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Make sound energy choices the priority

Consider this road map for our nation’s future

The Recorder got it right in its Jan. 9 editorial titled “‘No!’ to coal,” when the editorial said that it is “time to remove coal from the list of fuels — worldwide” and stop the export of coal to China. The editorial’s reasoning was that coal gives off more carbon dioxide, the major cause of global warming and climate change, than other fossil fuels when burned.

But I do not agree with the editorial’s solution, which stated “Natural gas is better, and nuclear energy, buttressed by solar, tidal and wind resources could supply the entire country with power without adding to the carbon in the atmosphere.”

Here is why I disagree.

Natural gas. A study of natural gas, generally touted as “clean,” is sobering. Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, and lead author in a 2011 study looked at methane leakage rates in unconventional shale gas development. They concluded that, if looked at on a full cycle analysis, natural gas emits as much damaging climate change emissions, in the form of methane during extraction, as coal emits at a coal-fired electric power plant.

Nuclear. In recent years, nuclear has been promoted as the “clean” alternative to coal. I will not go into the well-documented “non-clean” toxic aspects of nuclear energy. Nor will I repeat the long list of their increasing vulnerability due to more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and wildfires caused by climate change, as documented in an excellent December 2012 article in Truthout by H. Patricia Hynes.

I do, however, want to ask a question. Why aren’t private insurance companies willing to insure nuclear power plants?

The Economist, in a March 2012 article titled “Nuclear Power: The Dream that Failed,” concludes “without governments, private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants.”

Earth Policy Institute, in a May 2012 article notes “In the United States, nuclear plant operators pay into a $12 billion fund that would be used in case of an accident. But an estimate from Sandia National Laboratory indicates that a worst-case incident could cost more than $700 billion.” Is this an industry you’d like to invest in or insure?

Even without an accident, when I think about the number of years we need to keep paying to keep nuclear waste safe, it boggles my mind. We need to take care of strontium and cesium waste for 300 years, longer than total U.S. history. And we need to keep plutonium isolated for 240,000 years, 80 times longer than recorded history.

Is this scary? Does this look like bankruptcy to you? Or worse?

What are the solutions? First, we must acknowledge that no matter what we do to meet our energy desires for heat, light and transportation, there will be an environmental impact. So what’s best?

One under-reported fact is that we could meet ALL of our energy needs with wind alone, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Another under-reported fact is that the solar industry created more jobs over the past 4 years than any other business sector! I also know that solar, wind and hydro have the benefit of not being finite resources like uranium, coal, oil and gas.

So why don’t we embrace them? Germany, Denmark and others are showing us the way and demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits.

Here is a proposed road map.

1. Use less. The first step is to use less energy. Each us uses twice as much energy as our fellow citizens of Europe and Japan. So, if you have not yet called Mass Save (800-944-3212) or Greenfield Energy Smart Homes (413-772-1389) call today and learn about free money to help you do an energy upgrade!

2. Invest in photovoltaics. As pointed out a Jan. 2 Recorder article about solar electricity (aka photovoltaics or PV), small home-scale PV systems are great investments and are more cost effective than large arrays built in remote desert areas. Why not call your local PV dealer today and find out if your home is right for solar! Also look closely at opportunities to build solar and wind projects in your community.

3. Ask for what you want. If you live or work in Greenfield — mark you calendar today and plan to come to Greenfield’s first Sustainable Master Planning meeting on Saturday, Feb. 9, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Share your vision of what you want Greenfield’s future to look like. How do you want our energy made? What kind of health-care facilities do you want? What kind of housing? Education? Recreational facilities? Shopping? Transportation? What economic development opportunities do you see? And what about our food?

Lean more at www.greenfieldmasterplan.com

We can create our future. In fact, planning together for the future we want and living it, is the only way we can hope to get there.

Nancy Hazard is the former director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) and the Tour de Sol, America’s Green Car Festival and Competition. She can be reached at nhazard@WorldSustain.net.

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