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Keep the energy flowing...

by John D’Aloia Jr.

May 3, 2006

President Bush made a major speech last month discussing what the nation can do to provide the energy needed to fuel society. He raised many issues. In no particular order, some comments. Addicted to oil? No, we are dependent upon energy to survive in the manner to which we have become accustomed, yet we have let the Luddites prevent the development of a wide range of energy resources, leaving us stuck with oil. The wind turbine debate illustrates the hypocrisy of many who railed against fossil fuels and nuclear power in favor of "renewable" energy sources, but once they came into being, lo and behold, the tune changed. With wind turbines being sited around the country in increasing numbers (2,400 megawatts worth in 2005), wind turbines are now "bad" - they kill birds and clutter the countryside - or the sailing waters of Nantucket Sound if you are Ted Kennedy.

Everyone is so eager to jump on the oil companies about gouging, yet no one is saying that about internet companies. According to a Fox News article, the big oil companies have profits of about $8.19 per $100.00 of sales; Google, eBay, and Yahoo collectively make a profit of $19.20 per $100.00 of sales. With $70 per barrel oil, a refiner is not going to stay in business long selling at a $1.00 per gallon. As one person wrote, he would rather pay $4.00 per gallon than be told by a bureaucrat how many gallons he could buy. If anyone is gouging at the pump, it is government which makes more off of a gallon of gasoline than does big oil - the total tax bite on the order of $0.46 per gallon, and in California, over $0.60 per gallon. The President is on the right track trying to eliminate the regulatory burden on refineries and gasoline production driven by the ecofascists. The same cut-The-Clerks-out-of-the-loop policy has to be carried over into the development of nuclear power and other energy sources.

Given my experience with propulsion batteries, I am not keen on the idea of having one in my car. Unless the technology has really advanced, batteries require more tender loving care than does an internal combustion engine. I question whether the public is ready to cope with battery maintenance and the long charge times - you cannot pull in for a fill-up in five minutes and be on your way. Batteries have a finite life, and as with an engine, reach a point where they have to be replaced, at which time sticker shock will set in. One estimate for a state-of-the-art Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack for an all-electric vehicle was on the order of $20,000.00 to $30,000.00.

Hydrogen is a carrier of energy, not an energy source. When vehicles are hydrogen powered, the use of petroleum may be reduced, but where is the energy going to come from to produce the hydrogen? An answer in hand is nuclear power, but one can just hear the screams of the ecofascists, though just perhaps, there may be an epiphany - the founder of Greenpeace is coming around to the idea that nuclear power is in our future as a means of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. The feds are putting our tax dollars into hydrogen fuel-cell R&D. So such a vehicle hits the showroom. How long will it take, given the regulatory burdens and NIMBYism so rampant, before there is the infrastructure in place across the country to deliver hydrogen to John Q. Public driver when and where he wants it? The Department of Energy is looking out in the 2030 to 2040 time frame.

Is it possible to grow our way out of the problem with crops - is it possible to produce the number of BTUs necessary on the available crop land? From what I have read, we cannot. As for tapping wind energy, the total area of wind farms needed to provide the energy needs for our society covers many states. Technology is developing, but so far, energy from bio-mass, wind, sun, hydro, and ocean currents and waves can at best only nibble at the edges of our total energy needs.

All this brings us back to nuclear power. In simplistic terms, making electricity with nuclear power can result in a significant reduction in the demand for fossil fuels; with the reduced demand, our domestic sources (including oil sands, tars, shale, coal, and methane hydrates) coupled with bio-mass products can produce the oil needs of the country. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can tell the sheiks what to do with their oil.

Whatever we do, we have to keep energy flowing. The alternatives are not pleasant to contemplate.

See you Trackside.



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