Friday, January 16, 2009

Death by Regulation

I was listening this morning to a report about alternative energy delimmas caused by solar and wind projects that can't seem to get their product to market because of resistance to building transmission lines. They site environmental regulations, not-in-my-backyard attitudes, difficulty getting permits from everyone as major hurdles.

I certainly agree that transmission towers are ugly. All above ground utilities are ugly. I used to own a house here in Irving, Tx that I loved. It had a great floorplan. It had exactly what my wife and I needed. My biggest problem with it is that the room on the second floor that I would use for my office had only one window, and it looked straight on to an electric pole with a power transformer only 25 feet away. That transformer was a major factor in my deciding to sell that house. So I understand when communities and homeowners take a stand against high voltage transmission lines in their back yard. They are ugly, and some would say even dangerous to those in their shadow.

Continuing with my own example, I moved from the house with the transformer and bought a house next to a gas pipeline. The pipeline was underground and protected by a 50 foot wide pipeline easement. It wasn't ugly, in fact, it gave me a 50 foot buffer to the next lot and thus much more privacy than I might of otherwise had. Was it dangerous? I don't know. It didn't have an issue in the years that I lived there, and indeed the only reminders that it was actually was the occasionally fly over of an inspection plan every few months.

Here's my point: We should build all new transmission lines underground. I know it's more expensive, but as I have previously suggested, it will not only mitigate the nay-sayers but potentially may become part of a multi-use right of way where appropriate.

There will need to be amendments to environmental and other regulations that enable swift approval and streamlined right of way aquisition for these underground lines as environmental disturbance, if properly built, will be only temporary and completely transparent in a very short time.

I am not advocating that the United States become as ruthless as the Chinese when it comes to economic progress. Amendments to environmental regulations must protect the intent of preserving, but we have to be able to adapt to change, and we have to do it without years and years of delays.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wind Generated Electric Cars ranked most friendly

An article by Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, , listed Battery Electric Vehicles, charged by wind generated electricity, as the top Alternative Energy amongst known alternatives.

Not surprisingly, the article also lists Ethanol, wheter derived from corn or cellulose, as last. A few months ago, National Geographic Magazine also berated Ethanol as a marginal alternative fuel.

So why does our government pay out huge Ethanol subsidies? The answer may lie in the lobbists and a blind effort to do something, even if it is wrong. Not only was the Ethanol subsidy the wrong thing for the planet's energy alternatives, it was the wrong thing for the price of food. We simply can't afford to burn our food for energy.

Let's hope the new administration can deal with the error of our ways on Ethanol, and put the savings into the electric grid infrastructure.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A New Electric Grid should be multi-purpose

In his major speech on the economy, President-elect Obama mentioned the electric grid as one of his infrastructure investment proposals. This is a much needed investment that could be made much more useful if it could be implemented as a multipurpose right-of-way as I first proposed in this blog on Nov. 13.

The two most important elements of the multipurpose right-of-way are the underground electric grid and the high speed electric powered passenger rail service.

With the exception of a few routes, passenger service in the United States is provided over rails designed many decades ago and most Amtrak trains are limited to 79 mph maximum speed. This speed limit severely limits the ability for rail travel to compete with airlines or automobiles. High Speed, environmentally friendly, electric trains would change this equation, and in my judgement significantly change preferred alternatives in favor of rail for travel of 500 miles or less.

Flying has become such a hassle. TSA delays, weather delays, luggage restrictions, and ground transportation all make us seek an alternative. I believe such an alternative may be rail, and we can began by coupling it to our planned grid infrastructure improvements.