Energy: A deepening dilemma

By Henry Lamb
web posted October 16, 2000

America's robust economy is racing down the highway, apparently unaware that just beyond the range of the headlights is an intersection pointing to two different futures. The road to the left promises a pollution-free future, dependent upon windmills and solar panels; the road to the right promises adequate, affordable energy as far as the eye can see. The road we take may be chosen as soon as November 7.

There seems to be a disconnect among the public and politicians when it comes to our unprecedented prosperity and its dependence upon energy. The only time the public or politicians seem to care is when the price of gasoline passes $1.50 per gallon. The energy crisis is much deeper than the current price at the pump.

A significant number of people in the world agree with Al Gore, who believes that fossil fuel must be eliminated as the primary source of our energy supply. These same people believe that neither nuclear energy nor hydro-electric dams can be considered as alternatives. That leaves solar panels, windmills, biomass, conservation - and new technologies that may be developed in the future.

The people who agree with Al Gore have taken control of America's energy policy in recent years and have forced a reduction in the use of domestic energy supplies. Through the U.N. Climate Change Treaty, and its subsequent Kyoto Protocol, Gore's soul-mates are taking control over the use of fossil fuels around the world. Clearly, Al Gore intends to take the road to the left and leave fossil fuel in the ground, forcing the world to rely on energy sources that cannot possibly meet the demands of our burgeoning economy.

Gore says the economy will not skip a beat because as we shift to the new energy technologies - yet to be developed - new jobs will be created, and in the doing of it, we will spare the earth from the horrible catastrophes associated with continued use of fossil fuels.

Is this visionary thinking, as our school children have been taught, or is this foolish fantasy?

Solar powerThe sobering reality is that alternative energy cannot possibly meet our energy requirements in the foreseeable future. Even if wind and solar energy were available in adequate supplies, they would come at great economic and environmental costs.

Neither solar nor wind energy is environmentally friendly. California leads the nation in the production of wind energy. Four major wind farms, employing more than 13,000 windmills, covering several thousand acres, produce 2.9 billion KW per year.

By contrast, a single coal-fired plant near Knoxville, Tennessee, produces 10 billion KW per year. Which is more friendly to the environment? The windmills spin blades that are 58-feet long, producing a deafening roar for miles around. Birds enter the area at their peril. Humans who must drive through Altamont Pass, East of San Francisco, are advised to take ear muffs.

There is not enough land in America to erect enough windmills to supply a fraction of the energy needed to maintain the economy. Solar panels are even less efficient when it comes to the space required to produce energy, although they are quieter than windmills and don't kill birds.

Currently, coal provides about 55 per cent of our electricity. Nuclear energy supplies about 22 per cent; hydro-electric dams produce about 10 per cent; and natural gas produces about 9 per cent. All alternative energy sources combined produce about 2 per cent of our electricity needs.

The stark reality is that alternative energy cannot begin to replace fossil fuels with the technology that is available, or on the horizon. This fact does not suggest that we should abandon alternative energy research. On the contrary, we should continue to seek new and better sources of energy, as we have been doing for several decades.

It does mean, however, that it is foolish to abandon the use of fossil fuels before technology pushes them into obsolescence. Energy policies predicated upon the whimsical notion that oil and coal are somehow bad, are not only short-sighted, they are misleading and downright dangerous.

If, as the Carter administration predicted, fossil fuels were exhausted at the dawn of the new millennium, our economy, and the world economy, would have ground to a screeching halt. No more air conditioning; no more trucks hauling goods from manufacturer to consumer; no more manufacturing; no more refrigeration; no more life as we know it. What a tragedy for civilization.

If the use of fossil fuel is denied, while abundant supplies remain in the ground, how much more is that tragedy compounded? This is precisely what Al Gore's vision of the future requires. Even worse, the United Nations, through the Kyoto Protocol, is attempting to take control over the phase-out of fossil fuel. Interestingly, the U.N. plan would force developed nations to phase out fossil fuel use first, leaving developing nations to use fossil fuel until their economies are brought into equity with the developed countries. Then the plan is to force all nations into energy use that is seen to be environmentally acceptable to the United Nations.

America cannot continue its apathetic response to the relentless attack on the use of fossil fuels. Abundant, affordable energy is the basis of our health, wealth, and prosperity, and the hope of the rest of the world. Fossil fuel is both abundant and affordable; no other energy source is. We cannot allow misguided environmental extremists to deny society the use of this energy.

America must begin now to develop an energy strategy that will first and foremost, rid this nation of its dependence upon OPEC or the United Nations for its energy supply. There are enough known coal reserves under the United States to supply our electricity needs for about 200 years. We can't use it because of the fantasies shared by Al Gore and his soldiers stationed throughout the administration. Since 1994, 628 coal mines have been closed, sending 16,200 mine workers to the unemployment lines.

We should have been opening new mines and adding more workers to supply new power generating plants to meet the growing demand for electricity. Every KW of electricity supplied by coal frees petroleum and natural gas to be used for transport, heating, and industry.

Instead, the EPA has forced many coal-fired plants to switch to natural gas, putting an unnatural price pressure on a commodity that is better suited for other purposes. Natural gas prices have doubled in the last year. Most homes in the Midwest will feel the price crunch this winter.

Oil imports continue to climb because the Clinton/Gore administration continues to tighten the noose around the petroleum industry. New oil fields cannot be explored or developed because of so-called adverse environmental impacts. Where is the adverse impact of the noise pollution and bird slaughter at the Altamont Pass windmill farm?

Nearly 58 per cent of our oil now comes from abroad. Al Gore's response - sending Secretary Richardson to beg OPEC to increase production - is beyond insulting, it is almost un-American. Our government must recognize the need to once again become self-sufficient in energy.

How stupid is it to give Sadam Hussein $25 million a day for his oil, which we put in our airplanes to fly over Iraq to keep his airplanes on the ground? This is necessary, we are told, to prevent disturbing the "fragile" ecosystem of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Get a grip; it's frozen tundra! How many Americans have seen, or will ever see, or benefit from that vast stretch of snow that looks exactly like the rest of the northern slope? There is enough oil there to replace all the oil we import from Iraq - and probably much, much more. Why should Americans not be benefitting from that oil, rather than continuing to pay Iraq for its oil?

Getting to the energy sources is only a part of the problem. This administration has also prevented the development of increased capacity to process and utilize fossil fuel energy. Only one refinery has been added to our capacity in the last decade. When Al Gore told his boss to release 30 million barrels of oil from our strategic reserves, our refineries were already operating at 96 per cent capacity. All the gesture accomplished was to replace about 36-hours worth of oil supplied by OPEC with oil from our reserves. A slight blip in the world market price was the total effect; it provided no new oil for a thirsty economy.

For years, electricity suppliers have been warning that the demand for energy is increasing. To keep up with the demand, new generating plants must be brought on line. This administration has not heeded the warnings, and have thwarted efforts by the free market to meet demand.

For years, the petroleum industry has warned that new fields and new refineries are necessary to meet the growing energy demand. Again, this administration has not heeded the warnings, and instead of allowing expansion, has penalized the fossil fuel industry and promoted the fantasy of alternative energy and reduced consumption.

Every summer, the rolling-brownout warning is issued by electricity generators in urban centers. The maze of specialized fuel formulations required by the Environmental Protection Agency keep refineries operating at maximum capacity. Prices at the pump continue to edge upwards as the total demand for energy continues to outstrip our capacity to supply it.

The problem is not OPEC; it is Al Gore and his fellow travelers in la-la land. If we start now with an energy policy founded on reality, and let free markets use the resources available, we can have the energy we need to continue our incredible race to the future. If we fail, our future may look a lot like yesteryear.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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