Thinking renewables for Summit |

Thinking renewables for Summit

The June 13 articles in the Summit Daily related to wind and renewable energy were very informative. Since I spent much of my career in the energy arena, and still do some consulting, I would like to make a few observations.

It is a laudable goal to use renewable energy and get our government to provide incentives to promote its use. However, we must be aware of the pros and cons of each form of energy and not blindly say everything about renewables is positive.

And in the interim, while I hope we are transitioning to a more secure and benign energy future for our grandchildren, we must continue to rely on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

In the interim, we need to figure the best ways to conserve, keep the prices reasonable and avoid damaging the environment and the health and safety of our citizens. Here are some examples of why renewable energy may not be suitable in all situations:

Wind energy is free – kind of. First there are capital and operating costs that result in a cost to the economy (through government incentives plus the price we pay) that are currently greater than the cost of energy from fossil sources.

Unless there is continuity of government incentives to make up the economic shortfall, then projects fail. This happened in California, and nationally, a few years back after tax incentives were withdrawn from renewable sources.

Good ideas that are not economic do not often survive successive government administrations in our country unless there is a very strong constituency that continues to apply pressure year after year.

Next, there are land use issues that cannot be discounted. If you have ever traveled between Mohave and Bakersfield, Calif., you will have seen the hundreds and hundreds of wind machines on the hillsides. In Summit County, we have regulations that prohibit the use of towers or other structures greater than some 35-40 feet in height, and we constantly hear objections from the public about anything that rises above the top of hills or tree lines or obstructs the view of our mountain vistas.

Also, the noise is of a magnitude that you would not want a wind farm in your back yard. Being 11th in the nation for wind energy is really not very good. Where wind energy can be used most economically is where the wind blows more or less constantly.

I would think, but have not researched it, that Wyoming would be great for wind energy. In Wyoming, the locals say that the wind blows through Wyoming because Utah blows and Nebraska sucks.

The use of other forms of renewable energy are certainly more applicable to Summit County than large-scale wind farms, in my opinion.

In many ways renewables are like all other forms of energy. Their use must be tailored to the optimum use of the resource and its availability in a specific setting.

We do not use coal to directly power automobiles, but use it to generate electricity or produce liquid fuels (the latter in some parts of the world).

Likewise, using solar to generate electricity for your individual home is not currently economically attractive, but using it to supplement your hot water supply is. Burning farm products directly in our cars does not make sense, but producing alcohol from grain for use in motor fuels does, and it should continue to be supported.

Therefore, we need to use common sense in urging our government to take action to stimulate the use of renewables. The use of bio-fuels, local solar heating, local wind power and solar electrics for small remote installations and gas from refuse dumps comes to mind as suitable substitutes in our county for gasoline/diesel fuels, natural gas and fossil fuel produced electricity.

At the national level, research and the development of new technologies is needed to lead us away from the use of fossil and nuclear energy, and specifically, to eliminate our need to import so much petroleum from the Middle East.

Both government and industry need to be stimulated to perform this research based upon a sound and visionary national energy policy that does not exist today.

R. Glenn Vawter lives in Summit Cove. He is an engineer and management consultant. On occasion, he offers his thoughts to Summit Daily News readers.

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