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The Erie Canal was built by hand, by men with shovels, across 300+ miles of some of the harshest terrain in the country at that time. While it was first proposed in 1807, construction started in 1817. It took just 8 years for the entire expanse to be built.

Here we are 10 years after September 11th, and here is the status of the Freedom Tower reconstruction. I know it’s an extreme apples-to-oranges comparison, so maybe I should just have commented, “man, the tower is taking a really long time to build.” I suppose I should be glad that slow and steady is likely to produce a safer and nicer building, but is that a guarantee?

Is there another point to make? Indeed yes. In a recent speech, Al Gore has said that,

“Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative … To those who say 10 years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world’s scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don’t act in 10 years … And there are only two options: “Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside” • – Al Gore, “A Generational Challenge to Repower America

What he is asking us to do is to build, in a period of 10 years, twice the amount of installed capacity that the United States built in the 50 years prior, while at the same time managing to build thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines at a cost of several billion dollars, negotiating tens of thousands of property acquisitions, takings and rights of way and to have current energy producers simply write off over $5 trillion of capital investments in their existing industries. Yet fools like me are the ones being asked to step aside rather than having people understand the enormity of such a claim. I’ll provide you with some of the supporting data in a future post.

But remember that: Gore thinks we can replace 100% of our fossil fuel energy production in a decade, and NYC cannot get a high-rise building built in a decade. For goodness’ sake, the Cape Wind project has been held up in a regulatory morass for an entire decade, and that is one small offshore wind farm. We’d need thousands of such projects to be built within the decade, including new transmission lines. Cell phone companies have a hard enough time negotiating rights of ways to build cell towers without wires. Imagine the difficulty in extending the electric grid by thousands of miles. Imagine! Maybe I am really delusional for thinking such claims are delusional.

5 Responses to “Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Megaprojects Edition”

  1. Trey says:

    Good subject to post on. Nice insight (Erie Canal vs. Freedom Tower) on how Gore’s timeline is beyond absurd. The economics and private property issues are also ridiculous, as you describe.

    What’s surprising is that so-called environmentalists think that these green energies on such vast scales are benign. (Solar and wind are reasonable for off-grid needs.) They require lots of space (due to their low power density). Somehow folks have been brainwashed in to thinking wind turbines are beautiful. Well, suppose Colorado wanted just wind power to supply that state’s electricity needs. That would require 30,000 2MW turbines. (20 GW of power needed, 1/3 capacity factor). That to me is a ghastly looking landscape, never mind all the roads used to service them. Visually, I’d rather have 50 0.5GW natural gas plants. Or a handful of nuclear plants.

    Some will responds about “negative externalities” (say natural gas fracking)? Well, guess what, wind power uses up resources — they don’t sprout up after sprinkling a little magic pixie dust. They use steel and concrete, 10 times as much, per power output, as a natural gas plant. Those materials came at the cost of the environment from some place. Neodymium (used in the magnets in generators) mining is not the cleanest of techniques. It is mostly mined in China because of environmental standards here in the US.

    Gore’s extreme idealogical beliefs are leading him to poor judgement. Unfortunately, he has a big audience that knows nothing of the size and scale of our energy needs.

  2. Harry says:

    An amazing fun fact is that Al Gore is a director on the board of many crony-capitalist (fascist, as in Mussolini) companies, and thus probably been given stock and options. This has not occurred because Al knows anything about business, except for selling dope to pay for his stash as a divinity student at Harvard. It is hard to read or hear anything out of his mouth without choking.

    Dick Cheyney was vilified for meeting with people in the energy business BEFORE Clinton left office, to talk with people about energy policy. He had resigned as Chairman of Halliburton, and would soon donate a $20 million golden parachute to charity to avoid conflicts of interest. He did not meet with Al to get his view.

    Dick Cheyney would later come under heavy attack, and would be compared to Darth Vader. I bet at the U of R nobody likes him, and many like Al Gore for his vision.

    I am a pro-efficiency, anti-waste and pollution guy. Do no-till planting, but plow down the cow manure. Turn off the lights and the computers in unoccupied rooms. Don’t waste gas going to the store six times a day.

    Al falls into the same category as that actress who exhorted us to use a single sheet of toilet paper per session to save the Maine forests. Not much improvement there.

  3. Harry says:

    I think the last time I read about the Erie Canal was on your esteemed blog, Mike. Mule power, and pestilence.

    During my consulting days I was on a project with a big company in the elevator construction business. Our project was successful, in the millions of dollars a year successful, and it was not my doing, but our company’s. It is an oversimplification, but we helped them get organized.

    That said, I would be the last person who would give armchair advice on a construction project that was spending my money. The fundamental principle is to get the electricians, who may be union and paid a lot, to work more often, not harder. Same goes for the guys who drive the cement trucks to pour the footers. I do not want to debate Davis-Bacon here.

    What made our project successful was to direct the attention of the people who were charged to make things happen did make them happen, and voila! Twenty percent or more reduction in unit cost, and other benefits, like getting everything done on time.

    A bridge near my house just closed, and its repair is contracted out. It is supposed to be open before the snow flies. Let’s hope the person who was supposed to order the crushed stone did it, and knows it will be delivered on time.

  4. Michael says:

    I don’t think we could build the St. Louis Arch anymore because of too many regulations they would violate constructing it. I could be wrong, but I’ve heard that comment a few times. The Arch was built without fatalities.

  5. Rod says:

    Al Gore was only trying to sound like John Kennedy when Kennedy “challenged” America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. A line spoken by Lloyd “Beltway” Bentsen comes to mind.

    It took years of lawyering over who was going to pay for the WTC restoration before the parties involved could even decide what the design was going to be. I think construction on the site has only been underway in full for a couple of years.

    Imagine how long it would have taken to dig the Erie Canal if turtles had stood in the way of the ditch. In our township a simple culvert-style bridge on Knight Road is currently being delayed by DEP as a red box turtle and a flock of bats under the old bridge are re-located. In the Erie Canal days, those sensible folks with the shovels would just pick up the turtles and move them or have them for soup.

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