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Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)

In a world awash with very serious problems, Oregonians seem trapped in an alternate reality. Our senior U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is most concerned about collusion with Russia, when a fat, belligerent, and very erratic tyrant in another far off land is fast acquiring nuclear weapons that will soon be able to strike the United States. Which cities beyond Alaska are most vulnerable to die in an instant with a brilliant flash of light? Seattle and Portland.

We seem to live in a parallel universe dominated by fantasies of collusion, sanctuary for criminal aliens, marijuana shops, transgender bathrooms, fashionable energy, and, of course, politicized science.

Are there any adults left to run those institutions that need to actually function properly?

We largely take our electric power system for granted. Perhaps we should not, because the ruling class has been meddling in this area for some time. Our air conditioners did function throughout the substantial heat wave at the beginning of August that led to record summer power consumption. Perhaps we were just lucky.

We certainly got very hot, but no more so than we have a number of times going all the way back to the beginning of weather records at the Portland airport in 1941.

Claims of increasing extreme weather are more fantasy. We did not come anywhere close to the record heat they had 119 years ago in August in Pendleton, Oregon, when official records show that we reached 119 F. This year Pendleton was a relatively cool 103 F and had only six days at or above 100 in the first half of August. More than a century ago, they had ten. The record high of 119 F had to be estimated, because the government thermometers of the time were only graduated to 115 F. Former Washington State Climatologist Mark Albright thinks that the real high was likely 117 F. That is similar to record highs in both Washington and Idaho, also set long ago.

In an Op-Ed in The Oregonian just after the first heat wave in August, the outgoing and incoming CEOs of Portland General Electric (Jim Piro and Maria Pope) echoed the ruling class, whom they have to please to continue getting a high rate of return for their investors: “the heat wave underscores the need to act now to combat climate change.” That led them to argue for ever more windmills to supposedly lessen their carbon footprint. More windmills mean a bigger power company with more profit, great environmental damage in Eastern Oregon, and of course no improvement in climate.

For every new wind farm PGE builds, they also need a backup conventional power plant to keep customers happy when the wind is not blowing. That is most of the time. Hence, rates have to go up, despite highly misleading claims of an “affordable energy future.”

We once prided ourselves in having the lowest rates in the nation. Now we will be lucky if we can avoid some of the highest, thanks to PGE selling us two power systems, when one high efficiency natural gas turbine plant would be cheaper and use less fossil fuel than windmills combined with a low efficiency gas plant.

PGE’s stated hope of securing more hydro to backup their windmills is largely public relations, because we already have most of the rivers dammed, and PGE has been removing not building more.

When the Op-Ed touted “Renewable energy’s future is now,” we were supposed to believe that their windmills pulled us through the hot spell. NOT true! They failed to deliver any significant power. We had plenty of black electrons from coal, plenty of radioactive electrons from nuclear, and plenty of fishy electrons from hydro. But hardly any green electrons. At PGE’s times of greatest demand for power, their windmills do not deliver. They keep very quiet about this problem. High pressure weather systems over the Northwest create both our worst summer heat and winter cold. That is when demand for electricity soars. That is also when windmills lack wind.

With the return of substantial heat near the end of August, we had another opportunity for PGE to prove that it could produce green power when most needed. But this time the result was the same: no green electrons were to be found anywhere. Although the temperature did not get as hot in the second heat wave, it did ramp up demand at a time when the huge Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant had to shut down completely to repair a failed valve in their steam system. All power plants have to be taken down occasionally for repairs. But the typical baseline power station is able to produce full power about 90% of the time, while windmills are lucky to do so 30% of the time.

Unfortunately, the adults we so badly need to tell us the honest truth in Oregon are a vanishing but not yet completely extinct species. Oregon regulators were unhappy with PGE’s proposal to throw more ratepayer money after more windmills and turned them down decisively a few days after the PGE pitch in The Oregonian. They also chided the company for their attempt to build public pressure for more “renewable energy,” citing as I have here the inability of their windmills to deliver when most needed.

The “Fashionable Nonsense” that we so frequently encounter in Oregon today threatens our future. We appear to have stopped, for now, a greedy electric company, thanks to the wisdom of regulators. And we appear to have slowed down, for now, a belligerent dictator in a hermit kingdom intent on threatening us with nuclear missiles, thanks to the skills of a strong and capable President. I for one appreciate the few adults we have left in this wacky world.

Gordon J. Fulks lives in Corbett and can be reached at gordonfulks@hotmail.com. He holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago’s Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Bonneville Power Administration chart showing a breakdown of the power they were handling at the beginning of August. Note that wind power becomes unavailable on the hottest days (August 1, 2, and 3).

 

Bonneville Power Administration chart showing a breakdown of the power they were handling at the end of August. Note that wind power becomes unavailable on the hottest days (August 26, 27, 28, and 29).

 

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