Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clean, cheap electricity--the myth

A dialogue between The Resident Curmudgeon, hereafter called TRC, who looks at everything with a suspicious eye, and doesn't believe anything the so-called experts tell him, and a neo-conservationist, hereafter called a neo-con, who believes in the tooth fairy.

TRC: A power company wants to build a new coal-fired power plant in NC. It will be state-of-the-art, with emissions much lower than existing plants. When built, the company will close 4 older, much dirtier plants. On the surface, seems like a good proposal.

Neo-con: NO, NO, NO! We can't have any more coal-fired plants. They all poison the atmosphere, and lead to global warming.

TRC: You want unlimited, cheap power. How do you propose to provide this?

Neo-con: It must be clean, green and non-contributory to global warming.

TRC: OK. How about windmills? They are certainly clean and green, but they have some unwelcome characteristics. Have you ever been to Spain, Portugal, or maybe Wyoming or California? There are large windmills lined up across every ridgeline where there is a prevailing wind.

Neo-con: NO. We can't have windmills on our ridgelines. They spoil the view, and they are a danger to migratory birds.

TRC: I don't know about spoiling the view. Just how eager are you for cheap, green electricity? If you have ever seen these, you will know that they turn so slow that any migratory bird that can't fly through the blades deserves to get killed. But, there is another problem. Sometimes the wind doesn't blow. Then, you must have back-up power. What will this be? If it is a coal-fired plant, that creates another problem. A coal-fired plant is designed to run most efficently at about 90% power. That is when it is the cleanest, with the least amount of emissions. But, while serving as back-up, a coal-fired plant is at idle. That is the most dirty condition it can be. It's a question of design. A plant cannot be designed to run at optimum in both conditions.

Neo-con: NO, NO, NO! we don't want any more coal-fired plants.

TRC: Well, how about a nuclear plant as back-up?

Neo-con: NO, NO, NO!! We will not allow any more nuclear plants either as primary or as back-up power. They are dangerous!

TRC: Well, maybe we should consider hyrdoelectirc plants. Of course, that will require that we dam up a few rivers, but it will generate clean power.

Neo-con: NO, NO, NO! We can't dam up any rivers. That will endanger several kinds of freshwater mussels, and interfere with the mating habits of carp and crawdads, besides taking thousands of acres of farmland out of production.

TRC: You have strong objections to any solution I have proposed. Maybe, the anser is to issue a small generator to every household, and let them produce however much power they need?

Neo-con: NO, NO, NO! Those would burn gasoline or diesel fuel, emit very noxious fumes and particulate matter, and create too much noise.

TRC: Well, I have one final solution to propose. Maybe we should move all our generating plants to southern Mexico. There, they could produce very cheap power. They have lots of cheap labor to shovel coal, thus eliminating the requirement for expensive conveyor systems. If the plants were far enough south, then the smoke, dust and carbon would not drift up into Texas, New Mexico or Arizona. Unfortunately, the laws of physics prohibit the efficent transmission of electricity from southern Mexico to New York. One solution might be to move everyone to Texas. Then the rest of the US could become a vast, wilderness preserve. However, if you have ever been there, then you might appreciate why people from New York might not enjoy living in west Texas.

Neo-con: Anything is better than global warming.

No comments: