U.S. needs push to develop alternative energy - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

U.S. needs push to develop alternative energy

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Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009 1:49 pm | Updated: 1:16 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Dale Whiting: The debate over the future of U.S. energy policy has become more vocal. Opponents of carbon emission cap-and-trade claim implementation will increase the average home energy bill by $1,700 per year.

The debate over the future of U.S. energy policy has become more vocal. Opponents of carbon emission cap-and-trade claim implementation will increase the average home energy bill by $1,700 per year.

Yes, cap-and-trade would increase the cost to produce energy from coal and from petroleum, but with the intent of providing an economic incentive to improve efficiency in carbon-based energy production, in the transmission of electricity, and in energy consumption and conservation as well as making it more economically feasible to produce energy from alternate sources like renewable wind and solar and from nuclear.

In the U.S., the price of coal and petroleum is artificially low. In Europe, where a dependable supply of coal and petroleum does not exist, much more power will be produced from nuclear energy and from renewable sources. Manufacturers of alternative power sources and of nuclear power plants based in Europe and in China have come to corner these markets, leaving U.S. research and development behind in the dust.

The question would be: "Is it a good idea to bite the bullet now on energy costs to spread out our base of generation and to improve efficiency? Or shouldn't we kick the can down the road, produce more energy from petroleum and coal now and wait it out, allowing our alternative energy production industry to die on the vine?"

Nuclear (for most practical purposes), wind and solar are all renewable sources. If we work on and successfully produce fusion-based nuclear power, it would be totally inexhaustible. Sooner or later, both coal and petroleum both must run out.

And there is apparent risk from global warming if we continue much further down this path. We can argue now about how much further down the path the world can safely go. But is that argument worth the risk of being decided wrongly? As a conservative, I say taking risks on such an important matter is irresponsible, fool-hearty and wrong-headed.

There are some uses of petroleum that cannot be replaced by renewable sources. And although solar offers some possible production of artificial, petroleumlike substances from algae, it is not at all clear that these will ever become economically feasible. Vital uses of petroleum include the petro-chemical industry - fertilizers, pesticides, plastics and alike, and air transportation - nothing else can match the ratio of energy content to weight in petroleum to become a viable alternative for aviation uses. Ground transportation alternatives, principally hydrogen, present serious distribution and safety problems. We just cannot afford to expend all of our precious petroleum reserves on making electricity and powering passenger cars.

Over the years, the U.S. has waged numerous wars on nonmilitary objectives. We have waged war on poverty, on drugs, and now on terrorism. Our supply of coal suitable for energy production may be large. But at some point in time, we will be facing a war on energy between the "haves" and the other "have nots." In that conflict, the "have nots" will not possess resources to wage any sort of conflict. In this new war, the U.S. will be among the "have nots." It's our choice.

Will we wait until it's too late, until we clearly are the "have nots"? Or will we diversify now? Paying $1,700 per year may be well worth being saved from this conflict! Clearly cheap energy fueled the rise of these United States. Will losing our ability to fuel our homes and industry become the cause of our decline and fall?

Dale Whiting is a resident of Chandler.

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