By Richard W. Ford
In the Viewpoint section of Sunday’s Buffalo News, the pro-oil and pro-renewable authors both got a few things right and a few things wrong.
The pro-oil author scoffs at solar energy because it now provides only 1 percent of our electricity. The important fact about solar is the costs are coming down and efficiency has been going up rapidly, year by year and month by month.
We are almost at the tipping point where it will make sense for almost everyone to invest his own money in solar energy. The peak demand on our electric grid is in the daytime in the summer, exactly when more solar power would be the most valuable. We need enough solar power to meet the entire air conditioning load and daytime peaks before storing electricity for nighttime use is even a need.
A high priority should be increasing from 1 percent of our electricity from solar to 30 percent. We have enough sunlight to make as much electricity as we want. The pro-oil author talks as if more oil production is the only way to energy independence, but present and forthcoming technology in energy conservation and renewable energy will be a viable alternative.
The pro-renewable author is enthusiastic about electric cars. They may be the wave of the future, but for now, until we have enough renewable energy to charge the batteries, there isn’t much environmental benefit from running cars on electricity which comes from coal burned at 32 percent efficiency. A breakthrough in battery technology would improve the value of using electric cars, but for now it doesn’t make sense for the 99 percent who drive gas-powered cars or can’t afford cars to have to subsidize the 1 percent who buy electric cars.
Neither author shows much enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol. There may be times when there is a surplus of corn and it makes sense to turn some of it into ethanol, but study after study shows it does little or nothing to cut carbon emissions or fossil fuel use, unless you believe in magic and the diesel oil that farmers use in their tractors comes from nowhere. People should not be forced to buy ethanol just so politicians can get more votes in Iowa.
National Grid should eliminate its $17 per month “customer charge,” which has the effect of penalizing customers who install solar panels to meet part of their electric needs. Let the people choose to install solar whenever it makes sense for them.
Worst of all is the statement from the pro-renewable author that “a carbon free America may be only an election away.” Politicians sometimes do more harm than good when they try to make our decisions for us, denying us choices and wasting resources on things that are not going to work. President Trump’s attempt to subsidize nuclear and coal plants was fortunately rejected. Federal funds are still being poured into fantasies like “carbon capture and storage.” Our New York governor says nice words about renewable energy, while our state government still permits utility companies to penalize energy conservation and renewable energy.
Richard W. Ford is the founder of OEM Energy Services in East Amherst.