the private sector.

  12. Pauld:

    I read your link with interest. There have been quite a few articles on the subject, all with the same theme. Wind and Solar are intermittent and must have backup. On a small scale, the existing power system accomplishes this. On a large scale all sorts of difficulties set in, as we have discussed before. If the power desired exceeds that which can be produced when the wind blows/the sun shines, energy storage is required. All this is easily determined without spending a dime, except on a few engineering studies.

    Unfortunately, the pols are in the pocket of the enviroloonies and accept the green thing without question.

    I was a backpacker for 40 years, so I am quite interested in a clean environment. I would enthusiatically embrace VIABLE schemes to inprove air quality (all aside from the validity of the AGW thing). I will NEVER accept ideas that fly in the face of sound engineering and economics.

    A final point. Man has been searching for energy sources for thousands of years. If there were viable alternatives, businessmen would jump in and exploit the ideas without USG intervention. The USG pouring piles of money in where venture capital will not go freely is insane.

  13. Let’s throw out the first memo since there are questions about its authenticy.

    What are your arguments about all the subsequent information provided by Heartland to the alias?

  14. Ted, there are many ideas out there for energy storage that are indeed viable. I’m not sure why you don’t know about them if you are as informed as you seem to be.

    Just because there are viable alternatives doesn’t mean there aren’t regulatory and economic road blocks.

  15. @pauld – good article. It is a shame that no one listened to the engineers since they all should have been able to do those calculations ahead of time. Solar is NOT a good idea where you don’t get a lot of sunlight – duh.

    That is not to say that solar energy is bad elsewhere. It has its place just like wind, tidal, nuclear and other forms of energy have theirs.

    To bad mouth solar because it was used inappropriately is as bad as telling someone all sports cars are bad because someone crashed one in an Alaskan snowstorm. Pretty disingenuous to me.

  16. Joe says: “That is not to say that solar energy is bad elsewhere. It has its place just like wind, tidal, nuclear and other forms of energy have theirs.”

    Joe continues:”To bad mouth solar because it was used inappropriately is as bad as telling someone all sports cars are bad because someone crashed one in an Alaskan snowstorm. Pretty disingenuous to me.”

    Solar, and wind generation might have some reasonable applications, but it is difficult to see anywhere that they could provide large scale reliable 24/7 baseload capacity. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind does not always blow.

    There are only two ways that wind or solar could be made cost effective on a large scale. The first one would be if we developed efficient technology to store large amounts of energy. Energy could then be stored when the sun is shining and demand is low and drawn upon when the sitution is vice-versa We don’t have such technology now and it is difficult to see the required efficient, large scale storage technology in the foreseeable future.

    That is not to say that we will never develop such technology. I am in fact a great believer human ingenuity. It is just that we shouldn’t be builing large scale wind and solar capacity until the necessary technology to make it cost effective is within our reach.

    The second option for large scale solar or wind power is to use it to shave the fuel costs of other traditional base-load generation capacity such as coal or nuclear powered plants. To do that one would still have to build and incur all the fixed costs of building coal and/or nuclear power plants to meet the demand when the sun wasn’t shining and the wind wasn’t blowing. In such a scenario, wind and solar could nevertheless serve to provide supplemental power and thereby reduce the fuel costs of conventional plants.

    The important thing to notice about this scenario, however, is one must still incur all the fixed costs of building convention baseload capacity, be it coal or nuclear. The savings from solar and wind are only the marginal fuel costs of conventional energy saved.

    Here is the rub. While solar and wind power have low to zero marginal costs, they still have relatively high fixed costs associated with building and maintaining them. For solar and wind to be economical, those fixed costs over the life of the solar and wind facilities have to be lower than the marginal costs of conventional fuels saved over the lifetime of the facility. Right now, this condition is not close to being met with existing technology. Solar panels are indeed becoming cheaper. The steel and piping infrastructure required to install them is not.

    Moreover, as I previously mentioned, conventional power plants have a sweet spot where they run most efficiently. Running them above or below that sweet spot increases their fuel costs. So a conventional plant that is supplemented with sun or wind power would likely incur additional fuel costs that have to be entered into the equation. Such costs are actually quite significant.

    I can imagine a day in the not distant future when small scale solar panels on rooftops could be cost effective. We are a long way from cost effective large scale solar or wind power anywhere. Where they exist, they have been mandated or heavily subsidized.

  17. Joe:

    You say thet there are many viable methods for storing energy. Would you please name them? I have looked at a whole bunch and haven’t found any.

  18. Joe says: ” Let’s throw out the first memo since there are questions about its authenticy. What are your arguments about all the subsequent information provided by Heartland to the alias?”

    Why dont you start off by identifying what documents need to be defended?

  19. Ted: Here is a study that is right up your alley http://docs.wind-watch.org/BENTEK-How-Less-Became-More.pdf

    It is discussed in a blogpost that you will also find interesting. http://www.masterresource.org/2012/02/wind-spin/#more-18896.

    The greens will not like the study because of its source–the energy industry–you know the people with the experience to know what they are talking about. In any event, it supports what you and I have been saying all along. Here is a key paragraph from its introduction:

    “Integrating erratic and unpredictable wind resources with established coal and natural gas generation resources requires PSCO to cycle its coal and natural gas-fired plants.3 Cycling coal plants to accommodate wind generation makes the plants operate inefficiently, which drives up emissions. Moreover, when they are not operated consistently at their designed temperatures, the variability causes problems with the way they interact with their associated emission control technologies, frequently causing erratic emission behavior that can last for several hours before control is regained. Ironically, using wind to a degree that forces utilities to temporarily reduce their coal generation results in greater SO2, NOX and CO2 than would have occurred if less wind energy were generated and coal generation were not impacted.”

  20. Pauld:

    Thanks for the links. The first one is a gold mine of engineering data. I was thinking of contacting our local utility for data on how much energy is actually saved by using wind. It is obvious that either going to open cycle gas turbines or cycling base load power plants will reduce efficiency. My question as to how serious this is is answered in your first link.

    The problem is not only the inconsistency of wind, but the frequency and magnitude of cycles. If the wind came on and blew consistently for weeks, the power grid could adjust and maintain efficiency, and the projected wind savings would be realized. In actual fact, the wind cycles frequently and wildly. There are all sorts of data on this.

    The report shows that not only is there no fossil fuel saving (actually a slight increase), but NOx, SOx, and CO2 emmisions increased markedly. Thus we are spending all sorts of money to no purpose.

    As I have pointed out ad nauseum, orderly, systematic study of new proposed schemes has long been established in the engineering field. Simply following long-established engineering practise would have saved gezillions of dollars. I have done scores of such studies over the years. Many schemes sound wonderful at first glance, but come a cropper when you hang numbers on them.

    The problem arise from the fact that almost anything is possible theoretically. Thus, non-engineers get all excited with an idea. Many years ago, a chem prof wrote a paper stating that there was no chance of a hydrocarbon shortage, as gasoline could be made from limestone. This is true. You can calcine limestone to drive off CO2, react that with hydrogen made by electrolyzing water with nuclear power, and reacting them to make gasoline. I ran some calcs on gasoline from CO2 and it would take about 35 nuclear power plants worth of energy to produce one nuclear power plants’ equivalent of gasoline. Every scheme put forward by zealots is theoreatically possible. So, far none are technically and/or economically viable. If I, a lonely retiree, can easily figure this out, why in the world are we plunging ahead? All I am asking is that we do our search for alternative energy in accordance with established practise. I am NOT suggesting that we abandon such efforts.

    I am still waiting for Joe to give me some energy storage methods.

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