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Liddick: Turn off the A/C

by Morgan Liddick

So, watching the oil boil furiously out of the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, what are we to do? Our president has an answer: pass the House of Representatives’ cap-and-tax bill currently languishing in the Senate. This will surely usher in a grander version of our very own Governor Ritter’s “New Energy Economy,” replete with windmills, solar panels, cars the size of my thumbnail and a few smug, self-satisfied environmentalists who are rich enough to keep both the refrigerator and the lights on. As for the rest of us, well …

“Spain shows the way!” Was the cry of those pushing the “green jobs” agenda a few years back. These days, one doesn’t hear that much about Spain from the enviro side because ironically, they were right. Spain’s economy went right over a cliff: For every “green job” created, 2.2 jobs were lost. It doesn’t take a solar power engineer to figure out that following Spain’s lead is not going to end us in Utopia. But who’s paying attention to the boring old past?

Meanwhile, here in the present, Xcel is trying to disguise the fact that your electricity bill is going to have to shoot up faster that a cat whose tail has been chomped on by a pit bull, because they don’t have the capacity to run everyone’s air conditioner full blast during the summer. And what with the switch from coal generation to natural gas, better grab your wallet with both hands. Stephen Chu – Barack Obama’s misnamed Secretary of Energy – is about to see his fondest wish fulfilled: Electricity rates are going to quadruple, or more. Do you feel all righteous yet?

If not, consider this: If we switch to an electricity-based economy, there’s going to have to be a whole lot more generating capacity. No matter how much we swelter during the summer or freeze in the winter; no matter how fervently we desire it, how often we close our eyes, click our heels three times and repeat “There’s no power like green power”; no matter how much we mandate, we just don’t have the watts or the transmission infrastructure to force the change, even in a decade. Maybe, two.

Gas and coal-powered, hydro, solar, wind, nuke – if we’re serious about moving our economy all-electric, we’ll need every source. But from the “hands off the San Luis valley” campaign and other spats over sites, views and transmission corridors right here in the home of the “new energy economy,” rhetoric is easier than implementation.

Here’s an exercise to help understand what it means when energy supply is prevented from keeping up with demand: Turn off your air conditioner. Forever. Unplug the fridge, computer and TV. Plug them back in for eight hours a day. Forever. Because that’s all you’re going to have, or all you’ll be able to afford, if the no-more-carbon crowd has its way. If you don’t believe it, consider this: The move to give the EPA the power to regulate carbon dioxide as a toxic gas was mostly a political ploy to push a comprehensive cap-and-tax bill through Congress. Now that the bill is stalled, it looks as though the EPA may actually have to start regulating the stuff, and that terrifies both the lawmakers and EPA regulators and economists who understand the impact of doing so.

There’s more: even if we were able to imagine a new manufacturing sector using cheap, abundant electricity – supplied perhaps by nuclear power, as in France – there would be the obstacle of the transportation sector.

Here’s the problem: Petroleum is, aside from radionuclides, the most energy-dense fuel we know. And the most convenient. A 42-gallon barrel of oil offers about 6.1 gigajoules of energy. A ton of bituminous coal serves up 40 percent less, and a cubic meter of natural gas comes in lower still. So unless we want to have cars with miniature thorium reactors or a tank the size of Cleveland full of explosive gasses so we can drive from Breckenridge to Denver and back, don’t look for oil to disappear soon.

Electric cars? Batteries? Yes, storage technology has come a long way, and there is promising research ongoing. But it’s a long slog from the laboratory to the assembly line and, assuming that exotic metals like lithium are in the mix, we are merely trading one set of problems for another. Venezuela and Saudi Arabia won’t be taking our money. Bolivia and Afghanistan will.

So here’s another exercise: while we’re waiting for the new energy Nirvana, buy only 10 gallons of gasoline a month. When you use it, you’re walking. If that’s inconvenient, tough. Don’t you know that Earth is in the balance? That there’s a war on?

And stay away from that air conditioner.

Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at mcliddick@hotmail.com. Also, comment on this column at http://www.summitdaily.com.


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