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Archive for March, 2010

Honorable George Lemieux

Washington, DC

Dear Senator Lemieux,

Our dependence on the fossil fuels has finally caught up to us.  Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides as well particulate matter and acid rain kept researchers busy trying to reduce those pollutants in the last century.  Now, carbon dioxide has become the most serious threat.  We should have started moving away from these unhealthy fossil fuels long ago.

Down here in Florida we had one of the coldest Januarys in a long time.  Some people said that made the global warming theory invalid.  But while it was cold here, the rest of the earth was experiencing the fourth warmest January in recorded history.  I don’t doubt we’ll see more of these regional weather extremes.  We need to act now to keep the greenhouse molecules out of the air.  These larger molecules like CO2 and methane can hold heat.  Humans have been discarding them into the atmosphere for only a short cosmologic time, but look at the problems they are creating in this short period.

People in Asia are on the verge of losing their prime sources of drinking water.  Glaciers that feed their rivers are melting away.  Even in the US, scientists say Glacier National Park may lose the glacier in several decades.  As the ocean absorbs some of this increasing CO2, it creates another problem by dissolving it into carbonic acid which can destroy shellfish and reef systems.  Florida’s Everglades and coastal areas will be vulnerable to salt water intrusion and even flooding.  We must stop the millions of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere!  The results are adding up to catastrophe!

We have to cap these molecules or tax them.  Personally, I think people will respond faster if we tax them.  That will also be a fast way to engage all the other alternatives and get the new renewable energy businesses flourishing.  If carbon gets expensive people will use less of it.  They’ll start more carpooling and move more quickly into the carbon-neutral fuels like ethanol and biodiesel and start using public transportation more frequently.  I recently read the good news that GM is going to expand their flex-fuel fleet.  Electric cars, bikes and motor cycles are moving into the economy at a good pace.  But not as fast as wind generated and photovoltaic electricity.  These two clean energy industries are growing at 25-30 percent a year.  The climate in Florida is perfect to take advantage of biofuel and biomass energy production in addition to photovoltaics.  These industries provide only a fraction of our energy needs today.  But if we can sustain these fantastic growth rates it won’t be long before they are considered mainstream energy.

Thanks to the US government’s 30% tax credit and the Chinese and German governments’ national support systems, the increasing world production of photovoltaics is bringing down their price.  A kilowatt-hour of wind generated electricity is now about par with coal and about half the life-cycle cost of a kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity.  It’s important to keep up the biodiesel and ethanol tax credits and the research grants for biomass energy.  Innovative financing methods have emerged in the private sector to help overcome the initial cost of renewable energy systems.  PACE, or property assessed clean energy, is even being discussed in the Florida legislature this year.  Some other states and municipalities are already using this method of creating tax districts that allow the purchasers of renewable energy systems to spread the cost out on their tax bills.

This is an exciting time for advocates of energy efficiency and clean energy but the momentum could slow or even shift in the wrong direction depending on what national leaders decide to do.  We’ve seen it happen before.  The nation is experiencing an historic transition in the ways people use energy and the kinds of energy we use.  Industries and individuals are ready to do the right thing.  We are ready to make the transition to a low-carbon society.  We are looking for leadership in Washington and consistency in policy.

Respectfully,

Sam Kendall

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Maybe it’s because I don’t read that many newspapers, but I wasn’t aware that tritium leaks at nuclear plants are not uncommon.  Tritium is a radioactive hydrogen isotope.  On a recent public radio program, Lester Brown, Director of the Earth Policy Institute, said there have been twenty-seven instances of tritium leaks at US reactors.  A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also on the program, responded that these leaks are not “on-going” and that the most recent leak was “not near a river.”  I wondered whether he thought this response would make the public feel comfortable that tritium would never get in the water supply.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has made available a website click here where you can track nuclear safety including tritium leaks at all US reactors.  One issue, apparently, is that the turbines at these plants are so big (e.g. hundreds of megawatts) they rumble like freight trains, eventually shaking cracks in the concrete walls.

Brown was asked how best to address the greenhouse gas issue.  He answered that we should be looking at the “least cost” way of reducing carbon.  He said nuclear plants right now are near the top of the cost per kilowatt hour of producing electricity.  Financial institutions have backed away because of sticker shock and it remains to be seen whether Obama’s loan guarantees will open up the financing.  Cost overruns at nuclear construction sites are a regular occurrence.  He said wind generated electricity can be produced now at about half the cost per kw as nuclear.  Cost is one of the factors influencing nuclear France to begin building wind farms.

I attended Senator Lee Constantine’s Town Meeting in Longwood several weeks ago.  Senator Constantine has been for many years one of the lone voices in the state supporing conservation issues.  On the issue of “nuclear cost recovery” he said it was all a mistake.  The statue was not intended to give utilities the right to attach future nuclear construction costs to customer bills.  The intention was to allow a recovery of some of the planning and design costs already incurred.  The statute was misinterpreted by the Public Service Commission.  As a result, Progress Energy is now being sued by a citizens group unhappy about financing a nuke plant they don’t want.  Read that story here.  Constantine said he would try to correct the misleading cost recovery clause wording this session.

Sam Kendall

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