Energy Topics

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Energy topics of ongoing interest include solar power, hydroelectric power, and efficient homes.

A SHORT HALF-LIFE MEMORY: Alvin M. Weinberg, one of the pioneers of atomic power, wrote recently: To sequester [radioactive] wastes for 1,000 years simply does not strike me as being beyond reason.” Yet when the Beatty, Nevada atomic dumping ground was closed down because leaking waste drums were discovered outside the fence, a spokesman said he thought the containers had been buried in 1964 or 1965… but had assumed that they were all stored in another area entirely!

MORE REALISTIC, on the other hand, is this statement by Dr. Mark Reader, associate professor of political science at Arizona State University: “Most likely, we will have forgotten where we stored these [atomic waste] substances within a short time, just as we’ve forgotten where we put all the gas canisters produced in World War II, or as we forgot the locations of the turn-of-the-century radium mines upon which part of modern Denver has been built.”

Don’t bet on it! Take a look instead at two studies that document attempts at a solar takeover on the part of utilities, oil companies, and other big businesses. “Solar Energy vs. Big Business” and “Opposing Utility Involvement in Solar Commercialization” were compiled by the Citizens’ Energy Project.

POTENTIAL POWER: The Senate Finance Committee has adopted a measure that would provide tax incentives to encourage the development of small-scale hydroelectric plants at existing dam sites. It’s estimated that there are as many as 5,200 such dams, which could produce a total of about 27,000 megawatts per year… the equivalent of almost 140 million barrels of oil and enough to supply the electrical needs of about 8.5 million people.

Casey and David Gluckman designed and built their new home in north Florida to be so energy efficient that it would require no air conditioning or central heating system. However, their house didn’t qualify for Florida Power Company’s “Energy Saver New Home Award” because-the company says-it has no way of rating a home without any air conditioning at all! “I guess,” Casey decided, “what they’re saying is they want to save energy, but not too much of it!”

THE DAM-ATOLL–a 260-foot dome-shaped structure developed by Lockheed California Company–harnesses the massive energy of ocean waves and (it’s claimed) can be used to generate electricity, clean up oil spills, protect beaches from wave erosion, form calm harbors in the open sea, and even desalinate ocean water. So far, no one can foresee any negative environmental impact from this cross between a dam and an atoll.

COLOMBIAN CREATIVITY: In order to lure settlers into Colombia’s isolated and ecologically delicate Orinoco River Basin, engineers have invented–among other things–a windmill so sensitive that it spins in 4 MPH breezes and can pump nearly 4,000 gallons of water per day… and a small hydroelectric generator that can use a four foot-high dam to supply power for a farm or school.

ENERGY-SAVING HOMEWORK: If only 10% of all Americans who commute to work did their jobs at home two days each week, the volume of such travel would be decreased by 4%. That seems like a small figure, to be sure… but the attendant reduction in gasoline consumption, pollution, and traffic would be quite pronounced. (It was, for example, an overall petroleum shortage of no more than 3-5% that brought on last summer’s gasoline crisis.)

EQUAL TIME IS FAIR: Builders in Mendocino County, California who have requested permits to install wood stove or furnace systems–with no other provision for heat–have been told by the county that they must have a 26-year supply of wood on their property. (Other heating systems, of course, are “legal” without a quarter-century’s stockpile of oil, gas, or electricity… all of which may soon be much harder to come by than wood!)

IF WE’D ONLY KNOWN THEN: The citizens of Grays Harbor County, Washington were convinced back in 1974 that the construction of the WPPSS nuclear power plant would help their local economy. However, as the auditor now reports, ”Our county was turned into a huge strip mine… agricultural areas became gravel pits… county roads and bridges bear 1,700 gravel truck runs a day… the projected infiux of 2,000 workers has increased to 5,200… there’s a housing shortage, problems with mobile home parks, traffic congestion, road damage, and jail overcrowding! Furthermore, we had to increase the county’s operating budget by $2 million this year!”

A SIMPLE SOLAR AIR-CONDITIONING SYSTEM that makes use of the evaporation of water from porous roof tiles and costs only $1,000 to install and $2.00 a month to run has been developed by scientists at Brazil’s University of Paraiba …. Skidmore College, New York has converted its boilers to burn USED CRANKCASE OIL instead of No. 6 heating oil, to provide heat and hot water for the 2,000-student campus at a yearly savings of $90,000 or more …. And the famed Stanley Hotel of Estes Park, Colorado is now heated by what is believed to
be the LARGEST PRIVATELY FINANCED SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM in the country…. Wisconsin Power and Light  WANTS TO BUY POWER from customers who’ve installed windmills or other equipment to generate their own electricity…. Wilton, Maine became the first city in the country to own a SOLAR SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT that uses collectors to process sludge into methane gas.

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