Monday, July 29, 2013

Pollution Into Food

Last week, Erin Cox and Timothy Wheeler with The Baltimore Sun wrote that Governor O'Malley will be accelerating Maryland's efforts to address climate change by moving the goal for renewable energy sources by 2020 to 25% of all Maryland's energy use from the earlier goal of 20%.  Implicit in this goal is that energy rates will increase (by about $2.60 a month according to Cox and Wheeler) and therefore Marylanders will use less energy.  This article also notes that this is the second most aggressive plan behind California.

I have a great number of concerns about this proposal, but before we go into those I want to acknowledge that climate change is real, most likely man-made, and that we are working against a ticking clock when fashioning solutions.  You can read more of my comments on the issue (as they related to Carnival pulling anchor and leaving) here.

My concern is that renewable energy is a myopic, and potentially harmful, way to address climate change.  Similar to our agriculture policies, we end up subsidizing it on two ends - for those who create it and for those who buy it.  I also had wind energy explained to me recently as an energy source that is "made at the wrong time".  You want your energy being produced while it is being used so that you can have more efficient delivery and don't lose energy in storage.  Wind power makes energy at night.  Solar has been made affordable for domestic use, but only on the backs of heavy subsidization.  Also, in case you didn't know, when your neighbor "sells back to the grid", you are paying for that transfer.  Not just the energy itself, but the mechanism by which an end user can transfer expensive energy back to the grid...with all of the inefficiencies of transfer and storage noted above.

I think it is reasonable to say that we need renewable energy as a part of our state's energy portfolio.  I think 25% is far too much.

The real opportunity is in efficiency and waste management.  As I've said before in this space, carbon, as the base element of all life, is valuable.  In fact, plants eat it.  With such a heavy focus on renewables, our policy-makers have overlooked "up-cycle" efforts that direct energy waste to feed algae (Carbon Algae Recycling) and grow crops.

From my perspective, these efforts are much more exciting.  Not only do they take pollution and turn it into food, but this is also a solution that can be retrofitted to existing power supplies.

When we are discussing energy policy, we need to keep in mind that the energy bill is sometimes the largest check families write from month to month.  Climate Change prompts us to re-prioritize in ways that are often reckless to these families.  Sure, energy subsidies and non-profit support exists, but these families are not often plugged into those resources (or simply choose to forgo assistance for something they had formerly been able to pay for themselves).

Let's broaden the portfolio of energy solutions to let in current sources with better outputs.  Renewable energy has its place, but also its limits.  If we can turn pollution into food, isn't any other option a waste?

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!