Minnesota's Energy Future?©

Dell Erickson

Minneapolis, MN
October 20, 2003

Part IV:  Real World Examples



Part IV:  Real World Examples: Water, Energy, Land & Food, California and Consumption






            Energy & Food




            California, Energy, Pricing & Conservation


              Transporting Inefficient Energy


              Pricing & Conservation


            Managing Data


              Falsely Assuming Linear or Direct Relationships


              Inappropriate Time Horizons


              Rate of Change Over Time


                 Table 15: 1965 – 2000 Minnesota Electricity Growth by Sector



Water, Energy, Land & Food, California and Consumption

The ultimate battle will not be fought over oil but over water.
Walter Youngquist, 1997


Mark Twain said it well: “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”  Dr. Youngquist’s and Mark Twain’s statements are surprising considering water covers nearly three-quarters of the Earth's surface!  However, only half of one-percent is available for human consumption.  Salt water makes up about 97% of the earth's water and most of the remaining freshwater lies frozen at either pole.  Much of the remaining is held as groundwater and difficult or impossible to obtain.  The useable portion is half of one-percent held in lakes, rivers, and accessible aquifers.  Fortunately, it still is a lot of water and if used judiciously by societies the relatively small percentage will readily accommodate a sustainable society.

Unfortunately, within 20 to 25 years more than three out of every four Earth inhabitants will not have adequate water.  Today, “as world population approaches 6 billion on October 12, 1999, water tables are falling on every continent, major rivers are drained dry before they reach the sea and millions of people lack enough water to satisfy basic needs” states Lester R. Brown of the Worldwatch Institute.2  Driving home the point of the looming water situation John Briscoe, senior water adviser at the World Bank, stated that unless people use water wisely “there won't be enough fresh water to sustain the Earth's population.” “If nothing happens” he says “the situation is really quite terrifying.”

Considering the larger nations of the world, Canada is the only nation today with adequate fresh water.  Because it has 40% of the world's useable fresh water, Canada may be the “Saudi Arabia of water, a water superpower” writes Alanna Mitchell in Canada's “Globe and Mail” newspaper.  It is probable that Canada will become the world's largest water exporter, first to the U.S. and by tanker to other nations that can afford the processing and shipping costs.

The Middle East states, many parts of Africa, and China are well known examples of water short regions.  To the water-endangered list one can add less known areas as Australia, Brazil, and Mexico.  Even the U.S. has serious water deficiencies in regions at this time and, as will be discussed below, should be placed on the warning list.

In the Mideast, water desalinization plants trade off expensive solar, oil and natural gas energy to pump scarce deep fossil water.  Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest seawater desalinization plant producing half the nation’s water.  The remaining half of its water is pumped from deep non-renewable aquifers.  Lacking modern sewage facilities one-third of the nation has storage lagoons of effluent leaking into the groundwater in several large cities.  Amazingly, Saudi Arabia, lacking a single lake or river, uses this valuable drinking water to grow rice and wheat for home consumption and for export.  The 4,000' deep wells underlying Qassim Province are increasingly pumping highly mineral-laden water and unless carefully monitored, will result in salted fields.  There is also the expense question: the energy cost of deep wells will soon become uneconomic.  They frequently share deep aquifers pitting adjacent neighboring states against one-another.

It is unlikely that China will be able to satisfy its insatiable water demand and its environment and economy will suffer in the process.  Although economic and environmental research provides the necessary guidance, China is continuing ill-considered energy practices.  In an unwise development, China previously diverted its main tributary Amu Darya to provide drinking and irrigation water to a parched region.  The effect has been to dry up the Aral Sea, now less than half its historical size.  China is also damming the mighty Yangtze in a $60.4 billion “Three Gorges Dam” project.  In addition to electricity, the Three Gorges Dam will provide water for a massive system of canals extending 1,300 kilometers across the eastern, mid, and western sections of the country.  Beijing lies in the center of a parched region desperately needing water (or fewer residents).3  The world's largest water-diversion project ever undertaken will provide one-seventh of China's total electricity output and allow ocean tankers to navigate inland 1,500 miles to reach Chongqing (capital of Sichuan Province).  An alternative was to construct nuclear plants.  That would have required being dependent on other nations for ores ―primarily Russian uranium ores.  The other option was to use coal.   Although China has substantial coal reserves, the dam project apparently would produce electricity at lower costs.

In order to meet the electricity demands of its growth, Chinese authorities will flood a vast area —670,000 ha— necessitating the relocation of more than 15 million of its citizens.  Politically unable to cope, research (including research by Chinese scientists) documents that the net outcome will be a significant ecological and economic negative for China.4

Numerous areas throughout the U.S. today have declining water supplies.  Indeed, electricity for irrigation purposes is a primary cause for increases in generating plants.  Frequently these are regions that cannot naturally replace water resources for generations, if at all.  In Minnesota, much of the southwest, —notably the Rio Grande, Colorado and Columbia rivers— and many rivers in the southeast —Chattahoochee River is a good example— there are literally ongoing water “wars” between states and communities due to growing population demands on scarce water resources.  California’s well-known water problems are a classic example.  Global warming suggests that conflicts will increase and water used for hydro and other power generation will be reduced.  Increases in output or new nuclear or other baseline plants requires increases in water for cooling.  Thus, global warming may have the effect of reducing U.S. electricity generation at a time of increasing demands.

Virtually all of the large cities of the Southwest and many others lying to the west of the zero moisture gradient (ZMG) line overuse water resources.  The ZMG is roughly a line through central Minnesota to the Gulf.  The suggestion is that if an area west of the ZMG loses its natural water reserves (i.e., a stream, pond or wetland), ordinarily there is not sufficient water to replenish the loss.  It also indicates that groundwater reservoirs are slow to recharge.  Judicious care of surface water provides for groundwater reservoirs, natural areas and wildlife, recreation, natural beauty, and sustainable water for human consumption.

The typical American uses approximately 1,750 gallons of water each day, generally in the form of manufactured goods and farm products.  Canadians consume much more.  Yet few realize that every day 3.2 billion gallons are permanently removed from U.S. aquifers than replaced by natural recharge.  The great mid-continent aquifer, the Ogallala, underlies the breadbasket of America, a portion of its northern branch reaching into Minnesota and an extended aquifer reaching into the Dakotas.  These Midwest and western aquifers are being drawn down at a rate of four to six feet per year in excess of their recharge.  To put this in more understandable terms, the reduction in U.S. aquifers is about the equivalent of half the water flow of the Mississippi River.  Because the average aquifer replenishment rate is about one-half inch per year, it could require hundreds or thousands of years to replenish.  The short of it is that in less than 50 years the available U.S. water will decline by 60% to only 700 gallons per person.5

Although there is little government candor, rapidly falling water tables should be a special concern for such cities as Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas or Reno.  Consider the imagery of the city of Phoenix, symbol of immortality, rising from the ashes will before long return from whence it came because of water.  Aggravating the situation in Nevada are the dozens of deep drilled gold mines.  Currently, several of the large mines need to pump up to 30,000 gallons a minute to maintain operations.  When the gold is exhausted however, the remaining deep holes will absorb water from the surrounding area (Humboldt River Basin west of the Ruby Mountains) and leach poisonous contaminants into the surrounding water tables while draining water from the river basin.6  In the Minneapolis region nearly all surrounding communities have established permanent water restrictions to protect the limited ground water recharge capacities of the communities.  Any growth in Minnesota will worsen the situation until water restrictions become comprehensive and wide spread.  However, few residents understand the growth reason behind water restrictions.

Because heavy use of fossil and surface waters left wells and lakes in the Tampa region virtually drained, Florida’s Tampa Bay Water recently constructed a seawater desalination plant.  The $110 million project is designed to produce 25 million gallons of drinking water and 19 million gallons of very salty brine.  Seldom mentioned are the widespread damaging water-based ecological affects.  The brine flows into the cooling canal for the Big Bend power plant and into the sea.  Pollution is more than the water, since desalination and its piping network requires substantial amounts of electricity, and land and air pollution from the generation of electricity is increased and embedded in the drinking water.  In addition to high costs, it’s risky: the coming unreliability of electricity will be visiting drinking water.  If a brownout or blackout were to occur, the city’s drinking and firefighting water would become unavailable.7

Fundamentally, the construction of a desalination plant is an attempt to maintain the status quo growth mode.  The correct practice is to determine a suitable population for the region and plan accordingly.  The current policy defers the dilemmas of growth to future generations.

If global warming continues its recent trend, then even the Midwest U.S. and Canadian prairies will undergo serious water limitations.  Because of increases in groundwater contamination, inadequate sewage treatment, and overuse of water resources, could an eventual return to water barrels for some drinking and garden water use —as did the pioneers— be forthcoming?

It also bears repeating that the use of fossil water from lakes or wells beyond the minimum annual recharge rate is the taking of intergenerational resources for present use; it is virtually the theft of resources from our children and their children's future.

Water resources are following the pathway of energy and energy production requires vast quantities of water.  Scarce water could place Minnesota electricity at risk.  The large western U.S. coalfields Minnesota is dependent on could face inadequate water supplies for mining the increased demand.  In the near future, security for water pipelines will equal that of oil pipelines today.8

Energy & Food

Because modern food production is energy dependent, it follows that food is another concern in a lengthening succession of concerns.  To provide food for the American, Canadian, or Australian (Western) diet requires the equivalent of 400 gallons of oil per person per year.9  A surprise to most Americans, in the near future because of diminishing water, oil, and land resources, U.S. food production will become a profound concern: as Figure 32 (p240) illustrated, within two decades this food rich nation's ability to even feed its own people may be in jeopardy.

Certainly diets will change and food will cost more.  Rising agricultural prices implies that fewer Americans, Canadians, Australians, Japanese and similar consumers will be able to afford the typical Western diet.  If prices rise beyond consumers’ ability to buy, the lack of affordability is equal to not having the resource or food item.  In an effort to adjust to the worsening food situation, less indirect consumption of grains in the form of meat and increasing direct consumption of the grain (rice, wheat, oats, corn, etc.) will assume a greater place in future diets.  For most Americans, going down the food chain is not a choice they would prefer.

The conversion of rangeland into cropland is one proposal to increase grain production.  If this were profitable, these areas would now be producing the more profitable grains.  The reason they do not is that grazing rangelands are generally unsuitable for growing human grains.  For most of these areas to produce grain requires large volumes of water (almost always deep well water) are required as are repeated applications of fertilizers and chemicals.  In terms of energy and economics, it is unlikely any but a few rangelands can be converted to human grain production and if rangelands were converted, the conversion would exacerbate water and energy shortages.

The association of food with water and energy has tightened in recent decades and more recently has become an issue of public awareness and discussion.  Although food production has increased due to increasing energy inputs (and cellular technology), it is likely that the “Green Revolution” trend will be reversed and a trend toward a more sustainable less energy and water dependent agriculture era will emerge.

In general, the Green Revolution is unsustainable because it is based on expensive technology, energy intensive agricultural practices, and bountiful water.  Ideally, increasing food efficiency means to increase the ability of plants to photosynthesize sunlight without the addition of chemicals or fossil water —to more rapidly convert sunlight energy into food energy.  Although a wonderfully impressive sight, the 12-foot Iowa corn would be three-foot tall, require proportionately less energy and other farmer inputs, but with equally large corn ears.

Recapitulating Malthus, “Green Revolution” founder and former University of Minnesota Professor, Dr. Norman Borlaug said the benefits it conferred on the malnourished were predicated on arresting growth.  Daniel Quinn in a Socratic dialogue says something very similar.10

The phenomenon as it's observed is this: ‘Every increase in food production to feed an increased population is answered by another increase in population.’ This says nothing about where these increases occur.


“I don't get it.”


An increase in food production in Nebraska doesn't necessarily produce a population increase in Nebraska. It may produce a population increase somewhere in India or Africa.


Are you suggesting that First World farmers are fueling the Third World population explosion?


“Ultimately” he said, “who else is there to fuel it?”

Consistent with the status quo pattern, a similar outcome will follow today's ongoing food – population race using technological approaches of genetic engineering.  Its well-intentioned but unsustainable (and ominous) consequences will emerge but with a larger more vulnerable population.  In fact, net food production has already become unsustainable in some areas due to monoculture and use of non-locally adapted species.  Monoculture, for instance, invites diseases normally under control.  Rejecting the “Green Revolution”, farmers in some areas of the world are returning to the use of domestically adapted species, and yields not only became sustainable and less costly but increased to former levels.  Locally adapted species are also resistant to local diseases and monocultures increase the potential for serious diseases.  The 1840s Irish potato famine is an example.  The potential for a repeat is very high —approximately ten of the 2,000 native potato varieties are in general crop production.  The practice of providing a single banana variety (Cavendish) for Western consumers is another alarming example.11  The best and possibly only sustainable policy is for farmers to plant reduced energy and water dependent locally adapted crop species.  In some future season, today's removal of locally adapted genes by agricultural interests may be seen as an historic crime against Humanity.

There are those who separate society and its environment from nature.  However as history so doggedly demonstrates, to bet society against the vagaries of weather and innumerable and highly adaptable critters bent on converting human crops to critter food is unwise.  Sadly, under current practices the consequence of traveling the road to the Olduvai Gorge is a return to patterns of food consumption and related health conditions society has steadfastly moved away from.

“We have an energy crisis looming over agriculture,” states Kansas Senator Pat Roberts.  The reason for the turning point is that diminished availability of supply and escalating natural gas and oil prices raise the costs of fertilizer production.12  Rising fertilizer prices tend to discourage field use.  At the same time it raises the cost of electricity and reduces use of irrigation pumps.  It requires more energy, especially oil and natural gas, and water (if irrigated from pumped water) and more frequently dollars to seed, fertilize, control pests, transport and process food than the energy derived from the food produced.  90% of the production costs of ammonia used in phosphate production is natural gas.  As any farmer knows from experience, rising production costs at the farm level impacts farm profit margins.  Minnesota is known as a farm state; however few understand that Minnesota is typical of modern farming where energy outputs as food are less than the energy inputs used to produce the food.  Iowa State University agronomist, Dr. John Sawyer states that its high production cost will result in “stranded fertilizer” or very expensive corn.13  The practice is unsustainable and deteriorating.

Exacerbating water shortages, the energy crisis in California created a remarkable increase in demand for electricity for water production.  In parched California, pumping water requires more electricity than any other single use.  Difficult to imagine, fully 7% of California's total annual electric consumption pumps water.  Searching for energy implies searching for water.  “Major energy companies” writes Dr. William Turner, a water resource specialist, “are selecting sites along major natural gas pipeline routes in the Western United States for peaking power plants.”  The same situation is evident in California's neighboring state of Oregon.  In a water critical region, the deal is to use cash payments in exchange for a “promise not to pump agricultural water.”  With growing water limitations is the bottom-line decision to determine whether to have water to drink, grow food, or be used for generation of energy?14

The Central Valley of California, the great food producer for the nation, one-sixth of the U.S. total, is also experiencing a deteriorating water situation.  Today, energy and water concerns are being raised in California because of below average rainfall and snowpack in the mountains.  State officials are warning of a possible 80% reduction in water delivered to farms and urban areas.15

A reminder of the situation in Saudi Arabia and Florida, California is in the clutches of a lose-lose situation: it implies greater use of higher priced electricity to pump and transport increasingly scarce fossil groundwater.

Steve Hall, Executive Director of the Association of California Water Agencies, states that “there would be severe shortages south of the (Sacramento-San Joaquin River) Delta, and zero water deliveries for three years for large areas of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.”16  The consequences to area farmers would be unfortunate.  “No matter what you do with conservation,” he continues “it won't be enough, “there's too much demand.”  Hall explains the reasons are that in this breadbasket of the U.S., agriculture uses 80% of the water and the population grew ten million since 1977 and six million since only 1992.  With its population projected to double in the next few decades —to about 60 million— whatever the water declines and shortages evident today, they pale by comparison.  Today, even mildly dry years are cause for concern.  Maurice Roos, chief hydrologist for the California Department of Water Resources, cautions that “this could be considered a dry year, but it's by no means a critically dry year, our situation could be very serious if we have a dry season next year.”17  And the population continues to grow at a rate exceeding that of Bangladesh.

Although reaching similar levels is not an issue, relatively the same situation is developing in Minnesota.  The agricultural use of water is monitored by Minnesota authorities, yet need for regulation has also increased: fossil water pumped for irrigation has grown substantially in the last 15 years, significantly contributing to the increasing electricity demands in Minnesota and need for constructing additional generating facilities.  Its growth should be reconsidered: irrigation is an extension of Jevons Paradox —it is unsustainable and may aggravate the situation it is intended to benefit.

Brownouts or blackouts are a serious California problem and shortages of energy have wider implications than only crop production, as it would in Minnesota.  Not only is drinking water threatened but also safety —fire protection or sewage control and potential spread of disease.  If a water system is interrupted for more than a day or two, contaminants may enter and require closing, cleansing, and further system testing.  It could require several days without water if a system were to be contaminated due to an energy shortfall.  The economic and social implications would be stunning.18

As the blending of water with oil, the Arabs and the Middle-East situation is worthy of brief mention.  For centuries thirsty antagonists in these regions have fought battles and wars to secure reliable water sources.  To Israel for example, the Golan Heights is less a barrier or buffer zone from invasion threats than a source of substantial water in a water-deprived nation.19  Except for Israel, the region is generally as rich in oil as they are poor in water.

Yet these generally Muslim nations have alarming rates of population growth, two to three percent (doubling rates of 25 years or less) when a sustainable population level is below existing populations.  The doubling of their populations and associated water shortages was discussed at the 1994 Geneva Conference on the Environment and Quality of Life.  Adel Darwish said in one presentation that Muslim Fundamentalists are including water in their demands and planned to use water as a weapon to advance their cause.  Indeed, he quoted one leading Arab politician saying “a small swift war might be economically more rewarding than putting up with a drop in our water supplies.”20

When the oil money begins to drain away and water facilities are insufficient to meet demand or water becomes too costly to obtain, an inescapable and unpleasant scenario will begin to unfold —whether in the Mideast, California or Minnesota.


Diminishing farmland is another reason for food concern.

Millions of acres of farmland and natural areas are lost every year primarily because of growth.  Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University states that the Western diet requires approximately 0.5 ha of land per capita.  In total, every additional person in the U.S. uses between three and nine acres of land as food, energy, transportation, housing, and manufactured services and goods.  These are frequently natural areas or land used for farming.

Dr. Pimentel in a 1997 study concluded that within 20 years U.S. farmland would decline to 0.45 ha per capita “which is below the level 0.5 ha per capita needed for the diverse American diet”, he said.  It is also important to note that Dr. Pimentel did not deduct land abandoned each year due to soil erosion or lost to commercial development.21  This renowned scientist also concludes that because of U.S. population growth, within 25 years the U.S. would no longer be the food exporter to the world's hungry.  With each American requiring approximately 25 times the world average, it implies that each additional American (or Canadian or Australian, etc.) arithmetically replaces 25 people in other poorer lands.

Worldwide overpopulation is a profound concern.  Because of severe shortages of land and water, malnutrition and food shortages will increase as total food production peaks.  Although total world food production has increased, per capita production peaked years ago22 (note Figure 32, page 240 and Figure 7 and Table 8, page 58).  There will be another billion and a half inhabitants to feed in that time frame and —unless policy quickly changes— over 80 million of that increase will be in the U.S.  The world food impact of 80 million more U.S. residents would approximate two billion people at the world average level of food consumption.  Finally, declining food capabilities underscores the comments about the precarious US-dollar discussed in the section on oil.23

Additional soil losses are due to erosion exacerbated by fence-to-fence planting and lack of shelter belts.  In past eras, the responsible preservation technique to maintain healthy and productive farmland was to allow significant portions —a fifth or sixth of acreage— to lie fallow each year or to be seeded in grasses or alfalfa.  The nutrients and plant parts are then plowed back into the soil.  In addition to enhancing soils, fallow fields provide for wildlife habitat, increased water control, and erosion prevention.  Tiling (drainage) of large field areas reduces water available for many local purposes ―including farmfields.  If frequently wet, the area is a wetland (perhaps ephemeral) —a highly productive natural area and should not be farmed.  Shelter belts protect farms from wind erosion and promote wildlife habitat.  Recognizing their importance after the dust bowl experience of the 1930s, 400,000 miles of shelter belts were planted to prevent soil erosion.  Today’s farmers have replaced the husbanding the land philosophy for short-term economic gains: all but 20,000 miles of shelter belts have been removed.

Although governments (and industry) often use averages to explain an issue, it is important to note that average water or food availability doesn't indicate sustainable use.  The maximum sustainable number of users is determined by identifying the potential minimum possible water or food availability in a period.  As seen throughout natural processes, the harsh periods determine maximum sustainable numbers.  Thus, a reasonable baseline planning period could be the water potential under the scenario of a hundred or five hundred-year drought.  This implies that for most years there will be an excess of water for human use.  Sapient humans ought to be able to set themselves apart from their genetics and fundamental biology to design social, economic, and environmental systems to achieve sustainable numbers and consumption patterns consistent with the challenging periods.

Significantly, Dr. Pimentel's research resulted in finding the average crop yield and thus no food reserve cushion was determined.  This scientist's conclusions should be considered generous during periodic droughts or other natural misfortunes with their sometimes substantial crop declines.  Because food reserves were not designed into the model, if land losses and poor growing conditions were also factored in, the projected food production limitations would arrive years sooner.

Dr. Youngquist is probably correct when he says water is the “ultimate battle”.

California, Energy, Pricing & Conservation

The Golden State leads the way down the road to the Olduvai Gorge.
Richard Duncan. 2001

California's energy predicaments are primarily a consequence of three developments: the physics of energy transport, artificially low prices, and population growth.  Focusing on the messenger rather than the message, California demonstrates the consequences of misplaced politics interfering with fundamental economic and social issues.  California is the national energy model.  Minnesota (perhaps all states) is following the California model and will have the California result.

Transporting Inefficient Energy

The cost of generating California electricity doesn't fully explain the substantial price increases evident in the recent crisis.  However, declining energy efficiency of overused generators and transporting electricity from distant sources helps explain the situation.  A sizeable percentage of the electrical (especially peak use) energy sold in California and Minnesota is “wheeled”, transported over electric transmission lines from distant and out-of-state generators, including Canada.  Southern California “wheels” electrical energy northward in several 500-kV lines.  Unfortunately, not wanting new lines constructed in their backyards, the increase in the number of transmission lines has not kept pace with population growth resulting in constrictions in transporting capacity (at “Path 15”) according to ISO, California's Independent System Operator, ―the manager of the grid.

Transporting (wheeling) runs headlong into physics: each hundred miles of transported electricity loses 5% to 10% of its electrical energy.  Electricity transported 500 miles will lose up to one-half its energy value.  In a vicious resource cycle, not only will the energy cost more but consume more energy in transporting it.  If one observes the possible sources of transported energy to California —the Four Corners area, adjacent north and nearby northeasterly states and Canada —and for Minnesota —Canada, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana— it is clear the distances are great and the energy losses commensurate.

High demand and transportation implies that generating plants are frequently operating beyond their efficient design capabilities.  Because of growth in adjacent states, electric companies in those states are also compelled to inefficiently operate generating plants to match local energy demands and then transport the inefficient and expensive electrical capacity remaining out of the state.  It also indicates that “peaking plants” —those thought to be used only during peak use periods— will be operated at maximum production for longer periods.  These facilities are unusually expensive to operate and frequently are big polluters.  If the peaking generators are natural gas fired as often the case in California and Minnesota, they use a Brobdingnagian volume of natural gas.  Prices rise accordingly.

Higher marginal generating and transporting costs can be passed on to the average electric user back home, to Oregon, Nevada, and Minnesota!  Distant innocent consumers are forced to suffer higher energy bills due to ill-conceived growth and energy policies many miles away.  Thus, non-Californians are being compelled to subsidize California.

A reliance on the weather makes the California and the Pacific Northwest electricity unreliable.  The region relies on a heavy snowpack to generate hydroelectricity and for water consumption.  The lack of adequate snowpack was a contributor to California’s 2001 energy fiasco and a reduction in hydropower shifts California’s electricity to natural gas.  The result is energy uncertainty and higher consumer prices.25  Because the 2003 snowpack is below average, the generation of hydroelectricity will decline.26  The decline will be made up from natural gas generators.  These generators consume natural gas intended primarily for storage for winter use.

From a political and practical point of view, states now transporting energy to California are likely to collectively consider their domestic energy and consumer interests before that of California (and Minnesota).  This is a completely human reaction that underlies the legislation to mandate regional energy zones (for Minnesota, MAPP) and to standby programs set to nationalize energy.  By some measures, it can be construed to be a means of limiting citizen participation in determining local energy and growth policies.  Moreover, the legislation tends to support less responsible government policies at the expense of sensible policies in neighboring and other states.27

Energy problems comparable to California are rapidly becoming a way of life in neighboring states.  States from Montana to Arizona are projected to have a 6% energy shortfall because of California's relentless demands on energy generated in neighboring states and their own state's growth.  Although not the same large numbers, the other states’ growth rates exceed California's.  Thus the energy generated in those states will be either used by those states and or prices will escalate to balance demand.  With the availability of critical energy resources now peaking, the growth scenario takes on another dimension.  Reminiscent of Easter Island, California's growth has been ignored as the fundamental reason, yet growth lies at the heart of their energy dilemmas.  The coming brownouts or blackouts due to regional energy shortages (people longages) in the west will be a vivid demonstration of the situation soon to arrive in the Midwest.

Pricing & Conservation

California pricing legislation was responsible for providing artificially inexpensive energy and for the failure to construct additional large baseline generating facilities.  The energy subsidies were also a means to conceal and promote California's unprecedented immigration driven population growth and encouraged an entire industry, “Silicon Valley”, to develop.  The “Silicon Valley” industries are consumers of massive quantities of electricity.  The true costs of those subsidies are only now coming dimly to light.  Today, rather than properly allocating the full costs to actual users of electricity, and to computers and the Internet, the same politics are now seeking to redirect those high costs to other consumers in the form of regional brownouts or blackouts.  Apparently unable to comprehend or acknowledge the previous ill advised policies, the final “solution” now advocated by Governor Gray Davis appears to be one aligned with nationalizing energy —California legislative controls on the generation and distribution of energy.

In addition to a radical change in fundamental free market economics, nationalizing energy is a means of subsidizing special groups while reallocating the costs to others.

Increasing per capita demand also does not explain increasing cost.  On the contrary, Californians are national leaders in energy conservation.  The Federal Energy Information Administration reports that California's per capita electricity use ranks 49th of the 50 states.  California demonstrates that the actual rate of change of energy growth over two decades has not only slowed per person, but per capita use actually declined somewhat.  In the last 20 years California's per capita electrical consumption —despite all sorts of fancy new electrical toys— has declined from 7,292 kWh in 1979 to 6,952 kWh in 1999.28  The difference in total California energy use due to conservation has been an insignificant decrease from 2.4064^13 kWh (33 million x 7,292) to 2.2941^13 kWh (33 million x 6,952).  For all the conservation legislation and promotions, this has been a difference of only 0.11 million kWh.

However, without the 10 million population increase California's energy use would be about 1.5990^13 kWh (23 million X 6,952), a reduction of more than 33% percent.  In other words, conservation minded Californians have been overwhelmed by their increasing numbers.  Informed California residents are perplexed that Governor Gray Davis appears incapable of recognizing that awesome California population growth and its unrelenting energy demands.  Current U.S., Minnesota, and California population policies dictate that this alarming process continues.

California is an excellent illustration for the U.S. and Minnesota: it is appropriate to assign all increases in energy use directly to population growth.  Gov. Davis will need this information prior to making decisions or the policy outcome will likely have unintended and unsustainable consequences.

The silver lining in California's water situation is that it can be used as a baseline reference in determining appropriate long run state population policies.  Indirectly suggesting an appropriate and sustainable California population level, one report states that water shortages this year could affect 20 million of the currently 34 million Californians and 600,000 acres of farmland.  With the suggested (and closer to a sustainable) population level —14 million— this relatively minor water shortage would not exist.32

From a sustainability perspective it suggests that the existing California population can be sustained only under the most favorable of circumstances —water abundance in this example.  The precarious California water and energy position illustrates the naïve political viewpoint.  Similar to following a script, the misleading refrain is that the problem is a possible shortage of water rather than too many people.

Empathizing with California Governor Davis's point of view, a New York Times poll conducted during a period of higher prices found that 60% of respondents thought the energy crisis was false and preferred to blame energy companies, especially Big-Oil, for the higher prices.  In retrospect, temporary price manipulation was evident by one or two companies and in specific instances.  However, state pricing legislation and energy policies resulted in limited competition, suppliers, and generating sources.  In other words, overall higher prices were a result of ill-advised growth and energy policies rather than isolated shenanigans.  The more interesting item is that the poll also shows that a very significant percentage of the public believe energy dilemmas are genuine.  The informed respondent is very likely to vote, be in a position of influence, and a potential facilitator in an energy education process.29

Let's go behind water, food, land, and energy to examine California's unrelenting growth.  While native-born Californians had net out-migration in many years of the previous two decades, the population of California actually increased 43%.  Since only 1950, California's population soared from about 10 million to over 34 million today.  The latest Census reports that California is heading pell-mell toward over 50 million in a brief 25 years and 100 million by 2065!  California is aiming toward becoming a state —or nation— unto itself!

California has suffered the brunt of current mass immigration policies.  Immigration, almost all from Mexico and most of it illegal, is the dominant source of recent and future population and growth in energy.  In the 1990 – 1997 period, 96% of California's population increase was immigration driven.  A staggering consequence of large scale legal and illegal immigration and immigrants’ high fertility is that it requires California taxpayers to fund construction of a complete new school every week just to keep pace.  The Public Policy Institute of California and the State Department of Finance are good sources of studies.  Their data show that in 39 of 58 counties Hispanics increased by more than 50% in the 1990s and that their fertility greatly exceeds all other ethnic groups in California: Hispanics, 3.3; Blacks, 2.0, Asians, 1.9, Whites, 1.6.  To maintain a population group requires a replacement level fertility of 2.1.  The creators of the State of California —Whites, once the predominate race― are now a minority and shrinking in numbers relative to non-Whites.30

As discussed earlier in Part I regarding population and energy, the identical process is underway nationally and in Minnesota.  The future California —if local and national policies are not quickly changed— will be a political powerhouse essentially dictating national policies and legislation.  Because immigration in some measure already controls a handful of high immigration states, the foreign born are beginning to establish state policies favorable to immigration and immigrants —illegal and legal.

Under current immigration practices, in only a few more years a handful of states will determine national legislation; the remaining 45 states will be only a marginal or secondary influence.  This development is a consequence of government policy rather than destiny.31  This sets up a scenario unimagined by the Founding Fathers or the Constitution.  High immigration states will be governed by the foreign born and the U.S. House of Representatives will be essentially controlled by these states as well.  Previously unthinkable, in the near future the election of a president may be determined by relatively few high immigration states.  The Senate will continue to represent the vast majority of states, however.  Thus, the checks and balances carefully woven into the American culture will be expressed by conflict at the federal level and possibly between states.

A final brief comment on California and its environment:  In a State once known for its unparalleled beauty and biodiversity the effects of growth on California's biodiversity has been relentless and devastating.  Research by Oxford University ecologist Norman Myers concluded that California has lost more than 70% of its original primary vegetation.  Whatever the problems seen today, and they are serious, there will be multiples of those problems in the near future.

Managing Data


Energy and growth reporting often appears to be artfully manipulated and makes wise decision making a challenge.  Frequently, the practice appears to be an attempt to buttress an otherwise untenable position —to frame the issues in the public mind, then maneuver public policy toward an agenda which is environmentally or economically non-sustainable but acceptable to powerful political interests.  Perhaps, the reason, in part, is the trusting nature of the media in uncritically repeating information provided by authorities.  Whether done with malevolence or not, the methods used by the government, media, and commentators to present data make the looming energy situation and associated issues difficult to understand.

Aldous Huxley's data admonition says avoiding factual data will not solve energy concerns; rather, responsible data and presentations are essential to identify, avoiding, and resolve problems.  Minnesota is following the California growth, energy, and corporate welfare model with the faith that it will trickle-down to other segments of society while at the same time benefiting future citizens, their economy, and environment.  A laudable goal, however, as described earlier, policymakers and environmentalists are gambling the future against economic and resource reality.

Because the management of data plays a significant role in determining policy, several examples of incorrect presentations are illustrated in this section.

Is a prepared script being followed in order to deflect attention from the underlying issues?  California Governor Davis employed two public relations firms, paying one $25,000, in a campaign to promote his viewpoint.  The campaign was so well financed and sophisticated it used “focus groups” to determine the most persuasive presentation and language to advance his position.  These focus groups also tested and learned techniques to diminish or silence the opposition and to deflect other points of view.  Governor Davis promoted his view on numerous television and radio programs and in many written articles.  The outcome was masterful marketing.  Continuing the Davis approach, the identical tactics used to describe California's energy problems, e.g., nefarious companies, found their way into Minnesota reports, as reasons for the Minnesota energy situation.  Evidently the Governors network formed at the big Governors’ conference is working!

The message certainly advanced a viewpoint but frequently did not succeed in clarifying California's energy predicaments.  These reports frequently danced around the two underlying reasons:  First, the government of California encouraged development of the high-energy intensive Silicon Valley dot-com industry by legislating large energy subsidies to reduce their high-energy cost of operations.  Second, they united with global human rights activists, immigration backers, and income redistributionists to promote an economically unsuitable price fixing scheme.  These are unlikely collaborators until one realizes that not only is cheap energy a social welfare state policy and a prudent business decision, but the dot-coms, like the California agriculture industry, are also big importers of cheap foreign workers, “temporary” foreign workers, legal immigrants, and illegal aliens.

Although it may be said no deliberate distortion is intended, the manner in which numbers are often discussed suggest otherwise.

California Governor Davis for example, could have stated that in addition to demand driven price increases, that inexpensive hydro generated electricity was reduced by below average snowpack in the mountains.  In the main, however, because peak generating plants using natural gas were (and are) operating as baseline units, the substantial increases in natural gas use and prices directly flowed through to consumers’ electric bills.  Barry Commoner's famous admonition “there is no free lunch” is the California oversight.  The full costs of the combination of ratcheting higher demands and construction of gas fired generating plants were two California policy decisions reflected in consumer bills.

It is the presentation of numbers however, that fails to provide the public accurate information.  Three statistical techniques frequently abused by governments and the media are to assume the relationships are direct and linear, 1 : 1 when they are not; using inappropriate time horizons, too short or not comparable; and the use of a point in time to show differences when rate of change over time is the critical event.  Errors of omission —of not telling the whole story— appears to be at work here as well.

Falsely Assuming Linear or Direct Relationships

Perhaps the most frequent example of inaccurate commentary or media reporting is that there should be a linear relationship between population and resource use.  That is to say, a unit change in one item, energy, is said (assumed) in the article to equal a unit change in a second item, population.  It's more than a fallacy of logic.  When few real world developments are linear, it is clearly misleading for commentators to suggest energy or population matters are direct or linear.  Real world examples are that it requires 2½% to 3% money supply growth to sustain 1% economic growth or that each additional person in the U.S. requires between four and nine acres of land for their support.  Examine changes in most stock prices and company earnings, inflation, paychecks, speed of a falling apple, distance to stop a car, increases in land or energy use.  The same misleading logic is frequently applied to sprawl.

Commentary and government reports frequently uncritically assume the rate of population growth as being equal to energy growth.  The item will assert that a 1% increase in population should produce a 1% or one additional unit of energy use.  The correct statement would be to say something like “each unit of additional population requires six additional units of energy.”  For example, the U.S. population has averaged a rate of compounded growth just over 1% while total energy use has grown at a 3% to 6%, even a 7% rate depending on energy source, e.g., coal.  Note that the doubling time of a 1% growth rate is 75 years and at 7%, about 10 years.

The same mistreatment of data is clearly evident in the Minnesota state energy reports.  Perhaps Minnesota's plan is to declare war on the automobile for example?  In order to support the state's position that energy is a manageable problem —and light and commuter rail transit is necessary― the Minnesota Energy Report said “gasoline consumption trends are increasing at a greater percentage rate than the trend in increasing population”.  This is precisely what was mentioned in the preceding paragraph.  The report shows a graph that purports to support the state position.  The graph illustrates data over the years 1990 to 1998 showing Minnesota population in a shallow uptrend and gasoline use, after a slump during the 1990 recession displaying a trendline slope (angle of rise) two or three times steeper than the population trendline.  Thus, viewers or listeners to any state or other presentation using this graph will make a cursory glance and hear the presenter say or imply that population is unimportant.  A quick and uncritical glance tends to support the state's agenda, the state's intention.

Inappropriate Time Horizons

Let's examine the state's trendlines to see if they accurately describe the situation.

Which trendline is cause and which is effect is not clear from the short period selected by the state but the association becomes clearer in the longer-term graphs.  In other words, the state used a short-term trend that simply does not represent the long-term consumption trend.  The data period selected by the state is statistically simple; further examination of the numbers reveals a different outcome than the state desires.

As demonstrated in the state example, the slope of the trendline is dependent on the period chosen with the basic idea that it represents the future.  The state selected a period beginning in a recession, then through the best of economic times, and in an environment characterized by inexpensive gasoline.  Because the trendlines began in the depths of the worst recession since the Depression of the 1930s (1990) the gasoline consumption trendline already has steep built-in upward bias only to return to normal.

Moreover, since gasoline use is correlated with the economy and the economy over this period was the most robust sustained period of growth in the nation's history, one would expect an exceptional increase in use over the period.  Also, as discussed earlier, after the oil crisis real prices (adjusted for inflation) of gasoline declined for more than two decades.  In brief, the state's portrayal is inconsistent with actual trends: declining and low gasoline prices combined with an unparalleled period of sustained rapid economic growth unusually stimulating demand.  It's not likely to be repeated.

Let's examine the state's data rendition further.  By dividing vehicle miles by population one obtains usage per capita.  Contrary to the state’s position even in this particularly robust economic period, calculated data shows that increases in per capita gasoline use trailed growth even of electricity.  Seemingly a considerable increase, the rise in use over a 29-year period was about 122%, 6.04% in 1970, and 10.54% in 1999.  The state attempts to capitalize on this inappropriate statistic.  The statistically critical item, rate of growth, however, is a more moderate 2.8%.  The rate is completely in line with normal energy use.  Of more importance is that the per capita increase was about 75% rather than 122%, or at a rate of 1.9% per year —less than for electricity and the Minnesota's average annual increase in energy use!  This is important data that policymakers and the public would have preferred in any presentation.32

The correct statement for the state to have made is that gasoline use increased significantly less than electricity use and that each percentage increase in population requires approximately twice the gasoline use to support the additional growth.  Minnesota misused the data period and mistakenly chose a statistically improper relationship, linear or 1 : 1, when it's clearly not the case.

The point on a trendline chosen can produce varying results and be subject to improper statistical uses.  Interviews and articles frequently mistakenly reference a point well out on the trendline rather than using a more appropriate geometric rate of change over time.  The point-in-time of the 50 year time frame in the above paragraph is a matchless illustration.  With time the gap (difference) between the two compared items will widen.  The result is that this portrayal tends to subordinate the lower, slower growing, variable.  This should be clear from the doubling time calculation in the paragraph seen above.

Clearly identified in the example just discussed, the technique is particularly flawed when it is the smaller number, population growth, which determines the larger number, energy use.

Rate of Change Over Time

If one examines the population graphs shown earlier (Figures 1, p17, and 2, p20), the preceding concepts become clearer.  As the different population growth projections illustrate, given two items in a graph showing compounding growth of two variables, in the early periods both trendlines will be close but the one with the higher growth rate will have its trendline slowly rise above the second.  As time passes and growth becomes more evident, the trendline of higher growth item begins to rise at increasingly steeper slopes earlier than the second.  Given two people with equal wages, if one saves and invests so his income increases at 1% while another saves and invest such that his income increases at 2%, the absolute income differences will widen over time even as the rate (1%, 2%) is unchanging.  Statistically, the trendlines will show minor differences in the early periods but over time the gap between the two trendlines will continuously widen until after 20 or more periods the two trends will appear unrelated.  Illustrating the widening gap, after ten years the difference could be $100, but after ten more years the difference could be five times greater, $500, even with unchanging rate changes.  In the above example, although beginning equally, after 50 years the difference between energy and population was more than 14 times.  This was precisely the issue with population and California's energy and Minnesota's rendition of gasoline use.

Viewing the population graph shown earlier should suggest the enormity of the population related energy problems.  The trendline would have been far more alarming with a longer time period because the U.S. population trendline reflects its rapidly compounding growth now steeply rising ―parabolic growth in statistical terms.  Parabolic growth is clearly illustrated in the chart opening the discussion of Minnesota population growth.

Apparently in an attempt to dismiss world population growth, some people say that because the rate of the world's population growth has slightly decreased, population related problems are no longer as serious an issue.  In reality, the world's parabolic upward growth curve has only become a little less steep and is as frightening as ever —still growing at more than 75 million every year.  The world's population was unsustainable many years ago; with more than 200,000 additional inhabitants every passing day it becomes less stable, less sustainable.

Life scientists, physicists, and mathematicians are fully aware of what occurs after a trendline reaches a parabolic ascent.  As the opening quote indicated, governors, stock market gurus and economists seldom have much appreciation of the matter.  An elegant reference to the Olduvai Theory, the population driven national energy trendline is also steeply rising and so far above the scale of the population chart it does not fit the graph.

Consistent with the foregoing, and again downplaying population's role, the reader is likely to have read an article or heard commentary stating something like “electricity use increased 1,189% while population only grew 83%” over the 50 year period 1949 – 1999.  As far as it goes, it's a correct statement.  Moreover, the article will likely continue stating that change in energy use is 14 times greater than population change (1,189 ¸ 83 = 14.3).  The intent is to deflect the emphasis and causation from population growth to energy use —as if some bogeyman uses electricity.  Because each unit of population growth requires 14 units growth of electricity, the more accurate response was to have said that U.S. population was 14 times more important in explaining electricity predicaments.  It is another clear example of selecting a point in time that appears to support the writer’s or speaker's position.33

In other words, for California to avoid a 14-unit increase in electrical use, it must prevent a single unit of population growth.  In order to save 14 units of electricity growth, reduce population change by one unit.  The practice applies equally to Minnesota.

Overly selective use of data can also be seen by evaluating the compiled data not presented.  Table 15 is a good example of state practices.  Table 15 is from a number of readily available state reports, but not prepared by the state in explaining Minnesota’s energy changes.  It is not clear that avoidance or deliberate distortion is the state’s intent; however, the table demonstrates a number of significant items expanding the state’s energy portrayal.

Table 15:  1965 – 2000 Minnesota Electricity Growth by Sector









35 Year Growth







Average % of Total







Average % Change

2.1 %






Per Client Increase3

106.2 %






% of Total Growth





Ratio of customers to4







Increase in energy use5






1.  Calculated from Tables 1 & 2, Minnesota Utility Data Book 1965-2000. Minnesota Department of Commerce. Energy Division. See at < http://www.commerce.state.mn.us/pages/Energy/MainData.htm >.
2.  Until 1982 farms averaged approximately 10% of the total; in a continuous decline since 1983, farms now average less than 5%. The rate of growth, 2.1%, suggests the sharp decline. 3. Increase in use by individual farms, residential customers, or businesses. 4. Ratio of 35 year change in customers to per customer energy use. 5. Ratio of actual 1965 and 2000 energy use per customer.

Table 15 Line 1 for example, is the total increase in energy consumption by user class over 35 years.  Lines 3 & 4 illustrate the relative growth of each energy consuming group.  Line 4 is important in that it suggests conservation’s success reflected in per person or client increases.  It also indicates that both farms and non-residential consumers are larger.  Line 5, is the relative contribution of growth as a percent of residential and non-residential energy.  It not only shows that residential use is a relatively small percentage of total Minnesota consumption (25%), but its growth rate is modest as well.

Reinforcing the earlier discussion of population, energy growth, and conservation, the table clearly demonstrates the state’s “conservation” efforts are misplaced.

Possibly explaining why state authorities have not cited growth in electrical energy as a concern is that more than 72% of electricity growth since 1965 originated from businesses, industrial, and commercial use.  The substantial increase in business use of electricity has come at a price.  Conservation has been a secondary element of Minnesota businesses.  One implication underlining business energy growth is that generating plant emission levels grandfathered by earlier legislation has been a boon to industry: business growth is primarily responsible for pollution increases

This is indicated by the extremely large increases in use, Lines 1 & 4, compared to the ratio of per capita energy use.  The fact is that over the 35 year period, conservation has deteriorated.  The Industrial class a good example, going from 2.4 to 1.8 customers for the same energy use.  The lower the number the greater the inefficiency (Line 6 & 7), while the number of clients increased 142% (Line 4).  More businesses are using more electricity in an inefficient manner.  Again government and environmentalists' programs are targeting the already most efficient and smallest using energy class.  There can be no doubt that price signals from legislation have played a significant role in this inappropriate and unsustainable development.

Lines 6 & 7 suggest the overall lack of successful conservation efforts.  Conservation has been only successful in the relatively minor energy using residential consumer class.  Lines 6 & 7 are somewhat confusing in that the higher the number the better the conservation trend.  It shows the change in consumers relative to increases in energy.  Higher numbers reflect greater numbers of consumers relative to energy use.  The greater the increase in the number of customers (entities) relative to the increase in energy use, the greater the increase in efficiency.  Line 6 shows that the number of residential customers has increased substantially more than all other customer classes, more than three customers for each unit increase in energy growth compared to less than one on farms and approximately 2.35 for businesses.

Farms at 0.88, have demonstrated negative growth (100 farms 35 years ago where there are 88 today) and combined with Line 4 indicates substantial increases in energy use per farm.  The 106% increase in use per farm with decreasing number of farms, Line 1 vs. Line 4, is consistent with the general increase in farm size over the period.  Similar to energy use on farm fields, the quantity of electricity used suggests that farms are becoming increasingly energy dependent and associated electrical energy problems could significantly impact food production.  A sustainable agriculture will require the reversal of this trend.

The reason for subsidizing electricity for commercial classes is said to “provide jobs”.  However, subsidy’s chief objective is to accommodate and encourage growth.  In sustainability terms, the outcome has been that the misallocation of economic and natural resources has been the mainstay of growth.  Unless all costs are considered however, this position is circular and in the long-run counterproductive to a sustainable society.  If natural resources and the “commons” cannot be properly priced by economic models, then like the residential consumer, internalizing production costs involving energy by eliminating the tax deductibility of energy expenses should be considered an important step.

The public requires sound and unbiased information if wise decisions are to be made.  However, it will require changes in the amount and presentation of information.  Perhaps governors and the media will begin to more accurately represent these trends and discuss a different set of programs than those currently proposed or implemented.

Part V integrates the preceding four parts, energy growth, resources and alternative energies to arrive at Minnesota energy demands and its costs.  Growth and energy policies evident in studies prepared by the state of Minnesota are examined: current state policies mischaracterize growth and looming energy dilemmas.  State policies avoid difficult issues and assert that growing “smartly” is the right approach.  The consequence of state policies is an unsustainable society.  Two scenarios are presented to examine Minnesota’s energy future.  The first scenario is the state’s current status quo growth model.  The second scenario offers a trendline toward a sustainable society.  As a template for policy, the scenario applies equally to the U.S. and world.
Used with permission of Dell Erickson
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