Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  New infrastructure plan docs were released last week.  The White House ideas are almost seditious: “The Federal Government inefficiently invests in non-Federal infrastructure. In part, our lack of sustained progress has been due to confusion about the Federal Government’s role in infrastructure… The flexibility to use Federal dollars to pay for essentially local infrastructure projects has created an unhealthy dynamic in which State and local governments delay projects in the hope of receiving Federal funds… We will reevaluate the role of the Federal Government in infrastructure investment. For example, in the Interstate System, the Federal Government now acts as a complicated, costly middleman…”  C’mon, states and metro areas just want money – they don’t want to even think about doing anything differently!  Remember John Stuart Mill’s famous maxim: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that man behind the tree!”

*  Last week I referenced the ISO New England report “Operational Fuel-Security Analysis.”  It’s worth a 2nd reference, at least.  The ISO models a number of scenarios pertaining to electric generation challenges for 90-days in the winter of 2024/2025.  Natural gas is the critical issue.  The modeling shows unavoidable “load shedding” (blackouts) in most demand-supply situations.  That’s concern enough, of course, for 14 million New Englanders.  But it’s not just their problem.  ISO cautions that utilities will repeatedly need to go to their 10-minute operating reserves as a last-ditch effort to keep the lights on.  That’s not a casual step, for many reasons.  There’s nothing else after those reserves and the situation gets close to doomsday: any subsequent generation or transmission problem (1) triggers load shedding and (2) sets up degraded conditions that could cascade across New England and “threaten the entire interconnected system of power grids from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.”  You’d think people might be concerned about that.

*  Were you at Burning Man this year, Dude?  No?  It was awesome.  What about burning plasma?  DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC) meets in Gaithersburg, MD, this week.  Last January, DOE gave the Committee an assignment: “Identify the most promising transformative enabling capabilities for the US to pursue…building on burning plasma science and technology.”  The upcoming agenda includes the report: “Approval of the FESAC Report on Transformative Enabling Capabilities.”  I straight-out copied (I confess) the following from a document Burning Plasma: Bringing a Star to Earth (2004), from a National Academies Press page: “At the center of all schemes to make fusion energy is a plasma—an ionized gas that, like the center of the Sun, is heated by fusion reactions. The plasma is said to be burning when alpha particles from the fusion reactions provide the dominant heating of the plasma. All fusion reactors require a burning plasma. The key challenge is to confine the hot and dense plasma while it burns.”  Test next week.  Bring your slide rule.

Tom Ewing
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