Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Commentary by James Shott

The 2016 Index of Economic Freedom shows that the United States has climbed one notch from 12th place to 11th among the 186 nations of the world that were surveyed and rated.

The Index is an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, and rates nations for labor freedom, business freedom, and fiscal freedom. There are 10 different measures inside those three major groupings. Data used is from 2014, and was compiled and analyzed last September.

The nations with more economic freedom than the U.S. are, starting with first place: Hong Kong; Singapore; New Zealand; Switzerland; Australia; Canada; Chile; Ireland; Estonia; and the United Kingdom.

Ranking 11th over all and 2nd among the three North American nations, the U.S. “remains mired in the ranks of the ‘mostly free,’ the second-tier economic freedom status into which it dropped in 2010,” the introduction to the report states. In seven of the past eight years Americans have seen their economic freedoms decline, and this year’s score equals their country’s worst score ever in the Index. At 75.4 out of 100 points, the U.S. has seen its score drop 0.9 since 2012, and from 80.7 since 2009.

“America’s historically vibrant entrepreneurial growth is significantly hampered by intrusive, expensive, and often ineffective government policies in areas ranging from health care to energy to education,” the report states. “Government favoritism toward entrenched interests has hurt innovation and contributed to a lackluster recovery and stagnant income growth,” even though a private sector energy boom has put the U.S. at the top of the world’s producers of oil and gas.

While America’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate in 2014 has improved, GDP growth was an unimpressive 2.2 percent over five years from 2009 to 2014. Our public debt then was nearly 105 percent of national GDP, which means that if every dollar of production – the value of all final goods and services produced in a year – went to pay down the debt, we still would have debt.

One small piece of good news is that in the Rule of Law category the “Freedom From Corruption” rating rose from 72 to 74 from the prior year, but the “Property Rights” rating dropped 10 points from 90 to 80, and this year produced the lowest ranking of the American people’s trust in government in the last 10 years, based on polls taken in 2015, where 75 percent of respondents said they believe corruption is widespread in the government and in government regulation of business.

Taxation continues to bedevil America’s freedom standing, with more than one of every four dollars of domestic income being taken by taxes, the U.S. having one of the highest corporate tax rates on the planet at a punishing 35 percent, and the top individual income tax rate of 39.6 percent. Government spending runs just short of 40 percent of GDP, and the size and scope of the government remains too big and too intrusive. The “Government Spending” and “Fiscal Freedom” ratings each fell, 59.6 to 54.7 and 67.5 to 65.6 respectively.

The nation saw substantial declines in the Regulatory Efficiency category, where each sub-category saw declines: Business Freedom - 91.9 to 84.7; Labor Freedom – 95.1 to 91.4; Monetary Freedom – 84 to 77. The report notes that “180 new major federal regulations have been imposed on business operations since early 2009 with estimated costs of nearly $80 billion,” explaining that the regulations themselves are not rigid, but that policies, such as excessive occupational licensing, restrict employment opportunities, and “damaging monetary policies, tangled webs of corporate welfare, and various subsidies” have affected the economy negatively.

The U.S. was heavily affected in two of the three sub-categories of Open Markets, where “Trade Freedom” remained essentially flat at 87 points, but “Investment Freedom” and “Financial Freedom” each took a 10-point hit, falling from 80 points to 70. The report notes that while “domestic regulations have been emerging only gradually, the financial reforms adopted in 2010 have increased both costs and uncertainty.”

Even though the U.S. moved up one position among the 186 nations, being 11th instead of 12th does not provide enough for even Donald Trump to brag about, especially in view of the fact that the overall score fell nearly one point and that the U.S. lost ground in 8 of the 10 sub-categories contained in the Index. And its position in the second tier may prompt a drive to change our “land of the free” motto to “land of the mostly free.”

The importance of this report is not so much the U.S. ranking, but the continued commitment of its government to policies contrary to the values that made America exceptional and free. This perspective is not merely the view of conservatives and libertarians, but also of someone who has seen this same scenario up close and personal.

Filmmaker and American citizen Agustin Blazquez saw this same theme play out in his native Cuba, and warns, “Wake up, America!” Blazquez sees the same radical shift happening in America that turned Cuba into a communist country.

This ought to be a call to action, but thus far all of those have failed.

Cross-posted from Observations

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Clearing the air on fossil fuels: Here is the rest of the story




Commentary by James Shott

A few years ago Hal Willis, a scientist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, resigned from the American Physical Society after 67 years as a member, citing the global warming/climate change issue and the blind allegiance to global warming theory by so many of the Society’s members, as well as the organization’s failure to challenge these members in the name of true scientific investigation, and citing trillions of dollars of research funding as a major reason the practice of true science on climate change has been replaced by ideological advocacy.

Of the climate change issue Willis said, “It is the greatest pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a scientist.” His position has support from other scientists, among them Dr. Ivar Giaever, a 1973 Nobel Prize-Winner for physics.

Giaever joined more than 70 Nobel Science Laureates in signing an open letter in October of 2008 expressing strong support for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who had said “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Seven years later he believes Obama’s warning was a “ridiculous statement.” He told a Nobel forum last July, “I would say that basically global warming is a non-problem.”

Dr. Richard Lindzen is emeritus professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT. Citing the growing shrillness of the cries about “global warming” during his 30 years there, during which time he says “the climate has changed remarkably little,” he notes that the less the climate changes, the louder the warnings of climate catastrophe become.

In a recent video presentation by Prager University, he said that participants in the climate change debate fall into one of three groups.

Group One, he says, is associated with the scientific part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group 1), and are scientists that generally believe recent climate change is due to burning fossil fuels, which releases CO2 (carbon dioxide) and might eventually dangerously harm the planet.

Group Two is made up of scientists who, like Lindzen, don’t see the problem identified by Group One as an especially serious one. They say there are many reasons why the climate changes – the sun, clouds, oceans, the orbital variations of the Earth, as well as a myriad of other inputs, none of which are fully understood.

Group Three is made up of politicians, environmentalists and the media. Climate alarmism provides politicians money and power and environmentalists also get money as well as confirmation of their religious zealotry for the environment, while the issue satisfies the media’s need for a cause to support, money and headlines. Said Lindzen, “Doomsday scenarios sell.”

From the climate alarmists’ point of view, virtually every problem on Earth stems from climate change, as Lindzen said, “everything from acne to the Syrian civil war.”

The Director of the Center for Industrial Progress, and author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein, shows us in a Prager University video presentation that contains thorough sourcing for his assertions that burning fossil fuels has improved the lives of millions in the developed world by helping solve their biggest environmental challenges, purified their water and air, made their cities and homes more sanitary and kept them safe from potential catastrophic climate change.

Could we have built reservoirs, purification plants, and laid networks of pipes to bring clean water to homes without fossil fuels, he asks? Fossil fuels can do the same for those in the developing world, if the powers that be will allow it. More fossil fuel use equals more clean water, he said.

He further shows that despite an increase in fossil fuel use from 1.5 billion tons in 1970 to around 2.0 billion tons in 2010, emissions dropped from about 300 million tons to about 150 million tons during the same period. This resulted from using anti-pollution technology powered by … fossil fuels.

If CO2 emissions cause harmful changes in the environment, and if emissions have increased, then more people must be suffering “climate-related deaths,” due to things like droughts, floods, storms and extreme temperatures. But no, Epstein said. “In the last eighty years, as CO2 emissions have rapidly escalated, the annual rate of climate-related deaths worldwide has rapidly declined – by 98 percent.”

“In sum,” Epstein said, “fossil fuels don’t take a naturally safe environment and make it dangerous; they empower us to take a naturally dangerous environment and make it cleaner and safer.”

A large segment of the public has bought into the “we are killing our environment” idea put forth by the climate alarmists, and now meekly accept it when the United Nations and their own government advocate harmful solutions to climate change, ignoring the mounting pile of contrary data. Consequently, the economic damage done to regions of the U.S. and the thousands of American workers put on the unemployment line by the foolish policies of the Obama administration basically are accepted as necessary.

A strong case has been made that fossil fuels aren’t significantly harmful, and that they have been and will be extraordinarily helpful to the people of the world, if only we will listen.

Cross-posted from Observations

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It’s critical to correctly assign responsibility and accountability



Commentary by James Shott

In a matter of minutes on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 26 people – 20 of them school children – at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. This horrific act was the work of a crazed 20 year-old. Lanza killed his mother, took her gun and headed off to Sandy Hook school. After killing 26 innocent people, he killed himself.

At the time, and still today, people blame the weapon Lanza’s mother had legally purchased instead of the mentally ill shooter, or his mother who ignored years of warnings about his psychiatric anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The school system also ignored signs of mental problems, according to The New York Times, which reported on findings that resulted from a mandate for the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate to “conduct investigations of child fatalities and issue public reports with the particular focus on preventing future child deaths.”

The Times noted “the report faulted the school system for not doing a better job of monitoring Mr. Lanza’s progress, educationally and emotionally, each time he was allowed to receive his education in a ‘homebound’ environment because of difficulties he had in social settings.”

But those who had the responsibility to act to protect the public from this dangerously mentally ill person – Lanza’s now-dead mother and the school system – are not the targets of a wrongful-death lawsuit. Instead the plaintiffs have targeted the manufacturer, the distributer and the seller of the legal weapon the mentally ill Lanza used to kill and injure.

The plaintiffs whose lawsuit targets these businesses are the families of nine of the victims and one survivor of the Sandy Hook attack, who understandably are still desperately trying to cope with having their world turned upside-down. A lawsuit filed on their behalf asserts that the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Lanza used, described as “military style” in The Times story, should have never been available for purchase by civilians.

A motion to dismiss the lawsuit against the companies involved in the manufacturing, distribution and sale of the rifle was denied by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis, who rejected the gun companies' position that gun businesses are protected from civil lawsuits by a 2005 federal law that protects against lawsuits for criminal acts committed with their products.

The case against the manufacturer of the rifle, Remington Arms Co., firearms distributor Camfour Inc., and the now-defunct Riverview Gun Sales in East Windsor, Conn., that sold Lanza's mother the rifle two years prior to the Sandy Hook shooting, will go forward with a court session scheduled for this week.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “[a]ttorneys for the family are pursuing a claim under an exception of the federal law known as a negligent-entrustment claim. Under such a claim, a seller can be held liable for supplying a product to a person it reasonably could have known posed a risk to themselves or others.”

This situation raises several questions, among which is how could the manufacturer, the distributer, or the seller know that a mentally ill relative of a potential purchaser would take it from the owner and use it to commit a criminal act?

Another question: If Lanza had used a .38 revolver or 12-guage shotgun, guns that are clearly not designed for military use, would the plaintiffs have brought the case, and if so, would the judge have denied the challenge and allowed the case to go forward?

Like a handgun or a shotgun, the AR-15 is not restricted for sale to the public by law. So it is merely the opinion of the plaintiffs that it should not be available for purchase by the public.

If instead of using a gun Lanza had driven a vehicle into a group of children waiting for a school bus, would the plaintiffs have sued the vehicle manufacturer and the car dealer? What if he had used a knife, or a bomb in a pressure cooker or a soft-drink can? Would there be any legal action?

If this lawsuit ends with one or more of the defendants being found liable, the door will be opened for dozens or hundreds of similar legal actions targeting not the perpetrator of a crime, but manufactures, distributors, or sellers being held responsible for criminal activity they had nothing to do with. If manufacturers can be held liable for deaths or injuries resulting from the criminal misuse of their legal, non-defective products, how many businesses or entrepreneurs will want to take the risk to make and sell something?

It is a nearly automatic response to have great sympathy for the families of those murdered children and the survivors of Sandy Hook. But sympathy, however great, and the circumstances of the event, however horrible, are not compelling reasons to punish legal businesses for making and selling legal products that were deliberately misused by someone with diagnosed mental health issues, and in this case someone other than the owner of the legal product.

Solving these kinds of problems requires focusing on the actual causes, not in shifting the responsibility to uninvolved third parties. Adam Lanza, his mother and the school system bear sole responsibility for this tragedy.

Cross-posted from Observations

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

America’s long, difficult trek from tyranny and oppression to …


Commentary by James Shott

North America’s colonists were necessarily daring and independent, otherwise they would not have ventured to the New World. Being so far from Mother England, they needed and were able to establish colonial governing bodies, which could levy taxes, muster troops, and enact laws.

As time passed the colonies strengthened, and began seeing themselves as independent states, and their obedience to and dependence on the British Crown was receding into the background.

As the future leaders of the United States grew into those roles in the colonial legislatures, they also studied the ideas of the Enlightenment: the social contract, limited government, the separation of powers and the consent of the governed, ideas at odds with the heavy hand of King George.

The colonies found many things imposed by England objectionable, such as the Sugar Act that increased duties on sugar imported from the West Indies; the Currency Act that devalued Colonial currencies; the Quartering Act that forced colonists to house and feed British soldiers if necessary; the cruelty of the British Army at the Boston Massacre; the Stamp Act taxing many common items; and the Tea Act that spawned the Boston Tea Party.
 
Nearly two and one-half centuries later we are again facing a heavy hand, this time not from a monarch, but from the government created by those colonists after they had had enough heavy handedness, and fought for and won their freedom.

Our government’s objectionable activities from the recent past include an inspector general’s report showing that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for lengthy and onerous review of their applications for non-profit status. And cases such as when an Army veteran heard banging on his door before dawn, then he and his two young boys spent several hours in police cars in their jammies as a Department of Education SWAT team searched his home because his wife, who didn’t live there any more, had defaulted on her education loans.

A program of the Department of Justice called “Operation Chokepoint” is used to put the financial squeeze on legal industries the administration doesn’t like, such as firearms sellers and payday lenders.

Another program known as civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize, and then keep or sell, any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

Wonder how the colonists would have reacted to these outrages had they been perpetrated by King George?

Today, the federal government has its fingers in virtually every aspect of our lives, and often it is very involved. Its activities no longer are effectively limited as directed by the U.S. Constitution. The federal government largely controls education at the local level, regulates mud puddles on private property, and now has taken control of the way Americans receive their healthcare.

With the force of law it now espouses positions based not upon Constitutional principles, but based upon ideology and political impulses.

One of the most ominous to date is the effort announced earlier this month to use the full force of the federal government, which has adopted one side of a vigorous debate on the effects of humans on the world’s climate, to criminally charge businesses that argue against the government’s chosen position with racketeering under RICO laws.

“Treating climate change as an absolute, unassailable fact, instead of what it is — an unproven, controversial scientific theory — a group of state attorneys general have announced that they will be targeting any companies that challenge the catastrophic climate change religion,” say Hans von Spakovsky and Cole Wintheiser in The Daily Signal.

Ignoring America’s principle of freedom of thought and speech, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last month, “The bottom line is simple: Climate change is real,” and he is threatening to pursue companies he claims are committing fraud by “lying” about the dangers of climate change “to the fullest extent of the law.”

The coalition “AGs United For Clean Power” consists of 15 state attorneys general as well as the AGs of the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. In addition to Schneiderman are Kamala Harris, California; William Sorrell, Vermont; Mark Herring, Virginia; Maura Healey, Massachusetts; Brian Frosh, Maryland; George Jepsen, Connecticut; and Claude Walker, the Virgin Islands, and representatives from Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State and D.C.

Unsurprisingly, sixteen of the seventeen are Democrats, while the Virgin Islands AG is an independent. And no farcical climate inquisition would be complete without the participation of former vice president and climate change beneficiary Al Gore.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch admits that the Justice Department is discussing the possibility of pursing civil actions against climate change doubters, and that the FBI has been asked to consider if it meets the criteria for federal law enforcement to take action. Tyranny rears its ugly head.

When the political left cannot prevail through the strength of its arguments in the arena of free ideas, it resorts to force. That is unconditional surrender, a testament to the failure of liberalism as a practical ideology.

Cross-posted from Observations

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Besides benefitting pandering pols, why have a $15 minimum wage?



Commentary by James Shott

Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders literally screamed through a bullhorn at a campaign event in support of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15. “I’ve been pleased to march and struggle with all workers in this country who are fighting for $15 an hour and a union,” he told the crowd. “We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, people should not have to work for starvation wages.”

The City of Seattle, Washington last year raised its minimum wage to $15 to take effect this month, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California followed suit shortly thereafter, and last week the California State Legislature passed a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage in steps to $15 by 2022, and Governor Jerry Brown pledged to sign it.

Politicians frequently advocate for higher minimum wages, which attracts a lot of positive attention from low wage earners. Campaign speeches focus on how hard it is to live on minimum wage, as if a large proportion of the workforce earns the minimum and that large numbers earning at that level are trying to support a family, and all of these people really are being enslaved by greedy businesses. Facts, predictably, tell a different story.

At the end of 2014 the number of Americans 16 and older earning hourly wages was 77.2 million. Of those, just under 3 million earned the minimum wage, about 4 percent. Among all workers that year, hourly and salaried, those earning at or below the minimum was just 2 percent, and only 1.04 million minimum wage workers held full-time jobs. Of the entire full-time workforce, only 0.7 percent earned at or below the minimum wage.

Who are these 3 million minimum wage hourly workers? Nearly half – 48.2 percent – are between 16 and 24 years of age, and 2.6 percent are 65 or older. More than half work in food preparation and related “hospitality” industries, 31.4 percent are high school graduates, 23.1 percent did not earn the high school diploma, and only 9.1 percent have a college degree.

Most of them are second or third earners in their household; the average family income of a minimum-wage worker exceeds $50,000 a year. Furthermore, most minimum wage workers graduate to higher wages quickly as their skills and experience increase, usually getting a raise in less than a year.

People generally make minimum wage when they get an after-school job, or to help out while they are going to college. They make minimum wage for jobs that require little skill, and are often supplemented by tips. People make higher wages when they gain experience or hold jobs requiring higher levels of skill. Professionals and technically trained workers make more than fast food workers, checkout clerks and grocery baggers, as it should be.

Those who run businesses have to decide how much they can afford to pay for the different types of jobs in their business. Wages are based upon the importance of each job to the business, the experience and skill of individual workers, the number of people available for each job, and the overall cost of labor and other expenses, balanced by business income.

When government edicts artificially increase labor costs, businesses must offset the increase by cutting costs, increasing income, or a combination. Every minimum wage increase of $1 an hour costs a business about $2,500 per employee per year in wages and payroll costs. Other employees making a little more than the minimum will either require a raise, or deserve one, dramatically increasing the labor costs. Something has to change to offset that expense.

Businesses likely will reduce staff, particularly cutting positions where several workers have the same job. Maybe they employ robots or other machines to do certain tasks. Have you been to a restaurant that has a touch-screen device on each table? You can order and reorder some items and pay your bill with a machine.

There now is a robot burger maker that can turn out up to 360 burgers per hour. It can grind, stamp and grill made-to-order patties. It can cut and layer the lettuce, onions, pickles, tomatoes, etc., put them on a bun, and even wrap them up to go. This device would replace three full-time kitchen staff and ultimately cost the business less.

Higher labor costs mean that prices of many items will necessarily go up, some significantly. Even as minimum wage workers get more money, they and everyone else will see their cost of living increase, gobbling up a good bit of the higher wage.


Few Americans earning the minimum wage really “need” a higher wage to survive. Analyzing the coming increase in Alberta, Canada to $15 per hour, Robert P. Murphy and Charles Lammam of the Fraser Institute concluded, “In short, the minimum wage is neither an efficient nor effective strategy for helping the working poor.”

Minimum wage earners need to work their way to higher pay through education, training and gaining experience, like Americans have done for decades. A federally mandated minimum is, and always has been, a colossal mistake. It will reduce jobs among the very people it is supposed to help.

Cross-Posted from Observations

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Washington warned us. We forgot his warnings, and are paying for it.


Commentary by James Shott

In his farewell address at the end of his second term as president on September 19, 1796, George Washington warned the nation of the problems with political parties “in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.”

The “spirit of party” has its roots in the “strongest passions of the human mind,” he said, and exists in all governments, to varying degrees, being stifled, controlled or repressed in most. But even in the young nation he had led, perhaps because of the high degree of freedom provided by its Constitution, “is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.”

Looking across the political landscape today, Washington’s words are brought to life. And he can objectively address the issue of political parties, as he is the only president to have had no party affiliation. Washington had to be persuaded to seek a second term, and refused to run for a third term, despite great popular support for him to do so.

Essentially, parties are dangerous because they are collections of persons who share passions, and inevitably passion creates ideas that do not fit within constitutional guidelines.

Perhaps there exists a circumstance that prompts the party to encourage expanding the meaning of the General Welfare Clause to deliver “welfare”; to imagine the need for a federal department to dictate the kinds of light bulbs or toilets we should buy; or to reinterpret the plain language of the Second Amendment “for the common good.” None of these actions are legitimate under the processes set forth by the Constitution. Such ideas may highjack party members, and shift their attention from strict adherence to the principles of the Constitution.

“Well,” the members may say, “the Founders could not have foreseen this development. The Constitution does not address this.” The party starts to rationalize how to achieve these things without following the methods provided to change the Constitution.

Maybe this perspective results from a sincere desire to fix a significant problem; maybe it is merely means to an end. Either way, it is a step away from the intent and the letter of the law of the land. Devising circuitous routes to somehow find a way to do what the Constitution does not say you may do is objectively wrong, yet our government has grown absurdly large and expensive and immorally oppressive as a result of precisely these types of activities, and is what Washington warned of.

 “[T]he common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it,” Washington advised. “It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

America’s elected leaders have seemed to be more concerned with the activities of political parties – the spirit of party – than with focusing on the principles of the governing document. This has made a mishmash of a once-clearly defined government structure. It is a tribute to the government structure the Founders’ created, however, that even after these attacks on its foundations, it still remains singularly better than any other nation on Earth. That may not be true for much longer, however.

Were all Americans focused laser-like on following the U.S. Constitution when addressing national issues, would political parties form? Would there be a need for a formal organization to defend the Constitution? Does not the very existence of political parties signal motives other than strict adherence to the Constitutional principles?

The idea of originalism, the dedication to the language and intent of the Constitution, will draw strong disagreement from those that maintain that a document created more than 200 years ago cannot possibly apply satisfactorily to today’s circumstances. Which proves Washington’s point rather well, as it is primarily ideologically driven political parties and their adherents that want to loosen the specific language espousing the principles of the Founders, so that it means what they want it to mean, rather than what is says.

Neither major political party any longer strongly represents and defends the founding principles. The Republican Party – which once fairly strongly defended the founding principles, and still outperforms the Democrats in that category – has let spirit of party rule its integrity.

The leadership of the Democrat Party long ago adopted liberalism/socialism in stronger and weaker forms, and many/most of its goals run headlong into Constitutional prohibitions.

So liberals in both parties have decided that rather than properly change the Constitution through amendments or a constitutional convention – either of which is a long, difficult path to follow – they will instead sneak through the back door, pretending that the Constitution is outdated and must therefore be reinterpreted, all the while aided in their subversion by like-minded liberal judges.

It is unlikely we can do away with political parties, but given what they have done to the country, “wouldn’t it be loverly?”

Cross-posted from Observations

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A look at the world’s largest solar energy production facility





Commentary by James Shott

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, built by Bechtel, is a joint effort of NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy, and is said to be the largest state-of-the-art renewable energy production project of its kind.

Ivanpah is a $2.2 billion solar project in the California desert consisting of three solar thermal power plants on a 4,000-acre tract of public land near the Mojave Desert and the California-Nevada border. The facility was financed in part by $1.5 billion in federal loans, utilizes more than 170,000 mirrors mounted to the ground that reflect sunlight up to three 450-foot-high towers topped by boilers that heat water to create steam, which in turn is used to generate electricity.

The green energy and climate change lobbies are, of course, excited about from this dream-come-true example of how the U.S., and eventually the world, can survive and thrive without pollution-causing coal-burning and natural gas-burning electricity production facilities.

But their hopes have exceeded reality, as is so often the case with these idealistic dreams. The project has three major problems, one of which has produced a huge rift between the left’s internal factions. While green energy folks are ecstatic over the huge solar plant, other environmentalists are outraged that the plant has killed thousands of birds, many of which are fried to death.

The second problem is that the so-called green energy plant is not as green as you might expect: It burns fossil fuels and produces pollution. Ivanpah burns natural gas each morning for start-up, up to 525 million cubic feet of natural gas annually, and reportedly burned 867,740 million BTU of natural gas, which is enough to power the annual needs of 20,660 Southern California homes, and it emitted 46,084 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2014.

Furthermore, it has so far failed to produce the expected power it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp. As a result, the solar plant may be forced to shut down unless the California Public Utilities Commission gives permission for PG&E to overlook the shortfall and give Ivanpah another year to sort out its problems.

The Wall Street Journal reported that spokesmen for Ivanpah’s operator, BrightSource, and NRG declined to comment on its future, but NRG said it has taken more than a year to adjust equipment and learn how to best run it. The Journal also reported that the Energy Department supports giving the plant, which started operating in early 2014, more time.

Advocates also paint an over-positive picture of solar energy job creation. The Solar Energy Industries Association touts spectacular job growth in the solar industry, boasting “the solar industry continues to support robust job growth, creating 35,052 new jobs in 2015, a growth rate of approximately twelve times greater than that of the overall economy.”

The overall job creation rate was a pitiful 1.74 percent, and 12 times that figure means roughly 21 percent for the solar industry. That sounds pretty good, but fast job growth during new industry “booms” is not unusual. Touting such growth is good PR, even when it exaggerates reality.

But when you analyze this project, it quickly becomes clear that government has more to do with this increase than does the actual market demand for workers in solar energy. You, the taxpayer, heavily subsidized this industry, and when taxpayer money pays the bills, an industry can and does create jobs without a real demand for them.

Under President Barack Obama, the federal government has wasted billions of dollars of hard-earned taxpayer money on green energy efforts that failed, or under-performed, even as it enacted policies that punished Americans working in the coal industry and related businesses with substantial unemployment, created income problems in the economies of coal producing states, and burdened all Americans with higher energy prices. The administration’s tunnel vision on reducing the non-existent or miniscule effects on the environment of fossil fuel energy production that have powered the U.S. and most of the world for decades, has caused untold misery.

The heralded Solyndra debacle put 1,100 people out of work when it closed down, and wasted $535 million in government loans. And, the Abound Solar plant, which got $400 million in federal loan guarantees in 2010, when the Obama administration sought to use stimulus funds to promote green energy, filed for bankruptcy two years later. That facility sits unoccupied, is littered with hazardous waste, broken glass and contaminated water, and will require an estimated $3.7 million to clean and repair the building for use.

None of this pain and suffering was needed; the normal progress of technological advancement would eventually have gradually replaced fossil fuels as the primary source of electricity, when those less polluting methods were up to the task, like the automobile replaced the horse and buggy.

Once the left gets an idea, however, it dives in head first, eyes closed, with a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach that generally produces more harm than good.

Barack Obama lets nothing get in the way of his ideological fantasies, least of all reality. Any harm and destruction that occurs is regarded as necessary collateral damage on the way to his socialist Utopia.

Cross-posted from Observations