Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This news story originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

September 12, 2005

Allan Tweddle

'Clean coal' cash better spent on solar research

Katrina's impact will be felt by all of us in waves of emotion and cost. Rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is only the beginning. Heres to doing it wisely, for a change. Take out the surge in profits now slamming into all our wallets. We watched and paid, helplessly, as gasoline prices barreled up before Katrina. The storms immediate impact was to give even more fuel to the price rise.

Now we are being told that Katrinas impact will affect heating prices, because 80 percent of American homes are heated with natural gas, the bulk of which comes from Gulf Coast offshore platforms. Government models say we could see a 70 percent increase in our residential gas bills this winter.

Not to be outdone, West Virginias contribution to the energy poker game is raising bidding prices right along with the oil boys on speculation. With oil so expensive, experts see a rosy future for coal as America searches for lower-cost energy from domestic sources. Coal owners, too, see record profits at our expense.

The vast majority of us will not profit from these soaring energy prices. But what choice do we have? Are there alternatives?

One of the biggest customers for West Virginias coal has already said Enough! The government of Ontario studied alternative energy costs for the past two years and concluded that Ontario cannot afford coal. In May, officials announced that they were phasing out all their coal plants and beginning an ambitious program of switching to renewable energy biomass, wind and solar. How can that be? Everyone knows that coal is the most inexpensive form of energy or is it?

Why cant Ontario afford coal? Because its government also pays for all the health care for its citizens. The cost of coal pollution-triggered health care (childrens asthma, heart and lung diseases, cancers, mercury poisoning) outweighs any savings from coal. Even though Ontario owns almost 100 percent of the Provincial Canadian power plants, including some of the largest coal-fired power plants in North America, and is the richest province in Canada, it determined that renewable energy is cheaper.

Ontario also looked at the future and realized that global warming is quite real. Its leaders decided they must accept their share of responsibility and begin to reverse that trend. They must stop emitting the greenhouse gases that are causing it. The hard fact is that global warming demands that we slow down and drastically reduce our burning of fossil fuels, and burning coal is the largest source that has been identified.

Alternative renewable energy is the answer. If the millions of politically motivated investment dollars currently being put into clean coal technology were placed in solar research, we, and our children, would be a lot better off. After all, the sun delivers enough energy in one day to give us all the power we need for a year. Yet, another $50 million is being thrown at carbon sequestration a fancy term for shoving greenhouse gases down into the ground or the ocean bottom, and telling them to stay there. Why not invest in the one consistent and free energy that is now, always has been, and will be in the foreseeable future ready and available the sun?

Visionary technologies are already available. For instance, you can buy photovoltaic-cell roof tiles. When you reroof your home or build a new one, these tiles will provide most of the power you need. At certain times of the day, normally at peak summer heat, they will generate more than you can use. In states with net-metering plans, you sell your surplus to the local utility and it avoids burning fossil fuel. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for example, where there has been exceptional economic and population growth, avoided building any new generating capacity by making their customers their partners instead of their victims. (Look up www.SMUD.com.)

But West Virginia doesnt have net metering unless you are a huge corporate user with a co-generation plant on-site. State officials are studying net metering. Net metering has been studied to death everywhere else, and been adopted in many states as a reasonable method of gaining added generating capacity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking at the Ontario decision and the renewable energy plans of many states is critical to any discussion of West Virginias energy future. When I gave the Legislature a proposal to study an REP for West Virginia earlier this year, I was told by open-minded senators that there is definitely no interest.

In Flatwoods this week, a few visionary folks will gather to look at all the energy alternatives for homes and businesses. The 2005 West Virginia Conference on the Environment is timely, in view of the recent events and their impact on fossil-fuel energy prices. Come to the Days Inn on Wednesday and Thursday morning. The luncheon speaker is from Ontario, a gentleman who was part of Ontarios analysis that determined that renewable energy is the future.

There is hope even for job creation in West Virginia. Many studies have determined that renewable energy creates more jobs than fossil fuel does. As mountaintop removal has mechanized the mining of coal, while wrecking the landscape, it has also wrecked the job market, reducing West Virginia to 15,000 miners today, from 125,000 a half-century ago.

A renewable future is coming. I believe it is inevitable. Fortunately, Im not alone.

Tweddle is an Ontario-born engineer who retired to Charleston in 1998. He is a leader of Republicans for Environmental Protection, the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life, the West Virginia Environmental Council and the West Virginia Environmental Institute. The latter group is sponsor of this weeks conference in Flatwoods.


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