New Mexico’s next green energy boom – Part 2

The Farm Bill of 2019 – 2023 has placed algae among the nation’s top priorities for new crop deployment and provides support for the development of algae and related technologies in nutrient management, soil health, carbon recycling and other farm and rural applications, according to an analysis by the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO).

New Mexico already has the largest algae farm in the US and it is only 100 acres and producing billions of dollars in omega-3 supplements. NM has the perfect conditions for farming algae with plenty of sunshine and saline water year around and requires very little energy for electricity. Algae does not have a growing season like other crops and grows continuously year around. It is almost the perfect crop.

The Farm Bill assurances makes algae farming very attractive to private investors. The one major enhancement is that algae has been added to the federal crop insurance programs. What is ironic is that the Government is still focused on biofuels and not on food stuff and other products made from algae. Research has already proved that algae biofuels are way to expensive to produce. Some day the government will realize that all biofuels are a waste of time.

The Farm Bill also provides Biomass Crop Assistance Program eligibility for algae. BCAP provides financial support to farmers for establishment, production and delivery of new biomass crops. This will not only expand the algae farming industry in New Mexico, it will also aid in the development of secondary businesses. Yes, this is a subsidy. So what.

Bill Gates has already shown up at the door. As a philosophical anthropologist who believes in the essence of humankind, he will definitely accelerate the growth of algae farming in New Mexico. Maybe Gates will also build one of his molten salt nuclear reactors in New Mexico too. As some of you already know, Bill Gates started his little Microsoft business in New Mexico. It is only appropriate that he returns to his roots.

Algae crop farming is the future and it is here now in New Mexico and West Texas. As I recall, there is another industry wanting to start up in those same two location as well: consolidated interim storage of unused nuclear fuel, also a multi-billion dollar business.


New Mexico’s other green energy – Part 1

This week I want to share some thoughts on future crop potential in New Mexico. Many thought the 2019 Legislature was sure to legalize regulated recreational cannabis, but SB 577 – Cannabis Regulation Act did not pass. However, SB 581 – Hemp Manufacturing Act, did pass and it will define how hemp products will be regulated in New Mexico. Both crops require very little water and land use.

There is yet another green crop already in production without any legislation from our Blue Government and it requires less energy, less water and less land and already generates billions in revenue. That crop is algae or also known as green gold.

Medical cannabis has been regulated in New Mexico for many years now and has expanded the qualifying conditions list (SB 406) this year. Also SB 204, regulates medical cannabis use within our public school system, administered by school nurses, for predefined students with severe medical conditions. There are differing opinions of whether this was wise or not. For those who wanted recreational cannabis approved, you will have to wait until next year.

Hemp is an interesting crop and the only reason is was restricted as a farm crop is because of it’s close chemical relationship to cannabis but has virtually no psychoactive properties. Hemp has many industrial uses like clothing, food and beverages, paper products and building materials. Hemp will be a good cash crop like alfalfa but require less water and it can grow almost anywhere in NM.

Back in the 1970 (oil embargo) biofuels was the solution as a replacement to O&G. Can I get an LOL here? The Department of Energy granted millions of dollars for algae farms in the middle of New Mexico’s desert. Algae only needs three sources to grow; sun, CO2 and saline water and NM has plenty of those. After many years of development, algae as a biofuel was to expensive to produce.

Today, that same $300 million public-private algae biofuel development effort is now an algae food farm producing a billion dollar food business on just 100 acres of NM desert by a private farmer who probably bought it for pennies on the dollar.

Future Nuclear Power Plants:

There is a nuclear renaissance occurring throughout the world, just not here in the United States. Currently the US produces the most reactor net capacity of commercial electrical power with France a distance second. Based on the documented 55 nuclear reactors currently under construction, the United States will drop all the way down to 8th place on the list of countries that will out produce us. Of course, China will lead in world nuclear energy capacity.

The new list of countries based on nuclear capacity will be: China, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, India, Russia, Japan, Taiwan, United States. Yes, Japan is listed 6th even after what happened at Fukushima. In fact, Fukushima proved that nuclear reactors are safe even after a serious industrial accident where 3 reactor melt downs were completely protected from the general public.

The primary reason for the nuclear renaissance at this time is the ‘fear of climate change’. It is so ironic that the ‘fear of nuclear’ was the primary reason of continued use of fossil fuels that eventually caused our current climate concerns. The shift to renewable wind and solar to address climate change will eventually have an unintended consequence for nuclear energy.

After a forty year absence from building nuclear reactors in the US, we basically have to start almost from scratch. There are two paths to be taken. One is a fast track to build smaller versions of what we have still based on pressurized water for cooling. The other path, on a longer timeline, is a complete redesigned reactor using molten salts mixed with the uranium fuel with air cooling. Both versions address the historical concerns of nuclear reactor high cost to build and issues of waste (unused fuel) management.

Small Modular Reactors (SMR) will still use the existing industry supply chain for operations and have the least impact on siting, fuels, and trained labor for operations. The reactors come in a range of sizes based on capacity needed. The reactors can also be daisy chained together to provide greater capacity. Each reactor core can operate uninterrupted for 10 years at which time it will be recycled at the original manufacturing plants for reuse another 10 years. This is the fast track path that the US is now with NuScale SMR and others.

Inconvenient energies – NIMBY:

Now that SB 489 (remember that bill #) is official it needs to be physically implemented. In order to meet the clean energy requirements of the bill a lot of industrial wind and solar farms with natural gas backup power generators and transmission lines have to be built at great expense.

These industrial wind and solar farms require a lot of building materials like cement, steel, plastics, silicons and several finite rare earth minerals (from China). Also, land as far as you can see has to be acquired through leasing or purchase (good luck with that).

Electricity from solar roofs costs about twice as much as electricity from solar farms, but solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land as do the long distance transmissions lines. There has been an increasingly aggressive opposition by local communities and conservationists trying to preserve wildlife, particularly birds.

In 2017, Iowa enacted a law that prohibits the use of eminent domain for high-voltage transmission lines. The move doomed a 500-mile, $2 billion, high-voltage direct-current transmission line that was going to carry wind energy from Iowa to eastern states.

This resistance is already happening in New Mexico with the SunZia project which will build two 1,500 megawatt high voltage lines running 520 miles from central New Mexico to carry wind generated electricity to western state markets. After ten years, this project is still in the courts because it requires a lot of private land easements.

On the same note, Oil &Gas (O&G) pipelines of all kinds also face staunch opposition from climate change activists. O&G drilling encroaches on suburban neighborhoods and draws the ire of nearby residents. A key difference is that renewables require far more land above ground, 700 times more to produce the same amount of energy, while O&G is primarily underground.

Small nuclear reactors and micro reactors don’t require new transmission of any kind. They take up little space and can be built underground near existing grid transfer substations and plugged into the local, regional or national grids. However, there is always resistance to anything nuclear.

So, where is New Mexico actually going to get it’s electricity when all energy delivery systems are not desired – NIMBY?

Misconstrued wind and solar energy:

The Energy Transition Act, SB 489, has been signed, sealed and delivered to the unsuspecting folks of New Mexico. This bill provides a financial bond transition path for Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), a public utility, to replace the high density San Juan Coal Power Station with low density wind and solar and electric rate increases from now until 2050. Someone always has to pay for that free sun and wind.

Industrial wind and solar farms are both at the bottom of the energy density meter chart with stored fossil fuels having ten thousand times more energy density and nuclear fuels another million times more energy density than fossil fuels.

When we talk about energy density we are referring to the stored energy in a fuel source. While the sun has stored energy, it is 92.15 million miles away. Also, wind has stored energy but it is constantly moving around and not concentrated. In order to leverage wind or solar, you need collectors.

The energy from the sun and wind passes through the collectors as converted electricity to be immediately used, stored in batteries or discarded. There is no stored energy in collectors themselves for use when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

When you look out over the horizon and see all those massive wind towers with blades spinning in the breeze (or not) and you see endless rolling hills blanketed with blacken sheets of solar panels, you have to be impressed on the surface.

But when you look behind the physics of wind or solar collectors you will understand why these two sources are just not going to power a decarbonized New Mexico alone. We absolutely must have high density fossil and fission energy as our energy sources for generating base load electricity for the regional electric grid.

There’s also an incredible correlation between the rise of fossil fuel usage and an increase in life expectancy, gross domestic product, and population. Nuclear energy is how we will continue our human flourishing.

So, why is the New Mexico Government being so foolish to ignore the warning signs (Germany and California) and continue with their clean energy transition without high density energies?

From Natural Gas to Nuclear – Part 2 of 50/50 Clean Energy Program

When will more policymakers start facing up to the yawning gap between renewable hype and energy reality? They may be forced to. The blistering summer of 2018 throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere pushed electricity usage to dangerous levels.

Germany’s vaunted green-energy infrastructure couldn’t keep up, and the country had to rely on its few remaining nuclear reactors to fill the gap. South Korea moved to restart 5 shuttered nuclear power plants back to operation. Japan accelerated a plan to reopen some of the nuclear power plants closed after Fukushima, nearly doubling its nuclear capacity. Taiwan reopened a formerly closed nuclear power plant.

Anti-nuclear sentiment has been running high in all these and other countries, but their political leaders apparently decided that they would face a stiffer voter backlash if they allowed power blackouts.

Just this month, the European Commission has confirmed that nuclear will form the backbone of a 2050 carbon-free European power system, together with wind and solar renewables. My only question is why even bother with renewable wind and solar which require natural gas backup? It would be more practical to just switch to plentiful natural gas for the next 30 years while developing it’s new nuclear power fleet.

The goal for the entire world should to be to transition to lower-carbon power energy first and then to zero carbon by 2100. That could be a realistic time frame if we don’t waste our time and resources on alternative sources that can’t solve the climate change issues.

Natural gas has 60 percent less CO2 and particulate pollution than the coal plants we’ve been using the last 150 years. Since 1880, surface temperature has risen at an average pace of 0.13°F (0.07°C) every 10 years for a net warming of 1.69°F (0.94°C) through 2016 according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In other words, there is more than enough time to decarbonize the electrical grid while the world may warm less than 0.94°C through the last part of this century. Instead of a ‘Green New Deal’, we should be having a ‘Clean Energy Program’ for global electrification with nuclear energy. By nuclear, I mean the molten chloride salt fast reactors or equivalent that will consume all the unused nuclear fuel rods in storage before mining for new nuclear fuel.

From Renewable to Natural Gas – Part 1 of 50/50 Clean Energy Program

New Mexico is a state with abundant sun, wind and natural gas. We also have very large coal, oil and uranium reserves. We are also a state with a thousand years of saline water underground. We are in fact a state with more natural sources of abundant energy that it has left our state government confused as to what it should do with it. So, to get along, our state government has decide to go along, with wind and solar that is.

Even though two of the five coal furnaces at the Four Corners Power Plant have gone through multi-million dollar retrofitting with carbon scrubbers to filter particulates from air pollution, political decisions have been made to shut down those last two furnaces.

This is a foolish mistake and what’s worst is the notion that the electricity can be replaced with wind and solar energy. It is well document that this will most likely not happen. The Governor’s goal is to decarbonize power generation with renewable energies by 2045 in New Mexico.

What is renewable energy? Energy sources that can be sustained through use and reuse for defined periods of time. New Mexico’s ‘clean energy plan’ is based on one hundred percent renewable energy consisting of wind and solar. Sun and wind have existed for billions of years. Uranium and thorium have existed for billions of years. Oil and natural gases have existed for billions of years. Water and air have existed for billions of years. All of those energy sources will be here for another billion years or more. What is not sustainable or renewable about that?

Here is a fact that most people fail to relate to. Wind and solar require collector devices made of finite raw materials mined from the earth. After 20-30 years, all the collector devices require replacement with same, ad infinitum, persevering a continuous low tech job demand machine.

Renewable wind and solar farms are intermittent electricity generators and require natural gas power as a backup power source. New Mexico is a state with a lot of natural gas so you have to question why it is not our primary base load source for electrical power and just skip this industrial wind and solar quest based on political and psychological reasons?