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Increasing Funding for Micropower (Alternative Energy)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/1/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,659 times Debate No: 12451
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (4)
Votes (2)




Since my last alternative energy debate was so interesting, I thought I'd keep it up by starting another one, with more specific wording to avoid the meta-debates that occurred in my last debate.

This topic is: "The United States federal government should increase funding for the Department of Energy's Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) to give grants for micropower."

1. My first argument is that the status quo is unacceptable:

a. According to the Department of Energy, the current electricity generation and distribution model in the United States is based on a centralized grid.

b. There are (at least) five problems with the centralized grid model:

i. Sabotage: According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the because much of the grid is unprotected, our energy infrastructure is one of the most vulnerable targets to terrorists. A terrorist strike would cause nationwide blackouts.

ii. Global Warming: The centralized grid promotes fossil fuel based energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels have caused global warming, which threaten to destroy the planet.

iii. Economic Competitiveness: The ITP program is vital to nine key energy intensive industries, supply 90% of the materials to the U.S., produce $1 trillion in revenue, directly employ 3 million people, and indirectly employ 12 million people.

iv. Spillover: Micropower can be used to aid developing countries. According to Seth Dunn, an energy specialist at the WorldWatch Institute, providing micropower to North Korea can reduce the chance of nuclear proliferation.

v. Oil dependence: Currently, the U.S. imports more than 60% of the oil it consumes. According to Dr. Martin Feldstein, our dependence on oil is a security threat. Iran has declared that any hostile actions taken by the United States would cause them to destroy the Straits of Hormuz, cutting off 20% of the U.S. oil supply.

c. Current subsidies for non-alternative forms of energy prevent micropower from becoming mainstream. According to Bioenergy Update, the $120 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels prevents a shift away from the centralized system.

2. My second argument is that the ITP/micropower program can solve these problems:

a. First, micropower is a system of distributed generation of electricity, using solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro, and other forms of renewable energy. Essentially, a business would generate its own electricity on-site, based on the most appropriate renewable source, thus bypassing the need for a centralized electric grid based on fossil fuels. Although it has become more popular in recent years, there are still barriers to widespread adoption.

b. The ITP program currently gives out $175 million in grants for micropower projects. However, this amount is tiny compared to the $120 billion in annual subsidies for fossil fuels.

c. Micropower can solve the five harms I outlined above:

i. Sabotage: A decentralized grid means that there would be no place for the terrorists to strike if they wanted to disable the electricity supply. Since each business would generate their own electricity, there would be no supply to interrupt.

ii. Global Warming: According to Bioenergy Update, if the U.S. switched to a micropower based system, we could cut carbon emissions by 50%, much more than our current targets.

iii. Economic Competitiveness: The ITP program funds projects in nine key industries, several of which are struggling for global competitiveness. If they were able to access low cost renewable energy, they could better compete with their foreign rivals.

iv. Spillover: As stated above, micropower gives countries an opportunity to work together and increase international cooperation. According to Mr. Dunn, this lessens the risk of North Korea becoming belligerent.

v. Oil Dependence: According to NPR, developing alternative fuels has the ability to shift us away from oil dependence to a form of domestically generated renewable energy.

d. The ITP program actually works. According to the Department of Energy, more than 140 new technologies have been created by ITP-private firm cooperation.

e. The plan can be accomplished without adding to the deficit if fossil fuel subsidies were ended. With the $140 billion in money that goes to oil and coal companies, the ITP program can develop and spread micropower technology to businesses, which can then spread it to consumer use, all without adding a dime to our budget deficit.

Hopefully, someone will pick up the gauntlet for this debate, and it will be an interesting discussion!


Pro has selected a timely topic. In this debate we will try to sort out sense from nonsense as it relates to government subsidy of energy alternatives. Micropower has virtues in certain applications. The issue is whether government ought to pour in subsidies or let the technology advance according to its usefulness and economic viability. The main thing the government can do to support the technology is to get rid of the state and local laws that forbid it by zoning and siting controls. Government should not subsidize it, because the claims for non-economic benefits are false, and government should not attempt to pick winners in economic viability. The market sorts out what is economic far better than any bureaucrat.

Note that Pro did not cite a single reference supporting his assertions about the technology or our need for it. As a starting point, the Industrial Technologies Program web site is, but none of their claims are supported either.

Pro says the status quo is unacceptable. The status quo is s successfully providing electric power to consumers. That's acceptable. If we were not getting electricity, it would be unacceptable. As with virtually anything that exists, improvements are possible. The questions have to do with the expense of improvements versus the benefits. Subsidizing micropower makes no sense in that context. Insofar as it makes economic sense, it is getting plenty of private funding.

1.a We operate on a grid system. The virtue of the grid system is that power plants can go off line, usually for maintenance, while power is continues to flow to users.

1.b.i A terrorist might take out a major transmission line, but if the grid is properly designed it will only affect a limited number of customers. The reason large areas are taken out is antiquated design so that fails to isolate transmission failures, so that power is shut down in a domino effect, rather than routed around the failure. The reason the grid is antiquated is that the regulatory structure of utilities makes it difficult to profit from upgrades on either transmission lines or improvements in control systems.

Texas, for example, operates a grid that is not connected to rest of the country. They can thereby manage improvements in grid technology without the Feds stopping them. Their electricity is cheaper and more reliable than the national average.

1.b.ii Pro cites concerns over global warming. Global warming crisis theory is now proved to be false, because measured climate data is falling below the 95% probability bounds for the models that predict climate crisis. There is warming, but it presents to substantial problem. In any case, micropower is almost entirely implemented with gas turbines, so there is no appreciable effect on CO2 emission other than the efficiency of new power plants over old.

1.b.iii Economic competitiveness requires that we not waste money on non-competitive technologies. Insofar as micropower is economically competitive or even promises to be competitive, it doesn't need government subsidy. Saying that large industries are effective is irrelevant; it's like saying we ought to subsidize the construction of stone pyramids, because the construction industry is huge and vital.

1.b.iv Micropower is readily available on the market. If the U.S. wants to buy some and give them to developing countries, our government can do that now. North Korea wants nuclear for bombs, not power generation.

1.b.v Micropower is used exclusively to generate electricity, which in the US comes from, coal, nuclear, and natural gas. There is no dependence whatsoever on foreign oil to generate electricity. We do import a little natural gas, but horizontal drilling has opened up vast new reserves of domestic natural gas, so imports will be phased out anyway.

1.c Pro provided no reference or argument to support his assertion that subsidies of fossil fuels prevents micropower from being competitive. I don't believe the claim. Since micropower is almost entirely based upon fossil fuels, natural gas in particular, the claim makes no sense. The fossil fuel industry pays way more in taxes than it receives in subsidies, so there is no net loss to the taxpayer to be remedied.

2.a As alternatives to fossil fuels, solar power requires conventional backup at night and, in many places, in winter. The backup comes from the grid. If the grid is abolished then every user will need both a conventional power generator and wind or solar, with the conventional generator idle half the time. About two-thirds of the cost of conventional power is the capital cost of the generator of the generator, not the fuel to run it. The net effect is that costs to user will at the very least double.

Pro cites geothermal and hydroelectric power. Very few individuals can implement their own dam or geothermal wells. Those are inherently centralized. Consequently, if the grid is abolished hydro and thermal will be replaced with fossil fuel generators.

2.b. Pro claims subsidies to fossil fuels of $120 billion, but even biased Greenpeace "thinks the American oil and gas industry might receive anywhere between $15 billion and $35 billion a year in subsidies from taxpayers." In 2006, the oil companies paid $138 billion in Federal corporate tax alone. They pay three times their profits in taxes. Of course, coal and natural gas industries pay taxes as well, and all pay sate and local taxes in addition. Consequently, any subsidies are more than paid for. If micropower starts paying huge taxes, they might merit some subsidy, but that hasn't happened.

Micropower is getting plenty of private money, so it doesn't need government subsidy. "...serious money has come to the micropower table. Nth Power, a venture capital firm devoted to innovative energy technologies, estimates that venture capital funding for micropower and related businesses climbed from less than $30 million in 1995 to over $1 billion in 2000. Major corporations including GE, Siemens Westinghouse and the European giant, ABB, have launched efforts to develop their micropower potential..."

Micropower makes the most economic sense when there is a cheap source of natural gas locally. Also, semiconductor manufacturing cannot tolerate brownout or interruptions of power, so micropower makes economic sense for them.

2.c See 1.c, above.

2.d. The DOE claims that it's ITR program works. All government programs are claimed to work, no matter how much they waste. Eve so, ITR does not equate to micropower. Their projects are a hodge podge of small energy conservation projects. I can find no evidence of any innovation related to micropower that was sponsored by DOE. DOE is competing with venture capitalists, and VCs are going to find and push he good stuff, not DOE.

2.e. Pro claims that the subsidies could be paid by ending fossil fuel subsidies. He has provided no evidence as to what those subsidies are. Since micropower has nothing to do with oil imports, ending subsidies of domestic oil would simply increase prices and make domestic oil less competitive with foreign oil. t would result in increasing imports, something Pro agreed we do not want. Besides, any money raised could also be used to subsidize health care or reduce the federal deficit. That makes more sense than trying to compete with VCs by picking winners in micropower development.

With selective subsidies by project, ITR is far more likely to screw up micropower than to help it. Pro's affirming claims are unsupported by evidence. It will have no effect on oil dependence or CO2.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 1


jsmith23 forfeited this round.


My opponent has forfeited the previous round, which is bad conduct, especially so when he initiated a five round debate. A five round debate signals he wanted to get into details.

In this round I present the economics of micropower. Micropower from wind costs more than twice conventional power and micropower from solar costs more than four times conventional. there is nothing in the government ITP program that hints at bringing those high cost down. It seems they are just looking at a very few odd applications, ike getting methane from pig farms, while pretending that it might make wind or solar viable. Micropower from gas turbines is well advanced by industry, so there is no need for government funded research there either. wind and solar depend critically on a power grid for the backup when the wind dies or when there is no solar at night, so the grid will not go away.

Here are all the calculations, with the references to the costs:

Coal, nuclear power, or combined cycle natural gas turbine power delivered over a grid costs about $0.055 per kWh. Small scale wind power, using the grid for backup costs about $0.082 per KWh, and solar with the grid for backup costs $0.24 per kWh. If the grid is not used, than any expensive gas turbine or diesel generator that could provide all the power must be purchased and kept idle for 35% to 50% of the time when wind or solar happens to be available. Even then there must be a local grid so a gas turbine is shared in the neighborhood. Therefore, there is no economic need for micropower because micorpower increases the cost of electricity substantially over not having micropower.

"Micropower" means "power distributed on a small scale using local generators." There is nothing in the definition that implies the source of the power. One of the earliest applications, c. 1986) was to heat a swimming pool with the waste heat from a small diesel generator. The electricity generated could be either used locally or sold back to the power company through the grid. The goal was to heat the pool, but generating electricity as a by product made the cost of heating less than using a straight heater. Now pollution laws have caught up, and this application is not so common.

In remote areas, the cost of micropower can be less than running long transmission lines to a central grid. In developing countries, there isn't any power grid to hook to and micropower is a way to electrify areas incrementally while avoiding the expense of constructing a regional or national grid. Micropower installations are also used for hospitals, radio stations, semiconductor manufacturing, and other application where it is important to maintain power if the grid fails.

Large power plants are generally more efficient than small ones. In this debate, my opponent says we need micropower for economic competitiveness. Micropower is only competitive in special circumstances, such as when miles of line are required to connect to the grid. Here are the costs, per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by various methods:

1. Hydroelectric 0.009
2. Coal $0.029
3. Nuclear $0.030
4. Combined cycle gas turbine $0.03 to $0.05
5. Large-scale wind $0.047
6. Small-scale gas turbine $0.052
7. Biomass gasification $0.07 to $0.09
8. Small-scale wind $0.08
9. Small-scale Diesel $0.30 (I will guess that small scale gas turbine is a about the same)
10. Large-scale solar $0.20 to $0.30
11. Small-scale solar $0.20 to $0.50

References 1 and 6: The Bureaus of reclamation gives costs of hydro, nuclear, coal and small-scale gas turbine power as 0.6. 2.1. 2.1, and 3.4 cents per kWh, respectively, in 1995-1999. Current coal and nuclear costs are around 3 cents, so I estimate that their numbers for hydro and small-scale gas turbines have risen about 50% as well. References for 2 and 3: Nuclear includes plant decommissioning, but apparently not waste disposal. My understanding is that waste disposal is around 20% of total cost. 5 and 8: American Wind Energy Association adding back in the 2.1 cent per kWh wind production subsidy 4, 7, 9, 10, and 11:

These are solely the generation costs. They do not include the cost of operating a grid. All the large-scale generators require a grid for distribution. Biomass is medium scale; if you happen to have a pig farm, the methane will likely be reliable and the power consumed locally. that's good for pig farms, but not for most of the population. All the other methods usually use a grid for backup. There are a few low-power applications where batteries are practical for the backup. To use wind or solar without a grid, in most applications either a small gas turbine or a diesel will be required in addition to the wind or solar energy source.

To figure the grid cost, consider that the cheapest delivered price of electricity to consumers in the US is $0.0635 in Idaho (hydro) and $0.0665 in West Virginia (coal). Consequently the maximum cost of a grid for relatively short distances, the diameter of West Virginia, must be no more than $0.035 cents per kWh, the rest being for the coal generated electricity costs. However, that no doubt includes state taxes and regulatory costs as well. Being generous to the states, the grid cost is maybe $0.025 and more depending upon the grid distances covered.

So coal, nuclear, or combined cycle gas turbine costs about $0.030 + $0.025 grid = $0.055 kWh.
Small scale wind assuming 65% availability is $0.08 + $.025 grid + 35% x $.03 backup = $0.12 kWh
Small scale solar is 50% available so it is $0.20 + $0.025 + 50% x $.03 = $0.24 KWh.

People pay a lot more, depending upon the state. That may be because of longer transmission costs. California gets 25% of it's power from out of state so as to keep power plants distant. Also, the state requires some users to subsidize others, adding greatly to costs. those are artificial artefact's of government, not fundamentals of cost structure.
Debate Round No. 2


jsmith23 forfeited this round.


Pro forfeits again. Arguments are continued.
Debate Round No. 3


jsmith23 forfeited this round.


Have I mentioned how annoying it is to have someone post a challenge, put me through the effort of writing a case, and then forfeiting? I guess I have.

Pro never presented an affirmative case nor responded to my arguments.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 4


jsmith23 forfeited this round.


Pro did present some opening arguments, but then followed up with four forfeits. I refuted his arguments in the second and third rounds, to which Pro did not respond.

Micropower requires a power grid to back up unreliable alternative energy sources like wind and solar. There is nothing remotely economical that operates independently of the grid. The government program contains only a small amount of money for micropower and does nothing to make alternative energy cheaper or more reliable. The best application of micropower is with small gas turbine generators, a technology that industry has fully developed and now widely supports. Consequently, the government does nothing for micropower that is not being done in the private sector, without taxpayer expense.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 5
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
jsmith23 (Pro), Are you going to debate? If not, please just promptly enter "pass" for each round rather than waiting three days to forfeit. That way we can clear the debate out so I can get on with another debate. About 80% of my debates recently have involved my opponent forfeiting, so this is par for the course. But let's get on with it.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
I took this despite the five rounds. Having five rounds means that the topic will be beat to death and almost no one will read it. Also, voting should be kept to one month to discourage vote bombing. That's when you eventually annoy someone on the site and they go back and vote seven points against you in every open debate.

Nonetheless, it's an interest topic so I'll enjoy debating it.
Posted by mongeese 7 years ago
I'm considering taking this one.
Posted by Danielle 7 years ago
Why haven't any of the conservatives or Libertarians taken this yet? There's no shortage of 'em...
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Awed 7 years ago
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Vote Placed by Steelerman6794 7 years ago
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