Question One and the Climate

  Question One and the Climate Our motivation for writing the “Energy Matters” column has always been climate change. Period. Mostly, we have tried to address practical issues that might help a typical consumer make rational choices about energy use. For example, we wrote about how heat pumps work and how much money and energy they can save you.  We have tried to stay away from more controversial issues, but the time seems to have come to talk about the NECEC powerline and Question 1 on the November referendum. A number of good reasons to vote NO on Question 1 are outlined in a Bangor Daily News editorial from October 19th. However, one area about which we have heard little is Question 1’s connection to addressing climate change. Some opponents of the power line claim there are no climate benefits. There are several reasons why this is not true.   One claim is that Hydro Quebec will be buying fossil energy elsewhere to replace what they are sending into Maine.  There is no evidence tha


  Obtanium A reader of our column recently sent us a video that claims that there is no possibility that renewable energy, specifically wind and solar, can supply our energy needs. It’s narrated by a “Senior Fellow” of the Manhattan Institute, a “free-market think-tank,”  and was produced by PragerU, itself a non-profit funded primarily by petroleum industry donors. We thought it might be interesting to take a few points from the video to see how numbers can be used to distort facts. Unfortunately there isn’t enough room in our column to address all of the misinformation in the video, but let’s make a start. First of all, the narrator sets the scene with a mocking observation that renewable energy advocates are living in a cinematic fantasy world in pursuit of “Unobtainium,” the magic power source. To snap us back into reality he proceeds to pelt us with sobering factoids and intimidating, undocumented numbers, a few apples-to-oranges comparisons and some false equivalencies. These he

Energy Matters Index (ala Harper's Index)

  ENERGY MATTERS INDEX  ( with apologies to Harper's Index ) Current total number of U.S. jobs in the fossil fuel industries (coal, oil, gas) : 200,000 Current total number of U.S. jobs in the solar and wind power : 450,000 Potential number in the wind and solar as fossil energy is phased out : 1,000,000+ Annual sustainable energy from one acre of corn ethanol : 3.1 MWh (140 gallons)  Annual sustainable energy from one acre of trees : 6 MWh (1 cord) Annual sustainable energy from one acre of wind power : 200 MWh Annual sustainable energy from one acre of photovoltaics : 800MWh Miles that an acre of corn ethanol could move a typical small SUV in a year : 2,500 Miles that an acre of photovoltaics could move an electric car in a year : 2,000,000 Minimum acres of farmland to supply biofuel to one jumbo jet for a year : 65,000 (100 sq.mi.) Median grams of CO2 produced per kilowatt-hour of electricity at a coal fired power plant : 950 At a natural gas fired plant : 450 By a

Biomass Revisited

  Biomass Revisited Our recent column “Is Biomass a Climate Solution?” generated some feedback from members of the biomass industry in Maine. We greatly appreciate feedback, so we would like to respond. To review the column’s content, our main point was that using wood pellets from mature trees in place of oil or gas is not going to budge the global warming needle. If curbing greenhouse gas emissions drastically and expeditiously is our mission, switching to another combustion fuel is not better enough. We made a distinction between what is happening in North Carolina, the annual clear-cut of 60,000 acres to be pelletized and sent to the E.U. for biomass to meet their “renewables” quotas, and what the Maine biomass industry comprises. Perhaps we didn’t make this point clearly enough, and thereby regrettably offended some Maine biomass proponents. However, our thesis still stands: biomass burning as it is being employed by E.U. countries to meet their greenhouse gas reduction calculus i

One More Time: What Is “Carbon Pricing?”

  One More Time: What Is “Carbon Pricing?” The reason we bring this up is that national carbon pricing is important.  It is recognized by a full spectrum of economists, conservative to liberal, as key to reducing the role of fossil fuels in our economy, and by climate policy experts as critical for cutting emissions rapidly enough to avert catastrophe.  Why do economists and climate policy experts promote carbon pricing but politicians do not?  We believe the answer lies with voters - voters who do not pressure their elected officials to enact carbon pricing because they aren’t sure what it is. So here is what it is, in a nutshell.  Carbon pricing refers to placing a sort of “pollution fee” on fossil fuels to make their prices reflect their TRUE cost to society.  If the actual effects of fossil fuels -- in health damage, in environmental damage, in damage to the atmosphere -- were priced into those fuels, consumers would respond by avoiding them and favoring alternatives, including ene

Is Biomass a Climate Solution?

  Is Biomass a Climate Solution? We write this column and call it Energy Matters because it does.  Energy does matter.  In fact at this point in the history of life on Earth, it matters, arguably, more than just about anything.  It matters because the human component of the planet community has gotten us into something of a predicament by fashioning an entire civilization on a structure dependent on a constant diet of high-density energy from fossil sources of carbon based-fuel.  The predicament is that the destructive effects of this deployment of fossil fuels are heading human civilization rapidly and inexorably towards doom, dragging all other earthly communities with it.  Our energy needs constitute an addiction, withdrawal from which seems impossible. There must be a way out of this predicament, we say!  But so far no one seems to have a simple treatment.  If it is even possible, it is very, very complicated and we know we don’t have time to waste going down blind alleys.