Everytime gas prices rise a couple of cents, the media is all over it. Invariably, however, #2 oil, from which heating and diesel fuels are derived, go up by staggering amounts every Fall, just in time for the winter heating season. The rise in diesel fuel prices affects my business directly and currently costs upwards of 150 dollars per day, per truck. A few years back, when diesel prices approached $5.00 per gallon, it crippled the trucking industry.
After that nightmare, it takes a bigger price hike to get our attention, but the one constant that remains is that our nation is still vulnerable to the fickle nature of world oil prices. Gaining independence from oil should be a national priority, and there are a number of reasons why.
First, as we watch our economy continue to teeter on the brink of disaster, we must ask ourselves…”where is the next industrial, manufacturing, or technical frontier?” We have become a service economy but a great nation can’t survive on that alone. We build barely anything here anymore, and not since the high-tech boom have we seen a really churning economy. Energy is necessarily one of the next big frontiers. We should be leading the way.
Second…the planet. If you’ve read my stuff for any length of time you’ll know I’m not a “Global Warming Nut”, but I do believe that the burning of fossil fuels has had an effect on the atmosphere, and therefore the planet as a whole. What bothers me most about the GW argument is that it has become politicized. I have to maintain a little cynicism for someone like Al Gore who turns the cause into a living, but still travels by private jet, lives in a mansion, and has a carbon footprint bigger than Sasquatch on steroids. Still, I do believe it is morally imperative to be good stewards of the planet, and to not roll the dice on a gamble as large as the inhabitability of Earth. The atmosphere is remarkably thin in comparison to the size of the ball it protects, and I don’t believe it is implausible that the amount of oil we’ve been burning for the last century or so has taken some ill effect on it. And, beyond the effects of burning oil, think “Gulf Oil Spill” to see the dangers of harvesting oil.
Third…some of the answers are right in front of us. While I don’t see electric cars that are practical, or solar panels that provide a reasonable cost vs. benefit ratio, I do see, just to our North, over 100 years of successful production of electricity from rivers. This is not a big gamble on some crazy scheme. It works, and we know it.
Fourth…National Security. Oil has played too big a role, for far too long, in foreign policy decisions and probably even wars.
That, alone, should be impetus enough for a national resolution to ween ourselves off the gooey substance.
Why is there no substantial hydroelectric effort in this country? Canada has mastered the art and I have marveled at the simplicity and efficiency of their hydro plants. Remarkably maintenance free, clean and reliable, these massive facilities are manned by a skeleton crew. I watched a documentary on one of them once, and one of the workers stated that there was simply no need for a staff of hundreds. The water pours in, turns the turbine, the turbine turns a generator, and the water pours out and back into the river. The Decew Falls 1 hydro plant, built in 1898, still produces power today and hasn’t missed a day. Not like a nuclear plant, with a relatively short life, and then a massively expensive dismantling project with radioactive waste that continues to be an expense and hazard for future generations.
In 2004 Canada was the top hydro power producer in the world. Today, Manitoba, Quebec and British Columbia derive 75% of their electricity from hydro power. There are two basic types of plants, “run-of-river” which diverts a portion of the water from a river and runs it through the plant, or “impound” type where a dam is built to harness the waters power. There are many of both types in Canada, still functioning after many years of trouble-free operation.
Sometimes in life, we over-complicate things and while meeting America’s energy needs for the future is not simple, this part of it certainly could be. Perhaps a good place to start would be a federal streamlining of the permitting process along with some kind of tax initiative for start-ups. The most difficult question to answer might simply be this…what are we waiting for?