Solyndra and Republican Hypocrisy

Ok, so Solyndra was a bust. It was the first loan issued under the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program for companies that develop renewable energy, electric and biofuels systems. There may have been some warning signs about Solyndra’s fiscal health which should have given the administration pause. That said, Solyndra represents just a fraction of the almost 36 billion in loan guarantees made or committed to 37 other projects in 42 states including solar initiatives in speaker Bohener’s Ohio and majority leader O’Connell’s Kentucky.

Loans have also been given without complaint to companies in Virginia and Wisconsin, home of two relentless critics of the Obama administration in Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, both of whom object to virtually any kind of government spending and who would prefer that government be privatized. And while ultra-conservative Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss has campaigned vigorously to fight waste, fraud, abuse and earmarks, he has not objected at all to the 8.3 billion federal loan to the Georgia Power Company for a nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, GA. Interestingly, as Republicans have voiced skepticism over clean, renewable energy sources, preferring fracking, drilling and mining, they have not objected to federal loan guarantees to companies in their own states who specialize in solar energy.

Candidates’ Views on Nuclear Power

McCain and Obama support nuclear energy as part of an overall strategy to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.  McCain hopes to greatly expand the use of nuclear power, by building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.  By contrast, Obama is more cautious about the role of nuclear.  In a post on TreeHugger.com, Obama is reported to have said that “before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. ”

Neither candidate has mentioned the enormous costs involved in building a new power plant or refurbishing an old one.  Well, one did, but he’s no longer in the race, John Edwards who rejects nuclear as not being economically viable.  “We haven’t built a nuclear power plant in this country in decades.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that it is extremely costly.  It takes an enormous amount of time to get one planned, developed and built.”

According to an article in the NY Times, Nuclear Endorsements Differ in Detail, the cost of building just one plant is estimated at 6-8 billion.  The construction time could take 4-6 years conservatively.  Utility companies would have to receive some sweeteners (not Aspartame) from the government to take on a new nuclear project.

Is nuclear the answer?  I don’t know.  I am not as concerned with the safety issues as I am the cost factors.  We do need to build more plants, there’s no question.  The US currently has 104 nuclear plants operating in 31 states.  Every state should have at least one.  45 new ones?  No.

Currently only about 7% of the energy consumption in the US is met by renewable sources, and mostly from hydroelectric and biomass.  Therefore, we do need to invest billions in new technology like wind and solar.  Wind could produce up to 20% of electricity in the US by 2030, for example.  It’s clean.  The only problem is getting a wind turbine built and installed might take as long as it would take to build a nuclear power plant.  The US does not have an established manufacturing base to supply parts for a large scale wind project.  Current orders for turbines are delayed.  See a recent article in the Boston Globe Projects in the Wind.

What is the answer?  All of the above, but more importantly “my friends” we need to take drastic steps to lighten our own carbon footprints to become less dependent on fossil fuels.  As Americans, we are 5% of the population and consume 26% of the world’s energy.  That’s embarrassing and frankly unjust given that worldwide 2 billion live without electricity. We need a new mantra, (sorry Sarah) –  instead of “Drill Baby Drill” how about “Walk Baby Walk” or “Bike, Baby Bike” or “Bus Baby Bus” provided those buses are CNG fueled.  If you must drive, buy a hybrid, or a fuel efficient vehicle – buy a Honda Fit.  Don’t travel so much if you can avoid it.  Take day trips instead of long distance vacations, if you take any vacation at all.  Use Zipcar.  Recycle, if you don’t already.  Take short showers.  Install low flow shower heads and aerators at your home or apartment.  Mow the lawn with an electric mower, or solar mower (I like the sound of that) but I’m not sure they exist.  Turn off the lights.  Turn your computers off students – yes it matters.  Be good to the environment.  This is how we can all put Country First!

Candidates on Wind Power and Renewable Energy

The candidates have touted their energy plans as the key to reducing our dependency on foreign oil. Both the McCain and Obama plans support the development of renewable energy sources and the expansion of conventional non-renewable energy from clean coal (is there really such a thing as clean coal?) and drilling. “Drill baby drill” has been the new Republican mantra; not exactly a kind environmental statement. Even the Democrats concede that drilling is necessary, though I disagree on this point vehemently. I believe we should simply reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Global Warming is real. Even science skeptic S. Palin in her Interview with Charlie admitted that man is “potentially causing some of the changes in the climate” . If we do not become more responsible for the damage we continue to inflict on our planet, we will leave a global disaster for our children to solve, if we leave our children anything at all. But I fear shortsighted thinking will prevail. People seem to be more worried about their SUVs than the fate of our planet.

McCain’s record shows he has not been an ambassador for environmental concerns, even as he calls for credits for exploring renewable energy alternatives. In 2007, McCain earned a shocking 0 percent rating for his environmental record – missing every vote related to renewable energy and has an embarrassing 24% lifetime ranking from the League of Conservation Voters. And his energy plan does not specify any federal spending whatsoever on renewable energy, instead favoring a rationing of existing tax credits to provide incentives, whatever that means.  See Fact Check on Windpower.

Obama, on the other hand, would spend 150 billion on renewable energy. Not much, considering we spend up to 700 billion a year to import foreign oil according to an article in USA Today highlighting the T-Boone Pickens energy proposal. Though 150 billion is not much, it would be sufficient for modernizing the antiquated power grid to accept increased electrical generation estimated to cost 60 billion .

Plenty Magazine has a breakdown of the candidates’ positions on Energy and Cimate Issues.

I’ll leave you with this note. Wind Power is not a quick fix to our energy needs, but it won’t be a fix at all unless we make substantial investments in the technology. One turbine here and there ain’t gonna cut it. Take the example of the lone Wind turbine at Boston City Hall.  It cost $13,000 to install and creates a mere 1.9kw of electricity, enough to power 19 light bulbs.