Saturday, November 10, 2018

Where I stopped resisiting Vox's call to resist - it's a matter of distance

I wasn't thrilled reading the title and intro to Yglesias' article, "House Democrats must resist Trump’s infrastructure trap":


President Donald Trump’s infrastructure trap is back, and for the new House Democratic majority to succeed, they need to escape it.

It’s forgotten now, but in the transition winter of 2016-’17, a shockingly large and diverse set of congressional Democrats — from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party and including some key leaders — spent enormous time and energy making friendly noises toward Trump and suggesting that the result of his election should be some kind of bipartisan infrastructure deal.

....Trump rapidly fell into the clutches of congressional Republicans’ hard-right agenda. He continued to tout vaporware infrastructure plans, only to eventually come up with a scheme to make grants stingier and privatize some airports, which went nowhere.

But with Democrats now running the House of Representatives, infrastructure is back. And Trumpworld figures, looking at the polls, maybe Trump and the Democrats should come together around a random debt-financed increase in infrastructure spending that lets Trump regain his reputation as a dealmaker and lets Democrats say they accomplished something.

....Since Trump is not very subtle, his team even explicitly told a group of Washington Post reporters that the infrastructure dangle is a trap designed to weaken Democrats’ political position. But in case anyone doesn’t get the message: This is a trap designed to weaken Democrats’ political position.

....Democrats of course can’t categorically rule out the possibility of doing a legislative deal with him. But you also don't trade away the rule of law and the basic integrity of the American government for the sake of some pork barrel spending.

Then it got better:

....Democrats also can’t afford to let Trump tour the country complaining that all Democrats want to do is investigate him while he is trying to fix the country’s infrastructure.

....This requires Democrats to come up with a plan that is striking and visionary enough that normal people stand a chance of actually hearing about and understanding it. But it needs to also be genuinely transformative in a way that would make it legitimately worth doing on the off-chance that Trump somehow decides to agree to it. ....[T]he country (and the world) really does need a transformative infrastructure plan. If Trump is desperate enough for a deal, maybe he’d go for it.

But the key is to put ideas on the table that would genuinely alarm the conservative movement — and, more important, the corporate interests who stand behind it — and force Trump to make a serious choice about breaking with the plutocrats who prop up his regime or clearly standing in the way of an infrastructure transformation.

That means massive investments in clean energy generation and transmission, municipal broadband, a serious revival of airline competition, and competitive grants to states for carbon-cutting transportation programs.

....priority No. 1 for that congressional resistance should be developing a strategy to counter Trump on infrastructure.

The key here is long distance power transmission. Yglesias argues for forcing Trump to break with his backers. I'm all in favor of forcing bad people to reveal the vile positions through symbolic votes,  but I don't think forcing Trump to break with plutocrats is a realistic path to get actual policy change. OTOH, long distance transmission puts jobs in red and purple states and helps expand the market renewable energy sources in those states, and the less-ideological/more-pragmatic conservatives in those states kind of like that profit motive. Given that power transmission could even theoretically be used by massive nuclear power plants, that constituency could also provide a minor amount of support.

Clean transportation is another potential area of cooperation - there are some advantages to purple areas and profit-seeking corporate interests, but long distance transmission is a real opportunity and a very important need.

Final note - while a deal may help Trump's image, it won't improve the economic fundamentals in time for the November 2020 election. Speaking as someone involved in receipt of the Obama stimulus for water projects, it will take more than two years for real expenditures to happen, and a deal is months away from happening.

21 comments:

David B Benson said...

Long distance transmission of electrical power is a boondoggle, but not that expensive a boondoggle. When and if its boondoggleness becomes widely known, each political party can blame it on the other.

Goferit!

Old_salt said...

Why do you call it a boondoggle? Please be specific. There already is long distance transmission of power so what you are arguing is unclear.

David B Benson said...

A little bit doesn't mean that more is better.

Just now across the contiguous USA it is next to impossible to obtain permissions for routing. Even where obtained no financing has been available. This latter indicates that the risk of failure is too high for bond buyers. In other words, a boondoggle.

Andy Mitchell said...

Democrat plan for infrastructure:

Step 1: repeal the tax cuts for billionaires.
Step 2: spend the money on infrastructure.

That should torpedo Trump.

Fernando Leanme said...

I prefer to see a plan to bury electric power lines in hurricane prone areas, and beef up their capacity to allow charging plug in hybrids without crashing local grids. That also adds esthetic value to property, and can win votes for the GOP in coastal areas.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Who in his right mind wants to win votes for the GOP?

Fernando Leanme said...

Barton I'm currently in survival mode. I already ran away from Cuba, eventually landed in Venezuela, had to run away from the disaster the commies made there, moved to Spain and now I'm watching a socialist-communist government start the usual destruction process. I'm still able to move to the US although I'm a bit uneasy thinking I'm going to have to carry a 9 mm automatic under my coat and a large caliber hunting rifle in my trunk when i go to the mall. But if the USA goes red (as it looks likely if the democrats have their way) then im going to have to move to Poland, and I hate their weather.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Why don't you move to the Confederate States of America after they secede? I'm sure that would be paradise for you.

BBD said...

Just now across the contiguous USA it is next to impossible to obtain permissions for routing.

Which is why, given that a very significant increase in long distance transmission capacity is necessary for deep decarbonisation of the US electricity supply, it won't happen.

Attitudes need to change, or nature will do the attitude adjustments for you.

David B Benson said...

BBD, your given is false. Just replace the coal burners with nuclear power plants.

BBD said...

BBD, your given is false. Just replace the coal burners with nuclear power plants.

It's hard to see how this would work. The US energy mix is about 80% FF (2016 EIA), so all this would have to be displaced by nuclear over the next ~30y. Nobody, from the WNA on down, seems to think this scale and rate of build-out is possible, with factors ranging from economic to hard limits on availability of a skilled workforce and public resistance.

Brian Schmidt said...

David, the government is allowed to take private property in return for fair compensation. It doesn't need permission. In California, the government is allowed to pay 10% above market value to avoid a court-enforced taking, which is another way to smooth the process.

And in much of the west, the land is already in federal (and occasionally state) government ownership.

Brian Schmidt said...

I should've added that Fernando's idea of building a smart, distributed grid infrastructure is a good one too.

David B Benson said...

Idaho Power finally, after 14 years of planning and permitting, has an approved route for a transmission line from Boardman, Oregon, to Hemingway, Idaho. The convoluted route bypasses "critical habitat" and lands over which the owner successfully complained to the courts that they already have "too many" transmission lines. The Fish & Wildlife Service was particularly successful in keeping the transmission corridor at bay, resulting in a routing about 30% longer than the intended straight line route.

This all went on so long that Idaho Power, which really needed the electricity, was forced to buy a CCGT. Now they have to run that in order to pay for it.

Meanwhile, Idaho Power still had a so-called renewables commitment. So they permitted a much longer transmission corridor for Wyoming wind power. All over BLM land, this proceeded smoothly as far west as Idaho Falls, which doesn't need the extra generation. Although further west on the Snake River plain is BLM land, it is now under long term lease to irrigation farmers. Whatever, last I checked Idaho Power still doesn't have a routing for the last 160 km to the Hemingway substation just outside of Boise.

Idaho Power will soon construct at least one of these transmission lines just to meet the so-called renewables requirement. Since the extra power is not required all this will do is increase rates. And the CCGT will continue to emit carbon dioxide...

David B Benson said...

Nope. Closer to 60% fossil fuels. The 20% from NPPs is from about 100 plants so another 300 are required.

I leave it to you to discover just how many wind turbines that is, together with enough storage for when the wind doesn't blow...

David B Benson said...

That was supposed to be a reply to BDD, supra.

BBD said...

Nope. Closer to 60% fossil fuels. The 20% from NPPs is from about 100 plants so another 300 are required.

I leave it to you to discover just how many wind turbines that is, together with enough storage for when the wind doesn't blow...


So the EIA is out by 20% and nobody knew.

The thing is, I agree with you about the need for nuclear expansion in the energy mix where geopolitically feasible. If you cast your mind back, I have been very clear about *not* being anti-nuclear in comments here and at ATTP. And have taken considerable shit for it, on occasion. So as far as the storage elephant in the room goes, you are preaching to the choir. However, nobody from the WNA on down believes that nuclear can be scaled fast enough to obviate the need for very large build-out of W&S, which is why I get frustrated with the anti-nuke, pro-renewables claque. They seem unable to grasp that decarbonisation primarily dependent on very large scale W&S will be a daunting technical challenge and fabulously expensive. Instead, there is an unfortunate tendency to witter on about cheap renewables while ignoring the total system cost (including long distance transmission capacity upgrades and thousands of GWh of PHES.

IMHO and based on your previous commentary here, we are more or less on the same page.

David B Benson said...

China builds 10 NPPs per annum; so can the USA.

There is no possibility of W&S displacing even the coal burners. The units are simply an excuse to add more natural gas burners, required as balancing agents, i.e, backup.

EliRabett said...

Backup means not running.

BBD said...

It’s a knotty problem. The gas industry would very much like to make itself indispensable to the build-out of wind and solar. Which is why I think David may be mistaken to say that W&S won’t displace coal. They could, in partnership with gas.

This isn’t a recipe for deep decarbonistation of the electricity supply, let alone TPE, but it looks on the cards because it’s a workable fudge. But a gas turbine will always be running somewhere.


David B Benson said...

Only about 20% of the time.