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Coal and Ethanol Are Not Alternative Energy Policy

Coal and Ethanol Are Not Alternative Energy Policy

By Andrew Smolski
August 4, 2011

The domestic alternative energy policy in the US seems to rotate on semantics and adding words to other words to make it look like something is going on. However, the truth of the matter is, energy policy is as defunct as ever and on most fronts the US is lagging far behind. Mostly it is a disregard of what the economist Herman Daly has pointed out about the macro-view of the macro-economic system. His idea is that the ecological system is closed and finite, not infinite created by God for our own personal use, which needs to be included into economic models. As pointed out by this author in, The Need For a Real Domestic Alternative Energy Policy, the US will need this Energy policy to spur growth, create jobs, and remain competitive going forward. Yet, with words out there such as "clean coal" and "corn ethanol" as our savings for the future, it seems that the US gets further and further from the ability to save the economy and closer to suicide.

First, let us make the argument for alternative energy, because in the end if it has no argument, then it has no point to have a policy. Can the world be powered by alternative energy? Well, let us think about this in terawatts, terawatts being a million megawatts, and humans on this Earth of ours generate and utilize 15 terawatts per year. Solar energy from the sun per year produces 101,000 terawatts on Earth, the majority of which is not captured and utilized by us for energy, but it hasn't been lost on the plant life the importance of that statistic. Wind is producing roughly 72 terawatts of energy in only the United States, once again above demand. And of course, with advances in conductors and decentralizing through not having large electric plants, energy loss could be cut down from the 6.5-7.5% annually that we have now. Therefore, it is not "do we have the capacity," we very much do, but do we have the political will to make this happen. That is in order to save our country from a possible Japan-style lost decade or complete financial collapse.

Secondly, "clean coal" just does not exist, it is not an alternative, but a new name for an old game. It is stating that some how by adding scrubbers to a factory along with other minor updates that it then becomes environmentally sound and efficient. Yet, it is still a centralized plant losing power on the grid, it is to small of a retro-fitting to be of importance to long term production of labor intensive goods, and as pointed out by Joshua Frank, "coal-fired power plants in the US produce approximately 140 million tons of fly ash, scrubber sludge, and additional combustion waste." This is not an argument stating not to mine the coal, which we can sell to China who uses it to for upwards of 70% of its energy needs. Rather, that it is not going to be an alternative and renewable energy policy. But, who knows if China will continue on the coal route when they are leading in new additions for solar, wind, and new capacity investment. As of 2010 they had already led the US for solar energy production and wind power.

Although, the US is not the only one on the block following the "clean coal" mantra, and at least that gives the US time to redirect its energy policy. Australia has gone the same route with a $150 million dollar investment by the Queensland premier creating a "clean coal" fund, however then moving $100 million AUD into a fund for solar energy after a change in policy. This change left only $50 million AUD for the "clean coal" fund, but depending on elections and the opposition party's support of only "clean coal" it seems a battle will continue to be waged on developing energy policy in that specific country Even corn ethanol is an incredibly idiotic idea, being that it is fossil fuel intensive in order to create the ethanol, which in the end means not offsetting fossil fuel usage. One should not have to get that information from Fidel Castro, but he did write an article relating all of those facts as an open letter to the US. In reality, corn ethanol is only hiding fossil fuel usage underneath the label of alternative energy policy by utilizing a food source, which then raises food prices.

It seems as though the US policy has been back tracking over the years on its utilization of renewable energy to produce electricity. It is useful then to utilize a 2007 report by the International Energy Agency in order to bring to light this back tracking and its effects. In 1990 11.8% of the electric supply was produced from renewable energy sources, while in 2005 it was only 8.9% a reduction of almost 25% of renewable energy sources. It should be taken into account that there was a 22% increase in energy demand in the same time frame and that from 2005 to 2020 energy demand is expected to increase another 24%. If this is the case and renewable energy sources are decreasing, it looks as if there has been actually no proper investment in the sector. If this trend continues then energy dependence of the country which has been producing domestically 70% of its energy will decline and raise prices over time. All of this points to what should continue to be reiterated, that it is not a should we or not, but an imperative that is done, the creation of a real domestic alternative energy policy.

Alternative energy is the future, that is the cold hard truth of the matter, because in the end the process of extraction and production, geopolitical struggle, and the high environmental costs make it an imperative to be the future. The US can decide to lag behind countries such as China on this frontier when it has closed down factories and many people are out work, but that would be plain insanity. National security is not wars out there anymore, it is the war of ideas here in the US. If the argument continues to be centered on "cap and trade" or climate change, then it will never get traction. The need for the policy has to be based on the facts that show it can and could provide the US a way out of its economic dilemma with normal government fiscal policy. "Clean coal" and ethanol just are not that policy, nor will they ever be, they are a charlatan’s game.



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