Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Understanding our Energy Options

for a homesteading only blog please see womennotdabbling.worpress.com

So, as the candidates, Presidential that is, fight over what the heck to do about our energy problem----we need to understand our options so we can make informed voter decisions. No matter what your top issue may be to help you decide who to vote for, energy is going to stay on our plate for a long time whether or not we want to face it right now. Even if you believe this affects the environment, and therefor that makes it important to talk about, is also in my opinion irregardless. (I do believe it has an impact so don't pound me for that statement)
Energy, no matter why we are concerned, definitely has an impact on our economy and since about the 70s.....our national security. The economy is our number one issue so I hear, though I am sure there are some that still have other issues that outrank that one. Probably not many but...
But back to energy, if we don't deal with this now, at some point we will pay the price of waiting. By dealing with it I do not mean mouthing platitudes or throwing us to the wolves of the establishment who do not seem able to help us move beyond were they will make another dollar.

Now I know some of you will be for options I am not for. That's o.k. However lets make our choices for helping our country energy wise based on fact.....not opinions. I do not know the perfect solution for our country. I do know that, I , me, myself, person numero uno would prefer something other than having to bury nuclear waste in someone else's back yard. And for clarification I can say with extreme certainty that the nuclear waste the U.S makes won't be buried in my back yard. That I believe is one reason why many people don't have a problem with nuclear. If I had to bury every bit I consumed on my property not only would I rip my kids for leaving on the lights (o.k I already do that but you get the point) but I would be much more likely to turn off the ac and use less electronic "gadgets". Technically, if I never thought about were the waste would go, I could waste all the energy I want to because it won't be "my problem".

Responding to safety concerns that have long stalled the nuclear industry's growth, McCain boasts that the Navy, in which he served as a fighter pilot, has safely operated nuclear power plants in aircraft carriers and submarines without an accident in 60 years.

here is the article about the sub

Beyond nuclear, I know windmills have really come under fire recently. As a matter of fact some really interesting false facts are coming out and also just some general misinformation (see my link in this sentence).
The biggest is the bird kill issue. Well for one...windmills are much different than they were even 4 years ago. However, and this is not because I read it somewhere, why don't we whine about cars killing all the birds? My husband accidentally hit a bluebird. He didn't know he hadn't missed it until he got to work and found it still stuck to his grill. I have also barely missed many owls and hawks during my driving. As far as I understand the bird kill problem is much much less likely with these newer turbine designs and here is one link to check out about this possible myth. I say possible because I do not know for sure. You can also find others but please find some that are up to date...not years and years old and do pay attention to the actual turbine design in the pictures.

Another myth I personally heard with my own ears is a gentlemen that called into my local talk radio station one afternoon. He said "environmentalist" were trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes (wool is sustainable now that I think about it) because he had heard and READ on line that the windmill actually needed regular power from a power plant to turn it. 90% of the power a windmill made actually came from the power plant itself. The show's host tried to get the exact web site but the guy couldn't tell him the name. The host did say he had heard others speak of that on a few occasions. He, like me, doesn't believe that....I mean....we've had windmills making power, pumping water and running businesses long before power plants have been here to "help them".
I looked on line but couldn't find this wonderful font of misinformation myself but maybe one of you can.
Another thing my husband and I recently were asked by a well meaning friend is "Why would T. Boone Pickens bother to back windmills? How would windmills help us save gas?"
Well, most people don't know that most of the power plants in Texas, and I am sure some other states, are actually powered by natural gas. The one we lived about 4 miles from was. If we could substitute wind power to power homes and businesses we can free up that natural gas to power cars. Natural gas is much much cleaner than petroleum AND the engine it powers will last longer because the gas doesn't "gunk up" the engine as readily. A win win situation. That's not even taking into account putting up solar panels on many homes in sunnier areas like Texas.

Speaking of that let me also point out that Obama has said he would invest 150 million for sustainable energy. That my dear friends is government money building clean energy, independent of foreign oil and the sometimes wildly fluctuating oil market (more on that below), and job creation all with one bang. There will be businesses to churn out those windmills or solar panels. People will be needed to install and maintain them. Taxes will be paid and local economies will have job growth. Oh yes tax payers will pay for it, at least initially don't you doubt for a minute, but McCain will only give you a tax credit for sustainable. For the average homeowner that will be the sum total of about a $300 dollar tax credit. Now don't confuse a credit with a refund. This is not a refund. They are not the same. And a tax credit does NOT help us. At least not very much. I itemize....I can assure you an average $300 tax credit doesn't do much for me. That was what we would have received this past year if we put up a solar water panel based on the current tax credits offered (they expire at the end of this year). Most people will not be able to afford sustainable (wind or solar) right in their own yard until the government gets behind it to help the cost come down. That my friends means spending tax payer dollars. Bummer...but there you have it. And any person that bitches about it should remember all the "bail outs" we have had for big businesses and some of those being considered even now. I'd rather spend my tax payer money creating jobs, energy independence and gross national production than bailing out some non progressive thinking car manufacturer.

And lest we forget, speaking of tax payer money, every time a nuclear power plant goes up tax payers paid for it. Build one in Florida....we all pay. Plus New Mexico gets to eventually bury the waste in various spots including some new ones recently slated to open. If it melts down the nuclear company isn't even libal AT ALL to repay for any damages. So sayeth the government. If they were not subsidized, were required to carry insurance and possibly pay for any damages they wouldn't be financial viable. Solar, wind, even clean coal would all beat nuclear out for price. However even with clean coal...same thing....we all pay. Except in this case someone's mountain gets blown apart and someone down wind might get asthma.
That old saying "not in my back yard" is a cop out. We are all responsible for using energy and we SHOULD NOT force others to pay for our consumption.

One thing I did not realize about off shore drilling I would like to mention is something I watched recently (last night???) on CNN. Commentator John Roberts asked some Republican spokesperson for McCain something about drilling. As we all know John McCain had been against it but now was for it. That's o.k---people do need to be somewhat flexible and open to other ideas than their own. I'm not for it but I can respect that polls show 70% of Americans are. (Actually when you look more people are for reigning in speculators than for drilling supposedly)
However the question Roberts presented was this "Even if we open up off shore drilling how will that help America? The companies that drill are international and will be required to put the oil they pump out on the open market for bidding....what happens if India or China out bid us?" Now....she (the strategist) never did answer this question however it's an excellent question and something I did not know we had to do. We would have to BID for oil drilled off our shores. So how the heck does that help us???? The U.S does get money in the beginning when bidding for who will be the extractor occurs. That though does not create jobs for us nor does it make us energy independent.

As I said in the beginning I do not know the best way or have any super great idea. However, I would put solar and wind on my property and try and make all my own energy if possible. Unfortunately I don't make enough money...though I don't mind saving for it and spending it in the long run.
Some articles suggest that spending that money and only seeing your payback in 10 to 20 years is laughable and ridiculous. What I think is laughable and ridiculous is not doing it and paying an electric company for the rest of my life. No noticeable improvement there that I can see. In the end, especially if energy prices continue to go up which historically they do, I still end up spending the money I would have on solar/wind AND worse.....maybe more. If I were 24 it would definitely be more. If I were 70 obviously I might not see a pay back on sustainable. However as the bible quote say "to those given much, much is expected". The bible, and morality in general, doesn't say to first consider what you will get back before you doing something that's good for everyone.


Paul said...

Thank you for the tone of your post. It's distressing to hear rants, anger and accusations. I appreciate your tone and choice of words!

In my opinion, off shore drilling only postpones the problem. Why postpone it?

I read but can no longer find the reference that there is about a 30 year supply of uranium. I don't know if that is true but there is a finite amount. What happens when the uranium is gone but the waste is not? Coal and natural gas are limited also and simply postpone the problem while contributing to environmental destruction.

I've read the statements that solar panels generate require more energy than they will ever produce and that their production does more harm to the environment than they will ever offset. I don't believe either statement.

The initial problem that we face is identifying our options and learning the truth.

I live on solar and wind. I'm not holding myself up as an example but do have some experience. The most productive option available to us is conservation. I use about one-forth the electricity I did several years ago. Outlet strips are an inexpensive solution. Modern electronic equipment uses electricity even after we turn them off. In one experiment I measured the electric consumption of a satellite TV receiver. When turned "off" it used the same electricity as when on. The off button simply turned off a LED light and stopped the signal from being sent to the TV.

Before new drilling, before new mining and before construction of nuclear plants we need to learn to conserve.

trying to live the good life said...

Thanks Paul for the comment. I know we are not the only ones that agree on this issue. Many people are concerned, however as my post mentions I continually find people who are woefully misinformed or flat out lied to--unfortunate but true. I am surprised by your comment on solar that you have heard. I had not heard that one. These bother me because I just can't imagine what people will gain by them.
I hope by repeating my "mantra" over and over I can make some others realize that sustainable is viable and could be affordable or at least worth the money spent on it. Eventually we are all going to have to buckle down, and that means all of us not just our neighbor or people in other towns. I also agree...conservation is a must. We too lower our heat, turn off our a/c when others wouldn't normally or keep it warmer, use outlet strips and other conservation measures and you know what? It really wasn't that hard. Different and requiring "brain retraining" but not hard.
Good day to you

Michelle In Ga said...

We are near peak coal, peek matural
gas, peak silver and peak silica
(for solar). No easy solutions exist, bu otherwise a great post.


trying to live the good life said...

I think the deal is though Michelle is that we need to quit whining about how this or that won't work and try and extend everything we have by being creative and using ALL our resources so that we don't have a massive extreme meltdown but a slow controlled conversion to better ideas. Ideas that will hopefully come as everyone quits saying "only THIS idea will work" and agree that all of it has it's place while we work on controlling our complete energy consumption---no matter the source---and find, hopefully, never thought of and better ideas than we have now.
In the mean time...learning and keeping alive the art of growing food and supplying our needs as free of energy as we can will only help us in the end. If it's never needed-- at least we can say we saved a bit of history.

Gina said...

Wow, Monica, really good comparison of the two major options floating around out their in politic-ville. I agree on the solar and wind options being the best options (albeit too expensive for us 99% "poor") I was listening to NPR (Science Fridays) and a man in Swathmore, PA who installs solar panals claims it cost somewhere around 30-40,000 to switch a home to pure solar. I keep thinking why this figure never decreases. I mean remember when good computers were 2000+? Now you can buy a decent one for less than 1000 (and that's the entire system!) I guess intuitively I know that the major problem is that once the panals are installed, the grid is gone (only the cost of future maintenance). There is no practical way to profit from sun energy (or wind in the case of windmills) so there is no support.

I remember reading a while back somewhere or other that for the cost of war in Iraq we could have installed at least one solar panal on every home in America and then some. Demand would definitely bring cost down, so this is believable.

i told Hubby the other night that he needs to consider learning how to install windmills and solar. Part of the issue in many areas is that there are no qualified installers. I really hope this is a growing area of industry in the near future.

the additional comments are also helpful!

Paul said...

I've been intending to verify an item in a comment above: "peak silica". I've questioned if this is what the person intended to write. I thought we have an abundance of silica if I remember high school chemistry correctly. Here's the confirmation: "Silica is the most abundant mineral in the earth's crust." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silica)

I wonder how rumors like a shortage of silica get started.

trying to live the good life said...

Paul that one had me searching too. I have to admit I didn't come up with a firm answer one way or the other though I did learn that there is a quality difference in the silicone used for electricity production. Beyond your link I found these that are interesting:

Not completely sure about this myself yet---but that doesn't me I don't believe it wouldn't be a benefit to have some on my roof! :-D