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Stolen: Jump-starting alternative energy

by Joanne Stolen

Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes are things “Mother Nature” doles out we don’t have control over, but preventing another huge oil spill fiasco – and finding and using alternative energy – we do have control over. The government is finally pushing for alternatives for fossil fuels. There are many ideas percolating in the cauldron for alternative energy. We could be much further along except, until recently, there has not been enough support. We need to jump-start these technologies.

The first offshore wind farm is being built off the coast of Cape Cod, which will enter service in late 2012 and give Cape Cod most of its electricity – powering 200,000 homes. This had been fought against for years. Farm country in places like Vermont is gearing up to produce biogas from manure. The use of clean coal, safe nuclear reactors and artificial photosynthesis were discussed in the June issue of Discover Magazine. You can use photosynthetic bacteria to produce biofuels by transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen and alcohol fuel. Micronukes – more reliable than wind power, cheaper than solar and easier to operate than conventional nuclear plants – are in development. A new type of coal-burning plant – PurGen, with substantially less carbon emission – will be built in New Jersey. It will burn hydrogen-producing electricity during times of high demand and produce ammonia and urea for fertilizer when the demand is low, like at night. Wood chips and cornstalks can be made into gasoline. Splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel could power an average home on 1.5 gallons of water a day. We need a better storage and delivery system for wind and solar to make these systems more efficient. Building energy efficient buildings using natural light, natural ventilation, shading, passive solar and better insulation are all steps in the right direction to gain independence from fossil fuels.

There was a movie and talk on the Transition Initiative on May 12 at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. It was started in the UK and is spreading across the US and many other countries. The purpose is to get communities to become more self sustaining, and be more conscious about using natural resources. It is a grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. The goal is to educate and engage people to strengthen their communities against the effects of these challenges. It is gaining a lot of support from local governments. Grow and buy local is one goal. You have probably seen “Buy Colorado.” Ninety-five percent of our food is imported from outside the state. I recently helped with a greenhouse-raising at the Summit County Senior and Community Center. This is a step toward that goal. Support our farmers markets. The “bring your own bag to the grocery store” campaign and ski town contest was another good step. Boulder is an official Transition City. One of the largest ones is, of all places, Los Angeles.

One more thought: In the past few decades, fewer students have gone into science. We need more students go into science and engineering. A good step in our community is the development of a four-year Environmental Science Program by Colorado Mountain College. It is planned to start next fall.

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.


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