Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Energy future: bright day or dark skies ahead?

Ron Madore recently had an informative piece on his Earth Journal on MinnPost. It was about about one possible future for Minnesota utilities. Please follow the link and skim the article. The background is important to the rest of this blog's posting. Madore's story quotes some long-time players who assign responsibility for the kind of utility behavior we have to our broader society. There may be some truth to that, but, since we're primarily talking about investor owned utilities that historically have been guaranteed a certain return on investment (unlike my personal 401k) it might have been more helpful to expand on the reference to utility self-interest. Can you think of at least one comparable situation that has occurred historically. (There's probably way more than that since capitalism is know for its creative destruction.) How about IBM, which started out as a hardware company? These days their services menu is about as long as their products listing and many of their products are software, not hardware. They transitioned. Newspapers are finding their own business model a poor fit for today's information society. The real point to this exploration, however, is to establish that contemporary alternatives exist but we don't value them enough in this country. We can, however, be grateful for the Sierra Club and their "Beyond Coal" campaign. (Although my admiration is tempered thanks to Sandra Steingraber's outrage about the Club's acceptance of significant amounts of fossil fuel funds.)

photo of dark sky
dark skies?                 © harrington

German society and utilities are taking a substantial lead over the US (and Minnesota) in the transition to renewable energy sources. Better vision and better understanding of the bigger economic picture and better societal values are claimed to be Germany's drivers. That's all it takes. Wouldn't you like to see our Minnesota take the renewable energy lead from Germany? We have a situation in which the majority of Minnesota's electricity comes from coal. There is some conversion to "cleaner burning" natural gas (a less bad alternative than coal but not a clean solution) at the same time that, next door, in North Dakota, they're flaring quantities of natural gas from their oil fields. Do you see anything wrong with that picture?

photo of Winter beauty, bright day
 Winter beauty, bright day     © harrington

Personally, I'd like to see My Minnesota commit to a program of energy efficiency, energy retrofits of our current housing stock, plus a job training program for greening our existing residential building stock and providing tax credits for building owners who invest in conservation and renewables. The energy savings would represent some return on investment for building owners but there should also be substantial public benefits related to energy conservation mitigating climate change. Those benefits represent a basis for public investment in this kind of program. We might even be able to make retirement more physically and economically comfortable for our seniors if we adapted Germany's approach to fit our needs. Take a look at our recent weather: wet late Spring, droughty Summer, Autumn snow. If we want to keep Minnesota a four seasons state where snowmobiles roam, we need to mitigate climate change, not just adapt. We can save Winter snow, money, parts of the environment and create jobs at the same time. Unfortunately, Carter Revard's poem reminds us of the problems we still face.

Statement on Energy Policy

By Carter Revard 

It’s true we have invented quark-extraction,
and this allows our aiming gravity at will;
it’s true also that time
can now be made to flow
backward or forward by

the same process. It may be true as well that
what is happening at the focal point,
the meristem of this process,
creates a future kind of space,
a tiny universe that has

quite different rules. In this, it seems,
whatever one may choose to do or be becomes
at once the case. In short,
we have discovered heaven and
it’s in our grasp. However,

the Patent Office has not yet approved and cites
less positive aspects of this invention. First, it
does not generate profit, and
it does make obsolete all present
delivery systems for our nukes. Then,

it will let private citizens do things that only
a chosen few, that is, OUR sort, should be allowed—
fly freely from one country
to any other, spreading diseases
and bankrupting transportation.

Home-heating, auto-making industries will be trashed,
employment shelled, depressions spread worldwide,
sheer anarchy descend.
For these and other reasons,
no one must know of this. . . .


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