Thursday, April 28, 2011

And it just so happens...

I presented at our local Rotary Club International meeting the other day, on community wind power projects and their benefits.

Any energy wonk that goes into any local Maine organization to talk about wind power at this point in the state's history had better be prepared to discuss the downsides of wind power, turbines visible on mountaintops, noise nuisance, and bird and bat kills.

I pointed out that, yes, wind power does all these things and more, but every other form of energy generation also comes with downsides. It's just that, for the first time in generations (since Maine developed its hydroelectric power resources, or since Maine Yankee), Mainers are making their own power and so are also being asked to plan for and live with the downside effects.

I suggested that we'd get protests no matter what form of energy development we chose.

There are currently local and national pressure group movements in the US organized against...

*Coal, especially mountaintop removal coal mining and the climate emissions from coal

*Natural gas, especially "fracking", especially in PA and NY

*Oil, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore generally

*Hydroelectric power, especially attempts to develop large scale western hydropower and the James Bay project

*Nuclear, with very large questions asked since Fukishima

*Trash incineration, which can produce dioxins

*Biomass burning, which threatens to become a new threat to forest health

*and against wind power, both offshore and onshore

And each of these energy forms does quite definitely have major environmental or other difficulties. They each deserve to be carefully assessed.

But as a nation, we have to make a decision or decisions; we have to choose one or more energy systems to move forward with, and so necessarily someone is going to lose.

I tend to think wind power is the least worse choice in that list.

Particularly as the price of heat oil increases, we Mainers will begin to revisit our current capitulation to our tiny anti-wind power minority.

Think about it. There are 39KWh of available energy in every gallon of # 2 heat oil

That gallon costs damn near $3.50 today, if we're talking round numbers. That's just under nine cents a KWh.

Wind power can be produced in Maine for 5¢/KWh. And while our power companies will no doubt take their profit from that gap, there's no reason to believe that wind energy will continue to climb in price the way oil has been doing.

And most of Maine's wind energy comes in winter, when we need the heat.

The margin is extremely close right now. An electrical resistance heater is 90% efficient, whereas your oil boiler may only be 65% efficient. So, using an electrical resistance heater I get 0.9KWh of heat for 15¢, while using a 65% efficient oil boiler I get 1KWh for 14.8¢.

Clearly, only a small further increase in the price of heat oil is needed for Mainers to begin to switch to electricity for heat. I began to supplement our wood heat with electricity instead of oil several years ago. But I don't like using oil, while I do like using Maine's 40% renewable electricity. (Our Standard Offer last year was only 8% coal.)

And I hate that noisy forced air oil furnace. The resistance heaters, which don't have to heat the whole house in any case, are nice and quiet.

There is, of course, the option of deep conservation, even of drastic energy austerity.

Good luck with that. This is America, after all!

In my discussion with the Rotarians, I mentioned that efficiency and possibly solar power were the least objectionable of energy sources, but I felt quite sure that someone, somewhere, could find a way to protest both.

I got a laugh for that. They were a tolerant crowd, and I enjoyed giving the talk.

So I was quite amused this morning to read in my newspaper that New Jersey folk are protesting solar panels.


What next? We obviously have to take this to the bitter end and get it out of our system.

The humble CFL light bulb has already fallen prey to objections from the radical right. Apparently they are a violation of the constitution. While Smart Meters apparently may cause headaches and damage the brains of tender infants, according to a NIMBY group right here in Maine.

Pickets for insulation contractors?

Protests in the insulation isle at Home Depot?

Ardent young Unity College drop-outs inserting themselves between my old Ford wagon and the gas pump?

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

When are we going to come to our senses?

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