May 7, 2015

Twinning Tweets: Coal Ports, Stranded Assets and the Massey Bridge

First item that came in is from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change:

Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) announced Monday it will likely scrap plans to tow open, football field-long coal barges down the Fraser River and across the windy Strait of Georgia to Texada Island — all as part of its plan to help big US companies get their thermal coal to Asia.

This is a win for everyone who cares about the Fraser and the Strait and pushed back on this proposal. Savour the victory — but only for a moment, because with this good news comes some bad…

FSD still plans to export coal from Surrey, but rather than a “barge loading facility,” it now wants to build a full-fledged coal port on the Fraser River, right across from downtown New West.  Worse still, we’re concerned once the Massey Tunnel is removed even larger coal ships will come up the Fraser.

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Then this showed up in the InBox from the Pembina Institute:

Climate change and the financial risk of stranded assets

… what exactly are stranded assets? HSBC has released a new report that provides a concise definition. “Stranded assets are those that lose value or turn into liabilities before the end of their expected economic life. In the context of fossil fuels, this means those that will not be burned – they remain stranded in the ground.”

This is becoming a hot topic. There has been a growing dialogue about the risk of stranded assets related to climate change and carbon regulation over the last few years. During 2014 in particular, it reached mainstream discussion with experts ranging from the World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim to former Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, issuing warnings about this risk.

The Pembina Institute has also been tracking this issue. Last November we helped organize a cross-Canadatour for James Leaton of Carbon Tracker — one of the leading voices in highlighting the financial risk of stranded assets. A Day of Learning organized with RBC, NEI and Suncor also helped raise the level of dialogue on this issue in Canada.

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Lots more connections here:

We could be spending billions on a new bridge to facilitate an expanded coal port whose product becomes a stranded asset – a bridge that puts new pressure for development on agricultural land, much of which is below sea level, while at the same time voting down transit expansion, much of which is zero emission.   This is not a pretty scenario, but more than possible.

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  1. Why the Port of Metro Vancouver is building a coal port is beyond me as it is so stupid. We are exporting a product that is killing at least 250,000 people in China per year and is responsible for a major portion of climate change. Despite the fact that coal is so cheap the cost of cleaner electricity such as is poised to still be cheaper (the price of solar is 50% of what it was just 5 years ago). The cost of coal is so cheap that producers in the US are losing money. Cloud Peak loses $8/ton on asian exports. http://daily.sightline.org/2015/05/05/cloud-peak-posts-its-biggest-coal-export-loss-ever/ Maybe it is time that someone with half a brain stopped this ridiculous plan. Too bad the decision makers of the Port Authority don’t have brains.

    1. We’re also exporting Asbestos. The NDP got elected in Alberta. We’re also pretending buying more wobbly buses will decongest roads and incent people to use transit instead of a car. We’re buying plastic spoons from China and after a ten second use throw it away to let the spoon sit in a land fill for 50+ years.

      Yes, indeed, many things make no sense at all.

      Common sense is not so common.

      1. Geez Thomas, still going on about the “wobbly buses”? Without the “wobbly buses” how are people going to get to rapid transit? Do you really think we can afford to replace every bus route with a Skytrain line?

        1. Of course not, but on all/most lines that are now so called “B” lines. The transit system in MetroVan is a joke. I took a so called “express” bus from W-Van the other day to downtown. Hardly faster than cars and 3-4 stops past LG bridge. What should be a 3 minute train ride took 20 due to traffic on the bridge.

          Nothing fast along Marine Drive from W-Van to N-Van.
          Nothing fast along Hastings to N-Burnaby then onto N-Van.
          Nothing fast going south along Granville or Burrard
          Nothing fast going west to UBC (and soon Jericho lands)
          Nothing fast going south from Richmond to Delta and beyond, say Tsawwassen or W-Rock.

          This is the vision for RAPID transit for MetroVan ?

          And not one single disincentive to use a car, say higher parking fees, higher gasoline taxes or road tolls ?

  2. I’ve been reading a few articles recently about the motivations of the Saudis in lowering the price of oil. Rather than frustrating Russia, Iran or the shale oil producers some people believe that they want to get as much oil out of the ground as possible before it becomes worthless. That has the ring of truth to my ears.

    As it does for all of these fossil fuel transportation projects that suddenly seem to be appearing out of nowhere.

    1. From what I’ve read, mostly based on the analyses of production data and rock strata by geologists, the world production of cheap conventional oil peaked in 2005 which precipitated a price surge, which in turn encouraged the exploitation of unconventional oil resources (tar sands, deep sea, fracked shale).

      It was a Gold Rush fueled by investment bank hype. Enter the US shale plays rife with over-leveraged companies, and the price was driven to almost $150 a barrel, which was the straw that broke the toxic paper camel’s back and precipitated the 2008-09 recession and a succession of bailouts.

      The thing about fracking shale is that it is an expensive process, and companies have to drill more and more, faster and faster, just to keep production steady in the face of extraordinary decline rates. Some wells decline as high as 90% after only a year. That’s just the nature of wringing drops of oil and puffs of gas from solid rock. Added to this is the indebtedness of the companies who need to keep drilling and selling even at today’s loss leader prices (which are still 350% higher than in the 90s) just to make the loan payments. All this drilling in the US, coupled with lower demand for oil in China created an oversupply in the US, thus the “lower” prices of today. All Saudi Arabia did was ignore the situation and keep their faucets open.

      Geologically speaking, the Day of Reckoning when all five US shale plays taper off very dramatically due to their inherent steep decline rates will be somewhere around 2020. The world will then likely face an increasing shortage and leaps in the price never seen before. This is why transit and renewable energy are so important. If anything they will add some stability to a volatile economy that bounces between the floor and ceiling of oil prices beyond which recessions occur.

      Regarding coal, it too is nearing a world peak in production. The highest quality stuff is already gone. Metallurgical coal is necessary for the production of high strength steel, but thermal coal is a useless, low quality, filthy energy source that should be banned immediately all over the planet. Why Ports Canada has agreed to allow the Metro to be the primary coal transiting facility for the US when several other ports in the Pacific Northwest rejected it is beyond logic.

    2. Love to see the cheap pixie fuel to drive my car or the billions of vehicles on the roads today. Tesla is for the rich, and yes eventually we will have cheap city based e-cars that are electric .. maybe 20% or so in a decade or 2.

      Oil is expected to “peak” at around 111M barrel of oil today roughly 15% higher than the approx. 95M used today. More on global energy mix to 2050 here: http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/2050.html

  3. It’s all onion soup if you want to know the truth.

    Just think what it takes to put the contents of a can of onion soup in your supper bowl.

    First of all after the onions are grown they have to be trucked to a factory because most likely you cannot do this where you live because you don’t have a garden, you don’t know how to grow onions and you don’t know anything about canning. This means that somebody has to build a truck to carry the onions. A horse and wagon could be used but people don’t like taking care of horses anymore ever since the internal combustion engine was invented.

    When you build a truck you need an iron ore mine, a steel mill, a tool and die shop, a glass factory, a plantation of rubber trees for the tires and tubes, a textile mill for the seat, a lumber mill for the truck bed, an assembly plant where all the pieces can be put together, an oil refinery for grease, oil, and gasoline, and a bureaucracy to issue drivers licences, and an insurance industry in case the truck goes off the road, and I am leaving out all of the upstream things that make all of these things work in the interests of literary economy.

    The next thing that has to happen is that the road has to be paved because trucks don’t travel very well along dirt ruts like horses do. The truck has to end up at a canning factory so the factory has to be built and this will require the services of Architects, Engineers, City Planners, and the approval of a City Council, the hiring of contractors, and the use of materials like steel, concrete, bricks and mortar, glass, and the construction of a lunch room for serving workers onion soup at lunch time.

    Then there is the cooking and canning machinery which has to be designed and installed and kept oiled and running smoothly.

    By this time in the business plan there will surely be a need for bankers and investors who will be seeking profits from their shares so they can buy riding stables and sailboats and take trips across the ocean in great ocean liners which sometimes sink to the bottom from hitting icebergs and so have to be replaced with new ships that are even larger and more impressive.

    Someone will have to open up a tin mine because that is what is needed for making tin cans, and someone will have to open a paper mill so that labels can be made. The labels will have to be designed by an advertising agency because it takes a marketing campaign to get people to switch from growing onions in the back yard and giving them away to their friends who can’t grow them to buying onion soup in the can.

    And that is not the whole story because all of this activity uses energy, human energy which demands evermore onion soup to keep the people going and going, and the activity needs energy from fossil fuels, turbines, uranium, and tiny little electrons in solar cells.

    And all the activity needs water for cooling and washing, lakes of water. And the whole process produces vast amounts of green house gases, and particulates which melt the ice caps, and effluents of every description.

    A can of onion soup is enough to make you cry and that is before you even open up the can, and then to top things off when you are finished with the can you take off the label and put it in the paper recycling container, and you wash out the can and you put it in the can recycling container and then you say to yourself that you have done your part, but have you?

    Have you done your part? That is the question because when you consider what percentage of the whole process is involved in recycling the can then you have to ask yourself how many places to the right of the decimal point do I suppose my part really is?

    1. All the more reason to protect the ALR, grow more of our food locally and invest in greenhouses heated by solar backed by waste heat from the sewage treatment plants and landfill methane capture.

      There are affordable, workable alternatives.

      1. Yes, these are all great ideas but they cost a lot of money. Not everyone can afford the organically grown raspberries from Abbotsford, driven here by e-truck, or the e-tractor harvested bananas from Mexico shipped here by e-boat. It will be a LONG time in coming. It takes lots of energy to feed 8B+ people, most of them now in cities.

        You raise prices, people starve. Is this the goal here ?

    2. A similar analysis applies to restaurant meals too.

      Even if the raw items are local, there still some transport, plus all the costs and overhead of operating restaurant, workers’ transportation to get to work, customers’ transportation to get to the restaurant and the governmental bureaucracy required to regulate it.

      BUlk processing saves a lot on costs.

      There’s a reason 2 litres of Chapman’s Premium ice cream costs $3.97 at No Frills, whereas a single scoop can cost $5.00 at a local artisan ice creamery.

  4. The question that I keep asking myself, aside from “what’s for lunch”, is this: “What does a low-carbon world look like?”

    A comprehensive answer is elusive, but fragments of it do appear now and then.

    Electricity, and lots of it. Batteries, really big ones, or some other kind of storage. Solar power plants, mostly distributed, some down to small (household) size. Centralized wind power plants. A vastly more complex and sophisticated electrical supply grid.

    Emphasis on efficiency. Transit. Urban density. Local production.

    1. A windmill on every mountain top. Beautiful. Feel free to put a solar PV installation on your roof and see how expensive it is. Many good ideas are not practical for the average man, only the rich one.

    2. Thomas: Once upon a time cars were not practical for the average man, either. Things are always changing. Solar panels prices are dropping rapidly, graphite/aluminum batteries may soon provide abundant power storage at a cheap price. Technologies like this are going to bring radical change. It’s only a matter of time.

      1. Yes change is here but change has always been here .. no change is really radical. Is a PV on your roof radical ? Is a $100,000 Tesla for the rich 0.1% radical ? With cars having been useful for 125+ years, sailboats rarely used for goods transport, and solar planes physically impossible for more than 2-4 people you are painting a middle aged nirvana that appeals to few.

        Will we see more e-cars and solar panels on roofs for local electricity: absolutely but overall PV will still not be a major energy component of the overall energy mix used by mankind !

        More here: http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/iea–share-of-solar–wind-in-the-global-power-mix-to-increase-fourfold-by-2040_100017149 and here http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/2050.html

        I installed a solar-thermal system on my roof in Canmore, AB (where used to live) over 12 years ago as I love solar energy but the savings were so tiny it really made no economic sense. But I loved my free hot shower at -20 outside or to watch a tank full of 60 degree water in the winter. Magic. That (cost) is why you see so few today in BC or even sunny AB (of course with NDP’s new green energy approach in AB that may change)

        More on this here: http://www.prestprop.com/2014/08/12/inexpensive-energy-critical-economic-growth-germanys-model-way-go/

  5. A low carbon world looks like the millions of subsistence farms that can be found anywhere between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn all around the planet. You are living in the carbon intense temperate zone of the planet above the 49th parallel where the summers are short and full of passion and the winters are long and bitterly cold.

    You can not transform the temperate zone with electricity, you need to move to the habitat that you belong in and quit acting like a cyborg that doesn’t care about any natural thing

    1. Bang on!

      If you like cheese in your onion soup there’s another big story there too.

      I wonder how much less traffic through the Massey Tunnel there would be if Richmond and other areas were developed for residences instead of preserved under the ALR? It’s all a trade off.

      1. There would also be less traffic if Delta were preserved in the ALR rather than developed for residences, and developing in Richmond is hardly going to solve the traffic issues on the bridges into Vancouver.

    2. Anthropologists and local FN agree pretty well that people have lived in this region for around 15,000 years, and built societies rich in meaning, art and culture. Surely there is some middle ground between an unsustainable carbon-intensive society like ours and a FN society such as was here when Europeans first arrived a few hundred years ago. And it just may be well beyond subsistence farming.

    3. Who says winters are not full of passion? I was conceived on a bitterly cold Saskatchewan night in December many decades ago. Winter hearths and warm bodies under down duvets could be very important to Canada’s ability to thrive.

    4. A low carbon temperate world needn’t look like a remote mountain village in Guatemala. It could be commuter rail-linked villages, towns and urban neighbourhoods made from renewable wood where planned auto dependence has been eliminated. Remove fossil fuels from transportation too and you are well on the way to a low carbon future.

      The biggest energy challenge may be not in how we live on the land, but how to maintain an industrial economy with low carbon or even zero net emissions. In that regard, there are great possibilities in BC with geothermal energy at our numerous volcanic sites. So running steel plants with electric arc furnaces and such will still require centralized, high-capacity grid power, whereas distributed urban energy could be independent.

      My understanding is the cost of PV still doesn’t quite come down to the affordability of remaining attached to the BC Hydro grid at present, but with run-of-river contracts, a lack of expensive transmission upgrades and new capacity, and the fact Clark et al seem to be heading like speeding bullets toward sending highly-subsidized power to their friends in northern LNG and fracking plays, the rates may well come up and exceed household PV. PV is also only 50% efficient here for about four winter months when we need the power the most, but if you live in a very energy efficient home it won’t matter much when summer solstice allows you to sell power back to the grid.

      There was a recent report in the Sun by an agronomist who calculated the rich soils, very long summer days and east-west valley orientation of the farmland to be flooded by the Site C dam on the Peace River would produce enough food for a million people every year if farmed with the higher level crops of the Fraser Valley or Okanagan instead of hay and pasture. Practice conservation tillage and interplant crops that fix nitrogen and you are also well on the way to a low carbon and much healthier future. The economic value of the crops if so cultivated would exceed the cost of Site C after a decade or so.

      You have to wonder if the government, which is the master of Hydro, actually understands what long-term planning is.

      1. MB is on to something here. There is so much potential. Remember the tv feature a few years ago that showed how women sort coal by hand in Viet Nam? Such dedication! Rebuilding their country with their hands! No nasty metal or fossil fuel powered machinery, just women and their bare hands. We could adapt this practice to our wasteful society by having people sort products and items from the garbage dump for recycling. Instead of just burying it all under a layer of soil for our grandchildren, let’s use and re-use it!

        Just Google, “women sorting coal in vietnam” for more information on this innovative idea that doesn’t depend on machinery or nasty CO2 producing fuel.

        Another thing we must put a stop to in this profligate society is the wasteful dumping of sewage and the enormously expensive system of collecting, transporting and processing of sewage. We must use it. It wasn’t called ‘Night Soil’ for nothing. Yet, we just waste it. We dump, no pun intended, massive volumes of perfectly good fertilizer. India is way ahead of us in utilizing this high-nitrogen product.

        Another thing we can work on to become more sustainable, and Save the Planet (TM), is to start harvesting the high-protein rats that are everywhere. We all know that since composting has become Uber trendy and garbage pick-ups have been cut back, that the rats are living it up and breeding like, well, like rats. Just as they did in Leningrad we should fry ’em up.We don’t need wasteful beef and pork farms polluting the landscape when we have an abundance of good protein running around everywhere.

        Furthermore, we must, of course, bring back horses. For those who cannot ride a bike or walk long distances, like connecting between the Millennium Line and the Canada Line, we need horses. Another great provider of fertilizer too. Gregor should set an example with a fully staffed stable at City Hall and horse paths crossing the main bridges and along the main thoroughfares.

        Can someone please send Gregor a smoke signal.

  6. Clueless dopes think solar is a great power source to mitigate climate change.

    Oh, wait. It’s MIT.

    Solar electricity generation is one of “very few low-carbon energy technologies” with the potential to grow to very large scale, the study said. “As a consequence, massive expansion of global solar-generating capacity to multi-terawatt scale is a very likely and essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change risk.”

    http://www.computerworld.com/article/2919134/sustainable-it/mit-says-solar-power-fields-with-trillions-of-watts-of-capacity-are-on-the-way.html

    http://mitei.mit.edu/system/files/MIT Future of Solar Energy Study_compressed.pdf

  7. A migrating species such as the arctic tern is smarter than a human when it comes to living in all the food rich hot spots around the planet. Engineering solutions mitigating the seasons in the temperate zones is a dead end path. The more that technology is inserted between a human and the biosphere for the purpose of residing in a harsh climate the more the damage done to the environment. The idea that there are affordable, workable solutions is a “too tiny idea” for a very big problem.