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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Glasgow's Chance to Plug the Hole in the Gulf

One out of twenty people on the face of planet earth is an American, but Americans use one out of every four gallons of oil produced on the planet. This obvious imbalance is the underlying reason why an out-of-control oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is fouling the ocean and is going to foul hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles of pristine shoreline. This environmental disaster proves that there is really no such thing as cheap energy. There is always a price to be paid which is far greater that the price at the pump or the price at the electric meter. The only way to reduce the price is by reducing our consumption to a level equal to our fair share of the world’s resources. We need to stop using 25% of the world’s energy and move toward that 5% level which is proportionate to our population.

How can we Glaswegians help move our society in this direction? Obviously, even if everyone in Glasgow drastically reduced their fossil fuel footprint, the result would not make a toenail’s worth of difference in that footprint. Still, every move we locals make in the right direction improves Glasgow’s economy and our quality of life. We might not solve our country’s problems, but we can certainly improve our back yard. Let’s talk for a minute about how we can do that.

The most direct route to reducing the need for risky offshore oil drilling is for us to use less oil. Driving less is the best way to accomplish this reduction (also using less plastic would help a lot too), and, as it turns out, fewer miles driven has an immediate impact on the livability of Glasgow. Substituting bicycles or walking shoes for vehicle miles benefits the community as a whole and you personally. Did you know we have a newly formed group that is trying to convince local governments to create better sidewalks, trails, and cycling facilities to make it easier to commute by walking or cycling? The group is a subset of Sustainable Glasgow, Inc., called Bicycles of the Barrens. You can read more about their work, join them, and participate in this movement by clicking here and following them on Facebook.

Reducing the number of miles we drive is not something that will come easily, but, even without the present crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone must recognize that oil supplies (like coal supplies) are finite and sooner or later we will all be driving less because less cheap energy is going to be available. Does it not make sense for us to prepare for this now instead of being caught off guard some time in the future?

Of course, for us to be able to enjoy a pedestrian lifestyle and save on the amount of gasoline we use, we need to have plenty of local shops and restaurants open within easy reach of folks walking or cycling from their homes. How can we bring this about? We can commit to spending more of our dollars within our own zip code! If we want more local restaurants that we can walk to, then we need to go to local restaurants more. If we want more local clothing stores, bakeries, bookstores, coffee shops, hardware stores, and appliance stores, then we need to stop wasting the gas going to another town to spend local dollars in their stores and restaurants. We can save our community and help plug the hole in the Gulf with simple, enjoyable acts like walking to a locally owned restaurant and eating there. This is not an act of sacrifice! It is an opportunity to have a vacation experience right here in Glasgow and do something to plug that hole in the Gulf.

All forms of energy, oil, electricity, natural gas, suffer from the same risks and environmental costs that are never accounted for until a disaster like the TVA coal ash spill or BP’s present oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico strikes. So, we should talk about what we can do to reduce our energy demands on the planet through electric power as well. For many months we have been using this blog to talk about the need to reshape the way we use electric power during the day. Not only have we been talking with you about it, but for the last twenty years we have been preparing for a world where electric power would be priced according to the time of day in which the energy is used. There is a reason for this.

We purchase our power from TVA and TVA mostly burns coal to produce that power. For about twenty years TVA has sold that power at very low rates which sent the signal for folks to use all of the power they wanted, no matter what time of day they might want to use it. This signal has worked so well that, today, on a hot summer afternoon from 2:00 until about 8:00, TVA no longer has the capacity to generate all of the power we are using. To keep the system stable, TVA calls up it neighbors and purchases power from them. Of late, even the neighbors do not always have enough reserves to satisfy our spiraling demand for electric power. So, TVA finally decided to face reality and announced that they would join nearly every other electric utility in the nation and start charging for electricity based upon the time of day. We are fine with that as we have the technology to do that, but, a majority of the other TVA distributors feel they are not ready and have steadfastly opposed any move toward this imminently sane solution to a real problem. As a result, Glasgow’s readiness to help with our nation’s energy problems is still moot because our energy supplier will not sell us energy in a way which allows us to utilize our technology. Meanwhile, our coal plant smokestacks keep belching CO2 into the atmosphere much like BP’s gusher is sending oil and natural gas into the Gulf.

Glaswegians can make some headway on this problem as well. On weekdays this summer, start thinking about what you could do to reduce the energy consumed by your home or business between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Delay washing clothes until later or do them on the weekends. Start thinking about these peak hours and how you might actually reduce the money we send out of Glasgow to TVA by proving how you can respond to price signals like these. Then, when TVA finally allows this system to be implemented, you and we will be ready and able to exploit these new rates. We will reduce Glasgow’s energy footprint and, hopefully, spend those dollars saved in local businesses which will, in turn, continue to enrich our lives in Glasgow. This vision of a perpetual circle of economic vitality is what we are talking about when we talk about creating a sustainable local economy. This is what we call localism. Localism might be the only fabric strong enough to patch the hole at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and we can start weaving it right now.

Want to help solve our energy mess? Live Local.

5 comments:

Raid said...

If Glasgow is serious about making the world greener, and improving it's economy, there's one simple thing they can do: eliminate the one way traffic around the square.

It's about .2 miles around three sides of the square. I know it's only a little out of the way to drive around the courthouse, but if you count the number of cars that have to make that short trip every day, you'll see that those miles are really adding up.

If someone smarter than me would care to do the math, I'm sure they would find that we, as citizens of the Glasgow and Barren county area, are wasting tens of thousands of dollars each year. Most of that money goes straight out of our local economy, never to return.


And why?

Well, once upon a time, in the days before Sam Walton set up shop in Glasgow, the square was the place for shopping, and the shop owners had a lot of pull with the local government. Those shop owners were smart. They knew that the more people that drove by, the more people they would have stopping in. So they convince the city that it would be "good for local businesses" if traffic flowed all around the square. It gave them free advertising, but of course it really wasn't free. It was, and still is, paid in gasoline by everyone that has to drive through the square.

Of course, things have changed since those days. The square really isn't the shopping mecca it once was. More importantly, gasoline is much more expensive, and the number of vehicles traveling through the square has increased.

So why are we still driving around the square? Well, some would say "it's tradition", but is it really a tradition we can afford to keep? Some would say it makes the square more attractive an noticeable, but for the life of me, I don't know what makes the back side of the courthouse more attractive and noticeable than the front.

Business owners may say that it's still good for businesses to have people drive around the square. But they need to remember that money spent on gas is money that isn't being spent in their stores.

Billy Ray said...

Raid,

AMEN!

Chuck said...

It is good that everyone is thinking about how our community can cut back on energy usage and carbon footprint. I have other ideas to add. I noticed on a vacation to our nation's capitol that the public transit buses had signs on them saying that they use natural gas for power. Admittedly natural gas is not unlimited in supply, but the US has reserves of it, and it produces little if any exhaust compared to diesel and gasoline. It would seem that our local govt. trucks in city and county could start acquiring some of these vehicles especially for the utility trucks that have an operating area within the city and would not have trouble refilling with natural gas at their local offices. (ie. EPB, Water Co., Street and Sanitation) Secondly, I understand that the big problem with the current electric situation is the issue of TVA being unable to produce enough electricity to supply it's entire customer base during peak hours from 2pm to 8pm. This is causing them to buy power from other utilities at a premium cost to supply the need. Certainly EPB's primary concern is what can be done locally to reduce this peak need for power, but from looking on TVA's site I notice that they supply power to approx. 56 industrial customers that are so large that they supply them directly with power. Agreements/arrangements can, and should be made with these huge power users to curtail their power usages when TVA alerts them that the system is at capacity, before buying power from other companies at higher rates. They can also have meters that charge depending on the time of usage similarly to what is being proposed for local residential homes, if it comes to that.

Billy Ray said...

Good points Chuck. We have wanted to convert our fleet to CNG for a long time. I bet the other city agencies have investigated it too. However, we have been unable to convince Atmos to install the necessary equipment for a CNG fueling station.

Your research on TVA and their direct served customers is impressive and right on point. Further, it has always been maddening that they sell power to these industries at a much lower rate than we pay. They also celebrate the decision by a major industry to locate in the TVA area, even though they have insufficient power supply to serve them!

The whole system of economic development the way we have been doing it for a couple of decades is broken and unsustainable. I hope we can be a part of moving Glasgow in a new direction toward sustainability.

Chuck said...

I did a little looking on the net and found this:
Utility/Private Incentives
Natural Gas Infrastructure Technical Assistance

Atmos Energy offers preliminary feasibility studies for compressed natural gas fueling stations and will assist with vendor selection on a case-by-case basis.

Point of Contact
Walter C. Miller
Energy Services Consultant
Atmos Energy
Phone: (817) 303-2903
Fax: (817) 303-2929
walter.c.miller@atmosenergy.com

It's listed about 3/4 of the way down on this page link: www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/laws/laws/KY

Maybe they're just trying to impress the Dept. of Energy by saying this but.. any advantage could help you guys out.
I noticed that you said you "bet" the other city departments had investigated getting CNG vehicles also. No offense but, I hope that the city departments would work together in these attempts since it would maximize the number of vehicles a station would service, especially if any one department isn't large enough to make them think it's in their interest.

While I was looking at the TVA site I noticed they have an online home energy survey, that when completed they will send a free energy conservation kit. I thought some other customers at EPB might be interested in the link it's : http://www.energyright.com/audit_kit.htm You might even want to publicize it an email..??

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