Steel Interstate

Sunday Train: Crutches vs Splints for the Highway Fund's Broken Leg

There was a gleam of hope this week for state officials faced with the prospects of having to start delaying projects and lay off people working on maintenance and new construction funded from the Federal Highway Fund: Bloomberg:

Lawmakers’ fight over how to fund roads and transit probably will end with legislation from the Republican-led House sent to President Barack Obama, leadership aides in both parties said.

House and Senate leaders have been collaborating on a strategy for preventing the Highway Trust Fund from running dry at the height of the summer road-construction season. While bills approved July 10 by committees in both chambers are similar, the Democratic-led Senate’s version contains tax proposals seen as obstacles in the House.

But this is akin to lending someone with a broken leg crutches and hoping that it will heal on its own. For some fractures, that might work, but most would require a splint at least, and for serious fractures, you need to set the leg and put it in a cast of some sort.

In the case at hand, the long term broken funding model that lays behind the Highway Funding crisis is something that requires something better than a temporary loan of crutches.

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Sunday Train: Freight Transport and the Highway Funding Crisis, Part2

We are going to be hearing increasingly this year about the Highway Funding Crisis. Much of that discussion will be directed toward exploiting the political leverage that our car addiction gives to the Highway Lobby.

But there is the other side of the Highway Funding Crisis, which is freight transport. Our freight transport system has been as deliberately addicted to road funding as our passenger transport system, and in the process is quite heavily addicted to diesel fuel.

Now, the Sunday Train has frequently tackled this issue from the side of the physical unsustainability of our dependence on petroleum based fuels for a majority of our transport. However, its also the case that the system of public finance upon which we built our road transport system is becoming more and more financially unsustainable.

Last week's Sunday Train started laying out the problem, while it is in this week that I look at one overlooked part of the solution. This is not a free-standing essay this week, so if you have not read Part 1 last week, go ahead and do that before moving on to this week's Part 2.

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Sunday Train: Our Trebly Broken Highway Funding System

Over the balance of this year, you are likely to hear more and more about our broken Highway Funding system. For instance, William Moore, of the consultancy group Vianovo and member of the Transportation Transformation Group, wrote at Infra Insight this last 13 March that:

Absent swift action by Congress, state departments of transportation will begin to have cash flow problems that could delay payments to vendors and slow projects. Without action by the fall, new projects may have to be shelved until Congress can resolve the funding crisis that confronts the Highway Trust Fund.

However, this is just the most visible layer of pending crisis in our highway funding system. Even if we were to fix the threat to engage in spending at status quo levels,status quo spending has been falling behind the damage done by cars and trucks to our roads for decades, and even if we were to fund our transportation to address the massive shortfall in maintaining our current highway system, we have not seriously begun in addressing the fact that our current transport system is one of our principle contributor's to our economy's present climate change suicide course.

We have a trebly broken highway funding system, and there is no guarantee that we will actually address the simplest of the problems.

The good news is that we do not need massive technological breakthroughs to fix this triple layer cake of crisis. The bad news is that what we do need is a political movement with both the focus and the clout to push the existing available solutions onto the table, in the face of determined status quo resistance ... and those who have at least glanced at our political system over the past decade would be aware that building such a movement is a "to be solved by reader" kind of problem.

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Sunday Train: Portfolio Theory vs the Myth of Intermittent Wind Power

This last week, in the comment section of the EnergyCollective, I saw the same myth that I have seen time and time again regarding wind power:

Fact 1: renewables are aleatorically intermittent, and so unreliable.

Fact 2: due to Fact 1, they cannot provide energy when it is needed, but only when and in the quantity they can

Fact 3: users have to get energy when they need it, not when it is aleatorically provided

Fact 4: to date, there is no storage system that can be useful for a complex industrial society

Fact 5: due to facts 1 to 4, renewables need to have a back up system that can cope with the needs of the users.

Fact 6: that back up system cannot be just stopped and then put to generation in a few seconds or minutes, and usually have to generate at low efficiency to maintain the back up at call point, generating added costs, besides the usuals as maintainance, lost profits, complex distribution grid, etc.

... not surprisingly ending with climate crisis denialism in "Fact" 8, since the name of the game here is clearly not arguing by starting with facts and seeing what conclusion you arrive it, but rather is myth creation and propagation in support of an already selected conclusion.

While many people don't know what "aleatorically" means, many would actually share the misconception that windpower is an intrinsically intermittent resource. However, for wind power, the "Fact 1" is in many cases "Falsehood 1". Even though individual wind turbines are intermittent, for many wind resource regions, it turns out that a substantial share of wind power is not intermittent at all, in either their "by chance (aleatorically) and unpredictable" component or their "by chance (aleatorically), though predictable" component.

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Sunday Train: Is Dirty Ethanol Here to Stay?

The AP Reports (courtesy of yahoo):

The failure so far of cellulosic fuel is central to the debate over corn-based ethanol, a centerpiece of America's green-energy strategy. Ethanol from corn has proven far more damaging to the environment than the government predicted, and cellulosic fuel hasn't emerged as a replacement.

"Cellulosic has been five years away for 20 years now," said Nathanael Greene, a biofuels expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Now the first projects are up and running, but actually it's still five years away."

The administration defended its projections, saying it was trying to use the biofuel law as a way to promote development of cellulosic fuel. But the projections were so far off that, in January, a federal appeals court said the administration improperly let its "aspirations" for cellulosic fuel influence its analysis. Even with the first few plants running, supporters acknowledge there is almost no chance to meet the law's original yearly targets that top out at 16 billion gallons by 2022. "It's simply not plausible," said Jeremy Martin, a biofuels expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "2030 is the soonest you can anticipate it to be at that level."

Green Ethanol still "Five Years Away" ... just as they were when I first blogged on this topic in 2007 ... while Dirty Ethanol is the mainstay of the US Ethanol mandate. So how long are we to accept Dirty Ethanol as a "bridge" to a Green Ethanol seemingly always right on the five-year horizon?

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Sunday Train: Steel Interstate Revolution

The Steel Interstate is a proposal to pursue dramatic gains in the energy efficiency of long haul freight transport in the United States, resulting in:

  • Substantial reductions in Petroleum Imports;
  • Substantial reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions;
  • Substantially improved protection from Petroleum Supply interruptions;
  • Improved productivity for North American manufacturing; and
  • Substantial reductions in damage to the existing Asphalt Interstate System

How can it promise all of this? By mining gross inefficiency. The United States has one of the most energy inefficient systems of moving freight long distances available under current technology, and we combine that with an economy that relies heavily on moving freight long distances.

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Sunday Train: Rapid Rail and Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy (part 1)

Earlier this month, Micheal Hoexter offered a "A Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan" to respond to the challenge of Climate Chaos at New Economic Perspectives, also crossposted to Naked Capitalism (part 1, part 2 and part 3).

His plan is an overarching plan for a 15-20 year equivalent-to-worldwar mobilization of our economy for the purpose of reducing the degree of severity of the climate catastrophe that our economy has signed up for under status quo policies. What I am looking at this week is the role that Rapid Freight Rail and Rapid Passenger Rail can play as part of the mix of Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policies addressing transport.

There is a tremendous gap today between the maximum that is politically feasible and the minimum required to make a serious dent in the challenge that we face. This piece lies primarily on the "minimum necessary" side of our current political dysfunction, looking at necessary (though not sufficient) structural transformations of our transportation system. However, it is also address in part to the "maximum feasible" side, since these are policies that can be put into place on the back of only a partial political breakthrough, which may not on its own be enough to get a complete Pedal to the Metal policy package in place.

I argue that both Rapid Freight Rail and Rapid Passenger Rail can play the roles of "front-runner" policies on the transport side of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy package. One of the things we look for in prospective front-runner policies is that the policies stand on their own, but they also strongly complement follow-up policies that we would look to put into place to complete the Pedal to the Metal policy package.

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Sunday Train: Net Energy Yield and the Steel Interstate Energy Revolution

In the online support for the April, 2013 Scientific American article on Energy Return on Investment (EROI), Scientific American online interviewed Charles Hall, developer of the EROI concept, on whether Fossil Fuels will be able to maintain economic growth. In one of his answers, Charles Hall responds to the question:

What happens when the EROI gets too low? What’s achievable at different EROIs?

He says:

If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

 
Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can't do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].

 
A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they're all so low EROI. We'd all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it's not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we've got to deal with it realistically.

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Sunday Train: Powering the Steel Interstate

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The fundamental objectives of a national Steel Interstate project are two-fold:

  • Reducing CO2 emissions; and
  • Pursuing Energy Independence

The importance of reducing CO2 emissions as a step toward sustainability ought to require no elaboration. It has, of course, been elaborated on in previous Sunday Train essays, and likely will be again, but this Sunday, I will leave it as read. The importance of reducing grossly wasteful oil consumption in long haul freight transport follows directly from the position of the Transport sector as the number two emitter of CO2, and the opportunity presented by long haul electric freight rail to operate at about 20 times the energy efficiency per ton-mile as long haul truck freight.

The importance of Energy Independence for a sustainable economy may not be as widely understood, but it is as fundamental. For an economic system to be truly sustainable, it must be reproducible. That is, it must be sustainable even if adopted by all countries in the global community. That is why simply importing energy from others to cover the massive gap between our country's biocapacity and our country's ecological footprint is not, in fact, sustainable. It cannot be reproduced all around, because then there is no "somewhere else" to go get the energy.

Indeed, to be truly sustainable, a country such as ours, with twice the average biocapacity per person, ought to have the capacity be a net energy exporting country. So Sustainable Energy Independence is not even an ultimate target: it is the immediate goal to pursue, on the path to the ultimate target.

And with about a fifth of our petroleum consumption going for long haul truck freight, getting even half of our long haul truck freight onto Steel Interstates would cut our petroleum consumption by about a tenth. That is roughly 7% of our oil consumption and up to about 3% of our CO2 emissions (depending on the power source), so its a one-in-fifteen slice of oil independence and a larger than one-in-forty slice of carbon neutrality.

The topic for today is the flipside of the Steel Interstate proposal: the Electricity Superhighways, and how they offer the chance to substantially increase the size of the carbon neutrality slice.

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Sunday Train: Southern Comfort ~ Upgrading Amtrak's New York Sleepers

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Back in early June, in Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone, I looked at the Amtrak "PRIIA Section 210" upgrade plans for the five Long Distance services with the lowest operating cost recovery, mandated for Fiscal Year 2010 by the PRIIA legislation.

I also looked at the side-effects of the freight-oriented Steel Interstate proposal, which would offer the opportunities for dramatic improvements in the performance of Long Distance sleeper trains ~ not simply the financial performance but also, and more importantly for addressing the Petroleum Addiction of our intercity transport system, dramatic improvement in the delivery of service to the customers.

This week I look at the "middle" five long distance routes that were reported on for Fiscal Year 2011:

  • The Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Boston and Chicago to New York City via the Cleveland/Buffalo Erie Lakeshore route
  • The Crescent, from the "Crescent City" of New Orleans, Louisiana to New York City via Atlanta, and
  • the "Silver Services" ~ the Silver Meteor from Miami to New York via Charleston, SC, the Silver Star from Miami to New York via Tampa, Columbia, SC and Raleigh, NC, and the Palmetta from Savannah, Georgia to New York via Charleston, SC.

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