Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free lunch?

Contributed by Auggie
If not for the health care debate, there might be more publicity surrounding the energy debate which is also a hot topic, so to speak. What I find interesting as I listen to the discourse on energy alternatives is that some people still think you can get a free lunch. You can’t. Every energy alternative has a cost to society from someone’s perspective, there are no exceptions.

The usual suspects are well known. Coal fired plants produce large amounts of CO2 which contributes to global warming, and burning coal leads to smog, acid rain and other toxins that threaten our health. Nuclear is far cleaner than coal and has the potential to be an abundant, low-cost source of energy but the fear of radioactive waste has made it prohibitively expensive and politically challenging. Natural gas? Same problems as coal but not quite as bad. When you talk about “green” energy like wind, hydro and solar you would think that the most environmentally conscious people would be in favor of those, but in reality it seems to be the opposite. It’s the environmentalists who don’t want wind turbines because they destroy the beauty of nature. That is why wind projects have a difficult time getting approved for example on mountain ranges, or as some people like to call it “where the wind is”. In addition to aesthetic problems, wind turbines are a known source of noise related issues for people who live near them, and they disrupt bird migratory patterns to name a couple of cons. Well surely solar has no cons, unless you consider the annoying little fact that the sun needs to be shining for that to work. Even so, solar has some of the same issues as wind – it takes vast tracts of land and that can’t help but disrupt certain wildlife, even if it is in the desert. Not to mention the production of solar panels is very expensive and energy intensive in and of itself. There is certainly potential but you can’t supply the world’s energy needs with solar. Tidal power sounds exciting. One method being tried is the use of underwater turbines which work on the same principle as wind turbines, but they use the energy of the tides instead. This is all well and good except that you might kill a fish. It’s ok to fish the oceans dry so Biff and Muffy can enjoy their sushi, but kill a fish producing power and Green Peace will be strapping themselves to the turbine blades. Another argument against tidal power, ironically, is that the underwater equipment will interfere with the fishing industry. (My head hurts). Hydro would be a perfect complimentary energy source if only it didn’t flood certain areas that weren’t meant to be flooded, change the local ecosystem, and render the down steam portion of the river useless.

Here is a suggestion: Any published opposition to any source of energy should include that person’s proposal for meeting the energy demand. It’s easy to poke holes in an idea if you’re not part of solving the problem. And conservation doesn’t count as an alternative unless the proposal is to use zero energy – in which case that person would be deemed a nut job and we wouldn’t listen to them anyway.

Contrary to the tone of this blog, I’m not diminishing or belittling any of the concerns people have about the consequences of our actions on the environment. In fact, the world is a better place because of these people. Without them, near-sighted power hungry fools would surely run amok with our resources and destroy the earth in no time. I’m only trying to highlight the fact that whatever source of energy you favor, there is a cost.

Fusion anyone?


  1. Anonymous11/17/2009

    So what's your proposal?

    You shot holes in all the common ideas...

  2. Where is John Galt when you need him?

  3. Boo Hoo11/17/2009

    In Africa they burn elephant dung !

  4. Dear Anonymous, I wasn't shooting holes in all the common ideas, I was paraphrasing the criticism I have heard. Remember the "no free lunch" theme? But since you ask: I would 1)continue developing wind, solar and tidal power and 2) start building Nuclear plants.

  5. Eddie Willers11/18/2009

    Who is John Galt?

  6. Jeff Ryer11/18/2009

    I live across the Harbor from a coal plant, and I can tell you without a doubt i would rather live across from a nuclear power plant than coal, any day.

  7. heard rumor of windmills in the sea, no joke. Floating windmills in the Gulf of Maine is still a fetus of a project but appears to have few "yeah buts" attached to it: Fish are fine, hills are fine, drunk lobstermen... may not be fine. Don't believe me? Click my name for a picture of what Europe is already doing.

  8. This would also open up more jobs, because there would need to be someone to clean off all the seagull poop. In the meantime, we'll have to hire someone to develope a plan to not have seagulls poop on the giant windmills, someone who has experience with that sort of thing, like maybe someone with a name like Tom.

  9. I only work with duck poop. Better brush up on your fowlology. Right genus, wrong species.

  10. Jeff Ryer11/21/2009

    It's not poop you have to worry about cleaning off the windmills, it's blood and guts. Those blades chop up birds faster than a ginsu knife.