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Archive for October, 2008

Whenever I read critics who are concerned that the cost of transitioning to renewable energy will place an unfair financial burden on consumers (See Mike Thomas) I look for their references to the source of the costs. The mining, transporting and processing costs of natural gas, coal, oil and uranium plus the market speculating and manipulating are what drive the prices for electricity and transportation fuels. Yes, even though the US has abundant coal, the average delivered price to Florida utilities rose 9.8% between 2005 and 2006 (EIA). Because these fuels are finite, the costs will never stabilize. The only constant is the cost for solar fuel. It doesn’t change and won’t until the sun stops shining. Photons are free. Mr. Thomas didn’t mention that in his recent column.

The renewable energy challenge is to find creative ways to finance the conversion of solar energy into electricity and transportation fuels. The conversion equipment, for example solar cells or ethanol/biodiesel plants, are the real cost of solar fuel. The more momentum we can generate through private and governmental initiatives and incentives to amortize these costs the sooner we will be able to kick rising costs and just coast on sustainable solar. In fact, Mr. Thomas can look to his own municipal utility, OUC, for one of the most consumer-friendly, solar incentive programs for homeowners in the state. The cost for photons will always be zero.

Sam Kendall

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Last year I read that Lee County, Florida was thinking about making biodiesel but St. Johns County appears to be the first in the state to make their own.  At the biodiesel workshop in early October we heard from Ray Inman, who is the one-man Biodiesel Department at St. Johns County.   St. Johns is now producing enough biodiesel to blend B-20 for their entire fleet.  After some previous small scale experimentation, the county has now invested $300,000 in a DSI Fabrication system that can make 450 gallons at a time.  County restaurants are having their grease hauled away for free and the county is saving money by producing their own fuel.

Sam Kendall

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What’s your response? Before you answer listen to Professor Lonnie Ingram’s talk at the University of Florida. Ingram and staff did the research and developed a process to make ethanol fuel (the tequila process) from woody biomass, yard waste and the inedible portions of agricultural crops. He says 20-30% of transportation fuel can be produced this way. Add that to 10% from corn ethanol and we’re starting to drive home.

Corn ethanol critics say the fuel is increasing use of damaging fertilizers, boosting food prices and wasting fresh water. Fossil fuels are even used in the process.

Professor Ingram addresses these concerns. He believes Florida can lead the nation in renewable fuels production. This would mean money circulating in Florida through processing plants and related services creating jobs and income. “Dependence on petroleum is the single most important factor affecting the world distribution of wealth, global conflicts, health and the environment. We must reverse the dependence,” Ingram says.

Sam kendall

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The American Solar Energy Society at University of Florida, Gainesville will sponsor a tour of solar homes on October 18, 2008.  This is being billed as the largest solar event in the nation.  You’ll get to visit the largest commercial solar installation in the city and a zero energy home.  Alternative energy vehicles will also be on display and including a trip to a biodiesel production plant.  Get more info and directions at the ASES solar tour page.

Sam Kendall

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