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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

A Renewable Energy Economy?

August 2014
by Kevin Collins
Salinas Vineyards (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

The USA is now the planet's largest producer of both crude oil and natural gas having surpassed both Saudi Arabia and Russia. This fact has been reported in both Bloomberg News and by the International Energy Agency. You may not have noticed any changes. Gasoline prices haven't fallen. There were no shouts of joy except perhaps in corporate boardrooms and maybe in bars where drilling rig workers relax after a day on the well pad. There was barely a peep out of the oil industry. These increases are accounted for by expanded Fracking in many states, especially North Dakota and Texas but also in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, California, Florida, about 20 states in all.

At the same time, global warming has become an indisputable fact, except on Fox News, and among politicians who prefer to invent their own alternative reality, funded by the fossil fuel industries. There is a strange splitting of issues taking place. Two very conflicting pieces of information run along, magically separated from each other in public discourse.

Retail gasoline prices didn't fall in part because oil is an internationally traded commodity and the big players are multi-national corporations that sell oil across international borders. There is now pressure to export this newly produced natural gas and oil from the USA to international markets. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Terminals are the most controversial because of the huge safety risks presented for anyone living or working near those ports and facilities that would receive, pressurize and load that gas into LNG tanker ships.

The Keystone XL pipeline is still looming. It would transport the most polluting (tar sands) oil on earth from Alberta Canada to New Orleans to be exported as refined products to international markets by sea.

Most of you will remember all the theatrical handwringing over the past forty years about the oil imports the USA needed to purchase from the Middle East and how this was supposed to imperil our national security. Of course we still buy oil from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Persian Gulf. The USA still uses more oil than it produces! Oil continues to be imported because the American appetite for crude is so immense. The USA now consumes 18,886,000 barrels of crude per day. That's nearly 800,000,000 gallons per day. That crude, once refined into gasoline and other products is being converted into an awful lot of carbon dioxide. The numbers for natural gas and coal are equally alarming.

How do we unite these two separate stories, on the one hand, expanded oil and gas production and consumption, and on the other, the world hurling itself into the coming catastrophe of flooded coastal cites, climate refugees, disrupted agriculture, famine and ecosystem collapse?

Well magically, in Western Europe, they have been building a renewable energy economy. We simply don't hear about that here in the United States.

Here are a few facts about renewable energy production in the Western Europe. Spain generates an average of 17% of its national electric load from wind power alone. During a windy 24 hours, Spain can produce over 50% of its electric load from wind. How? They built the infrastructure and are still expanding it. In the US we have reached a whopping 4% national average electric energy load from wind power. Texas generates the most electricity from wind in the USA.

In the first quarter of 2014 Germany produced 27% of its national electricity load from renewable sources. This includes impressive amounts of photovoltaic power (solar panel electricity) for a country at high latitudes where solar power is more difficult to generate because the sun is lower on the horizon.

Sweden has relatively high-energy use per capita, in part because it is a far northern country with cold temperatures and high building heating demands. Nevertheless Sweden has one of the highest renewable energy statistics in Europe. This is largely the result of the extensive development of hydropower and biofuels, but also wind. These sources can have negative environmental impacts of their own, but nonetheless Sweden produces 48% of its electric energy load from renewable sources (non-fossil fuel, non-nuclear). Sweden does have several major nuclear power facilities. A controversial subject as you would expect.

There are many other similar statistics and comparisons that can be made. But the point is that Western Europe and the European Union in general, have proven that a renewable energy economy is within our grasp. We have only to develop the political will and build it.

Several countries in Europe are nearly half way to that goal. The USA is way behind. Why? I will leave you to answer that question. But if you need a hint, then think of the lost cash value to private financial interests of all the oil, gas and coal that will have to be left in the ground in order to solve our climate problems.

This is not a jobs or an employment problem. The potential employment opportunities presented by the development of renewable energy in the USA are immense. Hundreds of thousands (at a bare minimum) of new jobs would be created if we invested in the task of building and operating a renewable energy economy.

There are no technical or macro-economic financial impediments preventing the USA from aggressively joining efforts in the European Union to lead the planet out of our collision with Global Warming.

This is strictly a political and a financial self-interest problem. A problem made worse by false and self-serving propaganda. Americans are subjected to a massively funded flood of misinformation, and lies that confuses the public and insulates politicians from demands for change and innovation.

One more simple fact; the USA once led the world in confronting environmental problems. This is no longer the case and it has not been for many years. And we, as a nation, are blocking progress in addressing Global Warming. Simply look at our performance in respect to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This international treaty was never ratified by the US Congress and we continue to obstruct progress at each international meeting convened under this treaty. It is long past time for us to demand that our political "leadership" invest our national estate in renewable energy development.

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