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EHSO's Environmental & Safety Editorials

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U.S. Energy Policy is Stick Stuck in the (Drilling) Mud with Regard to Renewable Energy!

Oil prices presently (July 2005) hover around $60 per barrel.  Gasoline in the US is well over $2.00 per gallon. Electricity costs range from 5 cents to 16 cents per kilowatt-hour. And yet still, as a country, we continue to act as though only oil and coal, and to a lesser extent, natural gas, are our only viable options.  All are non-renewable fossil fuels that are expensive, pollute and whose supply depends upon foreign sources, many hostile to the United States.

Take any perspective you want: environmental, economic, defense; it just makes no sense to continue to place reliance on fossil fuel sources as our primary energy source. And placing reliance on fuel cells for automobiles merely transfers where the pollution is created.  You may not be hearing it on the evening news, but fuel cells burn hydrogen very cleanly, but that hydrogen has to be created somewhere, and guess what? It takes energy to produce hydrogen!

Sure, there are small token efforts: a few corn-to-ethanol plants, a few wind farms and even fewer solar electricity fields. Why so few?  The technology is already here!  I worked on a project at HydroChem in the mid 1980's to take spent corn stalks and turn them into a fuel suitable for automobiles.  We calculated back then that it would be viable once gasoline ht $2.00 gallon.  With improvements in catalysts and other technologies in the process, it should be even more economical now.  union Carbide bought the patent, but what are they doing to bring it to market?

A combination of factors, even including so-called "environmentalists" prevent the adoption, on a larger scale, of renewable energy.  Some of those on the environmental fringe claim that wind farms are "ugly" or "a blight on the countryside".  I guess they prefer CO2 in the air (e.g., "split wood, not atoms"... imagine what the levels of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and monoxide levels would be if we switched from burning oil to wood!

Show a picture of a wind farm to unbiased group; say, a group of 8 year olds; and their reaction is "Cool!" or "Wow!", not "what a blight on the countryside"!

If we are to make progress in adopting renewable energy sources, the environmental community needs to be flexible and give up the notion that global citizens (not just Americans) want to live in log cabins and eat granola that they grew on their commune. Sorry, it just ain't gonna happen.

Instead, we need to press for realistic solutions that pay dividends of cleaner air and lower energy costs in the future.  Which reminds me... now that gas prices are double or even triple what  they were 4 years ago, is anyone driving less?  Not really.  Aside from a few rednecks and teenagers, we don't just drive around for the heck of it.  Higher prices hurt the families, the poor and those on fixed incomes the most. 

So, what ARE the solutions?  Pretty much, the same ones we've known about for decades: improved energy efficiency coupled with renewable energy sources.  As a nation, we need to incent:

  • More energy efficient housing; better insulation and more efficient major appliances.
  • Research into renewable energy sources, such as wind, sea and solar power,
  • Development of wind farms, solar farms
  • Conversion of homes and business to renewable energy sources for heating, cooling, hot water and lighting,

How to do this?  Germany and other nations that do not have the supplies of fossil fuels that America has have shown the way: tax credits and grants.  It is a small price to pay to encourage energy independence for the nation in the future.

When we make it economically viable for both individuals and businesses to develop, install and use renewable sources of energy, and require power grids to buy any excess energy they create, then we will begin to slowly move away from burning coal, oil, natural gas, and even wood for our energy... and begin to use clean, renewable sources that

  • can't be depleted,
  • don't rely upon a hostile foreign power,
  • don't harm the environment,
  • and become cheaper as economies of scale kick in!

And of course, the non-fossil fuel elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, nuclear energy.

Fuel economy ratings and greenhouse gas creation of U.S. model cars and SUV's.

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