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Another Voice: Engineering advances are reducing carbon emissions

By Richard W. Ford

Last Sunday’s Viewpoints discussion of energy policy presented only two opposite extremes. One writer presented the agenda of the oil industry, while the other presented the agenda of the Obama administration.

The “all of the above” policy of the Obama administration could better be described as “no lobbyist left behind.” The coal industry was given subsidies for new coal-fired power plants, the nuclear industry was given loan guarantees, the oil industry still has price supports (cleverly named the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve”), performance contractors have off-balance sheet financing and the ethanol industry was given a law forcing people to buy its product, regardless of the price and lower fuel value.

“Clean coal” is just a fantasy. Capturing and storing the carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants uses extra electricity. Burning extra coal to provide the extra electricity for capturing and storing carbon dioxide has a negative effect on the environment.

If some investors think nuclear power is a good investment, they are welcome to invest their money and make a profit. If a nuclear plant turns out to be a bad investment, why should the taxpayers get stuck with paying off the guaranteed loans?

And why build any new nuclear plants as long as the government can’t make a decision on what to do with the nuclear waste that will be dangerous for 100,000 years?

Study after study has shown that it takes about the same amount of energy to produce ethanol as it provides as a fuel. So why shouldn’t Americans be allowed to choose what fuel they use in their cars?

The real accomplishments in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and oil imports have been made by energy engineers in the private sector and are not the result of government policies. Fracking has been the biggest reason for reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Other engineering breakthroughs include LED lights, hybrid cars, lower-cost photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, geothermal heating and cooling, aluminum trucks and more efficient appliances. Energy engineers need to continue improving alternative energy production and finding ways to use energy more efficiently.

A topic ignored by both of the writers was the need for utility rate reform. Bill calculation methods that automatically penalize any resident who conserves gas or electricity or produces any of his own electricity need to be changed.

New York State Electric & Gas now wants to increase the “basic service charge” by 25 percent. I hope lots of Western New Yorkers will show up at the hearings and say what they think about that.

Richard W. Ford is president of OEM Energy Services in East Amherst.