Friday, June 29, 2007

Approaching Green Energy Progressively

As an ecology major at the University of Kansas, I am keenly aware of the need to reduce the negative human impact on our environment. To be successful in reducing greenhouse gasses and preserve our non-renewable resources, we have two choices: make more through renewable resources or use less energy.

On the surface, wind energy seems to be a logical solution. Free power from the wind, right? Well, not exactly. Wind energy is currently quite expensive and must be heavily subsidized by the government, with our tax dollars, to compete with traditional energy production. In addition, it is not as reliable since it cannot be effectively stored, and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. This means wind energy will never be anything more than a minor supplement for our energy needs.

Germany has over 20,000 wind turbines and leads the world in wind energy production. However, they are only able to produce 4.2% of their energy potential (48 gigawatt potential, 2 gigawatt production). To date, not one single coal-powered or other traditional power plant has been replaced. In fact, Germany has stopped subsidizing wind power and future development will cease. Obviously, wind power proved to have little impact there.

So what is a progressive, effective solution to the energy problems we have? I propose that instead of spending so much money to make more energy, we use just a fraction of that money for conservation strategies that have little to no effect on our day-to-day lives.

Here’s an example. The federal government currently subsidizes wind developers approximately $1.25 million for each 1.5 MW turbine (data extrapolated from Keith Martin, Chadbourne and Parke, LLP). Iberdrola, the international corporation that has proposed the wind project in Ellis Country, would receive over $160 million from the United States. As taxpayers, we collectively cover that cost and then again pay for the electricity that it produces in our energy bill.

Now, instead of subsidizing a large foreign utility corporation, what if the federal government bought each house in Ellis county ten 15-watt compact fluorescent bulbs? These bulbs, which last an average of 5 years, would produce the same amount of light as 75-watt traditional light bulbs, but use much less energy per bulb. Based on average usage and production figures, this strategy would save enough electricity to replace two wind turbines (with energy left over) and would only cost the government $312,000. The rest of the energy could go elsewhere, and by using less energy in our households, we would save money in our electric bill.

Additionally, all of the problems and controversy associated with placing and taking down these massive structures is eliminated as well. Ultimately, we would conserve space and scenery, money, and energy. This is just one idea. There are many other ways of reducing energy consumption with little change to our daily lives.

We need to seriously consider what our goal is and pursue that goal earnestly. If our goal is to conserve energy, reduce the usage of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gasses, we should look more to saving energy rather than producing more to feed our habit. Investing in conservation has a much larger impact at a much lower cost when compared to the construction of wind turbines.

If, on the other hand, our goal is to eliminate a little guilt concerning our excessive energy usage and to boost the earnings of a few multinational corporations while we are at it, it looks to me that wind turbines are the best things going.

Alex Bittel
Lawrence, Kansas

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