Isaac Orr is a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota-based think tank, where he writes about environmental issues, mining, and electricity policy. In this episode, Orr explains how being raised on a farm shaped his political views, why concerns about “conservation come after breakfast,” mining in Minnesota, the importance of coal-fired electricity, and his forthcoming report on the material intensity of various forms of electricity production.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, politics and innovation. And we’re going to talk maybe about all those today my with my guest, Isaac Orr. He is a policy fellow at the center of the American Center for the American experiment. Isaac, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Isaac Orr 0:23
And thanks, you had it right, the first time center of the American experiment. It’s our fault for having a long name. So totally get a free pass on that
Robert Bryce 0:32
center of the American experiment. Okay, thank you. So Isaac, I know you’ve listened to the podcast, so you know that you’re going to introduce yourself. So if you don’t mind, I’ve given your title tell us a 45 seconds or so to introduce yourself to a crowd of strangers go.
Isaac Orr 0:47
Yeah, I’m Isaiah Gore. I am a farm kid from Wisconsin who got wrapped up in energy and environmental politics or policy. It’s been a very fun ride. I went to school for political science and geology at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. And that really kind of catapulted me into this whole policy arena. And it’s just very fun. So I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. And for those of you watching on YouTube, I’m 33, not 23. So I’ve got a baby face. But I’ve been doing this for quite a while. So I’ve got a good breadth of experience.
Robert Bryce 1:22
Well, so you mentioned that let’s start with that, if you don’t mind, because you and I’ve talked before about your history of growing up on a farm? How did it shape your politics? Because you’re clearly a conservative or would fit on the certainly not on the liberal end of the spectrum. And being in a state like Minnesota, where the Democratic Party has is very strong? how did how did your experience growing up shape your politics?
Isaac Orr 1:44
Yeah, it really, I think it’s more of a personality thing than a political thing. Frankly, when you grew up on a farm, you have a lot of, you know, self sufficiency that’s built into you, you have a lot of work, obviously, you want to work hard and keep what you are, keep what you earn, right. And for us, it’s really about stubbornness and independence. And I say that just because my grandpa was the youngest of three kids, his dad, or sorry, youngest of six kids, his dad died when he was three years old in the Great Depression. And he bought his first truck when he was 10 years old, his uncle Boyle lent him the money. And he would just sell apples and potatoes door to door as a 10 year old and he said, Well, you know, nobody ever bothered you back, then you were just able to work hard and make a living. And that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. And to the extent that public policy impedes people’s ability to move up and really make a good living for themselves, it really bothers me. And, you know, we’re probably going to talk about this at length later on in the podcast. But you know, when you grew up in a rural area, you tend to get talked down to a lot by people who live in the urban areas, they seem to think they know better than people who live in rural areas, they think that we’re all rubes that we’re unintelligent. And that’s really insulting. So part of my, my worldview, I guess, could be described as anti elitist. I like being able to disassemble the arguments that are made by these people who think that they know better for you and just really kind of present them, Hey, your emperor has no clothes, let’s move forward.
Robert Bryce 3:20
Well, I do want to talk about that, because it’s something that I’ve tracked for a while the urban rural divide. And it seems like it’s getting significantly larger that divide the and the the Democratic Party. In fact, I got an email just yesterday saying, Let’s abolish the Electoral College, which would be terrible for rural America, I mean, you know, would allow the the big coastal states and the big urban states to then dominate policy and essentially, ride roughshod over over over rural states. Let’s also just get one thing out of the way we later this week, or this is, we’re going to be appearing together in Minneapolis, and in Albert Lea Minnesota, talking about land use policy, in fact, in Minnesota, and around wind energy and mining, if you don’t mind, give us give you know more about the I’m coming for the event, and I’m speaking at the event, but I think you could explain it better than I could. So I’m looking forward to coming up to Minnesota and being with you and john hinderaker. And the other folks at the center of the American experiment, tell us tell the people listening what that event is going to be about. Yeah,
Isaac Orr 4:24
so if you’re in Minnesota or in a neighboring state, come on over, it’s going to be a really good time. So Robert wrote a fantastic report for a center of the American experiment called not in our backyard, and it kind of talks about the resistance that’s been happening. I don’t know if you’ve discussed the report in any depth on the show yet, Robert, but I’m sure you have.
Robert Bryce 4:44
But I really shouldn’t but I actually I mentioned it I actually haven’t talked about it very much. It came out in April. It’s called the center of the it’s called not in our backyard and it’s a documentary in the the backlash to wind energy development from Maine to Hawaii and we in The center of the American experiment has the database that I’ve been tracking now for seven years on documenting more than 300 cases of rural communities rejecting or restricting wind projects. But I entered I interrupted.
Isaac Orr 5:12
But that’s great. You’re the you’re the report author, I should be interviewing you for the podcast about it. But yeah, so we’re going to be detailing that are the findings of that report. And we see this all over rural America, we see it in Minnesota, people do not like the high voltage transmission lines, they don’t like the solar installations nearby, and they don’t like the wind turbines that are going in. And frankly, they’re getting fed up with being pushed around by energy policy that originates in the Twin Cities area. So you know, it’s all a manifestation of this rural urban divide that we talked about. And the divide is growing, Robert, at least in my opinion, because there’s fewer people that grow up in rural areas now. So there’s fewer linkages or links between the people that grew up on a farm or their dad grew up on a farm, and the people that grew up in the suburbs and or in the inner city, right. And in To me, this is all boils down to my own personal gripe about how most people think milk comes from the store. Or, you know, if you ask them, does it come from the store? They’d say, Well, no, it comes from a farm, but they don’t really know, the effort that goes into making sure that that that product gets to market and gets to their refrigerator. So there’s just a real lack of appreciation for the effort that goes into it. And there’s also a scorn about, you know, the the work that people do that benefits the people living in rural areas, right. So my biggest Yeah, my biggest gripe is they talk or in Minnesota, they’ll talk about, oh, look at all the co2 that’s expended in the agriculture industry. And it’s like, they’re not doing that for their own edification. They’re doing that so they can feed the people who live in cities who don’t grow anything for themselves. So really, you can think of it as you’re being subsidized by the co2 emission somewhere else if you’re if your state is a net importer of food. So I think that people are really quick to point fingers, but they’re not really quick to try to understand, you know, what goes into delivering the products and services that we rely upon every day. And I think that that’s just super important. And that’s why we’re doing this event and Albert Lee to talk about it. So I brought it back
Robert Bryce 7:17
and say thank you. And the date is August 12. Yeah, Thursday, August 12. We’re doing a midday event and lunch event in Albert Lea Minnesota, and then another event in Minneapolis or Golden Valley at five yet and at 5pm. And you can find more details on the website at American experiment.org. and sign up, I think we have some pretty good good crowds slated for the evening event in in in Golden Valley. So I’m looking forward to that. So I’m going to talk well, let’s just explore that since we’re on that right now. I’m going to talk about my report, not in our backyard. And there have been some interesting developments. Of course, since April, when that report came out even more communities rejecting wind projects in New York state which of course has a very high or 100% renewables or clean electricity mandate. local communities sued the state of New York in the last few weeks to oppose a law that was passed over to allow the state to effectively Bigfoot rural communities for wind energy siting and solar energy siting and mean in California, another very deep blue state, Shasta County Commissioners just recently rejected a large wind project that was proposed in that state of which also has a clean electricity mandate, I think by 2045. So even since the report came out there has there have been a lot of significant developments around these kinds of land use conflicts. And I think that, you know, just so the date, again, is August 12. And you can get more more information on the American experiment.org their website, but and when returned to one thing you said there, Isaac, about growing up on the farm, because, you know, I’m nearly 30 years older than you are. And I’ve, you know, I’ve lived a while but you’re also one of the few people that I know, that grew up on a farm, and I’ve met a lot of people. And I think that’s an interesting point that you make that you come from such a different world and your experience your lived experience is so different from urban people and urban urban dwellers who think that they know best what is what, what should happen in rural America. And we’re seeing in my report documents that really that these rural residents are saying no, the your your land use policies are not the ones we want in our neighborhoods. And we see this over and over again. And so let’s talk about transmission lines, because you recently wrote a piece about the Coal Creek plant tell us about the Coal Creek power plant and why it matters and what hap why trans high voltage transmission matters to that particular plant, which I think is 11 150 megawatts of coal fired capacity. Is that right?
Isaac Orr 9:54
Yeah, it’s a big plant. So it’s in North Dakota. It serves rural electric co ops in Minnesota. So back in the 1970s, they built this plant. And they built this large high voltage direct current transmission line, it was one of the first of the direct current transmission lines in the country. And the express purpose of this was to increase energy security by having, you know, all these this, like massive store of coal in North Dakota, transport electricity over to Minnesota, because, you know, that was right around the time the Arab oil embargo we had, you know, we burned oil for electricity quite frequently before that. So
Robert Bryce 10:33
about 20% of memory serves about 20% of all US electricity was being was being generated with oil in oil fired power plants. And then after the first oil shock, and then particularly during the Carter administration, there was a big push by the federal government to build more coal fired power plants, because the US is the Saudi Arabia of coal, we have more coal than any other country in the world. So I just wanted to interrupt you there for that, because I think it’s just important to put that in context that the vintage of this plant is critical in terms of understanding why it was built when it was built.
Isaac Orr 11:04
Yeah, it’s a it’s a relatively young plant, though, right? So when you think about how long does a power plant last, a wind turbine only lasts for 20 years, and a lot of them don’t last that long. So they’ll do something called repowering, which means that they’ll either refit it with bigger blades, bigger rotors, or they’ll just tear the thing down and build a new turbine next to it and use the existing electricity infrastructure. So they’re doing that after 10 years, a lot of times because then they get a new federal tax credit. And so it’s all about the Benjamins. And solar panels that’ll
Robert Bryce 11:38
follow up follow the money is the oldest Maxim in politics. But go back to that go back to Coal Creek. So they’re sure by the environmental groups to close Coal Creek, is that right? Yeah, they want it closed
Isaac Orr 11:49
because they want access to the high voltage transmission line. So the big thing that’s happening now is the grid is basically full. And when you have all these intermittent renewables that don’t work all the time, it’s really hard to justify building a new transmission line, because it’s only going to be loaded with electricity. About half the time if you’re lucky. With a wind facility in the upper Midwest, we have pretty good wind resources relative to other parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean the investment is as good with Coal Creek. So these wind and solar special interest groups are really angling to shut this plant down, even though it wants to have carbon capture and sequestration technology added to it later in order to make it more carbon free. So really, it’s it’s a power struggle over who’s going to have access to that transmission line. We had a lot of or we had, I think it was two or three counties in North Dakota, enacted moratoriums on Transmission Line building. In order to prevent the company from closing down the coal plant and building wind. They’re so
Robert Bryce 12:53
lovely. So now that’s interesting. I haven’t heard about that expand on that, if you don’t mind, because the land use conflicts that I’ve been following primarily has been around wind energy deployment. And the database that I mentioned, which is on the American experiment.org website, documents that more than 300 instances of this and there are increasing numbers of solar projects being rejected, including one just north of Las Vegas just in the last few days. But I didn’t, I didn’t know that many counties had passed measures that would prohibit high voltage transmission projects.
Isaac Orr 13:22
That’s the next phase Robert, for for people who are looking to impede the development of wind and solar. A lot of times the state will say, Well, if the project is over a certain size, you don’t have any say local government over the permitting of the wind turbine or the solar panel, but sometimes they forget to regulate the construction of high voltage transmission lines. So as I understand it, I think it was McClain county in North Dakota said we are not going to allow you to build the transmission lines necessary to connect this wind energy to the high voltage transmission line. And therefore we are going to thwart your ability to repurpose this line for renewables. Because it’s a big coal producing County, when you look at these little towns in North Dakota, there are a couple 1000 people and most of them work at the mind or the power plant. So it wouldn’t be a death knell for these communities to shut down the plant. And they understand that there’s a there’s a really interesting Facebook group called faces of North Dakota coal. And they tell the story they have, you know, like, pictures of people in their families on this Facebook group all the time. And, you know, we try to share their information as well just to try to give people in Minnesota an understanding of where their milk comes from. But in this case, it’s where their electricity comes from. Right.
Unknown Speaker 14:42
Isaac Orr 14:44
yeah, it’s just incredibly important for people to understand that and, you know, it’s To me, it’s interesting that we are moving further and further away from a grid that’s based on reliable dispatchable power and more towards one that’s intermittent, because we’ve never been more dependent on electricity for every aspect of our lives. And we’ll never be less dependent on electricity for every aspect of our lives, we expect our internet, our cell phones to work on demand, we expect our movies to show up automatically, but we’re somehow going to pretend that you know, having wind and solar as our primary source of energy is going to facilitate that. And you know, electricity is the invisible ingredient in everything. So when you make it more expensive or less available, that has real negative consequences for people, and you know, I care about this, because we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I mean, we were basically scratching out a living on the farm. And, you know, farming is a very energy intensive industry, whether you want to talk about propane for drying grain, that would cost way more if you electrify everything, right, or just keeping the electric fence going so the cows don’t get out. So, you know, when people talk about how, you know, basically, there’s a lot of dishonesty that goes into modeling the energy system. And a lot of times the renewable energy advocates fudged the numbers in order to make things look affordable, when in reality, they’re not using realistic assumptions. Well, so
Robert Bryce 16:09
let’s talk about that. Because there have been a flood of models, I mean, and coming out of some of the most elite universities in America, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, you know, the number so you Cal Berkeley, and I look at some of these models, and they’re coming out from academics who, you know, PhDs, elite universities, and they get this very credulous coverage from big media outlets. I think that’s the right word we’re use of credulous isn’t that there this belief, assumed assumption, well, the model says we can do it, but they don’t include any of the land use issues, or any of the natural physical limits on the systems, including critical minerals. So how do you how do you see that? And well, let me ask a specific question about those models. Why do we see and I know that Steve Hayward and a co author published a report with the center of the American experiment a few years ago, talking about how increased use of renewable electricity in Minnesota had driven up the price of electricity in the state. I’m imagine your Peter Nelson, I think was the co author. Tell me about that study. And what did they conclude? why did why did electric rates rise in Minnesota along with the deployment of more renewable electricity?
Isaac Orr 17:22
Yeah, so in Minnesota, we have a vertically integrated monopoly utility system, right. So if a utility spends money, they get to make a return on that investment. So they get to make their money back, plus a 10% return on equity. So really, it’s pretty basic math, when you build a whole bunch of stuff, you get to make a whole bunch more money and charge more for the electricity. So you know, this is the big shell game that utilities like Xcel Energy are playing, they were the first utility to say, oh, we’re going to be 100% carbon free with an asterisk that said, we have no idea how we’re going to get there. But we’re going to make a boatload of money along the way. So they want to close down their reliable, affordable, resilient coal plants before the end of their useful lifetime. That’s step one. Step two is tell the public you’re going to replace everything with wind and solar and run TV ads during the Superbowl. Step three is building up natural gas.
Robert Bryce 18:17
you’re basing your sincere cynicism is your cynicism is shining through here, Isaac,
Isaac Orr 18:22
I’m trying not to be cynical right now, I’m trying to just be very Matter of fact, but it’s okay. I’m very cynical about this stuff. Um, step three is build a natural gas plant that completely replaces the capacity of the coal plant. So utility ratepayers like myself are paying three times for energy that we can only use once because, you know, electricity, you know, you can only use as much as or you can only produce as much as the demand is so you know, this is this is the giant scam. This is, you know, of our of our generation is the fact that these utility companies are able to charge whatever they want, are basically by building more stuff. And the customer has no freedom to choose. And
Robert Bryce 19:05
and so explain explain that. I just if you don’t mind, you said that that that you pay three times how is that what it goes to go through that for me?
Isaac Orr 19:12
Yeah, so the way I see it is you have a coal plant that’s depreciated, right, so the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission data for the state of Minnesota show that the sherco power plant, which is a big 2200 megawatt facility in Sherburne County, Minnesota, produces electricity for about 30 bucks a megawatt hour, right. So the reason that Excel wants to shut that down is that it’s completely depreciated, so the mortgage is paid off. So they’re not making their guaranteed rate of return on that. So they’re not making a government guaranteed profit on that coal plant anymore. So what they want to do,
Robert Bryce 19:47
even though even though it’s producing very low cost power, three cents a kilowatt hours is cheap.
Isaac Orr 19:52
It’s cheap, and it’s always available, right? So while the customer loves that price point, and that right liability profile, the company doesn’t like it, because it’s not earning a return for their shareholders. So the incentives of the customer and the utility are not aligned is a nice way to put it. They’re actually pretty much opposed. So what Excel does is they say, well, we need to shut down this coal plant for the sake of the planet, even though they never tell you how much global warming shutting down the coal plant, whatever, they’ll tell you how many cars worth of emissions it is. But if you ask them, Well, okay, well, what are we buying for this? Like, when I when I go to the store, I asked what the the ROI is on something right. And they don’t ever want to tell you that because it would totally undermine the narrative, and the justification for doing it. But for so for paying three times, instead of paying once for the coal fired power plant, you’re also paying for a winter oven, a solar panel and a natural gas plant. Right. So all three of those costs go into the rate base. And maybe we’re getting too into the weeds here.
Robert Bryce 20:58
Well, but it wasn’t one of the points of the Nelson and Hayward report that you’ve got this additional capacity that has to be paid for, but it’s the also the additional transmission and distribution costs. Isn’t that the other mean? It seems to me from what I understand when you’d look at these cost as increases. It’s the it’s the integration of the weather dependent renewables into the system, that that makes the costs go up as well as the cost of the backup thermal generation from gas fired power plants is that that’s what I recall from their report. Is that a fair assessment? Yeah,
Isaac Orr 21:31
I mean, we spent $2 billion on Transmission upgrades, we’re going to need a lot more transmission upgrades in order to accommodate more intermittent renewables, the midcontinent independent systems operator, which is the regional RTO for Minnesota, and I believe 14 other states in the Canadian province, they have a graph like miso, yeah, yeah, myself. Sorry. Yeah, miso has a graph for their renewable integration assessment. And basically, it’s the it’s really easy to get to the first 10 or 15% renewable on myself, but then the cost and difficulty increases exponentially. I don’t know if you’ve seen that chart, Robert, I’ll send you I’ll send that to you. And we can put it in the show notes. But sure, the, the ability to integrate more renewable energy on the system becomes far more difficult just because of the problems we’ve seen in California and Texas when they get to about 30% renewables. So it’s going to require a lot more transmission expense billions of dollars, nobody wants to pay for that. Utilities don’t want to actually admit how much it’s going to cost their customers. So there’s, there’s a lot of problems. Most of it deals with physics, which is a science that most people don’t understand. It’s actually the primary science. So I get a kick out of these people who like are very, I would say, moralistic or holier than thou talking about how important it is to follow the science when they basically deny physics every single day. So yeah, it’s it’s a mess. And hopefully we can figure it out before it gets too much worse.
Robert Bryce 23:11
So you grew up in Wisconsin, you live in Minneapolis. Now, what? You mentioned my show, and we talked about this the other day on the phone before, before we set up as we were setting up this time to talk. You mentioned miso. What is the problem with that? RTL model? What is one, because this is something that we talked about Meredith angwin has written about I’ve had her on the podcast three different times. She has a certain take on them on on the RTL model on why it’s problematic. What how do you how do you describe that? What is the problem with the way the grid is governed? When it comes to resilience and reliability? Because you mentioned those earlier. And now in the wake of the February blizzard. This is top of mind for me after being blacked out what is what’s the fundamental problem with the RTL model and how the grid is being governed?
Isaac Orr 24:00
I mean, nobody’s going to explain it more succinctly than Meredith, but I’ll give it my chance. But I mean, really, the problem is nobody’s responsible for reliability. Everybody assumes that meisho will take care of reliability, myself thinks that the states in the PFC or you know, the Public Service Commission, or public utilities Commission’s of the various stakeholder states are going to ensure reliability and really nobody’s looking out for it. So to me, that’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest problem. There’s also a lot of vested interests in the rulemaking process for myself that limit its ability to be effective. So you have environmental groups, you’ve got, you know, big utility customers, transmission owners, everybody but the little guy has a seat at the table when it comes to the rulemaking process for myself and really all it does is kind of enrich the people who are already entrenched in the in the decision making Same process and kind of punts on reliability a lot of times so.
Robert Bryce 25:05
So how does that how does that get solved? I have I wrote a piece that was in the Dallas Morning News The other day, which I wrote about this in the in the issue that the buck doesn’t stop anywhere we see, we’ve seen that in the wake of the the February disaster here in ercot. Nobody’s responsible, everybody’s pointing at everybody else. How does this How does it what’s the solution here in terms of assuring resilience and reliability, as you said about the electric grid, our most important single network when in which we’re increasingly dependent? How do we solve that problem?
Isaac Orr 25:35
So North Dakota has introduced legislation, and they’re doing some things to their public service commission that says utility, you are responsible for relying or providing the reliable electricity needed for your customers. And that I think that’s a step, I think, if you were able to get more states to sign on to that saying that, look, we are going to provide enough internal capacity on our system, in order to make sure that we are covered plus a reserve margin, right. I mean, how you calculate all this stuff is also subject to lots of lobbying, and I guess, stakeholder input that may or may not dilute the the purpose behind it. But you know, ultimately, it’s, it’s way more difficult, because you can have a few states that drag everybody else down, just because you have a large regional power pool. And, you know, if you had some sort of wireless transmission system, maybe you could avoid this pitfall of well, but really, realistically, that’s what it would take, you would actually need to have some sort of real ability to contract with a power plant and get the power that that power plant produces consistent. Because, you know, the way that the grid works is, you know, you generate an electron in North Dakota, and the people in Minnesota pay for it. But maybe it’s somebody in downstate Illinois, who’s actually receiving it. So right.
Robert Bryce 26:57
So you’re saying that we’re going to need ultimately some kind of a capacity market or some kind of incentive incentive system for standby capacity? That’s dispatchable, during time during crisis times is that is that a fair summary of what you’re saying?
Isaac Orr 27:11
I think that’s part of it, right? I mean, my preference would be let’s just wise up and stop shutting down things that work in building things that don’t work, because then you don’t have this problem, right? Like, I’m an all of the above energy person, if that thing is dispatchable. Right. So if you can turn that thing on and make it run, when you need it to run, I’m open to it. Does it make sense from an environmental standpoint? Does it make sense from a reliability and affordability standpoint, but you know, it’s reliability, first, affordability, second, and carbon free third, and I think that everybody who puts carbon free first is making a big mistake, because that is not doing accomplishing the goal of an electric company, which is to provide electricity for customers.
Robert Bryce 27:57
I like the way you put that there. Reliability, affordability, and then carbon being the third thing, and I think that that, I think that that makes sense to me as well. And I like the way you put that because I think that that reliability is when I was a co op guy in Oklahoma said if it’s not reliable, it’s not affordable, that reliability and affordability go hand in hand. And I hadn’t thought of it that way. And I thought what Yeah, and it occurred to me in particular after winter storm Yuri that 700 people died roughly 700 people died here in Texas. Well, it’s not the rich folks who died during extreme weather events they can afford, you know, some other systems or you know, backup generators or you know, whatever. It’s it’s low income and poor folks, homeless people, who are the ones that are most impacted by extreme weather events, whether it’s hot or cold. And and but I think that that reliability is absolutely essential. I liked the way you put that said, let’s jump back just for a moment, if you don’t mind, because I know you spent a lot of time on the electric grid and I think your work on that’s been really good. And you know, the idea of standing up for a coal fired power plants, you know, there’s not a big crowd of people who are saying, No, we need this. We need these reliable plants. And what we saw in my view, one of the most important takeaways of winter storm you’re here in Urquhart was that the plants that performed the best were the plants that had on site fuel the coal plants and the nuclear plants and this was something that if you remember as Secretary of Energy Perry tried to push for measures that would require more on site more power plants to have on site fuel and it was it was it was discarded right because it wasn’t it was seen as a way to to favor coal. But no one’s talking about Colin that importance in terms of resilience and reliability. So I think that you know, your stance on Coal Creek is is important. Well, before I talk about the minerals so tell me where the Coal Creek plant where is that now? You said that there was a you In fact, you wrote a piece on its on the American experiment website about a recent move or that the cooperatives that rely on Coal Creek voted to keep it open. Is that right? What? So what’s bringing us up to date on where that upper weight of that plant is now?
Isaac Orr 30:06
Yeah, we can be one of the few organizations in the country that can say they made substantial progress in saving a coal plant from going down. So what needed to happen was they needed to approve the sale of the plant to a another energy company who would continue to run it. Because if the sale wasn’t approved, it would get shut down and decommissioned.
Robert Bryce 30:25
So and it’s owned now by great river energy. Is that right?
Isaac Orr 30:28
Yeah. Okay, great river energy is kind of the mothership of all the 28 Municipal or sorry, rural cooperatives in the state of Minnesota. So I’m actually a rural Co Op, member owner now because we moved out of Minneapolis into a neighboring town, but so I contacted my the president of my co operative to let them know, Hey, I support this sale. But you know, really what we care about when we go to the Public Utilities Commission in Minnesota, and comment on Xcel energy’s plans for the future, we say, look, you need to run these coal plants until the wheels fall off, right. So in my opinion, the the coal plants that we have in the upper Midwest that are remaining are kinda like a 2014 Toyota Camry, it’s not sexy, but it runs and it’s got a good healthy life left. So you’ve got, you know, probably another quarter of that coal plants life, and ratepayers deserve to recoup their costs on that if you want to plan for a carbon free future that springboards off of that timeline. I’m all for it. If you want to build a new nuclear plant, that’s great. We actually advocate for extending the license on our nuclear plants, because for us, it is about the attribute of the of the power plant and not necessarily what fuel it uses. It’s Can you be reliable, can you be affordable and if you’re lower carbon, great, but you have to do the first two things first.
Robert Bryce 31:55
Let me jump to that because we’re also looking at now and on the precipice that appears of Exelon closing the Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois. Which to me, you know, I, you mentioned, we talked about cynicism before, quote Lily Tomlin all the time, no matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up. But who’s pushing for the closure of that nuclear those nuclear plants? It’s the Natural Resources Defense Council. It’s some of the most powerful environmental groups in America, who have repeatedly claimed climate change is the most important issue we face. If that’s the case, why aren’t they keeping these nuclear plants open? This seems to me to be so wrongheaded in terms of the co2 emissions, but are you familiar with the Illinois the politics of what’s going on in Illinois? Can you discuss that at all?
Isaac Orr 32:36
As a native Wisconsin, I can tell you that most everything that happens in Illinois probably doesn’t make much sense. But, yeah, I have followed that a little bit, because it’s interesting. I did an analysis recently that showed that during the polar vortex of 2021, a little Coal Creek plant, it’s 1100 megawatts. It’s not a little plant. But compared to the 22,000 megawatts of wind installed on the miso system. There were several hours during that polar vortex winter storm Yuri, where wind was producing less electricity than Coal Creek. And when you take a plant like Byron and Dresden that are each over 2000 megawatts, I believe I know, one of them is 2200, I did an analysis for Eric Meyer from generation atomic, I sent him over the spreadsheet. And I said, you can show people definitively that when the energy was needed the most these power plants showed up to work and when did and so. And that happens almost every time that we have a situation where there’s high demand on the grid, because it’s either a polar vortex where there’s low pressure systems, and there’s not a lot of wind, or it’s a heat wave, where there isn’t a lot of wind either. So I think that you know it. The NRDC can’t really keep a straight face and shut down these these new nuclear plants. But I don’t think they care about that. I mean, that’s why we’re so cynical, Robert, I mean, we’ll Sue
Robert Bryce 34:02
is that the case at the point that they don’t really care about emissions, they want to build renewables? And that’s not the same thing.
Isaac Orr 34:09
I think that’s what I take away from that. How do you take anything else away from it? How can you pretend that climate change is some existential crisis in scare kids to death? Make them not want to have any more kids? And, you know, frankly, I think that the people who don’t want to have kids because of climate change are severely misguided. I don’t know if I’m going to have kids, but nobody should use that as an excuse. It’s never been more responsible than it is today to have children. They’ll never be more responsible to have them than in the future. But you know, I don’t I don’t get it. Robert. What is it? It’s got to be the money right? It’s got to be that these with these. These companies either benefit from the tax credits, they go into wind and solar because really a tax credit is better than cash because you’re eliminating attacks, right? So because if you got paid a cash payment, you have to pay taxes on. So that’s why Warren Buffett loves the tax credits. So, so realists
Robert Bryce 35:06
Buffett Buffett, who famously said in 2014, the only reason to build wind projects is to get the tax credits.
Isaac Orr 35:11
Yep. Yep. So they’ll do anything. He’s he building anything within the permits and a lot to reduce Berkshire Hathaway’s taxable income. So I’m not saying he’s behind all this. I’m sure he isn’t. But it’s, it’s impossible to take these groups seriously when they don’t support things like nuclear power plants that already exists, new nuclear power plants, that’s illegal to do in Minnesota, and all the renewable energy groups that go up there and cry, during their testimony in the House of Representatives about the climate crisis. Don’t think that it’s worthwhile to even investigate the the possibility of new nuclear power plants, and a lot of those same people are opposing the sale of Coal Creek, even though they’re gonna put carbon capture and sequestration technology on that plant?
Robert Bryce 35:58
So I didn’t you mentioned Minnesota, it’s illegal to build new nuclear is that because it was Mr. Minnesota, one of the states that has a law that says they can’t build new nuclear until the nuclear waste issue is resolved? I think that might be part of it. But, you know, I think that there are about a dozen states if memory serves that have that that provision in state law that, that you can’t build new nuclear plants until there is a approved federal repository on nuclear waste, which of course hasn’t happened because Harry Reid and Nevada and Yakima Yucca Mountain and you know, that fights been going on for now more than 40 years. But so let’s return back to the with some of your work on the mining issue, because you trained as a geologist, and I thought that your when we talked the other day about issue of subsurface and and you you’re certain your your history on the farm and water supply that really made you interested in geology. So you’re working on a new report that looks at the issue of mineral extraction and alternative energy. I don’t call it green or clean energy anymore. It’s just alternative solar and wind, but they require enormous amounts of minerals. So what do you have a title for your report, and what’s the focus of it.
Isaac Orr 37:12
Um, so the working title right now is the environmental catastrophe of wind and solar energy, we don’t believe in subtlety at center of the American experiment. But really, what happens here is we have a situation where these we have no matter what you do, something needs to come out of the ground, either need to farm it, or you need to mine it. And what happens here is we have this desire for wind and solar, which require a lot more metal, they require a lot more copper, nickel, cobalt, you name it. And we’re basically trading the fuel that we would otherwise use. So natural gas, coal or uranium, for this large increase in mining. And you know, Mark Mills has done a really good job on this for the Manhattan Institute. But what we wanted to do is look at Okay, well, what would happen if you’d looked at one little state that tried to go completely wind, solar and battery storage, because that’s essentially what legislation that’s been proposed in Minnesota would seek to accomplish? So we did, we ran the numbers based on some Excel energy modeling and used a combination of sources, we use the International Energy Agency report that dealt with critical minerals. There was some World Bank report that came out a few years ago that had a few more, I wish that somebody had done a more comprehensive look at all of these that was more updated, because we kind of had to merge a few different databases to try to piecemeal a a modern assessment together. But what we found was it would require about just scrolling down to the thing in my, my, my working report here, but it would require 2.8% of the global copper output, just to make Minnesota is total energy, wind and solar dependent based on the modeling that Excel had done. Right. And that’s really interesting, because that’s 560,000 tons of copper, which is 60% of all the copper that’s used globally for wind, solar and battery storage, right. So people think that okay, well, this is just going to appear from somewhere. But there’s, there’s really a lot of other uses for copper that, in my opinion, are better serving society. You know, we don’t have to get into that right now.
Robert Bryce 39:33
So we’ll just to repeat them what you said. So you’re saying that roughly 3% of global copper would be needed just for to you convert Minnesota to an alternative energy electric grid, and that, and I’m assuming is that just for the electric grid? Are you assuming that that would that would be the transportation demand and and the electrify everything? What is that 3% or roughly 3% represent?
Isaac Orr 39:57
So that would be total energy, that would be So I mean, cut that in half, or actually, I have the other numbers here.
Robert Bryce 40:05
But it’s an assumption that we could that Minnesota will just stick with Minnesota that Minnesota could, in theory, electrify all transportation, electrify all industry eliminate all direct use of combustion with natural gas, etc. And that you put everything on the grid. But that’s a big number in terms of 3% of global copper, just for one state, you’ve got 49 other states that are going to have to get so I mean, Minnesota is not, you know, it’s not that we’ll just assume every fifth every other 49 states. Well, you’re, if you’ve assumed 3%, for each state word 150% of global copper. Well, that’s a crazy number. So it seems to me the punch line, and I haven’t seen your report, but I know you’re you’ve been working hard on it is that this is all about mining. And what are the chances that in the IAEA report that you mentioned on critical minerals came out in May, and I’ve looked at that report. And it’s really quite remarkable. There are a couple of slides that I used in my testimony before the US Congress in June, showing China’s dominance of many of those minerals, including copper was something like 40% of all the global processing of copper happens in China. So what would it What would it require in terms of mining in for those critical minerals? manganese, cobalt, lithium, copper, rare earth elements? Is it possible that the US could achieve a ramp up in mining that would allow that to happen domestically? Or are we going to have to rely on the Chinese? Oh, absolutely not. So Minnesota has absolutely, absolutely not what? We can’t produce it.
Isaac Orr 41:37
There’s no way it’s going to happen here domestically, because there’s just too many environmental groups that like to sue about everything, whether that’s responsible timber harvesting, or, you know, mining domestically, even though we have some of the most robust regulations on mining in the entire world. So Minnesota is the we have the Duluth complex, which is the largest undeveloped copper nickel deposit in the entire world, right, we have more cobalt than any other state in the union. And basically, what’s happening here is we have the same environmental groups that say, we’re not building enough wind and solar, are saying there’s no way that we can mine here. They’re saying, you know, the amount of copper and nickel that would be pulled out of these Minnesota mines. It’s just a bug on the windshield of global copper production. And I say, well, the amount of emissions that we would reduce in the context of the global co2 emissions is a much smaller bug. And it would also not help our economy. So why is it that you’re okay, making these these sacrifices in people’s livelihoods? Because, you know, in northeastern Minnesota mining is a part of the culture there. I mean, they, they provided most of the iron ore that was used in World War Two, like you don’t win World War Two without Minnesota’s Iron Range. That’s just a fact.
Robert Bryce 42:55
And Minnesota is still a big iron producer, is it not?
Isaac Orr 42:58
Yeah, we are 90% of the iron ore that’s mined in the United States comes from the state of Minnesota, the remainder comes from our friends in upper Michigan,
Robert Bryce 43:07
huh. I didn’t realize I didn’t realize that. And so that’s just the geology and you study geology. But this, you’ve written quite a lot about the mining but I think so you’re saying that the environmentalist say? Well, we want the the the the green groups left groups that the alternative energy promoters, Sierra Club, the NRDC saying, are saying we need to move to this alternative energy, but they but you’re what you’re if I’m hearing you, right, you’re saying there’s no way that they would allow the kind of mining that would be required to provide the critical minerals to make this alternative energy even even possible by using domestic sources? Is that Is that a fair assessment of what you’re saying?
Isaac Orr 43:44
That’s absolutely fair. And they’re the ones who are leading the lawsuits against the mines that are in the permitting stage right now. So, you know, the the change in federal administration’s was not good for the prospect of domestic mining. The Biden administration came out earlier. And they said, Well, you know, we’re gonna import this from our allies. And my question to President would be, why do you think as President of the United States that your job isn’t to get everything or that you are not responsible for getting as many jobs for American workers as
Unknown Speaker 44:16
Isaac Orr 44:17
like for all of the former president’s faults, when it came to messaging or temperament, nobody can accuse him of not trying to fight for every single opportunity for especially natural resource development jobs out there. So in my opinion, we should be mining, we should be refining we should be processing and manufacturing in the United States of America. That should be the job of the President. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement. And, you know, unfortunately, that’s not the way that the the current administration sees it. They want to export the environmental impacts of renewable energy development to the developing world where they don’t care about the environment because I had a really good conversation with a guy who worked for the DNR in Minnesota. Last week, and he said, You know, I explained the concept of the Kuznets curve, but that’s not really important. The the key money phrase was conservation comes after breakfast, right? So if you are still, if you are not economically or financially secure, the environment is going to be a secondary concern. And once you have those, it’s kind of like a mass loves hierarchy of needs, right? The environment becomes a priority after you have a certain baseline of economic stability and quality of life to where, you know, the next step on that ladder to increasing quality of life is improving the environment, right. And that’s where we’re at as Americans. And that’s why it’s important for us to mine things domestically, because, you know, that’s where we’re going to take the most care of the environment. So we basically export all the environmental externalities for renewables, and internalize the costs. So for me, it’s the worst of both worlds. I think that that’s really that’s, it’s the big scam that goes along with all of this, you know, there’s a whole geopolitical aspect of it that I don’t really talk about a lot. But we are importing solar panels from China, that are made in factories that are powered by coal in there are, you know, slaves. I mean, that’s New York Times said that. So how is it that the people who talk about environmental justice and you know, systemic racism in the environment can kind of just sweep that under the rug, but come after people who are just, you know, producing power at nuclear power plants, right. Like, it doesn’t make any sense. To me. This is also complicated that nobody understands how contradictory it always
Robert Bryce 46:49
somebody asked you that that because you make a good point. And I had Michael Shellenberger on the podcast, and I’ve been, he had to write much about the mentioned some of the slave labor issue with the Uighur minority and shinjang province in China, and the production of poly silicon, but so what’s the endgame here? Um, you know, this is one of the things that I’ve talked about a lot, or thought about a lot. And people ask me, Well, so what are these? What’s the endgame for the groups that are pushing these policies? What are they after? What is the what is the endgame? for them? What? What do you how do you answer that question?
Isaac Orr 47:26
I think it’s to get invited to as many, you know, White House soirees as possible, frankly, like I, I don’t know, because they don’t really seem to care if the reliability and affordability of the grid is taken care of, because a lot of them are upper crust, liberals who like to look down their noses at everybody else. So you know, in Wisconsin, that’s the folks in Madison and Milwaukee, in Minnesota, it’s the folks in Minneapolis and St. Paul that think that they’re, you know, they’re a little bit better than everybody else. So it really gets back to that whole, you know, preachy moralistic aspect of it. And this is just, to me, this is kind of the, the Tesla has become the luxury car that people use as a social measuring stick, so to speak. So, you know, you’ve beaten this horse to death with other guests who are much more articulate on the subject, but it has become kind of a pseudo religion for people on the left. So, you know, it doesn’t really matter how bad the results are there. It’s a faith faith based belief system and not so much evidence based.
Robert Bryce 48:35
And is there a way to get beyond it? Because I think that, you know, I get asked this question, well, how to, you know, how do we respond? I think well pack a lunch right this is this is this is part of the Think of the culture war, right about energy and power systems and how they’re going to be fashioned and who’s going to control them that this is part of a broader cultural fight over and part of identity politics, I think, right? That the Tesla as you say, as a signifier of moral moral correctness or or political correctness, environmental correctness, nevermind the cobalt, nevermind the carbon footprint of the vehicle itself, never mind, you know, that it’s the average household income of Tesla buyers is 2x, that of the average American. But is it? Is it that simple, that they just want that it’s a power game, that for these environment, these these big pressure groups, that it’s just about being able to win and quarter it, you know, we stopped that in mind, we, we, we shut down that coal plant that it’s just that simple. There’s nothing beyond that.
Isaac Orr 49:38
Now, I mean, nothing’s ever as simple or as you know, as it seems on the surface, but I think that there’s just a lot of people who don’t pay much attention to energy and environmental issues because they don’t have to, it’s like they don’t know where their milk comes from, because they don’t have to. So I think that the general public is right for education, but they need to reason to care about it. And so far they haven’t had it. So I think that the environmental groups like the NRDC are given a lot they have, there’s a lot of trust in that institution, even though you and I don’t deem them trustworthy, but the the person in the general public is going to say, oh, they’re the National Resources Defense Council. I’ve seen enough movies where oil tycoons are the bad guy, so I’m going to trust what they say. Right? So it’s going to take some sort of, you know, breaking the social contract of, you know, what those groups stand for? And, you know, to me, that’s the the blackout, the blackout is the thing that starts to erode the trust in those institutions, especially as they call for the retirement of what is it Diablo Canyon over in California. So, you know, unfortunately, it might have to get worse before it gets better. But those those groups are going to retain that trust until people don’t have a reason to do it. And because there’s such a positive feeling associated with wind and solar, you know, you and I have talked about that. I mean, people people feel more than they think. And that’s going to be an obstacle that people like you and I have to overcome. But we also have to do a better job of understanding that’s how most people you know, most people figure out how they feel about something and backwards, rationalize it. That’s that’s sales. Right? That’s Pitch Anything by Oren klaff. It’s a great book. I’m not reading it currently, I read it several years ago. So for for that portion of the podcast, because I know it’s coming because I’m a frequent listener. But you know, we have to do a good job of appealing to people’s emotions and their their reason, and the other side is much better at telling scary stories than we are. But like, I don’t like to tell scary stories to people, right? I want to inspire people to do things through, you know, example. And by making them feel like they have all the information that they need in order to make an informed decision.
Robert Bryce 51:58
Well, so is that is that best attack mode, then I’ve thought about the some affordability and national security? Because I mean, it seems to me those are the two issues that would be naturally more by partisan, right or across the or more naturally appeal to a broader political spectrum. Right that? Well, affordability matters, because if you’re serious about low and middle income folks, then this policy of promoting is going to result in higher costs is the wrong way to go. And then the second one behind that would be say, saying something on the order of so you really don’t want to rely more on China. Do you mean with those? Was that the way? Is that the is that the most effective tack in your mind when you said people feel more than they think? Is that is affordability and national security, your supply chains? Are those the best ways to make them feel?
Isaac Orr 52:48
Well, I think the reliability issues going to be the best way to go about it. But it’s going to take a supply interruption, right, like, you only care about where the toilet paper comes from during the pandemic when you can’t get any and then all of a sudden everybody’s an expert. Right. But so I think that that’s really what it’s going to be people are going to need to understand that the proposals being put forward by the other side are either going to lead to inadequate supplies, or just real inconveniences. I mean, the whole flat solar thing that’s going on in California, where the grid operator is asking people not to charge their electric vehicles from four to 10pm. Don’t use your washer, don’t use your dishwasher. Like they’re basically asking you to do your laundry while you’re not home. And that’s insane, right? How are you going to switch the load over from the washer to the dryer, especially if you are forced to only use an electric dryer and you don’t get to have a gas dryer? Like there’s going to be a point and we’re starting to see this case. So are the California ISO was starting to complain that the flexibler wasn’t reducing consumption as much as it used to, and people are just going to get tired of it. And I think that you know, hopefully it’s a it’s a Quiet Revolution where people just kind of wise up and understand that okay, well, we need to do a better job of serving our customers. But really the the fact that these are almost subsidiaries of government electric utilities are basically they serve at the leisure of the Public Utilities Commission really makes our electric grid prone to more politicization. And that’s the opposite of what a free market would you know hope to achieve right? So the market wants to serve the needs of the customer and not make the customer certainly need the company. So
Robert Bryce 54:33
let me pull up on that because it’s maybe California the bell cow here the bellwether and saying, Well look, this is the model not to follow because, you know, I’m live in Austin and they’re a heck of a lot of California sir moving here. But you know, the high cost the lack of reliability and and and these flex alerts to me, I mean, it reminds me kind of what we saw on Beirut. Oh, yeah. Well, the blackouts coming, be ready. Right, but it’s remarkable for a state that has been for Decades been this beacon of economic growth, prosperity, you know, innovation, and they don’t have enough juice to allow people to use electricity when they want it. And I mean, it’s a remarkable outcome. So is, is that the is California providing the here’s the lesson not to follow. Here’s the example not to follow is that the is that would that be part of the political strategy in terms of if you were going to be a consultant and say, well here, you know, based on based on here’s not the don’t follow these folks.
Isaac Orr 55:28
Yeah, and we’re doing that we do a lot of modeling at center at the American experiment. For other states, we’ve done, you know, energy modeling for four different states now, which is a fun aspect. You know, we’re almost turning into a little energy modeling shop within a conservative think tank, which is really exciting, just from a business development standpoint. But a lot of these electric utilities have the California model, it’s we are going to shut down our reliable affordable coal plants, we are going to build some natural gas to fill in those gaps. But we’re going to build a lot more wind, we’re going to build a lot more solar. And we’re going to rely on imports from the market to tide us over when supplies are short when the wind isn’t blowing, and the sun isn’t shining. And the problem with that is everybody has that plan. So when everybody thinks that they’re going to be able to go to the market and buy power, when power is scarce, then you either have huge increases in electricity costs, or you have shortfalls or both, most likely right, you’re going to have both. So you know, it’s it all goes back to the fact that the buck doesn’t stop anywhere. And that’s really what’s happening in California. They’re stealing the power destined for Tucson, right. I think that for gave them the ability to basically be pirates and steal electricity that’s destined for other people.
Robert Bryce 56:51
Right? That was our that was power that was being wheeled from Oregon to Arizona through California. Right.
Isaac Orr 56:57
So, I mean, you’ll see more of that. I mean, the best thing that politicians are capable of doing is blaming somebody else for their shortcomings. So
Robert Bryce 57:07
So what would you just described if I can follow up we mentioned Meredith angwin. Before, when she talked about there was more dependence on renewables more dependence on on natural gas and more dependence on imports. And Meredith angwin called that the fatal trifecta, right that this is what it was she on the podcast, coined that term, right, that this is what this was the problem in California during the blackouts they last year. And two of those three, were clearly the case here in Texas, too much reliance on natural gas and too much reliance on weather dependent renewables. But you’re saying that that’s what the entire US grid is adopting that model? Is that what you was? Did I hear you correctly?
Isaac Orr 57:45
Yeah, from the Integrated Resource plans that we’ve looked at in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, I mean, you’re potentially seeing Illinois say, Okay, well, we’re not going to save these two nuclear power plants. And we’re also going to require prairie state coal plant, which is 2012, that thing is brand new. In terms of power plant. I mean, you’re talking 10,000 megawatts of power, right there just then announced closures. And that’s enough to take us from our total installed capacity in myself to not having enough to meet our reserve margin. So when you look at all the ways that the grid planning is or is not happening, right, if you want to be cynical and say, well, we’re not planning very well, or we’re planning to fail.
Unknown Speaker 58:32
Isaac Orr 58:32
country is moving this way. And it’s really because the utility companies want to shut down those depreciated assets as quickly as possible, and make their government guaranteed profit before somebody realizes that this is really bad, and we need to stop it. So to me, it’s kind of a race to retire these existing assets and build new stuff, because eventually, we’re going to have to wise up and they want to be the company that, you know, has the biggest return for shareholders before that happens.
Robert Bryce 59:03
Well, you know, I didn’t I didn’t put that together. But yeah, the possibility of closing Byron and Dresden as well as prairie state, which is an ultra supercritical power plant. If I recall that there. It’s in fact, I think it’s the the Turk plant in Arkansas, that is the only other one. But ultra supercritical means that the highest efficiency coal plant, you can you can you can take that current technology allows which much more efficient, therefore, more output for fewer co2 for fewer emissions are less emissions. But I hadn’t thought about that, that you could see in the closure. What does that roughly 6000 or whatever that number is, megawatts of baseload capacity of plants that have on site fuel in Illinois could go away within the next 12 months.
Isaac Orr 59:47
Yeah, I mean, it’s like as wisconsinite like I said, not surprisingly, Illinois be pursuing something like that. But it’s really concerning for the entire regional grid
Robert Bryce 59:58
for the entirety of my Because you’re losing that aren’t those those plants that have that baseload capacity and that ability to, to provide power, wind power is needed. And that was what we saw here in ercot. was we didn’t have enough of that. And that’s why we have blackouts.
Isaac Orr 1:00:12
Well, and you know, there was blackouts in the miso South region, there were blackouts and southwest power pool. So, you know, everybody’s arguing that, well, Texas, if they weren’t such an energy Island, they could have avoided the blackouts. And you know, that’s not true. They could have rotated the blackouts, maybe it would have been less bad. But the the problems happening all over the country, I mean, SPP, the Southwest powerful has the highest penetration of any RTO of wind. So you know, they’re doing the same thing. They’re they’re closing down the coal plants, they’re relying heavily on gas. And you don’t need to rehash shorting the grid. We all know that that’s not a good strategy for resiliency.
Robert Bryce 1:00:50
Sure. Well, so what’s next, you’re finishing this report on critical minerals with the wind? Do you expect that report we finished? I know, we’ve talked about this for several weeks, but do you think that’ll be out in the next month or two? I think it’ll definitely be out before the end of 2022. So the exciting thing, 2022. That’s next year,
Isaac Orr 1:01:08
I meant 2021. Thank you for correcting me, sure. My boss probably says it feels like it’ll be 2022 for as long as I’ve been conceptualizing this report. But one of the other things that we want to do in this report is try to provide a levelized material intensity of energy. So basically, when people say, Oh, well, you know, we’re going to be going carbon free by building all this wind and solar and just say, Well, no, you’re not because you’re burning natural gas 40% of the time when the winds not blowing hard enough. So we want to be able to attribute the natural gas and coal that’s being used to generate electricity to the wind and solar, because they’re not working very well. So we want to be able to provide basically a brand new metric for evaluating the the material intensity of different energy sources, in a way that’s an apples to apples comparison. So you know, when you do something like that, nuclear is the clear winner because you can fit what is a triple A batteries worth of uranium, in terms of weight has the same amount of energy as half a tonne of coal, I believe that’s what it takes to do a megawatt hour. So if you hate mining in you are afraid of climate change, you should support nuclear, and I’m totally fine with that. But that’s not something most people are willing to do. So yeah. That’s why it’s been taking longer, because I always feel like whenever I do a big report, I need to be bringing something new to the conversation something novel and not just kind of reporting or essentially grabbing from a whole bunch of different sources and putting it in one area. I like to make my stamp when I release a report. So
Robert Bryce 1:02:53
I like that I like that term, the levelized material intensity of electricity production, because everyone’s heard that levelized in the energy sector heard that levelized cost of electricity, but I think that’s a really and you’re going to do on a state by state basis is your goal.
Isaac Orr 1:03:08
And you can do it with any grid, frankly. So any you could do it for Xcel Energy, you could do it for consumers, you could do it for for anything, you just need to know the installed capacity for each type of power plant. Mitch rolling, I’m gonna give him a shout out because he deserves it. He’s a whiz with spreadsheet AI. And we’ve been able to develop basically our own energy modeling for like I said, inside the center, so but you can you can apply that to a whole bunch of different things.
Robert Bryce 1:03:36
Sure. But I like that idea because as I’ve said, in my book power hungry, I said the lower the power density, the higher the resource intensity right there, it’s axiomatic if you have low power density to start with, whether it’s from Epic corn, ethanol, solar, wind, etc. The more the lower the power density of the of the of the source, the more your inputs you’re going to have to put in whether it’s land, copper, concrete, steel, whatever, that that’s axiomatic and nuclear, as you said is is the clear winner. Well, so my guest I’m reintroducing him Isaac or is a policy fellow at the Center for the center of the American experiment. In just a last couple questions here, Isaac and I know you’re expecting these but so what are you reading? What’s on your bookshelf? What books are you reading these days? Yeah, so
Isaac Orr 1:04:22
right now I’m getting through Steve Kuhn is unsettled. That’s that’s been a good read so far. I’m also reading money master the game by Tony Robbins. I’ve been interested in finance lately, because, you know, my grandparents grew up in the Great Depression. So when they died, they found a bunch of cash in a safe, and that’s not really a viable investment strategy moving forward. So, you know, I’ve got that farmers mentality of just like, well sack it away somewhere. I’m like, Well, I need my money to work for me. So, but I also read books on real estate investing. I’ve got a couple apartment buildings that I managed to and So, yeah, um, I keep busy.
Robert Bryce 1:05:03
And so last question What gives you hope Isaac? Oh, man, uh, you know,
Isaac Orr 1:05:10
it’s really easy to be pessimistic, just living in your own little bubble. But when you look at books like Steven Pinker’s enlightenment, now, we’re always getting better, our lives are always getting easier. You can debate whether that’s a good thing I like to think back about what my grandparents had to go through growing up, my grandma or grew up in South Dakota, she had just stuffed rags into the window in order to keep the dust from the Dust Bowl from getting in. And, you know, there’s, you lose something when you lose the kind of that hard edge or that that hunger or grit moving forward in the generations, but then when you look at things like, well, are people happier now? I think that they are. So I think that progress gets made incrementally, and therefore it’s hard to see sometimes, but you know, it’s there. And that gives me hope.
Robert Bryce 1:06:02
Well, that’s a good place to stop, then I think, a reminder, so I’m going to be appearing with Isaac Isaac, or a policy fellow at the center of the American experiment on August 12. In Minnesota, in Minneapolis in at 5pm. If memory serves in Golden Valley, and at noon, in Albert Lee, the bustling metropolis of Albert Lea Minnesota, where some of the most in southern Minnesota is where there have been a lot of land use conflicts around wind energy siting, which is why we’re doing an event there as well, both on August 12. You can find out more about those events on the center of the American experiments website at American experiment.org. Anything else you want to add Isaac before we sign off here? Now this is really fun. Thanks for having me on, Robert. I appreciate it. Happy to have you, Isaac, and I look forward to seeing you just in a few days. And so all of you out there in podcast land. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the power hungry podcast. I look forward to seeing you next week on this very same channel. Okay, until then, thank y’all