Monday, September 14, 2009


Pretend Hunting and the Craziness in the San Louis Valley

Went last weekend to "scout" our bull elk hunting grounds near the New Mexico border in the southeastern arm of the San Juan mountains. It was a lot like pretend hunting except that we met real hunters, from Ohio, who had paid ten times what we pay for the privilege of stalking the giant deer. We felt like we were getting in their black powder way so we left early. Here are some photos from 11,000 feet above sea level.

This is one of my brother in laws showing his tension between camo and blaze orange. I have to admit that his coffee is a treat, with lots of brown sugar and cream. I cooked one night-- "the chain" from a cow para spinal, the tenderloin, I believe. With julienned onions and Basmati rice, it was pretty good. Oh, and we had some beer, too, as none of us pretend hunters had any firearms (except my brother in law).

It snowed a little (in a lightening storm no less) and it was pretty getting out. Here are some more photos of the drive home.

That's Mount Blanca without the eponymous snow. That's quite a cloud boiling up over it and along the whole of the Colorado Sangre de Christo mountains.

Then I drove past an interesting two or three miles of Route 17 in the Eastern center of the San Louis valley north of Mosca. There was a very large photovoltaic array.

They named it SunEdison, playing on the New York electricity provider Con Edison. It's the biggest array I've seen live and it was working. These smaller panels rotate as the sun moves across the sky and the bigger ones (really out of focus in my photos--sorry) both rotate and spin to present a big face to the sun all day. It's an 8.2 megawatt station. Yawn. If they built a hundred more of these they would equal a single big coal fired plant except the coal fired ones provide power at night, early in the morning, late in the evening and on cloudy days as well. Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill two years ago mandating 20% of our energy sources be like this (or wind, etc.) by 2020. Good luck with that, Bill.

This is the UFO viewing tower. Not quite the hotbed of activity its builders were hoping for. I have nothing more to say about it. As Jack Nicholson once said: Go sell crazy somewhere else, we're all full up here.

Finally there is an alligator farm, in Colorado. They raise the critters in the water from underground warm springs. They sell the meat to restaurants (tastes a lot like very chewy chicken) and the skins to hand bag and shoe manufacturers. I don't know where they get the gator chow. It's certainly not elk meat.

OK, which idea was the dumbest?

Which one has wasted the most money?

UPDATE: I've done the third grade math and the SunEdison array was slated to cost 60 million dollars with a 20 year life of the panels. That's $7 Million per megawatt. By comparison the new Comanche Station, part three, coal fired generator near Pueblo cost about $1.3 Billion and generates 750 megawatts. That's $1.7 million per megawatt for a plant that should last 60 years. Thus, if my arithmetic is correct, the solar array cost 12.3 times more than the coal fired plant (that's 7 divided by 1.7 equals 4.1 and then multiplied by 3 because the coal fired plant lasts three times as long as the solar array). This New Energy Economy is not making a lot of sense, fiscally, but that never was the Democrats' strong suite anyway.


How much acid rain do each of the plants produce?

The photovoltaic array produces none, but there is a ton of toxic chemicals associated with the manufacture of the panels and their eventual retirement. The sulfuric acid in the atmosphere from western coal power plants has been largely abated. I can barely remember the last time I heard that acid rain was still a problem. I'm much more worried about the mercury. Thanks for the comment.
About the gator farm: Actually, the main product there is supposed to be talapia raised in the water from warm springs. The gators were first brought there to eat the dead fish. The population boomed and tourists started showing up to see them. A tor of the place is not to expensive and kids, well, boys anyway, love it. You can even get your photo taken holding a baby gator. WE toured the farm a few years bak when we camped at the Great Sand Dunes Nat'l Park.
The gator farm makes money without a subsidy (AFAIK). The UFO viewing platform only cost its investors money. The solar power plant is costing all of us money and will never break even.

That pretty much tells the story.

That said, there might be some value to building industrial-scale (ish) solar power plants even if they make no economic sense now, if only because you have to build a few before you can get your construction efficiencies figured out.
Thanks for the additional info about the gator farm, especially what they eat. I had no idea. Doug, got it in one, as usual. Is there any reason to build a industrial scale photovoltaic array? Wouldn't any other source (with the possible exception of wind) be cheaper and better?
Well, that sort of depends on how low you can get the price of solar. At some price (of solar and coal/nuclear/oil) solar power becomes competitive, even if you have to pump water up hill to store energy.

Now, we're not especially close to that break-even point right now, but other power sources are slowly rising in cost and solar is slowly falling.

Industrial solar isn't insane, though it might well not be timely (even as a pilot).
I support thermal solar power stations. I believe their time is nigh and the only downside is they take a LOT of space. Intermittant power is next to worthless, however, even if it gets to parity with coal as far as costs are concerned. Photovoltaic and wind, without cheap storage systems, will never be viable. Pumping water uphill is unlikely to be cheap storage. Or so I believe.
Pumping water uphill is used right now, both for smoothing intermittent sources and to provide increased peak-load capacity by using the capacity of plants during low-load periods. See this Wikipedia article for an overview (that seems reasonably fair to me).

Upfront capital costs are high, but running costs are low enough to make it a viable technology for commercial use in some circumstances right now. The big constraint (other than capital) is that you have to have someplace to put the water. (This means that those who dislike other hydro-electric power plants are also likely to oppose this sort.)
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