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News Kicking the fossil-fuel habit

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Consumer demand is key to solving our pollution problems

On March 19, 60 Minutes aired a segment featuring government scientist James Hansen, the world’s leading researcher on global warming, who contended the Bush Administration has put a lid not only on what Hansen can say about the effects of fossil fuels on the climate but whom he can tell.

Russell Smith has no such problem.

It was fitting that two days later, Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association, spoke to the Sierra Club about reducing the amount of energy Americans use from coal, natural gas, and oil. Frankly, Smith said, Americans are responsible for their own fossil-fuel addiction.

“We get the energy we ask for in this country,” he explained. “The population has to make choices and understand there are trade-offs.”



Local renewable-energy options

Wind: City Public Service Energy has purchased 260 megawatts of wind power from Texas wind farms, which can power approximately 80,000 homes. CPS customers can buy electricity generated by wind power for $3 per 100-kilowatt block. The cost is added to the regular monthly bill. The rate doesn’t change. Info: windtricity.com

Biomass: CPS has also bought 9.6 mega-watts of renewable energy generated by methane gas at the Covel Gardens Landfill. That amount could power 7,000 homes.

Solar: Solar San Antonio offers resources and programs for those interested in using solar power. Info: solarsanantonio.org

Ethanol: The first public ethanol station is at 4023 I-35 North, just south of Binz-Engleman Road and Brooke Army Medical Center. Only flex-fuel cars can run on E85. Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Isuzu, Mazda, Mercedes, Mercury, and Nissan have flex-fuel cars in their fleets. Go to e85fuel.com/index.php to see if your car can accept E85. A proposed ethanol plant in the Texas Panhandle could produce 100 million gallons annually; a Texas biodiesel plant already manufactures 30 million gallons each year.




Solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal energy, and alternative fuels: They are fledgling, yet growing, industries, largely because of pressure on policymakers and the marketplace. In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring state utilities to have the capacity to generate 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2009. “There was big skepticism in other parts of the country,” Smith said. “They thought, You’re an oil-and-gas state.”

Nonetheless, held to the law, state utilities began demanding alternate energy sources, including wind, which spawned turbine farms across the state. Four years before the deadline, Texas has 2,010 megawatts of renewable energy, primarily from wind. Only 500 megawatts, including approximately 50-60 megawatts from biomass (landfill gases) are from non-wind sources.

“We’ve got to get other sources going. We need to force solar into the market,” Smith said, adding he hopes Texas can generate a meager 80 megawatts of solar energy within 10 years. The cost of photovoltaic panels remains four to five times more expensive than paying for traditional electric power, although federal tax credits can offset a portion of the price.

With hydroelectric capacity nearly tapped out, geothermal energy — once the province of only California and Nevada — can be produced in Texas because of new technology that allows it to be generated at lower temperatures. “We’ve punched more holes in the ground than anywhere else in the world,” Smith said of the thousands of oil wells that dot the Texas soil.

Despite the growing demand for and advances in alternative energy, don’t expect these sources to wholly replace fossil fuels. “If Texas doubles its population in the next 25 years, it will be a major struggle to keep up,” he said. “We have to accept trade-offs.”

Coincidentally, just hours before Smith’s presentation, City Public Service Energy broke ground on a new coal-fired power plant, its third.

By Lisa Sorg


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