Energy Problems Need Short-term Solutions

By David L. Brown

I read somebody’s esteemed opinion yesterday that just made my jaw drop. After stating that electricity prices were rising in the US, and predicting that we will be experiencing brownouts and loss of power in about three years, the writer stated that nuclear power is the answer if the government would just allow it. Hmm, apparently he has no sense of how long it takes to plan, build and license a nuke plant. Back in the 1970’s when such things were actually being done, it was an 18 year process and with the kind of activist opposition that has arisen against nuclear power, we can bet it will take even longer today. How can something that might take 20 years or more to build solve a problem that is on a three year timeline? It certainly is beyond me.

On the other hand, we could install a lot of wind generators in three years if we put it on the front burner. More voices are speaking out for that, including Al Gore yesterday, T. Boone Pickins through his new initiative and others. I have suggested as long as two years ago that the auto plants that are mothballed or under utilized could be converted to turning out wind generators to help reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Now that Detroit is going quietly into that good night to whatever corporate version of Paradise awaits them, perhaps the government should take over the soon to be bankrupt companies and convert their plants into a Manhattan Project for wind power. If the full-out production of the auto companies could produce 7 or 8 million wind generators a year, which is something like the number of cars they could build, in three years it would amount to 20-25 million wind generators. That would produce a lot of jobs, both in the plants (those soon-to-be-unemployed Auto Workers could be hired, perhaps without union involvement and at a reasonable cost) and where the generators were being installed.

What kind of impact would that make? Quite a bit actually. The largest wind generators are capable of producing enough energy to power 1400 households. Let’s say for simplicity’s sake that those 20 million new generators would be sufficient to cover just 50 percent of that number, or 700 households per wind generator. That would replace conventional power for a total of 14 million households in the US. If an average of 3.5 people live in each house, that would mean that nearly 50 million people would be covered by wind power, and as a result of just three years of effort.

What if the program were really to be put on a fast track and we could turn out 25,000 wind generators each year? It shouldn’t be impossible. After all, during World War II we produced several hundred thousand military aircraft plus 80,000 landing craft, several thousand ships and 10 million M1 rifles and carbines, all in about that three-year time-frame. (And, oh yes, speaking of the Manhattan Project, well, we did that too.)

Using the figures above, if we could add 75,000 new wind generators in three years, more than 50 million households could be covered by wind powerby 2011, involving perhaps more than half of the total population of the country. That would make an absolutely huge dent in our imported energy needs, particularly if a concentrated shift to electric vehicles were to take place concurrently.

Another advantage of wind power is that as soon as each wind generator is installed, it begins to contribute power to the grid and pay for itself. A nuclear power plant that takes 20 years to build, on the other hand, doesn’t contribute anything until it goes on-line, perhaps in 2028 assuming the planning and licensing process gets under way right now. Our energy challenge is here right now, not in 2028. Heck, we have to survive the next few years just to get to 2028 with a functioning economy and society.

Understand that I am not proposing that no new nuclear plants should be built; I am only making he point that they cannot provide any short-term solution to our energy needs. For the far future, yes, we need every sustainable, non-polluting form of energy possible to totally replace fossil fuels. We need wind now, solar soon, and nuclear in the longer term.

And another thing we need to do is to develop our national fossil fuel resources to help tide us over in the daunting task of switching the entire economic base away from cheap oil. Here is part of the problem:

ocs_map.jpg

This is a map showing the areas of our continental shelf where oil exploration and production is presently prohibited. Why we have allowed our enemies in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and other places to hold us up for trillions of dollars while refusing to develop our own domestic reserves is a question that more people are asking. Like other alternatives, however, this is no quick fix. Exploration, construction of drilling rigs, development of the infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries, not to mention so-called environmentalists in court — all these things need to be done before oil begins to flow. That will take more than a few years.

The fact is, we should have started on that many years ago, just as we should already be far along in the development of sustainable energy. Now, what was an opportunity thirty years ago has become a looming crisis today. What a terrible, crying shame.

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