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Prattsburgh Town Councilman Steven Kula
at the Citizen Power Alliance 2010 Wind Conference




5/21/2008
The U.S. needs an energy policy based on sound economics
While many debate the real cause of global warming, and there are much more potent greenhouse gases than CO2, there is no debate on the need to stop bankrupting ourselves with imported fuels. Unfortunately, the economic consequences of our ill conceived subsidies of alternative energy is too often overlooked.

The biggest tragedy of our misguided subsidies is missed opportunity. Transportation and heating account for the majority of our imported fuel use, not electric power generation. New technologies are rapidly developing that will allow us to convert from imported fuels to U.S.-generated electric power for these uses, provided we do not allow the cost of electric power to be artificially increased. Two examples:

New battery technology for automobiles now allows powering decent sized cars 40+ miles on a charge from an outlet in your garage, at a cost of about 80 cents. This country’s own General Motors Corp. has made a huge commitment to this technology, with the chance to regain world leadership and create real jobs in this country. Internal combustion automobile engines only convert about 20% of the available energy in gasoline to motive power, while electric motors operate near 90% efficiency, and electric vehicles recapture energy when braking.

Heat pumps can pump about five times the amount of heat energy they consume, while conventional combustion furnaces cannot deliver even as much energy as they consume. Using the earth as a constant temperature heat source, sometimes referred to as using geothermal energy, is one means of making this technology practical for our cold climate. Another is the use of the new dual source furnaces that switch to natural gas on those few days when outside temperature makes heat pump operation less practical.

Lost Economic Opportunity: The U.S. with its entrepreneurial culture can develop these and other technologies, lead the world, and create jobs here, provided we do not skew the energy costs to place electric power at a disadvantage to continued use of imported fuels. Developing countries do not follow in lockstep behind developed countries, but leapfrog to best available technologies. To them, best available often means lowest cost. We can lead only if we focus on economic realities as well as environmental ones.

We are daily confronted with new evidence as to the problems we are causing with this country’s poorly thought out corn-to-ethanol subsidy program. Our wind energy subsidies will have an even greater adverse impact long term.

To allow the market to freely and rapidly convert from hydro-carbon fossil fuels to more efficient means of using energy as in the examples above, electric supplies must be both increased and kept economical. Intermittent sources of energy do neither.

Wind energy is being promoted as a way to reduce imports of fuels and to reduce production of greenhouse gases,. Wind turbines will not reduce our demand for imported fuel and may increase that demand. Subsidies for wind energy divert attention and investment from new technologies that can have a much more significant effect on reducing both our imported fuel demand and CO2 production.

Only a small fraction of our electric power is generated by imported fuels, but the wind turbines, which only produce rated power about 25% of the time, require that we build, maintain, staff and keep on stand-by conventional generating capacity for the other 75% of the time. Unfortunately, the most practical fast response conventional generating means is natural gas fired turbines ( peaker plants ) and this country is already importing natural gas. Additional wind turbines will not reduce our need for imported fuels.

The wind is free, wind turbines are not. Wind-generated electricity is more expensive than electricity from conventional sources, and when the hidden costs of the required backup capacity are added, it is much more expensive.

By unnecessarily saddling ourselves with high cost electric power, we are hurting our ability to compete in the global economy and are discouraging investment in technology that can help both our environment and our economy.

To allow the new technologies to flourish, we need an increased supply of economical, and 24-7 available electrical energy, not just alternative energy. Fortunately, there are alternatives that are both CO2 free and economical.

Nuclear power: May be our best choice in the near term, and it buys us time to develop other options.

Geothermal energy: Thanks to deep hole drilling technology developed for the oil industry, geothermal energy will soon be able to be accessed in most parts of this country. Most do not realize that the U.S. is the world leader in mass producing geothermal power, but until now it has been limited to geyser areas of our west.

Hydroelectric power: New means of harvesting it without dams are being developed.

Solar concentrators: Capture heat from the sun which can be stored, rather than converting sunlight directly to electrical power and thus minimizing need for backup power, are a viable alternative in sunny parts of this country. It is available during peak hours of electrical demand in those same areas further reducing the need for backup power. Solar heating of homes is viable in much of this country, and this state as it inherently includes means to store that energy.

This country desperately needs a realistic energy policy that will benefit its economy now and into the future, not just a farm subsidy policy masquerading as an energy policy ( Corn-to-ethanol )

David C. Amsler
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