Sunday, May 10, 2009

How to keep the lights on

The Alberta government is thinking about where Albertans get their power. The solution, however, isn't coal or nuclear. Instead, renovate to save energy and generate small amounts of electricity everywhere.


In the same way that centralized information providers like Radio and Television are losing ground to distributed information on the internet, centralized power will be replaced by distributed power generation.


Operating a nuclear power plant doesn't produce CO2, but mining and refining uranium sure does. It also uses lots of water.


Nuclear power, however, is better than coal, which is to say coal is even worse. Clean coal is an oxymoron, and carbon capture and storage is a myth designed to make us feel good about continuing to use coal, oil shale, and tar sands. If we keep burning coal then we commit our planet to runaway climate change. Coal power plants need to be phased out by 2030.


Half of Alberta's electricity comes from coal, and the nuclear consultation makes sense, as we need to get away from coal, but we shouldn't blindly leap into another centralized power generation system.


The first rational step is to renovate buildings to use less energy. This costs much less than building new generating capacity, and creates jobs that are desperately needed in this economy. Ed Mazria, in a keynote speech at the Sustainable Building Symposium in Calgary explained how tying government backed mortgage discounts to housing energy efficiency retrofits is one way to magnify the government's stimulus contributions, produce jobs, help reduce CO2 emissions, and expand the tax base so they get their money back.


We also have an opportunity to democratize electricity by focusing on the individual. Small scale power generation, combined with a smart grid and energy storage (flywheels), will render centralized power obsolete. Meanwhile, mortgage refinancing at historically low interest rates could spur environmental renovations and create jobs that take advantage of our current economic crisis to do some good in the world.


The Alberta Government is currently in the process of developing a position on Nuclear Power. Be heard (until June 1) at www.energy.alberta.ca

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