Bioenergy, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar, Wind Power

Haven’t We Learned, Yet?

Since we are now in the midst of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history and just a few weeks after the deaths of 29 West Virginia coal miners, I believe it is time to reflect upon where the politicians of both parties are trying to redirect the country.

We now we learn that leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico lacked a safeguard device as reported by The Wall Street Journal. And even though the President maintains the industry will pay for clean up expenses, the Gulf Governors have sent their national guards, and the federal government has sent U.S. Navy ships and Air Force planes to the scene. These actions represent no small expense for U.S. taxpayers and taxpayers in those states. It certainly calls into question the “Drill Baby Drill” chants of the last political convention.

Earlier last month, The New York Times ran a cover story about the 29 deaths at a West Virginia mine, saying that the incident raises “issues about safety.”  No kidding.

And of course, let’s add to all that the local, regional and national campaigns against mountaintop removal coal mining that throws coal and rock waste onto private land, public facilities, and fills local rivers and streams.

And what about water?  A national laboratory has been studying U.S. water supply issues, which may soon become an even bigger strategic problem than that of our energy resources. In the U.S. today, electricity generation uses more surface water than growing our food, and food and energy combined encompasses nearly 85% of all water use. How’s that for a food vs fuel?

And then there’s the nuclear mess where a whistleblower who taped his fellow guards sleeping on the job at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant was fired, prompting anger from government watchdogs who say he should have been lauded as a hero.

Energy savant and nuclear energy critic, Amory Lovins stated in a post entitled Nuclear Nonsense that:

The world in 2008 invested more in renewable power than in fossil-fueled power. Why? Because renewables are cheaper, faster, vaster, equally or more carbon-free, and more attractive to investors. Worldwide, distributed renewables in 2008 added 40 billion watts and got $100 billion of private investment; nuclear added and got zero, despite its far larger subsidies and generally stronger government support. From August 2005 to August 2008, with new subsidies equivalent to 100+% of construction cost and with the most robust nuclear politics and capital markets in history, the 33 proposed U.S. nuclear projects got not a cent of private equity investment.

And Earth Day cofounder and SUN DAY founder Dennis Hayes posted a commentary on the temporary demise of the Climate Bill in the Huffington Post, stating that the proposed alternative bill is a good compromise.  He said:

Cantwell-Collins returns 75 percent of the revenue collected to the public on a pro rata basis. Because the rich spend more (directly and indirectly) on energy than the poor, more than 80 percent of the public will be made richer by this progressive revenue measure.

All the money will be returned to taxpayers and invested in technologies designed to reduce carbon not to enrich coal companies and oil companies and pay for their lobbyists.

The policymakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, are caving in to the status quo, even in the face of over 30 preeminent studies in the last few years showing how high-value energy efficiency and renewable energy can meet our nation’s and the globe’s energy needs.

The world could eliminate fossil fuel use by 2090 by spending trillions of dollars on a renewable energy revolution according to a DLR (German) report commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace. The 210-page study is one of few reports — even by lobby groups — to look in detail at how energy use would have to be overhauled to meet the toughest scenarios for curbing greenhouse gases outlined by the U.N. a Climate Panel.

Then there is the excellent American Solar Energy Society (ASES) 200-page report, Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.: Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 2030,” which was unveiled in October 2007.  The report showed how energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies can provide the emissions reductions required to address global warming cutting 60% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by utilizing 57% energy efficiency, 43% renewables.

Google is thinking the same thing.  In 2009, Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search giant, unveiled “Clean Energy 2030” a plan to move the U.S. to a future where by 2030 electricity will be generated not from coal or oil but from energy efficiency and renewable energy. The report goes on to say that:

Energy demand will be two-thirds what it is now, thanks to stringent energy-efficiency measures. Ninety percent of new vehicle sales will be plug-in hybrids. Carbon dioxide emissions will be down 48 percent. Getting there will cost $4.4 trillion, says the plan but will recoup $5.4 trillion in savings. The Clean Energy 2030 plan would require ambitious national policies, a huge boost to renewables, increased transmission capacity, a smart electricity grid, and much higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles.

I think it’s time for us to remind the President of his campaign statement that “oil and gas drilling” will not solve our energy problems. It’s time for us to tell both political parties that coal use in the 21st century is not sustainable, healthy, environmental or safe. It’s time for us not to be boonswaggled that nuclear in the post September 11th world is safe, economic or an efficient way to boil water.

The renewable energy industry has the commercial answers, a grand clean energy portfolio including: combined heat and power, solar (daylighting, water and space heating/cooling, PV and CSP), large and small wind, superinsulating and electrochromic windows, insulation, super-efficient motors and compressors, ground-coupled (geothermal) heat pumps, water energy (freeflow, tidal, wave and ocean currents and thermal) geothermal, biomass (biopower, biothermal, biofuels through biorefineries), storage (smart batteries, thermal storage, and hydrogen for fuel cells), all imposed in a web-enabled distributed network and tied to a “smart” electric grid.

But the policymakers are pulled back for every step forward.

It is time for the American public to stand firm — no more wars for oil or petroleum spills, no more nuclear safety breeches.  It’s time to end blowing up our mountaintops and spewing carcinogens, heavy metals and carbon through mining or burning coal.  It is time stop apologizing about the grand portfolio of clean energy.

Thousands of Americans will lose their fishing and tourism jobs due to this Gulf oil spill, more will have brown and black lung or lose their lives prematurely in our coal mines.  Finally, do not assume the “unthinkable” can’t happen with our nuclear power plants and nuclear repositories.

I am no Luddite. If there were no alternatives, the conventional energy sources and their “warts” would just have to be accepted to grow our economies and society. But when we have the proven, commercialized alternatives — these deaths, this massive pollution and waste, and the national security risks seem not only irresponsible and uneconomical, but also unethical.

That’s my message, issued on Earth Day from my head and my heart after the deaths of the coal miners and the landmark oil rupture in the Gulf of Mexico.