Friday, April 22, 2011

When will we see the light

Amid the tragedy and troubles in Japan and Libya, not to mention $4 a gallon for gas in the states, we still don't get it.

"It" is true clean, renewable energy.

It's all there waiting for us, but entrenched interests plus our aversion to changing the status quo, prevent us from moving forward.

Amid positive news about electric cars, Google investing in the largest wind farm in the world in Oregon and the largest solar field in the world going up in California, a relatively new "F" word is making the rounds.

As in what's the "fracking" deal?

Well, kind of.

With our access to abundant oil dependent on crazies like Gadhafi/Qaddafi as well as other unstable Middle East countries, and with the inherent dangers of nuclear power exposed anew in Japan, many in the U.S. say we need to drill here, despite the BP oil spill, and frack now. 

Some people in this country believe we can drill our way out of any crisis, even though it just kicks the can down to the next generation, something these same folks say we can't do with our federal deficit. 

Other folks, like T. Boone Pickens, are convinced that fracking is our salvation.

To them, I say, frack off.

If there was that much oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the oil companies would be there like stink on s---. There isn't that much oil there and that is why it is not worth the oil firms' troubles to drill there. Unless, of course, the cost of their operation at ANWR was subsidized by the American taxpayer.

Well, it won't be subsidized. So, the only energy alternative out there, according to its acolytes, is fracking, which is the hydraulic fracturing of shale deep in the earth resulting in minor earthquakes, tainted water, and the occasional catastrophic spill, such as occurred earlier this week in Pennsylvania. 

Here's a video of the effects of fracking at the kitchen sink.

Utah, Montana and Texas can't wait to frack themselves silly. Here's hoping that oil/gas companies don't find Oregon worth fracking.

Okay, tiny tremors, flammable tap water and contaminated creeks are a small price to pay for OPEC-free energy.

But, in this era of climate change, what about carbon-neutral energy?

The proponents of fracking, which produces natural gas in an unnatural way, note that this hydrocarbon product is cleaner than coal or oil. While true, natural gas is still a major contributor to global carbon emissions and it could exceed oil and coal pollution by 2030.

This new push to frack was made possible by the Bush II administration. First, it forbid the Environmental Protection Agency from having any control over fracking. Second, it let oil companies conceal from the public what chemicals they are using while fracking. 

But, there is some respectable reporting going on. A New York Times story last week revealed the hazardous or carcinogenic fluids that oil companies are using that ultimately pollute our groundwater. 

Even Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal reported that the fluids used in fracking are toxic.

In Oregon, meanwhile, the world's largest wind farm should be up and running next year with enough electricity to power 235,000 homes in Southern California. Not bad. We also have plenty of hydro-power and we're a leading player in the solar business. 

Last summer, in fact, for the first time ever, the Northwest ran its power grid for a couple of days using only renewable energy. 

But, the Bonneville Power Administration, which oversees the hydro facilities in the Northwest, has indicated to wind farm producers that the grid won't be able to handle both hydro and wind power at the same time this summer during the seasonal snowmelt. The BPA wants wind power producers to shut down their wind turbines this summer, when wind is particularly brisk.

Is this crazy or what? 

We can produce enough energy right now using hydro, wind and solar to power the West but our grid can't handle it.

It's also crazy that teabaggers don't want the grid updated because it would increase the federal deficit. 

So, let's subsidize big oil and "clean coal" producers. Or exploit biomass, which, in our area, would burn wood waste to create energy. Locally, Sisters High School is converting to biomass energy and a biomass plant is going up in La Pine. Smokey skies ahead.

It would be more sensible to mandate that all homes in America run on renewable energy within 30 years. Germany, which has cloudy skies just like western Oregon but is still a world leader in solar power, was so freaked out about Japan that it is moving away from nuclear power toward more solar energy. 

Can you imagine if homeowners, were required, with a healthy subsidy, to have enough solar panels on their roofs to power their houses and electric cars? We would have so much power in this country it would halt fracking in its tracks.

But, we didn't get the message during the oil shocks of the 1970s. We ignored the writing on the wall after 9/11. There's no reason to believe we can see the light now.

It looks like the only way we'll ever get the memo is in the form of a mushroom cloud.

On that cheery note, have yourself a great Earth Day.

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