By Bob Clark
Taxpayer Association of Oregon Foudnation
This past week of cold weather across much of the U.S highlights the importance of maintaining a diverse set of reliable energy sources.
Here are some of my own observations from the snow and ice storm here in the greater Portland Metro area from the homeowner perspective, as my neighborhood and others experience black outs from downed power utility lines.
My neighbor’s roof top solar panels are covered in about 5 inches of snow and ice, and either way, this neighbor family is also blacked out. Fortunately, they have a natural gas insert for warming in emergencies.
Photo: Boat awnings collapse at Portland Rowing Club.
Another neighbor warms with wood in his wood stove. While I myself don’t want to spare the room year-round for storing wood for making my home warm. I instead scramble and set up a 2,200 watt fairly new portable Honda gasoline generator. But this has its downsides, as only a small number of space heaters can be run off such a portable generator. Also, I run it in Eco mode because it becomes really noise if operated at a higher speed. [I think high localized noise is the case also for standby natural gas fired home generators.]
My brother-in-law uses both natural gas inserts to stay fairly warm and a set of automobile lead acid batteries with AC (alternating current) conversion from the batteries DC (direct current) to run small electric home appliances.
The other night I saw on television (as my neighborhood’s power is restored earlier in day) that some folks in rural Clackamas County are buying gasoline by the pickup truck loads to run generators to run water well pumps which they rely on for water supply.
Here are some quotes from the Wall Street Journal article “A Deep Green Freeze,”:
“…Texas regulators ordered rolling blackouts Monday as an Artic blast has frozen wind turbines.” (wind represents 25% of Texas’ electricity supplies on average.)
“[Texas] Regulators rationed gas for commercial and industrial uses to ensure fuel for power plants and household heating.”
“…heavily subsidized wind power and inexpensive natural gas, combined with stricter emissions regulations, has caused coal’s share of Texas’ electricity supplies to plunge by more than half in a decade to 18%.”
“Some gas wells and pipelines in Texas and Oklahoma also shut down in frosty conditions.”
“…Germany’s green energies strained by winter…power is currently coming mainly from coal, and the power plants in Lausitz are running at full capacity.”
“California…a heat wave last summer strained the state’s power grid as wind flagged and solar ebbed in the evenings. After imposing rolling blackouts, grid regulators reported importing coal power from Utah and running diesel emergency generators.”
“The Biden Administration’s plan to banish fossil fuels is a greater existential threat to Americans than climate change.” [against this idealism for banning fossil fuels:] “China has some 250 Gigawatts of coal-fired plants under development enough to power all of Germany.”
Moral of the story: American economic history contains a mix of idealism pitted against reality. The building of the continental railroads in the 1800s involved a high degree of national idealism, as the federal government granted land rights to the companies building these railroad lines (there were tradeoffs to railroad development but overall, it seems very successful). Idealism also has its failures, which locally is demonstrated by such programs as the City of Portland’s “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” published in the year 2004.
For the last couple of decades, many parts of the U.S are driven by the idealism of creating an all-electric economy. But this idealism seems to be running up against the reality that our society is not nearly capable yet of an all-electric economy while also maintaining and advancing prosperity. Our society must be more patient and open to balancing the environment against the trade-offs forced by nature and its realities.