What do you say when they ask, "Why solar?" "Why wind?"
With the shift in attitude away from U.S. dependence on foreign oil, we’re seeing much appreciated subsidies in clean renewable energy (solar and wind power) and energy efficiency.
We’re also hearing lots of talk about expanded investment in nuclear energy, coal mining, coal gasification and ethanol. How do you respond to the voices that promote these alternative, yet problematic, sources of energy?
What is "clean" coal anyway?
During the recent presidential campaign, coal gasification got a lot of good press. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. coal industry, has spent almost $35 million in 2008 on a “clean coal” campaign. They propose that new and better technologies capable of burning coal with “near-zero emission” are right around the corner.
In reality, few in the energy industry feel that the Carbon Capture Storage technology could be implemented by 2030 and the development of the technology will cost billions. The energy company Shell, although enthusiastic about the technology, doesn’t foresee CCS being in widespread use until 2050. (New Scientist, "Can coal live up to its clean promise?" March 27, 2008)
Coal is the most abundant yet the dirtiest fossil fuel. The mining of it is destructive to the enviroment and unhealthy for the miners. The burning of it is the single greatest cause of greenhouse gases, releasing thousands of times more radioactive particles into the atmosphere per unit of energy than does a nuclear power plant. It is expensive to transport, and new technology for gasification will cost billions and take too long.
Nuclear power is risky enough when trained professionals are trying to operate reactors without incident, accident or atomic catastrophe. When you add to this the threat of nuclear terrorism, the idea of building new reactors is unconscionable.
Each reactor costs billions of taxpayer dollars and each one is a potential terrorist target. The radioactive waste that comes out of nuclear power plants will last for thousands of generations, and we still have no longterm solution for dealing with the waste.
Plans for disposal of radioactive waste are inadequate and sorely shortsighted. Bury it deep in the ground? Shoot it into space or into the sun? Bury it under the Antarctic ice sheet or the Greenland ice cap? Dump it into descending subduction zones in the deep ocean? Bury it in thick deposits of muck on the deep ocean floor? Currently, high-level waste is boxed up and stored under Nevada. Yikes.
Ethanol - The Food Fuel
Ethanol is not a good answer either. Because of all the fossil fuels required to produce it, corn-based ethanol can never supply more than 10 percent of current U.S. fuel demand. And using food crops for fuel means we can’t use them for food. The grain required to fill a 25 gallon gas tank with ethanol could feed one person for an entire year! U.S. demand for corn from Mexico has already seriously affected Mexican families’ ability to buy corn products.
What Can You Say?!
What can you say when people ask, "Why solar instead of clean nuclear, or clean coal, or corn fuel?"
Terrorists aren’t targeting wind generators or solar panels.
Every dollar spent on energy efficiency and alternative energy like wind and solar goes 7 – 20 times further than nuclear in reducing our global warming pollution, AND brings jobs to our communities instead of radioactive waste.
What can you say when customers ask about return on investment in solar power, or how long it will take to pay off the cost of a solar electric or wind power system in savings on their utility bills?
What’s the current rate of return on your electric bill? Answer is: there is no rate of return. It will never get paid off, and the cost will continually rise.