The US Synthesis Report and the Search for Climate WMD

White House advisers greeted the new Climate Change Science Program(CCSP) assessment report like Bush advisers would have greeted a favorable report on WMD. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said: “It’s not just a problem for the future. We’re beginning to see the impact on our daily lives.” On the left is a picture of senior White House science adviser John Holdren pointing to a graph showing WMD-like impact of climate change on the U.S. electrical grid system, describing the results as follows:

The electricity grid is also vulnerable to climate change effects, from temperature changes to severe weather events…. The number of [U.S. electrical grid disturbance] incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992. The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990s to about 65 percent in recent years. The weather-related events are more severe, with an average of about 180,000 customers affected per event compared to about 100,000 for non-weather-related events (and 50,000 excluding the massive blackout of August 2003).

To be precise for realclimate readers – the picture, of course, does not show John Holdren explaining electrical grid disturbance incidents, but Colin Powell explaining WMD to the UN. (Colin Powell did not actually include a picture of US electrical grid disturbance incidents in his UN speech about WMD; that is stitched into the graphic.) The quote in question comes not from Holdren himself, from the US Synthesis Report page 58, though Holdren described the report as containing the “most up-to-date scientific findings on the impacts of climate change.”

The graphic of electrical grid disturbance incidents to which “Powell” is pointing is shown below in its actual CCSP size. (The size in the final report is considerably larger than in draft reports, presumably reflecting a conscious decision by the authors to emphasize this image. In addition, 2008 data was added on during the editing process, increasing the Hockey-Stick-ness of the image.)

Figure 2. From CCSP, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Final Report, p 58. Actual size.

None of the “blue ribbon” reviewers (IPCC’s Susan Solomon being one of them) saw anything wrong with this graphic. However, on June 17, within a day of publication, blogger Warren Meyer spotted the absurdity of electrical grid disturbance incidents as a supposd climate WMD:

First, does anyone here really think that we have seen a 20-fold increase in electrical grid outages over the last 15 years but no one noticed? Really? Second, let’s just look at some of the numbers. Is there anyone here who thinks that if we are seeing 10-20 major outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes (the yellow bar) in the last few years, we really saw ZERO by the same definition in 1992? And 1995? And 1996? Seriously? This implies there has been something like a 20-fold increase in outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes since the early 1990’s.

Anthony Watts picked up Meyer’s find later that day here.

If one pauses to look at the graph for even a few minutes, it makes no sense. Climate change in the US in 2008 was not so severe that it could have remotely caused a 10-fold increase in “climate-related” electrical grid disturbances incidents. Meyer followed up his identification of this absurd CCSP claim by contacting John Makens, the holder of the electrical grid disturbance incident data – see follow-up post here. Makens described in the increase in reported incidents as being due to changes from prior “haphazard” data compilation and primarily due to “better reporting”.

In 1997, the EIA (and Makins himself) took over the compilation of this data, which had previously been haphazard, and made a big push to get all utilities to report as required. They made a second change and push for reporting in 2001, and again in 2007/2008. He told me that most of this slope is due to better reporting, and not necessarily any underlying trend. In fact, he said there still is some under-reporting by smaller utilities he wants to improve so that the graph will likely go higher in the future.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the electrical grid disturbance incident hockey stick is not a climate WMD and should never have appeared in the CCSP report.

Warren neatly picked this spitball off the wall, but it raises another interesting question. How did this false claim of climate WMD get into the CCSP report in the first place? And as an answer to this question, I’m interested in something more technical than calling the lead authors of the CCSP report a bunch of names, however richly deserved those names may be.

I’m interested in procedures. These assessment reports typically make quite a fuss about relying on the “peer reviewed literature”. This raises the question: in what “peer reviewed” literature did the electrical hockey stick previously appear? Both the chase and the answer proved interesting.

Let’s start with the most lurid claim (from the caption to the Electrical Hockey Stick):

The number of [U.S. electrical grid disturbance] incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992. The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990s to about 65 percent in recent years. The weather-related events are more severe, with an average of about 180,000 customers affected per event compared to about 100,000 for non-weather-related events (and 50,000 excluding the massive blackout of August 2003) [201].

[201] is the executive summary to a predecessor CCSP report: 201. Wilbanks, T.J., et al., 2007: Executive summary. In: Effects of Climate Change on Energy Production and Use in the United States [Wilbanks, T.J., V. Bhatt, D.E. Bilello, S.R. Bull, J. Ekmann, W.C. Horak, Y.J. Huang, M.D. Levine, M.J. Sale, D.K. Schmalzer and M.J. Scott (eds.)]. Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.5. U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Washington, DC, pp. x-xi.

The final version of this assessment report (4.5) was released in Feb 2008 and is online here. There is nothing in the reference that supports or even mentions a “tenfold increase” in electrical grid disturbance incidents. The language in the Executive Summary referred to in the US Synthesis Report says mildly:

How might climate change affect energy production and supply in the United States? The research evidence about effects is not as strong as for energy consumption, but climate change could affect energy production and supply (a) if extreme weather events become more intense, (b) where regions dependent on water supplies for hydropower and/or thermal power plant cooling face reductions in water supplies, (c) where temperature increases decrease overall thermoelectric power generation efficiencies, and (d) where changed conditions affect facility siting decisions. Most effects are likely to be modest except for possible regional effects of extreme weather events and water shortages.

Nothing about a tripling of weather-related incidents.

Let’s try a related reference from the Synthesis Report:

The electricity grid is also vulnerable to climate change effects, from temperature changes to severe weather events. [191] The most familiar example is effects of severe weather events on power lines, such as from ice storms, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. In the summer heat wave of 2006, for example, electric power transformers failed in several areas (including St. Louis, Missouri, and Queens, New York) due to high temperatures, causing interruptions of electric power supply.

[191] is another chapter in the same CCSP report (online here). 191 Bull, S.R., D.E. Bilello, J. Ekmann, M.J. Sale, and D.K. Schmalzer, 2007: Effects of climate change on energy production and distribution in the United States. In: Effects of Climate Change on Energy Production and Use in the United States [Wilbanks, T.J., V. Bhatt, D.E. Bilello, S.R. Bull, J. Ekmann, W.C. Horak, Y.J. Huang, M.D. Levine, M.J. Sale, D.K. Schmalzer, and M.J. Scott (eds.)]. Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.5. U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Washington, DC, pp. 45-80.

Again, there is nothing in the chapter that remotely supports the claim that there has been a “tenfold increase” in incidents or that the proportion of weather-related incidents has tripled.

The reference for the data in the graphic is “EIA, 216.” This is:

216 U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy [data]; assembled by Evan Mills, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Data available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/disturb_events.html

Warren Meyer had already followed the link to http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/disturb_events.html and found John Makens. This website does contain listings of electrical disturbance incidents e.g. here. A browse through the incident reports showed a lot of outages caused, unsurprisingly by winter snow storms – which, I guess, are another global warming WMD. Although the CCSP report refers to the failure of electrical power transformers “due to high temperatures”, problems were mainly associated with storms and winds; the incident in Queens’ appeared to be related to demand exceeding supply. The incident report (see page 137 refers to “voltage reduction” following a “public appeal” and did not directly mention a transformer failure “due to high temperature”.

There’s another clue in the reference:

data assembled by Evan Mills, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

For Pielke Jr, this is a bit like saying “data assembled by Michael Mann”. Pielke Jr has already criticized CCSP use of a hurricane-damage Hockey Stick from Evan Mills – see here , covered by John Tierney here. Here is Evan Mills’ hurricane damage graphic as rendered by CCSP:

Readers should read Roger’s article before reading the rest of the article. He identifies the provenance of the CCSP figure as Mills, E., 2005: Insurance in a climate of change. Science, 309(5737), 1040-1044, which he had savagely criticized in 2005 here. He observed that Mills, E. (2005) was not peer-reviewed, but was merely a “commentary” and that the provenance of the its data was, in turn, not peer reviewed, but “grey literature” from a workshop. In effect, there is a sequence of so-to-speak academic data laundering, in which non-peer reviewed workshop data (which was heavily criticized elsewhere) was used in a non-peer reviewed commentary in a journal that also published peer reviewed article, which is ratcheted up into a key diagram in an Assessment Report – without ever having been published in peer reviewed journal article. He asked :

But more problematically, why is a report characterized by Science Advisor John Holdren as being the “most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive” analysis relying on a secondary, non-peer source citing another non-peer reviewed source from 2000 to support a claim that a large amount of uncited and more recent peer reviewed literature says the opposite about?

In diagnosing the CCSP use of the flawed Evan Mills hurricane damage data, Pielke observed that Mills was a CCSP coauthor. Once again, a climate scientist participating in the author team of an assessment report was advocating and promoting his own work – the sort of problem that we encountered with Michael Mann and the TAR hockey stick.

Here we have a second Evan Mills incident in the Synthesis Report – this time involving electrical grid disturbance incidents. But this one is even worse than the one that Pielke rightly criticized. In the hurricane incident, at least there was something published in the “Peer Reviewed Literature” as a commentary, however flawed, that the graphic could be traced to. In this case, there seems to be nothing.

CSSP policies state:
The US Synthesis Report describes its sources as follows (see page 6)

The foundation of this report is a set of 21 Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs), which were designed to address key policy-relevant issues in climate science (see page 161)… In addition, other peer-reviewed scientific assessments were used, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. National Assessment of the Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board report on the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation, and a variety of regional climate impact assessments. These assessments were augmented with government statistics as necessary (such as population census and energy usage) as well as publicly available observations and peer-reviewed research published through the end of 2008.

These policies do not permit the CCSP Author Team to construct their own special-purpose Hockey Sticks for the US Synthesis Report without prior appearance in the “peer reviewed literature”. This slipped by the “blue ribbon” panel, but was picked up within a day by bloggers. We’ve criticized procedures under which authors of assessment reports “assess” their own work (e.g. Mann and IPCC TAR) and this is one more, particularly egregious example.

CA readers will also be interested in review comments on the First (Public) Draft – see John Christy’s comments on the First Draft (and I doubt that subsequent editing has modified his opinion):

Frankly, I am stunned at this document. I see here not a scientific synthesis of the myriad of issues and views regarding climate change, but a straightforward, unscientific attempt at advocacy. It really must go back to the drawing board before people like me will take it seriously. …

This document is so pervasively misrepresentative of the science that a legitimate review requires a broader-based explanation of its shortcomings…

By letting a collection of one-sided authors, who share common views on the topic, serve as their own writers and final reviewers (hardly a peer-review process), they have created the opportunity for the complete dismissal of the whole project!

When I was asked about the moral, if any, of the Mann hockey stick debacle, I regularly commented that Assessment reports should not rely on authors to assess their own work – that’s an invitation for problems. Unfortunately, that advice – given in a constructive and not adversarial way- has been ignored and the present CCSP report provides a particularly vivid example.

92 Comments

  1. Bob Koss
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    Evan Mills damage graphic doesn’t show in my browser. Is it this one?

    Steve – fixed.

  2. Gaelan Clark
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

    Looks more like Colin Powell than John Holdren.

  3. Gaelan Clark
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:06 AM | Permalink

    Sorry.
    My mistake.

  4. Ryan O
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

    Steve,
    .
    My father has worked in utilities his entire life, and he can attest to a mild increase in the total number of incidents due to weather over the last 30 years or so (number of incidents, however, does not translate into a decrease in per-capita availability). Regardless, this has absolutely nothing to do with climate change. It has to do with expanding services (more poles in more locations) and a general degradation of the electrical grid. So even if past reporting were perfect, you’d still see an uptick. However, the association of the uptick with climate change is entirely unsupportable. What BS.
    .
    Great post.

  5. Andrew
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

    Colin Powell is bitter about it to this day. Will John Holdren forever hold this embarassment against the Democrats? Who knows! Pass the popcorn, though, because this is pretty entertaining! Hehe..

  6. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:37 AM | Permalink

    Steve,

    Nice post, people need to see what some of our scientists see as good science. Thanks to Dr. Christy and Pielke for their comments as well. It is clearly an advocacy document for the public, designed to give the government the method to go to war so the title fits as well.

    Weapons of Meteorological Distraction!

    I’ll just snip the rest myself. :D

    • nevket240
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:10 PM | Permalink

      Re: Jeff Id (#6),

      JI. its all about Copenhagen.

      regards.

  7. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 12:25 PM | Permalink

    I’ll point out that this report is by Thomas Karl, NCDC director, whose job it is to collate data accurately. I’d say he failed in this case.

    The issue of reporting is tremendously important, because it works both ways. I identified this issue related to severe weather in general back in February 2008 in response to John Kerry’s linking a particular tornado event to global warming:

    Increasing tornadoes or better information gathering?

    Graph from NWS/NOAA. Smaller (F1) tornadoes seem to be on the increase, but not larger ones.

    While overall tornadoes have increased, stronger ones (Category F2-F5) have actually declined. I see it as simply increased reporting bias. No I’m not talking about talking heads in news stories, but rather, our ability to detect and report tornadoes has increased dramatically in the last 50 years.

    There are three main reasons:

    1) Our 155 strong WSR-88D NEXRAD Doppler Radar Network. This nationwide tool sees tornadoes with more regularity than the old WSR74 and WSR57 C band analog radars which used to be the mainstay of the NWS radar network. Often tornadoes that would have gone undetected and unseen before (such as in unpopulated areas) are reported with accuracy by Doppler radar. You can even download software now for your PC and get in on the action yourself. See my StormPredator program, for example. Who would have thought we’d have near-live personal Doppler radar in our homes (and in some cases with stormchasers, vehicles) 30 years ago?

    2) Increased population density. There are more people around in places that used to be uninhabited resulting in more tornado reports where before they went unseen. It is sort of like a twist on that old saying: “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    3) More reporting coverage. TV news and storm chasers make getting tornadoes on live TV almost as regular as watching LA car chases. Helicopters with video feeds, live vans, and just regular folks with a K-Mart video camera in the right place at the right time increase the frequency with which we see severe weather events on TV, resulting in the “feeling” that such events are on the increase. But it also translates into hard numbers when these events are logged.

    A person from the year 1900 watching The Weather Channel today would probably think we were living in the end times.

    Oddly, even with such a major increases in our reporting and news gathering ability, plus inexpensive digital cameras and camcorders in the hands of people worldwide, we have not had an increase in good photo or video evidence of UFO’s, Bigfoot, or Loch Ness.

    Conversely, a lack of reporting stations to the GHCN database (which Thomas Karl also manages) has led to a “by percentage” increase in airport stations, and apparently a hidden bias in the data where before it was balanced out by more rural stations.

  8. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    Pielke Jr advised me by email that Mills 2005 was a commentary and not itself “peer reviewed”. I’ve slightly edited the text accordingly.

  9. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

    I’ll use a small “l” here so as not to make this post partisan, but I think that most libertarians and like thinkers who are not tied to partisan politics see the equivalency between the (lack of) evidence presented for WMD and that for the immediate detrimental effects of GW as in the example well illustrated here.

  10. deadwood
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 12:53 PM | Permalink

    snip –

    Steve: please resist the temptation to editorialize about policy. The use of flawed arguments does not mean that valid arguments cannot be put forward though this screening should obviously have occurred during the CCSP process itself.

  11. Bob Hamilton
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 1:10 PM | Permalink

    You substantially weaken your argument by injecting erroneous Iraq war political chestnuts. Unlike the AGW arguments, Iraq HAD used WMD extensively in a war and on it people. Iraq had pursued a nuclear weapon for decades even after the Israelis destroyed their French provided nuclear reactor. They were pursuing supplies of uranium yellow-cake. They did have active chemical and biological weapons programs at the time of the invasion. Perhaps you are trying to burnish your credentials with the left wing but it ill suits you to do this with specious analogies. I suggest you read Douglas Feith’s book “War and Decision” for a well researched argument for the Iraq war that stands up to an ‘audit.’

    Steve: I expressed no opinion on the Iraq War in this post. On a number of occasions, I’ve compared my criticism of the Mann Hockey Stick as being akin to an analyst saying that sometimes an aluminum tube is just an aluminum. That does not preclude the possibility of putting forward an alternative justification that is valid. Given that I expressed no opinion on the Iraq War in this post, please do not hijack it to express your own views.

    • DaveJR
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 1:47 PM | Permalink

      Re: Bob Hamilton (#11), I don’t think it’s as erroneous a comparison as you make out. The “Dodgy Dossier” and this report have clear parallels that the stereotypical used car salesman would be fully familiar with. They were designed to sell a point of view, not to present an unbiased review of the facts.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

      Re: Bob Hamilton (#11),

      Bob,
      [ snip - no debating or editorializing on Iraq please]

      But this example of the CCSP report, brings to mind the infamous UK dossier that led to the ’45 minutes’ headlines, which implied that Iraq could launch WMD attacks within 45 minutes. This was a politically driven document and anyone who knew anything at all about the issue knew it was rubbish. It has since become widely discredited and did much to damage Tony Blair and the Labour government. The sad truth is that if the politicians hadn’t tried to spin the situation they would have probably received much more public support.

      Yet, here again with the CCSP report we see that spin is more important than reality.

    • Scott Brim
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 3:01 PM | Permalink

      Re: Bob Hamilton (#11)
      With his choice of an introduction for this topic, I too think that Steve McIntyre has gone off on an unnecessary and ill-advised tangent. There is plenty of substance inside this topic to chew on, and no need for reference to an incident which was fundamentally a reflection of geopolitical policy issues as opposed to climate science auditing issues.

      Steve: I wish people would pay a little more attention to nuance. The analogy is to whether Powell presented valid evidence of WMD to the UN, not whether the Iraq War was a good or bad idea. I doubt that Powell himself thinks that this was one of his greatest moments.

  12. Dave Andrews
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

    Dang,

    Meant to say,

    Yet, here again, with the CCSP report we see that in some quarters spin is more important than reality.

  13. Fred
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 2:13 PM | Permalink

    and speaking as someone who sold maintenance tracking software into the Utilities sector, large amounts of maintenance were deferred starting in the late 90’s in pursuit of short term book profits in the deregulation heyday. Maintenance deferred in the 90’s = spikes in incidents ten years later.

    Power poles that should have been replaced were not. As they age, a strong breeze will knock them down. The biggest one is foliage control on Rights of Way. If you don’t do the annual maintenance, there will be many larger branches ready to fall on wires a few years down the road. The same weather as ten years ago, but many more outages and incidents.

    Of course the foliage is now growing faster due to the large increase in CO2 fertilizer in the atmosphere.

  14. Kevin B
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 2:29 PM | Permalink

    I’ve been following Warren’s work on this whole report over at Climate Sceptic and what it brings to mind is a glossy brochure by someone like Bernie Madoff to a group of putative investors. Lot’s of graphs and definitive assertions that do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

  15. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

    Hi Steve! Great post.

    A couple of points to ponder here:
    1.Energy usage in the United States has gone up considerably since 2000, making the power grid more likely to crash as there is more of it.

    2.Hurricanes are a result of cold, not warm, air, and hurricane-type phonomena account for the lion`s share of the increase in the graph. Global warming seems to be causing a cooling planet, which temperature data sets are in agreement with.

    3.If GW is causing more wind, why have there been so few problems as a result of wildfires in recent years? An increase in wind would logically mean an increase in wildfires. We should have seen this particular part of the graph spike.

    4.Isn`t the “undefined weather” category rather suspicious, as it gives a healthy boost to last year but makes no difference in previous years. What exactly is “undefined weather”? How can one determine how much damage this specteral phonomenon is causing?

    5.Given the absolute refusal of California and other “soft energy” states to build new power plants and upgrade the system it should come as no surprise that the electric grid is more suseptible to weather-we have to move more power around the country than ever before.

    6.According to the synthesis report

    “In the summer heat wave of 2006, for example, electric power transformers failed in several areas (including St. Louis, Missouri, and Queens, New York) due to high temperatures, causing interruptions of electric power supply.”

    Here in St. Louis the temperature did spike up over 100 degrees, something not at all uncommon in the River City. The reason that it was a problem was that Ameren UE had failed to repair power lines from a spring storm (because of a dispute with the Public Service committee over raising prices)and so the system was running too many bipasses. The summer heat was hardly unusual, and it would not have been an issue had the power company acted more quickly to repair old damage.

    Best regards!

    • Gerald Machnee
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 6:19 PM | Permalink

      Re: Timothy Birdnow (#17),

      1.Energy usage in the United States has gone up considerably since 2000, making the power grid more likely to crash as there is more of it.

      I think the first point says a good part of it. The report again shows that you can use statistics any way you want. Graphs look great in color. However, if your data is incomplete, it does not tell the whole story, and the conclusion is wrong.
      The USA is getting close to using all the electricity they are producing with old equipment and there will only be more of this – but the blade could also flatten out on top.

    • scott lurndal
      Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 3:05 PM | Permalink

      Re: Timothy Birdnow (#17),

      5.Given the absolute refusal of California and other “soft energy” states to build new power plants and upgrade the system it should come as no surprise that the electric grid is more suseptible to weather-we have to move more power around the country than ever before.

      Uh, a new 750mw gas-fired plant just opened in San Jose 18 months ago. Several others have also been built and opened since the mishandled attempt to deregulate in 2000. California is fortunate in that it gets a lot of hydro, some geothermal, some nuke, and the rest is gas-fired. Very little coal. It also gets a lot of sun, and there are several solar-thermal plants in planning and a couple in development.

      California’s biggest problem[*], like that of the rest of the nation, is the grid – both inter- and intra-state intertie systems are insufficient.

      [*] Electrically speaking….

  16. Hemst 101
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 3:11 PM | Permalink

    I have posted this at other sites and it is greeted with crickets chirping. If you take the satellite temperatures since Nov 1998 (the approximate end of the 1997/8 El Nino) the temperature trend is -3.24 Deg C/per century (UAH) and -4.20 Deg C per century (RSS) for the USA 48. I am not insinuating that the US is going into an Ice Age or that this trend will continue, but it would seem that this data suggests that the US has not warmed in the last 10 years and may have cooled considerably. This is in stark contrast to this report which makes me even more dubious of it’s validity – never mind the silly charts.

    Steve: Lucia’s more interested in this point than I am. I suggest that you discuss it at her blog.

  17. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 3:33 PM | Permalink

    The analogy is to whether Powell presented valid evidence of WMD to the UN

    I don’t think the analogy is the same. In Powell’s case the best information I’ve been privy to led to a conclusion, in this case it seems that the best information is being ignored. I am not a Powell fan by any means but there wasn’t any evidence I recall at the time that contradicted his claim. In the chart presented above there is plenty of evidence. I didn’t want the war either way and wasn’t too popular with my friends for it.

    Turns out nobody in the govt. asked me.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 4:02 PM | Permalink

      Re: jeff Id (#20),

      Jeff, your point, as I take it, is that (regardless of the final result) Powell had better grounds for believing that the aluminum tubes were evidence of WMD than CCSP had for linking grid disturbance incidents to global warming – in the sense that there was no contemporary evidence that people could point to and refute him.

      This seems fair enough to me.

      By presenting this image, I’m not suggesting that Powell was presenting something to the UN that could readily be shown to be false, as the CCSP image is. HOwever, I doubt that Powell himself would be worried about anyone comparing his presentation to the CCSP report.

      My commentary is directed at the CCSP report not at Powell. As you point out, their due diligence was worse than Powell’s – a point on which we probably agree. They richly deserve criticism even if it’s slightly unfair to Powell to compare his presumably good faith UN presentation to a prestigious “peer reviewed” climate science assessment report.

      • Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 4:29 PM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#21),

        Thanks Steve,

        I’m a skeptic of most things where information is in short supply. Especially in cases of international consensus.

        Not a denier b/c deniers cannot be skeptics.

    • Kenneth Fritsch
      Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

      Re: jeff Id (#20),

      I don’t think the analogy is the same. In Powell’s case the best information I’ve been privy to led to a conclusion, in this case it seems that the best information is being ignored.

      Maybe the cases are not the same at the Powell level, but there is little doubt that when the government goes to selling policy and no matter their good intentions they do not present both sides. We had an administration that had already made up its mind that it was going to war just as we presently have one that already “knows” we need immediate AGW mitigation. In both cases it should be noted that the mitigation is/was claimed to be needed immediately and in answer to an emergency. I think a lot of the more subtle stuff gets lost in the crisis situations — like why would Saddam not allow inspections when he actually had little or nothing to hide.

  18. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 5:01 PM | Permalink

    Power poles that should have been replaced were not. As they age, a strong breeze will knock them down. The biggest one is foliage control on Rights of Way. If you don’t do the annual maintenance, there will be many larger branches ready to fall on wires a few years down the road. The same weather as ten years ago, but many more outages and incidents.

    In our area we had major and frequent electrical outages during many storms about 10 or 12 years ago. That it was definitely due to lack of maintenance of the power line right-of- way was shown when the power company finally got the intestinal fortitude to remove tree limbs that many of the greener constituents were attempting to prevent them from doing and our power outages since going nearly to zero.

  19. don
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 5:23 PM | Permalink

    snip – I understand the temptation, but please do not debate Iraq issues.

  20. don
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 5:42 PM | Permalink

    Fine, then be equal in your snips and don’t bring the issue up in the first place.

  21. Andrew
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 6:14 PM | Permalink

    Come on guys, I probably agree with many of you, but I didn’t let a little Steve snark offend me. Have a spine.

  22. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    The FCC has a hand in this, with the push to digital TV’s. Lots of flat pnels have been purchased and they tend to use more power and dissipate more heat (resulting in more a/c us in summer) than many of the CRT’s they replaced.

  23. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 7:40 PM | Permalink

    Mills and Boom.

  24. kmye
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 8:17 PM | Permalink

    Great summary of the news surrounding the report so far. I tried to submit this post to the link aggregating site digg.com. Unfortunately, when I try to click through from that submission’s page (http://digg.com/environment/The_CCSP_s_Electrical_Hockey_Stick), I get an error message from “Bad Behavior” about a proxy server. If you don’t mind having your pages submitted on digg, is there anything you can do on your end to let the links through? Cheers.

  25. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 8:45 PM | Permalink

    Kenneth Fritsch:
    June 20th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    In our area we had major and frequent electrical outages during many storms about 10 or 12 years ago.

    Can I take this opportunity and say that this sort of thing, of course, is not a ‘grid’ issue; grid issues, per se, would involve faults, stability issues (e.g. with generation) between interconnected systems that could otherwise stand on their own (each possessing in their own region sufficient generation for load) should they be intentionally separated (‘islanded’) for any particular reason.

    Interconnections (use of ‘intertie’) forming an interconnected ‘grid’ of [several sources of] supply and load actually increases reliability and reduces cost:

    Cost reduction result from using generation dispatch from cheaper sources of electricity from areas out of the local region, such as what California does when importing inexpensive hydroelectric power from states further to the north.

    Reliability stems from having access to generation outside the local area in case of loss of local generation capability … but there is always what is called the “N+1″ contingency that will cause a collapse (event, failure, etc) of ‘the grid’ (interconnected systems again) usually when several situations, natural events get stacked on top of each other.

    The ‘system’ (grid) can usually handle any single item failure (HV transmission line or a base load generator) BUT a number in excess of “N” planned-for or contingencies could cause ‘failure’.
    .
    .

  26. Craig Loehle
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 8:47 PM | Permalink

    One characteristic of the US grid is that it is aging in many areas and will thus be more prone to outages and problems. this creates a false uptick (besides the reporting issue)

    • Geoff Sherrington
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 2:06 AM | Permalink

      Re: Craig Loehle (#34),

      One characteristic of the US grid is that it is aging in many areas and will thus be more prone to outages and problems. this creates a false uptick (besides the reporting issue)

      Or alternatively,

      One characteristic of the US climate authors is that they are aging in many areas and will thus be more prone to outrages and problems. this creates a false uptick (besides the reporting issue)

  27. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 9:02 PM | Permalink

    The comments about lack of power line right of way maintenance are exactly right. A few years ago, all the power companies began to get rid of their own crews and turn tree-trimming over to private companies who hired minimum wage people.
    The companies knew that they shouldn’t trim “too much” because the worse job they did, the more frequently they’d be hired and the more money they’d make.
    In a typical one mile stretch of road near here, over a dozen trees are growing around power lines. Every time the wind blows, the power goes off.

  28. Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

    Craig Loehle:
    June 20th, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    One characteristic of the US grid …

    Craig, just curious, when you refer to the ‘US Grid’ (admittedly ‘slang’ with many meanings), what specifically do you mean:

    a) The Generation (Coal, Hydro, Nuke, etc) end?

    b) HV Transmission (those HUGE skeleton steel structures, sometimes wood, with either 3 or 6 sets of phase lines hanging from BIG insulators with a pair of ‘static’ lines overhead) lines?

    c) Substations (HV Transmission line termination to ‘Distribution’ level lines)?

    d) Distribution lines (those 3 phase + 1 neutral lines seen running high above most secondary streets)?

    e) Distribution to Business/residential step-down pole/ground-mounted transformer?

    f) The ‘drop’ line from the pole to the home/business?

    g) The various real-time system operations monitoring and coordination ‘centers’ that manage generation dispatch and load control (those ‘loads’ NOT yet monitored/controlled yet, esp. residential, which is coming with the advent of the so-called smart meter)?

    i) ALL of the above?
    .
    .

  29. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 9:55 PM | Permalink

    Folks, the condition of the electrical grid is not a climate issue. Let’s keep this focused on Evan Mills’ data and how CCSP handled it and not about poles and equipment.

  30. Dave in Davis
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

    Steve

    Although your analogy is not perfect nor intended to be, I think your digitally doctored image is great and very well illustrates the point that a rush to judgment and demands for drastic action using limited data and biased argument can lead to unintended and devastating consequences.

    snip

    • stan
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:02 AM | Permalink

      Re: Dave in Davis (#38),

      Steve,

      You seem to have a one-sided snip policy here. Dave in Davis should have been snipped. Obviously, if I were to take issue with all of the many errors in his post (or implied therein)
      .. , you’d snip it in a heartbeat. If you want to keep politics out: a) don’t inject it yourself, and b) only snip those who disagree with you.

      Steve: Please draw offending posts on the other side to my attention rather than debate them. I’ve snipped the post in question.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

        Re: stan (#55),

        Stan, I don’t have an unlimited time to edit.

        Folks, if you feel offended by editing, please draw offending posts to my attention for snipping rather than arguing issues that do not relate to the CCSP report.

  31. Bruce
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 10:18 PM | Permalink

    snip – I asked people not to argue Iraq

  32. MikeN
    Posted Jun 20, 2009 at 11:15 PM | Permalink

    Steve, Bob, on the Iraq War analogy.

    Here is the transcript of Colin Powell’s presentation.

    http://cnn.com/2003/US/02/05/sprj.irq.powell.transcript/

    Steve: snip – PLEASE do not debate whether Powell was justified or not.

  33. Andy
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 1:09 AM | Permalink

    Regarding to the electricity breaks, Finland seems to have better luck than US, as the average break durations have been decreasing during 1973 – 2005.

  34. Dodgy Geezer
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 2:51 AM | Permalink

    At a glance, the obvious greatest increase is in the ‘Hurricane/Severe Storm’ section. This is approximately 2 1/2 times greater that 2005. When we had Katrina.

    I know they’re measuring ‘number of incidents’, and so Katrina presumably counts as 1, but really! Did we get the equivalent of 2 1/2 Katrinas last year?

    Note that the wording underneath the graph scrupulously avoids saying that climate change has caused all these incidents. it simply says that many more incidents are occurring, weather ‘can’ cause them, and ‘we know’ that more extreme weather is likely. If anyone complains about this graph, these weasel words will be used to justify its continued publication, on the grounds that it does not ‘say’ climate change is causing any outages….

  35. Navy Bob
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 5:48 AM | Permalink

    If anything the number of weather-related disturbances appears to be negatively correlated with “global warming,” or at least uncorrelated. The number of weather-related incidents appears to drop sharply between 1997 and 1998 – the hottest year in the history of mankind – and then increases sharply post-2000 when temps have been more or less stable or even cooling. Perhaps the Administration’s efforts would be better directed toward accelerating global warming to protect our electrical grid.

  36. Mike B
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 6:46 AM | Permalink

    I don’t know whether you’re too lazy to come up with a better metaphor, or just want to increase your “street cred” with academia by highlighting your liberal political views, but this was a lousy post.

    The point of an analogy is to highlight and make more obvious your point. In this case, you distracted from it and obscured it.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 7:18 AM | Permalink

      Re: Mike B (#48),

      The Iraq comparison is a sensitive one and it’s one that I don’t use all that often. However, I used the Iraq comparison long ago when the Republicans were in office and this hardly “curried” favor with them.

      Re the hockey stick, I’ve compared myself to an analyst who said in the charged pre-war environment that sometimes an aluminum tube is just an aluminum tube. That did not preclude the possibility that there were other valid grounds for proceeding, but the onus was then on the proponent to argue those grounds. This is a position that I’ve been very consistent with.

      I wish people would better recognize that there is a bit of nuance to my position, rather than attributing opinions to me that I may or may not hold, but which I’ve never commented on here.

      I think that reasonable people can agree that flawed intelligence should not be a basis of going to war without debating the particulars of a past incident. My beef with grid disturbances is entirely of this sort.

      The CCSP grid disturbance graphic is flawed intelligence that should have been caught. I think that the Powell graphic is a reasonable way of illustrating the concept of flawed climate intelligence that even supporters of the war should be able to accept. The issue at hand is that
      CCSP proponents should be asking themselves how the flawed electrical grid disturbance intelligence got into the final Synthesis Report – which is what I ask readers to consider here.

    • Robert Austin
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:08 AM | Permalink

      Re: Mike B (#48),
      Mike, like it or not, the WMD thing has become symbolical of the cynical manipulation of public opinion by government. Sometimes, it is better to “suck up” our irritation instead of giving it free rein and making a fool of yourself.

  37. Demesure
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:43 AM | Permalink

    The blue ribbon reviewers should have noticed in their graph that most of the increase in weather related incidents has occured since 2002, when the climate is … cooling.

  38. kim
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:46 AM | Permalink

    snip
    Now, how do I get back on topic? Easy, this CCSP report is flawed intelligence.

  39. Fred
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:54 AM | Permalink

    The Iraq comparison was excellent. It illustrates that herd thinking and mentality are often found in human activities and flawed intelligence, like flawed science, uses flawed data and flawed data manipulations to support predetermined goals.

    Good reminder of a recent event that resulted in such extreme outcomes.

  40. Craig Loehle
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Permalink

    There is an easy fix for such flawed intelligence, post it up, notify the blogosphere, and wait 24 hours for the fatal flaws to be seen. It is disturbing that no one making this report was even interested in vetting such a graph. If the graph were true, then at the rate of acceleration then by 2 more years our electricity would be like a 3rd world country (I’ve been there) with outages every day.

    Another thing I’ve noticed here is that no distinction is made as to the size of outages. Sometimes a tree limb cuts power to a few houses. This does not equate to the big regional blackouts or 100,000 homes in the dark after an ice storm. Merely plotting the incidences is like a plot that combines rude behavior with murders.

  41. RomanM
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

    This thread is a good example of why politics and religion should not be discussed on CA. Let’s “move on”, folks, and get back to the business at hand…

    While googling the topic, I ran across the National Transmission Grid Study done by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2002. The document can be found here.

    From page 5 of the document (actually, the 20th page of the pdf):

    The growth of electricity demand during the 1990s, coupled with new generation resulting from the emergence of competitive wholesale electricity markets, has led to electricity flows that are greater in size and in different directions than those that were anticipated when the transmission system was first designed. NERC reports that there is minimal operating experience for handling these conditions. The increased use of the system has led to transmission congestion and less operating flexibility to respond to system problems or component failures. This lack of flexibility has increased the risk of blackouts. Today, power failures, close calls, and near misses are much more common than in the past.

    It seems that the system has become overly sensitive and more easily upset. Curiously enough, there seems to be no mention in the document of the already evident effect of AGW influenced weather phenomena on the grid. One has to imagine that increases in electricity usage over the last seven years have not improved things either.

    I didn’t run across any sites which either had data on weather related failures or with any substantial discussion of the effects of weather. Do you suppose somebody at CCSP could point out where the data could be found?

  42. Craig Bear
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

    Okay, can anyone believe that this document is based on unbiased facts? (Even if you disregarded your own opinion of the matter at hand) I would be ashamed of that document even if i believed half of what it is portraying. I just spent about an hour reading through those comments from the reviewers, and the “[...]The CCSP is based on peer-reviewed literature[...]” replies to their comments. Oh how i can imagine the smirk on the face of the person behind the keyboard copying and pasting that over a few thousand times.

    If only this was not an argument, and scientists were able to practice science in a friendly everyone is out to help each other, none of this US vs. THEM attitude science that seems to be happening to the detriment of facts, data, reprpducibility, models, accuracy. If it doesn’t find a way to practice science properly soon, the term “peer-reviewed” might lose it’s value. That will be a sad day for science.

  43. Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

    I think Jane Lubchenco has been watching to much discovery channel. Every show they air that has to do with impending disaster ends with the cause being man made climate change and then they throw around malleable statistical quotes. For example , today it was “in the last 30 years, weather damage to power systems has increased two fold “.. Is that truly do to climate change, or due to there being more power infrastructure than before, in places that have always had potent weather patterns?
    Its pretty easy now to blame everything back to climate change,whats next, increased teenage acne?

  44. JFD
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 10:33 AM | Permalink

    Happy Father’s Day, Steve. For the most part, you do a good job of hiding your political leanings, so relax and enjoy the day. However, your comment that the thread subject is not about poles and equipment is not in keeping with good science. One of the first things a good scientist does is to examine the available data that was used to define the problem. Use of bad data or missing data can lead to the wrong problem being solved. In the case of the electrical grid, the accelerated growth in electricity usage due to a multitude of new electronic devices coupled with delays in getting permits for expansion of the transmission networks has resulted in an overall system that is subject to more outage and damages from lesser incidents. The CCSP reviewer(s) failed to properly consider the underlying data in a professional manner. The data shows a correlation but not the underlying causation. Quite similar to the whole global warming issue.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 10:52 AM | Permalink

      Re: JFD (#61),

      The pole and equipment comment was that it is beyond dispute that the electrical disturbance index is unrelated to climate. I didn’t think that it mattered much whether the increase in reported incidents was due to changes in reporting procedures or an actual increase due to equipment maintenance, under-investment or whatever as the CCSP intelligence was contradicted in either case. So I discouraged people from debating this issue and would urge them to focus on the approval procedure by which this flawed intelligence was incorporated in the CCSP report.

      We have two Evan Mills incidents in this report. Maybe someone can take a look at other things that he’s done.

  45. Scott Brim
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

    Steve McIntyre: “The issue at hand is that CCSP proponents should be asking themselves how the flawed electrical grid disturbance intelligence got into the final Synthesis Report – which is what I ask readers to consider here.”

    Can one form a fully comprehensive set of conclusions about how this happened without examining the motivations of the people who put it there?
    .
    Now, there is a popular management philosophy which says, “Change the process, not the people.”
    .
    Unfortunately, in many if not most cases, the rules and procedures governing any particular process can be over-ridden by someone possessing both sufficient power over the process and also sufficient knowledge of the process rules and how these are implemented in practice.
    .
    I have complained before about the politicization of government’s professional scientific institutions. As two of the most egregious examples, we see this at the federal level in the NOAA/NCDC, and we see it at the state level in the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
    .
    That this kind of thing is happening systematically in many of government’s nominally professional scientific institutions has opened a Pandora’s Box in that simply changing the process is no longer enough.
    .
    You now have to change the people, not just the process, if you truly want a return to professionalism in managing government’s scientific institutions.

    • Andrew
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 12:03 PM | Permalink

      Re: Scott Brim (#64), Apply Hanlon’s razor-never attribute to malice that which is easily explicable with stupidity:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Permalink

      Re: Scott Brim (#64),

      I don’t think that the particular people are relevant or that it’s helpful to think to spend time frustrated about the people. Here’s an example. After Bre-X (and I’m not comparing the two incidents in motivation or significance), people spent time thinking about how the fraud occurred and how such frauds could be prevented in the future. In that case, the motivations were easy. It is quite reasonable to hold consider whether CCSP followed their own procedures in letting the flawed Evan Mills graphic into their report or whether the the procedures were inadequate. We may additionally have opinions about the people, but you can go a long way by examining protocols when something goes south, as it did on this occasion.

      • Jonathan Schafer
        Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 1:18 PM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#66),

        We may additionally have opinions about the people, but you can go a long way by examining protocols when something goes south, as it did on this occasion.

        That’s a good point Steve. Those are things that can be fixed with usually relatively little to no cost and substantially eliminates a lot of the “potential” for these things to occur. The added benefit is that assuming proper protocols are in place, data/code in full disclosure and experiments/reports are repeatable, then you get down to arguing over the real meat. Does the data really say what the author says it means, alternate explanations, etc. And assuming that it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at that point, then people can argue about the people and their motives. We are a long way from that today. And frankly, the failure to properly document/archive data/code/methods is in many cases the root cause of so much of the speculation about motive, because the absence/incompleteness of data leaves only so much room to talk about the science.

  46. MikeN
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 1:11 PM | Permalink

    Steve I wasn’t really debating Powell’s presentation, but building on the analogy.
    The evidence has some valid backing, but when looked at in retrospect with full knowledge, it breaks down, and it turns out at the time, there were people saying there were errors, whose judgments were ignored.

  47. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

    Re 9. Yup. Now, the other thing at play here is the pre cautionary principal. It was clear if you pushed on the WMD evidence a bit that it wasn’t as cut and dried as presented. But then the argument shifted to the pre cautionary principle:
    If we assume that WMD dont exist and they do, a “do nothing” approach is catastrophic. Same logic in the climate sciences. Same logic in Pascal’s wager.

  48. jae
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:07 PM | Permalink

    LOL. Steve Mc: If you were “just” a public official who depended upon advice from the mainstream “scientists” in formulating your opinion/vote/policy on AGW, would you trust this latest report from those “mainstream scientists?” Is it really any different than the stuff that IPCC published?

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:13 PM | Permalink

      Re: jae (#71),

      I don’t want to discuss my personal opinion on this thread. Please stick to procedures.

  49. Tom C
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 8:23 PM | Permalink

    Let’s leave Powell and aluminum tubes aside for a minute and thank Steve and Roger Pielke for ferreting out “academic check kiting” (is that your phrase, Steve? – kudos if so) and “academic data laundering”. This is the propagandistic strategy of alarmist advocacy and it needs to be called out.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 9:54 PM | Permalink

      Re: Tom C (#73), “academic check kiting” is a phrase that I’ve used in the past. I don;’t know whether my usage was original in an overall sense but my use was at least independent even if there is a prior use elsewhere.

      “Academic data laundering” is a phrase that I introduced in this article and is independent – I havent checked whether it is overall original.

      “Spaghetti graph” is a term that I used for a style of Team graphic and this term has caught on a bit. My use was independent of any other uses of the term.

  50. Page48
    Posted Jun 21, 2009 at 11:43 PM | Permalink

    What the heck is “undefined weather?”

    I didn’t have time to read the entire response thread, so please forgive me if my question has already been answered.

  51. Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 12:46 AM | Permalink

    Actually, Steve, the overall condition of the grid is germane if we are discussing outages alleged to be cause by weather events. If the grid is deteriorating while weather remains constant we would expect to see an increase in reported outages.

    That said, it is most unlikely that a doubling of outages due to weather would have gone unnoticed. As a commentor at WUWT pointed out the graph in question suggests “basis change” more than climate change. Basically people were paying more attention and therefore got more accurate data. It is entirely possible that the graph is right in the more recent years but is measuring the limitations of the measurement of the data in the earlier years.

    As a measure of the improvement of the data this is a very useful graph. As a proxy for climate “change”? Not so much.

  52. Colin
    Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    The graph touted in the report is irrelevant on three grounds. First, it says nothing about the magnitude of such events. The most important grid disturbance in the last two decades was the August 2003 outage which blacked out much of northeastern North America, yet would rate only one incident on this rather useless graph. The second was the great ice storm of 1998 which wiped out eastern Ontario and Quebec, again one incident only.

    Second, as just about any T&D line maintainer can tell you, the majority of service interruptions come mostly from treefalls on lines. It has been increasingly difficult over the years for utilities to get trees cut or trimmed, both because of manpower shortages relative to the amount of lines that must be serviced and because of increasing opposition to tree cutting or trimming from residents.

    Third, the load factor on lines and transformers has been rising steadily for the past 30 years. Transformer stations once operated to a 50% load standard, so that if you lost one transformer, the other could shoulder the full load. Those days are long gone, and higher loads mean less redundancy and therefore higher outage rates in the system. I confess myself somewhat bewildered as to how information like this could be so heavily distorted, and that it was imagined that no one would catch it. The EIA and the DOE and FERC all have a ton of information readily available on outage rates and their systemic causes, along with at least one joint Canada-US system report.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 2:34 PM | Permalink

      Re: Colin (#77),

      I confess myself somewhat bewildered as to how information like this could be so heavily distorted, and that it was imagined that no one would catch it.

      It’s not really much different than using Graybill’s bristlecone chronologies plus some multivariate hocus-pocus and thinking that you have a unique world thermometer. And look how long that game’s played.

      • Colin
        Posted Jun 23, 2009 at 11:25 AM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#78),

        The principle may be the same, Steve, but there’s a critical difference in visibility I think. Let’s face it, it takes some serious statistical analytical skills to decipher what The Team has done over the years and expose it. I think we can agree that the technical arguments on this are nearly inscrutable to the general public. However, I think anyone can understand immediately the concept of an overloaded electricity system and failures in tree trimming. I agree that there’s been misdirection in both cases. What I find appalling is that in the case of the electricity system they didn’t even try to hide the misrepresentation behind a sea of statistical engines; it’s right out in the open. It suggests that they are so confident of the correctness of what they are doing that they don’t even have to hide the prestigitation any more.

        Of course I may be entirely wrong. It may be entirely possible that these people have utterly no knowledge of what was actually in that chart and of how the grid system actually works, and I’m even less certain of which of these two possibilities I find more disturbing.

      • Jeff Norman
        Posted Jun 24, 2009 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#78),

        It’s not really much different than using Graybill’s bristlecone chronologies plus some multivariate hocus-pocus and thinking that you have a unique world thermometer.

        Actually, there is a huge difference in that this new data originates, from utility engineers who are generally skeptical of the AGW hypothesis. This data is readily available and up to date.

        In other news…

        “Unidentified weather” refers to a negative impact on some piece of equipment that resulted from bad weather (caused by AGW) in some other location that was teleconnected to the location of the piece of equipment negatively impacted upon.

        This is a huge advance in the field of equipment maintenance. Prior to this such negative impacts were ascribed to gremlins which was awkward because everyone knows that gremlins don’t exist.

        I was all keen on describing how the incidence of transformer overheating could increase over the recent past, without an increase in ambient temperatures, but Steve petty much ruled that out so I will settle on this instead.

  53. Manfred
    Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 10:04 PM | Permalink

    I wonder, if Mr John Holdren is aware of the disinformation presented in this report and, if not, if there is any way to inform him ?

  54. AKD
    Posted Jun 22, 2009 at 10:29 PM | Permalink

    Page48:
    June 21st, 2009 at 11:43 pm
    What the heck is “undefined weather?”

    I didn’t have time to read the entire response thread, so please forgive me if my question has already been answered.

    Well, I’d explain but it’s really quite difficult to define. More of feeling of weather. Or something you just know in your gut.

  55. PHE
    Posted Jun 23, 2009 at 12:46 AM | Permalink

    Excellent analogy with WMD.

    [Steve: snip - I've asked people with opposite opinions not to opine on the merits of the Iraq arguments and I'm snipping for consistency]

    At the time (in USA and UK at least), we were told to trust the experts, who advice was that the evidence was real. Doubters were lefty pacifists.

    Now, we are still told to ‘trust the experts’, but doubters are righty ‘flat Earthers’ who don’t care for the environment. Though my own conclusions were against the ‘expert concensus’, I’m neiter of those extremes.

  56. Posted Jun 23, 2009 at 6:57 PM | Permalink

    Re: scott lurndal

    Uh, a new 750mw gas-fired plant just opened in San Jose 18 months ago. Several others have also been built and opened since the mishandled attempt to deregulate in 2000. California is fortunate in that it gets a lot of hydro, some geothermal, some nuke, and the rest is gas-fired. Very little coal. It also gets a lot of sun, and there are several solar-thermal plants in planning and a couple in development.

    Scott, it should be pointed out that two plants-the Calpin and Sunrise both closed in 2009. Calpin closed its 811 mw delta gas plant may 22 2009 which opened in 2002 in Pittsburg outside San Francisco and Sunrise power closed a natural gas plant 545 mw on May 31 2009 so there is 1355 mw`s lost to the state. The rest of California is being strangled through environmental regulations.

    As for your assertion that “deregulation” was at fault for the brownouts in 2000-2001 I refer you to this website: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf65.html

    Here are the relevant passages:

    From 2002 to 2006 ‘in-state’ generation from coal dropped by 36% due the closure in 2005 of the Mohave plant (out of state but Californian-owned, hence deemed ‘in-state’), and that from natural gas rose by 18% in line with 26% increase in installed capacity (after dropping back to pre-2000 levels in 2002). Supply from hydro rose 59%, evidently due to seasonal factors, there being no increase in capacity.

    2000-2001 energy crisis

    Several plants, totalling 2700 MWe, had used up their annual pollution credits so could not restart without severe fines. In particular, three gas-fired plants (2000 MWe) were shut down after the south coast Air Quality Management District required them to install emission control equipment for NOx. As the crisis developed, the state’s Independent System Operator (ISO), which operates most of the state’s power grid, called them back into service, but they were required to obtain NOx emission credits to cover the short-term impact of this. The price of such credits soared.

    The shortfall in generating capacity is widely seen as being due to years of weak government appeasing extreme environmentalism. Defending proposals for new plant against advocates of renewables and demand management as being the total answer to provision of power, means that it takes up to seven years in California to turn a proposal into a functioning power station, compared with three years in Texas. This is despite price levels which would enable an operator in Northern California to pay off a new gas-fired power station (@ $600/kW) in a year.

    Much newspaper coverage of the Californian crisis has pointed to deregulation as a factor, if not a cause.

    Before “deregulation” electric utilities, which have a legal obligation to serve their customers’ demands, could build plants regardless of the expense and recover costs from customers. In 1996 utilities owned 81% of the total generating capacity and the average retail price was 9.5 cents/kWh, the tenth highest in USA. This arrangement locked in certain inefficiencies, and when deregulation loomed it raised the question of how utilities would recover their “stranded costs”, mostly the capital component which could not be amortised with expected lower electricity prices. Elaborate mechanisms were put into place to cover these, but there were conditions imposed to ensure that utilities did not exploit the situation.

    Under the Electric Utility Industry Restructuring Act in 1996 the Californian government put into place a deregulation scheme sought to bring competition into generation – attracting needed investment, while leaving transmission and distribution as regulated monopolies. This required the major utilities to divest at least half their major generation assets, so that their ownership fell to 46% of the total capacity.

    The scheme also prevented them from entering long-term hedging contracts that would limit the risk of large price movements, forced them to buy electricity at market rates from a centralised pool, and on top of all this committed the two main utilities to retailing the electricity at fixed 1996 prices until March 2002 regardless of the cost of wholesale purchase. The price cap provision incorporates a transition charge which is the mechanism for utilities to recover stranded costs.

    Thus there was not so much deregulation as a much less effective form of regulation. The need for long-term contracts enabling generators to build and maintain adequate capacity was emphasised, as was the need for adequate reserves which consumers had to be prepared to pay for maintaining.

    In short, deregulation consisted of being permitted to generate as much as they saw fit provided they obeyed draconian emissions regulations and did not raise their prices. That is rather like saying the USPS is a private business because it can fund itself by selling stamps.

    California and the other “environmentally friendly” states have to import a large amount of power, and that means a greater strain on the grid.

  57. cmb
    Posted Jun 24, 2009 at 9:43 AM | Permalink

    OK, the graph does not say ’caused by global warming.’

    No one claims all the events were caused by global warming.

    Why do we care about this?

  58. Eric (skeptic)
    Posted Jun 25, 2009 at 9:25 AM | Permalink

    Mills admits here: http://eetd.lbl.gov/emills/pubs/grid-disruptions.html that quote “As with virtually any climate impact analysis imaginable, there are non-climatic influences that can offset or compound the outcomes. We emphasize these types of factors throughout the report. In the case of grid disturbances, an ageing grid and associated infrastructure, changes in maintenance and management procedures, and rising electrical demand all create stresses that make the grid more susceptible to outages triggered by extreme weather. Our laboratory leads a major research activity in these areas known as the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions.”

    So I asked him why the increased vulnerability of the grid was not mentioned in the caption under the graphic in the report. I would imagine that can be rather accurately quantified but then that might call into question the “tenfold increase” claim. Why wasn’t it done?

  59. Eric (skeptic)
    Posted Jun 25, 2009 at 6:19 PM | Permalink

    Not yet. I only sent the email this morning.

  60. Larry Huldén
    Posted Jun 27, 2009 at 2:10 AM | Permalink

    In a previous comment by Andy Finland was mentioned because the average break durations have decreased in 1973 – 2005.

    Interestingly there is another issue here. Only half of the breaks can be explained in Finland. The FinnGrid contacted me in the Finnish Museum of Natural History to investigate a possible unknown biological cause of the breaks, insects or spiders etc. I got a big data set on the breaks with different parameters of the electric grid net. I tried to correlate the unexplained breaks with different kind of data (temperature, precipitation, moisture etc.). Suddenly I found a time related connection with the length of day. They increased towards May and decreased after summer in September. About half of the unexplained breaks could be reffered to this phenomenon. I don’t know what mechanism could work here.
    One shortcoming with the data was that I did’t get the coordinates for breaks because that is obviously strategic data.

  61. Andy
    Posted Jun 27, 2009 at 7:28 AM | Permalink

    At least rats like to bite some power cables, and after biting rats may disappear as smoke in the air. I have no doubt that even rat population size could be used as a climate change proxy.

  62. Charlie
    Posted Jul 30, 2009 at 12:18 PM | Permalink

    Evan Mills, who is cited in the report as the source for the graph has a reply entitled “Grid Disruptions
    Response to factual errors in the Climate Skeptic blog about the report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the US”

    http://eetd.lbl.gov/EMills/pubs/grid-disruptions.html

    “The blogger (a self-admitted “amateur”) created a straw man argument by asserting that the chart was presented as evidence of global climate change and was not verified with the primary source. The blog’s errors have been propagated to other web sites without further fact checking or due diligence.”

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Steve McIntyre picks up my critique on the electrical grid disruption chart (here and here) and takes it further.  Apparently, this report (which I guess I should be calling the Climate Change Synthesis Report or CCSP) set rules for itself that all the work in the report had to be from peer-reviewed… [...]

  2. [...] from Climate Audit, which demolishes the silly Electrical Grid Alarmism graph in this report which reflects (according [...]

  3. [...] Steve McIntyre builds on the work of Climate Skeptic in digging into the utility industry and the vast increases in outages that they are suffering through due to the rampant bad weather that we are enjoying due to global warming. [...]

  4. [...] bloggers took no time to find nonsense claims in the White House [...]

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