potpourri   pō-pù-ˈrē  noun

1. a collection of mixed flower petals dried and preserved in a pot to scent the air
2. a collection of unrelated or disparate items; miscellany

We had the second definition in mind when we titled this page but on further thought the first definition may also be appropriate as some items here will not pass the sniff test. As our website develops most of these items will be integrated in to major topic sections and be replaced by new potpourri.

Clean Coal

The nature and magnitude of misconceptions about power production disturbs me.  I become enraged with ads expounding the virtues of clean coal.  There is no way to make coal clean!  Self-serving interests are guiding the public on the path of their own destruction and making them feel good about the trip.

Luckily, we will not have to delve into the damage coal energy production is doing to our planet.  There is a great organization, CoalSwarm, which is already doing it.  They have created on the internet a shared information tool on issues such as coal plants, mines, companies, environmental impacts, clean alternatives, regulation, grassroots organizing, industry lobbying, and much more.  Their database includes over 5,800 articles about coal. Here is a link to Coal Swarms current information on  Washington State’s Coal Plant and the issue of coal exportation.

Dam Upgrading

Over the years, many of the regions hydroelectric plants have been upgraded to provide more peaking capacity but other dams will need to be so enhanced.  The most notable upgrading it he fore-bay addition to Grand Coulee Dam. 

Grand Coulee Dam

When the last of its 18 original generators were installed in 1950, the Grand Coulee Dam had an installed generating capacity of 2,280 megawatts (MW).  However, seasonal variations in river flow could lower the dam’s output to half of this or leave unused water flowing over the dam.  Cooperative agreements with Canada to regulate upstream flow provided a steady supply of water exceeding that needed turn the existing generators.  To harness this additional capability a fore-bay and third powerhouse were added to the dam.  Its construction, completed in 1974, tripled the dam’s maximum output to 7,079 MW.

This is a huge generating capability, but it is not used around the clock.  Much of the capacity is used to supply peak electrical demands.  In 2008, the Dam generated a whopping 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. However, that was only 38% of its maximum ability if demand and water supply were available.

Besides providing electricity, Grand Coulee Dam was built to supply irrigation to the arid farmlands of Eastern Washington.  To do this, the Dam has a pumping plant which pumps water up 280 feet (85 m) to Banks Lake where the water can flow down to the farms.  The water is pumped up when electricity demands are low.  When electrical demands are high, the pumps, which can be reversed into generators, use water from Banks Lake to generate an additional 314 MW of peaking power.

Grand Coulee Dam is an excellent example of what vision, international cooperation, and good engineering can do to fulfill the region’s energy without creating carbon dioxide pollution.  To achieve zero net carbon dioxide emissions will require similar expansion of peak capacity for many of the other hydroelectric projects in the region.

Link to Wikipedia’s featured article on Grand Coulee Dam.

Ross Dam

Seattle’s Skagit River Project is an example of the opposite.  Ross Dam was designed to be raised to increase its peak generation capacity.  However, doing so would have flooded Canadian forestland and objections scuttled the expansion project. At the time, this seemed to be the right decision.  However, it might be time to rethink the decision.  Instead of a balancing a nominal increase in power production versus the flooding forest lands, the decision has changed to which does more to save the planet, reducing CO2 emissions by generation more hydroelect power or saving the trees that remove CO2 from the air.  Here is a research project for someone.

Click to read the article on Ross Dam from the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, historylink. Also, Wikipedia has a good piece on Ross Dam.

Seattle did not stand idle as they still needed more peaking power and as a result they developed the Boundary Dam in Pend Oreille County in Northeast Washington. It supplies about 40% of Seattle’s needs as it is able to handle peak loads.


Burke’s Dislike of Scientific Charlatans

I am a 74-year-old semi-retired Physics teacher.  I am not afraid of nuclear energy but I am afraid of some of those who use it.  I have seen science fads come and go.  I have seen media promote concepts with little knowledge about their scientific soundness.

Recently, I saw a TV news clip showing a demonstration of a car powered by a glass of water.  Water is the lowest energy form of the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.  To power anything, the water has to be dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen by some method like electrolysis.  Any process to break apart water’s strong molecular bonds requires a lot of energy (about 865 watt-hours for an 8-ounce glass of water).  Once separated, the oxygen and hydrogen can be recombined in a fuel cell to produce electricity or simply burned in an internal combustion engine, either of which could power the vehicle. The reporter was being conned by some charlatan looking for investor money.

I will do everything I can do to keep this website honest but if I do make a mistake please bring it to my attention via the Contact Us page. 

One thought on “Potpourri

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