Archive for January, 2010

Alternative Energy and the Environment: Who’s Winning?

January 15, 2010

Who is winning? It sure isn’t the large majority of us who want rational, reasonable environmental protection and energy development, as progress is held hostage by the zealous extremes – Red State, Blue and Green.

A flurry of current and recent stories from the NEW YORK TIMES underline the tensions and conflicting interests of environmental protection, wilderness preservation, and alternative energy development. People who are, in most cases, comfortable and natural allies find themselves as bitter foes, and the strangest of partners jump into the policy bed together.

Take Boone Pickens – oil patch entrepreneur, funder of the Swiftboaters who sank John Kerry’s Presidential bid, and passionate advocate of energy independence thru wind power and the conversion of truck, busses and cars to natural gas fuel. Last year, plunging oil prices, regulatory hurdles and a miserable investment climate caused Pickens to pull the plug on his massive plans for electricity-from-wind developments in Texas and the Plains.

So now, the TIMES tells us, Boone is emphasizing the the second part of his vision (“Forget Wind. Pickens Turns Focus to Gas.” by Clifford Krauss) with a compaign that promotes natural gas as an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to imported oil.

Environmental purists criticize the idea of natural gas as motor fuel – for a variety of reasons that seem to boil down to “it’s not green enough” or “Pickens is in it for the money, so it can’t be a good idea”. This faction, it seems, wants all-or-nothing: plug-in electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or ‘I’ll take my ball and go home!’

Toyota, the undisputed leader in alternative fuels technologies, provides a practical and sobering assessment of the shortcomings of today’s electric car technologies and the long development road ahead of us. (“Toyota Executive Sees Limits to Electric Cars” by Jim Motavalli) And beyond the limitations of current car and battery technologies are the over-arching twin questions “Where will we get all that electricty and hydrogen, and at what environmental cost?”

Meanwhile, environmentalists and home-town politicians are bitterly opposing wind and solar energy development off the US East Coast – “Decision Promised Soon on Cape Cod Wind Farm” by John M Broder – and the California desert “Desert Vistas vs. Solar Power” by Todd Woody. Objections, it seems, are mostly on the grounds that wind turbines and solar panels will spoil their beach views or the wilderness experience. Never mind that this wind and solar generated electricity could displace electricty made from coal, the dirtiest and most environmentally-disruptive fuel around.

So, the bottom line here is the same as with any big issue – nobody’s position is totally right, but no one’s approach is totally wrong, either. And that, unfortunately, puts the purists and the ideologues – red state, blue or green, whatever – squarely in control.