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Problems in Electricity (de)Regulation

By ajduk in Technology
Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:36:34 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

Some readers may have noticed recent news concerning the reliability of electric power grids. Depending on location, they may also be aware of problems in California, New Zealand and Australia, and Italy.

Astute readers may notice a pattern starting to emerge here.


So what's the problem? In this age of high tech, always-on, 24/7 progress, how come we can't - across most of the first world, it seems - keep the lights on?

The answer is fairly simple, and it's called deregulation. One of the dominant ideologies of the last 20-25 years has been that the free market always knows best, always delivers the cheapest and most reliable results, and can be applied to anything and everything. Even international terrorism..

Now, if you're making pencils, or toothpaste, or one of a hundred thousand other consumer products, free market systems are the best way of delivering them. Sure, you might want standards making sure that, for instance, all HB pencils give a similar result, or that a whitening toothpaste actually whitens teeth, but this is pretty minor. With these products, supply and demand move along a nice smooth curve to converge on the optimal case. Wonderful.

So why not try this for electricity?

Well, electricity is not a commodity like a pencil is. Electricity cannot be stored in large quantities. Electricity cannot be substituted - you can use a pen instead of a pencil, but you can't use anything but electricity to run electrical equipment. And worst of all, electric grids have only two modes - oversupply, where everything works as planned, and undersupply, where the entire grid goes down. There is no nice supply/demand curve in the short to medium term for electricity.

It also goes without saying that electricity is, in our modern world, a prerequisite for practically all other economic activity.

Recognising this, back in the bad old days of public ownership and heavy regulation, Electricity utilities - usually with full ownership of generation and transmission - would keep at least 20% more capacity available in both generation and distribution than was actually required. In turn, this meant that plants could come offline for regular maintanance, have accidents or even local fuel shortages and the customer wouldn't notice. Surplus transmission meant that the network could route round any one failure in most cases. All this extra capacity cost money, but it ensured a high degree of reliability.

But then came the neoliberal revolution. Electric utilities represented a huge industry that was heavily regulated or in public ownership. How inefficient, cried the free market evangelists! Regulation and public ownership are making us all pay far too much for this commodity.

So the utilities were privatised and split up; the regulations were lifted, and markets even up to the level of spot markets were introduced.

And at first, it worked. After all, with such a cushion of overcapacity, prices had to fall, even if it was below the cost of production for many generators. Some industry insiders pointed out that surplus capacity was shrinking, as no one could justify new capacity on financial grounds, and that maintance and upgrading of transmission networks was being postponed or cancelled to keep costs down, but any company that listened would quickly find itself uncompetitive.

A lot of this deregulation happened in the early to mid 90's. Electricity demand typically rose at about 2%/year through the decade. It does not take a genius to work out the consequences. Within a decade, surplus capacity margins became razor-thin. Transmission networks became less reliable. The whole system lost it's margin for error.

And as we have seen, errors - unplanned power station outages, transmission breakdown, lack of fuel, or even lightening strikes - happen. And when that happens, the economic cost is huge.

Central planning, regulation, and even public ownership have been dirty words for a long time. Maybe it's time to clean them off a bit.

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Problems in Electricity (de)Regulation | 364 comments (308 topical, 56 editorial, 0 hidden)
Deregulation (4.55 / 9) (#1)
by jotango on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 05:56:57 AM EST

I would add some text about how deregulation went wrong (especially) in California, and some of the other countries.

The way the deregulation was done contrasts sharply with what the architects (mostly academics) had planned, mostly due to political reasons. They screwed it up again!

If you don't add that, the article is biased.

Ok.. (none / 0) (#4)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:10:16 AM EST

Do you have any links?

[ Parent ]
Sure (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by jotango on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:16:30 AM EST

Good:
http://www.r21online.com/archives/000069.html

Better:
http://www.manhattan-institute.org/hazlett/rahazl010128.htm

OK:
http://dukeemployees.com/deregulationjune2001.shtml

[ Parent ]

Similar to Communism (4.50 / 4) (#40)
by sien on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:55:08 AM EST

The same thing is often said about Communism.

When theories cannot be applied to the real world, perhaps they do not correspond to it and just appeal intellectually and are dangerous when attempts are made to shape the world to those theories, be they the complete dominance of the market or the triumph of the proletariat.

[ Parent ]

Deregulation never happened! (4.50 / 4) (#139)
by volkris on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:16:03 AM EST

To be even more blunt, deregulation didn't fail in California because it never happened. How many times did you turn on the radio and hear that deregulation was obviously failing because the power industry was asking for permission to change their rates? If the industry has to ask for permission to change its rates, it's not deregulated That's not even getting into the real meat of the matter, such as the horrible regulations that required the utilities to sign deals that were bad for them but even worse for California. In the end this whole article is misguided because it is based on the asumption that deregulation has failed. That premise is invalid and so this article is meaningless.

[ Parent ]
Deregulation happened, and it failed (4.66 / 6) (#190)
by Perpetual Newbie on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 03:48:36 PM EST

There was not one "power industry", but two different markets:

  • The suppliers, including producers and traders such as Enron, Dynegy, and other corporations.
  • The distribution systems who own the power lines going to consumer homes: PG&E, etc.

Suppliers sell electricity to the delivery systems, who sell it to consumers. The supplier market was deregulated. The distribution market had price caps on how much they could charge consumers because they were monopolies; however, the caps were set far higher than energy prices had ever been.

Back when deregulation was still being considered, the suppliers were already analyzing ways of cheating the soon-to-be deregulated market, according to documents leaked from Perot Systems who helped design these plans and coincidentally helped design the deregulation law.

After the supplier market was deregulated, suppliers coordinated to create artificial shortages. This has been admitted by the company executives in leaks to newspapers and trial testimony. When the shortages caused California to declare an emergency, the suppliers would coordinate "maintenance" shutdowns of their power plants, and prices would skyrocket -- but only in California. Meanwhile, independent suppliers including the City of Los Angeles noticed the pattern and joined in the profiteering. While these "shortages" were going on. California was nearing the end of its biggest power-plant construction spree in thirty years and opening up a new plant every other week. Most of the suppliers who bilked California and the distributors out of $9 billion went bankrupt, so they don't have to pay a cent. Nobody knows where the money went.

If the distributor market was deregulated along with the supplier market as you, the FERC, and Bill Simon suggested, then every California household would have been paying at least $1,500 per month in their electricity bill while the monopolization continued. That was the difference in scale between regulated-market prices and what suppliers were charging under deregulation. Californians might still be paying this much if citizens' bank accounts haven't yet dried out to the suppliers' satisfaction. It would not have stopped until there was no more money to be collected, and then prices would have magically returned to some amount above normal costs. Instead, with regulation, the distributor market bore the brunt of the damage caused by this fraud, and the state was hit by a smaller degree after the distributors collapsed. Consumers, meanwhile, were largely uneffected.



[ Parent ]
The masses react differently... (5.00 / 2) (#216)
by sholden on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 12:29:07 AM EST

If the distributor market was deregulated along with the supplier market as you, the FERC, and Bill Simon suggested, then every California household would have been paying at least $1,500 per month in their electricity bill while the monopolization continued.

I don't think that would have happened. Once the bill gets shifted to the households then the "man in the street" gets pissed.

Governments react differently when the population starts rioting. Laws magically get passed overnight as poiticians try to avoid being killed by the mob.

You can rip the people off, but you have to do it slower - you can't just jack the prices up overnight to obscene levels.

--
The world's dullest web page


[ Parent ]
Sounds awfully like.... (5.00 / 2) (#288)
by Lin Dze on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 01:28:58 AM EST

The market was partially deregulated, some companies formed a cartel. Thgey then colluded to bilk the ham stringed suppliers, and eventually consumers, out of as much money as possible before declaring bancruptcy and saying "Oops, dont know where all that cash went."

Politictions, who just happen to receive HUGE kickbacks, er "contributions", turned a blindeye, or even joined in the merriment, because in the end it would all be deamed a "horrible accident" and the tax payers would foot the bil.

Gee, sure sounds like a free market to me.

-Lin Dze
"Facts don't cease to exist because they are ignored." Aldous Huxley
[ Parent ]

Same thing happened to UK railways (4.00 / 7) (#2)
by R Mutt on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:03:35 AM EST

Things were privatised. Maintenance was cut to a minimum. A couple of disasters later, massively expensive overhauling was needed... causing the whole system to be vastly more expensive and less reliable than in the public sector days.

"Lightly regulated" free markets just don't work for natural monopolies like electricity and rail networks.
----
Coward... Asshole... from the start you kept up the appearance of objectively posting interesting links.

I know. (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:13:48 AM EST

I'm making an expedition from Bath to Leicester by train tomorrow. Scott of the Antartic had it easy by comparison.

[ Parent ]

You must be kidding (5.00 / 3) (#210)
by hex11a on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:54:33 PM EST

You want to travel on a Saturday? On our lines? Not a cat in hell's chance.

Hex

PS: I once did Oxford to Preston on a Sunday. Only took 7 hours, 5 changes...

[ Parent ]

my first eurostar trip to london (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by the sixth replicant on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:33:52 AM EST

was completely painless until i reached the UK.

I was just laughing all the time - I was late for my interview, I missed my connection back. It was a disaster.

For a 2 hour interview, I woke up at 6am and come home by 1am.

As I said it was hilarious, as soon as I came out of the Chunnel the eurostar just stopped and moved and stopeed and moved and stopped. It took longer to go from channel exit (in england) to London than it did to go from brussels to the Chunnel. And then catching trains to go to Reading. My god, *every* *single* *train* was delayed by over an hour!

The only nice thing that happened was with the over 2 hour delayed eurostar (yep, the two hour delays were all in England) got into Brussels they made sure that there were extra trains waiting for us (it was past midnight), so I didn't have to walk/sleep over/take a cab of about 60 kms back home.

Ciao

[ Parent ]

Its a fucking disaster (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by nebbish on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:42:51 AM EST

Imagine commuting by train every day, I (and Id imagine the majority of people in the UK who have to go by train) am regularly late for work through no fault of my own. Its an accepted part of life now. It must be causing major problems for our economy.

The problem with privatisation is the aiming for short term goals. The train companies' franchises can be removed from them after 5 year reviews, so why should they invest long term in infrastructure? Everything just ends up being shot to shit. Depresses me.

---------
Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

You're note inspiring me with confidence... (5.00 / 1) (#252)
by ender81b on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 03:21:19 PM EST

I'm going to england for study abroad next semester and a integral part of my travel plan was to take a train from manchester to lancaster... I figured european rail systems had to be good.

Now I think I might chnage that little plan.

[ Parent ]

Europe (5.00 / 2) (#259)
by yooden on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 04:19:14 PM EST

You probably also heard that food in Europe would be good.

Don't eat in English trains is all I say.

[ Parent ]

generally (5.00 / 1) (#295)
by the sixth replicant on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 03:03:16 AM EST

when english speaking people say Europe they really mean the Continent and most of the time never include the UK, since it seems to be the exception to the rule.

Ciao

[ Parent ]

You'll still get there, (none / 0) (#349)
by it certainly is on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 06:33:40 AM EST

in the disaster scenario (line is shut entirely by a landslide or giant penguin or something) you'll be delayed by a few hours, travelling on a replacement bus service. In the best case, there won't be any delay.

Manchester to Lancaster is served both by First and Virgin, so you generally get between 1 and 3 trains an hour.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Divide And Die (4.50 / 4) (#157)
by freestylefiend on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:28:30 AM EST

Although I do disapprove of any privatisation of british railways, it should be noted that many of the problems since privatisation were caused by out-sourcing of maintenance and the dividing of British Rail between Railtrack and operator-franchises. Not every problem is a direct result of privatisation.

[ Parent ]
hmm (3.62 / 8) (#10)
by reklaw on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:32:35 AM EST

I'm all for public ownership of electricity (very "old Labour"), but I doubt you'll convince anyone who'll ever have the power to do it nowadays. Nationalisation is, unfortunately, no longer really seen as a viable option, except among those who are too lefty to ever get elected.

It'd also probably be overkill in this situation. Assuming you've described what happened correctly, your central planning body could just put in regulations to force the private companies to provide that "margin of error" again. For every however many units of electricity they produce, regulations force them to produce an extra one.

If that was done quickly while the power cuts are still fresh in people's minds then it might just work, even if you'd still raise hell from the deluded libertarian crowd. It also doesn't seem like something Bush would get behind, but then he supported an interventionist war so I suppose you can't rule anything out.
-

Deregulation? (4.00 / 13) (#12)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:33:54 AM EST

First, even the power companies don't know the exact cause of the problem. So how can you so smugly claim to know the exact nature that regulatory issues played?

Also, these major system shutdowns are extremely expensive. There are not something that are planned to happen ocassionally, and those that run the power grids know that it is in their best interest to prevent these things given the extremely costly nature of them. There is no indication that a government run power company would have fared any better, and you don't even come close to making that case.

There is always two sides to weighing something. You look at the status quo and claim that if it were only regulated this wouldn't have happened, and you never establish how a regulated agency would do any better. Power utility deregulation only started in the second half of the 1990s. There were failures well before that.

Regulation isn't magic fairy dust that you can sprinkle on a problem and it goes away. It's easy to tell somebody to do something, but it is much harder to make sure than happens, especially when the agency in chage of it has no competition, no sense of urgency, no threat of bankruptcy, no threat of losing market share, and all the employees are fucking impossible to fire for incompetence.

Also, the power supply industry is still regulated. It wasn't true deregulation, but a "restructuring." The telecomm reregulation in 1996 did the exact same thing with forced infrastructure sharing, and it flopped too. There was little reason for companies to invest in improving systems that they would then just be forced to turn over partially to their competition.

Your argument sounds like what others said for the telecomm bill: we need to help the markets along because there is only one way to provide broadband Internet service (replace "broadband Internet service" with electricity). Then came cable modems and crushed DSL. Hrm... People are smart and inventive. They have good ideas to solve problems. However, it is often regulation that gets in their way of entering the market.

You know that when the power companies were saying, "Oh no, we don't mind deregulation because it will force us to have better service," something isn't right. They knew that regulatory burdens were too high for meaningful competition to form easily.

So, in 2003, without even the Clinton deregulation competely in effect, you already want to call it a failure because of a single accident?

Riiiiight..... -1.

--
This space for rent.

Are you sure you should -1 this? (none / 0) (#13)
by nebbish on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:48:18 AM EST

If I post a comment it means a piece is worthy of discussion, and at the most I should abstain. -1 is for pieces that aren't worth the time.

---------
Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee
[ Parent ]

yes, I'm sure (4.00 / 2) (#21)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:43:06 AM EST

I can write total crap that would spur diuscussion. That doesn't mean it deserves to be posted.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
Please.. (4.83 / 6) (#14)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:52:37 AM EST

First, even the power companies don't know the exact cause of the problem. So how can you so smugly claim to know the exact nature that regulatory issues played?

It dosen't matter what the exact problem is; it varies from blackout to blackout. The common theme is lack of space capacity to cope with problems.

Also, these major system shutdowns are extremely expensive. There are not something that are planned to happen ocassionally, and those that run the power grids know that it is in their best interest to prevent these things given the extremely costly nature of them.

It is also very expensive to ensure that they don't happen, and if ownership and therefore responsability are fragmented, it can happen that no one takes responsability. Private companies have strong financial incentices to go as close to the wire on this as possable.

and you never establish how a regulated agency would do any better.

Maintaining larger margins of safety is the obvious thing.

[ Parent ]

No, I'm with jjayson (4.50 / 2) (#16)
by gazbo on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:21:51 AM EST

As it happens, I'll probably vote it up anyway, but the fact you led into the article with the recent blackouts, even as a non-USian I immediately thought "And what the fuck does this have to do with deregulation?"

It may be that you're right, but you can't lead in with it stated as fact. It's at best misleading.

-----
Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

so let me get this straight... (3.00 / 3) (#22)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:48:26 AM EST

Ensuring these things don't happen costs a lot of money, and for the electric companies more than it actually happening. So, we nationalize the system or regulate it until it can't breathe. This means we would have to pay higher costs somwhere, because this doesn't come for free. Also, we not have to pay more for the general inefficiencies that always seem to happen in the public sector along with lack of any improvement since the nationalized monopoly has no competitors.

Right now however, a company could offer a service with a greater tolerance for error. While they may not have as low of a per unit price, they would compete based on their superior guarantees. However, we don't do that right now because we, as consumers, want to save the cash and are willing to put up with the chance of a blackout.

Now, where is the problem again? It seems to me that the market has decided and allocated appropriately.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

Consumers choose their grid??? (4.60 / 5) (#25)
by mozmozmoz on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:12:38 AM EST

The problem is that there is (and can be) only one grid. So the competing "suppliers" all connect to that grid, which then supplies power the the meters run by the suppliers, who bill the consumer. When the grid goes down... bye bye. Look at NA right now - it doesn't matter whether Joe User in NY was paying extra for the more reliable power or not, they're all offline. Paying more for non-grid power is the only option if you want greater reliability, and the cost for that is prodigious - we're talking generators and huge fuel supplies. Or pay for a second grid... the cost of which would soak up the US military budget for a decade or more.

This is not a new problem, in fact it's exactly the problem pointed out by power systems engineers every time some fool has suggested deregulating the power system. NZ did this, and the engineers were shown to be correct - the short term benefits go to the power companies, while the long term costs are borne by the consumers. When central Auckland lost power for 6 weeks, customers discovered they couldn't recover consequent losses from the power company, so they were basically stuffed. Sure, while there was no power they didn't have to pay the companies anything, but full compensation? Forget it.

Interesting article here Sound deregulation policies use a long-term energy strategy, an open market and incentives to conserve power

There's lots of comedy on TV too. Does that make children funnier?
[ Parent ]

unfounded assumptions (4.00 / 2) (#312)
by dh003i on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:51:45 PM EST

So, how exactly do you justify this bald-stated assertion, that there can only be one power-grid? No-one can buy property and make other grids, running parallel to it?

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

Only one grid (4.50 / 2) (#317)
by mozmozmoz on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 09:59:39 PM EST

It's not a physical problem - there's space for more than one grid, and in theory someone could build one. The problem is cost and efficiency. A grid is an expensive toy that uses a lot of space, machinery and labour to build and maintain. Providing those costs money. It also needs the ability to force through areas, to avoid being blocked by f*ckwits at random points - all it takes is one landowner who doesn't want it, and your "grid" has a hole in it. So there are legislative requirements too.

Providing two grids where one would do is inefficient, so there would need to be a huge advantage to having a second one to make it worth the cost. Unfortunately almost all the advantages of a second grid can be obtained by building spare capacity into the first one, which is a lot cheaper. So you have another legislative requirement - someone has to pass a law restricting competition or requiring a second grid, and establishing a way of paying for it.

In time, it's likely that the two will become so interconnected that they merge. Trivial things like bridging them when there are problems with one, so that more people get power, will lead to permanent structures allowing the bridging to be done safely and easily, and so on... until they're effectively one grid.

There's lots of comedy on TV too. Does that make children funnier?
[ Parent ]

so, power-companies can't work together to improve (4.00 / 2) (#318)
by dh003i on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 11:51:44 PM EST

the grid? and, being part owners of the improvements, charge those who didn't contribute to the improvements but still use them?

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

Correct - they can't charge for it (4.00 / 1) (#356)
by mozmozmoz on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 04:38:34 AM EST

That seems to be the whole point of this discussion - it's a classic example of the freloaduer problem (as well as the legislated stupidity that guarantees it'll happen quickly).

If one or two companies act to make the grid more robust (by increasing capacity, essentially), that costs more than just maintaining what they've got, and the product is essentially statistical - it becomes less likely that there will be problems. The beneficiaries are their customers, but also everyone else's customers. Who do they pass the costs onto? How do they do that?

There's lots of comedy on TV too. Does that make children funnier?
[ Parent ]

This Is Not An Ideal Commodity (4.50 / 2) (#26)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:16:06 AM EST

Ensuring these things don't happen costs a lot of money, and for the electric companies more than it actually happening.

For the electric companies. The economic damage caused by the outages far exceeds the cost of preventing the outages in the first place.

Right now however, a company could offer a service with a greater tolerance for error.

Not without building their own, independant grid they couldn't.

However, we don't do that right now because we, as consumers, want to save the cash and are willing to put up with the chance of a blackout.

Really? Did your local electricity company actually give you a choice in this? Did you sit down and calculate the risks? How can the consumer actually make this choice without the information?

Now, where is the problem again? It seems to me that the market has decided and allocated appropriately.

Markets don't work without full information. Even then, if all the companies involved got together to make the networks reliable,then the one that cheated and didn't would be able to undercut everyone else.

[ Parent ]

what economic damage?? (4.33 / 3) (#39)
by the sixth replicant on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:47:26 AM EST

with respect to the power company and their share holders they don't really care how much damage they have done, for a number of reasons : they are exempt from liability and they don't really loose that much money in a blackout (compared to the cost for over capacity), also what are you going to do, get your power somewhere else?

ciao

[ Parent ]

That's what I meant.. (nt) (none / 0) (#41)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:07:43 AM EST



[ Parent ]
I call your bluff (4.50 / 2) (#313)
by dh003i on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:54:32 PM EST

Markets don't work without full information. Even then, if all the companies involved got together to make the networks reliable,then the one that cheated and didn't would be able to undercut everyone else.

Bullshit. Markets work all the time without full information. There is the potential for individuals to get all the information they need. Individuals can decide what's more valuable to them, their time or evaluating all of the parameters of some problem. It's not your place to tell them they're wrong because they'd rather be doing something other than calculating all of the costs of power-outages vs. cheaper electricity.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

I would say that both private and ... (4.66 / 3) (#89)
by pyramid termite on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:20:43 PM EST

... public entities involved in this industry have been somewhat complacent. The growing use of electricity has pushed the system closer to the edge of maintainability, and yesterday, it went over it for awhile. The whole deregulation against regulation argument is probably somewhat bogus - as you've pointed out, it's one form of regulation against another, and anyway, it seems to me that there's only two real solutions to this problem. Building new power plants - or conservation.

I don't see either happening without significant government involvement. There is, after all, significant amounts of public property involved in the transmission of electricity and it may well be that building new power plants may require government efforts to rezone property or to fight the NIMBY syndrome. A pure free market approach is impossible as long as the wires are passing through public easements. Just as a private owner of roadways, etc. would have something to say about the conditions power companies would have to meet to use that land for poles and wires, so does the government.

In any case, the problem isn't how Companies X,Y and Z bounce power back and forth between them - it's that the amount they have is slowly becoming insufficient for demand and the hardware they're using is becoming worn out and dated.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
One solution (2.50 / 2) (#137)
by felixrayman on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:35:21 PM EST

you never establish how a regulated agency would do any better

According to one article I read today, in the days of regulation, the penalties for heads of electric companies that allowed outages to occur included jail time. It could certainly be an effective motivational factor. From what the article said, the reason for these penalties was to prevent the electricity monopolies from using the threat of outages as a form of blackmail.

Call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home. Tell him to come spend a night in our building. - Pfc. Matthew C. O'Dell

[ Parent ]
That's funny. (4.50 / 2) (#141)
by jjayson on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:38:13 AM EST

I don't know quite how I feel about it though.

So, if the problem is only in transmission infrastructure, but not in generation, then considering how hard it is to overpower NIMBY and get high-voltage lines built, I can see how a nationalized or regulated transmission company might be necessary. However, companies can be free to compete for generation contracts and spot sales, so the threat of blackout doesn't seem possible anymore (since another company can always enter the bidding).

If the problems is in generation though, the problem seems much more complex, and I really haven't devoted too much brain power to the issue and don't understand it.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

Yup (3.00 / 3) (#145)
by felixrayman on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:51:00 AM EST

That's the solution that makes sense to me, nationalize the grid because it's a monopoly, allow anyone who wants to sell power to do it over the grid. So people could buy power from any of a thousand companies at whatever rate they could negotiate, the power would all be transmitted over the public infrastructure, and the people selling electricity over the public infrastructure would be taxed to pay for that infrastructure.

If you can get competition, use a market. If you can't, go to plan B. Markets are suboptimal when there is no (or not enough) competition.

Call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home. Tell him to come spend a night in our building. - Pfc. Matthew C. O'Dell

[ Parent ]
Maybe we could have jail time for Rusty... (5.00 / 1) (#154)
by skyknight on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 08:44:28 AM EST

whenever K5 goes down.

Bailiff: Sir! You stand accused of writing slow, inefficient Perl code, and failing to exercise due diligence in the administration of mod_perl. How do you plead?

Rusty: I plead the yacht and monocle polish defense.

Judge: The defendant is deemed guilty, and shall serve out his sentence at a labor camp in Ipswich, MA.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Uh, dude? (none / 0) (#297)
by Russell Dovey on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 05:24:06 AM EST

You just posted a great comment, that would have been helpful to anyone interested in this article. If you -1 the article, you are trying to ensure that no-one will see your comment. Why not let it stand, so you can change wavering minds?

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

Everything deregulated has collapsed (2.69 / 13) (#17)
by SwampGas on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:33:09 AM EST

It had an opposite effect on the companies in other fields (deregulation meaned less companies and less competition), but the same end result.

The radio industry was deregulated in '96.  Look at the radio industry now.  After working in the industry for several years, I can personally attest that it SUCKS.

Ever hear a KISS-FM station?  So has everyone else.  It's not real.  90% of the time it's coming from a different city on the other side of the country.  The music is on a 90 minute rotation...you hear the same rap song they're pushing every 90 mins.  They don't play music based on if it's good or not...it's a corporate pay-for-play scheme.

Most of the other stations are doing the same thing since the owners and buy buy buy.  They consolidate the staff to remove any originality and dynamics.  They screw with the music formats.  They fire any interns or part time jocks.  They cut the budget back so far they can't do any of the old school promotions.

Change the pace.  Let's talk about Communistcast.  Serving cable across the entire eastern seaboard....they SUCK.  Their customer service is a bunch of high school drop out morons, their service is horrible (constantly going out..both cable AND internet).  It's expensive as all hell (price fixing).  I have no choice but to use Communistcast and put up with their expensive, horrid service since I can't have satellite here.

So...you say deregulation has put the integrity of the electrical system up in the air?  Seems like it did it to everything else, too.

WTF? (4.16 / 6) (#19)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:41:29 AM EST

Why do we care about you bitching about pop culture on a story about electric utilities? Are you the gold standard of good music? I know millions that probably disagree with you and (gasp) actuall like the rap that is played on the radio. I don't really care about your whining.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
FYI (4.66 / 3) (#32)
by gazbo on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:48:54 AM EST

BBC Radio 1 sucks in exactly the same ways you've mentioned, despite being regulated.

You may be interested to know that it is also an extremely popular radio station.

-----
Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

It gets less popular every year. (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by Gully Foyle on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:59:48 AM EST

Didn't Radio 2 overtake it recently?

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

I blame Sara Cox [n to-tha t] (none / 0) (#34)
by gazbo on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:05:32 AM EST


-----
Topless, revealing, nude pics and vids of Zora Suleman! Upskirt and down blouse! Cleavage!
Hardcore ZORA SULEMAN pics!

[ Parent ]

I blame Terry Wogan. (none / 0) (#70)
by Gully Foyle on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:03:34 PM EST


If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

I blame Rusty. (none / 0) (#79)
by Theranthrope on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:47:15 PM EST

for no paticular reason


"Turmeric applied as a suppository will increase intelligence." -- HidingMyName
[
Parent ]

BBC Radio 1.. (5.00 / 1) (#242)
by jonarcher on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:52:55 PM EST

...sucks nowhere near as much as US radio. I moved from the UK to the US 18mths ago and I can assure you that upon comparison there is a staggering amount of variety on Radio 1 compared to the paltry selection of wanky radio around the Denver area. Yes, I used to think Radio1 was a total repeat fest, turns out I had no idea how much worse it could be. If you fancy a comparision go here: http://www.area93.com/

[ Parent ]
Radio has collapsed? (5.00 / 2) (#60)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:34:08 PM EST

I'm sorry - but you can blame deregulation for the uniformity of radio, but if they weren't making money they wouldn't have done it.

The fact that *you* don't like it is irrelevant if teeming throngs of Britney clones are sucking it up.


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
Oh, and... (4.50 / 2) (#61)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:35:10 PM EST

I've never had a problem with Comcast, either in cable or internet access - and their customer service actually resolved my problems quickly.


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
Two godawful examples (4.33 / 3) (#67)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:50:32 PM EST

Want to refute deregulation? Pick some better examples. First of all, radio, cable, and energy can never be truly 'deregulated.' That's the nature of their business. When you're dealing with scarcity there has to be some sort of regulation, and that's what we have. Maybe it's the wrong kind of regulation, but try telling Comcast and Clearchannel they don't have to answer to the FCC. Try telling Con Edison they don't have to adhere to FERC regulations. Industries can have competition and still be very, very regulated. Backwards FCC policies create favorable market conditions for large radio stations, which by the way, do get a lot of listeners. As for cable and energy, do we have any evidence that cable would be better off with a state-run monopoly? Look at what you're suggesting - you are unhappy with your current monopoly, but you want to put regulations in place that will ensure zero competition for cable service? Do we have any evidence that 'regulation,' whatever you mean by that, would have prevented the blackout? No, we don't.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Aren't all economic models about scaricity? (5.00 / 1) (#293)
by X3nocide on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 02:19:31 AM EST

Even your traditional open market? There's only soo many widgets in the market, although Widget Inc is pumping them out 10 thousand a month. The problem is one of ownership with the communication spectrum. If we opened up all bandwidth to the public, there is no natural notion of owning a wavelength or frequency.

I do agree that the examples are bad, but the cause isn't scarcity. And pop music didn't take over the world without help. Rock killed itself. Just ask Cobain!

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]

-1 wrong assumption (4.12 / 8) (#29)
by Fredrick Doulton on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:39:38 AM EST

Yep, the news droids were right. Every anti-deregulation hippie has been coming out of the woodwork preaching about the evils of free enterprise. Look, folks. This has nothing to do with deregulation. It has everything to do with this third world power grid our high-tech country has been running on. Oh, and those damn Canadians.

The 'decentralization' hippies who were laughed at 10 years ago are probably laughing their asses off. Turns out they were right to some degree.
But as we all know, our kind is fat and lazy when it comes to improving anything. We have very short attention spans. In a few weeks, this day will be forgotten and we will go on with our "It could never happen to me" attitudes.

Bush/Cheney 2004! - "Because we've still got more people to kill"

Nope, we have a first world power grid (4.75 / 4) (#136)
by felixrayman on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:25:00 PM EST

There is a decent article on slate that explains why the "third world power grid" accusation is completely wrong. Third world electricity infrastructure suffers from localized but frequent outages. It takes a huge complex interconnected first world power grid to generate the kind of outage seen over the last few days in North America, according to the article. Its an interesting read.

Call Donald Rumsfeld and tell him our sorry asses are ready to go home. Tell him to come spend a night in our building. - Pfc. Matthew C. O'Dell

[ Parent ]
Its not a private-sector fault (4.22 / 9) (#30)
by megid on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:41:08 AM EST

Instead, it is just bullshit rules. De-regulation does not mean everyone is allowed to produce crap, right?

In some countries, all electricity is organized in overlapping grids such that every point on the map is covered by at least 3 grids. Redundancy at its best. "Ring nets" they are called.

Now I know of at least one country that recently allowed private companies into that market, but guess what? Wherever they operate, they too are required to have ring nets. I am no expert, but I guess they also have a requirement to have a certain amount of surplus and to keep their systems well maintained.

No need to complain for them, though. In every industry, you have to adhere to certain quality standards or the Ministry Of Consumer Protection will kick your butt.

--
"think first, write second, speak third."

The NY system (4.50 / 2) (#147)
by duffbeer703 on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:56:06 AM EST

Is also built on interconnected and overlapping grids -- which is why areas like Michigan and Western MA were affected in addition to NY and Ontario.

Private (the only kind) power producers are licensed by NY state and are required to hook into the power grid operated by the NY ISO.

The blackout was caused by saftey devices designed to protect energy infrastrucure & customer equipment against damage. For whatever reason, a power surge or dropoff hit the system and triggered devices analagous to circuit breakers to protect the network.

At that point, within seconds of the first power problems, plants automatically shut down. (I saw the smoke from a plant in Albany from my office window indicating a shutdown) Usually this is because you need external power to safely operate water & steam pumps in the plant.

The system breakdown occured within seconds, which tells me that some switching equipment broke down (like during the 1960's blackout) or that the computer systems coordinating grid activity went down.

[ Parent ]

Deregulation seemed to work in the UK (4.70 / 10) (#31)
by Stephen Turner on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:46:41 AM EST

The UK was the first country in the world to deregulate its electricity market, in the late '80s, and we just haven't had the same problems here as we've seen in California and in New York/Ontario. Instead, the main effect has been a substantial fall in prices.

This means deregulation can't be wholly to blame for last night's problems. It's much more to do with demand for electricity increasing faster than new supply can keep up, and pressure from consumers to reduce prices. This could have happened under any regime. What about the big power cuts before deregulation?

I'm not saying deregulation didn't play a part in last night's events. It may or may not have done, but it's clear that it's also a soft target. Even if it did play a part, the causes are more varied and complicated than you're implying.

For the moment.. (5.00 / 2) (#35)
by ajduk on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:24:13 AM EST

In the UK, we now have a surplus because everyone went out to build cheap gas fired plants. With the less than wonderful consequence that we've now drained most of the gas from the North sea and will soon depend on imports. In 10-15 years, the UK electric grid will depend on a small number of pipelines all the way from Siberia, and the cost will be whatever they feel like charging.

[ Parent ]

No, I think... (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:15:44 AM EST

...that you'll end up paying whatever LPG prices are, which will still be higher. Given the sudden tightness in the US market, I think we'll see a rising prominence of LPG.



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
That is why ... (5.00 / 2) (#99)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 05:16:53 PM EST

... the government has started massively subsidising alternative energy schemes. Those huge off-shore wind farms are planned for a reason.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
However (5.00 / 1) (#122)
by leviramsey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:29:21 PM EST

Please inform Mr. Blair to check whether the wind farms are going to be built within sight of any Kennedy compounds.



[ Parent ]
I'll let him know ... (5.00 / 2) (#191)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 03:55:45 PM EST

... but I don't think there are many Kennedies living in the Lincolnshire wash.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Just a thought (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by jd on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:35:11 AM EST

There are numerous problems in the electrical grid, as it exists in the US. There are numerous points of catastrophic failure (ie: points the grid absolutely depends on - a failure will shut down the entire grid after that point. This happened to Oregon and parts of Washington State and California, 7-8 years ago. Tree branch hitting one powerline shut down almost the entire northwest.)

Load-balancing is simplistic at best. Result - the overload of one point will actually trigger overloads elsewhere - not much different from the blackouts the US had in the 50's.

The two above scenarios illustrate to me that the problem lies less in the politics and more in the companies. The companies are simply not willing to build and maintain a decent infrastructure.

What is needed is comparable to the QoS and Ad-Hoc systems now being slowly migrated into use in IP networking. These techniques are proven and well-researched. It doesn't require substantial investment, or R&D. All it requires is a little imagination.

Let's start by having capped flows. ie: No power station can receive demand in excess of capacity. The ECN protocol is great for that. What you do is have each branch hooked up with ECN. If the demand gets too high at any given segment, ECN chokes off the demand above the critical point, or even disconnects the excessive demand until it gets back to reasonable levels.

The next issue is being able to bypass areas that have failed. Treat the network as being an Ad-Hoc network, and use standard routing protocols for this type of network for discovering the path from source to supply. This may involve switching the "sense" of wires, but that's no big deal.

Finally, use something like HQF or CBQ to designate the percent of output from each power station that can go to a specific type or class of customer. Again, if this is widely-distributed, you could have different "grades" of customer, where that grade specifies the exact specification of what power that customer gets, under what conditions.

All of this can be done with a regulated OR unregulated industry. Personally, I prefer some degree of regulation, as it makes corruption much harder. Enron and Worldcom were only possible because there wasn't any quality supervision. However, the fact remains that a company can do well under any conditions, if it's imaginative enough.

THAT is why the energy industry is a disaster. Not the regulations/deregulations. Not the left, the right, the center, the martians, or the liberarians. It's the total lack of imagination.

Take power cables, for example. Aluminium is now in use for power distribution, even though it is very inefficient (much higher resistance than copper). "But aluminium is cheaper to install!" Yeah, and then factor in the cost of the lost power. Also, because the resistance is higher, the heat generated is also higher, which means that the amount of power you can carry is lower.

However, if you desperately want to cut initial costs, all you need to do is remember that electricity travels along surfaces. In short, you can have a core of aluminium, with some kind of copper-based plating (you can't use pure copper - you need the same thermal expansion properties) on the surface. Because the copper is the surface, and the surface carries the power, you get the lower resistance. But because you've got the aluminium for the core, you get the strength (huh?) and cheapness.

Alternatively, you don't use wires at all. Use extremely high frequency AC power, hollow out the "wires" making them into wave-guides, and effectively give yourself "fibre" for electricity. You do need very very high frequencies for this, and that means you'd need some impressive conversion systems outside each home, but it is certainly doable. Having two (or more) lines merging will be complex, though, as you've got to stop the waves interfering. But, hey, it still works out cheaper than having disasterous blackouts over multiple States.

Of course, none of these specifically address the single points of failure. For that, you need more lines to address this, going multiple paths.

Skin depth... (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by Back Spaced on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:44:42 AM EST

However, if you desperately want to cut initial costs, all you need to do is remember that electricity travels along surfaces. In short, you can have a core of aluminium, with some kind of copper-based plating (you can't use pure copper - you need the same thermal expansion properties) on the surface. Because the copper is the surface, and the surface carries the power, you get the lower resistance. But because you've got the aluminium for the core, you get the strength (huh?) and cheapness.

Skin depth varies with the inverse square root of frequency, and so would not be very much of a factor at 50 or 60 Hz.

Bluto: My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Otter: Better listen to him, Flounder. He's pre-med.
[ Parent ]

Ugh. (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by tzanger on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:54:22 PM EST

Skin effect is only 2-3mm in steel at 60Hz.  It's not negligable and the techniques discussed (hollowed out cables, etc.) are used today to get grid costs down.

[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure Al isn't used either. (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by wumpus on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:59:43 PM EST

Copper clad Al sounds like an ideal power line, but I've heard that it expands too far in the summer. Of course, I don't know where the original poster is posting from.

Wumpus

[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (4.71 / 7) (#51)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:53:43 AM EST

The two above scenarios illustrate to me that the problem lies less in the politics and more in the companies. The companies are simply not willing to build and maintain a decent infrastructure.

Wouldn't that be entirely the US public's fault?

"You can't raise our prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!"


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
You forgot ... (5.00 / 2) (#91)
by pyramid termite on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:25:57 PM EST

"We're not using less, we want to use more." But, yeah, there's a certain amount of unrealistic thinking on the part of the public here.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Actually, I believe... (5.00 / 1) (#112)
by DanTheCat on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:09:41 PM EST

Aluminium is used primarily due to weight considerations. Secondary consideration would be price.

How do you propose to limit the draw on a generator, exactly? The thing with electricity is that sudden changes propagate across the networks extremely quickly. If a transmission line overloads and trips a breaker, the loads being serviced by that line immediately start drawing from whatever is left, causing more overloading and so on and so forth. You can't just reject requests for additional energy like packets on an ethernet network. If you're short generation, you have to cut load to compensate, hence the rolling blackout situation in California.

Even if your remaining transmission lines can handle the loss of a major line, what about the generators? If there is not enough capacity, or the capacity is not able to come on-line quickly enough, the frequency drops too low and the generators start to drop off the grid, and so on and so forth.

From what I have heard in regards to the northeast, it only took about 10 minutes for everything to go off-line. Only small gas and hydro plants are able to react within those time frames, and their numbers are limited.

Dan :)

<--->
the art of compromise is now the only one they teach in schools
...
the art of compromise paid for all their swimming pools

[ Parent ]

costs of implementing markets (4.87 / 8) (#37)
by danny on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:39:35 AM EST

One of the big problems with privatisation of electricity systems is that creating and sustaining an electricity market requires a lot of work. So consumer A may pay want to buy power from generator B, but electricity grids are complex entities and there's no simple way to do a transfer between them.

So one question is whether the efficiencies of having a competitive electricity market are greater than the costs of implementing and sustaining that market - it's just not as simple as selling apples and potatoes, or even derivatives.

My regular hiking companion is a power engineer, and from his stories it sounds like the regulatory apparatus required to oversee the electricity market in New South Wales (Australia) is doing more for the lawyers and bureaucrats than the engineers.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

A nice quote (4.50 / 2) (#299)
by ggeens on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:49:10 AM EST

So consumer A may pay want to buy power from generator B, but electricity grids are complex entities and there's no simple way to do a transfer between them.

The local engineering association recently published an article about the open electricity market, and it had an interesting sentence:

"Electricity will still follow the Kirchoff's laws, and not necessarily the economic laws."

L'enfer, c'est les huîtres.


[ Parent ]
I hate working with utilities (4.66 / 15) (#38)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:45:09 AM EST

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of trying to get lines run for a business... you definitely want deregulated power.

Public Electric Co-ops are non-profit. They don't give a damn if you're going to be adding Mw's worth of payment to their company. They see it as a hassle, and frankly, they aren't interested in going to all the trouble of extending existing facilities. Constrast this to prompt, speedy, and helpful service from private electric companies.

From a business standpoint (and my own personal experience) deregulation is one of the best things that can happen to the power industry. Oh, and in the case I was mentioning the power rates from the private company were cheaper too.



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
Yes (4.66 / 6) (#43)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:38:06 AM EST

Millions can attest to the efficiencies and lower costs created by private energy companies. Private power definitely brings customers lower bills while public power brings worse service.

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
California crisis explained (4.80 / 5) (#46)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:09:06 AM EST

The FERC staff report maintained that genuine shortages "and a fatally flawed market design were the root cause of the California market meltdown." It noted that 2000 was the hottest summer on record, the winter was cooler than usual, and a Pacific Northwest drought reduced availability of hydroelectric power.

While there was undoubtedly some fraud, the real point of the investigations is to deflect criticism for the true cause of the problems, California's very poorly considered power contracts:

The state ultimately signed $42 billion worth of energy contracts, typically for periods of 10 to 20 years. Some of the contracts have expired or been renegotiated. But officials estimate they could still save $5 billion to $7 billion more on the contracts if allowed to renegotiate them. Spot-market prices for electricity have recently hovered around $55 to $60 a megawatt-hour; some of the long-term contracts were signed at prices of more than $100 a megawatt-hour.

As for the "mysterious outages" that Californians' claimed were deliberate price gouging, the major ones have been cleared as legitimate. (Free reg required) Some minor companies have been sued, however, generally only for damages of a couple million.

It should also be noted that the contracts that got California into this mess were done to bail out the failed privatized utilities, which went under because the costs of generation grew above the fixed price ceiling that was imposed on the "deregulated" industry. Sounds to me like they weren't deregulated enough.



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
Well (5.00 / 2) (#49)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:30:03 AM EST

Given that the main problem with California's energy crisis was that the utilities weren't able to pass on the higher cost of energy to ratepayers (the cost of which was driven up by fishy electricty/natural gas trading), how can you claim that more deregulation is the answer when the end result would have been higher bills for people who are in the PG&E/Edison areas regardless?

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
That didn't make any sense. (3.60 / 5) (#50)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:51:03 AM EST

So, you're saying there's no difference between paying a higher rate and experiencing random black outs and then paying an even higher rate?


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
No (4.00 / 4) (#54)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:15:19 PM EST

Compare the two scenarios.
1. California's current market. Power shortage. Fraud. Utilities can't pass on high cost of power to ratepayers. Utilities ultimately need bailing out, resulting in higher bills for ratepayers.
2. California's "ideal" completely deregulated market. Power shortage. Fraud. Utilities can pass on high cost of power to ratepayers. Result: higher bills for ratepayers.

Of course, scenario 1 is worse than scenario 2. However, you can contrast both with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a public utility, which was able to
a) keep rates stable during the energy "shortage" and
b) keep the goddamned lights on and have enough of an energy surplus to sell power back to the state.

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]

Or you could compare it with Pennsylvania (3.75 / 4) (#55)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:23:05 PM EST

Which deregulated, hasn't had price gouging or fraud, and was quick enough on its feet to disconnect from the national grid before the NY power failure took Philadelphia with it.


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
Tell me this (5.00 / 1) (#58)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:29:19 PM EST

Keeping existing regulations would have kept energy companies from gouging the state, since they wouldn't have owned any of the state's power plants. How would complete deregulation have kept energy companies from fradulently driving up the price of energy in California?

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
Pretty simple really. (3.75 / 4) (#65)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:39:54 PM EST

Because in a market where there are multiple companies, and "Enron" is charging more than everyone else, who the hell would buy from them?

Perhaps you could explain why California was gouged and Pennsylvania wasn't?


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
Hi (4.00 / 4) (#69)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:51:56 PM EST

Power generation wasn't regulated, it was the price passed on to consumers that was. So even in our current messed up market, power generators were free to charge whatever the hell they wanted. The only difference was who had to foot the bill, the utility companies or the ratepayer. And in a market with multiple companies that were proved to be colluding together, you don't have a free market at all.

Can I explain why California was gouged, and Pennsylvania wasn't? I dunno, maybe it was because Pennsylvanians were already being charged above market rates to help utilities recover their "stranded costs?" Or maybe California was just the test market for a larger scheme that would have been rolled out later? Or maybe because the energy companies wanted to precipitate a "crisis" in California to gain more favorable legislation in the state. Or maybe because California voted Democrat in the last presidential election and Dubya told his campaign donors to screw the state over to push a political sea change. Or maybe the companies involved in California and Pennsylvania are different ones, and Pennsylvania got lucky and got reasonably honest ones. I don't know, and neither do you - ask the heads of the energy companies involved for the answer.

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]

Power generation and regulation... (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:15:55 PM EST

Come on... The so-called "market" for power in California was set up to guarantee only one or two companies would attempt to play. From the very beginning California screwed up its energy system and insisted it was "deregulation" when it was no such thing. This is what made the price gouging possible - there was no free market and so there was no competition.


--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
There was no competition (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:21:57 PM EST

because power generation and natural gas companies were colluding to drive up market prices. I ask again, how would replacing California's two utilities with a dozen or a hundred have solved this problem?

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
What, exactly do you find so hard to understand? (5.00 / 1) (#77)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:33:56 PM EST

The collusion couldn't have occurred if California had actually opened their market - because there would have been too many players to "collude". California mangled things so that only one or two firms controlled the market, and they paid the price.


--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
Enlighten me (5.00 / 1) (#88)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:05:58 PM EST

How did California mangle the power generation market, and which two firms benefitted from it?

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
You know, I'm not the only one to answer this (5.00 / 1) (#124)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:08:05 PM EST

question, and it's not the first time for me either, so why not go back and read the other replies to your lame refusal to understand exactly what people are saying to you.

Although I have to say it's understandable seeing as how the entire state of California seems to be behaving the same way.


--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
what your point was (5.00 / 2) (#78)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:40:02 PM EST

because power generation and natural gas companies were colluding to drive up market prices. I ask again, how would replacing California's two utilities with a dozen or a hundred have solved this problem?

No you weren't. You originally were asking why producers could "gouge" the two of three utilities. The simple answer was that PG&E and Edison were forced to deliver power to the customer at a fixed cheap price. Hence, for about half of California, there was no incentive to cut back when electricity prices peaked. Sierra the third provider had little trouble (at least till "deregulation" such as it were got reregulated) because they could charge their customers (mostly people in the San Diego area) properly for the huge costs.

So Silicon Valley and northern California were highly subsidized by San Diego customers, PG&E, and Edison. This was a grossly unfair situation and it was perpetuated by the California state government, particularly Governor Davis.

If PG&E and Edison had been allowed to pass their costs on, then the natural thing would happen. People would cut their demand for electricity tremendously. The so called "collusion" would have collapsed just as it did after the California power contract purchases in early 2001.

It's really simple. If you consume a resource that costs so much that it drives a record state surplus into deficit, causes two of the three big electricity company providers to near or achieve bankruptcy. Then customers should pay more. This debate is ironic in that ultimately customers paid more anyway. The political intrigue harmed the California economy yet failed to achieve it's primary goal.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Oh wonderful (5.00 / 2) (#90)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:24:37 PM EST

Submit a necessary resource on which the public and your economy depends to the whims of the business cycle. Instead of sane, holistic, public planning in which future power needs are projected and accounted for, keeping prices relatively stable, we will have a situation where several separate businesses are focused on their own bottom lines and not the welfare of the state electrical grid as a whole. No one builds power plants until usage of existing capacity is almost 100% (capacity which isn't sold is money wasted, after all), when it is most profitable to invest in new power plants. Electricity usage is cut (for businesses, that means shutting down server rooms, stopping assembly lines, or closing plants and moving somewhere with predictable energy costs, and other wonderful things for a state's economy). 5 or so years later, you have a glut of capacity, the price finally drops, and you're back to step 1. Lather, rinse, repeat. Electrical infrastructure is ignored as much as possible because there's no profit in investing money in it. What kind of economy can function with these kind of uncertainties? I believe the only reason we haven't seen the same situation in other areas that have deregulated is because not enough time has passed.

And how was it that LADWP was able to keep both prices and energy supplies stable, if public utilities are so inefficient?

I also believe that collusion ended when Bush finally caved and set price caps on the entire region, not when Gray Davis signed the bad contracts.

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]

What wonderful faith in government you have! (5.00 / 3) (#97)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:56:22 PM EST

Instead of sane, holistic, public planning in which future power needs are projected and accounted for, keeping prices relatively stable,

Wow, you know, California is the last state where I think you'd actually see anything approaching decent guidance. California lacks capacity because the government wasn't interested. Rather than build new power plants and fight the NIMBY's, they decided to buy it off the spot market. That's the "foresight" that got this whole mess started.

A good deal of their problem was that they tried to "conserve" their way out of an increase in power requirements.

What kind of economy can function with these kind of uncertainties? I believe the only reason we haven't seen the same situation in other areas that have deregulated is because not enough time has passed.

Well, Gray Davis threatening to throw the heads of power companies in jail and confiscate the power plants certainly hasn't made people more eager to build new ones.

And how was it that LADWP was able to keep both prices and energy supplies stable, if public utilities are so inefficient?

Not familiar enough with their business to tell. Given that it appears they serve a limited area, it may be they have sufficient power to cover their current customers, and have invested in new facilities (rather than urged conservation) when demand increased.



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
LADWP (5.00 / 1) (#140)
by khallow on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:48:17 AM EST

Instead of sane, holistic, public planning in which future power needs are projected and accounted for, keeping prices relatively stable, we will have a situation where several separate businesses are focused on their own bottom lines and not the welfare of the state electrical grid as a whole.

Do you have an example of sane, holistic, public planning? The LADWP certainly isn't an example, but I doubt you were thinking of them anyway. This is getting a little OT for me, but if you want that kind of government, then you need voter participation, pure and simple. Perhaps even on a level never seen before in the politics of a country. At least, with a market, it'll work whether the voters monitor government closely or if they are apathetic slugs.

And how was it that LADWP was able to keep both prices and energy supplies stable, if public utilities are so inefficient?

LADWP has a long and glorious history of seizing the best assets in the Southwest (eg, water from the Colorado River, foreclosure of the Owens Valley, water from Central California and further north) for its own use, subsidized by state and Federal dollars. How can you lose under those circumstances? Apparently, LADWP isn't that incompetent. Second, they were a net generator, not a net consumer.

While I appreciate your mention that LADWP wasn't involved in illegal trading activity, it is still true that they profited from the situation as did all net generators. My point isn't that they didn't anything wrong by this, but merely that we can't use this as an example of a well run public facility.

OTOH, Los Angelos, the city and its suburbs, is probably one of the largest real estate schemes of the Twentieth Century and that LADWP was a key necessary component of that scheme. Hence, for much of its history, it must have been run efficiently merely because that was necessary for the success of the scheme. Ie, government bureaucracies can function efficiently when the controlling interests want them to.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

BTW, which companies were those... (5.00 / 1) (#126)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:12:12 PM EST

that colluded?

As far as I know the price increase in natural gas was both worldwide and permenent, so I have trouble understanding what it has to do with California not building enough power plants.


--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
OK (5.00 / 1) (#121)
by leviramsey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:25:35 PM EST

And in a market with multiple companies that were proved to be colluding together, you don't have a free market at all.

Which is hardly a strike against deregulation, as such collusion is [likely] illegal anyway (under federal anti-trust laws, unless an exception was put in, which case that was braindead). OTOH, in a regulated market, you effectively have the government forcing collusion.



[ Parent ]
Who's abusing the zero rating? (2.50 / 2) (#207)
by snacky on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 08:06:09 PM EST

1
2

Could it be... some pimply teenager who needs to get a job?

--
I like snacks
[ Parent ]

Eh. Let him go. (none / 0) (#286)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 12:29:39 AM EST

Like most children who act out, he's looking for attention. If you ignore him, it takes all the fun out of it.


--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
Not a good example (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:29:40 PM EST

Looks like the LA Water & Power was more than a little involved themselves:

Previously, a handful of power marketers, many of them based in Texas, had been blamed for the sharp run-up in wholesale electric prices in California, Washington and Oregon. But the Cal-ISO study found that Bonneville, along with the power marketing arm of Canada's BC Hydro and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, had shared in the excessive profits, the Los Angeles Times reported after receiving a copy of the report.

The rates were probably stable because of the killing they were making selling power to the rest of the state on the spot market.



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
That accusation (5.00 / 4) (#62)
by KilljoyAZ on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:37:11 PM EST

was unfounded.

===
Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
[ Parent ]
I retract my comment [n/t] (5.00 / 2) (#93)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:33:03 PM EST



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
So while not illegal (5.00 / 1) (#120)
by leviramsey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:22:19 PM EST

The profits they made from sales of their excess generating capacity were used to keep their prices stable?



[ Parent ]
customers should pay higher bills (3.66 / 3) (#75)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:10:06 PM EST

Given that the main problem with California's energy crisis was that the utilities weren't able to pass on the higher cost of energy to ratepayers (the cost of which was driven up by fishy electricty/natural gas trading), how can you claim that more deregulation is the answer when the end result would have been higher bills for people who are in the PG&E/Edison areas regardless?

I lived in the areas you mention above. So I benefited from this blatant subsidies scheme (thank you very much San Diego for paying most of my electricity bills for me). The point for me is that if electricity is expensive to make, then it should be expensive to buy. Part of the reason things got so messed up was because Governor Davis deliberately sabotaged PG&E and Edison.

They couldn't deregulate even when they had completed the work required for deregulation. Then when Edison entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it forced Davis to purchase power at elevated prices. End result, customers still pay more for electricity because now California has a big portion of its deficit (it was enough to eliminate $8 billion worth of surplus in financial year 2000-2001) and needs someone to pay up.

Hence, market forces won in the end. Customers are paying higher bills just like they should have all along.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

right... (3.66 / 3) (#106)
by zzzeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:25:48 PM EST

prompt, speedy, and helpful service from private electric companies...

i just walked three hours from the west side of manhattan in chelsea to the middle of brooklyn yesterday afternoon, underneath a 90 degree atmosphere baking the roadways and reflecting the heat back up again, amongst a crowd of about 200,000 other sweating, starving, thirsting, some panicking people over the brooklyn bridge that was clogged with people and cars in a virtual standstill.  lucky us werent trapped in elevators or subways as many were.  are these wonderful prompt and speedy companies going to give me a private fucking helicopter ride back home because they did such a shitty job ?   when some dinky website i work on is down for more than a few hours, people get fired....this is the entire electrical grid of the northeast, down for eighteen fucking hours.  this was not an unavoidable situation, this is the result of a power grid not receiving the resources it needs as attending to such proved to be "unprofitable" to these greedy motherfucking private power companies.  that is not "prompt" or "speedy" service, that is the most abysmal fucking shitty ass service ive ever seen.  I really dont care about a fucking business with a lot of cash getting their lines plugged in quickly when about 30 million people pay the price with a shitty, underfunded, poorly designed electrical grid.

dont moderate unless you sat in the dark all night also.


[ Parent ]

I don't moderate if I reply (4.00 / 2) (#113)
by RyoCokey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:30:10 PM EST

My power was fine the last couple of nights, although I've gone for days without power before, once due to line loss in Texas, and another time due to Hurricane Opal.

Considering the source of the failure has yet to be found, and you have no idea of how much of the total area of failure was "deregulated" and to what degree, don't you think you're jumping to conclusions rather early?



farmers don't break into our houses at night, steal our DVDs and piss on the floor. No
[
Parent ]
no (3.66 / 3) (#189)
by zzzeek on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 03:39:16 PM EST

official word from NERC: power outage started in cleveland

nytimes article citing deregulation as a leading cause of the problem


[ Parent ]

UK cost cutting (4.00 / 3) (#42)
by Big Dogs Cock on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:28:04 AM EST

Post privatisation, I notice most electricity companies are now using the cheaper sawtooth wave rather than the sine waves we used to have under the nationalised generating companies. OK, the RMS voltage is still the same but the sharp points of sawtooth waves can damage certain sensitive components.
People say that anal sex is unhealthy. Well it cured my hiccups.
Yeah, (4.00 / 4) (#45)
by President Saddam on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:03:38 AM EST

I've read studies which show that sawtooth power can decrease the lifespan of electrical appliances by %20. But I suppose the appliance companies own the power companies or vice-versa, so everyone's happy, right? Except the sucker consumer.

---
Allah Akbar
[ Parent ]

sawtooth power? (none / 0) (#364)
by superflex on Fri Sep 12, 2003 at 04:52:32 PM EST

considering ~99% of the electrified world runs on AC power produced from rotating generation equipment, this doesn't really make any sense to me... the physical principles involved dictate that your voltage and current waveforms will be sinusoidal.

please enlighten me with explanations and/or links if i'm missing something here.

[ Parent ]

California power wasn't deregulated (4.70 / 17) (#48)
by rujith on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:25:23 AM EST

In California, the price of electricity paid by end-users was forced to be below a certain price. That's not deregulation, unless you work at the Ministry of Truth. - Rujith.

Maximum Price (3.33 / 3) (#272)
by LPetr on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 07:42:03 PM EST

In California, the price of electricity paid by end-users was forced to be below a certain price.

Why does this affect the equation at all? Isn't the point of deregulation the lowering of prices? If deregulation is successful, then surely this law doesn't exist for all effects and purposes.

~~~ The only good religion is a dead religion.
[ Parent ]
not perpetually (4.00 / 3) (#285)
by Delirium on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:41:55 PM EST

Electricity markets, like all markets, fluctuate as supply and demand change. If you set an arbitrary level, especially one close to the normal level, periods of high demand or low supply will hit the limit, forcing power companies to run at a loss.

[ Parent ]
To all libertarian nutcases (5.00 / 1) (#328)
by greenrd on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 07:11:59 AM EST

Deregulation means removing some regulations. It never means removing all regulations (companies still aren't allowed to kill people they don't like).

So the fact that some regulations remained in force does not mean that it's Orwellian to call it deregulation. Unless you're a libertarian nutcase, of course.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

idiot (3.50 / 2) (#336)
by dh003i on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 09:35:17 AM EST

The laws against murder aren't regulations on the free market. They are there to form the infrastructure on which the free market is built. The free market requires that property rights and the right to one's body be respected. Furthermore, as has been pointed out, "deregulation" in often means a whole slew of new regulations on how to deregulate, so one could hardly call it "deregulation".

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

implementation issues, not deregulation issues (4.57 / 7) (#52)
by Kragg on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:09:46 PM EST

Energy production can come from either low cost plants with high lead-time (they take 24 hours to get up to full production capacity), or from higher cost plants that are more expensive to run but have a lower lead time.

The idea with margins in energy is that, because you have a market with very low liquidity (all energy that is bought us produced, and no excess is produced), you need an alternative higher cost means of producing energy when something fails.

This means that, if you get to a delivery period (like yesterday) and there is a sudden drop in available power, then the spot price shoots up and the energy companies that contracted to deliver the power have to buy expensive energy to cover, they have to settle at a very bad price.

This is the insurance that is built into the model to prevent an unexpected shortage of power from causing a blackout. This is the way it's meant to work.

The fact that it didn't work yesterday implies either that the market isn't running well (enron anyone?) or that the cause was something more than just a power station going down (like maybe a transmission point onto the grid failed or something). Quote from here indicates that 9 nuclear power plats went down:

The blackout will be recorded as one of the most extensive in U.S. and Canadian history. It shut down at least 10 major airports and nine nuclear power plants in at least seven states and Canada's Ontario province and forced hospitals, prisons and emergency service providers to switch to generator power.

You can't claim that deregulation is the problem just because things went wrong yesterday. Instead you should look at what the point of failure was, and work to improve that. If it really was that there wasn't enough power available for supply, then somebody ought to be able to get a high-cost plant running ready to make a killing next time.

It's not the free market's problem, it's the implementation.
--
"How can one learn to know oneself? Never by introspection, rather by action. Try to do your duty, and you will know right away what you are like." -- Goethe, Willhelm Meister's Travels.

standard reply when free markets fail (none / 0) (#104)
by zzzeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:11:53 PM EST

well, the market just wasnt free enough.

when are we going to get over this tired line ?

[ Parent ]

When it stops being true. (n/t) (1.00 / 1) (#111)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:06:36 PM EST


--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
The NE blackout wasn't caused by generator capacit (4.33 / 3) (#53)
by wiredog on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:10:13 PM EST

It was caused by transmission line capacity. Or, rather, undercapacity. Try running a high voltage line through someone's backyard and you'll get a feeling for the issues.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

Have they actually nailed that down yet? (5.00 / 1) (#57)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:25:47 PM EST

I thought we were still in the finger-pointing stage on what caused the outage?


--
His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.


[ Parent ]
word is... (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:37:36 PM EST

that the transmission lines went down, not the generators. The generators are mostlyoff-line, but ready to produce. Instead, the problem (or shall we say focus of the blame seeking mission) seems to be which side of the border the problem occured on.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

happened same spot in 1965 (4.22 / 9) (#66)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:44:12 PM EST

Look at this webpage describing the 1965 outage. The event started at the Ontario - New York border, near Niagara Falls.

They weren't deregulated back then. My suspicion instead is that there's something flaky occuring at that point which makes it a source of failure for when the entire system is heavily loaded. Remember that power production and consumption has gone up in recent years. My guess is that the transmission system never caught up.

Thanks to the Drudge Report for bringing that to my attention.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Something flaky... (5.00 / 1) (#179)
by sphealey on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:00:41 PM EST

They weren't deregulated back then. My suspicion instead is that there's something flaky occuring at that point which makes it a source of failure for when the entire system is heavily loaded. Remember that power production and consumption has gone up in recent years. My guess is that the transmission system never caught up.
Yes, there are these things called the "Great Lakes" ;-) .

The best and most secure power grid would be just that - a grid of squares or hexagons, with interconnections and at least one source of supply from each direction. Look at an electrical distribution map of Indianapolis for example - that is exactly how it is laid out.

The problem for the northeast US is that the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean get in the way. So it isn't possible to build a fully-interconnected grid. Add to this the fact that for the last 50 years Ontario Hydro has had a large surplus of juice which it has been more than willing to sell to the US, and you have a problem.

When I was with a midwestern utility we had a proposal from a Dutch firm to build a power line across the fat part of Lake Michigan. They figured it would be no great challenge, but we figured we would never get it past the US EPA, four states, and various Canadian agencies who have jurisdiction over the lake (yes, we have treaties with Canada concerning the management of Lake Michigan). Perhaps projects of that nature will be reconsidered now.

sPh

[ Parent ]

debatable (3.00 / 1) (#68)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:51:46 PM EST

Central planning, regulation, and even public ownership have been dirty words for a long time. Maybe it's time to clean them off a bit.

There's a good reason they became dirty words. People in general have had a better experience with competing private companies than public bureaucracies or government-enforced monopolies. I think a better approach would be for the transmission lines to be owned by regional non-profits which in turn are owned and managed by the energy producers, energy traders, and perhaps the respective state governments (particularly when they take part in market activities). Basically, anyone who sells electricity has an interest in a well functioning transmission system and good market for selling electricity. Let them manage it.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Yeah, but... (none / 0) (#95)
by Verbophobe on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:40:31 PM EST

... here in Quebec, where we've got a neat little government owned hydro-electricity company, we didn't loose any power during the blackout, despite being right next to the affected area.  It's not that bad.

Proud member of the Canadian Broadcorping Castration
[ Parent ]
And in Massachusetts (none / 0) (#116)
by leviramsey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:56:55 PM EST

Except for a few places in the Berkshires that are served by Niagra-Mohawk, the privately owned electric companies (N-M's corporate sibling in NationalGrid, Massachusetts Electric, Northeastern Utilities and NStar) had few outages. Only NU had problems in parts of western MA and CT, but they were able to get enough power from their own network to restore power quickly.



[ Parent ]
Deregulation not the problem (4.83 / 12) (#72)
by duffbeer703 on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:17:32 PM EST

The problem is NIMBY...

Residents of NYC, its suburbs and the Hudson Valley are politically powerful and do not want local power plants or additions to local power plants...

So most NYC power is provided by Canadian hydro-power, which is transmitted to NYC over high-tension lines. (which lose up to 60% of the energy sent through them because they are overcapacity)

You cannot build more power lines to NYC to more effienciently transmit power, because getting permits to build ugly power lines through the Adirondack or Catskill Parks is not possible -- the land is "forever wild".

The solution is simple -- build more power plants. After the 1977 blackouts, an agressive building program was started. A nuclear plant was to be built on Long Island and oil/natural gas plants in Brooklyn, Orange and Westchester Counties. Activists and courts pretty much halted all construction. (Legitimately in the case of the LI nuke plant)

NY has alot of good programs to help curtail load and avoid California-like brownout conditions. NYSERDA runs a peak-load reduction program where companies get incentives to build backup generators and curtail usage when needed. The NY Power Authority operate man-made lakes on top of mountains that provide hydropower during peak load conditions, and pump water back up to the lake during slack periods.

These and other programs have been very effective -- but take account for mechanical failure in an overextended system.

And it's still going to be a problem (4.66 / 3) (#107)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:39:22 PM EST

Good luck trying to get a nuclear plant built anywhere in the NYC suburbs - there's enough whiners trying to shut down the 2 reactors that are already running...

I read an article in the local paper by this professional whining guy where he claimed that this massive power outage demonstrates that we must shut down the Indian Point nuclear reactors.

Tim
"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

brilliant. (4.00 / 4) (#135)
by ZorbaTHut on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:08:02 PM EST

I read an article in the local paper by this professional whining guy where he claimed that this massive power outage demonstrates that we must shut down the Indian Point nuclear reactors.

When did "thinking" go out of style? Did I miss it?

It's only a matter of time until people are training their children to ignore facts they don't agree with - if it hasn't happened already.

[ Parent ]

OT: ignoring reality (4.33 / 3) (#245)
by niom on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:29:57 PM EST

It's only a matter of time until people are training their children to ignore facts they don't agree with - if it hasn't happened already.

You are posting to a discussion forum about people ignoring facts they don't agree with? To go with the old joke, are you enjoying your first day here?

Seriously now, a famous book about self-esteem precisely talks about people being trained as children to ignore inconvenient facts as one of the main causes leading to lack of self-esteem and unhappiness in our society. It's a great psychology book, I recommend it to anyone.

[ Parent ]

Well (5.00 / 1) (#332)
by greenrd on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 07:27:22 AM EST

When did "thinking" go out of style? Did I miss it?

If you'd put a little more thought into that post, you might have realised that the dude might have actually had a point. Nuclear generating stations will shut off when they are hit by something like this, resulting in a cascade effect and increasing the damage. It's not generally the most cited downside of nuclear power, because there are more scary possibilities to worry about... like massive pollution due to leakage of radioactive waste containers.

It's only a matter of time until people are training their children to ignore facts they don't agree with - if it hasn't happened already.

It has happened already, and you can see the results all over k5.

No, I'm not talking about myself - I don't generally ignore facts that I don't like the sound of.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Indian Point (4.75 / 8) (#142)
by duffbeer703 on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:45:43 AM EST

Is the biggest joke of them all...

Community groups are railing against Indian Point because massive quantities of spent nuclear fuel rods are stored in dozens of storage ponds all over the property. (More than most plants)

Why are the fuel rods still at Indian Point? The same community groups obtained court injunctions that prevented the plant from shipping out radioactive waste via truck, rail or boat on the Hudson River.

It's really rather laughable.

An even better example of reactionary "environmentalist" and real-estate developer driven lunacy is taking place about 80 miles north regarding the St. Lawrence Cement Company's new plant.

St. Lawrence Cement currently operates a cement plant built in the early 50's. The equipment is aging and pollutes more than modern machinery.

So the company decided to relocate about 5 miles south along the Hudson. (It needs river water to operate) The resulting plant will be much smaller, even while producing more cement and will produce less air pollution.

The permit process for this plant has dragged on for years as real estate developers, art lovers (the plant would be visible from James Fenimore Cooper's home) and environmentalists fight in the courts and in Albany. If the plant is blocked, the company will shutter the NY plant, fire 300 people and expand a plant in Georgia.

Basically, industrial and infrastructure development is impossible to accomplish in New York, unless the development involves building more highways to the suburbs and converting farmland into soulless subdivisions and Sam's Clubs!

[ Parent ]

Spent fuel (5.00 / 1) (#330)
by greenrd on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 07:21:30 AM EST

Community groups are railing against Indian Point because massive quantities of spent nuclear fuel rods are stored in dozens of storage ponds all over the property. (More than most plants)

Why are the fuel rods still at Indian Point? The same community groups obtained court injunctions that prevented the plant from shipping out radioactive waste via truck, rail or boat on the Hudson River.

There is nothing illogical about that at all. They have protested against both because they obviously feel that having the waste shipped around or stored like that is too dangerous. Ultimate conclusion: Let's get rid of the nuclear plants, since they are too dangerous either way.

I have to sympathise - for me the storage and transport of nuclear waste has always been the biggest issue about nuclear power. It's not just about reactor safety.

So are they being illogical? No - not unless you start with the assumption that you must have a nuclear plant so it's an either-or.

Of course in practical terms you have a nuclear plant and you've got to do something with the nuclear waste. But you've got to look at the bigger strategic game plan here.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

fait accompli (5.00 / 3) (#334)
by duffbeer703 on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 08:39:19 AM EST

The nuclear plant has been there for 30 years.

Whether it should or should not be there is an academic argument. It is there. The spent fuel is there.

If you shut down the plant today, you would be faced with the same two choices:

1. Move the fuel to a less populated area.

2. Leave the fuel where it is, and accept the risk of accidental explosion or terrorist attack.

[ Parent ]

Electricity and market fanatics (4.16 / 6) (#74)
by michaelp on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:26:46 PM EST

I'd have to agree that typical market forces don't apply well to the e- market. Whether it is undersupply or transmission line failures, when your product is charged electrons, things get rather unique and general solutions applied for ideological purposes are bound to fail.

I think the pro-dereg energy folks looked at the e- market like the gasoline market, and felt that if only the e- market could be more like the gasoline market, things would be ever so much nicer. After all, if other markets have a 20% over supply, there is something terribly inefficient going on and profit to made from change!

But the reality of the charged electron market makes it one of those things that works better when insulated from 'free' market forces, by heavy regulation or -shudder- gummint ownership.

One can really see the religious nature of the current free market crusade: it's rather obvious that free markets work very well for goods that can be stored, shipped, have multiple different versions, and no one dies if there is a sudden shortage of.

But what is the 'free' market really free of? It's free of control, and free of thought. It's not anyones fault if a free market produces a shortage because by definition and design people aren't in control. This works great for many products. But not so good for others, esp. products that can't be stored long, don't ship well, require a landline from the producer to the customer, and where real people suffer and die if there is a shortage.

But it's so hard for market fanatics to learn and accept that the market isn't a silver bullet for all situations that they will push for market forces to control even the most critical of resources, even resources where shortages are deadly and cause numerous other industries where market forces work just fine, to have spectacular failures.

This deregulate everything and let the market sort it out movement is clearly a religious crusade, not a responsible economic platform.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

fix not break the market (2.75 / 4) (#76)
by khallow on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:26:14 PM EST

I'd have to agree that typical market forces don't apply well to the e- market. Whether it is undersupply or transmission line failures, when your product is charged electrons, things get rather unique and general solutions applied for ideological purposes are bound to fail.

I haven't seen any solution proposed other than government taking over. That's a general solution applied for ideological purposes. If that were the only difference between markets and government, then it really wouldn't matter would it? One ideology is the same as another since they're all divorced from reality. However, markets have a lot of history as being best possible ways to sort out who gets to use scarce resources while governments have an extremely poor history at the same tasks.

This deregulate everything and let the market sort it out movement is clearly a religious crusade, not a responsible economic platform.

I haven't yet seen a lot of discussion on how we will overcome the resulting inefficiencies, if the energy industry is reverted to government control. As before, we should concentrate on which solution works better. Markets perform better than government. That's already known. It's not a religion just fact.

Instead, what should be asked is how to get the interests of market participants to coincide with the public interest? Ie, here is this efficient mechanism, how do we get it to work for us? If we make it so that electricity companies profit from making a high quality, high capacity, universal energy transmission system, then it will happen. This talk of inserting government is counterproductive. How do we fix the system? Not how can we break it in accordance with our religious dependence on government?

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Market Religeon is not a Fact (5.00 / 2) (#81)
by wumpus on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:41:42 PM EST

In most things, a market can be set up that does better than a government. I would be highly impressed if a "defense market" could do the job better than government. It is unknown if a market can be setup in electricity while doing less damage than the previous regulation. I submit California as an example of the process of working toward marketization doing damage.

I would really like to know who is going to set up the market (not the governement, it can't do anything right) in the public's interest? Certainly not the electricity suppliers. Who do you think set up California?

Wumpus

[ Parent ]

Other solutions impossible (5.00 / 2) (#87)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:59:51 PM EST

Solutions other than the government take-over would require a true free market, meaning, you'd have to have a couple power lines coming to your house to choose who provides your power. Otherwise, each piece of the puzzle (each generator and transmitter) will shift the blame to someone else.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
You can tell its a religion when (4.66 / 3) (#123)
by michaelp on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:35:51 PM EST

folks make statements like this:

Markets perform better than government. That's already known. It's not a religion just fact.

And don't provide evidence. Markets have not been performing better when deregulated in the power business, that is the problem.

Add that to the 'fact' that markets have proven highly unreliable for a number of necessary services such as highways, fire, police and military in US history.

I haven't yet seen a lot of discussion on how we will overcome the resulting inefficiencies, if the energy industry is reverted to government control.

The "resulting inefficiences" were and should be part of the long term cost of providing a reliable service. Unregulated market forces will always push managers into trying to cut costs, to become more "efficient". This may well save a penny or two per kwh, at the cost of postponed maintainance & elimination of extra capacity. Both of these will result in less reliable power than if the "inefficient" system of mandated timely maintainance and over capacity were 'reverted' to.

BTW, I haven't seen a lot of discussion about how a real free market can be created in power, at least not without alot of tools we have yet to invent: how are you going to provide multiple lines to a house so I can choose the best price at will? How are you going to make space near NYC for multiple competing power stations when you can't even provide space for one new one now? How are you going to store excess power produced by these multiple power stations for later resale?

This little market experiment seems to involve alot of faith and hand waving, and not alot of proven, tested, reliable methods for getting from here to there. How many years of blackouts and brownouts will we have to endure to see if this free market experiment really will work out?

Most importantly, how much is really going to be saved by eliminating these 'inefficiencies' and is it ever going to be enough to pay back what your little experiment as already cost?

Instead, what should be asked is how to get the interests of market participants to coincide with the public interest?

Sure, answer that, test it, make sure you've got the right answer, THEN change the system which was working pretty well out for this new one. Dumping an old system that works for a new one on faith is the act of fanatics, not responsible leaders.


"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

[ Parent ]

private versus public + couple side topics (5.00 / 2) (#146)
by khallow on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:53:04 AM EST

And don't provide evidence. Markets have not been performing better when deregulated in the power business, that is the problem.

Add that to the 'fact' that markets have proven highly unreliable for a number of necessary services such as highways, fire, police and military in US history.

Hmmm, looks like we have some privatization in these areas. For example, here's an article on private fire fighting services. Also, fire fighters who put out oil well fires are exclusively private (at least in the US and Europe).

Police services have long been privatized with mixed results. For example, detective agencies, armored cars, security guards, surveillance devices, etc are used since government protection only goes so far. Organized crime routinely operates as a private police force/military force.

For example, billions of dollars are bet on sports events every year. So why don't we have hordes of players cheating so that they can get a piece of that action? The answer is that if the public police force doesn't get you, then the private one does. Rumor has it that gamblers who cross the line and encourage the throwing of a game can suffer serious penalties like broken legs and such.

The US has a pretty good history of effective private military forces. For example, most of the battles between American Indians and US citizens were fought with private groups on the US side. The US revolutionary war was fought with a number of privately organized militias (on both the side of the States and of the British government!) and guerilla bands (again from both sides). Private groups resurfaced during the Civil War as guerillas in places like Kansas, Missouri, and West Virginia.

I'm least certain about road-building. Even railroads which require less infrastructure, were heavily subsidized by government. Still if you look at the people who build and maintain these roads, most are from private companies and they do as good a job as public sources are willing to fund.

And government doesn't always work here. I've lost thousands of dollars on a particularly nasty dirt road that I used to travel to visit a friend of mine. It was a country road, but because only four or five families lived on it, the county declined to scrape the road flat of potholes. I ended up losing *two* transmissions on that damn road. It would have been much cheaper for me to personally pay to scrape that road.

The "resulting inefficiences" were and should be part of the long term cost of providing a reliable service. Unregulated market forces will always push managers into trying to cut costs, to become more "efficient". This may well save a penny or two per kwh, at the cost of postponed maintainance & elimination of extra capacity. Both of these will result in less reliable power than if the "inefficient" system of mandated timely maintainance and over capacity were 'reverted' to.

A simple solution here is to insure delivery of power. If a company or for that matter public government entity has to provide power insurance to customers who wish to buy it, then that cuts out a lot of your problems above. Drop the mandated requirements and just make these institutions responsible for reliability problems, particularly if the customer choses to purchase insurance against those problems. If power loss causes me $50 million in damages, then I (or perhaps my insurance company) should collect from the electric company that promised to deliver that power.

I think it's an orthogonal issue to whether the electricity market is private or public. It does have the benefit that it's worth someone's efforts to keep my power as reliable as I'm willing to pay for.

This little market experiment seems to involve alot of faith and hand waving, and not alot of proven, tested, reliable methods for getting from here to there. How many years of blackouts and brownouts will we have to endure to see if this free market experiment really will work out?

This is misleading. First, how many "years" of blackouts are we talking about? Perhaps half a day to a day for most people. In California, the "rolling blackouts" probably meant two to four hours of blackouts for most customers.

Brownouts, I simply don't know about. Is power quality better or worse than it would be under the old regime? I simply am not seeing credible evidence one way or another though I grant that anecdotal K5 evidence indicates that electricity supply is declining in quality. However, that doesn't mean that they wouldn't decline anyway if they were regulated rather than deregulated. In particular, are the problems with transmission lines due to current deregulation or the situation prior to deregulation?

Most importantly, how much is really going to be saved by eliminating these 'inefficiencies' and is it ever going to be enough to pay back what your little experiment as already cost?

I'm not seeing compelling evidence that it costs more now including the transition costs, than it would have if we didn't deregulation these areas.

Sure, answer that, test it, make sure you've got the right answer, THEN change the system which was working pretty well out for this new one. Dumping an old system that works for a new one on faith is the act of fanatics, not responsible leaders.

Frankly, I think this idea has been tested, regulation of electricity generation and transmission wasn't working well, and dumping the old (which occured by state not universally) was a good idea. The problem is that deregulation often was flawed as in the case of California when a couple of the native electricity companies (PG&E and Edison) inserted builtin advantages for themselves (and later had that backfire on them).

I don't think it'll take long for a decision to come on the quality of the transmission lines. If that is a problem due to the deregulation process, then the many private power producers (and a certain Republican administration) have a strong incentive to set things right. Or else we will indeed go back to regulation whether or not it is a good idea.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

120 years? (5.00 / 3) (#180)
by sphealey on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:10:11 PM EST

Frankly, I think this idea has been tested, regulation of electricity generation and transmission wasn't working well, and dumping the old (which occured by state not universally) was a good idea.
Well, it worked pretty well for 120 years and gave North America the most universal and reliable supply of electricity in the world. And if a few of the larger utilities hadn't been caught by the changes in nuclear power post-TMI (whole nother topic), it might still be working very well. You are going to have to provide more detail than saying the previous system didn't work, because at face value it worked very well. It didn't produce 60% per year compounded returns for investors, that is true.

Also, one must consider the difference between efficiency and effectivness, which Jerry Pournelle discusses here. Out-and-out competition tends to drive out effectiveness very quickly, since at the margin an effective product will always cost a little more than an efficient product. When the day comes that you need the effectiveness, there is no longer a supplier of that product.

sPh

[ Parent ]

Some of these examples are dubious ... (5.00 / 1) (#310)
by pyramid termite on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 05:44:28 PM EST

Rumor has it that gamblers who cross the line and encourage the throwing of a game can suffer serious penalties like broken legs and such.

Rumor also has it that gamblers who are facing such private punishment often pack a gun so they don't have to take it - hardly a good outcome for society, is it?

Private groups resurfaced during the Civil War as guerillas in places like Kansas, Missouri, and West Virginia.

Oh, boy - and have you looked very closely at the results of having private groups fight wars? We could start with the infamous William Clarke Quantrill, Missouri rebel leader, who was responsible for the Lawrence Massacre, in which 150 citizens of Kansas lost their lives. There were a couple of gentlemen who assisted Quantrill on that day, Cole Younger and Frank James, whose little brother Jesse was too young to ride with them at the time.

Life got dull after the Civil War and they were still sore, so they formed the James Gang. I'm sure you've heard of them. The point being that some members of private militias find it profitable to continue even after the conflict is over.

In Paul I. Wellman's "A Dynasty of Western Outlaws", he traces the association of various infamous outlaws all the way from Quantrill, to the James Gang up to Pretty Boy Floyd in the 30s. That's one hell of a legacy for a private militia, isn't it?

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Regulated monopoly worked just fine... (5.00 / 2) (#178)
by sphealey on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:50:57 PM EST

I haven't seen any solution proposed other than government taking over. That's a general solution applied for ideological purposes. If that were the only difference between markets and government, then it really wouldn't matter would it? One ideology is the same as another since they're all divorced from reality. However, markets have a lot of history as being best possible ways to sort out who gets to use scarce resources while governments have an extremely poor history at the same tasks.
Regulated monopolies serving geographically contiguous and distinct areas worked just fine for 120 years. Yes, there was a tendency for those utilities to get a bit fat and lazy (I was there during the 1980s), and some way to force them to clean house and get a bit more competitive was clearly needed. But Enron, the current version of SoCal Edison, and the wonderful California "ISO" were not the way to do that!

And one thing is certainly clear: no electricity provider facing cut-rate competiton can afford to keep the systems and reliability engineers on staff to plan, manage, and maintain a grid on 30-year cycles. The temptation to "downsize" (i.e. fire) those people to get a quick boost for the quarter cannot be withstood. Which is exactly what is happening today.

sPh

[ Parent ]

I'll agree with that (5.00 / 1) (#206)
by khallow on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 07:22:48 PM EST

Regulated monopolies serving geographically contiguous and distinct areas worked just fine for 120 years. Yes, there was a tendency for those utilities to get a bit fat and lazy (I was there during the 1980s), and some way to force them to clean house and get a bit more competitive was clearly needed. But Enron, the current version of SoCal Edison, and the wonderful California "ISO" were not the way to do that!

The thing to remember here was that the deregulation process in California was set up in a very disfunctional manner. Further, the California government and Governor Davis utterly failed to fix this problem when it became obvious in July 2000 that something was wrong.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Electricity is an outdated technology. (2.25 / 4) (#83)
by anaesthesis on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:46:06 PM EST

USB 3.0 will completely replace it in most if not all segments of the IT market.

Economics and why free-market power doesn't work (4.00 / 6) (#85)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:57:02 PM EST

As, it seems, is a consensus around here, electric power need significant redundancy to be reliable. The problem is that the customer is hardly willing to pay for the price of that redundancy, so it has to be forced upon by the government. The power companies can't do it themselves because it's a big investment that they can't afford to make out of their pockets. And there'd be no financial return if they made the investment because you'll never get two power lines to your home, allowing you to choose between cheap unreliable and not-cheap reliable power. The way things work now, when the grid goes down, everyone does regardless of from whom they are buying their power.

That happened now, happened in California a couple years ago and Brazil was in the brink of a nation-wide power collapse too. All for the same reason: power reliability is an expense the general public won't pay for, and has to be done from the Government, which has the power to provide it. Only that, to provide it, it has to own the power grid.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p

deregulation (4.66 / 3) (#96)
by John Thompson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:48:52 PM EST

cbraga wtote:

...power reliability is an expense the general public won't pay for, and has to be done from the Government, which has the power to provide it.

As the article pioints out, power reliability is something the public can pay for/has paid for -- in the decades before deregulation.

Only that, to provide it, it has to own the power grid.

Before deregulation, the government did not own the power grid -- it regulated it.  The power companies owned the grid, and profited from the grid, but within the regulatory constraints imposed by the government.  Some surplus capacity was mandated to ensure reliability.

The free market zealots did not see this excess capacity as a safety net but as a superfluous cost, imposed from outside by the govenment.  A deregulated energy market would would allow both lower prices for consumers and higher profits for investors.  But somehow the safety net got forgotten and the only ones to benefit were a few big investors.

The lesson we should take from this is that free markets are not a panacea.  There are legitimate areas in which it makes sense to regulate production and distribution for the public good.  Moderation in all things, as they say, is a good thing.



[ Parent ]
I should've said: (none / 0) (#100)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:05:04 PM EST

The general public wouldn't pay for the reliability if able to choose not to.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Well... (5.00 / 1) (#103)
by Weembles on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:10:49 PM EST

The funny thing is that they will -- so long as it is done collectively as the government.

[ Parent ]
And yet (4.33 / 3) (#115)
by leviramsey on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:50:34 PM EST

If you look at the NYC real estate market (after 9/11; it should be even moreso within the next couple of years), a major selling point for every commercial (and high-end residential development soon, I'd imagine) is becoming a backup diesel generator in the basement to provide a minimal portion of the electricity needs.

Not required, yet they'll be willing to pay for it.



[ Parent ]
Well, yes. (4.50 / 2) (#168)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:17:00 PM EST

Most people are halfway willing to pay for hospitals after they have a heart attack, too. What's your point?

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Explain (4.00 / 2) (#117)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:58:27 PM EST

Why on earth would we force people to pay for significant redundancy if they didn't want it? I guess the answer is the same as always, you believe that the government is a better judge of what's in my best interests. I can tell you there certainly isn't a consensus on that point.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Easy (5.00 / 3) (#119)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:13:52 PM EST

Why "we" (the government) should force it: to avoid what just happened in the northeastern USA. This time, it seems, was mostly a big inconvenience, but much worse could have happened. In Brazil a couple years ago (I live in Brazil) there was a risk half our plants would go idle and leave half the country halted. How bad is that? (Most of Brazil's power is hydroelectric. New plants are chronically lagging and a major draught caused water levels in reservoirs to drop so quickly they could go dry in 2 or 3 months' time). And why are new plants chronically lagging, I hear you ask? Because each time the government moves to build a new one whiners everywhere bitch about rising electricity costs. And since most of the grid was handed over to the private sector some 5 years ago it only got worse.

My point? That if people are dumb enough to whine about new plants because of costlier electricity then the government has to decide for them, because they are clearly wrong in this issue. Just weight what's worse, a 5% increase in electricity cost or a nation-wide blackout?

You might have seen a housefly, maybe even a superfly but I bet you ain't never seen a donkey fly. -- donkey
[ Parent ]

Tragedy of the Commons (5.00 / 5) (#130)
by bugmaster on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:41:17 PM EST

Why on earth would we force people to pay for significant redundancy if they didn't want it?
This is known as the "tragedy of the commons". To each individual citizen, the advantages of extra redundancy are not nearly sufficient to cover the costs. All he wants is his power now -- and let someone else worry about redundancy. Similarly, power companies want to maximize profits -- thus, spending extra 20% on pure loss is not an attractive proposition for them. It's cheaper to temporarily import someone else's power when their own plant fails.

See the pattern ? No one wants to pay for extra power, because the immediate gain is very small, and the loss is relatively large. Thus, eventually, we have cascading failures all over.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

You're oversimplifying (4.50 / 4) (#132)
by pyramid termite on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:49:24 PM EST

Why on earth would we force people to pay for significant redundancy if they didn't want it?

Because they need it.

I guess the answer is the same as always, you believe that the government is a better judge of what's in my best interests.

Actually, that's not quite the theory behind representative government - the idea is that the people, who are not expert enough, or perhaps wise enough, or knowledgable enough, and certainly don't have time enough to sort through everything, elect people who have time and are supposedly more expert, wiser and knowledgable. That's the theory, anyway. And in spite of the rhetoric coming from the Right that individuals know better than the government what is right for them, you'll find that most Republicans act in the belief that they know better than those they represent.

You're welcome to question this as it can be demonstrated that many of our elected officials do NOT seem to be smarter than we are. But I'm afraid it can also be demonstrated that a significant proportion of the population are dumb as rocks and can't even decide their own personal and financial matters without screwing it all up. So we have a system where sometimes wise people are told what to do by idiots, and sometimes idiots are told what to do by wise people.

It would seem the major point of controversy these days is who exactly are the wise people and the idiots. I can only say that you won't be able to tell by party affiliation.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Free market / direct democracy (4.00 / 2) (#143)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:49:03 AM EST

Free markets and direct democracy are very different topics. I'm talking about the former, you're assuming I meant the latter. Small government has nothing to do with representative government.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
My only answer to that is ... (4.75 / 4) (#152)
by pyramid termite on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 08:33:42 AM EST

... the free market in the U.S. is a myth. The government has been interfering since day one, especially in the field of public utilities. You claim that a free market in electricity would solve the problem, but you're basing that on ideology, not empirical proof. I don't know of any examples where it's been done and therefore we have no data to prove your assertion.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
You are confusing things (4.33 / 3) (#149)
by jjayson on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 03:14:42 AM EST

A person is dumb. The electorate is wise, more wise than an single individual, and more capable of knowing what is good for everybody than anything else.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
That's also part of the theory ... (4.85 / 7) (#155)
by pyramid termite on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:06:00 AM EST

... but is it true? Judging from current election figures, the people in their wisdom have chosen "I don't give a damn" as their No. 1 choice. For choices 2 and 3, they seem to have chosen, "Let the government keep growing and we'll make the richer people pay for it" and "Let the government keep growing and we'll make nobody pay for it".

They've also chosen long commutes, high energy consumption lifestyles and putting as much distance between them and the "undesirables" as possible. More importantly, they choose governments and officials that will enable these ideas.

They've chosen to create a mountain of debt for the government and themselves - one that is probably unprecedented. They've chosen to import everything they want instead of making it themselves - even though one nuclear bomb on a container ship or a world wide war would bring this to a screeching halt. They've chosen to increase their dependence on the goodwill of the rest of the world when the goodwill of the rest of the world is fading.

It seems to be working alright now. 20 years from now, will it be? If it turns out to be a mistake, how wise was the electorate then?

Wide changes are coming to a country that doesn't seem to want to make many changes at all. Which will we do? Will we choose which changes we make or will we fail to choose and have circumstances make the choices for us?

Our wisdom is being tested right now.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's true. You just need to dig. (4.50 / 4) (#174)
by jjayson on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:02:15 PM EST

The reason why the electorate choses isn't always immediately in view. I know that it is fashionable to think that the intelligencia should be running everything, but I think that is just elitism (from both the left and right). When the electorate goes left, the right complains that the people have been fooled. When the electorate goes right, the left complains that the people don't appreciate environmental concerns or a progressive agenda. Neither is true.

In picking politicians, the electorate isn't chosing a single policy; they are chosing a market basket of ideas. They may chose a suboptimal economic policy because the rest of the ideas in the basket are more important. Or they may indeed be chosing the best economic policy because they realize, better than all the MIT-trained economists, that is truly is the best for them.

More specifically, either way they go right now, the government grows. The only way out of this might be a liberatarian, third-party candidate, but they often have other policies in the basket they offer that the electorate loathes.

Either way they go, the national debt will grow. Decifict reduction doesn't come from tax hikes, and they know this. They have seen it in action. Clinton's best economic times came from a capital gains tax cut. Gore lost his presidential bid because of his support for raising taxes even more (like how Clinton lost Capitol Hill in his first mid-term election and how Bush 41 lost his second term). They also know that deficits haven't had much of an effect on their lives. Interest rates didn't skyrocket. The investment pool wasn't siphoned off in government bonds.

The electorate isn't fooled by the neo-Malthusians or Ehrlichs. For hunderds of years we were supposed to run out of energy. We keep finding new sources, and we keep getting better at using what we do have. Renewables, feul cells, and other things that have not even been invested on sitting in front of us.

I think you suffer from the classic political falacy: if the elctorate doesn't see thing they way you do, then they must be wrong. It never occurs to you that you are wrong.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

Then prove your assumptions (3.33 / 3) (#196)
by pyramid termite on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 05:09:07 PM EST

I think you suffer from the classic political falacy: if the elctorate doesn't see thing they way you do, then they must be wrong. It never occurs to you that you are wrong.

It's never occured to me because no one's actually proven it to me. No one's proven to me that increasing levels of debt are sustainable - in fact, there are those who claim to have proven the opposite. (Go to gold-eagle.com and read their often contradictory editorials.) No one's proven to me that terrorists couldn't import nuclear weapons through our shipping that we are so dependent upon - and they won't prove it either. As far as the energy problem is concerned, I'm not sure the doomsayers or the optimists are correct. I don't know that we will run short or we won't run short. I await proof on that matter, too.

It's not political fallacy to question whether people's assumptions are correct when they haven't been proven to be.

Remember that majorities are often wrong.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
assumptions (none / 0) (#213)
by jjayson on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 11:08:56 PM EST

There are two important things to remember. You look at the effects at the margin. Does that little extra debt have an impact; is it worse than without running the debt? And people chose between baskets of ideas when looking at a politician, not individual policies. So while you may be able to show that the electorate supported a suboptimal security policy, that may have been because the difference in security policy between the two candidates wasn't important enough to swamp the other issues and tip the vote.

Also, people don't think in marginal cost-benefit terms. They certainly act in them though. Unless they are very aware of their internal decision making process, asking someone why they acted the way they did will often not give you a good picture. Politicals and political economy are studies in how people act, not how they say they act.

No one's proven to me that increasing levels of debt are sustainable - in fact, there are those who claim to have proven the opposite. (Go to gold-eagle.com and read their often contradictory editorials.)
I have. If you will have noticed, I am somewhat of a gold hawk on currency issues. Look at the Bush/Gore election. Gore was supporter of raising taxes to reduce the deficit and help the economy (an economic idea tied to no theory and certainly nothing that Keynes said). The electore, born out the entirety of historic experience, knowing that wasn't going to work decided on Bush, even though he didn't have a clue on what to do either. At least Bush wouldn't dampen investment too much. The marginal negative of a little extra debt was still a better proposition than the marginal negative of higher income and capital gains taxes.

I remember reading this great quote by a house painter once. He said that the capital gains tax was the best thing he could think of even though it didn't affect him directly. He continued that he was never hired by a poor man. While not completely understanding the nature of the capital gains tax cut -- how it would directly affect the capital formation in his own business and how it wasn't really a trickling effect -- he did have a more subconscious understanding of how it would help him.

No one's proven to me that terrorists couldn't import nuclear weapons through our shipping that we are so dependent upon - and they won't prove it either.
First, people don't operate on "proof" such as in a court room. They act on a more intuitive and subconscious level. People are very good at rationalizing their choices and using that contrived rationality as an excuse.

We have only had one election after 9/11, and yes, the Republicans did walk away with it. That may not have had anything to do with security issues though. The electorate is very good at self-preservation, and often they are just biding time until a good leader shows up. Either voting Democrat of Republican in the 2002 elections probably wouldn't have made much difference in the direction of the country in terms of security. Many of the policies would have still happened, and those that didn't would have often had equally poor alternatives done. The negative social impacts of the security policies are small and easily rolled back. The negative economic impacts of paying for homeland security are probably not as bad as if Democratic anti-capital formation policy tools were used.

As far as the energy problem is concerned, I'm not sure the doomsayers or the optimists are correct. I don't know that we will run short or we won't run short. I await proof on that matter, too.
It is hard to "prove" there will never be a problem, however every time in the past it has been claimed, those claims never became true. Paul Ehrlich had to revise his famous Population Bomb twice after his world famine by 1977 prediction was a shown a magnificient failure. Equally poor were his predictions on the collapse of the Great Lake eco-systems and exhausting energy supplies. Malthusian-like scenarios just have a very poor history of ever being true. People like to solve problems, and they will when allowed to by having access to capital and reaping the rewards of success. Just as wild animals know when to stop overhunting, we too have a basic ability to intutively know when to stop taxing our environment.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
I'm not that confident (4.75 / 4) (#217)
by pyramid termite on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 12:58:46 AM EST

There are two important things to remember. You look at the effects at the margin. Does that little extra debt have an impact; is it worse than without running the debt?

That's totally dependent on what you're doing with the money - if we were building infrastructure or investing, it may be justifiable. If we're pissing it away, that's another story. The government seems to be investing some of the extra debt in a dubious adventure in Iraq. The rest of us seem to be buying "toys" with it.

So while you may be able to show that the electorate supported a suboptimal security policy, that may have been because the difference in security policy between the two candidates wasn't important enough to swamp the other issues and tip the vote.

I'm one of those who believes there is not a great deal of difference between the two parties.

Also, people don't think in marginal cost-benefit terms. They certainly act in them though. Unless they are very aware of their internal decision making process, asking someone why they acted the way they did will often not give you a good picture. Politicals and political economy are studies in how people act, not how they say they act.

In other words, people don't know why the hell they do what they do. That doesn't make me very confident.

The marginal negative of a little extra debt was still a better proposition than the marginal negative of higher income and capital gains taxes.

So you say - there are those who say that our "debt money" is being used to build a house of cards. Also, it's not just the government's debt - it's everyone's that's the problem.

Just as wild animals know when to stop overhunting, we too have a basic ability to intutively know when to stop taxing our environment.

No. They don't. The Sumerians and Assyrians irrigated their river systems to the point where agriculture became very hard and the civilization collasped. The Mayans are believed to have collapsed for similar reasons. The Sahara Desert once was grassland - and was overgrazed. Much of Italy and Greece were also overgrazed. The best example of people not having an intuitive sense of when they were overreaching the bounds of their environment was Easter Island - in fact, it goes beyond not being intuitive to just plain not being able to see the blindingly obvious. They cut down every tree on the island to build those statutes, after which they had no wood for boats or anything else and were damn well trapped. Somebody had to have chopped down the last tree on that island and furthermore they had to have KNOWN it was the last one.

Your argument seems to be that people "intuitively" know best. I say intuition should always be checked with rational argument whenever possible. History is full of people who intuitively knew they were going to make a killing on tulips and dot.com stocks and got taken to the cleaners instead. It's full of people who had power and overreached it to the point where they fell totally, because they "knew" they were destined to succeed. It's full of Roman Emperors who thought they weren't going to get stabbed in the back like the last 5 emperors had, full of people who thought they could change people into the "master race" or "the new communist man" or "a willing participant in the New World Order". It's full of charlatans that finally fooled themselves and demogogues who cared nothing about what the truth was as long as they could say something that got them elected - and of course, people who WANTED to be lied to, because the truth upset them too much. Because the lies "felt" right.

Because of self-dishonesty and hubris, many people, leaders and nations have fallen. This is why I always question the assumptions people make - if they can give a good reason for making them, alright. If they can't, then I start wondering.

And I've been wondering a lot lately.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
no way (none / 0) (#220)
by jjayson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:15:14 AM EST

The best example of people not having an intuitive sense of when they were overreaching the bounds of their environment was Easter Island - in fact, it goes beyond not being intuitive to just plain not being able to see the blindingly obvious. They cut down every tree on the island to build those statutes, after which they had no wood for boats or anything else and were damn well trapped.
Really? That's hella funny. Sad, but funny.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
"Animals know when to stop hunting"?!? (4.66 / 3) (#241)
by Innocent Bystander on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:51:06 PM EST

Dude, they don't intuitively stop hunting. They starve until enough die that the food supply is sufficient.

Extrapolate.

[ Parent ]

how did bush get any votes then? (nt) (2.00 / 3) (#231)
by phred on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:54:32 AM EST



[ Parent ]
damn! (2.00 / 3) (#244)
by phred on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:19:35 PM EST

George Bush gave me a zero for that! I shoulda known better I guess...

[ Parent ]
Because our economy (3.33 / 6) (#133)
by michaelp on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:00:18 PM EST

comes to a crashing halt and we lose billions of $ (not to mention people die) when there is a major blackout.

If you think that is cool, then yes superboy we the people are a better judge of what's in your best interest.

And we probably don't want you driving, either.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

[ Parent ]

Attitude (1.00 / 1) (#144)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:49:56 AM EST

Drop the fucking attitude.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Grow up (2.60 / 5) (#148)
by monkeymind on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 03:01:16 AM EST


I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.
[ Parent ]

This is a silly question. (3.66 / 3) (#166)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:12:33 PM EST

Why on earth would we force people to pay for significant redundancy if they didn't want it?

So, everything that people could possibly want or not want on a collective level must of necessity find expression in "market forces", and if it doesn't, that means they don't want it?

This is a very silly, economics textbook answer. There is great fallacy in assuming a one-to-one correspondence between market demand and actually-existing demand for anything, particularly when you get to technical questions of infrastructure. If you floated all existing public services today on the Will of the Market, you'd find yourself locked into a rapid descent of anarchy. In a matter of days, there would be no hospitals, police, etc. because most people don't need these services unless they're being robbed at the moment or are having a heart attack, so there wouldn't be high market demand.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Relax (3.66 / 3) (#183)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:27:44 PM EST

Relax, I'm just talking about electricity. Between you and pyramid termite, you'd think I was advocating the violent destruction of all government services.

On the other hand, I'm not sure if you're aware that private hospitals are doing just fine in a very silly, economics textbook way. As in, they are making money. Maybe you should look for another example of a crucial industry that would die in a free market.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Excuse me? (2.00 / 1) (#197)
by pyramid termite on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 05:19:52 PM EST

Maybe you should look for another example of a crucial industry that would die in a free market.

Um, no. It is already proven that electic, road and health systems are workable in a mixed economy, with private and public actors working to build them. It's your responsibility to prove they would work just as well in a total free market.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
in a purely free market (none / 0) (#230)
by phred on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:53:36 AM EST

what you describe would be accurate.

[ Parent ]
Perhaps. (none / 0) (#311)
by valeko on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:33:15 PM EST

I don't know what exactly this "purely free market" is, nor how its purity could hypothetically be separated from the human activities that constitute its internal mechanics. People are people, not agents of a "purely free market."

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Why on earth? (none / 0) (#268)
by nictamer on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:39:48 PM EST

I personnally don't mind having no electricity for a few hours.

Not sure a person living on assisted breathing would agree, though.

Now I'm aware of this particular problem because my late grandmother use to require a breathing machine 24/7, but 1) not everybody does, and 2) there are probably other cases where lives / jobs are at stake which I'm not aware of. And I'm not sure every consumer is going to be able to manage all this kind of information to select the "right" provider of electricity.

Therefore, in such a free market, he more expensive, yet more responsible provider would go bankrupt really fast.

This illustrates an essential point of the neoliberal economic theory: it is based entirely on consumers being intelligent, rational, free, and informed. Electricity production / security / distribution and all the related issues are very complex problems, too complex for almost any consumer to make an informed choice about. Hence, the liberal theory cannot really apply.
--
Religion is for sheep.
[ Parent ]

Assisted breathing (none / 0) (#270)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 07:28:24 PM EST

If your grandmother's doctors trusted standard power, with or without a free market, there's something wrong there. We have no proof that electricity would be reliable enough to provide life support without backup if only it were regulated more.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
I hate supporting the De-regulators (none / 0) (#354)
by kraant on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 08:23:43 PM EST

But in this case if an uninterrupted powersupply was really that important then you'd invest in redundant systems like batteries and a diesel generator just like telco exchanges do.
--
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...
[ Parent ]
If people aren't willing (none / 0) (#160)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 11:04:26 AM EST

to pay private companies for increased reliability, what makes you think they are willing to pay higher taxes for the same thing?

--
You can't raise my prices. You can't build more power plants. You can't build more power lines. Why are my lights out!?!


[ Parent ]
Actually... (4.00 / 2) (#165)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:09:01 PM EST

I don't know, I think people are. There are enough of them brainwashed to believe that when they pay taxes, it goes to inefficient, bloated government ministries that ultimately squander all their funds and produce no results, but when they pay to the glorious private enterprise, it "puts their money to work" immediately, before they even mail out the cheque, almost. Yes, even among average citizens, the extent of this ideological conditioning is very pervasive.

On the other hand, when you're paying private rates to a company that provides a certain service, for a concrete purpose, you have a certainty as to what you're paying for. With government taxes, there is no such certainty, and I understand that. Still, I know quite a few people that wouldn't notice rate increases from a private service but wouldn't pay another penny to the government.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

if it's profitable. (none / 0) (#175)
by svampa on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:21:53 PM EST

Perhaps waht you are asking for (for example reliability) is nor preofitable, so the sell it at high price, that only an elite can pay. And some day they discover that it's better stop selling reliability, and stick in cheap products.

The problem is that the big private companies have get the worst of public and private side, you may pay "private rates" and you may get no results.

Sue them: have you got money enough to pay 10 years of trials?.

Change to another big company: will do the same. They have learnt from the previus company, It's more profitable 0.01% of trials than improve quality for 100% production.

Change to a little and honest company: In a few years (perhaps next weekend) will be bought by a big comapany.

I don't know when, nor how, nor what, but something has gone out of our hands. We have created monsters that are out of control.



[ Parent ]
i love this article (4.00 / 2) (#102)
by zzzeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:07:46 PM EST

and heres my favorite book about it

say what you will but he sure understands things better than ayn rand

Kuttner (none / 0) (#110)
by jjayson on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 07:02:38 PM EST

Leaving Everything for Sale out of it (since I never completely finished it, oops), Kuttner has captured some of my respect in his American Prospect article "Peddling Krugman" where he rakes Krugman over the coals for his elitism (ironically, Krugman has turned into a pop-economist, the same people he used to dismiss).

Kuttner and Reich has some very correct ideas (unmeasureable human capital is king, the IMF sucks Tex's big balls, etc.), however they also have some very perverted ideas of "free."

--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

That book (4.50 / 2) (#118)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:12:42 PM EST

I haven't read the book but I must say the two examples of 'good results of government intervention' that are mentioned in the blurb are pretty bad. NPR receives about 2% of its funding from the government - not exactly a life or death sum of money, if you ask me. The Internet, while initially government-funded, has been self-sufficient for over a decade. Anyone who thinks a global computer network wasn't an eventuality of human achievement is fooling themselves. The government merely accelerated the pace if it did anything at all.

I can't say any more about the book. Of course I'm prejudiced against it because of its subject matter, but here's a tip anyway: if you're arguing against free markets, pick some better examples of good government regulation. Like, Amtrak. Now there's a healthy regulated industry. Har har har.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Why would anybody take Amtrack? (4.00 / 1) (#125)
by Blarney on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:10:41 PM EST

It's just annoying.

First of all, it costs almost as much as a plane ticket - just as much for long trips which you could buy tickets in advance for. Secondly, they do this whole ID-checking nonsense as if somebody is really going to hijack a fucking train. So even if you're some sort of crazy hippie who doesn't want to be tracked, or some criminal fugitive or a child-support delinquent, you won't take Amtrack. That leaves roughly nobody willing to take it anywhere.

It's strange how train freight is so much cheaper than air freight, but passenger train fare is so extortionate. I suspect that somebody is pocketing a huge salary off this train system that nobody rides.

[ Parent ]

I took Amtrak once. (4.33 / 3) (#134)
by ZorbaTHut on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:05:45 PM EST

Something came up at the last minute and I had to get from Ohio to Washington DC. A plane was way too expensive - I had about 24 hours warning. I took a bus once on that same trip - it was about a day of cramped misery. Not fun. A train wasn't much more expensive than the bus, so I decided to try that.

Trains are *unbelievably* comfortable. The seats are enormous and padded. I got on at midnight and slept extremely well.

On the other hand, if I'd been going any further than I was, a train would have been exorbitantly expensive. If I'd been going noticably *shorter* than I was, a bus would have been a lot cheaper. And as it was, I ended up getting there eight hours late. Yes, eight hours delay, on a twelve-hour train ride. We spent hours just sitting at a stop for no obvious reason. I'm told this is completely normal for trains - about a year ago, one of my friends commented that his sister had just broken the national record for Latest Train Ever. (It was 24 hours late or worse.)

If they were more consistent, and significantly cheaper, I think a *lot* more people would ride them. The train I was on was nearly empty, which makes me wonder why they're carrying all these near-empty cars around. Kinda pointless.

[ Parent ]

Delays (none / 0) (#202)
by Politburo on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 06:14:41 PM EST

We spent hours just sitting at a stop for no obvious reason. I'm told this is completely normal for trains

Dunno where you were travelling. Outside of the east coast, Amtrak owns very little track. It must lease time from freight railroads. Naturally freight railroads would not give away anything that would comprimise their services, so Amtrak must wait for the tracks to be clear. It is also possible that this was a one track line, and that your train had to wait for an Amtrak train coming the other way.

If Amtrak owned its own track, like with the Northeast Corridor (which is 4 tracks for much of the length, and between 2-6 tracks everywhere else), we would see enormous increases in service and reliability. Alas, even the horribly underfunded NEC manages to have a big problem once every 2-3 weeks.

[ Parent ]
Location (none / 0) (#307)
by ZorbaTHut on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 05:09:34 PM EST

It actually *was* eastern, if not exactly east-coast - Ohio to DC. However, I think you're right on the one-track-line thing. As I remember, a *different* train had gotten delayed and needed to use the track . . . thereby delaying *us*. I wonder how long this delay cycle lasted - I wonder if we delayed anyone else. :P

[ Parent ]
Trains, planes, and weight (4.00 / 1) (#138)
by swr on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:51:29 PM EST

It's strange how train freight is so much cheaper than air freight, but passenger train fare is so extortionate.

I'll wager a guess...

Aircraft are much more sensitive to cargo weight than trains are, because they are fighting against gravity. So trains are cheaper for freight. When transporting people, on the other hand, weight is a small factor compared to volume and service.



[ Parent ]
Dear sir or ma'am. (2.00 / 1) (#108)
by Hide The Hamster on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:48:43 PM EST

It is time for you to abondon your fantasy world.


Free spirits are a liability.

August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

Much too early for this nonsense. (3.50 / 2) (#109)
by Work on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:59:33 PM EST

First off, have to figure out what went wrong. Then how it went wrong, and later, why it went wrong. Rewrite this when we enter the 'why' period.

In defense of the author. (2.50 / 2) (#164)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:03:27 PM EST

The author made no claim to explain, directly or indirectly, the source of this blackout. Instead, he found it a good opportunity to meditate on de-regulation, in conjunction with recent news about the state of affairs in the fun and exciting world of electricity.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Absurd. (3.14 / 7) (#127)
by American Minister of Information on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:16:15 PM EST

I repeat: there was no blackout. If you mindlessly repeat that there was a blackout the terrorist have already won.

My god, please go seek counselling with the proper authorities.

this gag (none / 0) (#229)
by phred on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:50:35 AM EST

need repeated a few more thousand times before the novelty of repeating it becomes apparent. Son't zero the above comment, the gag has a long way to go before the novelty of repeating sets in.

[ Parent ]
Many people (4.00 / 3) (#151)
by debacle on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 07:53:14 AM EST

Who live in a big white house and are from Texas considered the possibility of this "tragedy" as being a terrorist act.

And yet the neatest thing was the idea that not only did the blackout offer some good ideas for the terrorists (I can piss on the Niagara Falls Power Vista from my house, BTW) by way of our inability to do anything when our precious electricity is gone, but there was a large window where many many people in the US could have been killed, and no one would have known about it.

I think that's a good thing. The worst part about millions of people dying is that you hear it on the news, and then everyone gets all lamentatious (New word) about it, and you can't even toast your marshmallows in the back yard.

We should sue the news media for emotional damages, all of us.

It tastes sweet.

Free market failure! (4.40 / 5) (#153)
by skyknight on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 08:36:43 AM EST

Bah, I say. Claiming this is highly disingenuous as true free markets never existed in the first place. Rather, there is a severely screwed up hybrid system that is perhaps the worst possible combination of free markets and regulation.

The mess in California serves as a particularly apt exemplar. Yes, there were unscrupulous people who gamed the system, but that only compounded the problem. It did not create the mess. The really sticky issue stemmed from the fact that in-state power retailers were forced to sell at a capped price, while out of state power wholesalers' prices fluctuated normally with respect to supply and demand. If you can believe it, because of price fixing, power retailers were often forced to sell power at a loss. The state issued government loans to the companies to bail them out, but then they folded anyway, leaving people to swelter in their unairconditioned apartments, and the state in both a fiscal and infrastructural disaster.

This same kind of fallacious accusation of the failure of free markets and capitalism is rampant in academic circles regarding the now failing economies in South America. We tried capitalism there and it failed! Bullshit. Crony capitalism is not capitalism. These countries were run by corrupt regimes who pissed away international loans on the lavish excesses of those in positions of governmental power.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
Very ... dogmatic. (3.00 / 3) (#162)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:00:22 PM EST

The really sticky issue stemmed from the fact that in-state power retailers were forced to sell at a capped price, while out of state power wholesalers' prices fluctuated normally with respect to supply and demand.

Are you sure that's the only thing that makes prices fluctuate? You sound like my evangelical economics teacher, with your apparent unwillingness on the most broad ontological level to consider things more holistically. It's more than just connecting the dots from A to B, B to C, etc.

You might benefit from this article, although most people that spout what you just have are beyond help.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

I take it you didn't do so well... (none / 0) (#167)
by skyknight on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:14:01 PM EST

on the critical reading section of the PSAT last week. Maybe you should go back and read my comment again, specifically...

Yes, there were unscrupulous people who gamed the system, but that only compounded the problem.

If you're going to make inflammatory and juvenile remarks, then you'd best cover all of your bases, as you look very foolish otherwise. Despite the fact that I only wrote three short paragraphs, you managed both to make erroneous assumptions regarding things that were left unsaid, as well as flat out ignore things that I did say.

Go back to sleep for a couple more hours, and try again when you're coherent and rational.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Eh? (1.00 / 1) (#169)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:19:05 PM EST

Yes, there were unscrupulous people who gamed the system, but that only compounded the problem.

You think this tiny, ideologically framed concession on your part redeems the essence of your comment -- that is to say, lifts it out of the dark pit of free-market prescriptions?

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

As you fail to note... (5.00 / 2) (#171)
by skyknight on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:29:04 PM EST

I was not writing an exhaustive compendium on the pros, cons and foibles of free-market systems. I was merely pointing out a component of the OP's subject matter that (s)he neglected to address as it pertained to the California power crisis of recent years.

You came along and made vicious ad hominem attacks on me, instead of actually providing any logic and reason, and dumped a link to a long article on me, as if I've never read or thought about economics before and need to be edified by you. I could say "go read Hayek's A Road To Serfdom", but that would be equally insipid. Ply me with your own logic and reason. Don't make personal attacks, drop random links, and saunter off feeling all smug and clever.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
why models work (4.50 / 4) (#185)
by khallow on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:28:01 PM EST

Are you sure that's the only thing that makes prices fluctuate? You sound like my evangelical economics teacher, with your apparent unwillingness on the most broad ontological level to consider things more holistically. It's more than just connecting the dots from A to B, B to C, etc.

I allow that the supply/demand model for determining prices can be flawed. But holistic consideration without some sort of understanding of the underlying agents and components is a waste of time. That's where models come into play. A good model like the supply/demand law (ie, the optimal price of a good occurs when supply of the good at that price equals the demand for the good at that price) explains things and describes IMHO most pairwise transactions involving more than a few parties, pretty well.

In the case of the California power crisis, the supply/demand model explains really well what happened. Customers of PG&E and Edison which at the time were perhaps half the state of California were able to purchase electricity at a fixed price during the entire crisis. However, PG&E and Edison were required to buy their excess power needs on the open market. Demand is completely "inelastic" for these customers - there is no reduction in demand when the price of the electricity goes up.

Eg, I was paying (as a then California customer of PG&E) roughly $0.10 per Kilowatt-hour (KwH) during the entire energy crisis. That's even though at times PG&E was paying over $1 per KwH for some units of power. Eventually, Governor Davis articially reduced demand. Ie, he appealed to customers to conserve electricity, routinely cut power to certain industrial customers (who were part of a particular problem of customers who had received cheaper rates and in return had to lose power when things got tight), and instituted rolling blacks for the few days when the prior measures weren't sufficient to cover power needs.

Eventually, the solution that fixed the problem came up. Electricity rates for customers were raised, and demand dropped. The fixed contracts that California purchased may have had an effect since a juicy contract for five or ten years tends to incourage an increase in supply. The model described everything that happened. It predicted the power crisis and how to solve that crisis. The key was that the increased cost of producing power passed on to customers and the problem disappeared (unless demand outstrips supply again and the same thing happens again).

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Good link (none / 0) (#260)
by TheModerate on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 05:17:21 PM EST

Although, its only good as a rejection to certain orthodoxy, and is only useful so long as this orthodoxy goes on. Here we have an economist who realizes that much of what he does is bunk.

But is the problem with economics anyway? I think the problem is that it tries to answer questions it has no entitlement to. For example, an economist would try to answer the question "Why did these people choose to begin a business?" Now, we lay people could come with a number of answers to this, and with a certain amount of critical thinking skills we could quite possibly come up with similar answers that the economists have. But as I go through my mind as to a list of economical sounding questions, a pattern emerges that dominates my understanding of the field. It seems to me that economics is essentially the study of human nature. That people to tend to act a certain way today is probably not an innate trait in people but rather reflects the cultural traditions, rearing, and way of thinking of people today. So I realize at once that economics, like all sciences, is essentially near-sighted.

So how did I do? Have I, in a single paragraph, proved the fallibility of economics and economic explanations? Isn't an economic explanation just like any scientific explanation, not knowledge, but only a pretense of knowledge? Isn't this what Socrates warned us about?

"What a man has in himself is, then, the chief element in his happiness." -- Schopenhauer
[ Parent ]

cool (none / 0) (#234)
by the sixth replicant on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 12:30:19 PM EST

I always felt the same way about communism.

[ Parent ]
Meaning that... (none / 0) (#340)
by skyknight on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 05:18:09 PM EST

communism was never given a chance to be implemented in its intended form? I think that the key difference here is that such an implementation is an impossibility, at least on the scales of which I assume you are thinking. I don't have a problem with voluntary communes, and I think that they are possible on a small scale when members enter willingly, and can leave at any time. Problems arise, however, whenever you try to do it with more than just a handful of people, and particularly so when you are subsuming people into a commune against their will. That invariably involves violence and terror, as history has so clearly shown.

I do not see how communism could possibly be implemented at a national level without all the horrors that we've seen in the past. It gets quite messy even when you try it a village level. Doing it at a national level exceeds the bounds of possibility, and naturally entails subsuming individuals who would rather remain outside of its shroud.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
It's hilarious (4.11 / 9) (#156)
by x10 on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:23:56 AM EST

watching all these free market fanatics cry out "NO TRUE SCOTSMAN!". Well if free markets can only work when they exist in some idealized, pure form, then they are practically useless, as reality is full of shades of gray and compromises.

The fact is that this is solid data points against free-market dogma, even if it is not conclusive proof that pure free markets will work.

---YOUR ZEROES ONLY MAKE ME STRONGER---

"No true Scotsman" (5.00 / 4) (#177)
by jjayson on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:32:40 PM EST

Something labeled a falacy isn't always wrong. If the definition of deregulated it not having regulations, then why was a member of the Federal Energy Regulatroy Committee on CNN yesterday laughing at the idea that electic utilities are deregulated, stating that every stage -- from generation to consumer pricing -- is regulated by someone.

It's just a cop-out to say that they are deregulated because there was some legislation that used the word dereguylated in its title. If you are bound in a hundred ropes, then I remove one, have I freed you?

Your "solid data" is from what? That last 5 years? Half the county still hasn't implemented the meager deregulatory bones. Please, spare us you "free-market is broke" speech.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

totally free markets tend to break (3.50 / 2) (#228)
by phred on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:48:42 AM EST

ultimately one producer wins out, the rest die off, then the one producer exploits the results. Given that electric providers tend to be pretty exclusive producers in the first place, it isn't a stretch to assume that there should be some assurances of service in place, although hopefully, the "deregulated" market in question here already has some of that.

[ Parent ]
nope (none / 0) (#238)
by jjayson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:11:03 PM EST

Just look the the most free market in existence, crystal meth. When the barriers to entry are low, you will have producers and suppliers on every street corner when there is money to be made on the cost-sales spread.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
And then they shoot each other dead (none / 0) (#348)
by it certainly is on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 06:23:53 AM EST

in order to increase their market share.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Kudos! (none / 0) (#350)
by phred on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 11:06:16 AM EST

you certainly got me there!

I'd hazard a guess that if there were no barrier to nationwide distribution and franchising, there then could be a monopoly. Additionally, even in the case of a monopoly, there still remains a low barrier to entry into the market.

Let me do reiterate tho, you certainly sent me back to the drawing board on that one. Congrats!

[ Parent ]

That's okay. (none / 0) (#358)
by jjayson on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 05:24:18 AM EST

pyramid termite sent me back to the drawing board on a part of my global electorate and the environment theory/view a few days ago.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
What I think is hilarious (4.66 / 3) (#243)
by mcc on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:16:26 PM EST

<left-winger> Communism hasn't failed worldwide! It just seems that way to you because it's never been tried in a pure form.
<right-winger> That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

-----

<right-winger> Utility deregulation hasn't failed worldwide! It just seems that way to you because it's never been tried in a pure form.
<left-winger> That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

---
Aside from that, the absurd meta-wankery of k5er-quoting sigs probably takes the cake. Especially when the quote itself is about k5. -- tsubame
[ Parent ]

Don't scapegoat deregulation (3.16 / 6) (#159)
by Poor Yorick on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 10:48:42 AM EST

For it is not the cause in this instance. Blame, instead, the gluttonous inhabitants of New York City for this outage. If it weren't for that gigantic monument to ego known as Manhattan, with it's impractical, power-sucking sky scrapers with windows that do not open, there would not have been a problem. Have you any idea how much power the air conditioning systems for just one (modestly-sized) 50-story building require? A whole hell of a lot more than reasonably designed buildings.

Couple that with the fact that the windows on these buildings do not open. What kind of bozo designs a building with windows that don't open? I suppose that perhaps he may have been tryin to save New Yorkers from themselves (though why he'd want to do that is beyond me...), what with the heavily polluted air that hovers over the city and bakes into an even more toxic cocktail on hot, windless days. But with buildings this tall, it is a well known fact that winds blow harder at higher elevations. So why don't the windows open? There is a bundle that could be saved if just the people upstairs turned off the goddamn AC and let some "fresh" air in (I section off the term "fresh" because NYC is, without a doubt, the most disgusting city in America, if not the entire planet).

And what about the subways? These are huge, useless power sinks. If anybody had thought to plan out New York properly with regards to transportation (Plan? New York? Ha!), everybody would be able to drive their cars through the streets, instead of draining power from the regional grid that could be better used in, say, powering hospitals that selfish New Yorkers have now completely deprived of power.

It's not the grid that needs to be redesigned and better planned, it's power-guzzling New York City that needs to get checked. If foreigners wanted to reinforce their notion that Americans are fat, wasteful, and, above all, rude, then they need look no further than a quick trip to New York.

*chuckle* (5.00 / 7) (#161)
by valeko on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 11:56:43 AM EST

And what about the subways? These are huge, useless power sinks. If anybody had thought to plan out New York properly with regards to transportation (Plan? New York? Ha!), everybody would be able to drive their cars through the streets

I am intrigued by your neo-Adequate ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

"Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart
[ Parent ]

Ha! (5.00 / 1) (#201)
by Politburo on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 06:06:19 PM EST

what with the heavily polluted air that hovers over the city and bakes into an even more toxic cocktail on hot, windless days...everybody would be able to drive their cars through the streets

No Comment.

(I section off the term "fresh" because NYC is, without a doubt, the most disgusting city in America, if not the entire planet).

I won't even do the reasearch to refute this. It's widely known NYC is not the most (air) polluted area in the world, or the US. That's Mexico City and Houston, respectively, iirc.

IHBT.

[ Parent ]
So So attempt (4.00 / 1) (#219)
by blakdogg on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:15:58 AM EST

Not sure if this is a troll or attempt at irony, but i am pretty sure the expected result is not to  have people ask that question.  I think u were good until u attacked public transport. The open windows on buildings, that is a good one. I find the thought of gale force winds swirling round an office amusing.
Woe be onto the United Nations, there nothing but a front.
[ Parent ]
Give up. (none / 0) (#240)
by T Reginald Gibbons on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:31:36 PM EST

Loser.

[ Parent ]
Hello troll (none / 0) (#271)
by Roman on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 07:33:06 PM EST

Did you know that the new buildings that subscribe to the 'open space' concept, where the common area between offices is the open space and the offices sort of surround this common space are the most energy efficient hirise buildings in the human history? Did you know that to build an energy efficient building a prerequisite will be that no windows can be opened at all, since this creates a more controlled environment and allows the engineers to model the microclimate in the building by using most optimal amounts of energy?

Well, now you know!

[ Parent ]
a very old problem? (4.00 / 1) (#172)
by khallow on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 12:37:35 PM EST

From this story, I see:

New York Assemblyman Paul Tonko, an engineer and chairman of his chamber's Energy Committee, said there hasn't been major spending to improve transmission lines by the state since the 1970s and no major work by utilities since the 1960s.

I wonder how old this problem is. Definitely, it did not get fixed under deregulation.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

didnt get fixed under regulation, either. (none / 0) (#237)
by Work on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:08:44 PM EST

The NIMBY problem is a big one. Nobody wants high voltage transmission towers running through their neighborhoods. The govt can use powers of eminent domain to force the issue, but as you can expect, this is highly unpopular politically.

[ Parent ]
The Future (5.00 / 2) (#182)
by mcc on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:18:55 PM EST

Well, there are some decent arguments against deregulation here, but I consider it really dumb that you just kind of announce that the power outages in your links came from deregulation without any attempt in the least to prove this. Yeah, there was some deregulation, and then there were some outages, but there's this whole correlation and causation thing, and.. anyway, never mind that, that's being covered in other threads. I have one point of your article I want to respond to:

Well, electricity is not a commodity like a pencil is. Electricity cannot be stored in large quantities. Electricity cannot be substituted - you can use a pen instead of a pencil, but you can't use anything but electricity to run electrical equipment. And worst of all, electric grids have only two modes - oversupply, where everything works as planned, and undersupply, where the entire grid goes down. There is no nice supply/demand curve in the short to medium term for electricity.

This is an excellent point, but here is the interesting thing: Hydrogen fuel cells could change this.

You might have noticed part of Bush's "energy initiative" of a few months ago was to build nuclear power plants that, as a byproduct, put out hydrogen for use in automobile fuel cells.

What wasn't mentioned so much is this: once the technology matures, Hydrogen could basically become a form of common generalized stored electricity. The fuel cell is basically the ultimate rechargeable battery; all you need to create hydrogen for fuel cells is electricity. It doesn't matter how that electricity is generated-- the hydrogen could come from fossil fuels, from nuclear power, from whereever. And putting out the energy as hydrogen rather than raw electricity has two huge benefits: you can store hydrogen; and you can transport hydrogen over large distances without the kind of energy loss you see with long-distance power lines.

What this means is that energy surplus, rather than being wasted, could be stored. Hypothetically, it means that local power systems could be set up so that they each have a backup hydrogen store, and if something goes wrong with the grid in general, the backup power supplies have enough hydrogen fuel cell to power locally for a couple days or so.

A system like this would mean that electricity, as hydrogen, could become subject to supply and demand. This would not make deregulation a good idea necessarily, but it would definitely change the rules of the game..

P.S. I don't have a horribly firm grasp on the science/engineering issues behind what i'm saying, so if i've said anything infeasible or inaccurate feel free to yell at me.

---
Aside from that, the absurd meta-wankery of k5er-quoting sigs probably takes the cake. Especially when the quote itself is about k5. -- tsubame

technically speaking (4.00 / 1) (#212)
by Work on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 10:14:17 PM EST

gas is the same way. Gasoline is refined from crude oil by cracking equipment which consumes, electricity. In fact, thats how hydrogen today is created - cracked natural gas.

The energy initiative comes from the need to wean ourselves off foreign oil. Most electricity in the US is generated by fossil fuels - oil, natural gas, and coal. The first 2 depend on foreign resources. The last one is still a non-renewable (and dirty) source of energy. But we have alot of it.

Now as I mentioned earlier, most hydrogen comes from natural gas at the moment. But as most of us know from high school chemistry, you can crack it out of plain water. But that requires tons of electricity - more than we currently can supply. So we need new power plants. But what do you fuel those plants with? If you want to stay away from foreign oil, you gotta go nuclear. Fusion is decades away, things like wind and biomass are just too costly and inefficient.

[ Parent ]

Taking this a step further... (5.00 / 1) (#262)
by cyberlife on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 05:26:56 PM EST

...at some point, technology may allow individuals to generate their own power at a reasonable cost. When that happens, the power grid will become less of a centralized distribution system and more of a P2P network for everyone to share their excess supply. However, we all know who doesn't want this to happen.

[ Parent ]
Economic points (4.91 / 12) (#192)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 04:09:21 PM EST

1. Deregulation is reregulation. All electricity markets are regulated. The question is, precisely what is the regulatory regime ? It doesn't necessarily line up along a scale with less at one end and more at the other with more being more robust but less efficient. Quite a lot of the problems based on deregulation are in fact caused by perverse regulation and conflicting regulatory goals.

In California, the generators were forced to supply electricity to domestic consumers are prices below the market price, and also prevented from entering into derivatives contracts to obtain stable prices. They were, in effect, forced to buy power at the highest possible prices, and sell it below the lowest. It is hardly surprising the owners of the companies gave up.

Different deregulated power regimes work in different ways. In the US, generation, distribution and supply tend to be combined in local monopolies. In the UK, there is a three way split, between a few generators, a single national distributor, and many suppliers, with consumers free to choose their supplier at zero cost. The UK regime seems to work better, including keeping more excess capacity, but is it more regulated or less ? The question makes no sense.

2. Of course electricity has substitutes. For a start, you can substitute power from a different supplier. Barring that, you can buy a generator, or rig up solar cells, or whatever. Barring that, you can buy different appliances that don't use electricity. All these are substitutes.

3. You can actually store electricity in large quantities. You use it to pump water up hill, and the generate it by running it down again. In the UK, these pumping stations are used to store oversupply and use it at peak times. It is especially important to be able to do this when you have nuclear power stations, which can't be switched off. I'd be surprise if this system was not also used in the US.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate

Bah (3.50 / 2) (#200)
by Politburo on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 06:01:03 PM EST

2. Of course electricity has substitutes. For a start, you can substitute power from a different supplier. Barring that, you can buy a generator, or rig up solar cells, or whatever. Barring that, you can buy different appliances that don't use electricity. All these are substitutes.

These are hardly full substitutes for unlimited (for practical purposes) mains from the grid coming into your house. Run out of gas, or clouds pass over, and bam, out go the lights. Also, the "no substitute for electricity" in the article was meant more generally, I think. Sure, some things in the household can be done without it, but try running any industrial plant without electricity.

[ Parent ]
Everything has substitutes (4.66 / 3) (#205)
by Simon Kinahan on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 07:22:21 PM EST

The only question is the cost incurred by making the substitution. This is a general economic point. This applies just as much to industrial processes and domestic appliances.

It isn't really clear what the original author thought he was saying with the "no substitute" thing, or why you're arguing it, so it is hard for me to elaborate on this point.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Ok. (3.00 / 1) (#232)
by Politburo on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 12:09:54 PM EST

You're right. If we want to change how we do everything in the world, and spend trillions of dollars, then yes, electricity has a substitute. If we want to be realistic, there is no viable substitute at this point in time. Technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells may soon change this, though.

[ Parent ]
Don't try to use Australia. (5.00 / 1) (#211)
by haakon on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 09:55:25 PM EST

To prove your argument. Deregulation in the electricity industry has been successful here.

Power supply stability has improved, however our energy market is owned by the companies that use it so enron style events are less likely.

One interesting thing in New South Wales. The deregulation was done in stages starting with the big electricity users and then working its way down in size. This made sure that by the time everyday consumers got into the act the procedures had already been tested by companies who would quite easily land a phlanx of lawyers on the energy suppliers front door if they f#$ked up.

I think Aluminium smelters were one of the first due how energy intensive the refining process is.

And Loy-Yang A is virtually bankrupt (4.00 / 1) (#282)
by iwnbap on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:19:54 PM EST


It costs approximately AUD$40 per MWh to generate electricity (including capex etc), and the spot price currently averages about $25 in Victoria. The system is going to be utterly hosed soon. And nemmco busily argues about whether 30 minute averaging of 5 minute loads is a good thing or not!

[ Parent ]
"deregulation" is the wrong word (4.00 / 2) (#221)
by Bryan Larsen on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:33:40 AM EST

"Deregulating" a market invariably results in a huge bookful of laws being passed, replacing a much smaller set of laws establishing the public energy corporation.

Since there's many more rules, why do they call it deregulation?

I believe that privatization is better in principle, but since I don't trust politicians to get the necessary set of rules and incentives right, I prefer public ownership in practice.

In Canada, deregulation in Alberta had its hurdles, but it appears to be working.  But Mr. Klein had a supportive, free-market leaning electorate, and a several large oil sands producers that create electricity as a side effect of oil extraction.

But Mr. Eves in Ontario lost any chance at my vote with his ridiculous 4.5 cent rate cap.  That's a cure worse than the disease.  If you don't understand economics, then don't trying to create a huge, important, complicated economic system.

Bryan

Cap is residential (none / 0) (#257)
by rbt on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 04:08:41 PM EST

I believe the cap is residential only. Bulk commercial buys (public transit, factories, smelters, etc.) are fully deregulated, and in many cases is below that price.

The Ontario government has simply made a bulk buy for residents, but your right, it stinks. Why are energy abusers getting reduced payments?

Anyway, Quebec stayed up primarily because they had a chance a few years ago to rebuild a good chunk of their grid (ice storm). During that time, they put in lots of AC -> DC -> AC exchange points with external grids -- thus they don't keep in sync with anyone else and have nice termination points. This is what protected them.

If Ontario had similar exchange points with the US, we would have had rotating blackouts rather than emergency shutdowns of plants. Rotating blackouts since we were purchasing power at the time.

[ Parent ]

These are the things that... (4.25 / 8) (#222)
by the77x42 on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 04:46:59 AM EST

... should be government run:

Insurance
Health Care
Electricity
Gas
Water
Fuel
Telephone

This is why I live in British Columbia. It's a pipe dream to think that fuel would ever be government run, but it should (cough cheaper cough).

As soon as they sold off the phone company (BCTel) to some shit ass company (Telus), not only were there mass layoffs, but the service went to shit and the rates went through the roof. Gas and Hydro will be next. Then the unions will fall for those and they'll start highering some low-skill, low-wage employees (probably immigrants, not to discriminate, but to simply state the obvious) to do the job and the service will go to crap again and to 'fix it' we will need to pay more.

They greatest thing on the planet is government run insurance. My rates go DOWN every year (not including my zero-accident rating) and I never, ever, ever have gotten into an argument over a claim (and i've had quite a few in the past couple years).

Governemnt run is the way to go for essential services and electricity should be one of them if isn't already in your area. You want a bunch of sleazy businessmen wanting nothing but profit or do you want someone who wants happy citizens? Profit first, service second -- that's the privatized way.


"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

May I suggest one more? (5.00 / 3) (#227)
by edo on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:44:11 AM EST

Public transport, especially trains.
-- 
Sentimentality is merely the Bank Holiday of cynicism.
 - Oscar Wilde
[ Parent ]
2 more (none / 0) (#235)
by Gornauth on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 12:39:48 PM EST

  • Defence of country
  • Police


[ Parent ]
10 more (5.00 / 1) (#265)
by jjayson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:28:16 PM EST

primary and university education
Internet connectivity (I hardly see a difference with phones)
transportation infrastructure (like roads)
welfare, unemployment, retirement
labor supply (minimum wage, discrimation, etc.)
judicial system
stock and commodity markets
television and radio (like the BBC and China)
commodity production (like energy, why not oil, gold, OJ, etc.)
me and everything I do.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
Actually, (none / 0) (#304)
by it certainly is on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 09:29:10 AM EST

in many cases, privatisation of trains can be very good. In other cases, it can be disasterous. Likewise, in many cases, national ownership is the best thing, in other cases it cripples.

Perhaps the solution is somewhere in-between?

Here are some examples:

  • All the initial funding of "London Underground" and commuting trains in London (London invented the idea of commuting and suburbs, btw) came from Victorian capitalists. The government itself would not provide the millions needed in funding, as it could not justify it should the experiment be a failure. Once it was seen as a success, the government bought most of the lines and made National Rail and London Transport. Good capitalism.
  • The railway vastly expanded under UK govt. ownership, both for industry (coal from wales, yorkshire and newcastle, etc) and for the romantic notion of intercity travel and tourism. Because of nationwide thinking, the rail routes were well chosen, land bought by government fiat, causing much less disruption and duplicate effort than the competing capitalists in London. Good nationalism.
  • However, in the 1960s, the railway was a huge money pit, and the government made the crippling "Beeching" cuts, with no long term thinking. Boom time for motor car manufacturers, though. Bad nationalism.
  • Now the UK government privatised the railways, but each train operator basically have their own geographic monopoly, or can pull shit like refusing to accept "other companys'" tickets for the same route. No incentive to improve standards, only Virgin is buying any new trains (which was the whole point of the railway sell-off), operators beg the government for cash and then give it risk-free to shareholders. Bad capitalism.
  • Possibly the best railway in the world is the Japanese system. However, this may be more to do with the Japanese culture and general mindset rather than an economic model. The railway was nationally owned, and ran up crippling debts in creating the Shinkansen. However, it was privatised, the private sector took up the financial reins, and now the JR companies are profitable and unburdened by debt. However, unlike the British system, for some reason the financial masters have chosen to keep investing in better systems and their maintenance, rather than deliberately run the system into the ground for short term profits. Also, JR uses the mass profits from Tokyo commuters to subsidise "socially important" but less profitable routes.
So, in an ideal world, trains would be run with private funding, risk taking and profiting, but nationalist, populous-directed ownership and control, which would guard against gouging and closures for short-term gain and would be run in the interests of commuters rather than the financiers. Such a balance would be very difficult to achieve, but would be worth it.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

totally forgot (none / 0) (#306)
by the77x42 on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 03:29:19 PM EST

they've been trying to privatize the transit system here for years. they did. and it SUCKS. they spent over 5 million a piece to build 8 stations down ONE street that tell you when the bus is going to be there (usually every 15 minutes). the thing is, if the buses pass each other, it screws up everything, and they are always off by 5 minutes. the buses don't run from 2am to 5am (when the bars let out) and the overall service is crap if you are trying to commute on a non-B route.

they thought it would improve, but more fuel taxes and botched big projects (like commuter trains) are doing more harm than good. that and all the execs of "translink" drive SUVs.


"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

[ Parent ]

they did the phone wrong. (5.00 / 1) (#236)
by Work on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:00:17 PM EST

like most countries trying to do deregulation, they half ass it. You can't just say "okay you're no longer supervised" and expect anything good to happen. You have to break the company up and create a bunch of competition.

This is how it works in the US. We've never had regulated phone, but until the 70s AT&T was the only service you could get. Then it was declared a monopoly and smashed apart. Now today phone service is more reliable and cheaper than ever. It used to be it could take weeks to get a broken phone fixed - mine was fixed in 2 days last week, mainly because i called it in on a saturday. It used to be long distance cost 25 cents a minute - this being in 1970s money where a quarter went much much farther.

The only thing worse than a govt monopoly is a free market one. Gotta smash the govt monopoly to make deregulation work right.

[ Parent ]

Not telephone (none / 0) (#266)
by nictamer on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:29:23 PM EST

With technological improvements, it doesn't need to.
--
Religion is for sheep.
[ Parent ]
What about Pennsylvania ? (4.75 / 4) (#225)
by minerboy on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:37:10 AM EST

Pennsylvania has deregulated Electricity service, the rates are lower, you can select more expensive "green" power companies if you want, and, The grid in PA didn't go down, even though it is part of the wider northeast grid, because of superior equipment, purchased because of deregulation, and because of better skilled workers, again because there is deregulation. It was those areas that were more highly regulated - like N.Y. and Canada, that went down, when they shouldn't. And now they want everyone else to pay for their infrastructure, like the tax whores they are.



Thank you PJM... (4.00 / 1) (#248)
by slykens on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:44:25 PM EST

I second this comment...

The PJM (Pennsylvania Jersey Maryland) grid is the largest grid in the world in terms of generating capacity. It is widely considered to be the model of how a grid should be operated.

On top of that PA has been completely deregulated for four years now.

PJM borders the areas affect by the Niagra-Mohawk failure but yet did not experience blackouts.

Deregulation is not the problem. PJM shows that. Incompetence and lack of problem-ownership is.

[ Parent ]

Agree. (none / 0) (#250)
by hobbified on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:55:03 PM EST

I'm from PA, actually.

But yeah -- the supposed pitfalls of deregulation generally result from leftover (or new) bits of government intervention that unbalance the situation, widening the gap between what's good for the business and what's good for the customers.

[ Parent ]

Strongly Disagree (4.75 / 4) (#256)
by Lagged2Death on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 04:03:45 PM EST

Pennsylvania has deregulated Electricity service, the rates are lower, you can select more expensive "green" power companies if you want...

But this is all true of Ohio as well, much of which went dark, and which is now the suspected "epicenter" (if you will) of the blackout.

This whole excercise of trying to establish a cause/effect relationship between economic regulations and technical failures strikes me as a bit of a stretch anyway. Current reports indicate the blackout was caused by an unexpectedly long chain of individually trivial, individually commonplace failures - a one-in-a-billion set of unfortunate coincidences. That sort of problem is extremely difficult to prevent and becomes more and more common as a system becomes larger and more complex. I see no reason to think this blackout would have been any less likely in either a more-regulated or less-regulated system.



Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]
The fundamental problem is asset centralization (3.60 / 5) (#239)
by Baldrson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 01:29:14 PM EST

Since political elites have set up a so-called "capitalist" system that gives capitalist a welfare check when it comes to paying the cost of defending their assets (ie: we tax economic activity rather than asset concentrations) they naturally centralize assets beyond rationality.

Have any ideas why political elites would like a system that centralizes assets?

-------- Empty the Cities --------


Why? (5.00 / 1) (#264)
by jjayson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:18:13 PM EST

Why do you never make any sense no matter how much time I spend reading your posts?
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
Given the choice you'd take the blue pill [nt] (2.00 / 1) (#287)
by Baldrson on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 12:50:14 AM EST


-------- Empty the Cities --------


[ Parent ]

Price feedback blocked (4.00 / 2) (#246)
by Julian Morrison on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:34:05 PM EST

The way the free market copes with surges or falls in demand is via price tweaks. If a thing gets more popular or harder to make, it also gets more expensive, and vice versa. The result is a situation where the supply approximately matches 1:1 to the demand at the current price. This price rise then attracts in new players and gives existing players incentive to expand operations, and the price drops back towards the minimum at which everyone makes just enough profit to bother.

At least, that's how it would happen in a free market.

Price regulation consists of an attempt to shortcut the feedback mechanism described above by means of force. Prices shall be (less than or) equal to thus-and-so, or else. Price regulation has one of two consistent and predictable effects:

  1. If the price is forced up, there will be oversupply and "mountains" of unsold stock.
  2. If the price is forced down then there will be undersupply, empty shelves, and queues.

In california, the price to the end users was forced down for populist reasons, while the price to the suppliers was let to float. So when the price to the suppliers rose, their only choice was to either eat a loss (and go bankrupt) or turn off the generators. Hence powercuts.

New York etc powercut is too new for me to be able to judge yet, but I suspect the same sort of socialist tinkering will be implicated.

When those things became "dirty words", the above is the reason.

The free market is a model (5.00 / 2) (#292)
by X3nocide on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 02:13:59 AM EST

The free market is NOT a reality. It relies on consumers making constant, informed decisions. It relies on producers making constant informed decisions. While producers take great care to live up to that standard, individual consumers rarely do. Energy efficient heaters, air conditioning,and other household appliances would do a lot do reduce load. It would have been interesting to see California offer a tax deduction for purchasing energyStar approved appliances as a result of their energy crunch. You might say that cutting taxes when the budget was 38 billion under was short sighted, but if properly advertised (something the free market theoretical doesn't account for easily) then sales tax alone could recover the revenue, as its foreseeable that the economy could have been bolstered by the sales.

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]
The free market is freedom (3.00 / 1) (#303)
by Julian Morrison on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 08:24:14 AM EST

...the right to do with your own property as you please, including to sell or not, to anyone, for any reason, for any price you can mutually agree. I'd support a free market as ethically right even if it weren't efficient.

Still, I disagre with you that the free market's proper operation requires "constant, informed decisions" at all times. The nature of the "economic laws" of the market is to balance preferences, including people's preference for time and the use of attention. If you'd rather concentrate on, say, a good book, then you're "spending unwisely" by wasting overlong making a precise buying decision when you could make a snap decision and return quickly to the book.

You write about energy-efficient heaters etc, but you miss out on the most natural way these would come about: if the price rises due to high demand, people start to consider energy-efficiency as a priority. Of course, they'll also start considering building more power stations, but that would only be bad if one were to believe the "green" hysteria, which I personally don't.

Oh, and I'd never argue against cutting taxes; I'm an anarchist, I'd prefer tax, state spending, and state action all cut to precisely zero.

[ Parent ]

No, really, ... (none / 0) (#320)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 01:47:10 AM EST

... "free market" is an economic term involving, among other things perfect, or at least equivalent information about the value of goods. They are "efficient" under an interpretation of that term, but not under all interpretations.



[ Parent ]

socialist bulshit (5.00 / 1) (#335)
by dh003i on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 09:32:54 AM EST

That is crap. The free market is not some idealistic model of what happens in a perfect world. It *is* what happens when the government backs off. It does not require equivalent information about goods to work. Consumers have the choice to spend hours of time determining everything there is to know about a product before buying it, or they can do something else that they place more value on. It's their choice, not yours.

Since you are obviously too stupid to understand the obvious meaning of the term "free market", I'll cite a definition of the free market for you:

free market
n.
An economic market in which supply and demand are not regulated or are regulated with only minor restrictions.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

California (none / 0) (#333)
by abulafia on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 08:15:12 AM EST

In california, the price to the end users was forced down for populist reasons, while the price to the suppliers was let to float. So when the price to the suppliers rose, their only choice was to either eat a loss (and go bankrupt) or turn off the generators. Hence powercuts.

You'd think. I thought that for a while. But then the lawsuits started flying, Enron collapsed, and information started coming out. (I hate lawsuits, and still think many of the ones coming out of CA over power are silly. For the record, I lived in SF through the whole thing, and for about 9 years before that.)

Fact is, Power sellers were using various dodges to drive up the price, once prices started rising. It was a classic example of gaming a tight market. One of the cooler tools used to game the market was reciprical agreements - the notion that I've got ten Mwatts here, you've got ten Mwatts there, we'll swap. Well, turn that into a "sale". Power is tied up, prices go up, and now that power is more expensive. (This same game is played with oil, but it works much better there, as moving it is harder and you're playing across multiple nation states.)

See, if things were truly deregulated (at least as much as anything ever is), these games would be harder. But, much like the airlines, we have (in the US) the worst of both worlds - the appearance of deregulation while costs and complicated rules favor incumbent players.

Here's a hint - small power generators would be much more popular if there were a truly free market in power, much like small ISPs and phone services would be much more popular if there were truly a free market in The Last Mile.

[ Parent ]

bullshit (5.00 / 5) (#247)
by tuj on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:41:02 PM EST

I work on the merchant side of a major energy company with both regulated and non-regulated business units.  The deregulation of the energy market has been a GOOD thing.  The problem is, some regions have chosen poor implementations of deregulation.

See, with electricity, if you're going to trade it, you have to have a way to deliver it from wherever it was generated.  This is called transmission.  Since the vast majority of electric lines were constructed by regulated utilities, transmitting power out of one of your generating stations to another major hub will probably involve the usage of someone else's lines.  

Now if the market was just straight deregulated, Company A, who owns all the lines into Major City A could refuse to let other companies transmit into City A on its lines.  But this isn't what happens.  Instead, an independant entity is set up to control ALL the transmission in a region.  So now Company A, Company B, and Company C can all bid on the right to use Company A's lines into City A at a particular time.  The independant transmission authority controls the prices of these transmission 'tags' and at the end of a month, gives kickbacks to the companies that actually own the lines.

The problem with this in some regions, is that the kickbacks aren't enough incentive for companies to maintain and upgrade their transmission capabilities.  Other problems have been the relative newness of electricity trading, which has lead many municipalities to make bad long term or short term deals.

Eventually the market will mature and in the end, it makes for a good situation.  There will be price fluctuations, but in a mature market these will be minimized.  

really? (4.75 / 4) (#263)
by jjayson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:16:20 PM EST

That similar infrastructure sharing was the centerpiece of Clinton's Telecomm Deregulation Act. It had the exact same problems too. The line owners actually refused to build and improve their lines since they were forced to allow the competition to use them at a rate set too low. Many companies actually incured fines because the fines were cheaper than building lines. The last mile problems and slow DSL growth has been directly tied to this. Then came cable modems and captured the entire market at lower costs with better bandwith. Amazingly enough, the cable lines did not have the same forced sharing problem.

I wonder how many examples of this can be found across the developing world?
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

supply and demand (5.00 / 4) (#249)
by tuj on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 02:49:18 PM EST

There is no nice supply/demand curve in the short to medium term for electricity.

Bullshit.  Every energy company develops load forecasts for not only its native load (its regulated customers) but also for other pricing points throughout the country.  Typically these simulations are based on many years of historical weather data at each of these locations, as well as sophisticated trend-noting algorithms.

Every company develops these 'forward curves' on a hourly short-term basis (1-2 day's ahead) as well as on a daily long-term basis (1 - 20 YEARS ahead).  These curves are generally refined on a daily or weekly basis.  

Looking at day-head load, the forecasters are generally within 1-2% of the actual load on an hourly basis.  Keep in mind, this is on 10-50 GW loads that can fluctuate several hundred MW in an hour.

As an aside, if you are going to post a story, its probably a good idea to know what you are talking about instead of just guessing what actually goes on.

Missed point (5.00 / 1) (#253)
by Paul Johnson on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 03:21:40 PM EST

Every company develops these 'forward curves' on a hourly short-term basis (1-2 day's ahead)

I don't think you are talking about the same thing. The supply/demand curve is a graph showing how supply and demand vary depending on the price of a commodity. At a high price demand will be low (few can afford it) and supply will be high (lots of people will sell it if there is that much money in it). At low price the opposite is true. Somewhere in between is the right price where supply matches demand.

You seem to be talking about predicted demand over time, which is a different thing.

if you are going to post a story, its probably a good idea to know what you are talking about

Perhaps you should take your own advice, or at least not lead with "Bullshit".

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

Traditional curves don't work (5.00 / 2) (#254)
by tuj on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 03:45:50 PM EST

You can't effectively use a traditional supply and demand curve in the electricity market because the demand is very inelastic.  Think about it: how many companies can shut down their operations when market prices spike?  Not many (some steel companies that use MW's of power).

Price does not have the effect of constaining demand: we simply depend on electricity too much.  Case in point, California a few years ago.  Even though the price was $10,000/MWh, the demand stayed so strong that they had to implement rolling blackouts.

The demand is mainly a function of temperature.  When its hot or cold outside, people turn on their air conditioning or heaters.  This is the biggest component of load changes throughout the year.  In the summer during the day, load goes up as temperatures rise and ac units cycle more frequently, then load drops sharply at night.  In the winter, load dips slighly during the day, as temperatures rise a bit, and then comes back up at night as electric heating units cycle more, and lighting is used longer.

Guess what?  Supply isn't exactly plentiful either.  If that was the case, California would have had plenty of MW's to go around at $10,000/MWh prices.  No, most energy companies rely on their base load hydro/coal/nuclear units that can produce cheap MW's ($0.10-20.00/MWh).  Then, as load increases, intermediate priced coal/combined cycle units are brought online.  Finally, at high loads, combustion turbine (think jet engine hooked up to a generator) units are started, which have fairly steep costs ($60-250/MWh).

Price doesn't really increase just because load increases.  If you are a power company and you have excess $10 MW's, and the market is $20, you can unload your MW's and the price will go down regardless of load.  But if the load is so high that every energy company is forced to use their peaking units, market price is going to reflect what is costs to run those units.

In constrast, at night, many of the coal/nuclear units are run out of the money, which is to say, the market price is LOWER than what is costs to run those units.  However, the losses that are incurred at night are made up for by not having to restart the unit, which, depending on the size of unit, can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and take several days.

[ Parent ]

Time delay (none / 0) (#298)
by Paul Johnson on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 05:58:32 AM EST

This is on the side of my earlier point, but anyway...

You can't effectively use a traditional supply and demand curve in the electricity market because the demand is very inelastic.

Somewhat true in the short term, much less so in the long term.

Even when people "need" more electricity (e.g. due to extreme weather), higher prices can encourage them to reduce consumption. In the case of weather, obvious examples are to go sit in the mall, only heat one room, keep a coat on indoors. Less than pleasant, but hardly an example of inelastic demand.

Price doesn't really increase just because load increases. If you are a power company and you have excess $10 MW's, and the market is $20, you can unload your MW's and the price will go down regardless of load. But if the load is so high that every energy company is forced to use their peaking units, market price is going to reflect what is costs to run those units.

You seem to be contradicting yourself. You say that price doesn't really increase with higher load. Then you say that higher load requires more expensive generation systems, thereby increasing price. Huh?

Also, the original article complained that there was no spare capacity in the system because of privatisation. But surely occasional high prices will reward people who build the spare capacity: it may not often be used, but when it is you can charge a lot for it.

As I understand it, the problem in California was not deregulation per se, but partial deregulation. The utilities were forced to buy power on the open market but sell it at regulated rates below cost. Not a sustainable situation.

In contrast we had our electricity system privatised and deregulated some years ago. No national blackouts yet.

Paul.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
[ Parent ]

"No national blackouts yet" (none / 0) (#302)
by Chep on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 07:54:58 AM EST

Yep, but look at your trains! :-P

I guess this brings back to the point of one of the linked articles (the EPSU rant): for a deregulation to be successful, it has to be implemented in a smart and cautious way. Seems obvious. Apparently Brits and Texans were successful in that endeavour, Californians weren't.

Now, try to break EDF's or the SNCF's local monopolies, and watch the remnants of the Communist Party attempt to start a new revolution....

(on quality of service regulations, I really can't believe, were fines in place to "punish" utilities which failed to deliver last week, that they couldn't have purcha^Wconvinced enough lawmakers to bail them out of paying).

--

Our Constitution ... is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number.
Thucydide II, 37


[ Parent ]

liberal dribbel, typical of K5 (3.80 / 5) (#251)
by dh003i on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 03:16:18 PM EST

This is a bunch of BS. The power-supply market never was de-regulated. They simply lifted *some* regulations, implemented others, in a complicated hodge-podge combination.

"Partially deregulating" the market doesn't work. You need to completely de-regulate it, for the best results. This applies not just here, but everywhere else, to labor-laws, discrimination laws, and everything else. What happened here was that the government lifted some regulations, but left power-monopolies in place.

You can not say there was a free market is consumer's didn't have a choice. No-one was able to choose between power-company A, B, C, and D...thus, there never was a free-market: there was just a de-facto government-sponsored monopoly.

The current interventionalist policies are not good. They are, in fact, a terrible hodge-podge combination of the free market and communistic central planning. Ultimately, they are unstable. Interventionism cannot last, and will either revert back to a pure free-market, or devolve towards communism.

If you examine interventionism carefully, it becomes clear that it simply *cannot* work well. Central planners in Washington make decisions about how things are to be run accross the country, in areas of which they have no knowledge and are not updated daily on. Many of these central planners, of course, are idiots; but even the intelligent ones cannot make good decisions about how to run a business which they aren't a part of every day. Compare the economies of nations with more vs. less interventionalism; you will find a pattern that nations with less interventionalism have better economies.

The problem with our current regulatory regime in power is that it's like a drug. How do we effectively get off of it? The free market has been completely suppressed. It takes time for different companies to build the infrastructures (e.g., separate power-grids and power-plants) to allow consumers to have a real choice.

Ultimately, you have to just take the plunge -- eliminate all regulation and open up the market to real competition. Companies are not going to risk the investment of building these infrastructures if they think Congress might just come along later and re-regulate the entire market, re-establishing old monopolies.

Of course, environmentalist nutcases will lament over "the environment". But most environmental problems come from a lack of respect for property rights and non-ownable land. Consider when the smoke factories first came out in England; they were exempted from paying for the damage caused by their factories to the locals nearby (e.g., the smoke destroyed their property, ruining trees and whatnot). If they had had to pay for that, they would have had incentives to take measures to minimize pollution.

Then consider de-forestation. De-forestation of course comes from the fact that logging companies aren't allowed to own forests. If logging companies actually own forests, they have incentive to maintain the capital value of the forest (not cut down more than grow back), so they can continue logging forever. If, however, the government owns the forest, and just rents space out to companies for given time-frames, then the natural incentive is for them to extract as much as possible as quickly as possible, because otherwise they don't get their money's worth.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.

why is their partial deregulation? (4.66 / 3) (#255)
by tuj on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 03:56:03 PM EST

Think about it: regulated industries have typically been industries that require intense infrastructure to operate.  Your cable, telephone, water, gas, and power companies have to spend money to build the systems to deliever those goods to your house.

Now, if the market is completely deregulated, how did things improve?  Well, now the water company can charge you whatever it wants because they know that no other water company is going to come in and build a second set of water pipes to compete.

So you have to partially regulate the delievery infrastructure to allow competition.  This means that if you own a network of pipes/wires/cables, you have to allow your competitors access, and they have to give you access to theirs.  

Now you have the right to get paid for letting other people access your network, but these access fee's are regulated so that they can't be exorbitant.  So what happens is that its cheaper to pay the access fee and deliever your product on someone else's network than it is to maintain your own network.

End result: networks go to hell.  No, partial deregulation is probably the best way to go, but the system of delievery needs to be examined.  Probably some sort of public ownership would be best; where those who utilize the network pay a non-profit third party who owns, operates and maintains the network, but doesn't actually produce the products that are delievered over the network.

[ Parent ]

specious reasoning (none / 0) (#278)
by dh003i on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 10:42:43 PM EST

now the water company can charge you whatever it wants because they know that no other water company is going to come in and build a second set of water pipes to compete.

This is a rather absurd claim. If they charge too much and don't offer services that are good enough, they open the door very wide for competition to come in and build alternate water-pipes.

And really, all you need is a couple of different companies to have an effective free market. Cartels are impossible to maintain over any extended periods of time among several companies.

The idea that they should have to provide their water pipes to other companies is socialist crap. Think about it. It's no different than the government forcing farmers to offer beef at no higher than a certain price. The result is you have shortage-problems. With respect to water, we have seen these water-shortage problems even in areas with abundant water-supply. Furthermore, forcing them to allow competitors to use their water-pipes is a violation of property rights. Presumably they paid for the volume of ground that their pipes take up; thus, forcing them to use it in one way or another is a violation of property rights.

Of course, if they don't provide water they promised to provide, or provide it at lower qualities than they promised, they are in violation of their contract with their customers and can be sued; and if they provide it as such poor qualities as to be dangerous, those who made those decisions in the company are criminally liable.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

valid reasoning (5.00 / 1) (#290)
by tuj on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 01:41:17 AM EST

If a barrier to entry in a market is astronomical, you can bet each region won't have much competition.  It costs A LOT of money to build waterworks and power plants, pipes and power lines.  

But let's suppose you are going to pony up the bucks to try to get into a new market.  First off, you're going to have to aim very small, because no one on Wall St. will support a 20 year ambitious capital project.  So lets say you aim to plumb up 20 business customers.  

Your competitor is going to note that you are after its high-margin business customers and begin competitive pricing.  Actually, the competitor will start 'dumping', selling at a loss on his network edges where he feels competion might establish a second network.  And since its not like you can build a water pipe overnight, your competitors will know when you're trying to move into a location.  Every company will engage in dumping to protect its borders and the market will remain a bunch of geographically distinct monopolies.

There's a reason your house doesn't have 4 companies' water pipes in it; a single distribution network for products like water and power are a very GOOD way to do things.  But if someone can offer an example of any modern city that has multiple companies water pipes and power lines running into actual residential homes, I'll be taken aback.

Let's face it; building vast physical, capital and maintanence-intensive distribution networks is not something any modern corporation wants to do.  

[ Parent ]

and, again, who's fault is this...the government's (none / 0) (#315)
by dh003i on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 07:03:35 PM EST

If a barrier to entry in a market is astronomical, you can bet each region won't have much competition. It costs A LOT of money to build waterworks and power plants, pipes and power lines.

This is the government's fault, again, for establishing and supporting such monopolies.

Lets say the government lifts all regulations and companies are fee to build vast infrastructure alternatives. So what if no companies decide to do this? Why should anyone be forced to do it? Regulating the companies themselves and preventing them from charging what they would otherwise charge amounts to a violation of propertyy rights -- after all, they paid the money to build these infrastructures, didn't they, or bought out those who did. Either that, or the government provided the money to build these infrastructures, which means it must have done it through taxation, inflation, tarrifs, licensing fees, etc. All of which amounts to one thing: theft. If that's the case, the alternate solution is to transfer these infrastructures to non-profit organization (which run more efficiently than the government) and allow democratic voting for the leadership.

You can jump through as many hoops as you want to. But you can't get around the fact that the ends do not justify the means. Either the companies paid the money to build these infrastructure, in which case telling them what to do and not to do with their property is a violation of their property rights; or the infrastructures were built using public funds, which means funded by government-legalized stealing.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

ahh, the Randian free-for-all (none / 0) (#316)
by tuj on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 09:48:01 PM EST

Lets say the government lifts all regulations and companies are fee to build vast infrastructure alternatives. So what if no companies decide to do this? Why should anyone be forced to do it?

Well, for one thing the margins on power and phone service to businesses are much higher than to residential customers.  Think about it: if I build 20 power lines to 20 steel mills, I can sell as much electricity as I could to 20,000 homes.  There's little incentive to serve the residential customer.  There's little reason to maintain the infrastructure to support the residential customer.

This is the government's fault, again, for establishing and supporting such monopolies.

I don't think its unreasonable to assume that given NO government interference, these local monopolies would have naturally arisen.

Ultimately, the fact that we have a national power grid (or rather several large regional grids) is a good thing.  And the fact that power companies provide each other with mutual assistance after storms and things is also a good thing.  And the fact that pretty much everyone in the US has power and phone lines to their homes, even in rural areas is a good thing.  The fact that power companies are often compelled to sell the lowest price power in their generation portfolios to the residential customer is a good thing.  The fact that the average residential customer is insulated from the swings of the market is a good thing.

I hate to say it, but Randian theory just doesn't make a lot of sense in the case of utilities.  But if you think so, that's cool.  Just don't complain when your completely deregulated power company doesn't repair the down power lines outside your house for 3 weeks because you aren't a high-margin customer.

[ Parent ]

Don't underestimate entrepreneurial spirit (none / 0) (#341)
by chunkstyle on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 09:29:00 PM EST

Well, for one thing the margins on power and phone service to businesses are much higher than to residential customers.  Think about it: if I build 20 power lines to 20 steel mills, I can sell as much electricity as I could to 20,000 homes.  There's little incentive to serve the residential customer.  There's little reason to maintain the infrastructure to support the residential customer.

If this were the case, then that would indicate a available niche in the market.  I expect some enterprising company or person would say to the original provider, "Let me be a customer and take one of your 20 power lines and pay the same as a steel mill would for however many MW of power".  This company then establishes a secondary network to resell the power to 20,000 customers at a markup.  This markup will be the incentive to actually build the extra infrastructure required to deliver to all 20,000 homes.  If the markup is too high, it will attract other entrants to the market for those 20,000 homes with the new company saying, "If I can do this just a bit cheaper than X, I will gain marketshare".  Either way, if there is a profit to be made, I don't think a company will turn it down simply becuase it is not as big as the tier 1 provider's margin of profit.  

I also expect more iterations of this process would serve the more remote/difficult areas to more accurately reflect the costs of service the customer is requesting.  I don't expect that rates would stay high once infrastructure is paid off.  It would likely be treated as an asset to the company.  Something that could be traded/sold/leased/bought depending on the current needs of any particular company.

I strongly expect that a futures market would also develop to allow for risk spreading and hedge positions.  These markets tend to bring stability in the form of the ability to weather short term variability.

Chunkstyle

[ Parent ]

Customer Choice (none / 0) (#258)
by tuj on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 04:15:55 PM EST

You can not say there was a free market is consumer's didn't have a choice. No-one was able to choose between power-company A, B, C, and D...thus, there never was a free-market: there was just a de-facto government-sponsored monopoly.

http://www.ohiochoice.8m.com/
http://www.we-energies.com/michiganchoice/mi_qa.htm
http://www.firstenergycorp.com/customerchoice/
http://www.otpco.com/home/customer_choice.asp

About half the United States has their choice of electricity providers.

[ Parent ]

yes, but it's still not real choice (none / 0) (#280)
by dh003i on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 10:52:11 PM EST

Since the power-delivery infrastructure is still a government-sponsored monopoly. And there hasn't been *complete deregulation*. Also, since power-companies can't choose among different delivery systems, then this kind of problem hasn't been addressed by the free-market, but is still bottled up in a government-sponsored monopoly. We need to be able to choose our power-company, which in turn needs to be able to choose which company it pays for power-delivery.

For there to be a true free market, there needs to be competitition (or the possibility for it, e.g., no gov't-mandated monopoly) every step of the way, and there should be <I>no</I> regulations. Hodge-podge mixtures of communism and the free market are almost always a bad idea.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

while alot of what you say I agree with (none / 0) (#267)
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:34:51 PM EST

I think that the electric companies did mess it up for us all in the attempt to get the all mighty dollar. why have extra capacity and build new plants and run new lines when the old ones are working good and we can save money by not producing more electricty than we need?

that is how modern corperations think, what is best for the here and now, not what is best in case of disaster. this all stems, as you site in other argumnets in your post, from the government. they bail out big companies losses so when something as horrid as what happened this weekend occures, they keep their profit margins and don't get affected becasue of the government money used to bail them out. if the companies were responsable for all costs encured, they would make sure they had up to date systems and more power than they need so that they do not lose a massive amount of cash in a blow out like this.

[ Parent ]

re (none / 0) (#279)
by dh003i on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 10:47:01 PM EST

why have extra capacity and build new plants and run new lines when the old ones are working good and we can save money by not producing more electricty than we need?

Well, there is little incentive to maintain equipment if you're a monopoly, as most power-companies currently are (gov't sponsored). After all, what have the power companies lost from this power-outage? A couple of days worth of profit. That's it. Nothing more. If the people affected by this power outage actually could choose to go to different companies that maintain their equipment better, then these faulty companies would have lost millions of customers.

the government. they bail out big companies losses so when something as horrid as what happened this weekend occures, they keep their profit margins and don't get affected becasue of the government money used to bail them out

Yes, that's exactly the point. Namely, that it's the government's fault. The government creates these state-sponsored monopolies, and props them up, just like it props up bankrupt banks (e.g., all banks in the US today, which are inherently completely bankrupt with their fractional reserve...e.g., if everyone wanted their money out now, the banks wouldn't be able to give it to them because of fractional reserve...to me, that sounds criminal).

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

not necessarily - see Texas (5.00 / 6) (#261)
by Delirium on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 05:18:43 PM EST

Texas has a deregulated electricity market, and it's been doing just fine. Part of the reason is that it's off the national electric grids, partly for economic reasons, and partly for "we don't trust those fancy city folk to run our electric systems when we can do it better with old-fashioned Texas known-how" (a mistrust that seems to have turned out to be justified). The big problem in this latest outage was the Eastern Interconnect -- when something goes down, it cascades across the entire Interconnect, despite systems attempting to stop that cascading (which is very hard to do). Texas is only connected to the Eastern and Western interconnects with DC lines, which avoids the problem through isolation -- only something in Texas can ever take down Texas's power grid.

Stupid troll (4.00 / 4) (#269)
by dn on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 07:27:32 PM EST

At least try to make your garbage believable before posting it.
And worst of all, electric grids have only two modes - oversupply, where everything works as planned, and undersupply, where the entire grid goes down.
Thanks for the meaningless truism, troll. The power grid is dominated by constant-power loads, which means the grid is usually either on or off. You could just as well say "The internal combustion engine has only two modes - enough engine fuel to start the engine, and insufficient fuel."

What, in fact, really matters is that the curve of reliability versus reserve generation capacity has a particular shape. You get to pick how reliable you want it to be by installing reserve generation and transmission capacity. That is, if the gov't regulators aren't busy getting blowjobs from somebody who wants to make that choice for you.

Surplus transmission meant that the network could route round any one failure in most cases. All this extra capacity cost money, but it ensured a high degree of reliability.
Surplus transmssion meant that the gov't regulators hadn't been captured by the tree-huggers, neighboorhood aesthetics committees, and sundry other Luddite organizations. When transmission capacity was needed, they seized the necessary land by force majeure and built the damn lines. (Incidentally, that only ever occurred because the AEC basically commandeered the power system to run the Cold War uranium separators.) The transmission deficit occurred because of gov't regulation, acting on the lobbyist dollars will of the people.
How inefficient, cried the free market evangelists! Regulation and public ownership are making us all pay far too much for this commodity.
The old electricity system was bad in exactly the same ways, and for exactly the same reasons, as the bad old Bell telephone system.

The differences are that, in the new telecomms system, the customer is legally allowed to hold the provider to quality of service requirements, and telephone lines are buried underground so the aesthetics whiners get slapped down. You can go to any telephone company and order a data line with the bandwidth, bit error rate, and uptime of your choice, and you get the privilege of paying accordingly. Telecom companies can run lines basically anywhere they want. In some of the new electricity systems, such as in the California debacle, the gov't banned quality of service requirements, which meant the providers could deliver as little electricity as possible, regardless of the price. Prices and service quality, predictably, went into the shitter.

Some industry insiders pointed out that surplus capacity was shrinking, as no one could justify new capacity on financial grounds,...
Data service and electricity service have almost exactly the same economics. While data cabling is cheaper than power cabling, data terminal equipment is more expensive, and transit is quite a bit more expensive. The overall cost is comparable: your electricity bill is only a factor of two or three more expensive than top-of-the-line consumer Internet access.

The difference is that during the '90s, telecoms was radically (and truly) deregulated across the board. The result was a renaissance: broadband delivered to the masses, huge investment in physical plant, a veritable riot of innovation and progress.

In contrast, the so-called electrical "deregulation" was no such thing. They took a functional, albeit utterly bureaucratized system, and sold each piece to the highest bidder. The aesthetics whiners got handed the transmission system to destroy. The producer oligarchs got freedom from silly things like service guarantees. Civilization got the shaft.

Central planning, regulation, and even public ownership have been dirty words for a long time. Maybe it's time to clean them off a bit.
Well, maybe you're a dirty communist, not a dirty troll. In any event, datacomms proved that deregulation works. The Texas power system proves that deregulation works for electricity. Heck, the city where I live proves that city-operated utilities can be great too, provided they're accountable.

The places that have had electricity trouble have, predictably, been the places that love selling pieces of the gov't to the highest bidder, and regulating the competitors out of existence. I.e., the Left Coast and the Big Rotten Apple.

    I ♥
TOXIC
WASTE

bravo, bravo (none / 0) (#277)
by dh003i on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 10:35:20 PM EST

an excellent and thorough demolishing of the main author's quasi-communist, anti-free-market rant.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

Uh oh (4.00 / 1) (#283)
by dn on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 11:25:55 PM EST

Sorry I wrote so much rudeness into that. I've been really frustrated by all the other people who think the solution to big problems like this one is more gov't regulation, enacted as rapidly as possible. I guess I took it all out on the story author.

So how about some constructive solutions:

  1. Get the Feds out of electricity as much as possible. (I'll bet a lot of their involvement is mission creep from the original uranium separator work. Give the lobbyists an inch and they'll take a parsec.) Except for interoperability and interstate contracts, the Feds can do nothing that states cannot do better. (My hometown makes its own power. They're reliable, and they actually had the foresight to install a backup generator at the water pumping plant.) At the very least, leaving it to the states minimizes the fallout from a single bad law. I also want a pony for Christmas.
     
  2. Develop and deploy gigawatt dump loads, "dummy" loads to connect to the generators when the grid goes away. Without a load, most generators shut down to keep from destroying themselves. The problem is that it takes a while (many minutes for gas fired, days for scrammed fission reactors) to turn them back on, and by that time all the refrigeration thermostats have turned on and the generators can't cope. If you can keep the generators spinning, local control centers can bring their regions back online before too many thermostats trip. Some generators also can't do a restart without grid power, and could really benefit from a dump load. This we can do, but it'll cost plenty. I'm gonna talk to my EE colleagues tomorrow about this. (Esp. the one that has designed multimegawatt induction heaters.)
     
  3. Put smart restart circuitry in thermostats and battery chargers. If thermostats would temporarily relax their set points, and wait a random amount of time before restarting after an outage, the grid would be easier to restart. Ditto for battery chargers: if they had plenty of reserve charge, they could wait a few minutes before restarting, and start out at a lower charging rate. They'd have a button the user could press when they need an instant restart. This is one place where the Feds could really help. I'm imagining a law that says "All thermostats and chargers sold in interstate commerce after 2020 shall have this feature."
     
  4. Make political hay against the not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) herd. Citizens ought to be interested about what keeps their society running, and this is something to start the conversation rolling.
     

    I ♥
TOXIC
WASTE

[ Parent ]

Atrociously wrong (5.00 / 1) (#294)
by jjayson on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 02:41:25 AM EST

The difference is that during the '90s, telecoms was radically (and truly) deregulated across the board. The result was a renaissance: broadband delivered to the masses, huge investment in physical plant, a veritable riot of innovation and progress.
Telecomm deregulation started with the divestiture of AT&T of 1984. That caused a mini technological revolution in data services, new features, new technology, new services, and more competition.

The Telecomm Act of 1996 was blasted from both sides. One of the goals of the bill was to create competition for better data (Internet) servies. But it wasn't deregulation; it was reregulation. The forced infrastructure sharing provision made it so that line owners didn't want to extend their lines (making the last mile problem worse), they didn't want to upgrade to higher quality lines like optical, and they had little incentive to develop new solutions. It was so bad that the line owners accepted fines rather than actually deal with investing in lines that they would just be forced to share with their competition.

Then came cable data services. It made DSL look silly. So while these people in Washington were busy trying to increase compeitition over phone lines, cable lines were the compeition and the TA-1996 was just hampering the ability  to compete.

This is an endemic problem with so=called "needed" regulation. It stems from the fact that people cannot see an immediate solution and they don't believe that people are smart enough or have the will to develop one, so they regulate, erecting entry barriers, siphoning off capital, and being blind to the competition that they could be fostering.
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]

another good comment (none / 0) (#314)
by dh003i on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:56:57 PM EST

Your comments are very insightful, but they only disagree with the original author in terms of actual facts (granted, the original author should have researched a little more thoroughlY), not principles of the benefits of lifting regulations and allowing the free market to work.

Social Security is a pyramid scam.
[ Parent ]

Indeed (none / 0) (#321)
by dn on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 02:29:42 AM EST

While the Telecommunications Act was reregulation in the literal sense, it was written by incumbent telcos with chronically limited imagination1. They couldn't imagine the cablecos, ILECs, satellite operators, and cell operators doing what they did. So they built a moat around certain landlines and then went back to sleep. The new technology did an end run around the regulations, and the incumbent telcos got their asses handed to them.
This is an endemic problem with so=called "needed" regulation. It stems from the fact that people cannot see an immediate solution and they don't believe that people are smart enough or have the will to develop one,...
I couldn't have said it better myself.

1I think with enough patience you could get MCI..uh..Sprint..uh..Worldcom to buy a Russian nuke and vaporize their own headquarters. And their stock would go up afterwards.

    I ♥
TOXIC
WASTE

[ Parent ]

Auckland a new major australian City! (3.50 / 2) (#273)
by scrantic on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 08:55:25 PM EST

Quote: "A chilling article appeared in the Australian Financial Review last week, literally welcoming the unprecedented electricity blackouts that are continuing to cause chaos in two of Australasia's major cities--Auckland and Brisbane." You have got to love a geographicaly challenged journo :)

Huh? (4.75 / 4) (#274)
by Insaa on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 09:09:15 PM EST

Australasia describes a region, not Australia. Australisia is like Oceania however it puts a greater bias on the larger countries, namely Australia and New Zealand. That's how I understand it at least.

Completely off topic, well done to the AB's in putting the Wallabies in their place, bringing the ol' mug back home.

[ Parent ]

stand corrected (5.00 / 1) (#300)
by scrantic on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 06:59:43 AM EST

I should have double checked it did sound a bit strange.

[ Parent ]
rated 5 for the off-topic stuff ;-) (n/t) (none / 0) (#301)
by Chep on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 07:31:55 AM EST


--

Our Constitution ... is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number.
Thucydide II, 37


[ Parent ]

Funny, I did the same thing! (n/t) (none / 0) (#319)
by debillitatus on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 12:44:46 AM EST


Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!
[ Parent ]

Just the Facts, Mam (4.50 / 2) (#275)
by CoolName on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 09:20:05 PM EST

Exactly what are the facts? Knowing what the facts are here is half the difficulty. Someone says there has been deregulation and someone else just says there are now just different set of regulations. With a market usually one can indirectly verify what is going on. The shelves have a selection of products from various corporations at different prices and with qualtity that can be checked out, but usually one has one power company to purchase power from. These is so even in the days of so-called de-regulation. As a matter of fact one has no real basis to judge even if there is a real market unless one has some inside knowledge of the industry. And getting the facts from people who do is difficult because of the spin put on the facts for strategic reasons. Perhaps the govermnent has to set goals of some kind here but leave how these goals are reached up to the individual corporations. Certainly the arguments about Washington bureaucrats lacking the knowledge to plan the electircity grid is correct but on the other hand a corporation, especially with a fixed customer base will take advantage of the customer given a pure lassez faire system. Witness Enron.

"What does your conscience say? -- 'You shall become the person you are.'" Friedrich Nietzsche


Deregulation is not the worst of all evils (4.00 / 3) (#291)
by X3nocide on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 01:58:37 AM EST

There's a fear that opening up the current system will lead to corruption, decay and mismanagement. But that argument is based on pure fear. Expert testimony officially declares the subject prompted by the latest northeastern blackout as too early to draw conclusions. Unofficially, the blame is placed on an overregulated power transmission system. I think the negative value of high capacity lines is also a factor, like nuclear waste NIMBY on a smaller scale. Apparently there was much extra capacity going unused in other parts of the midwest that could not be sold to the area affected. And there are plenty of coming ideas that could enable a far wider set of power providers. Wind power could enable farmers to build turbines should crop prices fall incredibly low.

One thing people forget about when they speak about regulation and deregulation, is that humans are still running the show. Do you really trust the regulatory commisions to perform adequately? Look at some other commissions with higher profile. The FCC still doesn't consider cable television in their rulings, even though they've noted that 85 percent of American viewers watch via cable. The SEC has a list too long to mention. Government bodies are reactive, preferring a state of inactivity when possible.

Of course, there are companies that prefer the current regulated state. Ever heard of the military-industrial complex? Supposedly Southern Company has been lobbying against power deregulation. I guess they like the competition (and prices) where they stand now. My biggest interest is what Bush will end up doing about this. Talk is cheap, but if you've noticed, Texas is its own power grid. There's also the East, and the Western grids, to give you an idea of how small the Texas power grid is. Yet it has managed not to be absorbed into one of the other two. Bush can talk about the need for reform, but his only two sources of power is the presidential veto and his Republican influence over Congress.

pwnguin.net

AU & NZ are different countries (4.50 / 4) (#296)
by mjl on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 03:19:50 AM EST

Some readers may have noticed recent news concerning the reliability of electric power grids. Depending on location, they may also be aware of problems in California, New Zealand and Australia, and Italy.
the intro reads as if they are the same.

US & Canada are different countries too (none / 0) (#359)
by aeschenkarnos on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 09:31:34 AM EST

and so are France and Belgium. But nobody else cares.

[ Parent ]
Well, not exactly... (4.00 / 2) (#308)
by Rahyl on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 05:30:08 PM EST

The electricity business never de-regulated.  Sure, they were granted the ability to make some decisions that they'd previously not been allowed to but their hands are still tied.

There really isn't enough room here to go into details but for a better picture, I'd recommend researching exactly what it takes to bring more energy to the market (ie: building more power facilities like nuclear, hydro-electric, fossil fuel burning, etc).  Once you realize how difficult it is to get anything done, you'll see how trying to imply that the energy business was "deregulated" is actually quite laughable.

Implying that deregulation is responsible for  power outages only makes sense if you're running for office.  It takes something most people understand (blackouts) and blames it on something most people do not understand (economics).  Politics as usual unfortunately.  The good part is that no matter what your political affiliation is, deregulation (**real** deregulation) makes the most sense.  Think about it:  Are you a [enter political party affiliation here]?  If so, how would you feel about [enter different party affiliation here] gaining control over your access to electricity?


Electricity companies (2.50 / 2) (#322)
by HermanMcGuigan on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 03:32:17 AM EST

What a lot of people don't realize is that the cheapest form of power generation has been sitting right in front of us for 200 years: the Steam Engine. Yes, that's right. It's more efficient than wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, nuclear power, or, in fact, any form of power generation requiring any form of fuel.

"That's crazy," I hear you thinking. Think again. The steam engine is still the most efficient in terms of raw horsepower.

So why has this invention been suppressed? Money. Control. What the corporations and governments don't want you to know is that the steam engine is far, far cheaper than anything else on the market, and in terms of raw efficiency, blows any other fuel-based power generating device out of the water. They'd prefer you to think that "modern" methods of generating electricity are the only solution to the massive quantities of electricity needed by modern society, and they in turn require vast amounts of money to keep running these facilities. What goes on behind the scenes is a completely different story, though.

Consumers are being ripped off big time, and they accept it without question, like sheep. I don't see this changing as long as the masses keep accepting that the current prices of electricity are justifiable and not bothering to take a look at the situation more critically. However, I know that there are at least some people around the world who are aware or strongly suspect that there is something fishy going on with the electricity situation worldwide. Hopefully, as more people break out of the pop-culture that has overtaken the world and start thinking for themselves again, more of these people will emerge. As another reader pointed out, in the future, getting off the grids that have been put in place by the powers that be might be a possibility. I envision completely private electricity providers run by individual suburbs or villages, utilizing various forms of power, mainly high-efficiency home-made steam engines. How soon this happens is another question, but hopefully the current electricity problems will give people pause and make them re-evaluate the current gigantic, monolithic, overly bureacratic and needlessly compelx and expensive electricity grids that are in place in most countries in the world today. Taking a look at the state of these power companies, is it any wonder they have problems? It's sort of like having 200,000 developers working on a multi-million line software project from four distinct offices in 3 different cities and not expecting any bugs.



Ha ha, nice joke! (5.00 / 1) (#323)
by joib on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 04:52:03 AM EST

So, how did you intend to produce the steam to run your steam engine? With "free energy"? Or perhaps mind power? ;-) Or wait! What about a nuclear reactor?! I'm sure noone has come up with the idea of using a nuclear reactor to produce steam before! ;-)

[ Parent ]
Required fuel (none / 0) (#324)
by HermanMcGuigan on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 05:11:14 AM EST

You can use a lot of different substances that are far more accessible than fuels like gasoline, diesel, etc. For example, you can use wood, trash, corn-cobs, charcoal, or whatever else is available. You might think this sounds infeasible, but compare the cost of a diesel generator plus the cost of diesel, to a steam engine and the cost of wood/junk/corn-cobs/charcoal/etc. Add to this the efficiency that I mentioned in my earlier post, and you'll find that it's not really a joke, and you should stop laughing and start paying attention.

[ Parent ]
So why aren't steam engines everywhere? (5.00 / 1) (#326)
by joib on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 06:26:33 AM EST

Wood, corn-cobs and other biomass isn't available in sufficient quantities except in a few special cicumstances (eg. sawdust produced in a mill). Add to this that fuel oil is easy to transport and inject into an engine by a simple pump and nozzle. With a system like you envision, somebody has to attend the machine and throw in fuel, unless you have some kind of grinder and a blower injection system (too expensive and complicated for small scale usage). Finally, with a piston steam engine you get a very low efficiency (a few percent, contrary to what you seem to claim), while a modern diesel is VERY efficient, the best ones are close to 60%. To get reasonable efficiency out of a steam engine, you have to use a steam turbine, which is a quite complicated and expensive piece of equipment (which is why you only see them in big power stations).

Also, biomass burning is problematic from an enviromental standpoint, which prohibits large scale usage. To get clean exhausts, you have to either install scrubber equipment (expensive, so it requires a big unit to offset the cost) or you have to use some gasification technology (workable, but still under development). And if you go the gasification route, you might as well burn the product gas in an ICE and get a much higher efficiency than in a steam engine.

Finally some anecdotal evidence: Why do you think that for example steam locomotives evolved from burning wood and later coal to burning oil, to be finally replaced by diesel (and in some cases, electrical) locomotives? Do you think it's some kind of grand conspiracy?

Granted, steam engines are in some circles at least, considered romantic. And if you have some basic metal working skills, you can certainly weld together a boiler and a steam piston engine in your own backyard, which certainly would be fun. But to suggest that this engine would be more efficient than a modern diesel, even taking into account lower fuel cost, is simply ridiculous.

[ Parent ]

Fair points. (5.00 / 1) (#329)
by HermanMcGuigan on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 07:20:36 AM EST

Good post. I hope that I can clarify my thoughts on this matter.

Wood, corn-cobs and other biomass isn't available in sufficient quantities except in a few special cicumstances

On the contrary, many of these substances can be found in local neighbourhoods and neighbourhood stores. Granted, if steam engines were suddenly put into production everywhere, there wouldn't be enough supply, and the situation would have to be altered, but it would be far from impossible to put mechanisms in place to transport the needed materials.

Add to this that fuel oil is easy to transport and inject into an engine by a simple pump and nozzle.

Ok, but here we're starting to drift away from total efficiency, and into the realm of sophistication. Modern Diesel and gasoline engines certainly many times more advanced than steam engines, I'll not argue with that, but if you look at the overall situation, are they really more efficient, in terms of overall efficiency? Think about the processes involved in getting suitable fuel for Diesel/gasoline egines (and I don't mean just getting fuel from the local service station, I mean everything from oil extraction and refining to storage and transport). Now compare that to fuel that, in a lot of cases, could be considered waste produce to begin with (garbage, corn-cobs, etc), and to add to that, needs little or no refinement to be used even in its most expensive form (raw materials).

With a system like you envision, somebody has to attend the machine and throw in fuel, unless you have some kind of grinder and a blower injection system (too expensive and complicated for small scale usage).

Scale is a relative term - I'm not talking about solely "backyard" projects here.

Finally, with a piston steam engine you get a very low efficiency (a few percent, contrary to what you seem to claim), while a modern diesel is VERY efficient, the best ones are close to 60%. To get reasonable efficiency out of a steam engine, you have to use a steam turbine, which is a quite complicated and expensive piece of equipment (which is why you only see them in big power stations).

Yes, but the low(er) physical efficiency of the steam engine when compared with other types of engines (certain other types at least, to keep consistency with the discussion so far, for example, the diesel engine) is offset by the cost of running the systems in question, as well as by the overall efficiency and simplicity benefits that would result from the deployment of such systems. I'm not going to argue with you on percentages of efficiency, but I will grant the fact that modern engines are more efficient in terms of physical work done, but not overall efficiency compared to the steam engine - and this comparison stands for any power generating device that requires fuel, or the ratio of fuel required and the cost of producing that fuel vs the work managed as a result of the device's operation.

(expensive, so it requires a big unit to offset the cost) or you have to use some gasification technology (workable, but still under development). And if you go the gasification route, you might as well burn the product gas in an ICE and get a much higher efficiency than in a steam engine.

Again, a fair enough point on the surface, but read into what I've said about total efficiency and you'll see where I'm coming from. No doubt filtering would be neccessary in cases where large-scale operations are active, but this is also true for much of industry at the moment.

Do you think it's some kind of grand conspiracy?

Actually, to a certain degree, yes. Entire industries would be obsoleted if oil-based fuels were marginalized, and some of the people involved are generally considered the most important and powerful people in the world.

But to suggest that this engine would be more efficient than a modern diesel, even taking into account lower fuel cost, is simply ridiculous.

Well, I guess we just have to agree to disagree about that. I believe that the total efficiency of such systems blow anything else (requiring fuel), including gasoline and diesel engines, out of the water.



[ Parent ]
I think we're talking about two separate issues (5.00 / 1) (#357)
by joib on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 04:44:37 AM EST

I think we're talking about two separate issues here:

1. The virtues of non-fossil fuels

2. The efficiency of steam engines vs. diesels

Regarding #1, I think you're somewhat on the right track. It would be a very good thing if the western world would switch sway from fossil fuels. There are plenty of good reason, like:

- Enviromental reasons

- Dwindling oil reserves

- Reducing dependence on foreign countries

- Morally wrong to be paying large amounts of money to oppressive regimes

- Political stability in the middle east might improve as the western world wouldn't need to meddle in their affairs all the time, and anyway, without oil they wouldn't have the money to buy ever more efficient tools to kill each other.

The primary reason we this switch hasn't been made is obviously economical. I don't buy you argument that there is some kind of grand conspiracy on the part of Big Oil. If companies and consumers would have a cheaper way of aquiring the energy they need, without Big Oil, simple market economics dictates that they would certainly do it. OTOH, what the oil companies have done in the past, is to lobby against research into energy efficiency and alternative fuels, but in some sense I think this time has passed in the sense that oil companies are themselves researching alternative energy supplies these days, as they have realized that we will run out of oil some day.

The same goes for your argument about total efficiency. Again, market economy dictates that if burning some alternative fuel in a steam engine is cheaper than burning diesel oil in an efficient diesel, companies will go for it. So the "efficiency" of the energy source gets automagically included in the price the company pays for their energy. In many cases the cheapest (=most efficient) is diesel oil (unfortunately, as I explained in the beginning of this post).

Regarding #2, I think we both agree that the thermal efficiency of a diesel is much higher than for a steam engine. Your argument seems to be that with a steam engine, you can utilize cheaper and preferably locally produced fuel sources, thus pushing the "economic efficiency" higher than a diesel. I don't disagree with that, and I would be very happy if the world could reduce it's dependence on fossil fuels.

The point I'd like to emphasize here, however, is that enviromental legislation will force either scrubbers or gasification technology to be used when burning biomass/waste/etc. My impression is that gasification technology will eventually be able to meet enviromental standards cheaper than scrubbers, so I think that gasification will become very widespread at some point. Thus the question is, how to make the best use of the product gas? Currently the best option is the so called combined cycle plant, where the gas is first burned in either a gas turbine or in a diesel engine (diesel, as in a compression-ignited ICE, not as in a engine that burns diesel oil), and then the excess heat from the turbine/diesel is used to produce steam for a steam turbine. Thus we get the best of both worlds: cheap non-fossil fuel and a very high thermal efficiency minimizing use of said fuel. Of course the complexity of a combined-cycle plant is way beyond some backyard project, but the basic gasification technology scales well to small sizes. In fact, here in Europe, civilian cars were often powered by gas produced by a small gasification unit fueled by wood during WWII, because the military used all the precious gasoline.

[ Parent ]

Paying attention (5.00 / 1) (#327)
by greenrd on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 06:56:01 AM EST

Those of us who did pay attention noticed this:

It's more efficient than wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, nuclear power, or, in fact, any form of power generation requiring any form of fuel.

Maybe you should pay more attention.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Sorry (5.00 / 1) (#331)
by HermanMcGuigan on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 07:22:43 AM EST

My mistake. See my reply to joib for clarification.

[ Parent ]
What's news? (5.00 / 1) (#355)
by melibeus on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 02:56:01 AM EST

Most power stations use, oddly enough... steam turbines...

I don't see what insight you have here? Some fuel still needs to be burned to heat the water.
"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." - Marx.
[ Parent ]

Biodiesel (5.00 / 4) (#325)
by salsaman on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 06:01:07 AM EST

I did a calculation once to figure out how much land would be needed to grow hemp to replace all the oil consumption in the US.

I have calculated that 1 million acres of hemp could produce approximately 3 billion litres of biodiesel (using effecient pyrolisis converters) or approximately 450,000 bbl per day.

Since the US oil consumption was around 20 million bbl per day in 2000, this would require approximately 50 million acres to be turned over to hemp production. That works out around 80,000 square miles (or approximately 200,000 square kilometers).

Since the total land mass of the US is approximately 9 million square kilometers, a little over 2% of the US would need to be used to hemp production in order to make the US free from fossil fuel oil.

Biodiesel can be used to fuel cars as well as for heating and power generation. It burns cleanly, and since you are growing plants to replace what is burnt, any carbon released into the atmosphere should then be reabsorbed.

Ok, let's do it. (none / 0) (#337)
by Rahyl on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 12:05:46 PM EST

I'm a big fan of biodiesel.  The main problem with the idea is that it's illegal to grow hemp in the US.

I've looked for information on this but can't find it anywhere so I'll ask here:  where is it legal to grow industrial hemp?  There has to be somewhere in the world where growing hemp commercially is allowed.  Once we know where to grow, the rest is text book.

[ Parent ]

You didn't look too hard then (none / 0) (#347)
by salsaman on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 05:07:14 AM EST

A quick search on google for "countries legal hemp" brought up this:

Industrial Hemp is currently legal in more than 25 countries including Canada, Germany, England, France, Holland, Spain, the Russian Federation, China, Thailand, Hungary and Romania.

[ Parent ]

If that's the case... (none / 0) (#352)
by Rahyl on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 12:25:24 PM EST

http://www.landandfarm.com/lf/s%5C21%5C46160.asp

So off you go to British Columbia to enter into the biodiesel business.

If the above figures are correct (one million acres produces three billion liters), you can produce 150,000 liters on 50 acres which translates into about 411 liters per day.  If you could sell it for $.40/liter, you'd only be pulling in about $60,000/year out of which you'd need to remove all of the costs of production which would probably be far over that figure.

The land being sold on the link above is pretty expensive, all things considered.  You'd probably want a pice somwhere along the lines of what can be found in Montana (http://www.jjguide.com/montanahuntingland/tract5.htm) in order to bring down the costs.  If it were legal to use every acre of the Montana parcel for industrial hemp, the figures become a bit more tolerable

3000 liters per acre
270 acres

810,000 Liters per year

If you could sell that biodiesel for the pump price of $.40, you'd pull in $324,000 per year.

I'm assuming that pump price so it could very well be incorrect.  From the info I've seen so far, prices for biodiesel are all over the map so minimizing costs while finding an inexpensive distribution channel to the market is still something that people haven't quite figured out yet.

[ Parent ]

Why hemp? (none / 0) (#338)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 01:29:47 PM EST

There are other source crops.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Because (5.00 / 1) (#343)
by salsaman on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 10:24:07 PM EST

"Hemp is the number one biomass producer on planet earth: 10 tons per acre in approximately four months. It is a woody plant containing 77% cellulose. Wood produces 60% cellulose."

I took that quote from here but I have seen it mentioned in other places. Also, hemp can be grown (as I understand it) continuously, without fertiliser.

(Note for any .gov people reading this, I am talking about industrial hemp).

[ Parent ]

That's pretty impressive (none / 0) (#345)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 11:02:56 PM EST

Still, I'm sure there are less controversial crops with significant yelds.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Expenses? (none / 0) (#339)
by jjayson on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 02:42:06 PM EST

That's nice. Now what is the energy content of a barrel of hemp-derived biodeisel versus a barrel of crude? How much would it cost to produce (and ultimately how much would it cost the consumer) for a barrel of biodeisel?
--
This space for rent.
[ Parent ]
Also ... (5.00 / 1) (#342)
by pyramid termite on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 09:44:02 PM EST

... how much oil would have to be used to produce the fertilizer? And would people in smoggy cities be permanently stoned?

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Answers (none / 0) (#344)
by salsaman on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 10:37:52 PM EST

Hemp can be grown without fertiliser, I believe. It can also be grown these days with a zero THC (the stuff that gets you stoned) content.

As for the costs, there is a Dutch study here which seems to show the cost of producing biomass to be about 3 times as expensive as the market price for fossil fuels. However, they assume only an annual harvest, I would imagine a 4 monthly harvest cycle would bring the production costs per unit down significantly.

[ Parent ]

Down significantly yes. Close to diesel no. (none / 0) (#346)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 11:05:19 PM EST

Since much of the cost involves harvesting, transportation and processing, a three-fold increase in production won't translate to a three-fold decrease in cost. I'd guess in the order of a 30% decrease.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
One SLIGHT problem (3.00 / 1) (#351)
by Alhazred on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 11:28:30 AM EST

Only about 2% of the land area of most countries is considered 'arable land' (which mostly means land where the efficiency of ag production is high enough to warrant growing crops, not that you necessarily cannot grow things elsewhere).

So essentially what you're advocating is turning over the entire cropland of the US to energy production.

The next problem is that while oil is a big part of energy use it is by no means even close to the whole pie. What about coal, gas, nuclear, etc? If you were to also replace those you'd very quickly run out of cropland entirely.

None of this is to say that biofuels are not A COMPONENT of a realistic energy strategy, but they should be seen in their true light, which is a possible way of partially meeting certain specific needs.

That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]

Arable land (5.00 / 1) (#360)
by ergane on Fri Aug 22, 2003 at 07:48:04 PM EST

I don't claim to know the intricacies of agriculture and using hemp to produce energy. However, according to the CIA world factbook 19.32% of the land is arable and only 0.22% has permanent crops on it. It would appear that arable land might not be the problem, but that isn't to say there are other issues surronding biomass that have and haven't been discussed in this thread.

[ Parent ]
Another possibility... (none / 0) (#361)
by dennis on Sat Aug 23, 2003 at 05:03:08 PM EST

Use thermal depolymerization, and fuel the whole country with agricultural leftovers.

Not that I'm against hemp...fibers three times as strong as cotton, doesn't require fertilizers/pesticides, makes same amount of paper with a fourth the acreage as trees...it's madness that we've made it illegal.

[ Parent ]

Looking for a scapegoat? (3.00 / 1) (#353)
by seanic on Wed Aug 20, 2003 at 07:04:13 PM EST

So what's the problem?..."
Please tell us, oh naive one.

The answer is fairly simple, and it's called deregulation. One of the dominant ideologies of the last 20-25 years has been that the free market always knows best...
So, your search for a scapegoat starts between 1978 and 1983.

A lot of this deregulation happened in the early to mid 90's.
Ahh, with emphasis on the 90's.
Perhaps you should have checked your history books before looking to blame deregulation. Here's a clue, check back to before you went to school in 1977 and before you were born in 1965 and look for massive blackouts. Guess what? History is not on your side, in fact your claim shows that in the past 20-25 years with the start of deregulation there has been one epic blackout. There were twice as many in about half the time prior to deregulation. It looks to me like the grid has gotten better by at least a factor of two.
--
"The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny is, however, alleviated by their lack of consistency" -- Albert Einstein
New Scientist points the finger at deregulation (none / 0) (#362)
by simul on Mon Sep 08, 2003 at 01:41:50 PM EST

Another article that blames deregulation

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994062

However, I've come around. I'm all for deregulation. I want electricity prices to skyrocket until solar power becomes cheaper.

Currently, solar prices have been falling every year, while other power sources have been shooting up. In New York, the power costs tripled in the last month. (Really....) And there's a 50% rebate for solar.

Doing the math, solar is actually cheaper now for people who own their own homes in New York state.

Read this book - first 24 pages are free to browse - it rocks

New Scientist article on this issue (none / 0) (#363)
by simul on Mon Sep 08, 2003 at 02:04:44 PM EST

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994067

Read this book - first 24 pages are free to browse - it rocks
Problems in Electricity (de)Regulation | 364 comments (308 topical, 56 editorial, 0 hidden)
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