California’s Solar Virtue Signal Could Put Housing Out of Reach

The California Energy Commission (CEC) said, “Eureka, we have a refulgently brilliant idea! Let’s require installation of solar panels on new home and low-rise apartment building construction.” Assuming the California Building Standards Commission ratifies the CEC’s proposal (a purported slam-dunk) it will take affect starting January 1, 2020. Less than two years from now.

”The case for this was extremely strong,” [1] CEC commissioner Andrew McAllister said. “[In] California, we do believe in climate change, we do believe in facts … It’s become clear to all of us it’s the right thing to do and that the marketplace is ready.”[2] the UPI reported.

In light of their actions, what the CEC doesn’t believe in are: 1) carbon-free nuclear power plants, 2) consumer choice, or 3) free markets. California has bent to activist pressure and already closed the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Diablo Canyon’s nuclear power plants will close in 2024 and 2025. When the Commish said, ”[T]the marketplace is ready” he didn’t mean a marketplace where you get to choose what you want. He meant a marketplace where you get to pay for what he wants. He meant delicious gooey Crony Capitalism[3], where well-healed, well-connected lobbyists convince bureaucrats to employ the lobby’s preferred remedy.

According to NPR, “Representatives from construction groups, public utilities and solar manufacturers all spoke in support of the plan, which they’ve helped the commission develop for years,” the AP reports. “No industry groups spoke in opposition.” Of course, no groups spoke in opposition: the benefits are concentrated in a few industries and the harm is dispersed among many lower income people and potential homeowners.

The result is Crony Capitalist Pork. Keeping with the meat metaphor, I have no beef with these groups representing their constituents, but I don’t have to like the result. I like markets to sort out such things. Government’s role is to enforce contracts between individuals and protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. Beyond that, government’s top-down approach hampers market-driven, bottom-up solutions.

And the bottom line to everyone–but especially the people on the bottom economic rung–is it effectively takes money from their pockets to pay for this scheme. Under this program, everything is going to cost more, especially housing. And not just newly constructed housing. All housing will cost more, including rentals. Look for an upturn in people looking for existing homes because they’ve been priced out of building new. This will force prices up. It is obvious that the CEC does not understand supply and demand curves, incentives, or anything from a basic economics course.

Unlike Classical Liberals, Progressives within government are sure they know not only how to diagnose a market problem, but how to “fix” it with a sure fire prescription. It’s like your nosy neighbor telling you what’s wrong with your life and has the answer to help you. Now imagine she has the power to force you to do it. That is what the CEC has done. As Veronique de Rugy writes on Reason.com, “These members of the ‘government within the government,’ produce one freedom-restricting, economy-hindering rule after another without much oversight. These rules take many forms, and few even realize they’re in the making—until, that is, they hit you square in the face.”

Photo Credit: Libertarianism.org

The progressive Los Angeles Times editorial board is all for punching you square in the face. “Of course California should require solar panels on new homes,” An LA Times opinion piece gushed.

The opening paragraph says, getting punched in the face is good for you.

The benefits of solar power are well established. Photovoltaics harness the sun to create electricity, reducing the need for dirtier forms of energy. And residents generate their own power, cutting their utility bills.[4]

There is so much wrong with this paragraph. It begs the question with “The benefits of solar power are well established.” No, the benefits of solar power are not well established. As Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress notes, If Solar And Wind Are So Cheap, Why Are They Making Electricity So Expensive? “Electricity prices increased 24 percent in California during its solar energy build-out from 2011 to 2017.” And from 2011 to 2017, California, a state whose progressive leadership is committed to renewable energy, saw electricity rates rise to five times higher than the national average. And California is not a one-off in the rate hike department. Germany, Denmark, and Spain already blazed that trail.

The Times editorial goes on to say, The energy commission’s new building standards, which require both solar panels and upgraded insulation, air filters and other efficiency measures, are expected to raise the cost of a new home by $9,500. That’s about half the cost of installing solar systems on existing homes (although tax breaks and other financial incentives can lower the bill). And homes built to the new standards are expected to use 50% as much energy as homes built in 2016 without solar panels….

Yes, the new standards will increase the cost to build homes and apartment complexes. That’s a concern in California, which is in the midst of a housing crisis because it failed for years to build enough homes to keep up with population demand. However, energy-efficiency investments save money over time. The energy commission estimated the new standards will add $40 per month to the average new home mortgage payment, but save $80 per month on heating, cooling and lighting.

The installation cost appears correct though it may turn out to be higher. It is the anticipated savings in energy that they expect that should trouble you. Federal and state governments continue to press for efficiency as a way to save fuel (in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions). And they are usually dead wrong. Too often, government officials do not consider The Energy Efficiency Paradox. Basically, if you save money on one thing, you have money for more of that thing or of something else. If your house is better insulated you might opt to make it cooler or warmer to be more comfortable. You might take a drive to the beach with your savings or buy a bigger car.

And the mandate will be a tax on other rate payers. According to Severin Borenstein,  E.T. Grether Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the Haas School of Business writing to Commissioner Weisenmiller, “The savings calculated for the households are based on residential electricity rates that are far above the actual cost of providing incremental energy, so embody a large cross subsidy from other ratepayers. This would be a very expensive way to expand renewables and would not be a cost effective practice…”  In a nutshell, the LA Times editorial board and the CEC cooked the numbers.

The state is spurring innovation and job creation in the clean-energy sector. (California is ranked first in the nation for solar industry jobs at 86,000 — seven times more than the second-ranked state.)

Whenever you hear about government “spurring innovation and job creation” it is to cover the noise of cash being sucked from your bank account. Pork rarely innovates anything. And, the number of jobs is not a good thing. It is the opposite of a good thing for the majority of us—the people paying for electricity and for stuff made with that electricity. The electricity made with solar costs more because it takes forty people in solar to produce the same amount of electricity produced using natural gas. Lots of Jobs per KWH is Bad, not Good. [5]

The Times board sums up their argument with, At the moment, there’s simply no better way to reduce the power demand and greenhouse gas emissions from new residential developments than combining solar power with more energy-efficient designs. The long-term savings, both to homeowners and to the environment, are well worth the up-front cost.

I can think of several reasons for the editorial board lobbing this insane whopper. The possibility that I favor is they have their heads so far up their asses they can’t see more obvious possibilities, such as nuclear.[6] Robert Bryce said in a talk he gave, “There has been a continuing pursuit of density, and, more particularly, power density. And yet now when it comes to energy production, we are told we should go the other way. Toward low power density…. This makes no sense. I’d call it insane but it would be an insult to crazy people.”

In an insult to crazy people, California is requiring a hella-expensive feel good virtue signal and shutting down its power-dense, carbon-free nuclear power plants and replacing them with natural gas and coal (forget the solar panels—they all make power at the same time—driving down the value of the electricity they produce.)

Insane. 

 


Footnotes

  1. No. He lies like a cheap rug. Cardboard suitcases are stronger than this case’s raison d’être. The case isn’t very strong at all. 
  2. Translation: “The fix is in.”
  3. Also known as cronyism, venture socialism, corporatism, mercantilism, or just plain horse droppings. “Unlike in a free market capitalist system, under crony capitalism it is often more profitable for businesses to spend resources lobbying legislators for handouts in the form of grants, loans, or tax advantages, and protections against competition in order to increase their profits.  In turn, the government’s willingness to hand out special privileges promotes the politically well-connected rather than those who seek to earn the preference of investors and consumers based on merit. The gains of such activities usually accrue to the businesses and politicians involved at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.” http://library.intellectualtakeout.org/library/business-and-economics/free-market-capitalism-vs-crony-capitalism
  4. See Footnote 1
  5. Imagine going to Burger King for dinner and, by law, each BK must employ 40 times the people it would normally at $15 per hour to make your meal. The result is one hellaciously expensive burger.
  6. “Of all ignorance, the ignorance of the educated is the most dangerous. Not only are educated people likely to have more influence, they are the last people to suspect that they don’t know what they are talking about when they go outside their narrow fields.”- Thomas Sowell

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California’s Chemophobic Political Science

Without chemicals life would be damned hard.

Greetings from Chemophobifornia

Alcohol is a chemical, for crying out loud, and without it, many of us find life damned hard. Oh sure, there are other important chemicals too, I suppose. Salt is a chemical and sort of important. Water is a chemical; it’s useful in making beer and wine. Oxygen is a chemical; it’s got my vote for breathing. And Adenosine triphosphate is a chemical that, like beer, without it, life would be damned hard (it’s an energy-carrying compound found in the cells of all living things).

Yep, chemicals are the stuff of life. Yet for many the word “chemical” conjures thoughts of meth labs and industrial factories, even the dictionary says so. A chemical is, “a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, especially artificially.” The dictionary’s definition must have been written in Chemophobifornia, Land of Proposition 65.

In 1986, we Chemophobifornians passed Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” aka, the Lawyer Full Employment Act. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) explains what the act was meant to do, “[Proposition 65] was created with the intent of improving public health through reductions in the incidence of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes that might result from exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.” ACSH points out the law has not exactly lived up to its purpose, “the law makes no mention of level of exposure, which means that it doesn’t really indicate the level of risk, or indeed if any health risk actually is present from some trace amount of some allegedly toxic chemical.” (italics in original)

Welcome to California, home of chemophobia and flawed risk assessment. Photo source Timberati.com.

It is because of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that we have Prop 65 signs in every California Starbucks. Lawyers sued to warn customers that coffee beans at Starbucks—and this is true—have been roasted.

Welcome to the Hotel Chemophobifornia

Disneyland Prop 65 Warning

Prop 65 warning in a grocery store. Photo source Timberati.com.

Prop 65 warning on a car window. Photo source Timberati.com.

These signs are—excuse my fucking French—fucking everywhere. Hotels, motels, mini-marts, coffee shops, pit stops, fast food restaurants, slow food restaurants, parking garages, gas stations, grocery stores, amusement parks, car dealerships, car repair shops, nursery and hardware stores, nail care, hair care, beauty parlors, massage parlors (I don’t have firsthand knowledge, so to speak, on that one), etc.

“…it’s largely not because the warnings are necessary or meaningful,” food lawyer Baylen Linnekin wrote in a Reason article, “Eat Food and Die”, “but because the state—or even private individuals or their heroic lawyers—can sue those who fail to display these worthless signs.” If it’s a business big enough to be sued, it has a Prop 65 warning sign. These signs stoke cancer fears from chemicals, especially those that sound odd or unfamiliar and faintly ominous to many.

Into this quagmire of cognitive dissonance, step chemophobic special interest groups, purporting to represent the public while quacking pseudoscience. These activist environmental organizations conflate facts into slogans and sound bites to parade them around proudly as though they were scientific fact. Worst of all, these groups have the ears of politicians and bureaucrats in California. California’s fear of chemicals is their foil. Value signaling is their currency.

One of these groups, the Environmental Working Group (EWG—aka the Environmental Worrying Group), applauds California as leading the way in chemically induced fear.

“An analogy might be helpful here,” says ACSH regarding EWG’s messaging technique. “Domesticated dogs come in a huge range of sizes from tiny Chihuahuas to huge Mastiffs. They also come in a huge variety of personalities, from breeds which you could easily trust with a baby to those which have been bred for aggressiveness and which have been known to maim and kill people.  If anti-dog activists were to propose that any dog should be avoided and that people should move to towns that exclude all dogs, most people would dismiss the idea as ridiculous.” So, when your state is recognized by EWG as being progressive and “good,” that’s bad. It means you have been had. Your wallet will be lighter; you’ll be paying more but getting nothing in return.

Josh Bloom—who holds a Ph.D in organic chemistry and is Senior Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health—has posted the scientific equation that groups such as EWG use:

“Honest discussion of dose = (Less money)2

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.

On July 5, 2017 (tomorrow as I write this), California’s State Water Resources Control Board—the California entity that enforces the federal Safe Water Drinking Act (not to be confused with Prop 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,” confused?, that’s exactly what they want you to be)—is scheduled to consider lowering the limit on perchlorate (four oxygen atoms attached to one chlorine atom) because, and this is true, present-day instrumentation is more sensitive. (My open letter to them here)

The ability to detect chemicals at ever lower levels has led to a conflation of hazard and risk. Hazard is the potential thing happening, say water poisoning. Risk is the possibility of this thing happening, you have to drink water (a lot of water).

Here Josh Bloom exposes an exposé on lead levels in baby food by the Environmental Defense Fund:

“EDF‘s analysis of 11 years of FDA data found:

  • Lead was detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods.
  • Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples.
  • Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.

“Source: ‘Lead in food: A hidden health threat. FDA and industry can and must do better.’

“I’ll take it a step further. If we had analytical instrumentation even more sensitive than the incredibly sensitive detectors that now exist, lead would be detected in 100% of baby food, 100% of other foods, and 100% of all apple and grape juice. It’s a damn good thing that instrumentation isn’t more sensitive. Think of how many children would be in danger then.”

I wonder if California’s State Water Resources Control Board knows that “every person and animal that ever lived has an average of about 20,000,000 plutonium atoms in their bone marrow,” Brian Dunning of Skeptoid points out, “simply because we live on this planet.”?

I am sure with sensitive enough equipment, we could find plutonium, one of the most dangerous substances on earth, in our water; I bet that California’s State Water Resources Control Board would go apeshit.

Part 2 soon: Value Signaling Left Turns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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California bureaucrats consider lowering detection limit for purposes of reporting for perchlorate

This is my response to the State Water Resources Control Board regarding their proposal for lowered detection limit for purposes of reporting for perchlorate. (see the previous post for SWRCB’s announcement).

 

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) seems to appreciate the Precautionary Principle, which says, “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

In 1825, one of Britain’s most respected publications, the Quarterly Review wanted something quite similar to the Precautionary Principle invoked over railroads. Unless someone took action, locomotives would careen through the countryside at speeds “twice as fast as stagecoaches.” It was potentially dangerous.

According to experts of the day, locomotives threatened harm to the environment and human health. Some physicians predicted that the incredibly high speeds (nearly 20 miles per hour) could cause psychological harm; people would suffer mental anguish from objects entering and leaving their fields of vision too rapidly. Others predicted that passing trains would cause pregnant mares to spontaneously abort. The Review beseeched, “We trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour.”

As we know, the world heeded these foresighted experts invoking precautionary measures, and as a result, no mode of transport exceeds eight or nine miles an hour today. Well no, the world didn’t embrace that, but such is the thinking of the SWRCB with regard to perchlorate, Chromium-6, and other chemicals.

In its background material on perchlorate, the SWRCB conflates its use with toxicity, omits that it occurs naturally in nature and is a byproduct of chlorination, and it disregards “dose makes the poison.”

The SWRCB tells the reader that “Perchlorate and its salts are used in solid propellant for rockets, missiles, and fireworks, and elsewhere (e.g., production of matches, flares, pyrotechnics, ordnance, and explosives).”  The information ominously adds, “Their use can lead to releases of perchlorate into the environment.”

Perhaps it was meant to simplify, but the information is incomplete. It neglects to mention that perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment, and, in certain desert areas, in concentrations higher than those quoted as being found in California. Perchlorate is also a byproduct of water treatment disinfection with sodium hypochlorite.

SWRCB’s information page does note that “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.” It is exactly for this reason why perchlorate was used to treat hyperthyroidism due to Graves disease and to treat thyroid gland disorders resulting from the accumulation of excess iodine. SWRCB neglects to point out the high dosages needed for these affects. As the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) pointed out, “Clinical use of perchlorate in treating disease involves doses up to 400 milligrams on a daily basis, a level which is thousands of times greater than potential environmental exposures.”

It is this disregard of even the most basic toxicology that is disturbing.

Every compound no matter how dangerous, has a level at which it is benign; and every compound, no matter how benign, has a level at which it is toxic. Or as Paracelsus (1493-1541) put it, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.” Take two aspirin for a headache and it has a therapeutic effect. Take two grains of an aspirin tablet, nothing happens. Take two pounds of aspirin for a headache and the headache will be gone, along with the person who took it.

Dose determines risk. In a peer-reviewed paper on perchlorate, the ACSH emphasized, “it is imperative that this cornerstone principle of toxicology be included in any assessment of perchlorate. Mere detection of a chemical in the environment cannot be equated with increased risk, but must be evaluated in terms of the hazard, dose-response, and human exposure, all steps in the characterization of health risk.” This, the SWRCB has neglected to do. It relies on the new technology to detect lower perchlorate levels without justifying the need using the above criteria.

The Dose-Response of the body is of utmost importance. As Frank Schnell, board-certified, PhD toxicologist (retired) explains Dose-Response,

“Most biological effects, whether adverse or not, are the consequence of a cascade of biochemical reactions initiated when chemical agents (referred to by pharmacologists and toxicologists generically as “effectors,” “agonists” or “ligands”) bind to effect-specific macromolecular receptors usually distributed on cell surfaces. It is of supreme indifference to the receptor whether the chemical binding to it is of natural, synthetic, endogenous, or exogenous origin. As long as the ligand fits into the receptor’s active site, the former will produce the effect mediated by that receptor.

“This receptor-mediated mechanism of action accounts for the existence of thresholds of effect and for the S-shaped Dose-Response (D-R) Curve that typically results when the strength of the effect (from zero- to 100%-response) is plotted on the ordinate (y-axis) against the logarithm of the dose on the abscissa (x-axis).”

Figure 1 Dose-Response Sigmoid Curve

Now, here’s the kicker, Schnell writes that

“A sub-threshold concentration of the effector will not activate enough receptors to produce in the cell a significant effect. (If this were not the case, the effective regulation of normal metabolic processes would not be possible.)” (emphasis added)

A review of existing research, not innuendo and ill-informed supposition, reveals SWRCB has overstated a need for increased monitoring.

In its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) noted:

“In a study of the general population, Li et al. (2001) examined the prevalence of thyroid diseases in Nevada Counties with respect to perchlorate in drinking water. The cohort consisted of all users of the Nevada Medicaid program during the period of January 1, 1997 to December 31, 1998. Disease prevalence in residents from Clark County (Las Vegas), whose drinking water had 4–24 ? g/L of perchlorate (0.0001–0.0007 mg perchlorate/kg/day), were compared with those from another urban area of similar size (Reno, Washoe County), but with no perchlorate in the water, and also with those from all other counties, also with no perchlorate exposure…. Analysis of the data showed no statistically significant period-prevalence rate difference between Clark County and Washoe County. For acquired hypothyroidism, the prevalence was lower in Clark County than in other counties (opposite to what would be expected).”

However, the SWCRB backgrounder worries that infants may be less tolerant of perchlorate exposure: “Perchlorate’s interference with iodide uptake by the thyroid gland can decrease production of thyroid hormone, which is needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in the adult.”

Again, in its discussion of health effects of perchlorates, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found nothing rising to the level of needing more monitoring or regulation on perchlorate:

“Several developmental studies of perchlorate in humans have focused on the evaluation of neonatal thyroid parameters. Lamm and Doemland (1999) examined rates of congenital hypothyroidism in seven counties of Nevada and California with perchlorate contamination in the drinking water (4–16 ?g/L [ppb]) (0.0001–0.0005 mg/kg/day). The investigators analyzed data from the neonatal screening programs of the two states for any increased incidence of congenital hypothyroidism in those counties. The rates for the California births were adjusted for Hispanic ethnicity, which was known to be a risk factor for congenital hypothyroidism. During 1996 and 1997, nearly 700,000 newborns were screened. The risk ratio in the seven counties was 1.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.9–1.2) (249 cases observed/243 expected). The risk ratios for the individual counties relative to statewide expected rates ranged from 0.6 to 1.1. While the results showed no increase in rates of congenital hypothyroidism, it is known that congenital hypothyroidism is caused by developmental events that are not suspected of being affected by perchlorate exposure.

“Kelsh et al. (2003) also found no relationship between congenital hypothyroidism and exposure to perchlorate through the drinking water in a study of newborns (n=15,348) whose mothers resided in the community of Redlands, California, during the period 1983 through 1997 and who were screened by the California Newborn Screening Program. Perchlorate was detected in the water system serving the community at a concentration of up to 9 ?g/L (mean, <1 ?g/L).”

“Crump et al. (2000) conducted a study of school-age children from three cities with different concentrations of perchlorate in drinking water in northern Chile. The city with the highest perchlorate concentration was Taltal, 100–120 ?g perchlorate/L (ppb), water from the city of Chañaral had 5–7 ?g/L, and perchlorate was not detected in water from the city of Antofagasta. The study comprised 162 children 6–8 years of age, of which 127 had resided continuously in their respective city since conception. The children underwent examination of the thyroid gland and a blood sample was taken for analysis of TSH, T4, FTI, T3, and antiperoxidase antibody. After adjusting for sex, age, and urinary iodide excretion, the children from Taltal and Chañaral had slightly lower TSH levels than children from Antofagasta (opposite to expected), but the differences were not statistically significant.”

SWRCB’s cherry-picking of information may be charitably viewed as providing a worst-case scenario. While that may be the intent, SWRCB’s background information is rendered biased rather than useful or informative. It is pearl-clutching designed to scare people and thus allow the SWRCB to further ratchet down the already unreasonable EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of six parts per billion (6 ppb) in drinking water to something so low as to be ludicrous. The NOAEL for perchlorate  translates to a Drinking Water Equivalent Level (DWEL) of 24.5 ppb.

The ignorance and laziness of our public officials to accept the word of activists, such as the Environmental Working Group, over pragmatic scientists hurts people. When we require people to spend money on the wrong priorities, that money is not available for things that could truly save lives. As Schnell told me in an email, “In real life, excess conservatism doesn’t just waste money; it also costs lives… i.e., the ones that could have been saved had the wasted money been spent more wisely.”

And this is real money. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, puts the amount of money lost since 1980 due to added regulation at $4 trillion; a drag of 25 percent on our gross domestic product (GDP). “If regulation had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the US economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it actually was as of 2012….This amounts to a loss of approximately $13,000 per capita, a significant amount of money for most American workers.”

Of course, economics alone should not guide us in decision making. But as Bjorn Lomborg reminds us, “[I]gnoring costs doesn’t make difficult choices disappear; it makes them less clear.”

It is disturbing to find the SWRCB more responsive to the environmental lobby than to the scientific communities. SWRCB provides conjecture without any data to support the need for lowered MCL.  As such the legitimate needs of Californians are subsumed by rhetoric. California’s citizens are ill-served if they are made poorer and not safer with ill-considered regulations, abandoning any pretense of scientific objectivity and embracing the paranoid the Precautionary Principle of scaremongering activist environmental NGOs. SWRCB relies on supposition, pearl-clutching, and innuendo rather than science with its messy research. One can only conclude that SWRCB has abandoned basic science for basic fear-mongering.

 

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