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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Don’t Fear That GMO Ear (of corn)

Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy. – Paracelsus

I had a conversation on Twitter a while ago about genetically engineered crops. One of the last tweets said, “It’s not the genetically modified food that worries me … it’s the poisoning of crops.”

The zeitgeist on genetic engineering

This comes up frequently in discussions on Twitter, on this blog, on the radio, in the media, and with people in conversation. The tweet on the right shows this general feeling.

Science doesn’t just show that most genetically engineered food is safe, it shows that all genetically engineered food currently grown for the public is as safe as (and in some cases, safer than) non-GE food equivalents (that is, an apple to apple comparison). The National Research Council says, “Genetic engineering is one of the newer technologies available to produce desirable traits in plants and animals used for food, but it [GE] poses no unique health risks that cannot also arise from conventional breeding and other genetic alteration methods.” [my emphasis]

Herbicides in Food

Let’s look at the first worry listed in the tweet on the right side of the page: Herbicides introduced into foods.

There aren’t any.

No herbicides have been placed in any plant via genetic engineering. None. Zip. Nada. No GE plant has an herbicide inside it. But if an herbicide had been, that would not affect animals, such as you and me. We are not plants.

Plant scientists have made certain crops resistant to certain herbicides. Herbicide resistance is sometimes shortened to simply HR (or RR for RoundUp Ready). HR is not the same as placing herbicide in a plant.

Resistance is Natural

As any farmer will tell you, resistance to any herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, etc., occurs over time as some targeted pests will survive. Those survivors will be able to pass along their genes to their offspring

There are HR crops in the market that have been developed by standard breeding or genetic engineering techniques. Just because the plant is herbicide resistant does not mean it was genetically engineered.

The upshot is that glyphosate is a separate topic from HR crops altogether.

The most common herbicide resistance is to Monsanto’s RoundUp (active ingredient: glyphosate) which is now off patent and manufactured by several companies. Certain plants can have natural resistance to glyphosate. Conifers are not at all bothered by glyphosate. One of Monsanto’s early sales pitches was to foresters. RoundUp was much more benign than 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

To speed up the process, plant scientists found a glyphosate-resistant gene in another plant and put it into a plant they desired to have the glyphosate-resistant trait. The most common HR trait for crops on the market is to glyphosate-based herbicides, e.g., RoundUp, so-called RoundUp Ready (RR) crops.

So resistance to pesticides (herbicide is a pesticide) is a natural occurrence. It was possible that the crops could have been sprayed with herbicides and those plants showing some resistance to the spray could have been selected and bred to produce HR plants.

Insecticides in our Food

Bt Corn, Bt soy, Bt Sugar Beets, Bt Potatoes, and Bt Canola

When insecticide inside our food is mentioned (not counting the 99.99% which is produced naturally by the plant), Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis is what is meant.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil bacterium that forms spores during the stationary phase of its growth cycle. The spores contain crystals, predominantly comprising one or more Cry and/or Cyt proteins that have potent and specific insecticidal activity. Different strains of Bt produce different types of toxin, each of which affects a narrow taxonomic group of insects. (Sanahuja, et. al. 2011)

According to Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, when the target insect eats a part of the plant that contains the Bt protein, “the protein binds to the gut wall and the insect stops feeding. Within hours, the gut wall breaks down and normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The insect dies of septicaemia as bacteria multiply in the blood.” This protein targets specific insects. Bessin points out that, “Even among Lepidoptera larvae, species differ in sensitivity to the Bt protein.”

The level of risk of these gene products to consumers and those involved in food production can be and is evaluated by standard toxicological methods. The toxicology testing for the Bt endotoxins typifies this approach and has been described in detail by the U.S. EPA (1998, U.S. EPA (2001). The safety of most Bt toxins is assured by their easy digestibility as well as by their lack of intrinsic activity in mammalian systems (Betz et al., 2000; Kuiper et al., 2001; Siegel, 2001). In this case, the good understanding of the mechanism of action of Bt toxins, and the selective nature of their biochemical effects on insect systems, increases the degree of certainty of the safety evaluations….The toxic properties of Bt endotoxins to both target and nontarget species of many kinds are well known (Betz et al., 2000). They show a narrow range of toxicity limited to specific groups of insects, primarily Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, or Diptera, depending on the Bt strain. Nevertheless, Bt-producing plants have been tested broadly to determine whether any alteration in this limited spectrum of toxicity has occurred, without the discovery of any unexpected results (see Gatehouse et al., 2002; Lozzia et al., 1998; Orr and Landis, 1997; and Pilcher et al., 1997 for examples of such studies). Exotoxins and enterotoxins, which are much more broadly toxic than the endotoxins, are also produced by some Bt strains, but these are not present in the transformed plant, because their genes are not transferred into the crop. (Toxicological Sciences. 2003) [Emphasis added]

The toxic properties of the Cry and/or Cyt proteins produced “show a narrow range of toxicity limited to specific groups of insects, primarily Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, or Diptera” and even this toxicity to those species is further limited by the Bt strain.

That boils down to the Bt proteins are just proteins to your gut and will be used as any other protein is by your body.

References

Bt-Corn: What It Is and How It Works | Entomology.” 2016. Accessed April 28. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef130.

Sanahuja, Georgina, Raviraj Banakar, Richard M Twyman, Teresa Capell, and Paul Christou. 2011. “Bacillus Thuringiensis: A Century of Research, Development and Commercial Applications.” Plant Biotechnology Journal 9 (3): 283–300. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7652.2011.00595.x.

Toxicological Sciences . 2003. “The Safety of Genetically Modified Foods Produced through Biotechnology” 71 (1 ): 2–8. doi:10.1093/toxsci/71.1.2 .

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EWG (Yawn) Trots Out Their Decades-Old List

From a media release by the Alliance for Food and Farming

As they have done for the last 20 years, today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued its annual  so-called “dirty dozen” list concerning pesticide residues and produce. In an attempt to re-spark interest in its list, EWG debuted a new fruit in the number one position this year.  In response, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) issues its annual call for reporters and bloggers to read the actual United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report that EWG states it uses to develop its list before covering the “dirty dozen” release.  This USDA report states that the findings show “residues do not pose a safety concern.”

“We aren’t surprised that EWG has a new number one this year.  We even predicted it since media coverage of the “dirty dozen” list has fallen dramatically in the last five years and reached an all time low last year,” says Marilyn Dolan, AFF executive director. “We also predicted that the new number one would be a popular fruit that is a favorite among children because this is an EWG prerequisite for a number one placement.”

One of the main reasons for declining coverage of the “dirty dozen” is not only are more reporters and bloggers reading the actual USDA report, but EWG’s “list” has been discredited by the scientific community.  A peer reviewed analysis of the “dirty dozen” list found EWG uses no established scientific procedures to develop the list.  This analysis also found that EWG’s recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms does not result in a decrease in risk because residue levels are so minute, if present at all, on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Further an analysis by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found that a child could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues.  “For strawberries, a child could eat 1,508 servings of strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues which shows how low residues are, if present at all,” Dolan says.

“The concern we have with misleading consumers and the type of misinformation presented by EWG is that it may be undermining efforts by health officials everywhere to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Dolan says.  Dolan cites a peer reviewed study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that found conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a detrimental impact on the dietary choices of consumers, especially those with lower incomes.

“The one consistent message that health experts agree upon and that is confirmed with decades of nutrition research is that a diet rich in fruits and veggies whether conventional or organic leads to better health and a longer life,” Dolan says.  “This is the message we should all be promoting to consumers.”

One example of that type of research comes from a peer reviewed paper published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology which found that if half of Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and veggie by a single serving per day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually.

Consumers who want more information on the safety of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can visit the safefruitsandveggies website.  This website was developed by experts in food safety, toxicology, nutrition, risk analysis and farming. The AFF launched the safefruitsandveggies.com website in 2010 to provide science-based information about the safety of organic and conventional produce.  “Consumers deserve truthful, credible information about the safety of their foods so they can make the right shopping choices for their families,” Dolan says.

For consumers who may still be concerned about pesticide residues, they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

 

For more information:

Consumer exposure to pesticide residue far below levels of health concern
http://acsh.org/news/2015/07/16/consumer-exposure-to-pesticide-residue-far-below-levels-of-health-concern/

Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States
“Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA’s 2004–2005 TDS, continue to be at levels far below those of health concern. Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods.” http://foodcontaminationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40550-015-0018-y

Pesticide Residues in Food No Danger to Consumers
http://www.realclearscience.com/journal_club/2015/07/11/pesticide_residues_in_food_no_danger_to_consumers_109305.html

A discussion of EWG’s methodology and methods:
Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135239/

California Tests Show Low or No Pesticide Levels in Many Fruits and Vegetables http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2015/151014.htm

2010 – 2011 USDA Pilot Study Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce
“These results indicate that while pesticide residues are less common in organic produce than in conventional produce, detection of pesticide residues in organic produce is still common.” https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf

A (Half) Dozen Reasons to Ignore the Dirty Dozen
http://www.foodinsight.org/dirty-dozen-pesticides-2016-list-problems-facts

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