Energy

In Mt. Vernon, Ohio, we interviewed Walter O'Dell.  He drives his GEM mini-flat-bed truck all about town and gets 800 miles to a charge. A charge costs him: $12.

Energy Policy in Short

 

Note:  Pope Francis just released an encyclical on the environment (6/15) that has gained a lot of international attention.  Francis writes that he lines up with the large segment of the scientific community that warns global warming is not only a real threat, but is already here and causing havoc now.  What’s more, he writes that he believes a lot of global warming is, indeed, man-made and there is an urgency to significantly curb it.  However, he notes that powerful “obstructionist attitudes,” coupled with apathy in a large part of the general society, accounts for why more isn’t being done to change this.

 

He writes:  “We require a new and universal solidarity.”  

 

Our administration would line up squarely with Pope Francis on this.  We, indeed, believe global warming is a real and imminent threat – that is already playing itself out (super charged typhoons and hurricanes, droughts and famine in more arid countries, dangerously rising sea levels…).  The Pope also notes, although stymied to a degree, the worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and has led to the organization of numerous groups to raise awareness and institute change.

 

We have traveled extensively looking for these organizations in America and researching the alternative models they’ve developed.  This is all thread throughout the long paper below.  And our administration would do everything possible to mobilize and multiply these projects, not only to shift America into much better environmental stewardship, but also to provide an environmental template for the world.

 

Short points…

 

  • Focus on the “common good” for generations to come.

  • America shifts from being a “Society of Consumers” to being a “Society of Conservers”

  • Shift to much more (by a factor of 20) clean, renewable energy now.

  • In tandem, spark a drive for Americans to sacrifice tremendously when it comes to energy use.  (Americans sacrificed for the war effort during World War II, with rationing, and so on.  This is a “war on the environment.”)

  • Offer a wide variety of government incentives to sacrifice.  Also, in the short term, institute energy rationing.

  • Set up a template for “Kyoto Protocol Home Zones,” combined with multi-tiered public education on energy consciousness.

  • Teach energy conservation methods in schools.

  • Promote the funding of “carbon offset projects.”

  • Massive reforestation in America.  [Trees, for one, absorb carbon dioxide.  They also provide windbreaks and shade to cut down on heating and cooling costs, etc.]

  • Cut back exponentially on “lighting pollution.”  Or lighting excess – which is rampant in this country.

  • Cut back tremendously on central heating and cooling systems – which often heats or cools rooms not being used.

  • Dramatically increase insulation installations in this country.  And make these installations much more effective. 

  • Spark a drive to move many more Americans into house-sharing – from renting out a single room to families moving in together in single dwellings, and such.  In this, you share heating, cooling, lights, furniture, lawn equipment…  [We forget.  It takes the burning of fossil fuels to make many of our household items.]

  • Much more focus on the development of: solar, wind, geothermal, wave action energy generated alternative systems. [Our administration would propose significant funding for research in these areas.]

  • No to nuclear power.  It’s an ill-considered and extremely dangerous energy solution.  [Just ask the people down-wind from Chernobyl or Fukishima.]

  • Promote, by a factor of 20, all sorts of alternative transportation: electric cars, solar cars, scooters, bicycles, walking…

  • Push for “Walkable Communities” for every town in America.  [Places that are much more, for example, walking and bicycle friendly.]

  • High federal gas taxes to fund carbon offset projects, while moving people to drive less.

  • Higher tolls on federal highways to also help people cut back on their driving, inspiring things like “staycations.”   

  • Look to more alternative fuels like switch grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Energy Policy

 

 

“I don’t want my children, or anyone’s children, inheriting a world of ozone holes, global warming or acid rain,” Schriner added. –The Webster (MS) Progress-Times.

 

Below are discussions of the following topics relating to our proposals for a U.S. Energy Policy. They include: 1) The Issues; 2) The Plan; 3) Kyoto Protocol; 4) Home Energy Reduction Strategies; 5) House Sharing; 6) Solar Power; 7) Wind Power; 8) Water Power; 9) “No” to Future Nuclear Power Production; 10) Disposal Plan for Current High-Level Nuclear Waste; 11) Transportation.

 

1) The Issues

 

We have an absolute obligation to ensure the common good, not only for this generation, but for generations to come. What’s more, this is an obligation we’re called to, not only for our country, but the world.

 

Bluffton College Environmental Science Professor Bob Antibus told me World Resource Institute statistics show “high income countries (like the U.S.)” use 5,440 kilograms of oil per person per year, whereas “low income countries (like Ethiopia)” use 479 kilograms of oil per person per year.

So as a start, just in this area (and there are many), “equitable distribution” of world resources is tremendously unbalanced.

 

Coupled with this, America wastes a tremendous amount of energy. For instance, central heating warms many vacant rooms during the course of a day. The same goes for air conditioning – not to mention that air conditioning (as with excessive heating) is often unnecessary. However, in America we have “conditioned” ourselves to think it is. What’s more, many of the rooms we’re heating or cooling could be insulated much better, sometimes by a factor of as much as 10.

 

Likewise, we’re now “plugged in” to practically everything, using phenomenal (and often unnecessary) amounts of energy for televisions, computers, kitchen appliances, washers and driers…

 

And to produce these latter items, and so many more, we are using huge amounts of energy at the factory. In fact, Bowling Green State University Professor Jon Opperman, who is a Mechanical Design instructor and works with the Alternative Vehicles Department there, told me there is often more energy used to actually produce a car at the factory – than will be used to power it during it’s lifespan!

 

Then there is this motor vehicle phenomenon itself. We Americans drive billions of unnecessary miles each year. And what’s more, there’s the vital question about what we’re burning to power these vehicles.

 

A majority of what we’re burning for almost all our energy needs are highly polluting fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). This has led to quite environmentally toxic acid rain, devastating global warming patterns, almost wholesale rape (strip mining, as an example) of the land, carcinogen laced air…

 

Enough is enough!

 

2) The Plan

 

At an energy conference I attended at Antioch College, Pat Murphy, author of New Solutions, said that for the planet – and us – to have a chance, we have to shift from being a “society of consumers” to being a “society of conservers.” I agree.

 

What is needed is a “high-energy,” mass grassroots movement of people who become tremendously enthusiastic about the “Art of Conserving” – on all levels of American society. And as this evolves, it will take on a synergistic life of its own. That is, neighbors will inspire neighbors; church members will inspire church members… about this “new way.”

 

In tandem, we also need a dramatic shift to using way more clean, renewable energy sources (wind, solar, water, biomass) now!

 

In the initial stages of this shift, it will take national leadership to point to effective conservation models that are already in place. And it is the same leadership that will provide incentives (government tax breaks, grants, loans) to private industry for more research and development of clean, renewable energy technology. And some of the same types of incentives would be provided to consumers, in commercial and residential settings, choosing to use these alternative technologies.

 

Likewise, there would be a series of incentives to energy consumers to increase things like home and business insulation factors. And there would be tiered government incentives for various levels of conservation of energy itself.

 

*We have traveled the country extensively looking for highly creative, and effective, conservation models to help inspire and underpin this monumental change we propose. And we found them.

 

3) Kyoto Protocol

 

As president, I would push to sign the Kyoto Protocol as quickly as possible. The Kyoto Protocol is a series of uniform standards developed in the U.N. to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Many European countries have already signed the Protocol. (What’s more, the U.S. is the leader in the release of this global warming gas.)

 

And as president, I would go one better.

 

In the pursuit of dramatically cutting down on greenhouse gases, I would push an initiative to establish criteria for “Kyoto Protocol Home Zones.” Tax breaks would be offered commensurate with how much a household cuts back on its energy use. As a hypothetical: If, say, a household cut back 15% in a year, they would get $1,000 in tax credits. If they cut back 30%, they’d get $2,000 in tax credits, and so on.

 

Financially, this would help in two respects. The household would save money with the tax breaks, and it would save money by using less energy as well.

 

4) Home Energy Reduction Strategies

 

The following are some examples of strategies we’ve researched to cut back on energy consumption:

 

At a stop in Nebraska City, Nebraska (pop. 6,500) we learned this town has undertaken a 10-year tree-planting program, where citizens intend to plant 10,000 trees throughout town. Nebraska City’s Arbor Day Farm manager Chris Aden explained trees create oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and serve as wind breaks and shade around homes and businesses – which helps cut down considerably on artificial heating and cooling.

 

In a seminar at Concord Grove Educational Center of Western Michigan, I learned America has a big problem with wasted energy from excessive lighting. A big issue is simply leaving lights on in rooms not being used. (For every dollar spent on energy in a typical American home, 18 lbs of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.) I also learned that a compact fluorescent light lasts 13 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb – and uses one-fourth the energy. What’s more, streetlights waste tremendous amounts of energy by shining sideways and up, as opposed to training the light straight down.

 

At a series of energy conservation seminars in Huron, Ohio, I learned most homes could be much better insulated (more blown-in foam, much thicker fiberglass, better batting, radiant barriers…). And besides outside wall insulation strategies, there is a variety of inside insulation strategies that can save significantly on energy. As just one example, insulation sleeves around hot water heaters alone can save significant amounts of wasted energy each month.

 

At Anathon Farm in Luck, Wisconsin, we learned about highly efficient (and natural) straw bale insulation in several new homes being constructed there.

 

In Taos, New Mexico, we learned about “earth ships.” Developer Mike Reynolds (who was featured in National Geographic for his architectural innovations) showed me a community of homes built into a side of a mountain here. Each home’s back wall is, well, the mountain. And the walls on either side are non-biodegradable, used tires stacked on top of each other. Dirt is packed in the middle and around the outside of the tires. Then regular building material is added to finish the interior and exterior facades – so you can’t even see the dirt. The south sides of the homes are big windows for passive solar.

 

Reynolds, who travels the country trying to promote variations of his “earth ship” model (using mountains, or no mountains), told me the “thermal-mass” of these homes is so thick – little additional energy is needed to heat, or cool them. What’s more, the people in this particular community in Taos have developed an ad hoc, “friendly competition” to be as environmentally sensitive as possible. They use solar powered tools, collect rainwater, plant winter gardens inside, drive as little as possible…

 

It is this kind of “energy consciousness synergy” our administration would try to inspire from neighborhood to neighborhood across the country.

 

Also, the U.S. Department of Energy has created a rather detailed map of the U.S. that outlines climate zones and suggested, optimal R-value (resistance to heat flow) insulation factors needed in each zone. (For instance, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are in Zone 1; the Midwest states are in Zone 2; Hawaii and southern California are in Zone 6.) Our administration would propose grants, loans and tax breaks to businesses and residences – weighing the level of insulation being used, against the “suggested optimal insulation” for a particular climate zone.

 

5. House Sharing

 

Another common sense energy conservation approach (and there would be even more tax breaks and other incentives for this) is that we’d try to inspire house sharing in a much more prolific way across the country. I told a reporter for the Delphos (OH) News Herald that when two families (or, say, a family and another individual) live in the same home, they share the same heated, or cooled, space. (And this is a great way to start to reverse the environmental cancer of urban sprawl.)

 

In Winona, Minnesota, we learned about a “Homeshare” project, as an example. Mary Farrell explained people in the community are linked with homeowners who have specific needs. For instance, Ms. Farrell and another single woman took up residence in an elderly woman’s home here. They spell each other in watching the woman, doing house and lawn chores, etc. (What’s more, Ms. Farrell is a Catholic Worker and has talked the landlady into using another of the vacant rooms in the house as a “Christ Room” for homeless people in need.)

 

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we know two families who are house sharing. They not only share the same air, they share a car, appliances, furniture… (Our family has house shared several times as well, and we have had a “Christ Room.”) The sharing of space cuts down on energy consumption residentially, and the sharing of home items also cuts down on energy needed at America’s plants to produce these products. (For our take on the paradigm shift that we believe needs to happen with America’s economy in general, see our Economy position paper.)

 

6) Solar Energy

 

As president, I would push to increase, exponentially, research and development on generating renewable, non-polluting forms of energy. For instance, there is an unending supply of solar energy.

 

A National Geographic article (Aug. 2005) on energy explained that currently solar power accounts for only 1% of energy production worldwide. However, that’s changing with countries going to much more proactive programs with solar. For instance, a “Solar Park” near Leipzig, Germany has 33,500 solar panels, one of the planet’s largest arrays, the article explained. (Also in Spain, a law now requires new building to include solar energy applications.)

 

In Burlington, Vermont we interviewed Doug Wells. He is a representative of Solar Works in nearby Montpelier. He said solar technology has advanced considerably of late. And a recent breakthrough has been a new type of solar home system that actually allows for sending excess energy (generated by solar) into the grid – and the homeowner is reimbursed. “Your meter actually starts to spin backwards,” said Wells.

 

In Manchester, Michigan, we interviewed Christina Snyder who teaches a Sustainability Class at Lawrence Technical School in Southfield, Michigan. The class had recently won a statewide competition for designing the best “Zero Energy Home,” utilizing a variety of creative passive and active solar applications. They incorporated: a solar hot water system; windows positioned to receive maximum sunlight in the house; photo-voltaic solar cells for the roof. And instead of a high-energy use clothes dryer, the students designed a small second floor nook, with windows on both sides, for maximum air flow and sunlight – for a “clothes drying room.”

 

In Ripley, Ohio, I interviewed a woman who had a solar cell panel installed on her roof. The initial outlay was approximately $4,000 and, over the years, the solar cells had paid for themselves, and more (not to mention kept the environment cleaner).

 

Now, we are aware that people on the lower end of the socio-economic strata in America would have a hard time covering the initial expense of solar cells. So we propose two things to help with some of this initial outlay: 1) An “Alternative Energy Federal Fund” to draw on for people that meet low-income criteria. 2) Local “Alternative Energy Funds” in each community to draw from as well.

 

*In Atwood, Kansas (pop. 1,500), we researched the “Second Century Fund.” Some 20 years prior, two citizens kicked in $10,000 a piece to start a fund to cover various town benevolent causes (road projects, park improvements, extra money for school text books, a Boy Scout Troup needing extra money for a field trip…). During the 20 years, the fund (with people donating out of civic responsibility, including leaving money in their wills, etc.) had accumulated almost $1 million. And the year we were there, it covered a multitude of town projects costing some $71,000 – which was just the current yearly interest from the fund.

 

Note: A similar, local voluntary “Environmental Conservation Fund” could be started in any community to cover, say, seed money for low-income people who want to install things like solar cells or wind turbines.

 

7) Wind Energy

 

Wind, like sunshine, is virtually endless. And our administration would support initiatives to harness as much wind energy as possible. (Denmark wind turbines generate some 20% of that country’s energy needs. And all over Europe, governments are building in generous incentives to switch to wind, solar…)

 

The National Geographic article alluded to earlier said America’s Great Plains states are the “Saudi Arabia of wind.”

 

In these Great Plains, on the outskirts of Mandan, North Dakota, we interviewed Mark Dagley. He put up four, relatively small “Whisper 900” series wind turbines on his barn roof several years ago. Dagley told me with wind at 28 mph, one of his turbines will generate 900 watts of electricity. He said his energy consumption on the farm, including in his rather large farmhouse was cut in half.

 

In Richardton, North Dakota, the Benedictine nuns at Sacred Heart Monastery put up two large wind turbines on their property in 1998. This was the first commercial wind turbine project in North Dakota. In an interview with Prioress Sr. Ruth Fox, I learned the nuns did it to be better “environmental stewards,” and to save money. In the first year, the nuns saved approximately one-third, or $12,000 on their energy costs from using the wind turbines. This last year, Sr. Fox said the monastery saved some 40% on energy costs with the wind power.

 

Sr. Fox also pointed out that the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, shows North Dakota to have the best wind potential of any of the lower 48 states.

 

Our administration would use this kind of data to determine which 15 states in the U.S. had the best “wind potential.” Then we would set up a program to inspire “Plant a Row of Wind Turbine Programs” in these states to generate large amounts of power for surrounding areas – and beyond. That is, we’d offer incentives to farmers to undertake this in return for tax breaks and other incentives. And again, money could be drawn from the Environmental Conservation Funds (proposed earlier in this paper) for some of the initial costs of the turbines. (As we have traveled, we’ve seen several farms that have rows of large wind turbines amidst their crops.)

 

At a stop in Bowling Green, Ohio, we learned about a wind turbine project here that involved a joint venture between the City of Bowling Green Public Utilities and the American Municipal Power Company. Two large wind turbines were put on land just adjacent to the Wood County Landfill here. (The yearly output from just these two turbines is estimated at 6,981.) And since these two turbines went on-line in 2003, eight other Ohio municipalities have started to develop similar projects.

 

At an “Alternative Energy Fair” in Custer, Wisconsin, John Hippensteel, owner of the Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Co., told me wind-generated energy is now growing by 25% worldwide every year.

 

And another way we’d help support this growth even more in the U.S. is to point to the establishment of more wind turbine clusters, like the several hundred that are set up in a windy canyon pass just north of Palm Springs, California. While on a campaign stop there, we learned that both individuals and businesses invest in small plots of land and individual wind turbines in the cluster. In return, they receive revenues from the energy companies. (Environmentally responsible investing.)

 

Note: The National Farm Bill for 2006 included a Section 9006 that provides grants and loans to farmers, ranchers and rural businesses to help them install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements, according to an article in the Lake City Graphic newspaper in Minnesota. Some $23 million have been earmarked for this in 2006. They are administered by the USDA Rural Development Department. [In effecting a shift to much more clean, renewable energy, we think this kind of program is a tremendously wise use of tax payer dollars – and we would propose way more money, for both rural and town applications.]

 

 

 

Photos by Joe

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We did research at the "Alternative Energy Fair" in Custer, Wisconsin.

The Boscos show us their "...bicycle built for two" in

West Union, Ohio

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I recently wrote on banning nuclear energy... -- Joe