Posts tagged ‘Boone Pickens’

I Used to Respect Michael Crow. Never Mind. The NCAA Hypocrisy Never Ends

Arizona State University (ASU) has always had a certain niche in the college world, a niche best evidenced by their making both the top 10 party school and top 10 hottest women lists in the same year.  President Michael Crow has done a fair amount to, if not reverse this image, at least add some academic cred to the university.  ASU has been creeping up the USN&WR rankings, has a very serious and respected honors college (Barrett) and hosts the Origins conference each year, one of the most fun public education events I have attended.

But Michael Crow is now upset that another Phoenix area school has been given Division I status in sports, a for-profit college named Grand Canyon University.  This could really hurt both ASU's athletic recruiting in the area as well as dilute its revenues.  But in the supremely hypocritical world college athletics, he can't say that.  Instead, he says (Via Tyler Cowen)

The conference's 12 presidents signed and delivered a letter dated July 10 urging the NCAA's Executive Committee to "engage in further, careful consideration" about allowing for-profit universities to become Division I members at the committee's August meeting. In the meantime, Pac-12 presidents decided at a league meeting last month not to schedule future contests against Grand Canyon while the issue is under consideration.

"A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value -- that's not what we're about," Arizona State president Michael Crow said in a phone interview over the weekend. "... If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations."...

"Our presidents have a pretty clear view that athletics works for the broader benefit of the university," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "There's a discomfort with the idea that the sole accountability around athletics would be to a company that might use athletics as a marketing tool to drive stock price. There's a sense that changes the dynamics and accountability around athletics."

It is freaking hilarious to get lectured on accountability around athletics by the NCAA.  This is an organization that has been making billions off unpaid workers for years, workers who think so much of the value of the compensation they do receive (a free education) that most of the best of them never complete it.  I wrote more about the NCAA and athletes here.  In short, though, all these schools use the athletic program to raise capital (in the form of donations), likely far more so than a private school's sports team would raise its stock value.  Unless you grew up near the school, what do you know about well-known schools like Penn State, Ohio State, University of Miami, LSU, Alabama and even Notre Dame other than their athletics program?

Michael Crow reveals himself as just another incumbent that does not want competition.

In regards to Grand Canyon specifically, though, it would certainly appear that Crow, who's been spearheading the effort, is driven in part by protecting his own turf. Arizona State has long been the only Division I university in the Phoenix market. And in the bigger picture, it seems a bit self-righteous that the same group of presidents that in 2011 signed a $3 billion contract with ESPN and FOX -- and which last year launched a profitable television network of their own -- would play the "non-profit" card in calling out someone else's motives.

"It's different in the following sense," Crow said of the comparison. "Whatever income we generate from a television network goes to support the swimming team, the rowing team at Cal. We support thousands of athletes and their scholarships, their room-and-board, as part of the intercollegiate spirit of athletics. ... In the case of a for-profit corporation, those profits go to the shareholders."

His last point is a distinction without a difference.  First, I am not sure it is true -- Grand Canyon also has other athletic programs that cost money but don't bring in revenue. They also have a women's swim team, for example.  But who cares anyway?  Why is a student interested in swimming more worthy of receiving football largess than an investor?  Maybe Crow is worried that the people of Arizona that fund so much of his operations (and bloated overpaid administrative staff) might suddenly start wondering why they don't get a return for their investment as do GCU shareholders.

Postscript:  Phil Knight at Oregon and Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State (to name just 2 examples) get an incredible amount of influence in the university due to the money they give to their football programs and the importance of the football programs to those schools.  Boone Pickens says he has given half a billion dollars to OSU, half of which went to the football program.  But it is clear he would not have given a dime if he had not been concerned with the football team's fortunes and the problem of his university's football team losing to other rich guy's teams.  Is this really somehow better and cleaner than being beholden to equity markets?

The link in the original article is broken, so here is a better link to an article and video of how "non-profits" are spending their athletic money, on things like this palatial locker room for the Alabama football team that would make Nero's gladiators blush.

Perfect the Enemy of the Good

For years, my observation has been that the perfect has been the enemy of the good in energy policy.   Now, I don't support the feds making energy policy at all, but given that they do, too often the government has ignored the 80/20 solution that would get most of the desired benefits for a fraction of the cost of alternatives being considered.

For example, in California, the state could have made a ton more progress reducing vehicle emissions had they  accepted a low emissions standard decades ago that allowed for things like compressed natural gas (CNG) as a vehicle fuel.  However, environmentalists insisted on zero emissions, and thus only electric vehicles passed muster, and the technology simply has not been there  (not to mention that at the margin, new electric vehicles in the state would at best be powered by natural gas and at worst by Arizona and Nevada coal plants, making the very concept of "zero-emissions" crazy).

I am thinking of this by looking at this chart from the EIA of CO2 emissions per BTU for various fuels (pounds per million BTU):

Coal (anthracite)227
Coal (bituminous)205
Coal (lignite)215
Coal (subbituminous)213
Diesel fuel & heating oil161
Gasoline156
Propane139
Natural gas117

Looking at this, and given the huge amounts of natural gas in this country, one might reasonably expect that a logical policy suggestion would be to try to provide incentives to substitute natural gas for coal and diesel fuel.  The technology exists right now, today, to produce electricity with gas and to power large vehicles with CNG  (and focusing on truck fleets eases the distribution issues with CNG).

But of course absolutely no one in the global warming movement is suggesting this (except for T. Boone Pickens, and he is involved in climate bills as a rent-seeker, not as an advocate).  You see, we want "renewable" energy, and natural gas does not fit.  Though for some reason ethanol does, despite the fact that ethanol probably creates more CO2 than it reduces.

No point here really, since I am not advocating any sort of energy policy.  But it reinforced to me why no one should claim as a justification for energy policy that somehow the system will be more efficient if a few smart people design it top-down, when one of the most obvious 80/20 solutions to Co2 reduction is not even considered.

Over-Stating Our Ability to Adopt Renewables

All those confident in our ability to ramp up things like wind and solar quickly should take a long look at T. Boone Pickens decision to virtually abandon billions of investment in wind.

One of the ways I think our potential to increase renewables is over-stated is that the government has begun lumping hydro power into wind, as in these charts.  They show "renewables" as about 9% of electricity production.   Increasing this to, say, 20% seems daunting but doable - after all, we are just doubling it.

But in fact, almost all of the 9% is hydro power, and that is not going to increase (in fact environmental presure is actually to destroy several hyrdo facilities to allow the rivers to run free).  This means that to get total renewables to 20%, other renewables like wind and solar will have to increase from about 1% to 12%, or a twelve fold increase.  This is much more daunting, especially since a raft of subsidies and incentives and programs have gotten us to just 1%.

Postscript: Owning a home in Phoenix with a big flat roof, there is no one in the world rooting for solar to be economic more than I am.  I have run the numbers recently, and taking advantage of all government subsidies, the investment has about an 8-10 year payback.  It's just not there yet.  Further, I worry that the current silicon/germanium IC technologies are dated and dead end.  I fear that buying solar now is like buying the last IBM mainframe before PCs came out.  I have a ton of confidence in the innovativeness of man, and believe that a real solar breakthrough will occur in the next 10 years.  Wind, on the other hand, is never going to work.  It is the ethanol of electricity production.

More on Wind Capacity

The other day I wrote to beware of rated capacity for wind and solar, because such plants tend to run way below their rated capacity on a 24-hour average.  MaxedOutMamma reads the wind report of the largest utility in Germany, which is as a country is among the largest adopters of wind power.  She finds this interesting bit:

As
wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms
determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever
increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional
power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As
a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed
capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall
continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means
that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW
(Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can
be replaced by these wind farms.

This is an even lower substitution factor than I mentioned previously, and is so because this report looks not just at the percent of time wind is blowing at full speed, but also at the peak load conventional power plants that must be kept running on standby due to the unreliability of wind.  At this 24:1 substitution ratio, folks like Al Gore and Boone Pickens will bankrupt us.  But of course, their investment portfolios, laden with alt-energy investments, will be paying off.


Oil at $140 is Still a Modern Miracle

Over the weekend, I was reading an article about T. Boone Pickens' energy plan, a thinly disguised strategy to grab government subsidies for his wind investments.  And I started to think how amazing it is that electricity from wind has to be subsidized to compete with electricity from fossil fuels.  Here's what I mean:

  • To get electricity from wind, one goes to a windy area, and puts up a big pole.  I presume that there are costs either in the land acquisition or in royalty payments to the land holder.  Either way, one then puts a generator on top of the pole, puts a big propeller on the generator, add some electrical widgets to get the right voltage and such, and hook it into the grid. 
     
  • To get electricity from petroleum is a bit more complex.  First, it's not immediately obvious where the oil is.  It's hidden under the ground, and sometimes under a lot of ocean as well.  It takes a lot of technology and investment just to find likely spots where it might exist.  One must then negotiate expensive deals with often insanely unpredictable foreign governments for the right to produce the oil, and deal day to day with annoyances up to and including rebel attacks on one's facilities and outright nationalization once the investments have been made.  Then one must drill, often miles into the ground.  Offshore, huge, staggeringly expensive platforms must be erected -- many of which today can be taller than the worlds largest skyscrapers.  Further, these oil fields, once found, do not pump forever, and wells must be constantly worked over and in some cases have additional recovery modes (such as water flood) added. 

    The oil, once separated from gas and water, is piped and/or shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles to a refinery.  Refineries are enormously complex facilities, each representing billions of dollars of investment.  The oil must be heated up to nearly 1000 degrees and separated into its fractions  (e.g. propane, kerosene, etc.).  Each fraction is then desulpherized, and is often further processed (including cracking and reforming to make better gasoline).  These finished products are in turn shipped hundreds or thousands of miles by pipeline, barge, and truck to various customers and retail outlets.

    To make electricity from the oil, one then needs to build a large power plant, again an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  The oil is burned in huge furnaces that boil water, with the steam driving huge turbines that produce electricity.  This electricity must then go through some electrical widgets to get to the right voltage, and then is sent into the grid.

Incredibly, despite all this effort and technology and investment required to generate electricity from fossil fuels, wind generators still need subsidies to compete economically with them.  In a very real sense, the fact that fossil fuels can come to us even at today's prices is a modern day business and technological miracle.

Of course, in the press, the wind guys begging at the government trough are heroes, and the oil companies are villains. 

Hilarious Calculus of Liberal Altruism

I had to say that this, from Janna Goodrich as quoted by Kevin Drum, is absolutely hilarious:

Education is one of the best engines for upward mobility and poor
students cannot afford to pay for higher education on their own. Their
families don't have the physical collateral to borrow money in the
private financial markets nor the savings to pay for the tuition
outright....But if we gave poorer students mostly grant-based aid we'd
be asking for the rest of the society to subsidize those who are one
day going to be wealthier than the average citizen. Two different
concepts of fairness or equality are at play here and I'm not sure if
both of them could be achieved at the same time.

Can you just see the liberals getting twisted in knots?  Oooh, helping the poor is good, but if we send them to college and they get rich, then we are helping rich people, and that's baaaad.  Its like that logic problem where a card says "the statement on the other side is false" and on the other side says "the statement on the other side is true."  Only a liberal could take the happy story of a poor kid going to college and getting rich and turn it into bad news.  I never thought about what a problem education was for liberal ethics, in that it converts sainted victims (e.g poor) into evil exploiters (e.g. rich).  Maybe that explains why they oppose school choice?

By the way, I have about zero sympathy for this whole grants in education discussion.  From an incentives standpoint, it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are getting public money for self-improvement to share the risk with the public through the debt and repayment obligation they take on.  A lot of people today already don't take good advantage of the opportunity they have while in college, and this is certainly not going to get any better if we give them a free ride rather than loans.

The second problem I have with public funding of grants for education is that colleges and their alumni groups can decide to fix this problem privately if they so desire.  My school (Princeton) makes a commitment that everyone who gets into the school, not matter how poor, will get a financial aid package that will make it possible to attend.  And, the financial aid is all in grants such that the student graduates from one of the most expensive schools in the country debt-free (and yes, the incentives problem worries me some).  All with private money.  We are able to do this because our school makes it a priority and our alumni give the money to make it happen.

I know what you are going to say -- Princeton is full of rich people, so they can afford this.  Yes and no.  First, our alumni do pretty well for themselves, but they also have to help fund financial aid for the highest tuitions in the country.  Other schools with lower tuitions have a lower bar to clear.  Second, while Princeton alums may be wealthier per capita, our alumni population, because we are a small school, is probably one tenth the size of a Berkley or a Texas.  As a result, schools like Texas almost certainly have a much wealthier alumni group in total.  But few of them give back.  It's not a priority for them to create financial aid money for incoming students (instead, T Boone Pickens gives $125 $165 million to the OU OSU football program).  So don't come crying to me that students at your schools need government grants -- you could have funded such a program at your school privately if you had made it a priority.

Postscript: My dad ran numerous fund raising initiatives at the University of Iowa for years.  After decades of effort, I think he has finally despaired of getting state school alumni to donate money for something other than the sports program.

Update:  OK, that's what I get for making a throw-away statement without fact-checking.  Boone Pickens actually gave $165 million to the athletic programs of Oklahoma State, not OU.  I got a bunch of aggrieved emails on this.  Sorry.  Being from Texas, I get all that stuff up in the trans-Red-River region mixed up.