Sometimes It Takes Us All To Share The Expense

Posted by By at 11 May, at 10 : 43 AM Print

Wind power, a Pennsylvania state politician recently said, is accomplishing one thing: spending taxpayer money.

But there is growing evidence it is doing other, more positive things, such as creating jobs and supplying the electrical grid – with considerably less risk than the Keystone State’s other burgeoning energy source.

“I am 100 percent for alternative energy,” state Rep. Dan Moul, R-91, said recently, “as long as the private sector pays for it.”

He pointed many Pennsylvanians have benefited from programs that use government money to subsidize private installation of solar electric and hot water systems, which then provide essentially free energy to homeowners, businesses and some government users.

And system owners then may sell to the grid any electricity their system generates in excess of what they need to run their television and air conditioner.

Solar power will take off among free-marketers when BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron, et. al. find a way to gather all those individual government, business and private solar collectors under their corporate roof. Currently, it is difficult for a utility to rake in profits from solar power once it – or a small business – has sold and installed its own solar array.

Solar system customers would qualify for a rebate under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar Program – if the program had any money. Unfortunately, there is no money to pay the rebates. The federally-sourced rebates have run out of money, and likely will not be funded again.

Government subsidies, in the form, mostly, of cash investment, have been going to wind energy investors, – large companies, mostly, although individual wind-energy users have received some of the money. And the government subsidies have attracted other investors.

A Texas-based company called TriEagle Energy offers 100 percent wind-generated electricity to commercial consumers in Pennsylvania, at rates it claims are lower then other energy sources. Other companies offer wind-generated electricity, as well. A website of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission – PaPowerSwitch.com – allows users to choose from a list of companies, providing electricity generated by several sources. Wind is not always least expensive, but some of it is close, and getting closer.

I brought up the subject to the Daily Java Philosophical Society during a morning meeting at the coffee shop this week.

“Sometimes, We The People pick up the tab for research,” said Jacob Nells, a farmer, forester, and corn and soybean grower. “We needed tiny stuff for the space program, and people like Steve Jobs got very wealthy refining the technology into mp3 players and tablet computers.”

“Developing big wind farms and solar energy sites takes huge amounts of money,” said Nells. “I certainly don’t have it, and I’ve got 400 acres of producing crop land.”

“Of course, they’d have to cover most of it with solar panels to make enough electricity to power the town,” he added. “But that’s not as bad as what they’re doing to our state forests, and solar cells will get smaller and more efficient.”

“Have you seen the forests where they’re doing the fracking?” Nells asked. “Couple-acre well pads connected by a spider web of roads and pipeline paths where, until the past couple years, there were only snowmobile and deer trails. And that’s only to get the gas to collection points where it can be transported by even bigger pipes.”

“And too many of the wells, when they’re completed, blow tons of methane into the air. There are several credible studies showing that air pollution from natural gas production is worse than all the cars and trucks in the same areas.”

“You cut access roads to erect wind turbines, but not whole forests” Nells said, “And if there’s an accident with a wind turbine, the worst it does is fall over and take out some trees. You get a blowout in a natural gas line, you’ve got gas on the wind from here to Massachusetts.”

Nells said Pennsylvania and other states need to come up with better safety regulations for fracking – the process of pumping toxic chemicals into the wells at high pressure to break up the shale and release the gas.

“I’m not completely opposed to natural gas, or even oil,” Nells said. “We’re converting coal-fired electricity generators to natural gas, and that’s cleaner, but it will take awhile to replace all the gasoline-powered cars and trucks.”

“But our state’s environmental regulations are not exactly confidence inspiring,” Nells said, taking another swig of that other black fluid on which the nation runs.”

“For instance, wells have to be set back 300 feet from wetlands or an existing building. But that assumes all the danger happens on the surface The wells, on the other hand. often extend more than two miles horizontally, under the buildings and features they have to avoid on the surface.”

“You have to wonder,” he said, “if you bust up enough of that deep shale, how unstable are you making the ground above it. And who will pay when a chemical accident makes Susquehanna River water undrinkable?”

“I say we need to make those wind and solar generators more efficient, not shut them down. That takes money most small companies don’t have, and companies that have it are chasing gas and oil.

And it’s not like We The People haven’t already given money to energy industries. Pennsylvanians still give nearly $3 billion a year to Big Oil.”

Whereupon, there being no further discussion before the members, the DJPS adjourned.

Photo by SandTDesign

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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